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What defines a Muslim?



The Muslim Debate Initiative had recently held a very interesting discussion on whether Ahmadis are brothers in faith with Sunni Muslims, basically is the Ahmadiya sect-movement a part of Islam?

MDI prides itself on being non-sectarian, MDI steers clear away from sectarian issues and debate, choosing to rather focus on non-Muslim criticism of Islam. Now whenever an issue like the one MDI took part in is discussed, there’s bound to be some controversy as this is quite a deep subject, whether Ahmadis are Muslim or not? Some may feel this goes against MDI’s non-sectarian policy, after all aren’t the Ahmadis a sect of Islam?

So in light of this, we thought it would be beneficial to write an article on what exactly defines a Muslim, and this should clarify matters. Now within Islam, you do have a lot of sects, many have passed, many still remain, and there will always be different sects of Islam, In fact having different and several sects of Islam is something that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) foretold during his lifetime, that the Muslims would split and divide into several different sects.

Now in terms of sects, you have Sunnis, and then you have Shias. These are the 2 most well known sects, then within Sunni Islam you also have subsects of Sufi Sunnism, and Salafi Sunnism, and then you simply have Sunnis that are neither Sufi nor Salafi. Now while most sects obviously disagree with another, in general they consider the other to be Muslim, however so there are some groups who may call themselves Muslim, but they’re belief system are so far out there that they are no longer even considered a sect and are simply considered to be outside the fold of Islam by most Muslims and Muslim sects.

So to boil it down, what makes one a Muslim? The first and most pillar of Islam is the testimony of faith which is split into 2 parts. The first part is to testify that there is no other God but the only one and true God. What this simply means is that Islam is a faith of monotheism; Muslims believe in one God, one deity, not a set of gods or deities, God is one and only one.

So now if a group of Muslims came up and declared the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a god, this would obviously contradict the main Islamic creed of monotheism, and so these Muslims would not just be considered an extreme heretical sect, but they would be considered to be totally out of the fold of Islam and would not be considered to be Muslims. Believing in one God also means as Muslims we only worship one God, and all aspects of worship belong to one God. So let us say some Muslims decide to start praying and worshiping another figure other than God, say they decide to start worshipping the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), again this would take one outside the fold of Islam because they have gone against the main pillar of Islam in an extreme fashion.

The second part of the first pillar is to testify that Muhammad (pbuh) is the last and final messenger of God. This means that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the seal of prophets as the Quran and hadiths say, that there will be no other divinely ordained messengers-prophets of God to bring forth new revelations from God, that the prophethood has ended with Muhammad (pbuh). So now if a Muslim begins to say that new prophets have in fact come, then they are obviously contradicting this very essential pillar of Islam in an extreme fashion, and so they would no longer be considered to be within the fold of Islam.

Now the problem with the Ahmadis is that they contradict this part of Islam, according to them, their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet. This completely goes against the first pillar of Islam that there will be no messengers of God after the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). 

What causes the problem here, is that the Ahmadis claim that their founder is a prophet, this contradicts the first pillar of Islam, it is something you cannot contradict or go against. At the end of the day, what’s the use of having pillars and main doctrines if anybody can decide to go against it? The whole religion will crumble and become useless. So while there are aspects of the religion that you can contradict, there are some aspects and foundations that are solid and cannot be contradicted, they’re basically a red line that can’t be crossed.

You can’t cross the red line of having more than 1 God or worshipping another person beside God, and you can’t have another prophet-messenger come after the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) because he is the final one.

Other aspects that define a Muslim is that as Muslims we believe our faith is perfect, after all it’s a divinely revealed faith for us, sent from God who is perfect. Thus the religion cannot have any flaws, nor can the revelation that was sent. Thus anyone who proclaims themselves to be a Muslim, but considers Islam to be imperfect, and a religion that does have problems, then again this would be something that crosses the red line and remove them from the fold of Islam. So if there was a sect out there that considered Islam to be imperfect, and that there are other sources more better than Islam, they would obviously not be considered Muslims and this makes lot’s of sense, how can one claim to be a Muslim while they believe their faith, which was revealed by God, is not perfect? If Islam is from God, it must be perfect, if it is imperfect then it cannot be from an all-powerful-knowing and perfect God.

So it’s these principles that really define a Muslim, note we haven’t said a Muslim who is disobedient or contradicts some parts of Islam automatically becomes a non-Muslim. Sinning in Islam does not take one outside the fold of Islam, neither does introducing some rites that may contradict aspects of Islam, or rites that were not originally from Islam but introduced later as some sort of ‘Islamic’ practice. It all depends on how grave or extreme the act is, obviously introducing a rite that worships Muhammad (pbuh) or any other figure other than God, would be beyond heresy and would remove one outside the fold of Islam.

Other aspects that define a Muslim has to be with the fundamentals of faith, concerning the prophets, the divine books, the angels, divine decree, and judgment day. As Muslims we are required to believe in these aspects of faith, so somebody who denies any of them, for example if they say we don’t believe angels are real and it’s just myth-making fantasy, then that person wouldn’t be considered to be a Muslim, the same with the rest and other aspects of faith mentioned in the Quran.

At the end of the day, it’s important to have defined parameters, if we didn’t, then being a Muslim, and following Islam would become meaningless. You could have anyone calling themselves a Muslim to be following Islam, but Islam and the whole religion would lose its meaning and purpose. It’s important to make this point, because some might try to argue we’re being ‘extreme’ for defining what is and isn’t a Muslim, yet it’s not extreme at all, because as we said, we need parameters and meanings or else everything becomes meaningless and you only have chaos. How much sense would it make for someone to claim to be a Muslim, but deny Muhammad (pbuh) as a prophet, and believe that Jesus is God who should be worshipped? Would that make any sense at all? Or vice versa? Off course not. It would just lead to confusion, and render the meaning of being a Muslim, and follower of Islam to be useless.

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