Answered by Muhammad Hassan al-Dido al-Shanqiti | Translated by Suhaib Webb
Can you comment on the hadith that talks about the splitting of the Muslim nation into 73 sects?
Pertaining to the statement of the Prophet (pbuh) that, “the Jews split into seventy one sects, and the Christians split in to seventy two sects. And my nation will split into seventy three sects”, then this portion [of the hadith] is from an authentic hadith related by al-Hakim and others. As for the end of the [of the hadith] which states, “Every one of them will be in the fire except one” or “Every one of them will be in Paradise save one” or “Whoever was upon what I and my companions were upon” then all of these additions are not authentic. Therefore, the hadith is sound, which affirms the splitting [of the Prophet’s nation] and is a proof of his prophecy, but concerning the statements referring to the “Fire”, ‘Paradise” or “What I and my companions were upon”, then none of these is authentically reported on behalf the Prophet (pbuh).
Regarding the different sects in the Ummah, then from it are those who will be innovators and astray in religion. However, the one who engages in such acts is not a disbeliever. This is because whoever dies and bears witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah will not stay in the fire eternally even if he was astray or an innovator no matter how much he disobeyed Allah. His case is up to Allah to either forgive him or punish him according to the degree of that person’s sin, then, He [the most high], after [purifying this person of his sins] will take this person from the Fire.