Just as Christianity is filled with denominations representing a lot of views, Islam has many sects. The better-known sects include Shiites, Sunnis and Sufis.

This week, the leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community will be in Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Mirza Masroor Ahmad, spiritual and administrative head of the community, is to meet with American followers and governmental leaders.

Ahmadiyya began in the Indian Punjab in 1889, and members are sometimes called Qadiyanis after the location where it first grew.

The movement’s news release claims a membership of more than 10 million in 200 countries. It also says that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, established in 1920, was the first American-Muslim organization.

Its followers believe Mizra Ghulam Ahmad (1825-1908) is the second coming of Jesus and the divine guide predicted by the Prophet Muhammad. Ahmad was sent to end wars and re-establish morality, justice and peace.

However, other Muslims believe that this group is heretical, which led to Pakistan naming them non-Muslim in 1974.

From older Facets of Faith columns, here is a quick look at the other sects mentioned:

Sunni and Shiite

The division between Shiites and Sunnis began after the death of Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad, over who should succeed him.

One group thought that Muhammad’s nearest relative should lead. They believed Muhammad had selected his cousin and son-in-law, Ali. This group was known as Shi’at ‘Ali or party of Ali. This is shortened to Shia, and the people are known as Shiites.

On the other side, most of Muhammad’s followers believed he had not designated a successor. They thought that the successor should be the most-qualified person, and they chose Abu Bakr. This group became known as Sunni: Those who followed the Sunna, the “way” of Muhammad. The Sunna is the Prophet’s words and actions in response to Allah’s revelations.


Islam, which means submission, is marked by the idea of following its laws. However, some Muslims seek to find divine love and divine knowledge through direct personal experience of God. They feel that strict adherence to laws or theology without the relationship with God is not the proper role of religion. One such group is the Sufis, who emerged from the mystical movements around the year 800. The followers found that absolute trust and obedience to God led to intense experiences of God.

This sect is known for the dervishes, its twirling dancers, and for poets, such as Rumi and Rabi ‘a al-Adawiyya.

SOURCES: Press releases; World Religions, John Bowker; The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, Keith Crim, editor; The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, Jonathan Z. Smith, editor

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