The approximate meaning in English is:
"And be not like those who are divided amongst themselves and fall into disputations after receiving clear signs: for them is a dreadful punishment in store".
Islam, being a flexible religion, allows for a variety of opinions and customs, as long as they do not contradict the religion. As mentioned, religious disagreements between the so-called sects of Islam can be resolved by turning to the Quran, not by segregation. The Quran is the book of guidance for ALL OF mankind. How can we convince anyone of this if we cannot even be united amongst ourselves! We are making a mockery of ourselves to non-muslims by refusing to follow the simple instructions of our own holy book! Allah's disapproval of disunity among Muslims is evident in verse 103 of surat Al-Imran:
The approximate meaning is:
And hold fast, all of you, to the rope of Allah, and do not separate. And remember Allah's favour unto you: how you were enemies and He made friendship between your hearts so that you became brothers by His grace: and how you were upon the brink of an abyss fire, and He did save you from it.
Thus, Allah maketh clear His revelations unto you that haply you may be guided.
The ayah refers to how the Meccans and Medinians were united by the grace of Allah. This example illustrates how Islam was, and should still be, a uniting force between Muslims despite any superficial differences which may exist between us. The ayah also tells us that the Quran contains very clear guidance. Given that, there is no reason why any two Muslims should not practice Islam the same way, the way Allah has instructed.
The most shameful division among Muslims is that of denomination; the major ones being sunni, sheea, and ismaeli. These are all artificial divisions which have absolutely nothing to do with Allahs revealed deen. Who are we to cut up Allahs deen into little pieces, especially when Allah has forbidden us to do so? This is a crime committed by nearly 1 billion Muslims. A study of the history of these sects reveals that they were created PURELY by political disagreements. Later, innovations in religion lead to religious differences. An honest study of the Quran easily reveals these innovations (which I will not mention for the time being, due to time constraints). Nowhere in the Quran is there any mention of sunni, sheea, or ismaeli, and so we must make these terms alien to our vocabulary!
The Quran is very clear in this matter. Allah has declared that sectarianism is Haram. As Muslims, we are prohibited even from involvement with people who restrict themselves to a so-called subdivision of Islam. This point is mentioned in verse 159 of surah #6:
As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou hast NO PART IN THEM IN THE LEAST, their affair is with Allah, He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did.
It is interesting to note that when Quran refers to those who will inhabit the jahannam, Allah often mentions that they will see the truth of all that they did or that they will receive just treatment for all that they used to do. These endings are never mentioned for those people who will enter Paradise. They are reserved especially for the sinners; those sinners who will be punished. So you be the judge: What do you think is in store for those people just described? Verses 27-28 of surah #45 of the Quran make this comparison too, but they also stress that on the Day of Judgment, followers of all sects will be in the same category. These verses read as follows:
...The Day that the Hour of Judgment is established, that day will the dealers in falsehood perish, and thou will see EVERY sect bowing the knee, every sect will be called to its record: This day shall ye be recompensed for all that ye did.
It is obvious that sinners are being described. Bowing the knee is a phrase used to describe the position of the wrongdoers on the Day of Judgment. In the example given, the sinners are those people who claim loyalty to ANY so-called sect of Islam.
A Muslim is defined as one who follows the religion of Allah, Al-Islam. Divisions exist to separate differences. If we divide ourselves, it is due either to some worldly difference between us or a difference in faith (as mentioned, neither is justifiable). A deliberate alteration of faith does not create a sect of Islam, it creates a distinct faith which the followers may claim to be a sect of Islam. Thus, there is a great danger involved in attributing oneself to one of the many so-called sects of Islam. Loyalty is allowed only for Allah, His messenger, and to those people who claim loyalty to Allah and his Messenger (SAWS) (i.e. the Muslims). Those of us who declare loyalty to a specific sect had better beware; sect of Islam is a contradiction of terms. You can have one or the other, not both! In accord with this, verse 32 of surah #30 of the Quran reads:
And be not like those who join gods with Allah, those who split up their religion and become (mere) sects, each party rejoicing in that which is with itself!
The words, "that which is with itself" refer to those differences which people use to justify their separation from Islam. Notice that polytheism, the greatest sin, is prohibited along side with division of religion. This pairing, like everything else in the Quran, is deliberate. It is meant to demonstrate the magnitude of this crime.
All of us must refuse to attribute ourselves to any of the man made divisions of Islam. If anyone asks you if you are Sunni, or Sheea, tell them that you are a Muslim, who believes in the seven beliefs, and practices the five pillars. Tell them that you strive to live according to the way Allah has instructed in the Quran.
Take a moment to reflect upon these questions: To what sect did Mohammed (SAWS) belong to? Whose example was the best example of how a Muslim should live his/her life? If the prophet (SAWS) were alive today, what would his opinion be on this subject? Should we, being followers of Islam, not try to keep our opinion consistent with the prophets (SAWS)? How can a non-Muslim be attracted to Islam knowing that there are so many versions of it, and if a non-Muslim decides to embrace Islam, wouldn't his/her joining of a sect ruin such a beautiful decision? During the time of our beloved prophet (SAWS), Muslims called themselves just that, Muslims. Nobody was a Sheea, or a Bohra, or an Ahmedi, or a Sunni, or an Ismaeli, or a Qadiani or a Duruz, or a Bahai, or an Ansarullah, or anything. All Muslims were equal. Everyone proudly proclaimed the Shahada:
Ash-hadu Allaa ilaaha ill-Allahu WaHdahu laa shareeka lah,
wa Ash-hadu Anna MuHammadan abduhu wa rasooluh!
I now call upon all of you to immediately renounce any special religious loyalty which you may posses. For the love of Allah, the one who created you and blessed you with his deen, forget that you belong to any group and be proud that you are Muslim. And renouncing the sect is not enough if we continue to practice Islam with our differences. We must investigate what caused the formation of the sect and what characteristics of the sect are incompatible with Islam. We must seek knowledge of our religion in order to practice it as perfectly as we are capable. It is obvious that anyone who belongs to a sect and claims to be Muslim believes that their sect represents true Islam. I have two things to say to that. First of all, merely labeling oneself as one kind of Muslim or another is Haram as it is division in the most direct sense. Secondly, look up the date the Islam was revealed and then look up the date that your sect of the religion was born. After finding that they are not equal, dont even dare to claim that your sect is true Islam. That would be an insult to the Rasoolullah (SAWS).
As a final reminder, I will introduce another quote from the Holy Quran that again points to the fact that unity among Muslims is an indispensable, fundamental part of Islam:
The approximate meaning is:
"Verily, you are one Ummah. I am your Lord, worship me"