The Human Truth Foundation

Islamic Denominations, Schools, Movements and Groups

By Vexen Crabtree 2023

#bahrain #iran #islam #yemen

The first division in Islam was after the prophet Muhammad's death in 632CE. He left no guidance on who should succeed him1, resulting in the split between Sunnis and Shias, which is still a hot and sensitive debate today; disagreements "often overlap with ethnic, cultural, and political differences, which sometimes form lines of violent sectarian conflict"2. It is difficult to see how their conflict can ever be resolved; it's not a question of theology or divinity, but of human power-games.3

Since then, a wide range of specific schools of thought have arose. Most were not aiming to create new movements, but were attempts to restore proper Islam and correct Islamic positions on theological, social and moral issues4. Often, followers have to remain hidden because of traditionalist persecution and the 'misunderstandings' of powerful established Muslim communities5.

1. Sunni Islam (632CE)

#islam #sunni_islam

Founded in 632CE with the death of Muhammad. Defined by the belief that the first Rightly-Guided Caliphs after Muhammad were Abu Bakr (chosen by vote in 632CE), 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, 'Uthman ibn Affan and then finally Muhammad's cousin in 656CE, Ali abn Abi Talib2; the first three were related to Muhammad by marriage, and the 4th by blood6. Conflicts between the Caliphs and Muhammad's family were dealt with through assassinations, slaughter and infanticide, causing enduring schisms amongst Muslims. The Sunni line of caliphates is accepted by 85% of Muslims.

2. Shia / Shi'ite Islam (632CE)

#islam #shia #shi'ite_islam

Founded in 632CE with the death of Muhammad. Defined by the belief that Muhammad's rightful successor was his family, starting with his cousin-and-son-in-law, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib2,4. Ali was finally granted the Caliph spot in 656CE, but was "tragically assassinated by a Muslim extremist in 661. [...] His rival, Muawiyyah, seized the caliphate throne, and established the more worldly Umayyad dynasty"1. When there were mass protests against their exclusion from power, the Umayyad dynasty also killed Ali's son Husain and most of his family and companions7. Shia's bitterly complain, quite rightly, that corrupt Sunni and Shia Muslim rulers have denied them justice4.

In 680, when Caliph Muawiyyah died, there were huge demonstrations in Kufa in Iraq in favor of Ali´s second son, Husain. To avoid Umayyad reprisals, Husain sought sanctuary in Mecca, but the new Umayyad caliph, Yazid, sent emissaries to the holy city to assassinate him [although they didn't]. [Husain] set out for Kufa with a small band of fifty followers, accompanied by their wives and children, believing that the poignant spectacle of the Prophet´s family marching in opposition to tyranny would bring the ummah back to a more authentic practice of Islam.

"The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam"
Karen Armstrong (2000)8

They were surrounded at Kerbala by Umayyad forces, and slaughtered. After that, the sixth Shii Imam, Jafar as-Sadiq (d. 765) gave up, and declared that the line of Imams, descended from Muhammad, would be spiritual leaders instead of political ones, in order to avoid pointless and endless - and unwinnable - conflict.9

Shiis thus tacitly condoned a total secularization of politics that could seem to violate the crucial Islamic principle of tawhid, which forbade any such separation of state and religion. But the mythology of this secularization sprang from a religious insight. The legend of the Imams, who had nearly all been assassinated, poisoned, imprisoned, exiled, and, finally, eliminated by the [Sunni] caliphs, represented the basic incompatibility of religion and politics.

"The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam"
Karen Armstrong (2000)10

To make this separation, they begun to interpret the Qur'an more symbolically than Sunnis.9

Shia Islam is found mainly in Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain.11

3. Kharijites (656CE)

#islam #kharijites #saudi_arabia

Founded in Saudi Arabia in 656CE. Defined by belief that anyone can become a Caliph (Muslim leader) if they are upstanding, and, that any sinful Caliph needs to be removed. They existed in constant conflict, and petered out by the 13th century.12

4. Sufi / Tasawwuf Islam (7th/8th century)

#bangladesh #guinea #india #islam #mali #Naqshbandis #pakistan #saudi_arabia #senegal #sufi #tasawwuf_islam

Founded in Saudi Arabia in the 7th/8th century by Hasan of Basra. Mostly Sunni, and the only primary denomination that can be described consistently as moderate and sometimes even tolerant, which has made it well-regarded outside of the Middle East13. A more mystical and symbolic approach to Muhammadean spiritualism14. Sufis are "numerous and very diversified. Whether Naqshbandis, Qadris, Shadhilis, or any of the many other turuq (plural of tariqa), Sufi circles are essentially orientated toward the spiritual life and mystical experience"15. Sufi still has some violent extremist elements such as the Naqshbandis13, and is becoming hardline in Guinea and Mali16. Sufi is practised by up to 450m people across Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, who together represent perhaps one third of all Muslims13 and is also influential in sub-saharan Africa, notably Senegal17.

Sufis believed that their mystical ecstasy reproduced the spiritual experiences of the Prophet when he had received the Koran; they too were conforming to the Muhammadan archetype.

"The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam"
Karen Armstrong (2000)4

South-East Asia:

In its popular form, Sufism is expressed mainly through the veneration of saints, including self-styled mystics. [...] South Asia is littered with the tombs of those saints [...] like the 13th century shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, founder of South Asia's pre-eminent Sufi order, in Ajmer. [...] Under Chisti influence, low-caste Hindus converted to Islam, to escape their low birth. [...]

Many also note that Sufism is not, as Westerners seem to think, uniform. The conservative Naqshbandis, followers of another of South Asia's main orders, have helped spread jihad: there was a Naqshbandi insurgent group in Iraq.

The Economist (2008)13


Only 13 percent (1 of 8) Muslim-majority countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have a moderate/high or very high level of persecution, compared with 81 percent in Asia and Eurasia (9 of 11) and 62 percent of Muslim-majority countries in the Near East and North Africa (10 of 16). [...] Factors that contribute to fewer religious restrictions in some Sub-Saharan countries [include the] highly mystical Sufism practiced by a variety of groups to voluntary brotherhoods that cut across tribal and ethnic lines. Sufism, which focuses on the spirit above the law, is much more difficult to regulate centrally, resulting in opposition from Wahhabi groups, and even persecution in Saudi Arabia. [...] In Senegal, in particular, where Sufism is strong, persecution occurs at lower levels. Senegal has policies that attempt to show equal respect for all religions, rather than showing favoritism only to Islam.

"The Price of Freedom Denied" by Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke (2011)17

When Sufism collaborated with the morally liberal stances of the secular governments in West Africa [...] popular disillusionment resulted and other Muslims rallied support for a more conservative, Islamic norm-based society. Thus, the developments in Guinea and Mali indicate that the levels of both are increasing.

"The Price of Freedom Denied"
Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke (2011)16

5. Falsafah (9th-12th century)

#falsafah #islam

Founded in the 9th-12th century. This was a train of thought that saw Greek philosophical concepts discussed and condoned in the search for "primordial, universal faith of timeless truths, which, they were convinced, had preceded the various historical religions"4. It had potential to become a denomination, but was opposed increasingly strongly until it disappeared in the 12th century.

6. Wahhabi (18th century)

#iraq #islam #islamic_extremism #montenegro #saudi_arabia #wahhabi

Founded in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Wahhabi is an extremist form of Islam18 that is so well-funded by Saudi Arabia that not a single Muslim population goes unpressured by its organisations19,20. It calls for Muslims "to return to a purer faith of the early centuries of Islam" and to reject any further thought and interpretation of scripture in the light of modern knowledge21. They focus on a direct and literal reading of the Qur'an18. "It is Wahhabism that motivated Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban"21. Wahhabism is outlawed in several Muslim countries including those as different as Iraq and Montenegro21. It is particularly responsible for the persecution of Sufi Islam in Saudi Arabia17.

7. Salafi (19th century)

#egypt #islam #islamic_extremism #jordan #salafi #saudi_arabia #syria

Founded in the 19th century. A fundamentalist puritanical Islamic movement with a literalist outlook towards the Qur'an, arising as increased literacy meant that more people than ever could read the Qur'an. They reject mediation through interpreters and juridical schools of thought. "The literalist character of this approach gives this trend an equally traditionalist character that insists of reference to the Texts but forbids any interpretive reading"15. Salafist groups are "in constant communication with scholars based primarily in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, or Syria)"15.

Reformist Salafi: The hardline fundamentalism of Salafi has caused many problems in the Islamic world, because dispensing with the long line of experienced deliberations of juridical Islamic thinkers also discards all of their practical resolutions to real-life issues that result when you attempt to make an ancient text fit a modern world. Without that layer of interpretation, everyone suffers. And so there have been a steady stream of thinkers who have attempted to re-add some level of rationality when trying to apply the Qur'an directly to modern life. But such thinkers have frequently been resisted, and sometimes oppressed and physically attacked. After this, some have fled to Western countries, where they are known as Salafi Reformers. As a result of exclusion, that have mostly moved away from the doctrine of having centralized, state-sponsored Islamic power.

These include the well-known names of al-Afghani, Abduh, rida, al-Nursi, Iqbal, Ibn Badis, al-Banna, al-Fasi, Bennabi, Mawdudi, Qutb, and Shariati, in addition to many others whose influence was, or is restricted to a national level.

"Western Muslims and the Future of Islam" by Tariq Ramadan (2004)15

8. Deobandi (1866CE)

#afghanistan #deobandi #india #islam #islamic_extremism

Founded in Deoband, India in 1866CE by Haji Mohammad Abi. The founder of this fundamentalist18 movement "established his Darul Al Ouloum (Knowledge Center) in 1866. [...] It is estimated that there are an additional 5,000 or more Deobandi schools scattered throughout the Indian subcontinent. While they insist upon an extensive knowledge of Hadith, they reject sufi practices and saints as innovation (bida'). The Deobandi is primarily concerned with the teaching and transmission of Islam through the creation of its Qu'ranic schools. The Taliban in Afghanistan took the Deobandi as their inspiration"18 and Jamaat Al-Tabligh also emerged from Deobandi Islam.

9. Barelvis (late 19th century)

#barelvis #india #islam

Founded in India in the late 19th century by Ahmed Raza. Ahmed Raza (1856-1921) founded this fundamentalist18 movement to "emphasize the figure of the Prophet and [teach] that the souls of the prophet and saints act as mediators between believers and God"18.

10. Muslim Brotherhood (1927/8CE)

#egypt #islam #islamic_extremism #muslim_brotherhood

Founded in Egypt in 1927/8CE by Hassan al-Banain20. Scholar Neil Kressel says "most contemporary manifestations of Islamic extremism can trace their earliest organizational roots to two movements"20, one of them being Jamaat-i-Islami and the other the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood [was] formed in Ismailiya in 1927, and dedicated to restoring Islam to prominence in Egypt. Its members fire-bombed cinemas and restaurants frequented by unbelievers. They attacked and scarred women who were not veiled. And they sought power by assassination. The Brothers killed two prime ministers; a third escaped three attempts on his life. They murdered a chief of police, an interior minister, a chief justice and scores of other officials.

"Fundamentalism" by Steve Bruce (2008)22

11. Jamaat-i-Islami (1941CE)

#india #islam #islamic_extremism #jamaat_i_islami #jamaat-i-islami

Founded in India in 1941CE by Mawlana Abul Aala Mawdudi20. Scholar Neil Kressel says "most contemporary manifestations of Islamic extremism can trace their earliest organizational roots to two movements"20, one of them being Jamaat-i-Islami and the other the Muslim Brotherhood.