False gods and goddesses need not take the shape of idols.
The Quran tells us of not dividing ourselves into sects. The final Prophet Muhammad (saw) told us that the Jews divided themselves into 71, the Christians into 72, and this Ummah (the Ummah of the last Prophet) will divide itself into 73 sects, and of those only one will be on the right path.
What that particular sect is not what I am going to talk about at present.
First of all, when it is said that only one sect will go to Heaven, and the others will not, this cannot mean that the others will never get to Jannah. There is a hadeeth to the effect that anyone with the smallest grain of eemaan will eventually be taken out of Hell and admitted to Jannah. There is another to the effect in which the Prophet (saw) is reported to have asked us Muslims to marry and have many children, because on the last Day he will be pleased with his large following. If salvation were to be limited to only one sect of Muslims, then the above two ahadeeth do not have any meaning. What is likely is that the people from the saved sect will have the right aqeeda, and if their amal is also at least the minimum that is obligatory and without any cancelling conditions, they will be admitted to jannah. Others may have to spend varying times in Hell before they are pardoned.
This is not to suggest that we should be lax. Try to burn yourself with a lighted match. The pain is unbearable. Even the pain off a burn from a recently extinguished match is unbearable. So how can one be lax over sins or omissions that may make one spend considerable time with the whole body in Hell.
Shirk is not which will ever be pardoned, and many a times one is not aware of his/her own shirk.
One clarification is needed. When the Hadeeth talks of having many children, it does not mean having them and not taking proper care of them. Marriage and parenthood carry huge responsibilities, and not just those of providing food, clothes and a roof over the heads. These involve tarbiyyah - preparing the child for a life according to Islam, so that s/he may enter Jannah.
We are forbidden to kill other Muslims unless it is in qassaas, or zina by a married Muslim. Even then there is a proper qadi court, hearing, presentation of evidence, defence, pronouncement of judgment, before the punishment is carried out by state authorities. In fact, even when it is known that a group of Muslims exists that is on the wrong path, it still enjoys the privilege that belonging to the Ummah brings. We have the case of the fourth Khalifa Ali bin abi Talib (ra), who did not wage a war with the Khwarijites until they rebelled and killed a Sahabi and his pregnant kaneez, even though they were recognized from a Hadeeth as belonging to the extremists who would go out of Islam like an arrow leaves the bow.
So while we have to try to bring other Muslims to accept our aqeeda, we cannot ex-communicate them.
And that includes the shia. The only restriction we should extend is that if they expect Zakat from the Baitul Maal, they should be prepared to pay Zakat to the state treasury as well.
Let us now talk briefly of other groups and identities.
Allah (swt) says in the Quran that He divided mankind into tribes and nations so that we may identify each other. So that is the purpose of nationality, just as the purpose of stars is to guide travelers at night.
In Jahilliyya days, i.e. before the last Prophet (saw), the Arabs were divided into tribes and various alliances between tribes. There were powerful tribes, and weak ones. Members of the weaker ones had less rights.
Islam changed all that. The Muslims were an Ummah from the start, irrespective of their ethnicity or status in society. At Makkah they were persecuted but they hung on to the faith. In MadanatunNabi there were two groups - Muhajireen and Ansaar, and the Prophet (saw) assigned one or two Muhajireen to one Ansaar. When an Arab Muhjir called Bilal (ra) as " O son of a black slave", the Prophet (saw) admonished him. Yet the Prophet told on the Khutbatul wida that it is forbidden to take pride in one's ancestry, but the Ummah will do it. We see this everywhere. It is forbidden, yet people think they are superior to others on account of one thing or the other - their intellect, their degrees, their good looks, the color of their skin, their rural or urban dwelling, their houses, their cars, their spouses, their money, their nationality, their country, etc.
Yes, their country!
The Prophet (saw) told us that no one is superior to other by virtue of anything except taqwa.
When there was a Khilafah, Muslims travelled from one Muslim land to another for learning, for business, they intermarried and they did not meet any hostility on account of their ethnic origin. It was Salahuddin, a Kurd, who placed an Arab as the head of Khilafah.
The Uthmani Khilafah had many other religious communities, some quite rebellious, but they were made almost self-governing. However, it had decayed, and demands were raised for separate political entities based on ethnic nationalism.
Sure there were internecine wars between Muslims. These were sectarian as well as ethnic. That had been told us by the Prophet (saw). These are deplorable. If one can determine who is in the right and who is in the wrong, one should try to stop the wrong being done, or to bring justice.
Even before the breakup of the Uthmani Khilafah and abolition of the Khilafah altogether, ethnic and sectarian differences within Muslims were exploited by the Christians. In Andalucía, the Muslims of Spanish descent were told they were sons of the soil, while the Arabs and the Berbers were invaders. That is natural for an enemy to find and exploit differences for division. It is stupid for a united ummah to be so divided. Yet the Muslims had so degenerated that they fought each other, and joined hands with the Christians, until the latter finally either converted, expelled or killed all Muslims. So that no Muslim was left in Spain.
Whose fault was it? The Muslims own, for they had divided and fought among themselves. Yet there were some redeeming qualities among their decadent. e.g. Yusuf bin Tashfeen was invited by the qadis of Andalucía to counter the wars of Alfonso. Alfonso invited Mutamid, one of the important rulers of the small Muslim states to join him, drawing on the shared culture of Muslims and Christians of Spain and promising share in the booty. Mutamid wrote back that he would prefer to be herder of Yusuf's camels in the Saharan desert than look after the pigs of Alfonso.
There are many more examples in the past and from the present.
Among the Arabs on the Uthmani Khilafat, the nationalist fervor generated in the last century gave rise to Arabism and Baathism. Saddam was a Baathist, who came to power through the money and support of the CIA. His persecution of the Kurds and the Shia cannot be said to come from Islamic teachings, yet Islam is blamed, and Muslims who are otherwise quite intelligent, get confused and buy the non-Muslim explanations. We have many other examples - in our vicinity, and beyond. One time common prejudices "Bengalis are robbers, Sindhis are lazy, Kashmiris are cowards" have been heard too often. Or reflect on the fact that although Islam does not allow us to discriminate on grounds of colour, the demand is to find brides who have a fair skin, and bridegrooms who have loads of money, irrespective of where that money comes from, or a spouse from the same clan. Arab states extend from Morrocco in the West to Iraq in the East, and we have had inter-Arab wars. Muslim countries from the same Morrocco to Indonesia, and Tatar Republic in Russia to the Cameroons, yet they have had Muslim wars.
Try to recollect the boasts of superiority by one family over another, one clan over another, one region over the others, one province, and one country over the other.
This is because of one or more of the false prides that we suffer from.
Two questions arise:
1. Why do Muslims continue to seek identities that result in clashes within the Muslim Ummah?
2. To what extent our national interest supersedes the ummah's interest.
For example, by and large Muslims were clear that the US invasion of Iraq was wrong, and they demonstrated and showed their displeasure. Yet, a significant number support the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and now Pakistan by the US - even though the principle is the same.
There are problems of the Ummah that are related to these questions - problems of the dominance of the kafir culture and our acceptance of this culture, but I think for a thinking person this is enough. Problesm because of which it is often preferable to stay among the poor Muslims in the East, than join the prosperous ones in the West. How many in the West are being lost to the kafir culture of dance, exposing the skin, fornication, and outright denunciation of faith?
May Allah (swt) give us the understanding to differentiate between right and wrong, keep us all on the right path, and admit us to Jannatul Firdaws.