There have been seventy-two different sects in the Islamic religion recorded by Islamic historians Munshi Mehmoob ‘Alim and Abu-Manus al-Baghdadi. Some of them became political sects as well, while some of them rejected fundamental parts of the Islamic faith.
Curiously enough, “Caliph Ibrahim” of the new Islamic State is known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He claims to be of a direct line to the Prophet Muhammad. In Islam, many believe only a true descendant of the Prophet Muhammad can rule as a Caliph.
With the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 A.D. his followers argued about his successor. Some said Muhammad had left no clear successor, nor a method of choosing one; while many others said his cousin and son-in-law Ali Ibn Abi Talid and his descendants were to rule after him.
From all of this disagreement rose the two main sects in Islam today, the Shi’a and the Sunni. While the Shi’a believe Muhammad named Ali as his successor, the Sunni believe there was no clearly chosen successor and believe a consensus (or “ijma”) of legal and religious scholars and the teachings of the Quran should determine the successor.
The Sunnis comprise at least 75% of the worlds’ Muslims. The term Sunni comes from the word “Sunnah,” or “the trodden path.” Their “Hadith”, or the instructions drawn from Muhammad’s life, sayings, and actions, shows the model of conduct for the life of every Muslim.
The Shi’a are said to represent as many as 25% of the worlds’ Muslims. They were known at first as the “shi’at Ali,” or the “partisans of Ali”, who had become the Caliph in 656 A.D. but was assassinated in 661 A.D. The Shia leader Husayn ibn Ali was massacred along with his family in what is the most holy of Shia sites in the citiy of Karbala in modern-day Iraq.
Those of the Shi’a prefer using the term’ Imam’ to ‘Caliph’ when referring to their religious leaders, which is why Iran and many other Shi’a Arab nations have leaders with that title. There were two more major splits in the Shi’a sect over the successors to Ali and his descendants.
The first group were the supporters of Zayd al-Abidin as the fifth Imam (instead of Muhammad al-Baqir). It became known as “the Fivers.” The second group were the supporters of Musa al-Kazim as the seventh Imam (instead of Ismael, the dead son of sixth Imam Jafar al-Sadiq). This group became known as “the Twelvers.”
There are several more sizable groups of Muslims who are neither Shi’a nor Sunni. The largest of these groups are the followers of Ahmadiyya Islam, established by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in India in 1889. Ahmad claimed to be the promised Messiah. There are some 170 million Ahmadiyya Muslims in the world.
Ahmad claimed Jesus feigned his death and resurrection, and went to India where he lived to be 120 years old. According to some sources, Ahmad then claimed that he was a manifestation of Muhammad, a reincarnation of Jesus, and the Hindu God Krishna.
Many scholars believe that the Wahhabi sect of Islam is the foundation for modern-day Islamic extremism. Wahhabinism is the dominant Islamic tradition throughout the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia.
Established by Muhammad ibn-Abd al-Wahhab, its followers believe that all Islamic ideals added after the 3rd Century of the Muslim Era (about 950 A.D.) are false and should be removed from ones path. He believed that a “state of ignorance” (or jahilyya) existed in the world prior to the coming of Islam.
Wahhabi Muslims are the only true Muslims he said. Therefore, he instructed his followers that killing someone who was not following the true ideals of Islam was allowable in war or through an act of terrorism.
This concept of random and indiscriminate killing has been adopted by many other Islamic extremist groups around the world although they do not adhere to the Wahhabi way of life.
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