Although Islam divides the world into two parts Dar-al-Islam (the world ruled by Islam) and Dar-al-Harb (the world ruled by non-Muslims), many westerners do not realize that Islam itself is divided into different sects.
Muhammad did not leave any instructions as to who should lead his followers after his death, which eventually led to a split within the group of early followers. The Shia Muslims, making up approximately 10% of the Islamic world, believed only Muhammad’s direct descendants could succeed him, and acknowledge Ali as the first successor to Muhammad. In addition there are sects of Shia Islam such as the Twelvers and Ismalilis.
The Sunni Muslims (approximately 85% of the Islamic world) acknowledged Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law and friend as the first caliph (leader). They believed the first four caliphs were the true successors of Muhammad. Wars and disagreements between Sunni and Shiite Muslims have continued since the split of the two groups.
Islam expanded its empire across Persia, Egypt, and North Africa during its first century of existence. Because of the wealth Muslims acquired through their conquests, many Muslims lived a life of ease. Some within the Islamic community began to protest against the secularization of Islam and actually began to wear clothes made up of coarse cloth much like that of Christian monks. The cloth was called “suf”, and these Muslims became known as Sufis. The Sufis sought an experience with Allah, and Sufism emphasizes personal experience with the divine rather than focusing on the teachings of human religious scholars.
Other groups emerged from Islam throughout the centuries including the Baha’i Movement – which in now not recognizable as Islam. The Ahmadiyya Movement, an Islamic reformist movement was founded near the end of the 19th century. Followers believe Ghulam Ahmad, their founder was sent in the likeness of Jesus to end wars and divest Islam of fanatical beliefs. India has a significant Ahmadiyya population. Fundamental Islamic groups however have declared the Ahmadiyya as kafirs (unbelievers).
The Nation of Islam had its roots in the African American community of the United States in the 1930s, and is more of a cult of Islamic teachings than an actual sect. Followers of the Nation of Islam were taught that Black Americans had “adopted” Christianity, the religion of their slave masters and that their true religion was Islam.
Some members of the Nation of Islam followed reformer W.D. Muhammed as he integrated the Nation of Islam teachings into an orthodox community of Sunni Muslims. This group came to be known as the American Muslim Mission.
In the Islamic hadith, there is a statement that says, “My Ummah will be divided into seventy three sects. All of them will be in the Fire except one. “ (Saheeh Muslim, no. 976). In actuality, it is estimated that there could be 150 sects of Islam.
As Christian believers we recognize that all sects of Islam need a revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as their Savior. Pray for these sects, that laborers will be sent to them to share the truth of the gospel.
The vast majority of citizens in western nations believe that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Pray for the church and our leadership – that they will recognize the great differences between the two religions and have a heart to pray for them and witness by sharing the love of Christ.
Ask God to continue to visit all sects of Islam throughout the nations with dreams and visions!