The world is so fixated with labels: an African-American Sunni woman, a bespectacled biracial Tabligh Muslim, a bearded Arab Shi’a professor, a loquacious Desi Sufi cleric etc.
In the words of Yasmin Mogahed, ‘They try so hard to put you in a box and post a label on it. But when they open it, they won’t find you there. Because you do not live in their boxes or answer to the names they assign to you.’
Labelling people makes us feel safe. It gives us the illusion that we have figured them out and can control them. What is difficult for me to understand is why we help others put a label on us and oblige them even further by climbing into the boxes ourselves. Why would we seek to be labelled? Why is the title ‘Muslim’ given to us by Allah insufficient for us that we seek to complicate it with unnecessary adjectives? It is what we Nigerians call ‘over-sabi’.
All around the world, it is a fight of this against that; Tutsis against Hutus in the Rwandan genocide, Muslims against Christians in Nigeria and the Central African Republic, Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine in Myanmar, Sunnis and Shia in the Middle East, Sunni-Sufis and Al-Shabaab in Somalia etc.
A group of Muslims come together to set up an Islamic body; there is a misunderstanding amongst them and they quickly divide to form a splinter group, essentially destroying the essence of brotherhood that brought them together. Wahala follows everywhere a sect is formed. Breaking our society into smaller fragments is often not the way forward. Sunnis, Shia, Sufi, Bahai’, Kharijites, Salafis, different suffixes attached to Ahl Sunnah; it only helps to create more dissent as we spend more time showing our superiority over one another and arguing over our differences instead of rejoicing at the Shahada we have in common.
Once we fragment Islam into something that differs from the main body, we are toying with Shirk as we are associated with the Mushrikun (those who practise shirk) in the Quran 30.31-2. The more we break away from the main body of Islam, the more we go further from Islam; either into extremism or over-liberalism. Our unity is also threatened as it becomes easy to pitch us against the other based on our perceived differences.
Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman narrated:…he (The Prophet (SAW)) said, ‘Stick to the group of Muslims and their Imam (ruler).’ I said, ‘What if there is neither a group of Muslims and their Imam?’ He said, ‘Then turn away from all those sects even if you were to bite (eat) the roots of a tree till death overtakes you in that state.’ Sahih Bukhari 7084
Let us not stray from the herd lest we become easy prey for predators.