Variations of Islam

The two main variations of Islam are Sunni and Shi’a. Both largely agree on the fundamentals of Islam and follow the teachings of the Qur’an. However, there are some differences that originate from historical experiences, political and social developments and ethnic backgrounds. These difference are usually in the jurisprudence of the faith (e.g. significant dates, how to pray, how to marry, inheritance). The majority of Sunni and Shi’a Muslims don’t let their differences divide them in society, however the current, global political climate has lead to hostility and some violence between these two groups.
  • Sunni – 85-90% of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis. This variation originated from many countries including Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey. It believes that the Prophet Muhammad’s successor should have been Abu Bakr. Sunni leaders are elected.
  • Shi’a – 10% of the world’s Muslims are Shi’as. This variation originated predominantly from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. It believes that the Prophet Muhammad’s successor should have been Ali. Shi’a leadership is chosen from descendants of Muhammad.

Another variation of Islam is Sufism. Sufis can be described as devout Muslims that try to strictly adhere to all customs and beliefs of Islam and the Qur’an. Sufis aspire to be close to Allah and often belong to ‘Tariqas’ or orders, which were established after the Prophet’s death and are lead by teachers and masters of this sect. The sect has different practices and methods of worship to Islam, such as ‘whirling’ - a form of active meditation.

There are other variations of Islam that represent a very small percentage of Muslims and are specific to one country or region (for example, the Alawites in Syria or the Druze in Lebanon).
Where do we get our statistics?