The 'Saved Sect' Hadith vs Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
The oft repeated Hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is in stark contrast to what this noble Prophet of God (pbuh) taught by the Quran.
According to the Hadith corpus reportedly, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “My community will experience everything that the Children of Israel had experienced, following in their footsteps exactly, so much so that if one of their number had approached his mother publicly for sex, one of my community will do the same. The Children of Israel divided into 72 sects. My community will divide into 73 sects, and all of them will be in the Hellfire save one.”
[Supposedly] the people asked him: “And which one will that be he replied: “The one that follows what I and my Companions are upon right now.”
The hadîth can be found [in variant forms] in the four Sunan works and in Musnad Ahmad with different chains of transmission. Some scholars declared it to be authentic or at least good, including al-Tirmidhî, al-Hâkim, al-Dhahabî, Ibn Taymiyah, al-Shâtibî, and Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalânî. Others declared it as weak, including ibn Hazm and Ibn al-Wazîr. [Adapted from Sheikh Salman al-Oadah, “My community will divide into 73 sects”].
According to some scholars the part of the narration saying that seventy two out of the seventy three sects are in Hell except for one is not authentic and that the narration stops at the splitting into seventy three sects, and all other additions to the hadith are either fabricated or weak.
There are many interpretations of this hadith including one interpretation (contrary to common understanding) states - the fact that all of humanity is the Ummah [Community] of the Prophet peace be upon him, because he was sent to all of them. Those who respond and accept the Message are called the Ummah of Affirmation, while others who have not are called the Ummah of Invitation. Therefore, one interpretation is that the seventy two sects will form the Ummah of Invitation, while the remaining sect that goes into Heaven is the Ummah of Affirmation, irrespective of how many groups are within it.
Nevertheless, whichever interpretation one follows. This hadith in reality often leads to supremacist sectarian attitudes [or even perhaps in very rare occasions it may lead to scepticism and chronic anxiety – since there are so many sects to choose from claiming to be exclusively “saved”] in direct contrast to the Quran.
Those who avoid the major sins and immoralities, only [committing] slight ones. Indeed, your Lord is vast in forgiveness. He was most knowing of you when He produced you from the earth and when you were fetuses in the wombs of your mothers. So do not claim yourselves to be pure; He is most knowing of who is mindful of Him. [53:32]
God gives glad tidings of Paradise to righteous believers regardless of sectarian affiliation, and has proclaimed that He will reward all believers who serve in His path. Those believers who know the fact that they will be recompensed for each and every good deed and for their decision to adhere to God’s revelation, will experience the beauty of submission, trust, patience, and faith in God and attain salavation.
We shall certainly blot out the misdeeds of those who believe and do good deeds, and We shall reward them according to the best of their actions. [29:7]
And vie with one another to attain to your Sustainer's forgiveness and to a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which has been readied for the God-conscious who spend [in His way] in time of plenty and in time of hardship, and hold in check their anger, and pardon their fellow-men because God loves the doers of good; and who, when they have committed a shameful deed or have [otherwise] sinned against themselves, remember God and pray that their sins be forgiven - for who but God could forgive sins? - and do not knowingly persist in doing whatever [wrong] they may have done. These it is who shall have as their reward forgiveness from their Sustainer, and gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide: and how excellent a reward for those who labour! [3:133-37]
Can someone who knows that the revelation from your Lord is the Truth be equal to someone who is blind? Only those with understanding will take it to heart; those who fulfil the agreements they make in God’s name and do not break their pledges; who join together what God commands to be joined; who are in awe of their Lord and fear the harshness of the Reckoning; who remain steadfast through their desire for the face [countenance] of their Lord; who keep up the prayer [or duties to God]; who give secretly and openly from what We have provided for them; who repel evil with good. These will have the reward of the [true] home: they will enter perpetual Gardens, along with their righteous ancestors, spouses, and descendants; the angels will go in to them from every gate, and ‘Peace be with you, because you have remained steadfast. What an excellent reward is this home of yours!’ [13:19-24]
These verses are concise yet comprehensive in regards to who will attain salvation. There are many such verses in the Quran that clarify who is worthy for salvation and its opposite. None of these verses direct the believers or Muslims to a so called saved sect (“Friqatul Naajiyah”) thus each and every group exclusively claiming to be saved or being the “saved sect” has no warrant from the Quran, or in other words in the Prophet’s example.
And, verily, this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: remain, then, conscious of Me! But they (who claim to follow you Prophet) have torn their unity wide asunder, piece by piece, each group delighting in [but] what they themselves possess [by way of tenets]. But leave them alone [Prophet], lost in their ignorance, until a [future] time. [23:52-54]
It would be inconceivable that the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would warn the Muslims not to become sects or factions, beside the so called “save sect” in the same breath. Since in fact the way of the Prophet, is to follow the Quran and therefore invite Muslims away from sectarianism altogether.
As for those who have divided their religion and broken up into factions, have nothing to do with them [Prophet]. Their case rests with God: in time He will tell them about their deeds. [:159]
Thus, this is the Prophet’s way, a Muslim should not seek to belong to a sect or denomination rather he should live as an upright Muslim.
For men and women who are devoted to God- believing men and women, obedient men and women, truthful men and women, steadfast men and women, humble men and women, charitable men and women, fasting men and women, chaste men and women, men and women who remember God often- God has prepared forgiveness and a rich reward. [33:35]
And Allah knows best.