Main Sectarian Divisions of Islam
1. Early Expansion of Islam
12 years of Muhammad’s death in 632: Islam’s soldiers had captured
b. Desire to carry out God’s will as articulated in the Qur’an and life of Muhammad.
c. The caliphate (caliph = successor): Oversees the community’s political and religious affairs -- combine roles of chief executive, commander in chief, chief justice, leader of public worship.
The first four caliphs were early converts of Muhammad,
2. Shi’a (“faction”) - 10-15%
a. Shi’ism = major sectarian alternative to Sunni Islam. Shi’is claim loyalty to the cause of Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali and Ali’s descendents.
b. Ali ibn-abu-Talib (ruled 656-661) – Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, supported by a small group who claimed him as Muhammad’s successor when M died. Never received universal acceptance; other leaders began revolt against him. Murdered in 661.
son, Husayn ibn-Ali, grandson of M, was annihilated with a small band of his
followers near the town of
i. An air of martyrdom to “Ali’s family” and vehemence to the Shi’ite cause.
ii. There are various Shi’ite sects as a result of splits over succession and legitimate rulership. Fivers, Seveners (seventh died without naming successor > controversy), Twelvers.
d. Twelvers: Believe there were twelve true imams, the first being Ali, the last Mahdi (begins with the Seveners), the messianic imam of the future.
e. The notion of Imam in Shi’i and Sunni Islam
After Ali, all the imams can claim descent from
Muhammad through his daughter Fatima. Imams share in the divine illumination that shone through
Muhammad, knowledge possessed by the imam is essentially the same as that
possessed by the prophet. Shi’ism is now
the state religion of
Islam has been attractive to non-Arab Muslims in
sciences of law and theology, and the ascetic way
4. Shi’is and Sunnis have much in common, but they differ on certain fundamental matters: nature and source of religious authority, meaning and end of Islamic history, content and sources of the Hadiths.