Aviva Directory » Faith & Spirituality » World Religions » Abrahamic Religions » Islam » Denominations & Sects

Like most major religions, Islam has divided into various denominations and sects. Chief among them are the Sunnis and the Shi'as.

The Sunnis make up from eighty to ninety percent of all Muslims, while the Shi'a (Shiites) represent most of the others. Minor denominations or sects within Islam include the Ahmadiyya, Ibadi, Mahdavia, and the Quranists. There are also non-denominational Muslims, who identify with none of the denominations.

Although we have them listed here as a denomination, for the purpose of categorization, the Sufis are neither a denomination or a sect in Islam. Sunnism is a trend within both Sunni and Shia Islam toward mysticism that began in the early years of Islam. Sufis are usually affiliated with either the Sunnis or the Shiites.

Separations within religions are not unusual. For example, Christianity has the larger splits between Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, as well as thousands of minor separations and divisions.

Unlike divisions in other faiths, such as that between Conservative and Orthodox Jews, or Catholic and Protestant Christians, the split between the Sunnis and Shias occurred earlier, soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Sunni-Shia separation began as political factions within a unified body of Muslims. Over the years, however, the rift between Sunnis and Shi'as has deepened, to a point where adherents of one branch may view the other with disdain, or even as apostates. This has been the cause of war and violence in the Muslim world.

Those familiar with Western religions sometimes compare the Sunnis and Shi'as to Protestants and Catholics but, while there are some areas in which this can work, the comparisons are mostly inaccurate. As the second largest religion in the world, Islam clearly warrants its own treatment, its own history, and its own categories.

A separation between the two major forms of Islan was already in the works at the time of the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Besides setting up the structure of a religion around himself, Muhammad had also created a powerful state, which was known as the Ummah. Those who belonged to the Islamic faith belonged also to the Ummah, which was governed by its own laws and had institutions separate from Islam. While he was alive, Muhammad had ruled the Ummah on the strength of his own authority.

A problem with authority that is based on the charisma of one man is that it cannot outlive the man and be in the same form as before.

Recognizing this eventuality, the Ummah sought a leader who could command the same authority as Muhammad. There were those among the Ummah who looked to Muhammad's family for leadership. They became known as the Shi'as, while those who believed that all Muslims were equally capable in the eyes of God became known as the Sunnis.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that while Muslims have continued to debate this issue, the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran were unclear, as there are passages that can be used to support either position.

In the late 19th century, an Islamic movement began in India, based on the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, whose followers became known as the Ahmadis, and the denomination as Ahmadiyya. A small faction broke away from them, and are known as the Lahore Ahmadiyya.

The Ibadi is a faction of Islam concentrated in Oman but also found in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and East Africa, which actually predates the Sunni and Shi'a denominations.

Founded in the late 15th century by Syed Muhammad Jaunpuri, the Mahdavis are found mostly in Pakistan, where they have been persecuted and killed by Sunni militants. A small Mahdavia community remains in India, as well.

Adherents of Quranism accepts the Quran as the sole sacred text through which Allah revealed himself to mankind, rejecting the authority or authenticity of the Hadith collections. Known as Quranists or Quranites, they exist not in one unified denomination, but in a few organizations, including Ahle Qur'an, United Submitters International, Kalo Kato, the Qur'an Sunnat Society, and the Malaysian Quranic Society.

Other movements that are sometimes identified as Muslim, as they share various beliefs with Islam, include the Druze, Berghouata, Ha-Mim, and Yazdânism.

African-American movements, including the Nation of Islam, Five-Percent Nation, and the Moorish Science Temple of America, are also Islamic in nature and practice, although they are not denominations in their own right.

These denominations, movements, or sects are appropriate for this category, or its subcategories, as might others which have not been mentioned here.

Others, such as Bábism, Baha'i, Sikhism, and Punjab, share some of the elements of Islamic beliefs, but are listed elsewhere in the directory, within their own categories.




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