The Difference between Iftiraaq (Splitting) and Ikhtilaaf (Differing)
Nâsir ibn 'Abdil-Karîm al-'Aql
1. Iftiraaq is the severest form of Ikhtilaaf; in fact it is [one of] the consequences of Ikhtilaaf. This is because sometimes Ikhtilaaf may reach the level of Iftiraaq and sometimes it may not, hence Iftiraaq is Ikhtilaaf and something extra. However, not every Ikhtilaaf is Iftiraaq and upon this is built the second difference.
2 . Not every Ikhtilaaf is Iftiraaq while every Iftiraaq is Ikhtilaaf. Many of the matters that the Muslims differ over are from the matters of Ikhtilaaf [but not Iftiraaq]. It is not permissible to pronounce upon the one who differs [with you] on such issues the ruling of kufr (disbelief), of being one who has split [from the Jamaa`ah], or of being one who has departed from the Sunnah.
3 . Iftiraaq does not occur except in issues of the Usool Kubraa (Great Principles), i.e., the principles of the religion wherein there is no leeway for differing. These are such principles as are affirmed by a clear and definitive text, or by a consensus (ijmaa`), or a methodology of Ahl-us-Sunnah wal-Jamaa`ah in which there is no difference [of opinion]. So whatever is like this, then it becomes a principle (asl) and whoever differs concerning it has become one who splits (muftariq) [from the Jamaa`ah]. As for anything other than that, then it falls under a category of Ikhtilaaf. So Ikhtilaaf occurs in those issues that are not from the Usool, for which a number of opinions are allowed just as Ijtihaad is [also] allowed, all of this is possible. The proponent [of each opinion] could have his proofs, just as he could have given that ruling out of ignorance, coercion, or [incorrect] interpretation; this holds for the matters of Ijtihaad and the subsidiary issues (far`iyyaat). It can also hold for some issues of Usool which [may be], due to `awaaridh [obstacles], excused in the eyes of the Imaams whose opinions are taken into consideration.
So the subsidiary issues sometimes occur in some matters of belief, which, in their principles are agreed upon, but are differed upon in their details. For example, the consensus of the Imaams on the occurrence of the Mi`raaj, and their Ikhtilaaf and disputes about the Messenger (SAW) seeing his Lord. Was it with his eyes or his heart?
4 . Ikhtilaaf could occur due to Ijtihaad and good intention. The one who errs [in issues of Ikhtilaaf] is rewarded whilst he is searching for the truth. The one who is correct gets more reward and indeed, the one who errs is praised for his Ijtihaad also. When it reaches the level of Iftiraaq, then it is blameworthy in its entirety. Similarly, Iftiraaq cannot occur upon an Ijtihaad or a correct intention. The one who splits is not rewarded, but is blameworthy and is a sinner under all circumstances. From this [we can understand] that [Iftiraaq] does not occur except by his innovating, following his desires, or blameworthy blind following.
5 . Iftiraaq is connected with the threat [of punishment]. All of it is misguidance and [leads to] his destruction. As for Ikhtilaaf, then this is not the case. [This is] provided that the Ikhtilaaf between the Muslims is in those matters which Ijtihaad is allowed, or the person is a person who is following an opposing opinion, but he has certain legitimate factors [that lead him to hold that opinion]. [Similarly] it is possible that he held that opposing opinion out of ignorance of the evidence, and the proof has not been established against him. He may have held that opinion out of coercion for which he is excused even if [his coercion] was not witnessed by anybody, or due to misinterpretation and this cannot be ascertained except after establishing the proofs [against him].
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