More often than not, sects and sectarianism have posed a great challenge to world faiths, leadingoften to intellectual debates but also to physical entanglement.
So if this is a historical fact, is there a way to approach this problem more constructively? Or do we have to continue to fight for another millennium over these issues? Historically, sects have been seen as anathema to afaith/community, and therefore as a negative development. In the postmodern world, however,there is an alternative approach that focuses on multiple narratives rather than focusing on one standardised view of a set of interpretations taken froma certain period of time.
In the postmodern world, alternative or multiple interpretations of basic beliefs, tenets of faith, values, rituals, cultures and histories are seen asthe richness of faith, not as a weakness. People having different interpretations are not hated but appreciated, encouraged to coexist and even celebrated.
If we were to take the word `sect` to mean deviation or heterodoxy, it would lead us to atotally different attitude. For a long time in history, this attitude has often prevailed. Thisis one more reason why sectarian fighting has been takingplace among different groups.
As a consequence of this attitude, one sect claims the `ultimate truth` or having God only on its side or only their party going to paradise and the rest destined for hell.
Members of one`s own sect are commonly seen as `brothers` in faith and the `others` as enemies.
Such attitudes then regard theinterpretations held by othersas `deviant` or `heterodox` (deviating from the `true` faith). This attitude may be called sectarianism or communalism. The key features of this attitude may include exclusivity and a `win-lose` attitude.
The other attitude, in which other sects are seen as having an`alternative` belief or opinion (unless they are extremists or militants, hell-bent on destruction), leads to a positive approach towards the `other`.
One of the words used to refer tosects in Muslim societies has been firqa, which literally means a branch. This is a powerful metaphor, connoting a branch ofa giant tree.
A gigantic tree is expected to have numerous branches as it grows further. Similarly, a rich faith or tradition is always potent with numerous interpretations. Any tradition having only one interpretation for centuries will be a very poor tradition. Unity in this context isnot necessarily a good quality of the tree; in fact it can be a debatable one.
This metaphor works beautifully when seen in the context of great world religions which havetended to be split, acquiring multiple interpretations, each one rich in its own way. Many Muslim thinkers and mystics have grappled with this questionof unity and diversity in Muslim societies with immense wisdom.Rumi has addressed this issue in multiple ways. In the Mathnavi he uses the metaphor of an elephant and blind men to help us appreciate how human experiences can be subjective and therefore the need to respectothers` experiences and their interpretations.
The world of scholarship, fortunately, is moving towards understanding sectarian divisions, (not sectarianism), in apositive vein. Many scholars are building bridges among communities and across communities, and even across civilisations by initiating meaningful dialogue through analysing histories and traditions in a