Why are there sects in Islam?

Q. Why firqas are in the Islam and Who is responsible for making these?

A Muslim is one who:

1. Utters the Shahadah

لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله

There is no god except Allah, (and) Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) is the messenger of Allah.

2. Observes the daily prayers (Salat)

And if able:

3. Fasts during the month of Ramadhan (Sawm)

4. Gives alms (Zakat),

5. Makes pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj) at least once in a lifetime.

Due to increase in the size of the Caliphate and inevitable geopolitical polarization, Muslims split into Sunnis, Shias and Khawarij. With the passage of time, they eventually differed in some theological and jurisprudential dimensions.


The original difference between Sunnis and Shias is over who the true first successor to Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) is. Shias believe Ali (رضي الله عنه) is the true successor of the prophet, while Sunnis consider Ali (رضي الله عنه) to hold that position after Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman (رضي الله عنهم).

The Khawarij broke away from both the Shias and Sunnis during the First Fitna (civil war) and subsequently opposed both.

Sunnis have four main schools of jurisprudence namely Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali. These schools are named after their respective scholars (رحمهم الله).

Shias on the other hand have three major sects: Twelvers, Ismailis and Zaydis. The mainstream Shia Muslims follow the Jafari school of thought named after Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (عليه السلام). It is further divided into two branches, the Usuli school, which favors the exercise of Ijtihad, and the Akhbari school, which holds the traditions of the Imams to be the main source of religious knowledge.

Interestingly, all the four founders of the Sunni schools of thought gained knowledge, either directly or indirectly, through Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (عليه السلام).

Besides the above, Sufism is Islam’s mystical-ascetic dimension and is represented by orders known as Tasawwufī-Ṭarīqah. It is seen as that aspect of Islamic teaching that deals with the purification of inner self.

It is reported that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said,

“I have left you with two matters which will never lead you astray, as long as you hold to them: the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger.” (Al-Muwatta’ 1661)

Yazid bin Haiyan (رضي الله عنه) reported:

“One day Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) stood up to deliver a Khutbah at a watering place known as Khumm between Makkah and Al-Madinah. He praised Allah, extolled Him and delivered the Khutbah and exhorted (us) and said, ‘Amma Ba’du (now then)! O people, certainly I am a human being. I am about to receive a messenger (the angel of death) from my Rubb and I, in response to Allah’s Call, but I am leaving among you two weighty things: the Book of Allah in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it.’ He exhorted (us) (to hold fast) to the Book of Allah and then said, ‘The second are the members of my household, I remind you (of your duties) to the members of my family.”‘ (Riyad as-Salihin Book 2, Hadith 32)

Abu Dharr (رضي الله عنه) narrated that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said,

‘My family are like Noah’s ark. Whoever uses it will be saved and whoever separates from it will drown.” (Mustadrak Al-Hakim,vol. 3, p.151).

Ibn Abbas (رضي الله عنه) narrated that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said:

“Verily, my companions are like stars, whichever of them you use as a guide, you will be rightly guided.” (Al Ibana al-Kubra, Jami’ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi)

The Muhaddithun do not regard this issue as a contradiction, rather it is an inclusion, showing us the importance of Quran, Sunnah, Ahl-ul-Bayt and the Sahaba.

Abd Ar-Rahmaan bin Amr as-Sulaamee (رضي الله عنه) narrated that the Messenger of ‪Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said:

“I have left you upon clear proof, its night is like its day, no one deviates from it except that he is destroyed, and whoever amongst you lives for long will see great controversy. So stick to what you know from my ‪‎Sunnah and the Sunnah of the Orthodox, Rightly-guided ‪Caliphs, cling to that with your molar teeth.” (Reported by Ahmad, Ibn Maajah, al-Haakim)

Yahya bin Abu Muta’ said: I heard ‘Irbad bin Sariyah say: ‘One day, the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) stood up among us and delivered a deeply moving speech to us that melted our hearts and caused our eyes to overflow with tears. It was said to him: ‘O Messenger of Allah, you have delivered a speech of farewell, so enjoin something upon us.’ He said:

‘I urge you to fear Allah, and to listen and obey, even if (your leader) is an Abyssinian slave. After I am gone, you will see great conflict. I urge you to adhere to my Sunnah and the path of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, and cling stubbornly to it. And beware of newly-invented matters, for every innovation is a going astray.'” (Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 42)

Nu’man b. Bashir (رضي الله عنه) reported: I heard Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) as having said this (and Nu’man pointed towards his ears with his fingers):

What is lawful is evident and what is unlawful is evident, and in between them are the things doubtful which many people do not know. So he who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and honour blameless, and he who indulges in doubtful things indulges in fact in unlawful things, just as a shepherd who pastures his animals round a preserve will soon pasture them in it. Beware, every king has a preserve, and the things God declared unlawful are His preserves. Beware, in the body there is a piece of flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound and if it is corrupt the whole body is corrupt, and hearken it is the heart. (Muslim 1599)

Abu Hurairah (رضي الله عنه) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said:

“The Jews split into 71 sects; one will be in Paradise (i.e., those who followed Moses) and 70 will be in the Fire. The Christians split into 72 sects; 71 will be in the Fire and one will be in Paradise (i.e., those who followed Jesus). And by the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, this Ummah (nation) of mine will split into 73; one will be in Paradise and 72 will be in the Fire. It was asked, “Who are they, O Messenger of Allah?” He (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, “Al-Jama‘ah (i.e., the group which adheres steadfastly to the way of the Prophet).” And in another narration: “(Those who follow) what I and my Companions are following.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 3992, Jami` at-Tirmidhi 2641)

Any group that adopts anything contrary to Shari‘ah have to repent from it, and return to the original right path and the truth that our Prophet, Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم), brought. In this way they will be saved from the threat.

Muslims who does not have sufficient knowledge of Qur’an and Hadith usually follow a  school of fiqh. If a person wants to follow one of the Imams and adopt his madhhab, then he should follow him in matters for which there is clear, sound daleel, for this is what is required in Islam, but he should not develop partisan or sectarian feelings towards anybody.

Abu Umamah Al-Bahili (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said,

“I guarantee a house in Jannah for one who gives up arguing, even if he is in the right; and I guarantee a home in the middle of Jannah for one who abandons lying even for the sake of fun; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Jannah for one who has good manners.” (Riyad as-Salihin Book 1, Hadith 630)

It is not permissible for the Muslim to believe that he has to follow anybody in all that he says except the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). And if it becomes clear to him that in some cases the view of Quran and Ahadith is other than that of his Shaykh, then he must follow the correct view and not his madhhab.

The basic principle concerning the Muslim is that he adheres to the Qur’an and Hadith. As for following one of these madhhabs, that is not obligatory or recommended, and the Muslim does not have to adhere to any one of them in particular. Rather the one who adheres to a particular madhhab in every issue is being a partisan who is guilty of blind following.

Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) Says that the previous nations divided

“…Out of jealous animosity between themselves (Ash Shura 42:14)”

and that

“…They forgot a portion of that of which they were reminded. So We caused among them animosity and hatred until the Day of Resurrection (Al-Maidah 5:14)

In the Quran, it is Said:

Obey Allah and His Messenger and do not dispute with one another, otherwise you will fail and lose your strength. Have patience – Allah is with those who are patient. (Al-Anfal 8:46)

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