There is much confusion about the hadith regarding 73 sects, and how restrictive the conditions of entering Paradise is. Many taking a hard head literal approach to it, boasting salvation for their “sect” and condemning all others to the hellfire – while others dismiss it as a total fabrication because (to them) it is not inline with Allah’s (swt) Justice.

The hadith has a few variation, with the popular seeghah as follows:

“The Ummah will be separated in 73 sects, of which 72 will go to Hell, and 1 will go to Heaven.”

This hadith was said by the Prophet (sawa) amongst other infallibles, such as Imam Ali (as) and Imam al-Baqir (as). The hadith is found common in both the books of the Shia (Refer to al-Kafi, Volume 8, Hadith #283, with a Hassan (Good) chain according to al-Majlisi) and the non-Shia’s (Refer to ibn Majah, Tirmidhi and Abu Dawood with Hasan/Sahih (Good/Authentic) chains). To see a compilation of these hadiths from all schools please refer to the first chapter in Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 28.

Obviously, each sect that narrates this hadith will claim that they are the “saved” sect. For example, for the ‘Sunnis’, the hadith found in Sunan ibn Majah ends with someone asking the Prophet (sawa) “which sect is the saved sect?”, where he replies “al-Jama`ah”, meaning the main body of Muslims. This hadith uses a key word that are iconic with the ‘Sunni’ sect, who also known as “Ahlul-Sunnah wal-Jama`ah”.   In al-Tirmidhi, he (sawa) is reported to also respond with another iconic reference to the Sunnis, “What I am upon and my Companions.”

On the other hand, the Shias have this hadith narrated with it being closely linked with Shia-iconic words such as “Wilayah”, “Imamah”, “Ahlulbayt”, “Bara’a from their enemies”, and of course, “Shia”.

Furthermore, the Shia’s hadiths go on to further claim that of the 73 sects, only 13 will be Shia (i.e. follow the wilayah and show love towards the ahlulbayt (as)). 12 of those Shia sects would be in the fire and only one would be in Paradise, and the remaining 12 + 60 (72) would be in the hell-fire.

If we take the literal hard-head approach that this hadith suggests that only one group of people, who all share the same ideology, would be granted Paradise – while the remaining, including 12 sects of shia, would be in the hell fire for eternity – we will find a majority of people in the history of creation will end up in the Hellfire. Many people would outright reject this hadith because they believe it goes against the Justice of Allah (swt), let alone the idea that Allah’s Wrath is greater than his Mercy, since more people will end up being punished and only a small minority of people will end up in Paradise.

On the other hand, if we look at the tafseer of ahlulbayt (as) on this hadith we find a stark difference. In a hadith attributed to Imam Ali (as) in the Book Kitab Sulaym bin Qays (Hadith #7 – or in some #32. See here for Arabic), we first see how Imam Ali (as) described the “saved sect”:

Aban narrated that he heard from Sulaym who said: “I heard Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s) say: “The Ummah will be separated in 73 sects, of which 72 will go to Hell, and 1 will go to Heaven.
From the 73, 13 will show their love towards us Ahlulbayt, from which 1 will go to Heaven and 12 will go to Hell. The sect that will be saved will be the one which is guided, which is hopeful, which has Iman, obeys command (bows his head), is agreeable and intelligent. It is he that trusts me and bows his head to my command, obeys my command, chooses to keep away from my enemy, loves me, keeps enmity with my enemy, has recognised my rights, and Imamah and has realised my obedience compulsory through the Book of Allah and the Tradition of the Holy Prophet, and has not become an apostate, and has not doubted, because Allah has enlightened his heart with the knowledge of our rights and has recognised our merits and all this has sunk into his heart and is written on his forehead. Allah has entered him in my Shias until his heart is satisfied and has developed surety (yaqin) that there is no doubt included. […] And this is the one sect, out of the 73, that will be saved from Hell and will be saved from discord, misguidance and doubts, and this, surely, is from the dwellers of Heaven and these are 70000 who will enter Heaven without being questioned (hisab).

First point that needs to be discussed is that “70000” does not necessarily mean it is literally this number, but rather a very large quantity, as it was a custom in the Arab rhetoric to substitute a large number with 70, or 70,000.

More importantly, this “sect” requires both the belief as well as actions/deeds. Just as Allah (swt) has repeatedly intertwined belief in Him (swt) with good deeds, as the combination required for salvation, this hadith suggests the saved sect also requires the combination of both. As Allah (swt) has said in the Qur’an, “Yes! whoever submits himself entirely to Allah and he is the doer of good (to others) he has his reward from his Lord, and there is no fear for him nor shall he grieve.” (2:112) – Therefore, there shall be no questioning for them.

As for the remaining 72 sects:

“As 72 sects have chosen false Deen, and are helpers of the deen of Shaytan and have taken that deen from Shaytan and its friends. These are enemies of Allah, His Prophet, and the faithful, and will go to Hell without any reckoning (hisab). These people will be far from Allah and His Prophet – they have forgotten Allah and His Prophet, have associated partners to Allah, are idolaters and have denied Him, and except God, have worshipped others in a manner that they do not even know. They think that they have done a good deed – on the Day of Judgement they will say: By Allah, our Lord, we were not polytheists (Surah Anam:23). On that day that Allah will raise them up all, then they will swear to Him as they swear to you, and they think that they have something, now surely they are the liars (Surah Mujadilah:18).”

One important point is that all the remaining 72 sects are considered idolaters and enemies of Allah (swt). Of course, we know that there are many non-twelver’s who worship Allah (swt) and do not associate partners with Him, on the apparent. However, the hadith says that they “have worshipped others in a manner that they do not even know.”

It is important to elaborate on this point. Many times we allow shirk/idolatry to enter into our heart without even realising. As Imam al-Sadiq (as) said: “al-Shirk is more hidden than the crawling of the ant upon a black surface in a dark night.” Allah (swt) also suggests that many of those who believe worship others besides Allah (Swt): “And most of them do not believe in Allah without associating others (with Him)” (12:106)

Often, this sort of idolatry is not the type of sharing partners with Allah in apparent worship, but it is the idolatry of obedience. The Imam (as) says about the previous ayah: ‘Association (شرك) of obedience, and it is not association of worship’.

He (as) also said: ‘They obey the Satan unknowingly, therefore they associate partners’.

References of above hadiths, as well as further information can be found here:

What is also clear, is the remaining “hell-bound” sects have all deviated when it has come to the Imamate. Many sects have transgressed the bounds and dictated who the Imam of the time should be. For example, some have chosen Abu Bakr over Imam Ali (as), while others chose, Muhammad bin Hanafiyya (ra) over Imam al-Sajjad (as), or Ismael (as) over Imam Musa al-Kadhim (as). This in itself is shirk as explained by Imam al-Sadiq (as): “Whoever considers someone who has no Divine Authority as a partner in the Leadership (Imamate) of a Leader with Divine Authority, is considered a polytheist.”

Sanad: Muhammad ibn Yahya has narrated from Muhammad ibn al-Hassan from Muhammad ibn Sinan from Talha ibn Yazid from abu ‘Abd Allah (as) who has said the above hadith.

Reference: al-Kafi, Volume 1, Page 373, Hadith #6

Al-Majlisi says about this hadith:

He is a polytheist (mushrik, idolater) because the one who has set up a rival Imam, to the Imam of Haqq (the divinely appointed Imam by Allah) has in fact partnered himself with Allah (swt) in designating the Imamate, since this role is exclusive to Allah (swt). Indeed whoever follows other than (the true Imam) he has made a parter to Allah, Nay furthermore, anyone who follows anyone other than what Allah has ordained (to be followed) then he is a polytheist. This is due to the statement of Allah (swt): “They have taken their priests and their monks for lords besides Allah.” (9:31). And Allah has defined the obedience to Satan as worship, in His words: “Do not worship Satan” (36:60).

Reference: Mir’aat al-Uqool, Volume 4, Page 195

Now, is there a group of people that do not fall under any of these sects? What about the one who is sincere, but did not find the path to twelver shiism, but did good deeds? These people are considered from the Mustadh`afeen. The hadith continues:

Sulaym says: I asked: “O Amirul Mumineen, what do you think about those who stopped, did not accept you as Imam but do not consider you an enemy, are not jealous of you, are not strict in their religion, did not accept your Wilayah, and also did not stay away from your enemies and said: I do not know anything – and he is truthful?”
Imam replied: “He is not from these 73 sects. The Holy Prophet (sawa) has taken those 73 sects as those who are deniers, enemies, who came forward and called people towards their Deen.
From these 1 will be the one that has chosen Allah’s Deen, and 72 will be those who chose Shaytan’s deen and will love the deen that they accepted. They will stay away from those who oppose their deen.
But those who believe in Tawheed and have brought Iman on the Holy Prophet (sawa) but do not know our Wilayah and do not know the misguidance of our enemies, have not made halal or haram, and have chosen those things in which there is no disagreement, and which Allah commanded. In matters where there is disagreement in the Ummah, they stay away, not sure of whether it has been commanded or not – so they have not chosen to be enemy or have not made lawful or unlawful, have no knowledge and whatever difficulty they come across, they leave it to Allah. So they will be saved.

We come to understand, from this hadith, that there is a group of people that are not considered from the 73 sects. They are those who believe in the One God and the Prophet (sawa), who are not Shia but remained sincere and open minded in their beliefs, and performed good deeds.

Now the question arises, how much, as a percentage, of people within the non-Twelver Muslim Ummah fall under this “sectless” group? Interestingly, Imam Ali (as) suggests that a majority fall under this category. In a discussion of the destination and questioning of the three groups – the Saved faithfuls (1 sect), the Hell-bound idolaters (72 sects), and the people in between – Imam Ali (as) says:

This sect is in-between the faithful and idolater and majority of people are like that, and these are those that will be asked to reckon, whose deeds will be weighed, and are of a`raaf (a place between Hell and Heaven) and are those dwellers of Hell for whom Prophets, Angels and the faithful will be allowed to intercede and will be freed from Hell – and will be named the “Jahanamiyeen”.
But the faithful will be saved and will enter Heaven without questioning (hisab), and idolaters will go to Hell without questioning (hisab).
Questioning will only be for those people who are in between the faithful and idolaters, and muallafatul qulub (those whose hearts can be attracted) and those who are muqtarafah (who have a little knowledge) and those who, along with good deeds, have done bad also and are with weak faith (mustadh`afeen) who are confused about kufr and shirk, nor have the ability improve on what they have established, and have not chosen that Path which will make them Mumin or one who knows (his Imam). These people will be from the people of a`raaf. These will be those at Allah’s discretion. If Allah sends him to Hell, then that will be due to sins, and if He forgives then it will be His Mercy.”

After the Imam (as) tells us that the majority of Muslims will be considered among those who do not fall under the 73 sects, he explains the questioning that will happen on the day of Judgement – with the only group being questioned are in fact those who are not considered of the 73. Therefore, the one true guided sect will enter heaven, with no questions asked – and the remaining 72 are hell-bound, no questions asked.

For more information on the salvation of non-Shias – including non-Muslims, please see here:

The question remains, for the “saved” sect – being the Twelver Shias – what level of accountability do they have, if they are not to be questioned. More specifically, can a Shia who commits big sins still be guaranteed heaven? Keeping in mind, one of the conditions of being from the “saved” sect is that he is in full submission to Allah (swt), the Prophet (sawa) and the Imams (as).

Firstly, if one does not commit big sins, their small sins will be automatically wiped away, as per the saying of Allah (swt): “If you shun the great sins which you are Forbidden, We will do away with your (small) sins and Cause you to enter an honourable place of entering’” (4:31).

Secondly, Sulaym (ra) asks Imam Ali (as) these questions:

So I said: “May Allah keep you safe. Is it possible that a believer who knows (his Imam) and has invited people also go to Hell?” (Ali) (as) said: “No”.
So I asked: “Is it possible that he who does not know his Imam enter Heaven?” He (as) said: “No, unless Allah’s desires otherwise.”
So I asked: Is it possible that a disbeliever or an idolater go to Heaven?” He (as) said: “No one will enter hell except a disbeliever, unless Allah desires otherwise.”
I said: “May Allah keep you safe, The one who meets Allah (on the day of judgement), who has faith (Iman) and knows his Imam and obeys him – is he from dwellers of Heaven?” He (as) replied: Yes, when he meets Allah, with his faith, then he will be from those about whom Allah (swt) has said: “And (as for) those who believe and do good deeds, these are the dwellers of the garden, in it they shall abide” (Surah Baqarah: 82). “Those who believed and guarded (against evil)” (Surah Yunus: 63). “Those who believe and do not mix up their faith with iniquity, those are they who shall have the security and they are those who go right.” (Surah Anam: 82).
I said: “What if one meets Allah with having committed great sins?” He (as) replied: “It is up to His (swt) wish and discretion, if he is punished that will be due to his sin, and if He forgives then that will be His Mercy.”
I asked: “So, it is possible Allah will send a believer to Hell also?” He (as) said: “Yes, due to his sins. This is because he is not from the believers whom Allah has related in this verse: “[Indeed, the most worthy of Abraham among the people are those who followed him and this prophet, and those who believe.] And Allah is the ally of the believers.” (3:68). Because Allah (swt) means “Unquestionably, [for] the allies of Allah there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve” (10:68). They are the believers. They are conscious of Allah and do good deeds and do not cover their belief with misguidance.

What is clear from the above to-and-fro from Sulaym (ra) and the Imam (as) is that no “sect” of today is immune from the hell-fire unless it is coupled with good deeds. Furthermore not all of those who are not part of the “saved” sect is doomed, and there is a chance, by the Mercy of Allah (swt), will be allowed into heaven.

For more information on if all Shias will be allowed into heaven, please see here:

For the believers of who commit big sins, the Imam (as) says: “It is up to His (swt) wish and discretion, if he is punished that will be due to his sin, and if He forgives then that will be His Mercy.” That mercy may come from intercession from the Prophet (sawa) and ahlulbayt (as), as discussed in the following article:

In summary, based upon this narration we can conclude the following:

  1. From the 73 sects, 13 will be Shia, and of the 13 only 1 will be the correct Shia creed and only that 1 will be saved, and the remaining 72 will be hell-bound.
  2. The “saved” sect requires to have sound beliefs, as well as good deeds. It is not dependant beliefs alone.
  3. The remaining 72 sects are considered idolaters, and are hell-bound.
  4. Not all Muslims are considered to be one of the 73 sects, and based upon their deeds, will potentially be saved. In fact, most Muslims fall under this category.
  5. There will be no hisab (questioning) for the 73 sects. If they have qualified to be from the saved sect they will enter heaven. If they qualified to be of the remaining 72 they will be led to the hell-fire without questioning. Questioning will be for those who are not considered one of these sects.
  6. Those from the saved sect in belief, but do not fulfil the “good deeds” condition and commit great sins, are in fact not from that “saved” sect. They will also be of those who may go to Hell on account of their sins.

Two important points we must take away from this beautiful hadith

  1. Even if we consider ourselves to be from the “saved” sect of the ithna Ashari creed, one of the most important elements of qualifying for that sect is our good deeds.
  2. We should not be so quick to condemn others to hell, for a majority of people fall under the category that is not even considered one of the 73 sects.

It is worthy to note the hadith where one of the companions of Imam al-Askari, Kamil (or Kafoor) ibn Ibrahim, visited the Imam (as) and wondered if anyone other than those who had identical beliefs as him will enter paradise. Interestingly, the Imam (as) wonders that if only those with specific set of qualities – no exceptions – are to enter Paradise, then how small would that amount be. Indeed, His (swt) Mercy encompasses all things.

People from the Muffawidha (elevate the Imams to status’ higher than Allah has decreed) as well as the Muqassara (those who degrade the Imams to status’ lower than Allah has decreed) made Kamil bin Ibrahim al-Madani go to visit Abu Muhammad [al-Askari] (as). Kamil said: “I said to myself, I will ask if anyone will enter heaven other than those who know what I know, and say what I say”. So when I entered upon my master Abu Muhammad (As) I looked upon his white, fine, clothing and I said to myself: “The wali of Allah, and his proof (hujjah), wears fine clothing while he orders us to be equitable with our brothers, at prohibits us from wearing such clothing?”
So he [the Imam] said, with a smile on his face: “Oh Kamil, look here. I found that below the rich garment was a coarse shirt that was in contact with his body. He (as) said: “This (clothing) is for Allah, and this other (clothing) is for you.”
I then greeted him and sat next to near a door across which a curtain hung. Suddenly, a gust of wind came and uncovered from behind the curtain, a young handsome boy, four-years-old or similar in age.
He (the boy) said to me: “Oh Kamil bin Ibrahim”, where I (Kamil) began to tremble, and I replied with a sense of inspiration: “At your service (Labayk) oh my master!”
He (the boy) said: “You came to me, the wali of Allah, and his proof (hujjah), and his door (of answers, knowledge, opportunity etc.) to ask if anyone will enter Paradise other than the ones who know what you know, and say what you say?”
I (Kamil) said: “Yes, by Allah (that is what I wanted to ask).”
He (the boy) replied: “Then indeed, by Allah, how limited would those who enter [Paradise] be. Rather, by Allah, there will be a people by the name of al-Haqqiyyah who will enter it.”
I (Kamil) asked: “Oh my master, who are they?”
He (the boy) said: “A people who love Ali, and swear by his rights – yet they do not know what his rights are, nor his [true] merits.”
He (the boy) (as) remained quiet with me for an hour, then he said: “And you came to ask me about what the Muffawidha say. They lie. On the contrary, our hearts are abodes for the will of Allah (swt), for if he willed a thing, we willed it. Allah (swt) says: “And you do not will except that Allah wills” (76:30, 81:29)
The curtain (which the breeze had moved) then went back to its place, and I did not dare to move it again. Abu Muhammad [al-Askari] (as) looked at me smiling, and said: “Oh Kamil, what is your reason for remaining seated? For your questions have been answered by the hujjah that comes after me (i.e. Imam al-Mahdi).
So I (Kamil) got up and left, and I never saw him after that incident.”

Sanad: Ja’far bin Muhammad bin Malik from Muhammad b. Ja’far bin Abdullah from Abi Naeem Muhammad bin Ahmad Ansari who narrated the above.

Reference: al-Ghaybah, al-Tusi, Page 246, Hadith #216 (link)