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The Salafi-Wahabi-Sufi-Maliki-Tablighi-Shia-Sunni Label

Originally posted on Muslims in England.com: Labels.

"You're a Converted-Salafi-Wahabi-Sufi-Maliki-Tablighi-Sunni-Shia-Muslim?” Yes.

Labels are tricky. And sticky. I can never manage to completely peel one off whole, in once piece; annoying little patchy remnants are always left behind.

The word "label" by definition has two significant meanings. One is a restrictive definition: "a classifying phrase or name applied to a person or thing, esp. one that is inaccurate or limiting". The other is more informative: "a small piece of paper, fabric, plastic, or similar material attached to an object and giving information about it.

More and more labelling terms are invented by writers, the media and anyone who talks too much, to identify differences and similarities between people and ideologies. Titles of superiority, sects, heritage and class are stipulated with the result of mainly dividing communities, so the aristocrat knows not to enter the hobo-land, and the 'gifted and talented' nerd does not associate himself with dyslexic difficulties. On the other hand, labelling everything possible makes it easier to distinguish right from wrong, albeit with an upheaval of opposition from both parties. Labels are still the main tool for sociologists and psychologists who study society's infrastructure and mentality.

The problem with labels though is that there are so many. Take for example the simple and jaunting task of introducing yourself as a new Muslim to a masjid crowd. After they gaze upon this newcomer with a unpronounceable name, they question which madhab you follow, which sheikh you lean towards, how you read your Arabic and whether you agree with brothers who  shave off their beard. Dude! I became Muslim 2hrs ago, I haven't heard about madhabs, I can't read Arabic and I don't know the first thing about beards, I'm a woman! Within 24 hrs of entering Islam, you're already getting leaflets to join this sect, give all your money to that fakir, and you're labelled as the thicko who can't read salat properly. My favourite nickname for revert/convert Muslims is TG-Newbie, (Treat Gently, Newbie to Islam).

It's difficult enough with all forces of the world labelling Muslims with words we have to look up, let alone our own communities categorising our races and faces. Advertising has this skill to perfection, labelling I mean. They will create a niche, throw a label and product in and exclaim you MUST buy it, you need that label, your life is incomplete until you purchase another brand, stamp it on your forehead or tattoo it to your heart so as to seal your loyalty to all these labels! So, which one are you?

Labels are even more troublesome when used within faith and religious organisations. Within Christianity there are over 2500 denominations. In Islam too, why stick with just plain old 'Muslim' when you can choose the brand of Islam you're following? I ask though who can really live by that one black and white name when the Labels 'R' Us store has an array of colourful debating and contradicting labels? Of course this is not to criticise anyone who chooses to follow a particular group in Islam; of course organisations and groups of people have good intentions and aim to do right and save the world, yes, yes.

The purpose of mentioning this here is to halt that group of people, whoever they are, that claiming title to the "superiority-religious-card" and shunning every other person as a blaspheming sinner, is wrong. If you follow a madhab, mashaAllah, if you are a a follower of the Tablighi-Jamaat, great, if you are a Sufi Muslim, alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah. This does not give you precedence to look down on anyone who isn't like you. This also applies in the scholarly field when opinions differ over rulings; we all reach different conclusions because we are all different. In the Islamic scope of knowledge, differences occur and this is not a battle of 'right v. wrong'. It is becoming a battle of 'my label, v. your label'.

I remind myself first and then others that arguing our way to the top is not the solution to our identity crises when it comes to 'which Muslim are you?' And here I was under the illusion there was only the one kind. Silly me.

In the Quran, chapter 8, Al-Anfal (The Spoils of War) it reads:
"And obey Allah and His Messenger ﷺ and do not quarrel among yourselves lest (growing disunited and weak) you become timid and your impact (power) loses ground (before your enemy). So be steadfast. Surely Allah is with those who are steadfast."(Qur'an, 8:46)

People fall into arguments when they have different authorities or when their personal desire is the ultimate factor that shapes their views and ideas. When people obey only God and His messenger Muhammad , the main cause of dispute disappears.

Having different views is never a cause of dispute and conflict. What causes conflict is selfish desire, making everyone insist that your view is the one to follow, because you know more and because your teacher is wiser. It is when that particular group of people mass produces their stubborn labels with the "right aims" to convert everything else, that we have a problem.

Let people choose their own labels if they wish to do so. There is no major harm in varying labels, in heritage and practice, so long as it does not deviate you from Islam's core principles. There is a danger in trying to place self-fulfilling prophecies on every child, or walling up opportunities for discussion, closing up ideas and building bridges between everyone.

The world is not a box. Nor does it need a brandishing title. And yes, I am just a Muslim.


Published August 2009 on www.muslimsinengland.com.



  1. You know, this is one of the most sensitive topics you chose to write about, yet you came out as someone who knows how to deal with this issue well. Many times people go a bit too far in criticism, and what I mean by too far is that they either mention about things beyond their knowledge, lie about the other group, or keep jumping into different topics and ignoring the daleel that has already been stated. The debates between Muslims are horrible nowadays because laymen are getting into things without have grounded knowledge in Fiqh and Akhlaak. I actually agree with the salafi scholars telling the youth to stay away from debates. I'm pretty sure that it's not their intention to keep the youth ignorant, but I see a benefit to it such as lesser quarreling and lying. I believe that you should give some reminder or da'wah to those you see aren't in accordance to the Qur'an and Sunnah. And perhaps the listener could listen and say thank you for being brave enough to come up to him, or try to argue back in the best of manners if he feels that he has better daleel. If the both still disagree with each other, then let it be, so long as their adhaab is still there, showing each other signs of sincerity in looking for Truth wherever they find it. I believe this can happen without having to worry about ridiculing each other in the end.

  2. salamo aleikom wa Rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

    Going to post something on my blog about this subject inshaAllah. jazakAllah Khair


  3. I really despise when people lump madhabs with sects and think of it as a title that replaces being a Muslim. It's not. The madhabs are there to make things easier for us, so that we don't go astray in our deen and stick closely as possible to ahlu sunnah wa al jammah and the rightly guided 'ulema from the time of the sahabas, tabi'een, taba tabi'een. They were put in place precisely so we don't end up jumping on modernist bandwagons and get brainwashed into thinking that being a Muslim and following a madhab are mutually exclusive..this mentality is spreading like wild-fire and the most affected group are the youth of Islam. If your family is worried about your new-found Islam, it's most probably because they're worried about this mentality that sticking to traditional Islamic scholarship and calling yourself a Muslim are mutually exclusive.

  4. Sufis invoke the dead they think to be saints, like the Christians.
    The Shia are tribalists thinking that Only the bloodline of Muhammad(Peace be upon him) is the righteous bloodline and that none can be the ruler except from that bloodline..., like the Jews and the tribes of Israel fixation.

    There are differences between truth and falsehood in each of the sects between one another.

    If you are a sufi and you pray to saints and ask them to help you in life, you violate the statement in suratul-fatihah: "5 You (Alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything)."

  5. Wonderful expressed thoughts! Sometimes discussing topics like these seem to be taboo, but we've got to cross limits at times in order to showcase the diversity of interpretations within Islam (both to non-Muslims and Muslims alike). Islam is not this one monolith. As Daisy Khan (wife of Imam Rauf) said on ABC, there are as many interpretations of Islam as the number of Muslims in the world.

  6. If you are a sufi and you pray to saints and ask them to help you in life, you violate the statement in suratul-fatihah: "5 You (Alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything)."

    How can Sufis make dua to saints and how can the Shia make dua to 'Ali and Hassan and Husayn and Imam al-mahdi? "And your Lord said: "Invoke Me, [i.e. believe in My Oneness (Islamic Monotheism) and ask me for anything] I will respond to yo...ur (invocation). Verily! Those who scorn My worship [i.e. do not invoke Me, and do not believe in My Oneness, (Islamic Monotheism)] they will surely enter Hell in humiliation!"
    ( سورة غافر , Ghafir, Chapter #40, Verse #60)"

  7. To the brothers making a hoohah amongst themselves reg. sect wars.
    - it's unfortunate that I have to ask you to stop your discussion but you all show signs of ego, superiority and a tone of mockery.

    Always be aware that A. people will read what you type, and you not only represent yourself, you represent ME and the faith you belong to. Be kinder in your words, teachings or ideas, and B. God is watching you and knows your good intentions far better than I.

    I'm certain that you mean well, and you know whichever group you belong to/ don't belong to and are well educated in the field of sectarianism, Islamic history, rulings and development. Just because you KNOW something does not make any of you a governor of it, therefore you can never mock another for knowing less or disagreeing. You have your own baggage, understanding and level of faith that the rest of us may not reach. You are wiser, therefore speak with wisdom. Far be it from me to tell you off but dudes, I've learnt nothing from your words so far.

    You are not highlighting what the Muslim world is composed of TODAY.
    1. Sufi Islam may have been the purest, so is Islam.
    2. It is unrighteous to claim ALL of one group behaves in such a way whethergood/bad because you have been exposed to some. Not one of you can claim to have met every sunni, sufi, shia or atheist, therefore you cannot speak on behalf of everyone. The media does this enough for us, what are YOU achieving?
    3. My article was tongue-in-cheek and I'd hope you would read it before reaching conclusions.
    4. You are not aware of every Islamic change to ahadith, Muslim history, convert-ism or geography so once again, your 'I know and you don't know' conversation is literally fruitless.
    5. Regardless of how you feel, using phrases against individuals when you KNOW there are others that revere them, is characterless. To insult any religion is forbidden, to insult any human being is shallow. Please stop.
    6. To LABEL one another again, is exactly what I was refuting. Not only are you wasting your time, you are reacting in an emotion that corrupts your intention - whether it be anger, sarcasm or a pissant attitude. Again, please stop.

    PS. You're men, you become our leaders. I am not voting for any of you if you continue without mentioning Allah's name in humility.

    In final words of hope, please read an article on covering the faults of one another.

    Respectfully, your sister in faith,

  8. Does this really happen sister? I feel so ignorant=( I know people do talk about 'different kinds of Muslims-liberal vs. extreme' but I have only seen it on TV, on news, etc. I haven't really heard people argue over madhabs, etc. in every day life.


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