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Understanding the branches of Islam

Written by Sebastian Kusserow and Patryk Pawlak with Clare Ferguson
© Kaputtknie / Fotolia

On 24 September 2015, all Muslims celebrate the feast of sacrifice, or Eid al-Adha. Whilst the Islamic faith is based on a number of shared fundamental beliefs and practices, over time, leadership disputes within the Muslim community have resulted in the formation of different branches, leading to the development of distinct religious identities within Islam.

A better understanding of commonalities and differences between these communities is particularly relevant today, when a large number of conflicts in the Muslim world are depicted in sectarian terms, either by reference to the ‘Sunni-Shia divide’ or the potential development of a ‘Shiite crescent’.

Regardless of the accuracy of such observations, it is clear that, since its inception, Islam has seen the emergence of a large number of different communities which are now spread around the globe. Despite the many religious and cultural connections they share, they differ from each other in their interpretations of aspects of the faith, views on Islamic history, or conceptions of leadership.

In our short briefing on the many branches of Islam, we devote some space to explaining some of the lesser-known communities, as well as the larger groups, their connections and differences.

Read this Briefing on ‘Understanding the branches of Islam‘ in PDF.

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