According to the
Traditions, Muhammad predicted that his followers would
become divided into seventy-three sects, every one of whom
would go to hell, except one sect, the religion professed by
himself and his companions. However the number of
Islamic sects, now over 150, has far exceeded Muhammad's
Summaries of the major sects within Islam
Sunni Muslims are followers of
the Hanifa, Shafi, Hanibal and Malik Schools. They constitute a 90%
majority of the believers in Islam, and are considered to be mainstream
traditionalists. Because they are comfortable pursuing their faith within
secular societies, they have been able to adapt to a variety of national
cultures, while following their three sources of law: the Qur'an, Hadith
and consensus of Muslims.
The Sunnis are by far the
largest sect in the Muslim world. They take the title of Najiyah,
meaning those who are being saved. They acknowledge the first four
Khalifs as the rightful successors of Muhammad. They received the
"six correct books" and belong to one of the schools of jurisprudence
founded by the four Imams.
The Sunni emphasize the
power and sovereignty of Allah and his right to do whatever he wants with
his creation, as strict predeterminism is taught. Its rulership is
through the Caliphate, the office of Muslim ruler who is considered the
successor to Muhammad. This successor is not through hereditary lineage.
The Sunni believe, based on specific provisions of the Qur'an and the
Sunna, that the Muslim people are to be governed by consensus (ijma')
through an elected head of state, the khalifa, according to democratic
(also known as the Ja'firi school) split with the Sunni over
the issue of the successor to Muhammad. This split
occurred after the assassination of the fourth caliph in
661. Shi'ites believe that the successor to Muhammad
should have been Ali, his son in law, and that subsequent
successors should have been through his lineage through his
wife Fatima. The shi'ites strenuously maintain that
they alone are right in their understanding of Islam, and
like the Sunnis, they call themselves "al-Muminun," or the
"true believers." They believe in the divine right of
the successors of 'Ali. His rightful successor is now
concealed, they say, but will appear at the end of the world
as the "Mahdi," the one rightly guided by Allah, thus able
to guide others. They reject the "six correct books"
of the Sunnis, and have five collections of their own.
Shi'ism is broken into three
main sects. The Twelve-Imam (Persia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon,
Pakistan, and Syria); the Zaydis (Yemen); the Ismailis (India, Iran,
Syria, and East Africa). Each group has differences of doctrine.
Shi'ite theology includes a
doctrine known as the five supports. These are Divine Unity (tawhid),
prophecy (nubuwwah), resurrection of the soul and body at the judgment (ma'ad),
the Imamate (imamah), and justice ('adl). The first three are found
in Sunni Islam, albeit with some differences of emphasis. The
Imamate, however, is the essence of Shi'ism, and the last, justice, is an
inheritance from the Mu'tazilites, or rationalists, whose system is in
many ways perpetuated in shi'ite theology.
Shi'ites are numerous in Iran,
where they have deposed the Shah and in his place, installed the Ayatollah
Khomeini and enforced Islamic law as the rule of the government.
Khomeini has gone beyond that by declaring that his command is ass good as
that of the prophet Muhammad.
The founder of the Wahhabi sect
was 'Abd al-Wahhab, born in Nefd in A.D. 1691. He maintained that
the Muslims had departed from the precepts of Muhammad. He accepted
only the Quran and the Traditions, rejecting the two other foundations,
Ijma and Qiyas. He condemned the worship of dead holy men at tombs.
He said, "They run there to pay the tribute of their fervent prayers.
By this means they think that they can satisfy their spiritual and
temporal needs. From what do they seek this benefit? From
walls made of mud and stone, from corpses deposited in tombs. the
true way of salvation is to prostrate one's self before Him who is
ever-present and to venerate Him - the one without associate or equal."
The war cry of the Wahhabis was
"Kill and strangle all infidels which give companions to Allah." On
the day of battle, the Wahhabi founder gave each soldier a letter
addressed to the Treasurer of Paradise. It was enclosed in a bag
which the warrior suspended from his neck. The soldier believed that
by dying in battle he would go straight to Paradise, without being
examined by the angels Munkar and Nakir. Many Iranian prisoners
today have confided to their Iraqi captors that they were duped into
hanging a small Quran around their necks so they would become invisible in
battle and not be seen by their enemies.
The Wahhabis condemn astrology,
trusting in omens, and believing in lucky or unlucky days, as well as
praying at tombs. They disallow the use of a rosary but attach great
merit to counting the ninety-nine names of God on their fingers.
The meaning of
the name Suffi is disputed. Suffis are a Muslim sect
that have set aside the literal meaning of the words of
Muhammad for a supposed spiritual interpretation.
Their system is a Muslim adaptation of the Indian Vedantic
philosophy. They believe that only Allah exists.
All visible things are really distinct from Him. There
is no real difference between good and evil. Allah
fixes the will of man. In fact, transmigration is
accepted. The principal occupation of the Suffi is
meditation on the unity of God and the remembrance of God's
name so as to obtain absolution.
Suffis are most numerous in
Iran, once called Persia. The three chief Persian poets, Jami, Sa'di,
and Hafiz were Suffis who dwelt on love to God. Many of the writings of the Persian Suffis contain indecent passages. The Suffis are
divided into innumerable sects which find expression in the numerous order
of Faqirs, or Darweshes. Faqirs are divided into two great classes,
those who govern their conduct according to the principles of Islam and
those who do not, although they all call themselves Muslims.
The Bahai sect
began with a man who was born in 1817 in Tehran, Persia, and
whose real name was Mirza Hussayn Ali. In 1847 he
declared that he was the glory of Allah, "Bahau Allah" from
two Arabic words. His acquaintance with a religious
movement led by a man called the Bab(Gate) convinced him
that he himself was the prophet that the Bab had predicted
In 1850, the Persian government
executed the Bab for his teachings, and Mirza took over the leadership of
the movement. In 1863, ten years after he was banished to Baghdad,
Bahau Allah declared he was the expected prophet. From 1868 until
his death in 1892, he lived in a prison colony in what is now Akka,
Israel. He tried to unite the three monotheistic religions of
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam through his writings, which comprise 100
Bahais believe in good works,
nondiscrimination, and a federated world government. Their
headquarters are in Haifa, Israel, and they have over 17,000 local
counsels, called local spiritual assemblies, with 1,500,000 adherents.
Ten percent of them live in India.
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