Sects in Islam explained: Why is Islam divided into different sects?

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With 1.8 billion followers Islam is the second-largest and fastest-growing religion in the world. Reports predicted that by 2050 Islam will substitute Christianity as the largest religion in the world.
Islam is mainly divided into two Sects. Shia and Sunni. About 87 to 90% of Muslims follow Sunni Islam, while 10 to 13% of Muslims follow Shia Islam. There is another sect that is not very common and is nowadays limited only to Oman is Khawarij.

Names of 73 sects of Islam | Division of Sunni and Shia Islam
Divisions of Sunni and Shia Islam


The difference among Muslims arose soon after the death of Prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him. The major difference between Shias and Sunnis is over who the true successor of Muhammad is. Shias believe Ali ibn Abi Talib is the true successor to Muhammad, while Sunnis consider Abu Bakr to hold that position. The Khawarij broke away from both the Shias and Sunnis during the first Islamic Civil War and subsequently opposed both the Shias and the Sunnis. Also, there are several differences between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. We will talk about these sects in detail in later episodes.

Sunni Islam


Sunni Islam is further divided into four major categories. Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki, and Hanbali. 35% of Sunni Muslims are Hanafi with the majority in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Turkey, and the UK. Shafi and Maliki both cover 25% each. Shafis are in majority in Indonesia, Malaysia, Palestine, Jordon, Afghanistan, Egypt, and east Africa. Maliki covers north and west Africa, Kuwait, and UAE. 15% of Hanbali are in Saudi and Qatar. the names of these sects came from the founder of that school of thought. These schools are named after Abu Hanifa, Malik ibn Anas, al-Shafi’i, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively.

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Locations Countires of Four major sects of Sunni Islam. Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi and Hanbali
Locations of Four major sects of Sunni Islam

Imam Abu Hanifa was born in 699 AD in Iraq. He was a student of Shia Imam Jafar Sadiq. contemporary to imam Abu Hanifa in Iraq, Imam Malik was a premier Islamic scholar in the city of Madina. Imam Malik was also a student of Shia Imam Jafar Sadiq. Imam Malik’s most notable student was imam Shafi, who later became the founder of the Shafi school of thought. Shafi was from madina.

He went to Iraq to meet the Caliph of the Abbasids. There he met Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal the founder of the Hanbali school of thought. Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal studied Islamic law from Imam Shafi. Thus two of the imam Malik and Shafi were from Madina, and the other two Abu Hanifa and Ahmed bin Hanbal were from Baghdad.

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In addition to four major divisions, Sunni Islam is further divided. In Southeast Asia, the Hanafi school of thought is further divided into the Barelvi and Deobandi school of thought. Hanbali school of thought is modified into Wahabism and Salafism.

Read Also: Kaaba destroyed by Muslims

Shia Islam

Divisions of Shia Islam Jafari, Ismaili, Zaidi
Divisions of Shia Islam


All the prominent Islamic scholars were directly or indirectly students of Shia Imam Jafar Sadiq. Shias form a majority of the population in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran, and Iraq. Shia Islam is divided into 3 main branches. Twelvers, Islamilis, and Zaydis. Twelver Shia is the largest branch of Shia Islam, with estimates saying that 85% of Shias were Twelvers. Twelvers Shias believe in twelve imams. while the Islamilis and Zaidis believe in 7 and 5 imams respectively.

Ismailis gain their name from their acceptance of Isma’il ibn Jafar as the divinely appointed spiritual successor (Imam) to Ja’far al-Sadiq, wherein they differ from the Twelvers, who accept Musa al-Kadhim, younger brother of Isma’il, as the true Imam.
Ismaili and Twelvers Shia consider their Imam, Prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him, and his daughter Fatima as infallible, while Zaidis do not attribute the quality to the Zaidi imams.


Ibadi is another school of thought which is common only in Oman. Modern historians trace the origins of the denomination to a moderate current of the Khawarij movement. Ibadism is thus considered to be an early and highly orthodox interpretation of Islam

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28 thoughts on “Sects in Islam explained: Why is Islam divided into different sects?

  1. i am sorry but you seem to have some wrong info on the sects of islam, some shia ismailis belive the imams continue, at the moment the 49th imam is Mowlana shah karim.

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