As pointed out earlier, a major portion of Surah Al-An'am is devoted to addressing the disbelievers of Makkah and answering questions asked by them. They were told that the straight path to Allah was following the Qur'an and the Holy Prophet ﷺ . Before him, during the time of past prophets, salvation depended on following their books and code of laws. The same thing is true today. Today, salvation lies in following nothing but the Shari` ah brought by him. So, they were asked to become reasonable, take the straight path and avoid exchanging it with paths of error right and left. If they did that, they were warned, these ways of error will throw them far away from the way of Allah.
The first (159) of the two verses carries a general address included wherein are the disbelievers of Arabia, the Jews and Christians and Muslims, all of them. Addressing them, stated there is the sad end of those who turn away from the straight path of Allah - and the instruction given to the Holy Prophet ﷺ is that he should have nothing to do with those who take to the ways of error. Then, out of these, there are those ways of error which take one in a direction totally opposite to what the straight path is, such as the ways of the disbelievers, polytheists and the people of the Book. Then, there are other ways too, which do not, though, take one all the way in the opposite direction, but misguide them any way by pulling them away from the straight path and putting them on ways to the right and left. These are ways of 'doubts' and 'innovations' in the true and settled faith (Shubhat and Bid'at). They too lead one astray.
So, it was said: إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا لَّسْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ ۚ إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُمْ إِلَى اللَّـهِ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ ﴿159﴾ (Surely, those who have made divisions in their religion and turned into factions, you have nothing to do with them. Their case rests with Allah alone; then He will tell them what they have been doing).
In this verse, made clear first was that the Messenger of Allah was free of any responsibility concerning those who land themselves into the ways of error. The noble Prophet, may the blessings of Allah, and peace be upon him, had nothing to do with them. Then, they were given the notice of warning that their case was, sufficient to say, in the hands of Allah Ta` ala, and it was He who would punish them on the day of Qiyamah.
As for ` having made divisions in religion and turning into factions' mentioned in the verse is concerned, it refers to the practice of not following the basic principles of established religion, rather electing to follow personal whims and desires, or become willing victims of Satanic instigations and deceptions, as an outcome of which, one would add something new to it, or leave some of that which is already there.
Stern Warnings against Making Additions in Established Religion
According to Tafsir Mazhari, included here are the peoples of the past communities as well, those who had abandoned their basic religion and had added to it things on their own - and with them, there are the deviators and innovators (the partisans of Bid'ah) of this Ummah too, who keep adding baseless things, on their own, into the Din of Islam. About this, the Holy Prophet ﷺ has said:
` My Ummah will face the same conditions faced by the Bani Isra'il. The kind of evil practices in which they got involved will also affect the people of my Ummah. The Bani Isra'il had split into seventy two sects. My Ummah will break up into seventy three sects - all of them will go to Hell, except one. The Sahabah asked about the group which would be so blessed with salvation. He said: مَا اَنَا عَلَیہِ اَصحَابِی (ma ana 'alaihi wa ashabi : That on which am I and my Companions) ' - that is, the collective body of people which follows my way and the way of my Sababah will be blessed with salvation. (This narration from Sayyidna ibn ` Umar ؓ عنہما has been reported by Tirmidhi and Abu Daud)
Al-Tabarani has reported on sound authority from Sayyidna Faruq al-A'zam ؓ ، that he told Sayyidnah ` A'ishah ؓ that the sects mentioned in this verse are the people of Bid'ah (innovators in established religion) who, following their whims and desires, invent new ways in religion. The same view has been reported from Sayyidna Abu Hurairah ؓ with sound authority. Therefore, the Holy Prophet ﷺ has emphatically prohibited the invention and introduction of new methods in religion on one's own.
Based on a narration from Sayyidna Al-` Irbad ibn Sariyah, Imam Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi رحمۃ اللہ علیہم and others have reported that the Holy Prophet ﷺ said:
` Those who live after me will see many differences. Therefore, (I order you that) you should, abiding by my Sunnah (way) and the Sunnah of my rightly-guided successors (Khulafa' ar-Rashidin) strictly, keep doing what you do while adhering to nothing but these, avoid the temptation of falling for new methods because everything introduced anew into the religion is Bid'ah, and every Bid'ah is error and straying.'
In another Hadith, he said: ` One who stood separated from the Jama` ah, even to the measure of a span between the extended thumb and the little finger, he has taken out the band of allegiance to Islam from around his neck. (Abu Dawud and Ahmad)
According to Tafsir Mazhari, ` Jama` ah' in this Hadith means ` the Jama` ah of Sahabah,' that is, the collective body or group of the noble Companions of the Holy Prophet ﷺ . The reason is that Allah Ta` ala sent our master, Muhammad al-Mustafa ﷺ as His Rasul, and gave him the Qur'an, and blessed him with another (kind of) Wahy (revelation) - which is called the Hadith or Sunnah. Then, there are many difficult or brief or ambiguous verses in the Qur'an. For their Tafsir or explanation, Allah Ta` ala promised that He shall have these clarified through His Rasul. The statement: ثُمَّ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا بَيَانَهُ ﴿19﴾ ' (After that, to make it clear to you is on Us - 75:19) means exactly this.
So, the Holy Prophet ﷺ explained the difficulties and ambiguities of the Qur'an and groomed his direct disciples, that is, the Sababah into the many modes of his Sunnah through his word and deed. Therefore, the conduct of the Sahabah as a major collective entity (placed by Divine design into a trail-blazing role as mirrors of their blessed master) is in itself the statement and the explanation of the Divinely-ordained Shari'ah of Islam.
Therefore, it is the good fortune of a Muslim that he or she should follow the Kitab of Allah and the Sunnah of the Rasul of Allah - and whenever one faces a doubt in the meaning of an 'Ayah of the Qur'an or the sense of a Hadith, one should go by the meaning and sense preferred by the noble Sahabah.
Unfortunately, as a result of people ignoring this sacrosanct rule of conduct, Islam had to see the emergence of different sects which would set aside the proven conduct and explanations of the Sahabah and take the liberty of saying what they wished and declare it to be the very meaning of the Qur'an and Sunnah. These are the ways of error the Holy Qur'an has repeatedly warned against and the Holy Prophet ﷺ has emphatically prohibited it throughout his blessed life, at times, even castigated those acting against this rule with la'nah.
Sayyidah ` A'ishah As-Siddiqah ؓ reports that the Holy Prophet ﷺ said that on six persons he casts his la'nah, and may the la'nah of Allah be upon them: (1) The person who has added something to the Book of Allah from his side (that is, whether added some words, or carried the meaning to such excessive limits as is contrary to the Tafsir of the Sahabah), (2) the person who has denied the Divinely-ordained destiny, (3) the person who hoists himself into a position of authority over the Muslim Ummah by force (or deceit) so that he would honour the person disgraced by Allah, and disgrace the person given honour by Allah, (4) the person who took as Halal what Allah had made Haram, that is, indulged in killing at the sacred precincts of the Harm in Makkah, or, hunted there, (5) the person who dishonoured my family and children, and (6) the person who abandoned my Sunnah.