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There is a famous narration attributed to the Prophet (SAWW) where he said that the Ummah will be divided into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two will be in the Fire. What is the authenticity of this narration?
There are many narrations in Sunni and Shia books regarding the 73 sects, but most of the narrations have additions which are not authentic especially what is in some Sunni books that the saved sect will be those who follow me and my companions ما أنا عليه وأصحابي. Leading Sunni Ulama stated that this narration is fabricated.
Our Shia Ulama narrated many narrations about the 73 sects as find in Bisharat Al-Mustafa narrated from Ameerul Mo'mineen (AS) which states that saved sect will be those who follow the real successor of the Prophet (SAWA).
This narration does not mean that all Muslim sects will be in hellfire except one sect, but means that there will be right sect despite of the different sects. The followers of the right sect will be saved because there have obeyed the orders of Allah (SWT) and the Prophet (SAWA).
Is there an authentic narration in which the Prophet (SAW) says that the scholars of the Ummah are superior to the earlier Prophets?
In the name of Allah
Such Hadith is not narrated in major Shia sources.
This hadith does not state superiority, but similarity. There are different interpretations as to the meaning of this analogy and to whom the prophet is referring when he says "Scholars".
Some experts believe that "scholars" is only referring to the Infallible Imams, and the hadith means that the Imams are Hujjah (Proofs of Allah) to the people, just as those prophets were Hujjah to the people of their time.
The abovementioned Hadith is narrated in:
While I believe strongly in the concept of Muslim unity and that we are meant to have brotherhood and sisterhood as one ummah, the reality is, there are rather significant differences in the Shi'i and Sunni heritages (theology, practice, hadith, scholarship, viewpoints on history, worldview, etc), as well as between different subgroups of Shi'is and different subgroups of Sunnis.
If one takes away the all differences, one is really left with very little that is substantial and/or a completely new ideology and new group. For instance, Shi'is and Sunnis have different collections of hadith, and will never entirely adopt each other's. If you take away all the hadith in the name of unity, then you are left with the Qur'an-only view of Islam, which is its own separate ideology.
Also, usually, "just Muslim" is just a code word for "Sunni". This is because what is done by the majority is seen as "normal" and what is done by the minority is seen as "weird" or "deviant". The vast majority of people who are "just Muslim" adopt an overall Sunni worldview and consider any Shi'i-specific views or practices - such as belief in the 12 Imams as an essential part of Islam or the Shi'i timings for breaking fast - to be deviant or optional.
So, there is no real merit to taking away the religious heritage in the name of unity. It is better just to encourage a spirit of tolerance and acceptance of diversity. That is, just because some of my beliefs and practices are different from those of a Sunnni does not mean that we cannot have mutual respect or friendship. In fact, true friendship is based on accepting differences, not forcing people to be identical.
I believe that if we have a spirit of tolerance, friendship, and acceptance of differences, then we can still have brotherhood and sisterhood in the ideal of the ummah. However, this spirit of tolerance needs to go both ways; it cannot be one-sided to work.
I understand that the Qur'an does not make any mention of either Shia or Sunni and warns the Muslims against dividing into sects. If that is correct then how come the Islamic Ummah has got divided into these two broad sects?
There are narrations in both Sunni and Shi'i collections that say that this ummah will divide into seventy-three sects, with only one being saved, i.e. 'the jama'a'. This has been interpreted to mean 'the majority' by Sunni scholars, whereas Imam 'Ali (as) has said that 'the jama'a' are those who follow the truth, even if they are few. This means that, even among the Shi'a, not all will necessarily be among the jama'a. Imam al-Baqir (as) has said 'the fitna is inevitable'. The Qur'an talks about previous generations that attacked their prophets and became divided over their message. There are many reasons for divisions to occur, but one key reason seems to have been for the Arabs to overcome their tribal pride and accept Imam 'Ali (as) as the successor. The Jews and Christians also hid parts of their prophets' messages or changed them, because they thought that their worldly position was jeopardised by challenging aspects of these messages. People are often happy to accept the message as long as they can maintain their worldly status and comforts.