Primary Author
Chara Scroope,
  • The main reason for schisms and branching in Islam are disputes regarding the line of succession after Muḥammad. Generally speaking, Muslims of different branches share many beliefs and practices.
  • As a holistic religion, Islam attempts to organise all aspects of human life, from social and legal structures to daily practices. Thus, an integral part of understanding Islam is to consider its many political and cultural embodiments, especially its connection to Arab culture and history.
  • ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ are not synonymous. Although Islam originated in Arabia Peninsula, not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are Arabs.
  • Similarly, avoid assuming the relationship between branches of Islam and particular countries. For instance, not all followers of Shī‘á are from Iran and not all Arab Muslims are Sunnī.
  • In some countries, Islam is deeply intertwined with the local culture. This means that some Muslims may be more active in practicing their faith, while others may be nominally Muslim who only attend religious services for major life events (like funerals).
  • The Arabic language plays an important role in Islam. It is the language of the Qur’ān (the major sacred text of Islam).
  • The word Allāh is the Arabic translation for ‘God’. Allāh is not a distinct god, but rather understood as the same God according to the original teachings of the Christian and Jewish people.
  • When referring to the Prophet Muḥammad, Muslims often bless him by stating the phrase “peace be upon him”, “peace and blessings upon him” or writing the acronym ‘pbuh’.
  • Be aware that just because a practice occurs in a Muslim-majority country does not mean it is an Islamic practice. For example, female circumcision (otherwise known as female genital mutilation [FGM]) and honour killing are both practiced in some Muslim-majority countries. Opinions vary regarding the role ‘culture’, interpretations of Islam and politics play in promoting such practices.
  • The official position held by a branch or tradition is not necessarily indicative of the attitudes and beliefs of all lay followers. Individuals may have personal interpretations and applications of the teachings of their respective tradition.

Get a downloadable PDF that you can share, print and read.

Guaranteed secure stripe badge

A unified, searchable interface answering your questions on the world's cultures and religions

Sign up for free