No doubt there have to be differences among you........1 Corinthians 11:19

Different branches of Islam 

A mosque in Leicester, England The Muslims you might meet and talk with  will probably not all hold the same set of beliefs and doctrines.  Just as within Christianity there are different denominations, and varying individually held beliefs within each. 

However several main denominations can be identified.  

Many Muslims are very peaceable and friendly.   During a recent conversation with a young Muslim, he told me he believes all three monotheistic faiths lead to God and that all who sincerely seek Him will be prepared for heaven by a time in Hell after we die.   Some Muslims are very interested in Jesus.   (see Muslims and Jesus )

You might be interested in Dr. Tawfik Hamid, who has developed his own understanding of Islam that is peaceful and promotes love to every human being irrespective of his or her religion.  He started to preach in Mosques to promote his message of peace and as a result became a target of many fanatics who threatened his life.    "As a Muslim, I am willing to speak out against the hate filled Islamic Fundamentalism that prevails in the world today," he says.

Sunni Islam

Generally speaking, Sunni Islam is closest to the form taught in the Qur'an, with emphasis on individual access to Allah. Sunni is the majority form of Islam world-wide - approximately 85%.

Differences between Sunni and Shia are initially about the succession from the Prophet. The Sunni believe that Abu Bakr Siddique, Muhammad's close friend and a father-in-law, was rightly chosen as the first Caliph of Islam.

Shia Islam

Shia Muslims believe that, similar to the appointment of prophets, Imams after Muhammad are chosen by Allah. According to Shia Muslims, Ali ibn Abu Talib was chosen by Allah and thus appointed by Muhammad to be the direct successor and leader of the Muslim community. They regard him as the first Shia Imam. Ali and ten subsequent Imams were all killed, but the twelfth disappeared and is expected to reappear in the last days as the Mahdi. This belief is the essence of Ahmadinijad's policies in Iran.

Sunnis still mourn the death of Ali and, according to Sunnis, his heir. This remembrance is accompanied by adherents striking their heads, flogging themselves with chains and cutting themselves with knives or swords. Shia belief allows images of Ali and encourages prayer to Ali (like Catholics and Orthodox Christians who pray to saints). Neither practice is acceptable to Sunni Islam.

Shia Islam has a hierarchy of Imams and in the city of Qum, in Iran a centre that could be viewed as a Shia Islam equivalent of Vatican City.

Apart from these matters the differences of doctrine are not great, but bitterness and persecution can be extreme.  It is reckoned that more Muslim blood has been spilled by Muslims than by the Crusaders and Gulf War forces. (eg under Saddam Hussein in Iraq) (Shia governed Iran executes more people per capita than even China)

Alawi Islam

Alawi is the more mystical, minority departure of Shia Islam.

Sufi Islam

Sufi Islam is a strain of belief and practice that might be found in both Sunni and Shia. It is more mystical and concerned with a personal relationship with the almighty. Sufi worship can appear somewhat "charismatic" in chanting and meditating on the name of Allah.

Sufis are more friendly and open to Christians.

Wahabi Islam

Wahabi Islam is not a separate denomination but a strain of teaching that arose in the 18th century in Saudi Arabia. (from Sunni Islam) Wahabiism would probably have remained insignificant, and considered heretical by the mainstream, but for twentieth century oil wealth.  Wahabiism adopts a much more hard-line interpretation of the Qur'an and Hadith,  and indeed added requirements such as the covering of women and prohibition on them driving cars.  The excesses of the Taliban in Afghanistan originated in Wahabiism, as does the al Quaeda terror campaign against the western world. Wahabi teaching might be found in the mosques of both Shia and Sunni Islam.

Wahabi Islam has a hierarchy of Imams and other clerics and an organisation based in Saudi Arabia. This powerbase is strongly associated with the Saudi royal family. The term Salafi or salafist is also used.

Although Wahabi Islam is a smaller and later strain of Islam, it has disproportionate influence because of its base in Saudi Arabia which gives it control of vast oil wealth and of Islam's holy sites.  Saudi Wahabiism is exported around the Islamic world by sponsorship of schools, colleges, universities and mosques through which their doctrines are advanced.  

The hostility and anti-western activity that you encounter will probably be from Wahabi Muslims. It can be helpful to check where the funding for new mosques and other initiatives comes from. If it comes from Saudi Arabia, hard line wahabi teaching is likely to follow shortly!

Patrick Sookhdeo (Barnabas Fund) commented that the Saudi wahabis have spent 100 billion pounds advancing their brand of Islam around the world. Them distribute many copies of the Qur'an, in various languages, heavily subsidised or even free. These are not the unchanging, incorruptable word of Allah, but have commentaries inserted advancing their hard line, anti Israel, anti-west, militarist, patriarchal viewpoint.

Druze and Ba'hai are offshoots of Islam, but are now separated from mainstream.

Wikipedia has a page on the denominations wiki/Divisions_of_Islam

(See "Beyond Iraq" by Mike Evans  and  9/11 and the War on Terror and Books )

Two very interesting denominations in Israel

From an article in Israel Today magazine - May 2016

Korani Islam

Korani is a stream within Islam that is Zionist, loyal to the State of Israel, and believes that loving the Jews is a religious duty. They believe that the Jewish people are the Chosen People, and that the Holy Land belongs to them.

There is no disparity between Zionism and Islam. According to the Koran, only the Jews have a divine right to the Land of Israel. Every Korani Muslim is a true Zionist. And there are many, though most will not openly identify as such for fear of reprisals.

Today, there are many streams within Islam. But during the time of the Prophet Mohammed, Islam split into just three streams: the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Korani. The majority of Muslims are now Sunni. Every Muslim that truly believes in the Koran is Korani. The difference between the two is that while the Sunnis prioritize the sayings and actions of Mohammed [recorded in the Hadith], the Korani focus solely on the Koran. * Mohammed's remarks against the Jews do not appear in the Koran, but rather in the Hadith.

They believe that Israel should not divide the land, but also that its borders will actually expand. The Holy Land is actually the entire area from Iraq to Egypt. The Koran defines the borders of this land. The establishment of a Greater Kingdom of Israel covering this area is a Koranic prophesy.

In the Koran there are 20 verses stating that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews. Every Muslim knows that the Al Aqsa Mosque [on the Temple Mount] is only referenced in vague terms, and its location is not revealed. In fact, it is most likely in Saudi Arabia.
In 1967, when the Temple Mount fell into Israel's hands, there were no `Palestinian' people and the Temple Mount had never been under Palestinian control. It is a minor dispute that the Palestinians have succeeded in turning into a religious war.

* an interesting parallel to the Karaite Jews.

Ahmadiyya Islam

The community in Israel was founded in 1929, following a visit by an Ahmadi emissary from India [where the movement was founded]. He was invited by the Odeh clan to their village of Kababir [now a neighborhood of Haifa]. Today they number about 2,ooo people.

Jesus was a prophet sent to the People of Israel. On the cross he fainted but did not die. Following his crucifixion, he went to India, where he died at the age of 120.
His tomb is found in the city of Roza Bal in Kashmir. The Islamic establishment, however,
says it is written in the Koran that he ascended to heaven and will return. This is why Muslims are awaiting his return at the end of days. But if we are to believe that Jesus ascended to heaven, what is the difference between us and the Christians?

They say no to violence in any form, verbal or physical, but we do believe in self-defense. This is the only true form of jihad. To blow up a restaurant is not jihad. Muslim conquest in the name of jihad is a violation of Islam.

They believe in spreading Islam, but in pleasant manner, in love; not by force, but through persuasion.

They are law-abiding and loyal Palestinian citizens of Israel. They want to do nothing that could compromise Israel's security, and they believe there is a divine promise that the Jews will one day return to their land. This is written in the Koran.


Distribution of the denominations

Visit for a table of statistics, explaining which denomination is the majority in every nation with a Muslim presence. The data could be the key to understanding many allegiances and inter-Muslim conflicts.

Here are a few facts.....

85% of all Muslims are Sunni

90% of Muslims in Israel + disputed territories are Sunni

Shia are the majority in.....

Iran - 96%, Azerbijan - 94%, Bahrein - 80%, Iraq and Lebanon 75% and Yemen 60%

Iran is working with the Shia against the sunnis in Iraq and with the Alawi leadership of Assad in Syria (70% Sunni) and with Hizbollah terrorists in Lebanon

Hamas, Fatah and the Muslim Brotherhood are all Sunni, but will work with Shia Iran in a common cause against Israel. Hamas are more likely to be supplied by Egypt as it comes under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.

ISIS / ISIL / Islamic State is Sunni

Conflicts such as that in Syria have a denominational component - the ruling elite of Bashir Assad is minority Alawite.

80% of Muslims in USA and Britain are Sunni.

Nations - affecting Israel % Muslim Sect
Jordan 92% 90% Sunni
Egypt 90% 95% Sunni
Syria 90% 74% Sunni
Lebanon 60% 75% Shia
Iran 98% 89% Shia
Iraq 97% 65% Shia
Turkey 100% 75% Sunni
Saudi Arabia 100% 83% sunni
Libya 97% Sunni
UAE 76% Sunni
Bahrein 81% Shia
Qatar 77% Sunni
Pakistan 97% Sunni/Shia
Bangladesh 89% Sunni
Sudan 70% Sunni
Algeria 99% Sunni
Afghanistan 99% Sunni
Morocco 99% Sunni
Uzbekistan 88% Sunni
Kazakhstan 57% Sunni
Yemen 99% Sunni/Shia
Tunisia 98% Sunni
Somalia 100% Sunni
Azerbaijan 93% Shia
Tajikistan 97% Sunni
Kyrgystan 75% Sunni
Turkmenistan 89% Sunni
* Not Nations *    
Gaza 99% 90% Sunni
West Bank 75% 90% Sunni

See also Israel's tough neighbourhood

Islamists and Moderate Muslims

How can we be on our guard against Muslims who seek to destroy our civilisation and subjugate our Christian (or Jewish) faith whilst having an open and loving approach to our Muslim neighbours who abhor terrorism practiced in the name of Islam and wish to live in peace with us?

Caroline Cox and John Marks have produced an excellent study addressing this problem. "The West, Islam and Islamism" -"Is ideological Islam compatible with liberal democracy?" published by CIVITAS, ISBN 13 978-1-903386-54-5.

"The aim of this book is to encourage mutual understanding between Islamic and Western worlds. The majority of Muslims are peacable, law abiding citizens. However, Muslim fundamentalists, described here as Islamists, present a challenge to the values of Western Democracies.

With many lapses, modern Western societies strive to uphold values such as tolerance, pluralism, and individual freedom. Islamism is monolithic, intolerant of dissent and hostile to individual liberty.

'Islamic' societies and militant 'islamism' need to be distinguished. Islamism is not compatible with liberal democracy, but it is the hope and intention of the authors that through this book non-Muslims may develop a better understanding of Islam and better relationships with moderate, peaceable Muslims."

Traditional and Progressive Muslims

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director, Barnabas Fund, wrote in October 2009,

Recent months have seen a number of unexpected and extremely encouraging statements coming out of the Muslim world. Respected, mainstream Muslim leaders in a variety of countries have voiced opinions which are at odds with traditional, conservative Islam. They have challenged aspects of shari‘a and are calling for a liberal, modernist, enlightened Islam compatible with Western norms. Perhaps the most significant of all is a comment by a group of British Muslims calling for an end to the apostasy law and for full freedom in all religious matters.

The article concludes,

It is time Western governments and Christian Churches implemented a policy of rejecting traditional Muslim and Islamist demands and that they shifted to a position of active support for the new voices of reason and moderation within Islam.

Barnabas Fund applauds these encouraging moves and the courageous Muslims advocating them.

Read the complete article at

The spectrum of Islamism

From Daniel Pipes -

Broadly speaking, Islamists divide into three types: (1) Salafis, who revere the era of the salaf (the first three generations of Muslims) and aim to revive it by wearing Arabian clothing, adopting antique customs, and assuming a medieval mindset that leads to religious-based violence. (2) Muslim Brothers and like types who aspire to an Islamic version of modernity; depending on circumstances, they might act violently or not. (3) Lawful Islamists who work within the system, engaging in political, media, legal, and educational activities; by definition, they do not engage in violence.

Their differences are real. But they are also secondary, for all Islamists pull in the same direction, toward the full and severe application of Islamic law (the Shari'a), and they often cooperate toward this end, sometimes covertly.


Mahdism (and Sectarianism and Superstition) Rises in the Islamic World

Timothy R. Furnish - condensed

The prestigious and non-partisan Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a new study on beliefs and attitudes in the Islamic world, entitled “The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity.” Surveying over 28,000 Muslims in 24 countries, this massive report is not only statistically sound and extensive in geographic scope -- it’s the first to examine a number of topics of profound importance to U.S. foreign, defense and intelligence policy which have heretofore been largely off the radar screen of analysts as well as pollsters.

Clearly the most fascinating (and disturbing) data in the Pew study is that revealing the great depth of belief in the “imminent return” of the Mahdi, the Islamic messianic figure who according to both Sunni and Shi`i traditions will make the entire world Muslim. But while I have long suspected, based on anecdotal and qualitative research, that Mahdism was and still is endemic in the Islamic world, I was nonetheless taken aback by Pew’s quantitative data which clearly shows the breadth and depth of such belief:

However, in Mahdism the Mahdi only returns for Twelver Shi`is; for Sunnis, the Mahdi has yet to step onto the historical stage (despite the plethora of mutamahdis, or “false Mahdis,” who have declared themselves over the centuries.)

This has been my academic specialty, upon which I wrote my doctoral dissertation and first book, Holiest Wars, as well as many articles; I also maintain a website following Mahdism.

- See also Islamic Eschatology.

When it gets nasty

Pinhas Inbari - an analyst on the Palestinian issue for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The Sunnis are destroying sites that are holy to the Shiites, and the Shiites, along with the Alawite regime in Syria, are destroying sites in Syria that are holy to the Sunnis.

This echoes the conflict between Syria and Saudi Arabia (the Hijaz) in the Ummayad period (661-750), during which the Syrian army of the Ummayads assaulted with catapults the Kaaba, the holiest structure in Islam, in the courtyard of the Great Mosque in Mecca.

On August 14, 2013, former Lebanese minister Fayez Shaker, head of the Syrian Ba'ath Party branch in Lebanon, said in a TV interview that if Mount Qasioun in Damascus were to be fired upon, Syria would blow up the Kaaba.

The Shiite crescent is challenging the status of Mecca. The Iraqi Shiites favor Karbala as the Shiite holy city instead of Mecca, while the Assad regime touts Jerusalem. On December 23, 2013, the Iraqi-Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said the direction of prayer should be Karbala and not Mecca.

Moreover, the Hizbullah Party of Iraq, the twin sister of Hizbullah in Lebanon, has sworn to wrest the holy places in Saudi Arabia from the Wahhabis and make them Shiite shrines, while in the Sunni camp, the Muslim Brotherhood wants to focus on liberating the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Click here to read the full article.


Updated 10/05/16

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