Making broad assumptions about anything can lead to confusion and misunderstandings. As most Americans are under-educated about the followers of Islam, today’s article will be about the different sects within the religion of the Prophet Muhammad.
It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that not all Muslims were Sunni. Although they make up the biggest percentage – as much as 90%, there are other factions that comprise the religious following. It came to my attention recently while helping a friend move house. The movers were of Middle Eastern descent and during a short lunch break, we had a chance to talk a little.
I am always interested in what Muslims think about their role as citizens of the US and Canada in the midst of a rapidly changing world. I am particularly interested in their take on the chaos that is created in the name of Islam. I approached the subject carefully and asked for their thoughts. My first eye opener was in learning that there are at least three distinct divisions within the Muslim world community.
Sunni Generally, the Westerner is more aware of the Sunni than other sects of Muslim. As mentioned earlier, this segment makes up the largest portion which includes 84% – 90% of all Muslims. The Sunnis assert that their traditions hold most closely to those of Muhammad. They claim to be descendants of the first tribes of the Prophet with the first two generations who followed the initial teachings being Sunni.
With such a strong base in numbers and traditions, the Sunni have introduced a number of reform movements in the past. Mostly in the 20th century, developments such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Jama’ at-i-Islami and the Wahhabis, more of which I will talk about in a later article, were put forth by ardent believers. This segment is intent in keeping the religious lineage pure to the word of Muhammad.
Shi’ite North Americans in general, are oftentimes accused of lumping several aspects of different beliefs and cultures into one big sum. However, the Shi’ite Muslim population is a distinct branch. These are people who are followers of the “party of ‘Ali”. Muslims comprise from 10% to 16% of this branch of Islam.
‘Ali was Muhammad’s son-in-law and according to this portion of Muslim society was the designated successor to lead the Muslim people. Their belief is strong that the Muslim community should have been led by a true descendant of Muhammad. There a three main subgroups of Shi’tes; Twelvers, Seveners, and Fivers. I will include more information on these groups in an up-coming article.
Baha’is and Ahmadiyyas Not accepted by the Sunni or the traditionalist in the Shi’ite factor, these groups are 19th-century offshoots. Baha’is is a breakaway from Sunni and Ahmadiyyas from Shi’ite Muslim practices. Both consider themselves to Shi’ite Islam as Christianity is to Judaism.
Most Muslims do not recognize either of the groups as legitimate forms of Islam, and in fact consider them blatant heretics. A Sunni or Shi’ite regard the followers of Baha’is and Ahmadiyya as corrupters of the basic ideology of Islam. There is not an actual percentage documented and I have to assume that if there are relatively large communities, they keep a very private practice.
After getting this crash course in the different expressions of Islam, one of the guys offered up the historical fact that the Prophet Muhammad said there will be “73 groups in my Ummah”. To say that this is not an easy religion for a non-Muslim to grasp is an understatement.
With the little knowledge I’ve gained and the more that lies ahead, my mind has opened to a wider understanding and acceptance. With awareness comes allowance for our differences. We all live on a very small planet where there is very little room for intolerance. Learn about each others differences to make it easier to embrace our sameness.