who holds a different point of view in matters of faith or sacred lawto accuse that person of having a defect in his creed. Imam al-Ghazzli warned against this, stating: "You should deter yourself asfar as possible from excommunicating the people of qibla (ahlulQibla) so long as they utter, 'there is no diety but Allah, Muhammadis the Messenger of Allah' without contradicting it. Contradictionmeans to think it lawful that the Prophet can tell a lie with orwithout a reason. Excommunication is singally hazardous whilesilence has no danger."
If a Muslim is declared kafir (disbeliever)he becomes eligible for condemnation to death and residingeternally in the Hell-fire." The Prophet, peace and blessings be uponhim, said: "When a man calls his brother an unbeliever, it returns(at least) to one of them." [Muslim]All the groups that have arisen within the body of the Muslim nationhave considered themselves to be correct and all others wrong,even heretics. Ahmad bin Hanbal tells us that the Khawarij andRawafid (rejectors) did not offer their prayers together with the restof the Muslims in their mosques and considered the majority of Muslims as heretics.
Thus from at least the second century of theIslamic calander the Muslims have discussed the definition of theIslamic faith and who is, and is not, a believer. The Khawarij, forexample, held that a Muslim who committed a grave sin became anunbeliever. Imam al-Ash'ari considered it was an article of faith of the ahlul Sunnah that a Muslim who committed a grave sin was stilla believer. Some of the Shii'tes took as an article of faith that ImamAli had been chosen by the Messenger of Allah as his successor. The ahlul Sunnah have rejected this claim. Naturally every groupclaims to be correct and has defined the tenets of its faith and hasused its definition to excommunicate its opponents. What is correct,according to the ahlul-Sunnah, is that the term millat al-Islam(Islamic community) applies to a person who believes in thetemporary existence of the world, oneness of its creator and Hiseternity, and that He is Just, Judicious, and rejects theanthropomorphism and the negation of divine epithets, andbelieves in the prophethood of all His prophets and that of theProphet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him),and that he was sent as a Prophet to all andsundry, and that Allahhelps His sacred law (shariah), and that his teachings are true, andthat the Quran is the source of the Shariah, and that observance of five daily prayers, payment of zakat, fasting during the month of
al-Ghazzali, al-Tafriqah bayn al-Islam wa'l-zandaqah, quoted by A.Hasan in The Doctrine of Ijma in Islam
Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Risalah al-Saniyyah, p.468