How Many Types Of Islam Are There? (Solved)

As with all other world religions, Islam is represented by several major branches: Sunni, Shi’a, Ibadi, Ahmadiyya, and Sufism. These branches started to develop after Muhammad’s death when people began to disagree on the successor of the religion.


How many different types of Islam are there?

Though the two main sects within Islam, Sunni and Shia, agree on most of the fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam, a bitter split between the two goes back some 14 centuries. The divide originated with a dispute over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad as leader of the Islamic faith he introduced.

What are the 3 main sects of Islam?

Muslims Adhere to Different Islamic Sects

  • Sunni Muslims include 84%–90% of all Muslims.
  • Shi`ite Muslims comprise 10%–16% of all Muslims.
  • Sufis are Islamic mystics.
  • Baha’is and Ahmadiyyas are 19th-century offshoots of Shi`ite and Sunni Islam, respectively.

How many main branches of Islam are there?

A disagreement over succession after Mohammed’s death in 632 split Muslims into Islam’s two main sects, Sunni and Shia.

What are the 4 classes of Islam?

Sunni Islam is divided into four schools of law or fiqh (religious jurisprudence): Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki and Hanbali. There are minor differences among these schools of law.

Who is founder of Islam?

The Prophet Muhammad and the Origins of Islam. The rise of Islam is intrinsically linked with the Prophet Muhammad, believed by Muslims to be the last in a long line of prophets that includes Moses and Jesus.

What are the 5 branches of Islam?

Followers of the faith recorded these revelations in the Qur’an. As with all other world religions, Islam is represented by several major branches: Sunni, Shi’a, Ibadi, Ahmadiyya, and Sufism. These branches started to develop after Muhammad’s death when people began to disagree on the successor of the religion.

What is the Sunni branch of Islam?

Sunni, Arabic Sunnī, member of one of the two major branches of Islam, the branch that consists of the majority of that religion’s adherents. Sunni Muslims regard their denomination as the mainstream and traditionalist branch of Islam —as distinguished from the minority denomination, the Shiʿah.

What is the oldest religion?

The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.

What’s difference between Shia and Sunni?

Those who followed the Prophet’s closest companion (Abu Bakr) became known as Sunni (the followers of the Prophet’s example – Sunnah). Those who followed the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law (‘Ali) became known as Shi’a (the followers of the Party of ‘Ali – Shi’atu Ali).

What is Shia Sunni?

After the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 632, a group of Muslims, who would come to be known as the Sunnis, believed that Muhammad’s successor should be Abu Bakr whereas a second group of Muslims, who would come to be known as the Shia, believed that his successor should have been Ali.

Are Shias allowed in Mecca?

Both Sunni and Shia Muslims share the same five pillars of Islam, the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, Ramadan, the prayer, Chahada, and Zakat. However, Saudia Arabia has forbidden Shia Muslims to perform the sacred Hajj pilgrimage. If individuals refused to identify, they were not allowed in Mecca.

Is Hanafi and Sunni the same?

The Hanafi school (Arabic: حَنَفِي, romanized: Ḥanafī) is one of the four traditional major Sunni schools (maddhab) of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). The other primary Sunni legal schools are the Maliki, Shafi`i and Hanbali schools.

What do Shia Muslims believe?

Shiites believe that only Allah, the God of the Islam faith, can select religious leaders, and that therefore, all successors must be direct descendants of Muhammad’s family. They maintain that Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was the rightful heir to the leadership of the Islam religion after Muhammad’s death.

Can Shia pray in Sunni mosque?

For Shia Muslims, the salah of a Sunni is not correct and has mistakes and missing parts. Therefore, it is not permissible for a Shia Muslim to pray with a with a Sunni as the prayer isn’t going to be counted correctly.

Islam’s Sunni-Shia Divide, Explained

Despite the fact that the two largest factions within Islam, Sunni and Shia, agree on the majority of Islam’s essential principles and practices, a severe division exists between the two that dates back more than 14 centuries. In the beginning, there was a disagreement about who should follow the Prophet Muhammad as head of the Islamic faith that was introduced by the Prophet Muhammad. According to a recent estimate by the Council on Foreign Relations, around 85 percent of the approximately 1.6 billion Muslims across the world are Sunni, with only 15 percent belonging to the Shia faith.

Despite their differences, Sunni and Shia Muslims have coexisted in relative peace for the most of history, despite their disagreements.

The Aftermath of Muhammad’s Death

The origins of the Sunni-Shia division may be traced all the way back to the seventh century, just after the death of the prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632, when the two groups first met. While the majority of Muhammad’s supporters felt that his successor should be chosen by the other prominent members of the Islamic community, a tiny fraction believed that only someone from Muhammad’s family—specifically, his cousin and son-in-law, Ali—should be chosen to replace him. This group became known as Ali’s followers, or in Arabic, the Shiat Ali, or just Shia, as a result of their religious beliefs.

Ali finally rose to become the fourth caliph (or Imam, as Shiites refer to their religious leaders), but only after the two caliphs who came before him were both slain.

Not only was the control of Muhammad’s religious and political heritage at danger, but also a substantial sum of money in the form of taxes and tributes collected from the different tribes that had gathered under the banner of Islam, which was at stake as well.

Within a century after Muhammad’s death, his followers had established an empire that spanned from Central Asia all the way down to southern Europe. The Battle of Karbala took place in Iraq. Fine Art Photographs/Heritage Photographs/Getty Images

Battle of Karbala and Its Lasting Significance

A group of 72 followers and family members marched from Mecca to Karbala (present-day Iraq) in 681 to face the corrupt caliph Yazid of the Ummayad dynasty, who was ruling the country at the time. Upon their arrival, a vast Sunni army awaited them, and at the conclusion of a ten-day standoff that included several minor battles, Hussein had been murdered and beheaded, and his head had been sent to Damascus as a tribute to the Sunni caliph. Hussein’s death, as well as the deaths of all surviving members of Muhammad’s family, at Karbala was “clearly intended by the Ummayads to put an end to all claims to leadership of the ummah based on direct descent from Muhammad,” writes Hazleton of the Ummayads’ intention to put an end to all claims to leadership based on direct descent from Muhammad.

He was killed in Karbala, and his martyrdom at Karbala became the primary tale of Shia tradition, and it is honored every year on the Shia calendar on Ashoura, which is the most serious day.

The Sunni-Shia Divide Into the 21st Century

Apart from Karbala, the NPR podcastThroughline highlighted three major turning points in Islamic history that will exacerbate Sunni-Shia divides by the end of the twentieth century. Following the establishment of Iran’s Safavid dynasty in the 16th century, which (by force) changed the country from a Sunni hub to a Shi’a bastion in the Middle East, followed the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century. It was in the early twentieth century that the victorious Allies partitioned the region formerly controlled by the former Ottoman Empire during World War I, tearing apart centuries-old religious and ethnic groups in the process.

Sectarian tensions grew in the early twenty-first century as Islam became increasingly politicized and fundamentalists on both sides of the divide rose in popularity.

Sunni-Shia differences would fuel a long-running civil war in Syria, as well as warfare in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and other places, as well as terrorist attacks on both sides.

Despite the fact that the Sunni-Shia division has persisted for millennia, the fact that the two sects have coexisted in relative harmony for many centuries implies that their conflicts may have less to do with religion and more to do with money and power.


Despite the fact that Islam is divided into numerous sects, all Muslims adhere to the idea of Tawhid (belief in a single God, Allah), believe in the Quran, and adhere to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him). ​


​Sunni Sunni Islam is the biggest branch of Islam, and those who adhere to it are referred to as Sunnis. Because they think that they are following the Sunnah (also known as “custom” or “tradition”) of the prophet Muhammad, they are referred to as Sunnis (pbuh). Although the exact number of Sunni Muslims in the world is unclear, some experts believe that between 85 and 90 percent of the world’s Muslim population adheres to this branch of Islam. They trace their historical origins to the dominant group that accompanied the caliph Abu Bakr to the throne of Muhammad as his successor.

According to the four schools of thinking, Sunnis base their faith on the Quran and Sunnah as perceived by the majority of the community within the framework of the four schools of thought (madhhabs).

They are all subsets of one another.

They will continue to seek Islamic solutions for the questions given by growing civilizations, regardless of time or place in which they are practiced.


It is believed that the name ‘Shi’ism’ comes from the Arabic phrase’shi’at ‘Ali,’ which literally translates as ‘the party of Ali.’ Several Shi’ite scholars argue that Ali, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuhson-in-law )’s and cousin, should have been elected caliph following the Prophet’s (pbuh) death. The Shiat adhere to the notion of Imamate, who is described as “the divinely inspired, religious and political head of the society;” one who is without sin and who bestows real knowledge on humanity, which is another key distinction.

The great majority of Shi’ites are twelvers, or adherents of the branch known as ‘Ithna Ashari,’ who comprise the bulk of the population.

Shi’a thinking is divided into several schools of thought, the most important of which being the Ja’faryia, which was formed by Ja’far al-Sadiq, the 6th Shia Imam.

They all allude to the number of divine imams who were recognized after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, and they are all capitalized (pbuh).

The three primary holidays observed by Shi’a Muslims are Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, and Ashura (the Day of the Dead). They also observe Ramadan, which is the month of fasting. ​


Ismailis, also known as the ‘Seveners,’ are Shi’a Muslims who developed in 765 as a result of a debate over who should succeed Ja’far al-Sadiq as the sixth imam. Some Muslims think that Ismail, the eldest son of Imam Ja’far, was the legitimate ruler of the whole Muslim community. Ismailis believe that after the sixth Imam Ja’far went away, his eldest son, Ismail, received the authority to govern, and therefore became the seventh Imam of the Islamic faith. These beliefs are in contrast to those held by the twelvers, who believe that the imamate was passed on to Musa al-Kazaim, Ismail’s brother.

  • Mawlana Hazar, referred to as ‘His Highness the Aga Khan 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia’ Imami Ismaili Muslims,’ is believed to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia’ Imami Ismaili Muslims (pbuh).
  • Ismaili leaders that are well-known include Ubaydulla, who claimed to be a direct descendant of Fatima and Ali.
  • “One of its most enduring landmarks was its religious center, the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo,” which has continued to serve as an epicenter of Islamic instruction to the present day, according to the Associated Press.
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Unlike the other Shi’a groupings, the Zaydiyyah school of law has a distinct conception of the imamate than the other Shi’a parties. They recognize Zayd ibn Ali, the grandson of Hussain, as the ‘Fifth Imam,’ as their spiritual leader. Zaydis believe that the Imam does not have to be a direct descendant of Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter (pbuh), but rather can be anybody connected to Ali who possesses the highest level of moral purity. Islam: The Straight Path, by John L. Esposito, Oxford University Press, 1994, p.

Islamic Publications Limited launched the official website of the Ismaili Muslim Community in 2007.

48; John L.

Sunnis and Shia: Islam’s ancient schism

AP is the source of the image. Caption for the image The pilgrimage to Mecca is one of many rites that both religions practice, and it is one of the most important. The schism that exists between Sunnis and Shias is the greatest and most ancient in Islamic history. Historically, members of the two religions have lived side by side for centuries and have a number of core beliefs and practices in common. However, there are significant differences in philosophy, ritual, law, theology, and religious organization.

Their leaders likewise appear to be in a state of rivalry on a regular basis. Many recent conflicts, ranging from Lebanon and Syria to Iraq and Pakistan, have emphasized the sectarian difference, driving families and communities apart.

Who are the Sunnis?

It is estimated that Sunnis constitute between 85 percent and 90 percent of the world’s more than 1.5 billion Muslims. Sunnis constitute 90 percent or more of the populations of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, respectively, in the Middle East. Getty Images is the source of this image. Caption: Egypt is home to a number of Sunni Muslims. The earliest centers of study in Islam Sunnis consider themselves to be the religiously orthodox branch of Islam. The term “Sunni” comes from the Arabic word “Ahl al-Sunnah,” which translates as “People of the Tradition.” Specifically, the term “tradition” refers to actions that are founded on what the Prophet Muhammad said or did or agreed to or condemned.

Shia are also directed by the wisdom of Muhammad’s descendants, who are represented by Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin.

Who are the Shia?

Shia Muslims account for around 10% of the world’s Muslim population, with a global population estimated to be between 154 and 200 million people. AP is the source of the image. Caption for the image The deaths of Ali, Hassan, and Hussein paved the way for the development of the Shia notion of martyrdom. Shia Muslims constitute the majority of the population in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, and, according to some estimates, Yemen. Shia Muslims are also the majority in Syria. Afghanistan, India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are also home to significant Shia populations.

Ali was killed in 661 at the end of a five-year caliphate that had been beset by internal conflict.

While Hassan is supposed to have died from poisoning in 680 at the hands of Muawiyah, the first caliph of the Sunni Umayyad dynasty, Hussein is believed to have been murdered by the Umayyads on the battlefield in 681.

There are three major sects of Shia Islam practiced today: the Zaidis, the Ismailis, and the Ithna Asharis (or Ithna Asharis) (Twelvers or Imamis).

In 878, the 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, is reported to have vanished from a cave beneath a mosque, according to legend. It is believed by Ithna Asharis that the so-called “expected imam” did not die, and that he will return to earth at the end of time to restore justice.

What role has sectarianism played in recent crises?

Shia Muslims are disproportionately represented among the weakest elements of society in nations where Sunnis have ruled. They frequently believe that they are the victims of prejudice and injustice. Sunni radicals routinely decry Shia as heretics who should be put to death, and they have a point. AFP is the source of this image. Caption for the image The killing by Saudi Arabia of a famous Shia cleric sparked a diplomatic crisis with Iran, which has since been resolved. A hardline Shia Islamist agenda was initiated by the Iranian revolution of 1979, which was viewed as posing a threat to traditional Sunni countries, notably those in the Persian Gulf.

Many of the battles taking place in the region today have significant sectarian undertones.

While this is happening, Sunni jihadist organizations, especially the Islamic State (IS), have been targeting Shia and their sites of worship in Syria and its neighboring country of Iraq.

The murder sparked a diplomatic crisis with Iran as well as protests across the region.

More on this story

  • 1. The Sunnis (also known as “traditionalists”)
  • Sunnis constitute 85 percent of the Muslim population. Islamic orthodoxy and tradition, as established by Muhammad and the four “rightly led caliphs,” are revered by Sunnis, who believe themselves to be their custodians. The Qur’an and Hadith are the primary sources of religious and legal authority. As a result of the use of analogy (qiyas) and consensus (ijma’) to settle difficulties that were not expressly specified in the Qur’an and Hadith, legal experts played a significant part in the determination of consensus and the drawing of analogies. Individual and community life should be directed by Islamic law, according to adherents of the Sharia. There are four different schools of interpretation:
  1. It is favored by the Hanifite school of thought to use rational judgment in determining what is best for the common good (and is most popular in Iraq, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia). To determine the correct path, the Malikite looks first for consensus and then for analogy (this school of thought is most prevalent in North Africa, Egypt, and eastern Arabia). Shafi’ite- accepts the authority of the Hadith and downplays the importance of reason (most influential in Indonesia)
  2. Sufi-ite- accepts the authority of the Hadith and downplays the importance of reason
  3. Sufi-ite- accepts the authority of the Hadith and downplays the importance of reason Hanbalites are a reaction against the reliance on ‘opinion’ in other schools
  4. They maintain that the Qur’an is the supreme authority and that only the Hadith is accepted as also authoritative (the dominant school in Saudi Arabia)
  5. They are a reaction against the reliance on ‘opinion’ in other schools
  • 2.The Shi’ites (also known as “partisans”)
  • Shi’ites began as a political dispute over the leadership of Islam
  • They considered Ali (a cousin of Muhammad) to be the first legitimate successor to Muhammad – “Shia Ali” (the party of Ali)
  • They considered Ali to be the first legitimate successor to Muhammad
  • And they considered Ali to be the first legitimate successor to Muhammad. Shi’ites believe that revelation ceased with Muhammad and the Qur’an, but they also believe that there is a lineage of imams who have been bestowed with supernatural powers to interpret the Sharia. Theimams’ teachings are thought to be infallible
  • Shi’ites are referred to as “Seveners” because they believe that a succession of sevenimams followed the martyrdom of Husayn (Ali’s youngest son)
  • Shi’ites have traditionally believed in the existence of aMahdi -a messiah figure who will one day appear and restore the purity of the faith
  • Shi’ites have traditionally believed in the existence of aMahdi -a messiah figure who will one day appear and restore the Shi’ite Muslims recreate the martyrdom of Husayn throughout the month of Muharran
  • Shi’ites despise the conventional Sunni reading and interpretation of the Qur’an, which they consider to be corrupt. (It is speculated that the current edition of the Quran, which does not designate Ali as Muhammad’s successor, was tampered with by Muhammad’s opponents.) As a result, the Qur’an must have hidden meanings that can only be discovered via metaphorical interpretations)
  • Ayatollah (Arabic for “sign of Allah”): one who is considered to be so righteous and steeped in the true faith that he can make independent judgments that carry the authority of the imam
  • Shi’ites are the ruling majority in modern Iran
  • An influential minority in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, and Iraq
  • A minority in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, and Iraq
  • The Sufis (mystics) are the third group. As a sign of poverty and the rejection of earthly pleasures, the wordufime (which means “woolen”) alludes to the coarse wool clothing worn by early Muslim mystics as a symbol of poverty and rejection of worldly pleasures. According to Sufis, their origins may be traced back to the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran. In their view, older Islam was more concerned with actual spiritual things, as opposed to the more materialistic interests of Islam when it had evolved to become a world power in the later centuries. Al-Hallaj announced, “I am the truth,” and was condemned to death in 922 because he was deemed a heretic. al-Ghazali: a professor of theology who attempted to bring together the legalistic and mystical schools of Islam
  • He prescribed Sufism as a remedy for spiritual ills, but he also believed that mystics were still bound by the ritual obligations of the orthodox faith
  • He was born in Baghdad and died in Cairo. 4. The Nation of Islam (sometimes referred to as “Black Muslims”)
  • Wallace Fard, who announced a revelation for African Americans in 1930, claiming that their redemption would come via self-knowledge, which would allow them to regain a feeling of their own history, founded the organization in Detroit in 1930. After Fard’s unexplained disappearance in 1934, Elijah Muhammad took over as Fard’s successor
  • Elijah Muhammad preached that Fard was an embodiment of Allah and pushed his fellow blacks to withdraw from white society and to establish their own institutions
  • Elijah Muhammad died in 1936. Christianity is viewed negatively as a religion of Western culture, and followers adhere to a strict lifestyle that includes five daily prayers, no intoxicants or tobacco, a pure diet, and no illicit sex. Traditional teachings include distrust of Western materialistic culture, the belief that humanity was originally black, and that the white race was created by a black scientist named Yakub who had rebelled against Allah, Christianity is also viewed negatively as a religion of Western culture. Elijah’s son, Wallace D. Muhammad, and Malxolm X both made efforts to bring the Nation of Islam more in line with traditional Islam (e.g., “The World Community of al-Islam in the West”)
  • Malxolm X was the first to make such an endeavor.

The mystery of 73 sects

THE HADITH given to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), according to which his ummah will be divided into 73 factions, but only one would be saved, has been one of the most lasting issues of Muslim sectarian polemics for centuries. All Muslim sects are quick to proclaim that their sect is the’saved one’ (naji), and that the ‘others’ are doomed to eternal damnation. If we were to follow the usual line of logic, this hadith would split the Muslim ummah into two groups: those who have been rescued and those who have been condemned to hell.

  • In recent years, however, there has been a movement toward seeing this hadith in a more objective light, moving beyond sectarian interpretations.
  • Attempts have been made in recent years to decipher the context of this hadith and to evaluate its ramifications for today’s society.
  • The hadith can be found in a variety of different variants as well.
  • Frequently, it was assumed that 72 sects would be condemned and one group would be rescued in this manner.
  • According to Roy Mottahedeh (Diversity and Pluralism in Islam), Muqaddasi (a 10th-century geographer) claims that “72 sects are in paradise and one sect is in hell, according to what he believes to be a more reliable line of transmission (isnad)”.

Some, according to Mottahedeh, have questioned the authenticity of this tradition, claiming that if by 72 they mean the fundamentals of religious belief (usul), then they do not reach this number; however, if by 72 they mean the practices (furu), then the number exceeds this number by several multiples, according to Razi (d.

  1. The second interpretation of this hadith holds that the number 73 is not meant literally, but rather is a relative and metaphorical number that has been determined because of the context in which it appears.
  2. According to the author, “70 meant ‘a significant number,’ and 70-odd meant ‘a significant number and then more,’ which is rather obvious.
  3. Another liberal signal towards God’s recompense may be inferred in this case, as is the case in the previous instance.
  4. Two well-known figures, al-Baghdadi (d.
  5. 1153), provide contrasting descriptions of the sectarian numbers and their origins in their respective works.
  6. Great Muslim poet Hafiz (d.
  7. According to Mottahedeh, Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi believes that the “deeper religion is the trans-religious wonder of God’s love,” in a similar vein to Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi.
  8. 72) and takes the soul beyond the realm of existence.
  9. Contrary to popular belief, truth cannot be limited or constrained by disputes between societies.
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This point is reinforced by Abdul Aziz Sachedina in his remarkable book The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism, which demystifies the mystery of different religions and sects, as well as how Islam views this diversity, in order to demonstrate the importance of religious diversity in democratic pluralism.

  • Today, there is a growing worldwide movement to learn from and appreciate the plurality of faiths in a variety of ways, which is a positive development.
  • We must see Muslim diversity with respect, humility, responsibility, and joy rather than through the lens of sectarianism, as we have done in the past.
  • Everyone is on the lookout for the truth.
  • if thy Lord had willed, everyone who are on the world would have believed together.” Would you (Muhammad PBUH) compel people to become believers till they are?

“He has brought uncleanness upon people who are without of comprehension” (10:99-100). The author is a history and culture professor at a private institution in Pakistan, where he specializes in Muslim societies.

Why is Islam so different in different countries?

As a result of the establishment of Islamic State, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the group’s origins: how can we explain the causes and events that opened the way for the formation of the jihadist organization? To show why Islamic State arose where it did, Aaron Hughes describes the incredible regional heterogeneity in Islamic practice, which is the subject of the fourth part of our series on the historical foundations of Islamic State (ISIS). There is no such thing as a cohesive religion.

  • Both places have distinct cultures and traditions, as well as differences in political and social situations.
  • Such geographical distinctions are unquestionably significant in Islam.
  • As a religion founded on the rule of law (sharia), variances in the interpretation of that law have contributed to regional inequalities in Islamic practice.
  • A rather substantial proportion of religious minorities may be found in Malaysia, for example (up to 40 percent of the population).
  • As a result, Malaysia has been forced to draft a constitution that guarantees the rights of religious minorities, but Saudi Arabia has not done so to yet.

Schools of thought

This variance can be traced back to historical circumstances. Islam, contrary to common belief, did not appear to be completely developed at the time of Muhammad’s death (570-632). There were heated disputes over the nature of religious and political authority, as well as about who was or was not a Muslim, among other topics. Furthermore, it is incorrect to believe that a single, coherent teaching simply diffused throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond. The development of Muhammad’s teachings into the religion of Islam — complete with legal and theological substance — took centuries and is not the subject of this article.

  1. Modern nation states would not emerge until much later in history.
  2. In order to be understood, Islam needs to be explained in the context of local customs and cultural understandings.
  3. Many local customs evolved as a result of people’s attempts to comprehend Muhammad’s teachings.
  4. Although there were once many such schools in Sunni Islam, they were eventually limited to four — Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali – as a result of a progressive reduction in numbers.
  5. Others of their interpretations are more conservative than others, while some of them are more liberal.
  6. The four Sunni schools (as well as the four Shi’i schools) are connected with various geographical locations.

Traditionally, the Hanafi sect is prevalent in western Asia, the Shafi’i sect in Southeast Asia, and the Hanbali (the most orthodox) sect is found predominantly in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf countries.

Fundamental differences

Due to the numerous legal and regional variations, several interpretations of the religion have emerged. Despite this geographical and legal variety, many Muslims and non-Muslims continue to refer to Islam and sharia as if they were stable entities despite the fact that they are not. An illustration of the magnitude of the disparities within Islam might be provided as an illustration. Many non-Muslims are frequently taken aback when they learn about the cult of saints, particularly the role Sufi saints (Sufism is an Islamic kind of mysticism) have played and continue to play in the daily lives of Muslims.

  • Among other things, praying to these saints and making pilgrimages to their shrines is a good method to beg for intercession from the Almighty.
  • And this regionally diverse cult of saints has played and continues to play a significant part in Islamic religious life from Morocco in the west to Pakistan in the east, to name a few places.
  • It goes without saying that such dedication is sometimes frowned upon by more fundamentalist views of the religion.
  • Its devotees have, among other things, demolished the tombs of saints throughout history, including both the premodern and modern periods of history.
  • The Hanbali school, which has been bolstered by the riches of the Saudi royal family, has also attempted to expand its influence into other fields.
  • The vast majority of fundamentalist movements in Islam, including the Islamic State, have sprung from ultra-conservative components of this nature.
  • The stated objective of many of these groups, which are frequently referred to as Wahhabi or Salafi, is the restoration of Islam to what they believe to be its original, pure, and immaculate form as practiced by Muhammad and his early followers.
  • As of today, there are more than one and a half billion Muslims throughout the world, which makes Islam the second most populous religion in the world after Christianity.
  • And while dealing with it, it is necessary to take this variety into consideration.
  • The fact that women are not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia but are permitted to do so in countries such as Malaysia reveals something about this disparity.

This is the fourth piece in a series on the historical origins of the Islamic State, which began here. Download our special report, which is a compilation of the whole series.

Sunnis vs. Shiites: A Brief Explainer

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have existed for decades, have risen to a new level this week with the execution of famous Shiite opposition cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by the Saudis. Although a large part of the regional competition is upon who has the greatest political clout in the Middle East, its origins can be traced back to a schism between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam that first emerged 1,400 years ago. Saudi Arabia is by far the most powerful propagator of Sunni Islam, which is also by far the largest sect.

Here’s a quick overview of the gap that exists between the sects:

What was the origin of the Sunni-Shiite split?

Beginning in 632 AD, when the Islamic Prophet Muhammad died and a discussion erupted over who should succeed him, the Islamic world has been split into two camps. Despite the fact that both sides agreed that Allah is the one true God and that Muhammad was his messenger, one group (which eventually became the Shiites) believed Muhammad’s successor should be someone descended from him, whereas the other (which eventually became the Sunnis) believed a pious individual who would follow the Prophet’s customs would be acceptable.

It was a disagreement on political leadership “Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the nonpartisan United States Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center, shared her thoughts on the subject.

Hasan Jamali / Associated Press

What do Sunnis and Shiites have in common?

Sunnis and Shiites are both familiar with the Quran, which contains the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings. Neither of them doubts that Prophet Muhammad was the messenger of Allah. Additionally, they observe Islamic principles, including fasting during Ramadan, pledging to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca, engaging in ritual prayer (which includes five prayers per day), donating to the destitute, and committing themselves to the Islamic religion. Both of their prayer practices are essentially identical, with a few minor differences: Shiites, for example, will stand with their hands at their sides, but Sunnis will place their hands on their bellies when praying.

What are the differences between Sunnis and Shiites?

The most significant doctrinal divergence between the two is their views on who should have succeeded Prophet Muhammad in his mission. Sunnis, on the other hand, have a less complicated hierarchical hierarchy than Shiites, and their interpretations of Islam’s schools of law differ from those of the other group. Shiites accord human individuals the elevated position that is reserved for prophets in the Quran, and they frequently venerate clerics as saints, whereas Sunnis do not accord this rank.

How many of each sect are there?

Sunnis constitute the vast majority of the world’s more than 1.6 billion Muslims, accounting for upwards of 85 to 90 percent of the total. Shia Muslims account for 10 to 15 percent of the world’s Muslims, with a global population of less than 200 million people, according to some estimates. In contrast to the Sunnis, who dominate the Muslim world from West Africa to Indonesia, the Shiites are centered in the Middle East, with a great majority in Iran, a majority in Iraq, and substantial numbers in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, among other countries.

Elizabeth Chuck is a reporter for NBC News who specializes on health and mental health problems, particularly those that affect women and children. She has reported for the network since 2005.

What’s the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims?

Having a clear understanding of the distinctions between the two most populous branches of Islam is vital for understanding many geopolitical crises in the Middle East as well as communal problems within diasporic groups in the Western world. Kim Knott and Matthew Francis provide some perspective for a couple of the most important concerns. A warning of the perils of sectarian strife is provided all too frequently by the savage and catastrophic cycle of bloodshed that has engulfed Iraq between Sunni and Shi’a factions.

Although there are some differences between Sunni and Shi’a groups, they share a great deal more in common than they do in terms of beliefs and practices.

In most cases, when war has erupted, it has been owing to a power imbalance or geopolitical dispute (such as that between Iran and Saudi Arabia) rather than an ideological difference between the parties involved.

According to the United Nations, Shi’a Muslims account for roughly 10% (approximately 162 million) of the world’s Muslim population and constitute a majority in five countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq.


Both groups hold the same fundamental Islamic principles and practices, which include the following:

  • In the Qur’an – All Muslim sects, including Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, recognize the importance of the Qur’an as the ultimate source of guidance
  • There is no validity to the claims that Shi’a Muslims utilize an impure version of the book
  • Islam draws on Hadith – Shi’a and Sunni Muslims both rely on Hadith, however they tend to favor different sets of sayings
  • The Five Pillars of Islam – Both groups acknowledge the five pillars of Islam (Shahada, the declaration that “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His messenger.”
  • The belief that “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His messenger.”
  • The belief that “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His messenger.”) Salah (prayer)
  • Zakat (charitable giving)
  • Sawm (fasting during the month of Ramadan)
  • Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca)
  • Etc.

Shi’ism should not be considered a later branch of Sunni Islam; the two only came to be in their current forms in the ninth century CE, following the death of the last Shi’a Imam and the completion of the collection of the Prophet’s sayings (Hadith). These two schools of thought are regarded orthodox, and Al-Azhar University in Cairo (the world’s oldest Muslim university as well as a Sunni institution) incorporates them both into its curricula. Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have coexisted amicably in many regions of the world, and in some cases, they have even intermarried.

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The most significant ideological disagreement concerns matters of religious authority and the leadership of all Muslims in the aftermath of the Prophet’s death, respectively. Following the Prophet’s closest friend (Abu Bakr), those who were known as Sunni (followers of the Prophet’s example – Sunnah) came to be known as Shia. Following the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law (‘Ali), those who followed him were known as Shi’a (the adherents of the Party of Ali, also known as Shi’atu Ali). Rather than following the Prophet’s example, Sunnis place emphasis on the genealogy of Muhammad’s family, which is traced through a succession of Imams.

  • Iran’s Islamic Revolution resulted in the establishment of a Shi’a theocracy, which has subsequently backed Shi’as in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, in addition to Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Gaza), and Bashar al-dictatorship Assad’s in Syria.
  • Similar to this, the fundamental relationship between Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia’s ruling family has resulted in the marginalization of Shi’a movements in the country, while Shi’a communities in Iraq have been exposed to terrible bloodshed at the hands of the Sunni extremist group ISIS.
  • In 2013, a march in the United Kingdom organised by the Sunni preacher Anjem Choudary contained banners proclaiming that Shi’a were the enemies of Allah, according to the demonstrators.
  • It is important to note, however, that Wahhabist influence has also resulted in more entrenched differences within Sunni Islam as well.

Also, it is useful in gaining a better understanding of conflicts between groups not just in the Middle East, but also in the West.

Sunni and Shia Muslims

The 27th of January, 2011 Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims are the two major sects within Islam, and they are distinguished by their differences. Because statistics on the numbers of Sunni and Shia Muslims in many nations are just imprecise estimates, the percentages in this study are presented as ranges. 57 Sunnis will continue to constitute an overwhelming majority of Muslims in 2030, according to projections. It is predicted that the number of Sunnis would increase to about 2 billion by 2030 (between 1.91 billion and 1.97 billion), an increase from the estimated 1.4 billion in 2010.

According to projections, Sunnis will account for 87-90 percent of the world’s Muslims in 20 years, nearly the same percentage as they do now.

Shia Muslims are predicted to account for 10-13 percent of the world’s Muslims in the future, nearly the same proportion as they do now.

In the period 1990 to 2000, the yearly rates of increase in the world’s Sunni and Shia populations were exactly the same.

Four countries in the world have a Shia majority population: Iran (where approximately 93 percent of Muslims are Shia), Azerbaijan (where approximately 70 percent of Muslims are Shia), Bahrain (where approximately 70 percent of Muslims are Shia), and Iraq (where approximately 67 percent of Muslims are Shia).

Iraq’s Shia Muslim population is significantly less than the Shia Muslim population in neighboring Iran, although it is predicted to expand at a quicker rate than the Shia Muslim population in Iran.

According to projections, Pakistan would have the highest yearly rise in the population of Sunni Muslims among these countries.

Footnotes number 57 On page 38 of the Pew Forum’s 2009 reportMapping the Global Muslim Population, you can find further details about the methodology used to estimate Sunni-Shia population ratios.


Home PhilosophyReligion Beliefs in a Higher Power IslamOther possible titles: Ahl al-Sunnah, Sunna, Sunnism, Sunnite are all terms used to refer to the Sunni religion. Sunni Islam and Arabic Members of one of the two major branches of Islam, namely the branch that has the vast majority of the religion’s believers, are referred to as Sunnis. Sunni Muslims consider their denomination to be the dominant and conservative branch of Islam, as opposed to the Shiah, which they consider to be the minority religion.

  1. While the Shiah have always seen Muhammad’s government in Medina as an earthly, temporal dominion, the Sunnis have long regarded Islam’s leadership as being governed not by divine order or inspiration, but rather by the prevailing political circumstances in the Muslim world.
  2. Thus, a majority of Sunni jurists developed the stance that the caliph must come from Muhammad’s tribe, the Quraysh, while also devising a theory of election that was flexible enough to allow loyalty to be offered to the de facto caliph, regardless of his ethnic origins.
  3. Britannica QuizIslam What is your level of knowledge about the Prophet Muhammad?
  4. With this quiz, you may see how well you know about Islam.
  5. It was the institution of consensus (ijm) that the Sunnis developed that allowed them to integrate a wide range of practices and traditions that originated through regular historical development but that had no antecedents in the Qur’an.
  6. The Sunnis also recognize as orthodox four schools of Islamic law: the anaf, the anbal, the Mlik, and the Shfi.

They totaled around 900 million people in the early twenty-first century and formed the vast majority of all Muslims worldwide. Those in charge of editing the Encyclopaedia Britannica Adam Zeidan was the author of the most recent revision and update to this article.

Understanding the branches of Islam: Sunni Islam

All Muslims adhere to a set of core beliefs and practices that are universally recognized. In any case, leadership disagreements within the Muslim community have resulted in the emergence of several branches, which has resulted in the development of diverse religious identities within Islam. As the greatest branch of Islam, Sunni Islam accounts for 87 to 90% of the world’s Muslim population, according to the United Nations Development Programme. The word ahl al-sunna wa-l-jama’a (‘people of the prophetic tradition and the community’) is derived from the term ahl al-sunna wa-l-jama’a (‘people of the prophetic tradition and the community’).

In contrast to Shiites and Khawarij, it arose among Muslims who believed that Ali was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, and that he had been chosen as Muhammad’s sole legal successor.

This briefing provides a high-level review of the particular characteristics of Sunni Islam, as well as its major institutions and holy sites, as well as the major trends in Sunni Islam today.

(June 2015).

The Difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims and Why It Matters

Lutherans and Baptists are nearly identical in their beliefs. That is incorrect, and both sides would very certainly agree on that issue. It is also not correct to say that all Muslims are the same. Over 1.5 billion Muslims live in the world, with approximately 85 percent belonging to a sect known as Sunni and just 15 percent belonging to a group known as Shia. The division is a long-standing one, dating back 1,387 years to be exact. However, it continues to pose a danger to the stability of the whole Middle East and provides background for many of the stories we see in the news throughout the world.

When Muhammad, the prophet and creator of Islam, died, it was the beginning of the end.

Dispute over Muhammad’s Successor

When Muhammad died in AD 632, a huge controversy erupted about who would succeed him as the spiritual head of the new religion that had emerged. Islam was more than just a private religion; it was a social and political force that shaped events. He would have enormous control over society, government, and commerce as Muhammad’s heir. “It all began with Muhammad’s death, the prophet and creator of Islam,” says the author. Some others believed that anyone with the necessary qualifications could take over.

They insisted on the control of Muhammad’s father-in-law and friend Abu Bakr, whom they considered to be his heir.

As a result of their support for Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, this group became known as theshi’atuAli (the “party of Ali”), also known as Shiite Muslims.

Despite this, the Shiites refused to acknowledge Abu Bakr as legitimate and remained firm in their belief that they were obligated to Muhammad’s descendants, whom they referred to as l al-Bayt, or “the family of the house.” Ali was the father of two boys, Hasan and Husayn, who were both beloved by the Shiite community.

For Shiite Muslims, this fight and Husayn’s death are a sad reminder of their past. Even centuries later, this martyrdom, as well as the question of who has the authority to rule over Islam, remains at the heart of the Sunni-Shiite conflict.

Similarities and Differences in Religious Practice

Both sects adhere to Islam’s fundamental principles and practices, which are maintained by both. Those who follow Islam adhere to the Qur’an as a revelation from Allah as well as the Five Pillars of Islam, which include helping the poor, fasting during the month of Ramadan, participating in daily ritual prayers, making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and proclaiming that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. Shiite Muslims do the five daily ritual prayers, although they do it in three sessions rather than five as is customary for Sunni Muslims.

  1. Many of these tablets include the names of Husayn and other members of the prophet’s family written on them, as well.
  2. Shiites adhere to a set of 10 required deeds in addition to the fundamental Five Pillars.
  3. They live in mourning, and they dress in black for the most of the year.
  4. On this day, Shiite Muslims around the Middle East and Asia take to the streets, screaming laments over the murder of Husayn, weeping loudly, and beating themselves in solidarity.
  5. Shiite Muslims flock to the Iraqi city of Karbala on pilgrimage, with many selling all they own to pay homage to the site of a historic conflict dating back thousands of years.
  6. These remembrances are not restricted to the Middle East alone, though.
  7. In the eyes of Sunni Muslims, the Shiite fixation with the house of Muhammad represents a false Islam that concentrates an excessive amount of reverence on the prophet’s family.
  8. Due to their strong differences, which have gone unsolved for millennia, the Middle East has been shattered, with permanently unresolved tension.

Shiites and Sunnis on the Modern Map

Saudi Arabia and Iran are the two most powerful countries in the Islamic world, representing the two major branches of Islam. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is considered to be the spiritual core of Sunni Islam. Iran is mostly Shiite, and it has been ruled by a Shiite Supreme Leader since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when the country gained its independence. The power struggle between these two countries is a continual source of contention in the Middle East. Some Middle Eastern nations contain considerable populations of Islamic sectarian minorities, particularly in Syria and Iraq.

Following his death, rumors emerged that some Shiite Muslims who were present at his funeral danced and sang their Shiite chants in celebration of their triumph, proclaiming that they had reclaimed the territory of Iraq.

Multiple upheavals in the Middle East throughout the years have made it more difficult to maintain peace in the region.

It is critical to understand these dynamics in order to decipher headlines that depict continuous disputes and tensions among Muslim factions.

However, it is not limited to the Middle East. Shiite and Sunni Muslims may be found all throughout the world, and they may even reside in your own neighborhood.

Building Meaningful Relationships with Shiite and Sunni Muslims

Considering this, how should we interact with our Muslim friends and neighbors in this context? First and foremost, it is important to recognize that the majority of Shiite Muslims consider themselves to be a persecuted minority. Even devout Shiites who perform the Hajj to Mecca are subjected to maltreatment in Saudi Arabia, where the bulk of the population is Sunni. This should serve as inspiration for our prayers. Pray that people who believe they are oppressed would come to realize the freedom and peace that comes from placing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

All Muslims living in America, whether they are Sunni or Shiite, are considered minorities.

Simple gestures of kindness may have a significant impact on Muslims’ perceptions of Christians and their Savior, and they should be encouraged.

Consider inviting Muslims you know to your home for a dinner in the evening to break their fast with you.

The majority of Muslims approach dialogues with confidence in their views in opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They have the potential to obtain freedom when we compassionately communicate the truth of Christ with them because the Spirit unlocks their hearts as they hear the message.

We are talking about the reality of a spotless Savior who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins so that everyone who puts their faith in him might be forgiven and accepted into the family of God.

Madeline Arthington works as a writer for the International Monetary Fund.

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