Maulana Syed Abu Ala Maududi has a small booklet in Urdu, advocating the importance of being formally part of an Islamic group. Among the cited advantages are protection, organization, accountability, feedback, development program, shared resources and ideology. I do not doubt these benefits, but there are definite disadvantages to joining any Islamic group these days which one should clearly consider before committing oneself.
Most Islamic groups differ in their methodologies even if they all claim to be following the Quran and Prophetic teaching. Their ideology and methodology are derived from the interpretation of their founder’s understanding on how the Quran and Sunnah should be implemented in our modern world. Due to human deficiency, their ideology is specific to a particular geographic and historic context. It is dependent on their intellectual maturity and understanding, which will always be less than that of the Prophet (SWAS) and His Companions (RA). Thus, we find one group emphasizing calling people to Islam, another spreading knowledge, another struggling to revive the khilafa, another emphasizing adopting Prophetic teachings, another following the pious predessors, and others calling for struggle. While the common man is entangled in fiqhi (jurisprudence) issues without understanding of the essence of the faith.
Each group is like a blind man examining an elephant. One feels its trunk and considering the elephant as a pipe. Another feels its tail considering the elephant as a rope. Another feel its feet considering an elephant as columns. Another feels its ears considering an elephant as a cloth. Another feels its teeth considering an elephant as a spear. Yet another feels its sides considerng an elephant as a hairy wall. In the elephant analogy, the blind men might represent intellectual founders of all modern groups and the "elephant" is Islam (with all due respect to all groups).
Whatever the ideology, it pales in comparison of the holistic vision of Muhammad (SWAS) who was able to see the whole elephant for what it is. Our duty is to follow the Prophet (SWAS) as faithfully as possible by espousing his vision. By joining a modern group, we automatically put limits on that vision. We give up the essential personal duty for deep contemplation to the leaders of the group we choose to follow. Joining a group makes us give up holistic study from the sources of Islam and limits it to the group’s literature. We tend to study specific curriculum designed by its education department, repeatedly emphasizing Quranic verses and hadiths cited in their literature to justify their methodology.
What turns off most non-Muslims from Islam and many Mulims from joining a group is observing the state of the members of such groups. Most people tend to follow their leaders blindly and not willing to hear anything negative about their methodology. It seems that their kalima (formal statement of faith) has become the mission statement of their groups. There is a lot of leader “worship” in such groups. The amount of backbiting one hears of other groups is just amazing. It seems that Muslims who have joined other organizations are fair game for backbiting as membership rules do not apply to them. We need to understand that although others are not members of their organizations, they are still Muslims and enjoy the benefits of brotherhood just as well. A lot of effort is wasted in these organizations in just trying to put down the other Muslims.One should understand that most groups are working for similar goals even if they adopt different methodologies. Some cite a specific Prophetic saying, making it incumbent on a Muslim to join a group. This saying is specific to a bygone era when there was khilafa (Representative of the Prophet of God on Earth). In that case, a Muslim should not live without giving an oath of allegiance to a group leader. Our "group" is those we daily pray with in congregation no matter what their national origin, race, colour, ethnicaity, or modern Islamic group ideology. God forbid, if we study a coursse with a Muslim organization or even just "like" a Muslim's post because of its content, it does not apply that we give our allegiance to their "group". Is it not possible to learn from each other?