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Hadith al-Iftiraq

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Ḥadīth al-Iftirāq (Arabic: حَدیث الاِفتِراق) or Hadith of Division is a hadith attributed to Prophet Muhammad (s) concerning the division of his followers into over 70 sects. According to this hadith, like previous religions, the Islamic Umma after the Prophet (s) will divide into over 70 or 73 sects, only one of which will be saved. Hadith al-Iftiraq and its surrounding issues have been significant for theological issues, studies of Islamic sects, and sectarian controversies.

In Books of Hadith

Hadith al-Iftiraq is not cited in the Shiite Four Books and Sunni Sahihayn. Even some early researchers of Islamic sects, such as al-Nawbakhti in his Firaq al-Shi'a and Abu l-Hasan al-Ash'ari in his Maqalat al-Islamiyyin have not cited the hadith. Some researchers of Islamic sects, such as Ibn Hazm al-Zahiri (d. 456/1063) held that the hadith is unreliable and Ibn Wazir believed that the last part of the hadith is fabricated.

However, some Shiite and Sunni books of hadiths and some early sources of sects and creeds (al-milal wa l-nihal) as well as more recent researchers of Islamic sects have cited the hadith. Thus, contrary to the first group, there is another group of scholars who believe that Hadith al-Iftiraq is not only well-known, but also mutawatir.

In al-Kafi, there is a hadith from Imam al-Baqir (a) with the same content without attributing it to the Prophet (s).

In some Shiite sources, the hadith is attributed to Imam Ali (a) and the saved sect is said to be the Imam's (a) followers.

Text and Content

  • The text of the hadith: "The Jews divided into 71 sects, one of which is in the Heaven and 70 of which are in the Hell; the Nazarites divided into 72 sects; 71 of which is in the Hell and one of which is in the Heaven; and I swear to the One in whose hand is Muhammad's life, my nation will divide into 73 sects; one of which is in the Heaven and 72 of which are in the Hell."
  • The beginning and the end of the hadith are cited in different ways, but its general content can be divided into three parts: the prediction of the division of Muslims into many sects, the salvation of only one of these sects, and the specification of the saved sect in general terms.
  • According to the standard reading of this hadith, the Prophet (s) talks about the division of the Jews into 71 sects, the Christians into 72 sects, and his own followers or Umma into 73 sects, emphasizing that in the earlier religions, all, but one, of these sects were misguided and will go to the Hell; and that the same is true about the Islamic Umma.
  • The hadith is silent about what the saved Islamic sect is and what characteristics it possesses, but there are other hadiths from the Prophet (s) in which different and contradictory answers are given to this question. In some hadiths, the Prophet (s) introduced the saved and the misguided sects. According to a rare hadith, all the sects, except Zanadiqa (unbelievers) will go to the Heaven.
  • According to a hadith attributed to Imam Ali (a), the saved sect is the Shi'a of the Imam (a).

Significance in Theological and Sectarian Issues

In the history of Islamic thoughts and sectarian controversies, particularly among the leaders of theological schools, the hadith has been given a favored reading and appealed to in order to prove the rightness of their own sects.

Some authors appeal to the end of this hadith to show that their rival sects are the worst sects. For example, in his al-Fisal, Ibn Hazm takes the standard version of the hadith (which talks about misguided sects that will go to the Hell) to be unreliable, but in his jurisprudential book, al-Muhalla, in which he takes qiyas (analogy) to be unacceptable, he appealed to a version of the hadith in which qiyas is reproached: "the sect which will start the greatest riot in my nation is the one which makes qiyas (analogies)."

Many scholars have appealed to this hadith to prove their readings of the Qur'an and the Tradition, taking the only saved Muslims to be the ones who follow their views.

Some people, such as Ibn Da'i, have recommended that such biased treatments should be avoided, but in practice, they did the same.

Books based on Hadith al-Iftiraq

  • Insistence on the exact number of sects mentioned in this hadith has had influences on some Muslim writers. One such influence was that they tried to match the number of actual Islamic sects of their time with the number—73—in Hadith al-Iftiraq. They went into troubles by making up some sects or including some sects into others.
  • Abu l-Ma'ali, al-Baghdadi, al-Isfarayini, and al-Shahristani have tried to list exactly 73 Islamic sects so that it would match the hadith. But, if the hadith is reliable, it probably means that the number of Islamic sects will be more than the sects of previous religions, not that there will be exactly 73 sects in Islam.
  • Authors of Islamic sects and creeds, such as al-Malati, as well as some early and well-known authors, such as al-Nawbakhti and al-Ash'ari, did not cite this hadith and did not match their classifications of Islamic sects with it, but they paved the path for other scholars to make up 73 or more Islamic sects. Some scholars who were not practically committed to this classification or did not seek to list all the sects have also accepted the hadith in one way or another. The book, Masa'il al-imama, attributed to Nashi' al-Akbar, which is one of the earliest works available to us from the 4th/10th century, takes actual facts about the division of Islam to be evidence for the reliability of Hadith al-Iftiraq.
  • In his I'tiqadat firaq al-muslimin wa l-mushrikin, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi did not cite this hadith, but in an answer to the question why his list of Islamic sects exceeds the number 73, he said that the Prophet's (s) remarks are concerned only with the main sects.