The 73rd heavenly sect: Response to allegations – Part I


Syed Hashir, Student, Jamia Ahmadiyya Canada

When conversing with non-Ahmadi Muslims and the topic of the 73rd heavenly sect foretold by the Holy Prophetsa comes up, they try their best to prove that it is not the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat. 

They base their arguments on the same hadith; however, all their arguments are refuted by their own scholars. 

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The words of our beloved master the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa are as follows:

إِنَّ‭ ‬بَنِي‭ ‬إِسْرَائِيلَ‭ ‬افْتَرَقَتْ‭ ‬عَلَى‭ ‬إِحْدَى‭ ‬وَسَبْعِينَ‭ ‬فِرْقَةً‭ ‬وَإِنَّ‭ ‬أُمَّتِي‭ ‬سَتَفْتَرِقُ‭ ‬عَلَى‭ ‬ثِنْتَيْنِ‭ ‬وَسَبْعِينَ‭ ‬فِرْقَةً‭ ‬كُلُّهَا‭ ‬فِي‭ ‬النَّارِ‭ ‬إِلَّا‭ ‬وَاحِدَةً‭ ‬وَهِيَ‭ ‬الْجَمَاعَةُ

“The children of Israel split into 71 sects, and my nation will split into 72, all of which will be in Hell except for one, which is the ‘al-Jama‘at’.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Book of Tribulations)

In a similar hadith, the Holy Prophetsa said:

وَإِنَّ‭ ‬بَنِي‭ ‬إِسْرَائِيلَ‭ ‬تَفَرَّقَتْ‭ ‬عَلَى‭ ‬ثِنْتَيْنِ‭ ‬وَسَبْعِينَ‭ ‬مِلَّةً‭ ‬وَتَفْتَرِقُ‭ ‬أُمَّتِي‭ ‬عَلَى‭ ‬ثَلاَثٍ‭ ‬وَسَبْعِينَ‭ ‬مِلَّةً‭ ‬كُلُّهُمْ‭ ‬فِي‭ ‬النَّارِ‭ ‬إِلاَّ‭ ‬مِلَّةً‭ ‬وَاحِدَةً‭ ‬قَالُوا‭ ‬وَمَنْ‭ ‬هِيَ‭ ‬يَا‭ ‬رَسُولَ‭ ‬اللَّهِ‭ ‬قَالَ‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬أَنَا‭ ‬عَلَيْهِ‭ ‬وَأَصْحَابِي‭ ‬

“Indeed the children of Israel split into 72 sects, and my ummah will split into 73 sects. All of them are in the fire except one sect.” [The companions] said: ‘And which sect is it, O Messenger of Allah?’ He said: “[Those who are like] What I and my Companions are upon.” (Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi, Book of Faith)

Four allegations and viewpoints

There are a number of misrepresentations Muslims employ using these two narrations, in an attempt to refute the arguments of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat. The first is that there are not even 70 sects in Islam, so Ahmadiyyat cannot be the 73rd sect. Therefore, Ahmadiyyat is not the prophesied heavenly community. 

Completely contrary to the first point, the second allegation is that there are more than 73 sects and because only 73 sects are from the ummah according to the hadith, the 74th and beyond are outside the pale of Islam and thus the Ahmadiyya Community does not belong in Islam, because it was formed after the 73rd sect according to a quote of the Promised Messiahas

The third point presented is that the heavenly sect is the one that was founded by, and existed from the time of, our beloved Prophet Muhammadsa, hence every sect thereafter is misguided and Hell-bound. 

The fourth argument given by many is that “al-Jama‘at” in the aforementioned hadith is referring to the main body of the Muslims (the majority of Muslims). 

These views are in discordance with one another, but are all under the same job description: they attempt to disprove this community of God. Thus, the subsequent dismantling of these arguments is required to prove the superiority of the words of the Holy Prophetsa in favour of the Promised Messiahas.

Allegation 1: There aren’t 73 sects within Islam

The first allegation many raise is, “There have not yet been 73 sects in Islam so Ahmadiyyat cannot be the 73rd sect, therefore Ahmadiyyat cannot be the heavenly sect.” 

This claim itself proves them wrong. If there are not 73 sects in Islam and the 73rd is the delivered one, then that heavenly delivered sect has not yet appeared according to their own logic. This produces two options, and these people must choose from this dichotomy:

1. All the current sects in Islam are heavenly (including the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community).

2. All of them are damned because the true recognition of the “al-Jamaat” can only be after there are 73 sects in Islam, according to their own point of view.

The Holy Prophetsa of Islam did not mention 65 or 48 or any other random number to be in the fire. And since the number 73 has not appeared yet in the number of Muslim sects, this would mean great chaos because the current sects would all be right and one would have to admit that despite their completely contradicting views and them declaring each other as heretics and blasphemers, they are all heavenly. According to them, the true identity of the “al-Jama‘at” cannot be revealed until and unless there are exactly 73 sects.

Furthermore, their own Muslim scholars have explained that 73 does not mean the exact number “73”. Arabic linguists have mentioned that if the number seven appears as a unit or in tens, then it refers to “many” or “multitudes”. A prominent translator and commentator, Muhammad Yaseen Qasuri Naqshbandi, in his commentary of Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi, under the explanation of the above narration writes (in Urdu):

بہتر‭ ‬اور‭ ‬تہتر‭ ‬كے‭ ‬اعداد‭ ‬تكثير‭ ‬كے‭ ‬لئے‭ ‬استعمال‭ ‬كئے‭ ‬جاتے‭ ‬ہيں۔ عربی ‬زبان‭ ‬ميں‭ ‬سات‭ ‬كا‭ ‬عدد‭ ‬تهوڑی ‬تكثير‭ ‬كے‭ ‬لئے، ستر‭ ‬كا‭ ‬عدد‭ ‬درميانی ‬تكثير‭ ‬كے‭ ‬لئے‭ ‬اور‭ ‬تہتر‭ ‬كا‭ ‬عدد‭ ‬زياده‭ ‬تكثير‭ ‬كے‭ ‬لئے‭ ‬استعمال‭ ‬كيا‭ ‬جاتا‭ ‬هے‬‬۔

“The numbers 72 and 73 indicate excess. In Arabic, the number 7 is used for slight excess and the number 70 is used for moderate excess whereas the number 73 is used to indicate extreme excess.”(Anwar-e-Nabwi, Book of Faith)

Allama Abdullah-bin-Ahmad An-Nasfi, a famous exegete of the Holy Quran, writes:

وَقَدْ‭ ‬وَرَدَتِ‭ ‬الْأَخْبَارُ‭ ‬بِذِكْرِ‭ ‬السَّبْعِيْنَ‭ ‬وَ‭ ‬كُلُّهَا‭ ‬تَدُلُّ‭ ‬عَلَي‭ ‬الْكَثْرَةِ‭ ‬لَا‭ ‬عَليٰ‭ ‬التَّحْدِيْدِ‭ ‬وَ‭ ‬الْغَايَةِ

“And surely narrations have been reported referring to ‘70’ and all of them indicate excess, not restriction and limitation. (Madarik-ut-Tanzil)

Another popular contemporary scholar, Yasir Qadhi has said in one of his addresses:

“Many scholars have pointed out that in the Arabic language seven, 70 and 700 is an expression. Allah says in the Quran:

إِن‭ ‬تَسْتَغْفِرْ‭ ‬لَهُمْ‭ ‬سَبْعِينَ‭ ‬مَرَّةً‭ ‬فَلَنْ‭ ‬يَغْفِرَ‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬لَهُمْ

“‘If you will ask forgiveness for the hypocrites 70 times, Allah will not forgive them.’ Does this mean if the Prophetsa asked 71 times, Allah would forgive? It is a generic number, 70. So we don’t have to be literal.”(Yasir Qadhi’s address on 1 September 2013)

Now, it is very clear that whether there are exactly 73 sects in Islam or more or less, this claim of some Muslims that the number has not reached 73 becomes null by their own scholars. Yasir Qadhi further said:

“Every time a scholar from the past attempted a list, ‘This is number one, number two, number three’; by the time he finished writing his book, another group had come to make it similar to 74, 75 […] We have in our history a dozen books written, each one of them saying, ‘These are the 73’, but guess what? By the time the book is finished, other groups come along, they don’t fit on this list.” (Ibid)

Their own scholars invalidate their first argument and prove the number has indeed reached 73, so we must take the number to be an expression.

Allegation 2: More than 73 before Ahmadiyyat

The second group consists of those who say that only 73 are from the ummah, the rest being non-Muslims, and Ahmadiyyat came after the 73rd sect, and so it is misguided. They present a quote of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdias. The Promised Messiahas states in his book Tohfa-e-Golarhwiya:

باره‭ ‬سو‭ ‬برس‭ ‬ميں‭ ‬تو‭ ‬صرف‭ ‬تہتر‭ ‬فرقے‭ ‬اسلام‭ ‬كے‭ ‬ہو‭ ‬گئے‭ ‬تهے‭ ‬ليكن‭ ‬تيرهويں‭ ‬صدی ‬نے‭ ‬اسلام‭ ‬ميں‭ ‬وه‭ ‬بدعات‭ ‬اور‭ ‬نئے‭ ‬فرقے‭ ‬پيدا‭ ‬كئے‭ ‬جو‭ ‬باره‭ ‬سو‭ ‬برس‭ ‬ميں‭ ‬پيدا‭ ‬نہيں‭ ‬ہوئے‭ ‬تهے

“In 1,200 years [after Hijrah], there were only 73 sects of Islam. However, the thirteenth century brought about such innovations and created so many sects in Islam as had not been seen before in 1,200 years.” (Tohfa-e-Golarhwiya, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 17, p. 265)

Some Muslims use this quote to prove that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas himself admits that 73 sects had already appeared before his advent, therefore Ahmadis cannot even be inside the pale of Islam. 

Their own scholars, however, have counted more than 73 sects and considered them in the pale of Islam, as Yasir Qadhi has been quoted above, “We have in our history a dozen books written, each one of them saying, ‘These are the 73’, but guess what? By the time the book is finished, other groups come along, they don’t fit on this list.” (Yasir Qadhi address on 1 September 2013). The exegesis of Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi also corroborates our views as it says, “The number 73 is used to indicate extreme excess”. 

After 73 sects, members of the excess sects cannot be considered removed from the ummah according to their own scholars and, more than anything, according to the Holy Prophetsa. When taking a census in Medina during the Battle of the Ditch, he instructed:

اكْتُبُوا‭ ‬لِي‭ ‬مَنْ‭ ‬تَلَفَّظَ‭ ‬بِالإِسْلاَمِ‭ ‬مِنَ‭ ‬النَّاسِ

“List the names for me of those people who have announced that they are Muslims.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Jihad)

He also declared:

مَنْ صَلَّى صَلاَتَنَا، وَاسْتَقْبَلَ قِبْلَتَنَا، وَأَكَلَ ذَبِيحَتَنَا، فَذَلِكَ الْمُسْلِمُ الَّذِي لَهُ ذِمَّةُ اللّٰهِ وَذِمَّةُ رَسُولِهِ، فَلاَ تُخْفِرُوا اللّٰهَ فِي ذِمَّتِهِ

“Whoever prays like us and faces our Qiblah and eats our slaughtered animals, is a Muslim and is under Allah’s and His Messenger’s protection. So do not betray Allah by betraying those who are in His protection.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Prayers, Chapter superiority of (praying) facing the Qiblah)

In the sight of our beloved master, the Prophet Muhammadsa, anyone who calls themselves a Muslim, prays like a Muslim, faces the Qiblah and eats the Halal food, is a Muslim. Thus, even if more than 73 sects are formed, all of them would be within the pale of Islam. If it has to be the exact number and going beyond it goes contrary to the original purport, then according to their logic, if the Holy Prophetsa sought forgiveness for the hypocrites more than 70 times, Allah should have forgiven them. If they take the hadith literally and use the quote of the Promised Messiahas to bring us under the allegation, then they must remember that Barelvis, Deobandis and many other sects around the world were formed after the 1,200 years referred to in the quotation of the Promised Messiahas. This would place them outside the pale of Islam. 

The founders of the Barelvi and Deobandi sects were in the same era as the Promised Messiahas. It is the members of these sects who mainly raise such allegations. Other sects like Jamaat-e-Islami and the Ahrar were formed even after that. This allegation backfires on them. It is they who believe that any sect after the first 73 is not in Islam, not the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. 

So using the quote of the Promised Messiahas for their own propaganda and against his own meanings has put their Islam under jeopardy. 

The Promised Messiahas clearly writes, “The thirteenth century brought about such innovations and created so many sects in Islam […]”. Thus, all these sects referred to were within Islam according to the Promised Messiahas! It is they who are calling themselves non-Muslims because their sects were made after the 73rd sect. Thus, while their scholars casually show them the exit of the ummah, the Promised Messiah’s interpretation is the only one they can grasp to retain their Islam. They should at least be thankful to the Promised Messiahas.

Allegation 3: Every sect is misguided

The third viewpoint purports that the heavenly sect is the one that was founded by, and existed from the time of, our beloved Prophet Muhammadsa, hence every sect thereafter is misguided and Hell-bound. 

If one is to say that the heavenly sect is the one founded and created by the Holy Prophetsa of Islam, then we are in complete agreement with this belief. However, Muslims cannot agree upon which group is continuing from the time of our beloved prophet. ‘Sunnis’ claim that it is them and ‘Shias’ claim it is them. Then the further denominations of these sects argue with each other that theirs is the saved denomination. Everyone in their presumption is claiming to be the delivered sect, the one. So who do we listen to?

I remember asking one of my classmates in high school who belonged to the Bohra denomination of Shiites, “Who founded your sect?” He replied “Prophet Muhammadsa”. Everyone replies in a similar manner. 

Another popular non-denominational scholar called Engineer Muhammad Ali Mirza quoted a famous Hanafi lawyer, who said, “Only Deobandis will enter heaven”(Question and Answer Engineer Muhammad Ali Mirza, 21 July 2019). This would mean that Deobandis claim to have existed from the time of the Prophetsa, which is absurd because they were founded just decades before the Ahmadiyya Jamaat was founded. Moreover, this explanation is against the hadith itself because the Prophetsa did not say any sect made or created would be Hell-bound; rather, he said that 73 would be formed and one would be heavenly.

Click here for Part II

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