All the Praises are for Allah and Salutation is for the Messenger and his family and all those that follow him doing good works until the Day of Resurrection.
The very first generation of Muslims [the Sahabah] that lived and established Islam in their lives with Muhammad, the son of 'Abdullah, had glory and triumph that no nation that existed before them or any that came after them achieved. This is a reality which no one denies.
Thus we find that every conscious Muslim dreams about this reality and so in his own way tries to work for this glory to return within his life and the life of those around him. However, to dream is one thing and the reality is another. The Muslims although they are now the fastest growing nation, are also the most divided. This division was predicted by the messenger [saw], who said: The Jews were divided into seventy one (71) groups, the Christians were divided into seventy two (72) any my ummah (nation) [ie the Muslims] will divide into seventy three (73), each of which would be in the Fire except one...
Although this prediction is established in the Hadeeth above, it is not approved by Islam. On the contrary, Allah had commanded the Muslims to unite, He said:
Hold fast all together to the rope of Allah and be not divided...
The division of this ummah started very early after the death of the messenger of Allaah [saw]. After Islam became strong and its enemies found that they could not defeat it physically they started to attack it by undermining the faith of the common people and those newly converted to Islam by introducing new concepts that were alien to the Islam brought by Muhammad [saw]. This wave of attack brought about an almost total standstill to the quest for sound knowledge and facilitated the easy spread of deviant concepts and new innovations in this religion. The vast majority of Muslims are now totally lost and their understanding of Islam was very much diluted with deviant ideas which allowed anyone who wanted to capitalize on the ignorant to do so with ease. People now lost the correct way and so they did not know what method to use to understand this deen. Therefore, instead of referring matters of belief ('Aqeedah) to the Qur`an and the Sunnah they turned to the books of philosophy which, although written by Muslims, were all affected by the Greek, Persian and other prevelant thoughts of that time.
Issues of fiqh on the other hand were completely restricted to the four Imams. And so as time went by the people became totally fanatical about their Madhab (school of thought). This caused the noble Imams to be treated by their followers as the prophets ought to be treated (i.e. as if they were protected from errors). Whatever any of them said was taken as totally correct by those who followed them (as if it were revelation). Even if a verse from the Qur`an or an authentic saying of the Messenger was brought as an argument against what the Imam said, their followers left what Allah or the messenger said and followed their Imams. This dangerous state of affair led to biggotted blind following (Muta'assub Taqleed) of humans at the expense of revelation.
Biggotted blind following of other than Allah and His messenger along with widespread ignorance was definitely the major sources of all the division that occurred in the Deen. This was now what Islam became to the people. And this attitude closed the doors of Ijtihad. Proof were no longer looked into, to understand anything in Islam and the Qur`an and the sunnah of the messenger [saw] which must be used for our guidance now became means for the Muslim of acquiring blessings (Barakah) only.
This further led to the state where anyone could now give Fatawas (Legislative rulings in Islam) and also say anything he felt like saying about Islam because there was no threat that anyone would ask for proof from the Qur`an or the Sunnah. On the other hand the people who were listening to him had no basis to determine whether what they are hearing is correct or not because they themselves have lost any attachment to sources of Islamic law.
This condition of ignorance and biggotted blind following was also predicted by the messenger [saw], who said: Verily, Allah does not take away knowledge by snatching it from the people, but (this is done) by causing (the death) of the scholars until none of them is left alive. People would then appoint ignorant leaders for themselves who would be consulted in matters of religion and they would give Fatawas without knowledge, falling into misguidance and misguiding others.
This hadeeth is laying the bases for the Muslim if he does not want to go astray. It follows, therefore, that if at anytime someone finds himself going astray, then he is not holding on to one or both of these sources. The problem we face, however, is that every Muslim stand by this claim that they are holding on to the Qur`an and the Sunnah. So how can anyone determine whose claim is correct?
The messenger of Allah [saw] left this way very clear for us as he said: I am leaving you on a clear way, its night is like its day and none turns away from it except that he would be destroyed.
He told us that the way he left is very clear and then in the following Hadeeth he explained for us what it is. He said: The Jews were divided into seventy one groups and the Christians were divided into seventy-two and my ummah will be divided into seventy three and each of them will be in the fire except one. The companions asked: "Who are they, O messenger of Allah?" He said: They are those who are on the like of what I and my companions are on.
And in another Hadeeth, he said: The best people is my generation then those that follow them, then those who follow them.
In the above hadeeth the prophet [saw] is telling us the way to understand the Qur`an and the Sunnah is the way the sahabas understood and practised it. If the understanding of the Qur`an and the Sunnah of any group coincides with the understanding of the Companions in all issues, then that group would be the one that is on the truth.
It must also be very clear that only one group of all the groups that are existing is on the correct way as is explained in the hadeeth. One way:
The saying of Allah further emphasises that there is only one way. He said: Whoever opposes the messenger after the guidance has been clearly shown to him, and follows other than the way of the believers, We shall keep him in the path he has chosen, and burn him in hell, and what an evil destination.
Who were the believers during the time the Qur`an was being revealed? Were they not only the messenger [saw] and the first generation of believers? So Allah is also making it very clear that there is only one way i.e. the way of the messenger [saw] and his companions. My brothers and sisters, life is short so we must make sure that before we die we secure the key that will take us to Al-Jannah (Heaven). Let us not follow Allah's religion based on customs and based on our desires but let us keep an open mind and beg Allah to guide us to the Truth that was left very clear for us by Him and His messenger [saw]. May Allaah guide us all to the straight way of Islam. Ameen!