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Last Updated: 2011/11/03
Summary of question
What are the causes of the emergence and development of different sects among Muslims?
What are the causes of the emergence and development of different sects among Muslims?
Concise answer

There are different factors involved in the emergence of different sects, religions and denominations among Muslims. They include the following: Discarding the Holy Prophet's Will and recommendations about his successor, Imam Ali (a.s.), the influence and infiltration of the followers of other religions into the ranks of Muslims, cultural mixing, detachment from genuine Islamic teachings and sayings of the Ahlul-Bayt (a.s.), the prohibition of writing the Holy Prophet's traditions for a century, deliberate fabrication of hadith in praise of the companions during the Umayyad period, the Abbasid government's act of fueling religious differences among Muslims so as to exploit the situation and maintain power, ignorance of the public and their getting influence from the propagations. Certainly, at least some of these factors were meant to tamper with Islam and destroy it especially the attempts that were made by the Jews in order to distort Islam, and the hadiths which were forged by them and which were known as 'Israeliyat' [Judaica]. Some other factors were rooted in the selfishness, jealousy and spite of the groups that attempted to separate people with their political tricks from the Ahlul-Bayt (a.s) – the straight path of guidance – and to establish a sect or a religion that would fit their vicious ends and objectives. Many of those religions have perished over the centuries and some others have been created in the contemporary period. However, despite the attempts by the enemies of Islam to destroy it, the pure Muhammadan Islam and the great source of divine revelation was safeguarded and transferred to the next generations, thanks to the incessant efforts, patience, forbearance and resistance of the Pure Imams (a.s) and their sincere followers.

Detailed Answer

Insofar as the Holy Prophet (s) was alive, Muslims, though apparently, maintained their unity and followed him. During his lifetime, the Prophet (s), on many occasions, introduced Ali (a.s.) as his successor and made him known to people. The warning hadith, also known as "invitation of the close families", shows that the Prophet (s) appointed Imam Ali (a.s) who was 13 years old at that time as his successor. He continued to emphasize on Ali's appointment as his successor as and when an opportunity arose. He called on people to obey Ali (a.s) and to follow him as his successor. During the Farewell Pilgrimage (Hajjatul Weda') on 18 of Zil-Hijjah the 10th Hegira year, the Prophet (s) formally declared Ali (a.s) as Imam, guardian and Wali of Muslims. He took pledges of allegiance from the people and his guardianship was introduced as supplementary to the Religion and a cause of the perfection of divine bounties.[1] The Prophet's body had not been laid to rest when Muslims started to debate and quarrel about his successor. They separated into two groups. The group that backed the successorship of Ali (a.s) and considered these people as being opposed to the recommendations of the Prophet (s) was known as "Shia" (followers of Ali bin Abi Talib). Another group looking at the apparent circumstance and acting on the ground of tribal and ancestral fanaticism said that the Prophet or his son-in-law did matter to them. They said that it was forbidden to stand up against those who had taken the government. Therefore, in their view it was necessary to pledge allegiance to and obey those who occupied the seat the Prophet (s). They went as far as to say that Imam Hussein (a.s) wasted his blood by revolting against the caliph of his time, (Yazid, the Commander of Faithful!). In their view, Yazid erred by killing Hussein and he repented for his erroneous Ijtihad (deduction). This is how and where the Muslim Ummah split into two groups of Shia and Sunni. After the bloody confrontation between Mu'awiyah and Ali (a.s), the Kharijite (Khawarij) sect came into being. And following the rule of Banu Umayyah and Banu Marvan and their bloody battles with the Abbasids, a new atmosphere came into being whereby the gates of dialogue, teaching and learning, translation of Hebrew and Greek books into Arabic, the coming of Jews and Christians to the Arab world, their influence in the courts of the caliphs and their reputation as learned Islamic traditionists were opened up to people with different views becoming available to them. It was at a time when the tyrant rulers snatched all propagation and dissemination opportunities from the descendants of the Prophet (s) by isolating them and bringing fabricators of traditions to the fore.

Hence, people who did not live in the period of the Prophet (s) and who had quenched their thirst for knowledge from the Amawid sources turned towards the teachings of the scholars in the Abbasid court. In order to maintain power, the Abbasid rulers also left the ground open to everone to create sects and religions. There were even some of the students of the Pure Imams (a.s) who had sold themselves off to the caliphs' courts to attain worldly ends turning their backs on the divine pleasures. That was why, for many years in a row the Ja'fari Shia religion was not even recognized as one of the Islamic religions alongside other religions!

The emergence of discord among Muslim Ummah and the fragmentation of Islam into 72 sects were brought about by a group of people who gathered at Saqifa and refused to join the Osama army. They were the ones who forgot the Holy Prophet's Will about Ali and also the event of Ghadir Khum and their own pledges of allegiance to him causing the Islamic Ummah to be deprived, to a great extent, of pure Muhammadan teachings.

Some so-called Muslims proclaimed themselves as the followers of the tradition of the Messenger of Allah (s) but no sooner they came to power than they cancelled the Islamic codes and embarked on Ijtehad against explicit textual proofs. Some said, "Two mut'as were [practiced] in the time of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh); but I forbid them and shall inflict punishment on them; the mut'a of hajj and the mut'a of women."[2] It did not take them long to omit "Hayya alaa khairil Amal" from Adhan so that people might go to Jihad against Rome and Persia instead of offering prayers. They made people to offer recommended prayers in congregation; and they finally changed the Prophet's ablution (wdhu) to give him also a share of the change! Some submitted themselves to the caliphs' tradition (Sunnah) rather than the Prophet's and in order to make themselves look distinct from the Alawis and Shiites, they insisted on the Ottoman way of performing ablution so as to bring about the extinction of offspring of Ali (a.s), Zahra (s.a) and Shiites. Following the conquest of Syrian territories, the Syrians did not see anyone as the symbols of Islam other than the Umayyad rulers. To them, Muawiyah was the successor of the Prophet of God (s), a man who wished to see even the name of the Prophet (s), his descendants i.e. Ali (a.s) and Zahr (s.a) forgotten. For this reason, his evil tradition such as the practice of cursing Ali (a.s) in the sermons of Friday prayers and other official sermons remained mandatory until the period of Umar bin Abdul Aziz. Thus, Imamate remained continuously isolated.

It was only during the battles of Umayyads and Abbasids and the pretension of the latter to support the descendants of Ali (a.s.) that some relaxation was provided for the Imams like Imam Muhammad Baqir and Imam Ja'far Sadiq (a) to propagate, teach and train students. Thus, in their time the Holy Prophet's unwritten hadiths were explained, the interior of the Quran was revealed and the repository of pure teachings and expressive and explicit rules of Islam was presented by them and passed on to the next generation through Shia scholars and their students. However, after the Abbasids came to power, the pressure on the Imams (a.s.) took a new trend. The Imams, peace be upon them, were either in the prison or in exile or in cantonments forced to do Taqia. In addition, the market of knowledge, science, sermons and lectures was booming with more and more scholars of Islam, traditionists and jurists coming to the scenes and gathering people around them to the extent that their enormity made the caliphs feel scared. For this reason, the official religions that had emerged here and there in the Arab world were restricted to four religions namely the Shafe'ei, Hanbali, Maleki and Hanafi. It was ordered that other religions be cancelled and declared as void.

Different groups with various motives could be seen among the caliphs and their appointees who added fuel to the flames aggravating the situation:

1. Those who entertained hate, jealousy and spite towards Ali (a.s) and Zahra (s.a). This group of people existed even during the Prophet's lifetime showing their hatred and jealousy to the Prophet's household, though in weak forms as recorded by Shia and Sunni sources.

2. Those who had converted to Islam for worldly purposes such as power and reputation waiting for an opportunity to jump. They found the opportunity after the demise of the Prophet (s) when Ali (a.s) was busy preparing the Prophet's body for burial.

3. Those who accepted Islam during the conquest of Mecca for fear of their lives. They were people who always conspired against Islam and attempted to alter and destroy it. The Amawids are the descendants of this group of people.

4. The hypocrites from the Arabs and Jews who intended to tamper with the religion and defeat the Muslims.

5. The Jewish clerics who had made their way into the Amawid court and who were recognized as Muslim preachers, orators and traditionists came to the fore.

6. The ignorant ones, sermonizers and fabricators of hadiths who competed each other for attaining power, reputation and wealth.

7. The irresponsible clerics and legal theorists who distanced themselves from the Imams (their teachers) and turned the Quran and hadith into a means for acquiring wealth and fame. They were people who without any knowledge of the Quran and prophetic traditions as well as Arabic literature engaged in explaining the Quran and the religion causing each group to follow someone and adopt a particular view.

8. The simple-minded people who had still remained ignorant and were not capable of distinguishing the right from the wrong distanced themselves from the Imams and began to accept wrong beliefs. For example, some of them believed that Zaid bin Ali (a.s) whose body had remained hanging for a long from the pole was alive. Some others believed that Ismail bin Ja'far (a.s) whose father had buried him was alive, so they began to believe in his Imamate.

9. Finally, the provocations on the part of the global imperialism and Zionism to create discord among the Muslim Ummah and to introduce new deviant sects such as Babism, Bahaism, Wahabism, Taliban etc. are an effective cause of the disunity and division of the Muslim Ummah.

Based on the above, the factors behind the disunity of the Islamic Ummah can be divided into internal and external factors. Some of the internal factors are: spite and jealousy towards the Ahlul-bayt (a.s)[3] on the part of the Umayyads and Abbasids, people's ignorance and simple-mindedness, the tendency to acquire power, rank and fame. The external factors included: the prohibition of writing the hadiths and biography of the Prophet (s) for one hundred years, lack of knowledge of Arabic literature and emergence of different readings and understandings from the Quran, the introduction of numerous fabricated hadiths into the Islamic sources, distancing from the Ahlul-Bayt (a.s) who possessed knowledge of the Quran and the unseen, Ijtehad and dogmatism against the prophetic traditions, the caliphs' support for some of the sects and religions, isolating the Imams (a.s) and their followers and pressurizing them, allowing Jews and Christians to pose themselves as Muslims so as to lead the religion of Islam and finally the rampant strangulating atmosphere during the period of the caliphs.

Surely, each one of these factors was effective in splitting up Islam and Muslims and further aggravating the situation. What is certain is that there is not but one straight and right path among all the different paths. The others (sects) benefit from the truth as much as they are agreeable to it but when they are mixed with fabrications and falsehood, they are considered as false.

Knowing the right path from the wrong is possible through the Quran only which, according to both sects and authentic tradition of the Prophet (s) is a divine miracle immune to all kinds of distortions and alterations. The seerah of the infallible Imams, peace be upon them, also indicates the same.



1. Tabatabai, Muhammad Hussein, Al-Mizan, vol.4, Islamic Publications, Qom, pg. 364 – 365.

2. Qommi Mashadi, Muhammad bin Muhammad Reza, Kanz al-Daqayeq, vol.4, Printing and Publication Institute of the Ministry of Guidance, 1st edition, 1411 A.H. Tehran, vol.3, pg. 417, and vol.4, pg. 117.

3. Musavi, Sharafuddin, translation, Imami, Muhammad Ja'far, Haqjoo and Haqshenas, Bunyad Ma'aref Islami, 1st edition, 1371, Qom.

4. Javadi Amuli, Abdullah, Tafsir Tasnim, vol.1, Israa Institute, 1st edition, 1378, Qom, pg. 98 – 99.

5. Javadi Amuli, Abdullah, Quran in Quran, Israa, 2nd edition, 1378, Qom pp.315 – 350.

6. Khosro Panah, Abdul Hussein, Kalam Jadid, Cultural Studies and Research Center, Qom, 1st edition, 1379, pg. 150 – 239.

7. Shahristani, Sayyed Ali, Wudhu of the Prophet (s), Urooj Andisheh, 1st edition, 1377, Mashad.

8. Asghari, Sayyed Muhammad, Analogy and …, Kayhan, 2nd edition, 1370, Tehran.

9. Qommi, Shaykh Abbas, Tatimmat al-Muntaha, Payam Azadi, 1st edition 1379, Tehran.

10. Tijani, Muhammad, The True Ahl-Sunnah, vol.1 and 2, Bunyad Ma'aref Islami, 3rd edition, 1374, Qom.

11. Naqavi, Sayyed Muhammad Taqi, Sharh and Tafsir Khutba Ghadir, Jalil Research and Cultural Center, 1st edition, 1374 Tehran.

[1] - Al-Maedah: 3 and 67

[2] - Kitab al-Irshad (The Book of Guidance into the Lives of the Twelve Imams), translation, Rasuli Mahallati, vol.1, pg.164, Chap.50, the Story of Hajjatul Weda' and the coming of Ali (a.s) from Yemen to Mecca and the story of Ghadir Khum, pg. 158; Rawza of Kafi, translation, Kamraei, vol.1, 97, Sermon from the Commander of the Faithful, … pg. 94.

[3] - Al-Fath: 15; Nisa: 49 – 63

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