I understand that Islam has different ideologies and ways of interpreting the Qur'an, and those people with like views will stay together and call themselves a group.

Though I wonder, why is each group called a sect when that word has a normally negative connotation to it? Is there a historical reason for using the word sect? Why, instead, isn't each group called a denomination? Is that a strictly Christian word or can it be used?

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    This has to be considered an off-topic question that has nothing to do with Islamic issues. Whether sect has a negative meaning or not is just a matter of translation. The Prophet did not use the word "sect" in his Hadith! This site is not concerned about literature.
    – fatemah3
    Jul 30, 2014 at 1:57

3 Answers 3


It could be surveyed from 2 aspects. Firstly, the word "Sect" has not a negative meaning, or at least its meaning is not negative at using about division of Islam groups. Hence it could not be a problem to use such a word. The meaning of denomination and sect relatively are the same, so, as far as I know, the word "denomination" commonly is used for Christians, but the word sect usually is used for Muslims. Thus we can not say that why they use them like this.

For instance, we have a tradition from the Prophet (pbuh) that mentioned:

After me, my nation(ummah) will be divided into 73sects, and solely one of them will be saved (will go to Jannah).

Accordingly, Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) would not use it if it has a negative connotation. Besides, if occasionally it uses as a negative word (from an sight), then we cannot say that it is absolutely a negative word, can we?

On the other hand, supposedly, if it has not a positive connotation, so it could be related to the issue that most of those sects ( 72 out of 73) are perverse and actually one of them will go to Jannah. As a result the word sect, in the negative case, could be related to the majority not just one.


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    @ LCIII, I hope my answer be profitable for you. anyhow, you inquired a nice question. well done buddy. Jul 27, 2014 at 1:25
  • So I reckon the most significant point is that we ought to strive to find the right sect or denomination (as you said) as I mentioned in my answer that 72 sects are perverse.. Jul 27, 2014 at 1:29
  • "Accordingly, Prophet Mohammad pbuh would not use it if it has a negative connotation." It does not say "sect" in the Arabic version; that's just the word that translators chose. They could have translated it as "denomination" if they wanted to, right?
    – Artus
    Jun 2, 2015 at 1:54
  • @Erciyes, this an interesting significant point which you mentioned "that's just the word that translators chose." / Good luck. Jun 2, 2015 at 4:58

The English word "sect" (albeit its negative connotations) is close to the nature of shism in Islam, which explains its predominance in English literature about Islam. A Christian denomination bears the sense of organized religion, i.e. churches sharing organisational structure, authority and processes related to finances and appointment of salaried religious workers etc. It is natural to see churches sharing organizational structure to all share confessions of faith.

All these denominational artifacts are alien concepts in Islam and therefore one cannot use the word "denomination" for an Islamic sect without some serious simplification of its meaning. In everyday speech, sect and denomination are used interchangeably with the former often in negative sense.

On a related note, the lingua francas of Islam have been Arabic and Persian mainly and we find at least two terms: Firqa (literally: group,division) and Mazhab (literally: way). The latter used almost exclusively in a positive (neutral) sense and the former in the pejorative.


sect - a religious group which has developed from a larger religion and is considered to have extreme or unusual beliefs or customs

denomination - a religious group which has slightly different beliefs from other groups which share the same religion (both are from Cambridge Dictionary)

To your question,

Is that a strictly Christian word or can it be used?

I can simply say to avoid lengthy stuff, Yes, I think it is mostly used in context with Christianity and their groups.

But still, all lies in the difference between "slightly different beliefs" and "extremely different beliefs". Although, Muslims believe in the same God who is unseen above the heavens, but the actions and other notions formed are considered to be "extremely" varying by each other among the groups. e.g. Just Imagine, if there is some group out there who doesn't call Jesus as God like say Unitarians, so you might say, theirs is a 'sect', I don't think it is a denomination. A similar e.g. in Islam would be, the difference of notions between people who consider 'talking to the dead' as an allowed act or not, and thereby considering them as non-believers altogether by either is enough to call them as 'sects'.

Finally, this question belongs to English and/or history and I think it has nothing to do with Islam per se.

May the creator guide us all.


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