History and Sources

What were the most important early Islamic sectarian movements?

Immediately upon Muhammad’s death Muslims had to face the question of succession to leadership of the community. One faction claimed that the Prophet had designated his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, as his successor. They were to become known as the Party or Faction (Shi’a) of Ali, and today their various subcommunities are called Shi’a Muslims or Shi’ites. But a majority held that Muhammad had made no such appointment and that it was up to the elders to choose from among themselves. They considered their course of action to be both in keeping with the example of Muhammad (called his Sunna, SUNnah) and in the spirit of the needs of the whole community (jama’a, jaMAA’ah) of Muslims. This majority group came to be known as the People of the Sunnah and the Assembly (Ahl as-sunna wa-l’jama’ah), or Sunni Muslims for short.


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