Is Islam Monolithic?
Muslims and Western apologists often claim that Islam is misunderstood in the West. Articles listing myths about Islam are easily found on secular, Muslim and even Christian websites. In the next few days we will be examining a wide range of some common assumptions non-Muslims may have about Muslims and Islam to determine their accuracy.
Assumption: Islam is a monolithic religion in which people all practice and believe the same thing.
First it is important to understand that there is much diversity among the 1.6 billion followers of Islam. Often Westerners see Islam as a Middle Eastern religion, however the nation with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia with over 209 million Muslims. Indonesia is followed by India (176 million), Pakistan (167 million), Bangladesh (134 million) and Nigeria (77 million). Collectively these five nations contain 48% of the world’s Muslim population.
Just as there are many denominations within Christianity, there are different sects within Islam. The two major sects in Islam are Sunni and Shi’a. The split between the two sects occurred following Muhammad’s death over a dispute regarding his successor. 85% to 90% of Muslims are Sunni, and among Sunni Muslims there are four major schools of thought. Shi’a Muslims make up approximately 10% of all Muslims, and there are also sub-sets among Shi’a Muslims with three main schools of thought.
There are multiple branches from the main schools of thought of both Sunni and Shi’a Islam. In addition, there are Muslim sects that have formed in more recent history such as the Ahmadiyya Movement founded in India in 1889, and as Islam has spread throughout the world native folk beliefs and practices have also been incorporated in some regions. Folk Islam can include belief in traditional magic systems and ecstatic rituals along with the use of shrines and amulets. Sufism, a mystical form of Islam and a form of Sunni Islam is often integrated into folk Islam.
Shi’a and Sunni Muslims use the same Qur’an, agree that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah and follow the five pillars of Islam. The main difference is that Sunni Muslims rely on the Sunnah (the teachings and sayings of Muhammad) to guide them while the Shi’as rely on their leaders to be their spiritual guides.
Just as Christians in different denominations may have vastly different beliefs, Muslims also vary in their beliefs. We must see Muslims as individuals created by God in His image in need of an encounter with Jesus, God’s Son.
Pray that you will see your Muslim neighbor, coworker or friend through God’s eyes, and then pray that he or she will have a divine encounter with God’s Son, Jesus.
Graphic Attribution: By Angelpeream (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons