What are Muslim Sects?

Muslim Sects

Like many religions, there are several Muslim sects that you might prescribe to. Each has its unique system of beliefs, customs, and traditions. However, there are a few things that all sects do have in common despite how differently they may play out in real life. To understand the full breadth and rich history of the Islamic faith, you must first understand what branch of Islam you adhere to. 


How do you know which sect you belong to or what the differences are between them? This guide will help you to see the prominent tenets of the faith in action. 

What Is the Meaning of Sects in Islam?

As in many other world religions, Islam can be broken into a variety of different sects or branches. Each one has its own unique beliefs and customs, but they all have a few beliefs that are common to all sects. Some of these commonly-shared beliefs include: 


  • Tawhid or belief in the one God
  • The holiness of the Quran
  • Teachings of the Prophet Muhammad


The Muslim sects began to form after the death of the Prophet Muhammad when there were differences of opinion on the successor of the faith. However, all branches of Islam uphold these core beliefs regardless of where they may differ on the finer points of the religion. 


Why do sects in Islam matter when you are dating a Muslim guy or dating a Muslim girl? It helps you to understand the customs and traditions that you can expect when forming a relationship with someone new. The Muslim dating rules are often very similar among sects, but you may encounter differences when it comes to how the process goes. 

How Many Sects of Islam Are There and What Are They? 

There are five recognized sects of Islam: Sunni, Shi’a, Ahmadiyya, Ibadi, and Sufism. If you are curious about what each sect believes, this breakdown will help you get the basics. 


Sunni is the most popular of the sects of Islam, with about 90 percent of believers falling into this category. It is heavily concentrated in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the rest of the Middle East. They are named after their belief in the Sunnah or tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. 


In Sunni Islam, followers do not believe that the Prophet Muhammad appointed a successor before his passing. Sunni Islam believes that they were to choose their successor for him based on the vote of the Muslim community after his passing. They have settled on Abu Bakr Siddique, a father-in-law and close friend of the Prophet. 


Under this belief system, followers believe that the individual and the Imam can approach Allah with their prayers. However, he will not reveal himself until Judgment Day. This is a key tenet of their faith, as some other Muslim sects do not believe that God will reveal himself even after Judgment Day has passed. 


Shi’a followers are the second largest of the sects of Islam, mostly located in Iran, Iraq, and other similar geographic areas. Unlike the Sunnis, who believe they were to choose their successor, Shi’a believers hold that the Prophet Muhammad chose his own successor. They believe the faith was passed on to Muhammad’s son-in-law, known as Ali ibn Abi Talib. 


They believe that there are many Imams who appear after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad. Their Imams represent the perfect divinity of Allah on the earth, and they serve as both religious and political leaders in the Muslim community. 


Many believe in Ithna Ashari—the belief that there will be twelve Imams throughout history, with the final one appearing at some point in the future. However, other Shi’a followers believe there may be only five to seven Imams. Unlike Sunni Islam, the Shi’a sect does not believe that they will see Allah on Judgment Day. 


Muslims who adhere to this belief system have their own customs and religious practices, including temporary marriage. 


The Ahmadiyya sect is newer than some other belief systems held in present-day Islam. It is most prominent in Africa, Indonesia, and parts of South Asia. 

Followers of this sect of Islam do not believe that the Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet. Instead, they adhere to teachings from Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, their most recent prophet thought to have restored modern-day faith. 


Apart from this differentiation, the Ahmadiyya people hold very similar beliefs to the Sunni Islam sect. They still regard the Quran as their source of instruction from Allah and adhere to the tenets outlined in the Holy Book. 


Ibadi is not one of the most popular sects of Islam, but it does have a long and storied history. It is known to pre-date both of the most popular branches of Islam (Sunni and Shi’a). 

The best way to describe Ibadi is as an orthodox version of the religion. They share some of the same beliefs as the Shi’a people, including that Allah will not reveal himself on their Judgment Day. 


One of the areas where they differ is in their belief about who should lead the Muslim community. Unlike the Sunni and Shi’a, who believe in appointing a ruler in the absence of Muhammad, the Ibadi people believe that they do not require a leader to govern themselves. They also do not think that a Muslim ruler is needed to be from Muhammad’s tribe. 


Sufism is a unique branch of Islam known for its mystical teachings. They follow the teachings set out by the Shi’a successor of Muhammad, but these believers also follow special training that they believe allows them to experience Allah here on earth. Their religion teaches that if you are pure in your inner-self, you can directly connect to God. 


Unlike other sects that believe this relationship does not take place until after Judgment Day in Paradise, Sufism promotes it here on this plane. Most Sufism followers are located in Turkey and Persia, though it grows and spreads every year. 

Different Customs and Traditions

Each Muslim sect will have its unique customs and traditions, but many of them are quite similar. For example, they often have the same Muslim wedding rituals, including the Nikah ceremony and the Walima celebration. 


Despite the similarities in practice, their celebrations can be different. Some Nikah ceremonies will separate the genders, and a wali or a male representative will speak on behalf of the bride with her consent. This often happens when the believers are a bit more orthodox such as those found in the Ibadi Muslim sects. 


However, there are other customs and differences between some of the major sects, such as the Sunni and Shi’a. The Sunni people do not have a strict religious hierarchy and may have a looser interpretation of the laws outlined in the Quran. On the other hand, the Shi’a people will often refer to their clergy members as saints, giving them the same status as prophets listed in the Quran. 


Modesty is another aspect that is different among the various Muslim sects. While encouraged for all, certain sects require women to wear the hijab to maintain privacy from unrelated males. Depending on the location of the individual, it may be obligatory whether it is part of the belief system or not. It is not required in other locations, such as in the United States. In these countries, it is a personal choice. It is not necessarily a mark of fundamentalism.

Sects in Modern Culture

In the modern world, all five Muslim sects are practiced around the globe. However, you are most likely to encounter Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. There tends to be a great divide between these two most popular sects, leading to conflicts between the two groups, such as the Iranian Revolution in 1979. 


Part of the divide occurs between the Saudi Arabian and Iranian people, where politics plays a huge role in faith. There has been a growing trend of militants over the years, leading to more violent displays of power between sects. These militants are attempting to cleanse the religion, but it has a disastrous effect on the people’s peace.  


Sunnis represent almost 90 percent of the Islam faith, while Shi’as represent only about 10 to 15 percent. The Sunni faith is the largest sect, but their conflict with the Shi’a people is most prominent. However, there is bitter feuding between the two parties that threatens to disrupt the peace of the Middle East. 

Finding the Perfect Match

Finding a compatible partner for marriage often starts with finding someone who has the same belief system that you do. Salams is the #1 Muslim dating app. It can help you uncover that special someone from our  4 million members. 

So far, Salams has been responsible for more than 210,000 success stories and 2 billion matches. The app is free to download, and all of the main features are available. If you want extra features like unlimited swipes, you can subscribe to Salams Premium.

Download the Salams App today to learn more and to meet the match of your dreams! 

Download the App
Google PlayDownload on App Store
Related Blog Posts
No items found.
Related Muslim Terms
No items found.
Sunni Muslim Couple