Answered by Sidi Wasim Shiliwala
My heart is heavy and I’m facing a dilemma. I’ve been following Shafi’i school, but then I came across the Fiqh of Imam Ja’Far Shadiq and the teachings of Ahlul Bayt and started following that. Then I was introduced to Sufism. Then I tried to combine what I learned from Sufism, with the fiqh of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, while still applying some of the Sunni hadith sources. But lately, everything seems to be contradictory. Now I’m terribly confused, alone, and depressed. Please advise me.
Answer: Walaikum As-salaam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu,
May Allah reward you for your question and your concern! While natural and oftentimes beautiful, the vast diversity of Islamic thought can be daunting for many of us Muslims who simply want a clear path to the Garden. Before addressing some of your main concerns, I want to first caution you against the damaging nature of doubts.
Doubts and Satanic Whispers (Waswasa)
When people delve into issues regarding differences of opinion, it opens a major door for the Shaytan to whisper doubts into their minds. This is natural, as it is Shaytan’s sworn duty to assault us from all directions as we trod upon the straight path (7:16-17). I say this not to discourage you from researching these important issues, but to remind you that Shaytan will use this opportunity to depress you and cause doubts about your faith.
It is therefore important that through this whole process you rely upon Allah, for Shaytan has no power over one who relies upon Allah (16:99). Whenever you hear these doubts or having feelings of depression, say the ta’awwudh, recite sura al-Nas (114), and make dua for guidance. You should also increase in your acts of worship, pray the istikhara prayer, and frequently make remembrance of Allah (dhikr).
For an explanation of the aforementioned tips, and links to other advice about waswasa, please see the following: Satanic Whisperings Are Making Me Withdraw From Muslims
When you put your trust in Allah and put your matters in His hands, you will feel a tremendous weight lifted off yourself. Remember that Allah has told us that He will not place a burden upon us that we cannot bear (2:286), meaning that He only expects that we do our best and nothing more. Allah does not wish difficulty for us, but it is Shaytan who wants us to become depressed and despairing, since that will decrease us in faith and in our worship of Allah.
The Universal Aspects of Islam
Regardless of what some zealous partisans might have led you to believe, most “sects” of Islam are actually quite united on the basics of the religion. Most importantly, they all uphold the testimony that “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.” They all pray, fast, give to charity, and make the Hajj. They all believe in Allah, His messengers, His books, His angels, the Day of Judgment, and His decree (qadr).
They all advise that we pray, read the Qur’an, remember Allah frequently, improve our inner character, and strive to follow the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him). They all tell us that we should avoid the haraam and stay within the halal, and that we should seek Allah’s forgiveness if we make mistakes or sins. They all love Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him), and strive to follow Allah’s commands with excellence.
This is not to say that our differences aren’t important, but rather to emphasize the importance of our commonalities. So long as we do our best to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah with sincerity (ikhlas) and excellence (ihsan), our actions will be accepted insha’Allah. As the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “When a scholar gives a judgement, strives in doing so, and is correct, then he has two rewards… [and if he] is wrong, then he has one reward.” [Bukhari]
We pray, then, for the guidance of all those who utter the shahada, and that Allah puts us on the correct path, and that He forgives us for any mistakes we make on this path!
Finding Sound Knowledge
As you search for authentic Islamic knowledge, I strongly recommend that you stop reading all vicious and polemical material. You should avoid anyone who uses curses and insults in their arguments, as it is in itself against the Prophetic way. Indeed, endless and angry argumentation is highly discouraged in Islam, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) said that whoever avoids argumentation will have a home built for him in Paradise. [Sunan at-Tirmidhi]
I encourage you to stick to authentic works of scholarship and to especially focus on how these various groups derive their opinions. What are their sources, and how reliable are they? Do they embody the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him)?
For some more advice on determining and finding sound scholarship, please see the following answer: Differences of Opinion and Determining Sound Scholarship
The Balanced Path of Sunni Islam
Instead of trying to discourage you from joining any of a number of groups or schools of thought, I would like to inform you about what I do know: the breadth, depth, and balance of the Sunni tradition. While some members of the Sunni community might try to convince you that it is actually very strict, the reality is that Sunni Islam is actually quite open, and it encompasses a broad variety of valid differences of opinion, including a number of the groups you mentioned.
In order to understand Sunni Islam, you must first get a clear understanding of what Sunnis believe. I encourage you to read through The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi to get an understanding of how simple, straightforward, and logical Sunni belief is. For further explanation, you can take the SeekersGuidance course on Imam Dardir’s Kharida.
As a starting point, I also recommend this answer, which identifies some key traits about Sunni Islam: Some Distinctive Traits of Sunni Islam
These basic beliefs are agreed upon by all Sunnis, and they encompass the differences over details represented by the Ash’ari and Maturidi schools. As such, these differences are not something to stress about, and I advise you see this excellent clip from Shaykh Hamza Karamali for some perspective on these differences: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2pQ175vaRk
As I mentioned before, all schools of law (madhhabs) within Islam agree on the basics: we pray 5 times a day, pay zakat, fast in Ramadan, and go on Hajj at least once in our life if we’re able. Even the major parts of each action are agreed upon: for example, all schools agree that the Fajr prayer is 2 cycles, the Dhuhr is 4, and so on.
The differences of opinion emerge in trying to explain the best way to do these actions. So long as the opinions themselves can be soundly justified using the Qur’an and sunnah in a clear and consistent manner, then they are valid. As such, the fact that there are numerous schools of Sunni law shouldn’t be daunting, since they all represent sincere efforts to follow the sunnah.
For more information on the schools of law, see the following reader: A Reader on Following Schools of Thought
Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq and Sunni Islam
You specifically mentioned an affinity toward Imam Ja’far, and suggested that following him would conflict with following Sunni Islam. However, this isn’t the case, as the Sunnis revere him and follow him. Please read the following answer for more information on this matter: Was Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq Sunni or Shi’i?
Sunnis do not reject Imam Ja’far’s fiqh; what is rejected are certain reports about his legal positions that do not meet Sunni scholarship’s rigorous standards for reliable reports. Furthermore, his fiqh survived in the Sunni tradition through his students Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik, the founders of the first two schools of Sunni law.
Indeed, one aspect of the balance of Sunni law is that in its effort to emulate the behavior of the Prophet (peace be upon him), it tries to take the best from all those pious companions and early jurists who transmitted the sunnah. This includes the likes of Ali, A’isha, ibn Mas`ud, `Umar, and many, many others – may Allah be pleased with them all.
Finally, there is something to be said for sticking to the majority, as this is the advice given to us by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Please see the following answer for an explanation: The End of Times: Isolating Oneself, Sticking to the Majority, and Protection from the Dajjal
Above all, we are Muslims
It is a sad reality in our times that people focus on labels more than they do on hearts. Remember that Allah does not say that only members of Islamic sect X, Y, or Z will enter jannah. To the contrary, He simply commands us to follow Him and the Prophet (peace be upon him), and He informs us that the truly successful are those who present Allah with a sound heart (4:69, 26:88-89).
Above all, never let differences of opinion be an excuse for you to decrease in worship. This is a clear trick of Shaytan, who will try to convince you that since scholars differ over how you should do a particular act, you should leave it altogether. Rather, times of difficulty and doubt are when one should increase in their remembrance, worship, and reliance upon Allah, as that is when His help is needed most.
And Allah knows best, and only He grants victory and success.
Baarak Allahu Fikum,
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani