بسم لله الرحمان الرحيم
In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful. All praise be to God, the cherisher, the sustainer, and lord of all the worlds. Praise be to he who created life from the primordial seas, and created man from a congealed clot of blood. I bear witness that there is no Deity worthy of worship other than Almighty God, and he has no partners remotely equal to him, and I bear witness that Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, is the slave and messenger of God. Assalaam Aleikum, peace be upon you.
In this post, I wanted to raise an issue that has recently come to mind due to a conversation I've been having with an individual on Facebook. The issue of Muslims vs. Islam. Or the idea of what Muslims do, versus what Islam says. In most people's minds today, Muslims and Islam are interchangeable. Just as the words "Muslim extremists" and "Islamic extremists", are interchangeable. However from the Muslims perspective they are not.
In this recent conversation I had, this individual had said that he was not criticizing "my Islam" or the "Islam that I practice". The fundamental truth is, that there is only ONE Islam. This is different from the Christian traditions, in that there are many sects of Christianity that in there fundamental tenants, are different. Different sects use different books and different Scriptures, such as the fact that the Catholic Bible has more books than the Protestant Bible. Accordingly, most people in the west who are familiar with these Christian discrepancies, assume that Islam is the same way, as they see many different kinds of Muslims doing and saying different things. However, this is not true, as there is only ONE version of the Qur'an, and even secular historians agree that it is authentically the same Qur'an from the time of the prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
While there ARE different sects, they are only different in regards to the Sunnah, or the sayings and traditions of the prophet (pbuh) in addition to the Qur'an itself. The majority of Muslims are Sunni, or orthodox, and follow the Qur'an, and the Sunnah, as is passed down in the books of hadith. Two of the most authentic books of hadith are the books of Sahih al Bukhari and Sahih al Muslim. The Shia have different books of hadith, and other sects may use the same books as Shia and/or Sunni, but with different interpretations. However with all these differences, these are only differences concerning the Sunnah. The Qur'an is accepted, as is, by ALL Muslims, regardless of sect.
When someone asks me, "What kind of Muslim are you?" I respond by saying "I'm just a Muslim". I do not define myself as any kind of Muslim, because it is made clear in the scriptures of Islam that sectarianism is strictly forbidden. So, I reject the idea of labels like Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Wahabbi, Salafi, or even Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi'i, or Hanafi which relate to the four major sunni schools of thought. For me I follow the Qur'an and the proven authentic sunnah of the prophet (pbuh).
In the west, people see some Muslims in the world being violent and hostile, some Muslims are "westernized" and look and appear seemingly the same as folks in the west, others are somewhere in the middle. So, which is correct? Well the answer is complicated and not complicated at the same time. The complicated part for westerners is understanding the difference in the sects of Islam, the influence of western powers in recent history, and the nature of political regimes in the old Muslim world, which can really only be understood by understanding the history of Muslim civilization. This is a mind boggling concept for the average American to understand, and most would just assume listen to others who claim to know about it, which can be dangerous. However, the not complicated part is that "Islam" the actual teachings of the Qur'an and authentic sunnah, is very easily accessible by the average person. It's no more than a few clicks of the mouse. There are thousands of websites where the curious non-Muslim American can learn in an easy painless way about the fundamental tenants of Islam such as Islams stance on civil liberties, women's rights, warfare, charity and poverty, family life, etc. If the average American would take the time do learn these basic things about what the Qur'an says about these things, they would easily be able to judge whether or not what they see Muslims doing is in accordance with the teachings of Islam. Then, maybe they could know whether or not to say "Islam" or "Muslims" in their critiques.
..... And Allah knows best.....