What World Religions Teach

By E. G. Parrinder | Go to book overview

Chapter 16
ISLAM: (3) SECTS, SAINTS, AND REFORMERS

DIVISIONS

There have been many sects within Islam. Omar Khayyam wrote of "The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects.' The great division is between Sunnis and Shias. A Sunni is 'one of the path,' a follower of tradition, and the name is usually applied to those who accept the first four 'rightly guided' Caliphs, and receive six authentic books of traditional sayings of Muhammad and his followers, and the systems of law based upon them. The great majority of Muslims are Sunni, probably over 80 per cent. of them.

The major division within Islam was over the succession of Ali to the caliphate, and the Shia, 'followers' or partisans of Ali, believe that he was the first legitimate caliph, to be followed by his sons Hasan and Husain. The Shia have particular doctrines of Imams, spiritual 'leaders,' a term which they use in preference to Caliph. It is held that there were twelve Imams, from Ali onward for 228 years. The twelfth, the Master of the Age, was born in Samarra about 880 A.D. He is said to have disappeared in his youth, and so he is the 'hidden Imam' who did not die, and will come again to establish righteousness. It is believed that the Hidden Imam appears to men in prayer and strengthens their faith in persecution.

Those who believe in twelve Imams are called Twelvers, and they are particularly strong in Persia ( Iran), where they are the State religion, Iraq, Yemen, and parts of Syria and Pakistan. A sub-sect are the Seveners, who hold that it was the seventh Imam, Ismail, who disappeared and will be sent again by God. They are also called Ismailis, and they hold mystical beliefs centred round the number seven: seven prophets, seven Imams, seven grades of

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