The great Imām and ʿĀlim (scholar), Muḥammad ibn Ṣāliḥ al-ʿUthaymīn was posed the following question:1
The Prophet (ﷺ) informed of the splitting of his Ummah after his death. We hope for an explanation of this from you.
The Prophet (ﷺ) informed in what has been authenticated from him,
“The Jews will split up into seventy one sects, and the Christians into seventy two sects, and this Ummah will split into seventy three sects. And all of these groups are in the fire except one, and it is that which is in agreement with what the prophet (ﷺ) and his companions were upon.”2
And this group is the saved sect (al-Firqah al-Nājiyah) which will be saved in this world from innovation and it will be saved in the Hereafter from the fire. And it is the victorious sect (al-Ṭāʾifah al-Manṣūrah) up to the Hour of Standing, which will remain clearly upon the command of Allāh the Mighty and Majestic.
And these seventy three sects from which, one is upon the truth and the remainder is upon falsehood, some of the people try to numerate them. The people of Innovation grouped out into five groups, and from every group came its branches, joining to this number that the Prophet (ﷺ) specified. And some people are of the opinion that it is better to stop counting, because these sects are not the only ones that have become misguided. Rather, mankind is more misguided than it was before. And they said that this counting will not cease and it is not possible to know its ending except in the end of time at the Hour of Standing. So it is better for us to leave as general whatever the Prophet (ﷺ) left as general. We say that this Ummah will split into seventy three sects, all of them being in the Fire except one. Then we say that everyone who opposes what the Prophet (ﷺ) was upon and his Companions, then he has entered into these sects. And the Messenger (ﷺ) used to point out the main sects (uṣūl), which we have not come to know of, except what reaches ten of them in number. And he used to point out that there will be branches of these main sects (furūʿ), as is the view of some of the people. And the knowledge is with Allāh the Mighty and Majestic.
Translated by Ahmad Assing