Our Prophet S.A.W said; in a Hadith; that Islam began as something strange and it shall return to something strange, so give glad tiding to the strangersTirmidhi Grade Hasan
Our Prophet S.A.W also told us that his Ummah will divide into 73 groups
So, How do we reconcile the Hadith of Strangeness and the Hadith of splitting with those Hadith about Muslim unity?
If we look at the commentary of this Hadith by various scholars like Ibn Hajr, As San’Aani, Ash-Shawkani. They all mention that this Hadith of 73 groups is actually one of the most misunderstood, misused and abused Hadith.
People try to use it to ferment factionalism and that was never the goal of our Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم
Our Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم never intended that we go and disunite even more than What is already happening.
So, What we need to do is to look at the goal of this Hadith and the wording of this Hadith.
The Hadith of the 73 sects in Islam is a Hassan Hadith, it is found in Tirmidhi, Ibn-Majah and others.
The most authentic Hadith that is in Bukhari and Muslim, they don’t mention 73, they simply say there shall be a group that will be rightly guided until the Judgement day. So they mention some positive thing.
That is why some of our scholars, a small minority have said that this Hadith of 73 is not authentic.
However, InShAllah, the majority position and the correct position is that it is authentic.
If we look at the wording of the Hadith, the Hadith begins as;
My Ummah shall disunite, my Ummah shall split up into 73.
This wording is so important because the Prophet Hadith صلى الله عليه وسلم begins the Hadith by stressing; My Ummah. Then He صلى الله عليه وسلم mentions that it will be divided.
So, all of these groups without exception are within the fold of Islam and if they are within the fold of Islam.
This means the rights of the Muslims, the Haqul Muslim shall be given to all of them in terms of responding to the salam, in terms of making dua for them, in terms of visiting them when they are sick, in terms of praying Janazah over them.
The rights of the Ummah will be given to all of these groups.
We are talking about those groups that are outside the fold of Islam.
When are the groups outside the fold of Islam?
Groups are outside the fold of Islam when they contradict explicit Kalimah
لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا ٱللَّٰهُ مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ ٱللَّٰهِ
or, they contravene something that is known by the unanimous opinion and the group says that we are not gonna do this and these are the exception.
Within the Ummah, there will be some division. Also, As-San’aani says that it is a big misunderstanding to say that the majority of Ummah will be misguided.
They get this fraction 72 out of 73 but As-San’aani himself says and before him, Ibn-Hajr, all of these groups put together are a small percentage of the one correct group.
All of the other groups will not be as large as the mainstream Ummah.
How do we know this?
Because our Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم predicted that the bulk of the Ummah shall be rightly guided.