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Islamic Sects

Knowledge is gold

Currently, we’re living in an era infused with a common concern and threat. A day doesn’t go by where we’re not reading, or hearing the word “Islam and Muslim’s.”
It’s beneficial for us as a society, as a community and throughout the globe to remain informed concerning these ongoing concerns rising from Islam.  We live in the age of information, which enables us to access information at the touch of a keyboard.  Benjamin Franklin once said “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Knowledge equips us.  In the interest of knowledge and the concerns that are circulating, worldwide, I assembled information, below, on the various sects of Islam. The following information may help you untangle the different dynamics involved in the varying sects, their commonalities and differences.
Due to space restraints, I have condensed this article and its information down, as much as possible. Footnotes are provided for further research, if required.

Sects of Islam

There are many sects in Islam. These sects contain common adherences, yet, they also have disputes in their fundamental beliefs. The variances of Islam and its sects can be quite dynamic, depending on the Muslim you’re asking. The sects of Islam often argue over which sect is authentically Muslim, which in turn, primarily causes feuds, divisions and enemies.
Within these various sects lay their conflicting beliefs. Each sect collectively adhere to Mohammed, the Qur’an and most to the Hadith’s (traditions and sayings of Mohammed) and Sira (the Biography of Mohammed), however, some sects dedicate themselves to violent Jihad because of the Qur’anic coming Caliphate of the world, while other sects abhor violence and believe power and preaching, through the pen and intellectually, will bring world dominion under Islam, in and by Allah’s will.
The two main sects that are decisively divided are the Sunni and Shi’a Muslim sects. Although, there have been attempts by certain Imams to unite the sects, they’re quite opposing towards each other.
Both sects believe that the Islamic faith was established by the prophet Mohammed during the 7th Century. The dispute arose with these two sects at the death of Mohammed 632 A.D.
The dynamics of Islam may help us to uncover the atrocities of Islam, in current day events. Interestingly, quite a few groups of Muslim’s are rising on to the world stage to reform Islam, to highlight and establish Islam, in its original Meccan form as being a peaceful and academic manifestation of a belief system and religion. These movements are endeavouring, with a scholarly effort, to demonstrate Islam is indeed a poised worldview, with a history of defensive war, protecting the Muslims and their growth, rather, than an offensive war, or forceful system of beliefs.
In most Islamic beliefs it’s usually the Sufi and Ahmadi Muslim’s who are well known for their adherence to a “peaceful only,” Islam. To most Sunni’s and Shi’a Muslims, they don’t consider these two sects to be authentically Muslim.

Sunni Islam

The Sunni sect of Islam is prominently practiced in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Indonesia, Egypt, consisting of 80-85% in population – 940,000,000 – worldwide. Sunni Islam is guided by a succession of four caliphs. These Caliphs had known Mohammed and therefore, known by Sunni’s as the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs. These four Caliphs Abou Bakr, being the first, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, the second, Uthman Ibn-Affian, the third, who was converted to Islam by Abou Bakr and the last, Ali Ibn Abou Talib.
Sunni Muslim’s believe that Mohammed didn’t have a lawful heir, at his death in 632 A.D, therefore, it was incumbent upon the community to choose a religious leader.  Sunni’s appointed Abou Bakr – Abdallāh bin Abī Quḥāfah aṣ-Ṣiddīq – the first Caliph.  Abou Bakr was the father of Aisha, the child bride of Mohammed, also Mohammed’s army commander and close companion.
Sunni Islam has four schools of thought – Abu Haneefah, Malik, Shafi’i, and Ahmad bin Hanbal.  Schools of thought emerged consisting of their own interpretation and application of the Sharia Law. These schools split farther away from each other creating schools following different interpretive approaches and applications.
Sunni Islam consists of five pillars of faith, those being the Shahadah, belief in one God only and Mohammed his prophet.  Salat, daily rituals and prayers.  Zakat, charitable giving the Sawm, fasting for Ramadan, Jihad which some Muslim believe is a spiritual battle, however, the Qur’an and Hadith’s demonstrate it is an offensive battle and finally the Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca .
Sunna’s/Hadith’s are the traditions of Mohammed. Aside from the Qur’an Muslims also practice the rituals, customs and traditions that Mohammed himself put into place.  Sunni Muslim’s Hadith’s comprise of about 6, however, the most reputable are the Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. Sunni Muslim’s only ascribe to Hadith’s that they believe are “authentic.” The many Shia Hadith’s are known to Sunni Muslim’s as being weak, not strong, therefore, unauthentic. Sunni Muslim’s require Shi’a Muslim’s to provide scholar names of Hadith’s to verify their authenticity.  Most Qur’anic/Hadith practicing Sunni’s believe in the literal sense of Jihad – offensive warfare.

Shi’a Islam

The Shi’a sect of Islam are mainly from Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Qatar, Bahrai and Lebanon consisting of 10-15% of Islam’s population, numbering up to 200 million. Shi’a Muslims believe only Allah could choose a leader, not man, therefore, this leader must come from the family line of Mohammed. Ali was Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law, also believed to be the fourth Caliph by both Shi’a and Sunni Muslims.
Shi’a Muslim’s believe Ali to be the first follower of Mohammed. Hussein, the second son of Ali’s, was/is greatly revered by Shi’a Muslim’s. Hussein is called “The Prince of the Martyrs” because of a martyr’s death he died while in battle with other Muslims.  Shi’a Islam adheres to the five pillars of faith, too. However, they have five additional requirements of which Sunni Muslims don’t practice.  Shi’a Islam has only one major school of thought identified as the Jafaryia, or sometimes referred to as the Twelvers.  There are also minor schools of thoughts, such as, the Seveners, and/or the Fivers. These titles are referenced to the Imams who are adhered and recognised by Shi’as. These Imams were positioned after the
death of Mohammed.
Shi’a Muslim’s have different Hadith collections. They oppose the Hadith Collections of the Sunni’s, believing their Hadith’s were not truthfully, or rightly collected. Interestingly, many Shi’a’s believe that the Harj to Mecca is not as important as visiting the tomb / shrine sites of their Shi’a martyrs.
Most Quranic/Hadith practicing Shi’a’s believe in the literal sense of Jihad – offensive warfare.

Sufi Islam

The Sufi Muslim’s may come under the umbrella, bearing similarities to Shi’a Muslim’s. Sufi derives from the word “Suff,” which is an undercover garment, from wool, undyed, sometimes worn by the Sufi holy men. In Arabic mysticism is called taṣawwuf , literally meaning “to dress in wool.” Sufism was founded in 675 AD. It has 9,000,000 followers. Sufi’s adhere to prayer, or dhikr – a devotion of remembrance, also the Shahādah, the profession of faith, stating there is no god but Allah and Mohammed his messenger.  Sufism challenges and encourages its believers to work on the heart and mind, through cleansing, by taking on commendable traits and characteristics, such as, giving to the poor, sharing compassion, practicing humility, honesty and justice.  Sufis refer to a variety of expressions – nafs, meaning ego/pride as the optimum cause of individual and worldwide suffering and evils, adhering to salah (prayer) and dhikr (meditation and the remembrance of God) being the purification  foundations to cleanse the heart.  Attaining tawhid, or oneness with God, is the ultimate goal of Sufism.
Sufism is often referred to as mystical Islam, formally rooted within non-Muslm sources, however, as time passed these mysticism were adopted and conformed into and with Islam.  Persian literature and other languages are important to Sufi vocabulary, in places, such as, Turkey, Urdu, Sindhi, Pashto, and Punjabi. Mystical ideas spread through poetry to the Sufi Muslims. Some leaders of the Sufi’s were involved in politics.
Sufi’s don’t align with one founder of their sect.

Sufism can be quite ambiguous. Sufi’s within the Asian / Indian areas were known to be barbaric in their practice and their actions towards Indian’s and their implementations throughout the Asian regions. In his article “Demystifying the Sufi’s,U. Mahesh Prabhu explains – Saiyyad Muhammad bin Nasiruddin Jafar Makki al-Husaini, the Khalifa of Nasiruddin Chiragh-i-Delhi ” held that there were five reasons which led the people to embrace Islam:  (link to article at Footnotes
1. Fear of death,
2. Fear of their families being enslaved,
3. Propagation (of Islam) on the part of Muslims,
4. The lust for obtaining mawajib (pensions or rewards) ghanaim (booty), and
5. Tassub (bigotry or superstition).”
[Ref: Rizvi, op. cit., p.46 citing Sijzi, Akhbar-ul-Akhiyar, p.136]

Therefore, even though Sufi’s practice a devotional religion, as opposed to a doctrinal way of life, compared to the two core Islamic sects of Sunni and Shi’a, many also adhered to the violent, oppressive, subjugation form of Islam, too. Some Sufi’s embrace chanting, dancing, poetry recitation and lean more to the emotional side of devotion in Islam.
Sufi Quranic Muslim’s are mixed in their beliefs in the literal sense of Jihad – offensive warfare. Some do believe in offensive warfare, other Sufi’s may not.

Salafi Islam

The Salafi sect of Islam is a strictly conservative branch of Sunni Islam who believe in the purist form of Islam. The meaning of “Salafi” refers to someone who’s attaching  himself/herself to a group of people, who Mohammed shared “The best of people is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them, (Sahih Mulsim – Umran Ibn Husain) corresponding to the first three generations of Muslims
Their beliefs are of the most fundamentalist kind. Salafism takes its name from the expression “al-salaf al-salih” or, “the pious predecessors” They adhere to emulating Mohammed and all his teachings, literally. They’re also commonly known as Wahhabi’s.  There are established to be about 82,000,000 Salafis, worldwide. Salafism derives its ideologies from Ibn Taymiyya.
Salafi Islam is divided into three areas; there are the purists, the activists and the jihadi’s. Salafism is said to be the fastest growing sect of Islam in current day Europe. It‘s also growing progressively in China – China’s Hui ethnic group.  Salafi’s reject modern technology or anything of the innovative kind.  Boko Haram and ISIS are often associated with Salafism due to their Salafist roots. However, there are some Salafis who will tell you they adhere to the Twentieth Century, Shaykh Mohammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, his vision and “Dawah” which was to embrace and adopt the interpretation of the early generations of Muslims, the Mecca form of early Islam and its theological and legal methodology, without  being involved and active in politics. Rather, Shaykh Mohammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani believed that the rule of Islam, worldwide, would be ultimately accomplished by Allah’s hand, not mans.
Most Quranic/Hadith practicing Salafis believe in the literal sense of Jihad – offensive warfare.

Alawate (Alevis) Islam

The Alawate sect of Islam comprises of two groups within the sect, Alawate’s and Alevis. The similarities of the names do raise confusion. The two may seem related in their beliefs, however, they differ in certain areas of practice. Alawate’s faith was established early in the ninth century, by Abu Shuayb Muhammad Ibn Nusayr, a Shi’a adherent, some suggesting Alawate reflects the survival of Phoenician paganism as well as pre-Islamic Persian religions. The five pillars of Islam to the Alawate are considered symbolic rather than dutiful. Alawate’s celebrate not only Islamic holiday/traditions, also Christian holidays and traditions. Alawate’s also have a form of “Communion.” Wine is signified as “halal” and is partaken in the masses, with bread, consecrated by male initiates. Wine, to the Alawate’s is considered to be the very essence of God (Ali) it’s titled “The Servant Of Light” (‘Abd al-Nur). Hence, vines are treated with much respect. Interestingly, Alawate’s consider Ali Ibn Abi Talib as the manifestation of Allah. The Alawate profession of faith states: “I testify that there is no God except Ali ibn-Talib the one to be worshiped, no Veil, except Muhammad, who is worthy of praise, and no Gateway (or Path), except Salman Al-Farisi, the object of love,” which is summarised in an Arabic Poem.

Alawate’s are known to be very secretive to avoid persecution from Shia/Sunni Muslim’s, therefore, they habitually adhere to the practice of taqiyya (lying) to hide their beliefs. Alawate’s have a Holy Trinity of their own, so to speak, which is Mohammed, Ali his cousin and son-in-law, also Salman who was a companion of Mohammed.  Alawate’s believe they must attain transformation, or rebirth, seven times, before returning to a place among the stars. There, they believe, Ali is the prince.  If blameworthy, they believe that they will return as Christians or Jews, among whom they remain, until their atonement is complete. Alawate’s deny the resurrection, hell and paradise after death, rather, they regard that people experience hell or paradise in the current world.  In 1328, Ibn Taimiyya a strict Muslim scholar issued a fatwa (legal judgement), stating, “They (Alawate’s) were greater infidels than the Christians and Jews…greater even than idolaters.” He authorized Jihad against them, saying it was legal to take their property and blood, unless they show repentance.  Alevis, are considered more of a movement than a sect. Its roots derive from the 14th century mystical dissenters in Central Asia. Alevism also adheres to pre-Islamic elements of Turkish shamanism and Kurdish angel-worship.

Alawate and Alevi both correspond to the meaning of “devoted to Ali.” Alawate’s have their origins in Shi’a Islam and thus follow Ali, the fourth Caliph and successor of Mohammed. Alawate’s are considered Twelvers, although, Alawate’s believe Ali symbolises the divine, which is opposing to the conservative Shi’a’s.  Syrian and Turkish Alawate’s speak Arabic. Turkish Alevis speak Turkish; and Kurdish Alevis speak Turkish and Kurdish. Kurdish Alevis prefer to be self-governed, free of Arab or Turkish domination. This element of the culture distinguishes Alevis from Alawate’s, including established Shi’a’s.  Alawate’s and Alevis, as a whole, don’t pray in mosques, neither do they support clerics as mainstream Shi’a’s do. Alawate’s do, however, maintain shrines for their leaders (sheikhs) as compared to Alevis congregating in a ceremony known as the cem, pronounced “jem.” This is held in a meeting house.

Alawate’s Islamic texts are the Qur’an and the sermon collections of Imam Ali.  The teachings of the Alawate sect are conveyed progressively through the lifetimes of selected disciples, but denied to most lay people and kept rigorously secret.  Alevis, alternatively, possess an extensive, widely-read religious literature, mainly composed of spiritual songs, poems, and epic verse. Alawate’s and Alevis beliefs are probably the farthest away from Islam, compared to other Shi’a groups. Shia and Sunni Muslim’s don’t consider Alawate’s or Alevis to be Muslims.    

Whahbi Islam

The word Wahabism is derived from the name of its founder and leader Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab – 1703 – 1792. He adhered to the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah, (as the Salafis did) although, interestingly, his family and friends vehemently disagreed with Ibn Taymiyyah. Wahabism surfaced temporarily in the start of the 18th century in Uyayyinah but it was put down and its protagonists jailed. It resurfaced for the third time in mid 19th century under Abd al-Aziz Bin Abd al-Rahman.  Wahabi’s beliefs are rigid and focus on direct interpretation of the words of the Qur’an. The word Wahabi is derogatory and no one following the sect refers to himself as a ‘Wahabi, as such. The Wahabi sect of Islam, some would state, are one and the same as the Salafi sect, however, other Muslims may disagree with the statement.  Many Islamic schools (Madrassas), mosques and 

charity organisations are funded by Saudi Arabia/Wahabi, worldwide.  The ruling class of Saudi have advocated Wahabism, stating it’s for its Salafi piety, referring it to, “its adherence to the original practices of Islam – and the movement’s vehement opposition to the Shi’a branch of Islam.”  Wahabism is a lot more violent than Salafism, also known to be extremely intolerant.  During the rise of Wahabism many of the Sunni and Shi’a families were killed, their women raped and their sons decapitated. Salafism did not encourage this sort of violence and barbaric behaviour.  Wahabis are very strict in their worship and their daily living, condemning acts they consider polytheistic or “shirk.” The sort of acts, parallel to praying at holy shrines, praying to saints or Islamic Prophets, akin to the Shi’a Muslims. The Wahabis strict adherence to the Qur’an and Islam causes them to reject, or pander in philosophical interpretations of Qur’anic interpretations they consider these  apostasy.  Generally, all Wahabi’s are Salafist’s, however, not all Salafist’s are Wahabi’s.  Quranic/Hadith practicing Wahabi’s believe in the literal sense of Jihad – offensive warfare.

Ahmadi Islam

The Ahmadiyya  Muslim’s, also known as Ahmadis mainly derive from Punjab, India. Although, Ahmadiyya Islam is now spanning over 206 countries with membership growth spreading tens of millions, globally. The Ahmadiyya believe that a long awaited Messiah came in the form and person of a man called, Mirza Ghulam – 1835-1908, who claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus Christ. As opposed to the Sunni and Shia, who believe Jesus Christ will return at the end time battle of Muslim’s and Non-Muslim’s. Because of the Ahmadiyya fundamental beliefs they are considered by Sunni and Shia Muslims to be non-Muslim.  Ahmadiyya unequivocally disagree with terrorism of any sort. Ahmad was more in favour with the Jihad of the pen, rather, than the Jihad of the sword. He preferred the intellectual Jihad. Ahamdi Muslim’s advocate their faith, mainly through mainstream media. They openly discuss matters, such as, peace, current day Islamic violence and ethics, with a hint of sarcasm and mockery.  Interestingly, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are known to be the only Islamic organization to endorse a separation of mosque and state. Ahmad encouraged and taught his followers to adhere to the sanctity of religion and government, separately, by becoming righteous souls as well as loyal citizens.  Quranic/Hadith practicing Ahmadi don’t adhere to the literal sense of Jihad – offensive warfare.

Ibadi Islam

The Ibadi Muslim’s is another sect of Islam. Ibadi’s don’t unite themselves with the Sunni or Shi’a sects, rather, in the 7th Century an Islamic sect known as the Khawarij sect, which adheres to establishing a righteous Muslims society, also holding the belief that true Muslim’s are those that are derived from their own Ibadi sect. The Kharijites/Ibadi Muslim roots derive from the first Islamic civil war in 656–661 AD. Ibadis adhere to the five pillars of Islam. However, they do have doctrinal differences to the Sunni and Shi’a sects.  Ibadi’s mantra is “Judgment belongs to God, alone” rather, than the prophets of old and the inner feuding of Muslim sects. During the second civil war of 688–692 AD agroup living in Basra, Iraq, were known as the Ibadiyya. The name originated from Abdallah B. Ibad, he happened to be the political mentor of Ibadis. The first Imam of the Ibadis was Jabir b. Zayd.  There are similarities of belief which the early Kharijites supported, for example, infidels had no legal existence or protection unless they were Jews or Christians. Muslims shouldn’t live among or be associated with infidels. Ibadi’s support warring with infidels until they are converted or killed. Ibadi’s usually are located in isolated areas. Oman and Zanzibar, Tripolitania, the mountains of Libya, the island of Jerba in Tunisia, and the Mzab area of Islamic Algeria are where most Ibadi’s can be found. Ibadis refer to themselves as “the Muslims” or “the people of straightness” (ahl al-istiqama).  Nonetheless, nowadays, Ibadis see themselves as quite different from Khawarij Muslim’s.

Please Note: Due to space restraints and the consideration of my readers, regarding long articles, I have condensed this article as much as I possibly can. There’s an enormous amount of information on Islamic sects, too much to include in an article length structure.  The below footnotes will provide references for the reader to refer to, if required.



Shia org –

Sunni Islam –

Wahabi Islam –

Sufi Islam –

The biography of Mohammed

The biography of Mohammed ––Life%20of%20Muhammad.pdf

Yaqeen Institute Dubai

Healthy Muslim.com

What is Wahabism

Peaceful passages of the Qur’an

Quran (2:208)

Quran (2:262):

Quran (2:256)

Quran (5:8)

Quran 4:90

Quran 4:94

Quran 5:82.

Quran (8:61

Quran (17:33)

Quran (24:22)

Quran 25:63.

Quran 28:55

Quran (109:6)


Violent passages of the Qur’an

Chapter Verse per Sura Running Count
002 178-179, 190-191, 193-194, 216-218, 244 10 10
003 121-126, 140-143, 146, 152-158, 165-167, 169, 172-173, 195 25 35
004 071-072, 074-077, 084, 089-091, 094-095, 100-104, 144 18 53
005 033, 035, 082 3 56
008 001, 005, 007, 009-010, 012, 015-017, 039-048, 057-060, 065-075 34 90
009 005, 012-014, 016, 019-020, 024-026, 029, 036, 038-039, 041, 044, 052, 073, 081, 083, 086, 088, 092, 111, 120, 122-123 27 117
016 110 1 118
022 039, 058, 078 3 121
024 053, 055 2 123
025 052 1 124
029 006, 069 2 126
033 015, 018, 020, 023, 025-027, 050 8 134
042 039 1 135
047 004, 020, 035 3 138
048 015-024 10 148
049 015 1 149
059 002, 005-008, 014 6 155
060 009 1 156
061 004, 011, 013 3 159
063 004 1 160
064 014 1 161
066 009 1 162
073 020 1 163
076 008 1 164

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