Is Islam an entity that lives in the sky? No. Islam is the practice of nearly two billion believers all over the world. From the deserts of Sudan to the bustling cities of Delhi. If Muslims change, that means Islam is changing.
This article puts to rest the misconception that there is “one true Islam.” I think this is important so we don’t speak over each other and misconstrue what Muslims follow and believe.
Everything in Islam is man-made effort. Even if you think the sources of Islam are divine, how do we interpret them? What’s an accurate translation? What verses from the Quran apply universally and which are specific for Muhammad’s time? Are any of these verses abrogated by later verses, or even by a statement of Muhammad? Is that statement of Muhammad’s authentic or is it questionable and possibly fabricated? Even if it’s authentic, do we know for sure it applies today? Or is it something that was specific based on the conditions of that time? Can hadith take priority over Quran? What if it’s an ahad (singular) hadith? Can we still use it? What if it’s a weak hadith? Does the wording show its an actual obligation, or is it simply recommended?
These are the questions Muslims have to grapple with. The answers to these questions leads to different interpretations and even sects.
There’s a particular trend to want to portray Islam in the worst way. Even more troubling, to portray it in a way that no Muslim follows. This is the strawman fallacy. If we wish to criticize or attack Islam, we should accurately represent what Muslims are following and not make up our own version.
What makes one more right? Unless you are a believer, nothing! To insist the Wahhabi/Salafi interpretation is more correct makes you a wahhabi kafir!😆
A variety of Islams
For a religion that spans one fifth of the world’s population, there are a large variety of Islams we can find.
There’s Ismaili Islam, a Shia sect which is more modern, with a leader who is a descendant of Prophet Muhammad and considered their infallible imam or spiritual guide. It has some 5–10 million followers. I was born into this sect. They have a different form of prayer and integrate well into society. Their focus is on charity and spirituality.
There’s Ahmadiyya Islam which rejects offensive military jihad and is very revisionist in its interpretation of the Quran. They believe that Jesus died on Earth, the promised messiah (mehdi) already came and that prophets performed no supernatural miracles. Estimated 10–20 million in number.
There’re various forms of Sufi orders. Some forms even allow drinking of alcohol. They interpret the Quran more mystically and esoterically. Sufis are lively and celebrate the birthday of Muhammad. Some of them consider God to be everywhere and many are pantheist. Many Sufis are perennialist and consider all religions to be paths that lead to truth.that lead to truth.
There’s also the puritan Wahhabi Islam (also known as Salafism) which rejects music and all birthday celebrations. They are usually apolitical and go along with obeying the Muslim leaders. I used to be in this sect for the later part of my Muslim journey. They have categorically condemned ISIS, although members from this group are most likely to join it due to its emphasis on literal interpretations and direct readings of the text without a chain of scholarship.
There are also Islamists like Hizbut Tahrir and Ikhwaan Al-Muslimeen (Muslim brotherhood) who wish to reestablish shariah law and even the Islamic state. For them, Islam is political and the most important parts of Islam are the state laws.
Traditional Sunnis have four madhabs (theological schools) and decentralized authority of interpretation lies within many conflicting Ulama who interpret the texts for lay Muslims. They have also categorically condemned ISIS.
This is not by any means a conclusive list, but a sampling. The following chart gives more detail:
All these Muslim communities disagree about the true meaning of all the fundamental articles of faith — the nature of God, status of Prophets, the status & interpretation of the Quran, legal theory and ritual.
But what about ISIS?
But isn’t ISIS another interpretation of Islam? Or does it have nothing to do with Islam?
ISIS is very much so an interpretation or manifestation of Islam. To claim otherwise would be delusional. They self-identify as Muslims, quoting from the primary texts. The difference is that they disregard the traditional scholarship and interpret it themselves, in a much more literal manner and then blindly apply it in today’s world.
It’s just as important to note ISIS is not the only one manifestation, neither is it the “best” or most accurate one. There’s so much we just don’t know about Muhammad’s life to make such a claim. Neither can we read his mind to know if this is what he intended to go forward. We must allow Muslims the right to condemn them as they have done so in The Letter to Baghdadi that hundreds of Muslim leaders and scholars signed.
Isn’t it strange that some claim they want Islam to reform yet condemn Muslims for attacking the worst manifestations of their religion?
Which Islam is more correct?
Can you really say one of these is more correct than the others? When the entire process is man-made? When the entire collection of hadith and even Quran is fallible? Scholars throughout the ages decided which hadith to preserve which to not. As I highlight in my article: Hadith are notoriously unreliable! We have very little confidence if these are actual statements of Muhammad or not.
In conclusion, we should not insist that one version of Islam being followed by Muslims is more or less correct. They are all fallible human efforts to find truth in the Islamic sources.
Also see this article of mine:
I often hear from people who say “Muslims are different. Islam is different. Islam can’t be reformed. Muslims can’t be…
Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Medium to keep up with my latest articles. Also consider joining my mailing list for infrequent but personal updates directly from me!