Once upon a time, the Prophet built a house. Because all the people who lived in it had the attitude of ‘islam’, the house was always at peace and encouraged wholeness. It was appropriately called the house of islam as a description. The people who lived there were called ‘muslims’ because they were agents of wholeness and soundness.
With time, all the original occupants died and their descendants and the newcomers did not necessarily have the same attitude. However, as a matter of course, the house continued to be called the House of Islam and the people still were called Muslims. These words Islam and Muslim were reduced to names by this point and the House itself was expanded to include a few floors.
One such floor was the Sunni floor. The Sunni floor had a number of rooms. At first there were many rooms (some say 500!) which eventually got combined into a total of four rooms, the Shafiee, Hanafi, Maliki and Hambal rooms. The Sunnis were very great in number so they actually spent most of the time in the living room. There were so many of them that when people visited the House of Islam, they saw only the Sunnis. This made most people think Muslims were only the Sunnis and that the Sunni version of how the House of Islam was built was the true version.
Another floor was the Shiite floor. The Sunnis and Shiites decided they couldn’t live on a single floor. However, they lived mostly in peace with each other even though when you asked them, they would each produce arguments against each other. The Shiites also had several rooms but in the Shiites case, each of the rooms claimed to be the true inheritors of the Prophets legacy whereas in the Sunnis case, they mutually recognised each other’s rights to the Prophets legacy although they recognised only each other and no one outside Sunnism. Even then the new Sunni room called ‘Wahabi’ rejected the Shiites altogether saying they have no right to live in the House of Islam or be called Muslims.
Whenever there were visitors to the House of Islam, they mostly met the Sunnis and this led the visitors to think that the Sunnis are the House of Islam itself and the only Muslims. Some visitors found Shiites or Sufis (who were mystics and mostly accepted by both Sunnis and Shiites) and came to think that the House of Islam were truly represented by Shiites and Sufis though the Sunnis were also Muslims.
If the Prophet were to come back, he would be surprised to see Sunnis, Shiites, Sufis and Wahabis were so different from what he preached to be islam. However, he would not have denied that they were muslim (descriptively which is what Allah judges by).
There were actually people who thought all of these above floors and rooms were wrong. These people were critical of hadith and sunnah and stuck exclusively to the Quran. However, they refused a floor of their own when they were asked to build one. They said, we are solely from the House of Islam and creating floor is against what the Quran is about so we shall remain in the living room.
Whenever visitors visited the House of Islam and looked for Muslims, these people said ‘That is US! We ARE Muslims’. However, those visitors felt cheated if not terribly betrayed when they found that these people were not like other Muslims much, if at all. No matter how strongly these people felt they were the exclusive claimants of the title Muslims, the sheer numbers of the Sunnis and Shiites had already coloured the perception of those visitors or seekers after Islam. Furthermore, the Quran did not say that people like the Sunnis, Shiites and others weren’t muslims (with a small ‘m’ because the Quran cares for our behaviour, not names), the only thing is they have taken sources which detracts from the Quranic ideal.
So what is the solution for these people? Perhaps they should understand that building a floor for themselves isn’t wrong. The Quran itself acknowledges a multiplicity of paths and techniques to serve Allah and that is what floors and rooms represent. Perhaps if they built a floor called Quranism and called themselves Quranists, they would be far more recognisable and people would appreciate their honesty. These people after all did not amount to even 1 percent of the House of Islam so a name, a floor and a room gives them recognisability. Does having this room mean that these people hated the others? Not at all. A floor is simply a space where people do what they do. People who visit that space automatically know that they shouldn’t expect people to adhere to hadith and sunnah there. When they communicated about such people, they called them ‘Quranists’ and do so with respect because these people acknowledge this term. The Quranist floor also has several rooms and they knowledge each of these rooms to be legitimate quests in seeking for the truth. Not only that, they are friendly to all other floors and rooms but they do gently tell the others that they are not following the true teachings of the Prophet.
Building floors and rooms gives space. Space exists on pages, in minds and in the world. Having a space doesn’t mean one is no longer muslim (agents of wholeness and soundness) but merely tells people HOW one is muslim. Lets not confuse this with sectarianism.