The Koran

When did the Sunni and Shiah sects of Islam form?

It was during the 600s, not long after Muhammad’s death, when Muslims split into two main divisions: Sunni and Shiah.

Sunnite Muslims, who account for most of the Islamic world today, believe that Islamic leadership passes to caliphs (temporal and spiritual leaders) who are selected from the prophet Muhammad’s tribe.

The Shiites believe, however, that the true leaders of Islam descend from Ali (c. 600–661), Muhammad’s cousin and the husband of Muhammad’s daughter, Fatimah (called the Shining One; c. 616–633). Ali, who was the fourth caliph (656–61), is revered by Shiites as the rightful successor to the prophet Muhammad and are led by his descendants.

Shiites form the largest subgroup, but there are other sects within Islam as well: the Wahhabi Muslims are a puritanical sect; the Baha’is emerged from the Shiites; and the Ismaili Khoja Muslims have been in existence almost from the beginning of Islam. While Islamic practices may vary somewhat among the sects, all Islamic people uphold the Five Pillars of Faith.


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