What is the meaning of the following Hadith:
"My Ummah will be divided into 73 sects. All if them will be in the Hell-Fire except for one sect.”
Who is that sect? And will the seventy-two sects live forever in Fire, as the Mushrik will or not? And does the term Ummah of the Prophet sallAllaahu `alayhi wa sallam apply to those who follow him as well as to those who do not, or is it to the former only?
What is meant by the term Ummah in this Hadith is the Ummah of response which shall be divided into seventy-three sects; seventy-two of which are deviant who practice innovated religious practices that do not constitute apostasy. Each shall be tortured in accordance to its innovations, and deviation, except for those whom Allaah pardons, and forgives. Their final abode will be Paradise. The only sect that will be safe is Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah, who adhere to the Sunnah of the Prophet sallAllaahu `alayhi wa sallam, and hold fast to what he and his Companionship, may Allaah be pleased with them, were holding. It is they about whom the Prophet sallAllaahu `alayhi wa sallam said: “ “A group of my Ummah shall remain steadfast, on the truth, victorious, unharmed by those who oppose them, and do not support them, until death or until the Day of Resurrection.” (Al-Bukhaari nos.71, 3641 no.1920
As for those whose innovation casts them out of Islaam, they belong to the Ummah of invitation (mankind at large) not the Ummah of response. They shall remain in Hell-Fire forever, and this is the most valid opinion.
It is also said that the term ‘Ummah’ in this Hadith means the Ummah of invitation, which is a general term including all those to whom the Prophet sallAllaahu `alayhi wa sallam was sent (i.e. mankind) those who believe and those who do not believe. Whereas the term ‘the safe sect’ is the Ummah of response, which strictly applies to those who believe in the Prophet sallAllaahu `alayhi wa sallam, trustfully, and die on this condition. This is the sect that will be safe from Fire; either by prior punishment or without prior punishment and their final abode will be Paradise.
As for the seventy-two sects (in the second opinion) they are all, excluding the saved sect, disbelievers who will live forever in Fire. Hence, it is clear that the Ummah of Da’wah, is more general in connotation than the Ummah of response. That is to say, whoever belongs to the Ummah of response, belongs to the Ummah of invitation, while not everyone of the Ummah of invitation belongs to the Ummah of response.