The Sects of Islam

For one reason or another, groups of Muslims have differentiated themselves from other groups of Muslims, based on how they differ in what they believe and in how they practice Islam. After the death of Mohammed in 632 AD, there was a disagreement about who his successor would be.   The word Caliph means "successor", and implies successor to Mohammed.   Before Mohammed died, he apparently indicated to some followers that he wanted his son-in-law, Ali, (who was also his cousin), to succeed him. It seems he never actually designated Ali. So those followers considered Ali to be the Caliph, but most of the followers did not believe that Ali was to be the successor, and selected a chap by the name of Abu Bakr, and they named him the Caliph.

A couple of Caliphs later, there was conflict between these two schools of opinion. Caliph Husayn (the son of Ali, the son of  Mohammed) was murdered, and the split was formalized.

In the Shi段te sect, this event is commemorated with their passion play in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India and East Africa.   It features a procession carrying a model of the Mausoleum of Husayn, singing hymns and praying to Allah, often including self flagellation. This sect that considered Ali and his line to be the correct line of Caliphs were called Shi段te, a word including a form of the name Ali.   So the Shi段tes were the followers of  through Ali -- the Ali-ites.

The Sect that considered Abu and his line to be the correct line of Caliphs became known as the Sunnis.   Their name comes from their belief that they should follow the Sunna of Mohammed -- his action, his modeling.   So we have the two major umbrella sects of Islam

The Shi'ites:

Let痴 start by trying to understand the Shi段tes, the 10% of the Muslims.   In general the factions within this sect are the most stident:

In both the exercise of their religion, and the Social, political and racial fallout of it, it is the most extreme.   For instance, one faction within Shi段te Islam is named the Rahabism faction.   This is the predominant sect in Saudi Arabia and the one that Osama came from.   This faction operates the notorious schools in Pakistan for Muslim boys, teaching the strictest form of Islam: They are the fanatics.   They are schooled in the worst aspects of Islam, from human rights practices to violence and terror.   Most of the radical Muslim leaders around the world were schooled in their schools hhere in Pakistan.   Most of the Taliban and al-Qaida were schooled there.

But more importantly, most of the Muslin trouble makers around the world: in India, Indonesia, the Philippians, northern Africa and eastern Europe were schooled there.   This is the West Point of Islamic Terrorism.   They are active in more than 20 countries around the globe.   So the Rahabism faction is the worst of the worst: the far right even in the Shi段te Community.

The Shi段tes can be thought of as the Islam Hard liners.   I think of the Shi段tes as the Catholics of Islam.   Some of their beliefs and religious practices are somewhat like those of the Roman Catholics.   The Shi段tes believe that the Caliphs (their successors to ) and their Imams (the local heads of congregations) are infallible.

This is similar to the belief that the Roman Catholic Church teaches about the Pope: that what ever the Pope says is the same as if it came from God.   It cannot be wrong; that the Pope is Holy, so whether it is an interpretation of the Bible, or an application in life, or any other directive, it is perfect and infallible, and cannot be challenged.

Shi段te Muslims believe all of this about the Caliph and the Imams.   They go so far as to say that the writings and decisions of the Caliphs are equal in authority to the Quran and the Haddiths of . In our lingo, their instructions are as important as those of Allah.

The Roman Catholics (regarding the Pope), and the Shi段te Muslims (regarding the Caliphs and Imams) believe that they are a required intermediary to God; that man cannot relate to God except through them as the intermediary.

Both Catholics and Shi段te Muslims use icons in their religion that they pray to or use as tools in their religious rituals.   The Shi段tes are the small minority, less than 10%.   But they are the vocal minority.   That 10% probably makes 99% of the Muslim noise and the Muslim problems today.   it is within the Shi段te communities that you will find most of the radical Islamic movements.   So from a question of who to fear the most, the fear factor should be highest with Shi段te factions.


The Sunnis tend to have the more moderate factions of Islam, not that there are not some Right-winger Sunnis, but in general they tend to include the more moderate factions.

I consider them to be the Protestants of Islam.   Their belief about the Caliphs and Imams is that they are wise and learned, but not infallible.   They should be followed, but are subject to questioning and comparison to the Quran and Haddith.   And their writings do not have equal authority to the Quran, much like Protestants who consider writings of our leaders to be worth studying, but not of Biblical importance or authority.   And they do not consider the Caliphs to be infallible.

The Sunnis also believe that man can and should relate to Allah without the need for an intermediary.   Their religion is between each individual man and Allah, just like protestants believe with regard to our relationship with God.

The Sunnis do not allow any icons, images of man or Mohammed to be worshipped, or to be used in the practice of their religion.   Protestants are all over the place on this one.   Some are nearly Catholic in this regard; some are more Sunni-like and prohibit any icons.

The Sunnis tend to be the silent majority.   If there is an innocent victim, (nd I am not sure there is), it might be much of the Sunni Sect.   It is the exception to find radical Islamic elements within the Sunni Sect, but there are some.   So we have to be a little careful about this generalization.  : The Sunni Sect is so broad and inclusive that many problems exist within their tent also.   There are hundreds of factions and sub sects.

Sects and sub-sects: I want to quickly cover a few of the major ones.

The take home from this analysis is:

Next Week:

We are going to study Islam and Jerusalem.   Muslims say that Jerusalem is the second holiest city in Islam.   That is why their control of the Temple Mount is so important.