Division in religion
In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
In matters of faith, He has ordained for you the same as He had enjoined on Noah, that which We have revealed to you (Muhammad) and as We enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus: “Steadfastly uphold the faith and do not divide into factions”. Hard for the idolaters is that which you call on them to accept. God draws to Himself whoever He pleases and guides to Himself everyone who turns to Him. They became divided, out of selfish rivalry, only after the knowledge had reached them. Had it not been for a decree that had already been issued by your Lord, until a term set (by Him), all would have been decided between them. As it is, those after them, who inherited the divine book, are in grave, disquieting doubt about it. (Consultation, Al-Shura: 42: 13)
The surah gives a clear statement that the faith God has ordained for mankind, ever since the first day of humanity is the same. It is the faith based on God’s oneness, allowing no ascription of divinity to anyone or any creature. Submission must be to God alone. People must be united by this faith and allow no division among them over it.
Since the religion God ordained for the Muslims who believe in Muhammad (Pbuh) is the same as He enjoined on Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them), why do the followers of Moses and Jesus fight against each other? Indeed, what causes fighting between the followers of different sects? Why do the followers of Moses and Jesus go to war against the followers of Muhammad? And why do those idolaters who claim to follow Abraham’s faith wage a war against Muslims? Should not all these groups stay together under the one banner hoisted by God’s last Messenger? The same order was issued to them all: “Steadfastly uphold the faith and do not divide into factions.” Only when they unite under this banner do they uphold the faith, fulfill its duties, maintain its path and work under the same banner hoisted high in succession by Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus until it was eventually carried by Muhammad, who received the final testament.
The idolater Arabs in the Mother City and its surrounding area, who claimed to follow Abraham’s faith, adopted a different stance toward the new faith: “Hard for the idolaters is that which you call on them to accept”. They found it hard that revelation should be vouchsafed to Muhammad, when they wanted it to be given to a person of high position and authority among them. Muhammad’s personal qualities of unblemished honesty and perfect reliability, which they readily acknowledged, and his lineage descending from the noblest family among them, did not match, in their view, the status of a tribal chief who exercised power in his tribe. In short, it was far too difficult for them to accept that their own religious authority, founded on paganism and its legends, had come to an end. They realized that its ending threatened the economic and personal interests that such authority had given them. Hence they held on to their pagan beliefs, refusing to accept the message of God’s oneness advocated by His noble Messenger. Similarly difficult for them was that they were told that their idolatrous ancestors were in error. Therefore, they maintained their folly choosing to cast themselves in hell rather than acknowledge the truth.
The surah comments on their attitude stating that God chooses whom He wills and guides everyone who wishes to follow His guidance: “God draws to Himself whoever He pleases and guides to Himself everyone who turns to Him”. He drew Muhammad to Himself and chose him to deliver His message. He always leaves the way wide open for anyone who turns to Him and seeks His guidance.
Again the surah speaks of the followers of earlier messengers who divided into sects and groups although the messengers preached the same faith: “They became divided, out of selfish rivalry, only after the knowledge had reached them. Had it not been for a decree that had already been issued by your Lord, until a term set (by Him), all would have been decided between them. As it is, those after them, who inherited the divine book, are in grave, disquieting doubt about it”. Their divisions did not come about as a result of ignorance, or because they did not know the single source that grouped their messengers and faiths together. They divided after knowledge was given to them. This division was caused by selfish rivalry and mutual envy. Thus, they were not only unjust to the truth, but also to themselves. There was no single reason based on the true faith for their division. Had they been true to their faith, they would have remained united.
They deserved to be immediately taken to task in requital for their division and deviation, but God, in His wisdom, had already ordained to allow them time, up to a specified point only He knows: “Had it not been for a decree that had already been issued by your Lord, until a term set (by Him), all would have been decided between them”. Thus, the truth is established and falsehood is seen in its true guise. Matters are settled in this present life, but judgment is deferred until the Day of Resurrection. The generations that came after the division that split the followers of everyone of God’s messengers, received the faith and the divine book uncertain of its truth. Division, then, had allowed doubt and confusion to creep in, making people unable to determine which of the numerous doctrines and groups was right: “As it is, those after them, who inherited the divine book, are in grave, disquieting doubt about it”
Faith cannot be taken in this way. Faith is the solid rock on which a believer stands ensuring that he remains steadfast in his beliefs, even when the whole world around him is shaking hard. Faith is his guiding star that assures him of his way when different forces try to pull him in opposite directions. When faith itself becomes subject to such strong doubts, nothing remains certain in man’s mind. He cannot be sure which way to take and which course to follow. Reassurance is no longer available to him. God revealed the divine faith so that those who follow it would know the way that leads them to Him and ensures His pleasure. In turn, they too would be able to lead other people along the right way, unaffected by doubt or uncertainty. When they themselves become immersed in doubt, however, they cannot lead anyone anywhere.