My friend Abdullah quotes the following passage from the Koran, and this commentary on that passage:
(1) Surah al-Imran (3:103):
"And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah and be not divided."
Imam Sayf ad-Din al-Amidi (d. 631/1233; Rahimahullah) said in his al-Ihkam fi usul al-ahkam (The proficiency: on the fundamentals of legal rulings, pg. 295) with regard to the above Qur'anic verse:
"Allah has forbidden separation, and disagreement with consensus (ijma) is separation."
Hence, if Allah has forbidden separation then surely we must all unite on the unanimously accepted aqid'ah of our pious predecessors.
I disagree strongly with this commentary. It is not disagreement with consensus that is separation. Rather it is the attempt to force consensus which creates separation. The rope of Allah unites all Muslims who honor him. For a group of Imams to claim that they alone can decide the correct interpretation of the Koran, and to exclude all Muslims that disagree with their alleged "consensus" is to divide the Islamic community. Look at all of the millions of people that are excluded by this "consensus": The Shiites, The Sufis, The Ahmadis, and any Sunnis that happened to have lost this vote.
Not that a vote was ever taken. Many Muslims on Beliefnet have claimed that Abdullah's reasoning on this point is circular, because anyone who disagrees with the Imams he likes is defined as being outside the consensus. However, let's plead nolo contendere on this point,and temporarily assume that the majority of Imams do agree where he says they agree. Excluding all Muslims who do not accept this consensus still divides the Islamic community, and thus violates the Koranic passage quoted above. A link that Abdullah posted on Belief net connects to an article that says there is only "one saved sect" in Islam, and says that 72 other sects are not saved. As I understand it, all of these other sects are Sunni. Surely these kinds or pronouncements violate the Koranic command stated above that muslims should "hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah and be not divided."
There may be other reasons (although I have yet to see any that convinced me) for overtly rejecting the doctrines of these other branches of Islam, rather than politely agreeing to disagree. But preserving the unity of Islam is not one of them, for trying to force this procrustean "consensus" on a billion people, divides the Islamic community, it does not unite it. By all means let us study the writings of the great Islamic scholars, and seriously consider what they have to say. But let us not grant them the authority of prophets.
It is likely that many Muslims do have incorrect interpretations of the Koran. Perhaps some Muslims will be excluded from paradise because of their incorrect interpretations. But surely if the principle of "Let there be no compulsion in religion" applies to non-Muslims, it should be applied within the Muslims community as well. We must restrain and punish those who misinterpret Islam, or any other religion, in ways that make them harm other people. The British rightly banned the ritualistic murders of the Thuggee worshippers of Kali. Muslims must reject those who ignore the Koranic condemnations of suicide and slaughter of innocents. But metaphysical beliefs about the nature of Allah, or personal decisions about marriage, harm no one but the persons who choose to be involved. Allah is just and all-knowing, and surely he will decide what punishment is required, if any.
P.S. I refer to God as "Allah" in this post, because as I understand it, the word simply means "God" in Arabic, and is used by Arabs of all faiths. If any Muslim feels it is inappropriate for a non-Muslim to use the word, I will stop using it.