Labels: Help or Hinderence to Islamic Unity?
Anytime a discussion about Islam arises, I am always accused of somehow disuniting the Muslims because of my use of labels. “There are no Hanafis, Shafi’s, Asharis, etc., we’re all Muslims and these labels only hinder Islamic unity” people constantly tell me. I reflected upon this for some time and I came to the conclusion that the contrary is true: labels help Islamic unity. Islamic tradition, beginning with the time of the Prophet , has been full of differences of opinion. For those of you who doubt me and believe that Islamic is a Manichean entity where everything is black and white, I challenge you to listen to The Etiquettes of Disagreement by Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. In order to accommodate these differences of opinion, labels are necessary. Otherwise, describing each opinion intrinsically (i.e. saying “the opinion where you can combine and shorten prayers”) becomes cumbersome upon the scholars and assigning a label to that opinion (Shafi’) becomes much more expedient. Furthermore, using these labels is an acknowledgment that the differing opinion is correct. For example, if I say something like “opinion x is the Shafi’ opinion and opinion y is the Maliki opinion,” I am acknowledging that both opinion are within the fold of Islam because both the Shafis and Malikis are Muslim. This idea is not limited to Shafis and Malikis. The upshot is that we need these labels to keep unity (unless you overuse pronouns) because there must be some method to hold together all of these opinions and regard them as valid with some form of expediency otherwise there would be no intellectual infrastructure to accommodate the differences of opinions that has traditionally been in Islam as was started by our Beloved Messenger .
Granted sometimes labels can be devisive. Once I heard two brothers saying something about “A Salafi Masjid.” Masjids are for all Muslims. I think it mostly depends on the intention. If someone wants to describe “A Salafi Masjid” to keep all the “devient Sufis out,” or vise versa, then that must be done away with. When one uses labels, one must not intend to be divisive and alienate Muslims who take a different opinion.
Conclusion: use labels only when they are not intended to divide and do not let them be a dividing factor. We are all brothers and sister so let’s act like it (without the fighting). I’m going to end this with a link to an Imam Suhaib Webb speech where he spoke about unity.
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