Sectarian differences

The differences within the family of Islam are no less complex than the numerous different Christian traditions. Some of the differences find their roots in different interpretations of religious texts and laws, others in political positions and rivalries.

Many people have heard of Shias and Sunnis – roughly representing around 15-20% and 80-85% respectively. The original difference between Shias and Sunnis was about who should lead the community after the death of Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century.

Just as in Christianity and other religions, there are also differences based on notions of authority, spirituality, literalism in reading the religious texts, etc. Sufis for example are known for having a more spiritual, traditional outlook often with a sense of hierarchical order, while Salafis are more literalist, lay and perhaps ‘protestant’ in their outlook. There are also political movements emphasising reform, others that are more modernist in their outlook and many more. Sadly, we have also seen a small number of radical and extreme voices speak in the name of Islam more recently – and despite media attention, they tend to be controversial within Muslim communities and very marginal.

Increasingly, perhaps the majority do not identify themselves with any specific tradition and see themselves simply as ‘Muslims’ in general. Indeed many Muslims don’t even see themselves as ‘religious’, though they may identify with aspects of Muslim culture and tradition.