What exactly defines a sect in Islam? There are many supposed sects in Islam, but how do you define this label?

I know the two 'major' sects in Islam are the Shia and Sunni, but why are these considered sects?

  • 2
    I would hate to see that there are definitions, as we aren't even supposed to have sects in Islam in the first place.
    – Dynamic
    Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 19:14
  • 1
    @Dynamic but if we know what defines them, perhaps we can avoid them? Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 19:19
  • 1
    @Pureferret Sufi is not a sect, there are sufis both in Shia and Sunni.
    – user44
    Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 23:18
  • I don't know if this question can be constructively answered on this site.
    – ashes999
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 18:17
  • @yasar11732 is it not? Why is it not considered a sect and Sunni and Shia are? Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 18:34

2 Answers 2


First I will give the definition and then explain...

Any label in addition to muslim that in any way further describes any practice or ideology wrt Islam of a muslim is a sect. These labels are normally hurdles between muslims to practice Islam together

For example:

Sunni muslim: Implies they pray like they pray in mecca...hence "sunni" is a sect (practice)

Shia muslim: Implies they believe in 12 imaams....hence "shia" is a sect (ideology)

Malay muslim: "Malay" does not tell you the ideology or practice of the person, rather origin hence "malay" would not be a sect.

NOTE: I completely discourage sects, hence I am forced to add the repurcussions of being a part of any sect.

The arabic word for "sect" is "shia" شِيَعًا and is used in the quran as follows..

"As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects ("shiyaAAan"), thou hast no part in them in the least: their affair is with Allah..." [6:159]

"sunni" implies "shiya un sunnah".

"shia" implies "shiya un ali"

Under Islam both would be considered wrong.

What really happens when you divide into sects?

Have you ever wondered why youths are so confused about Islam? One of the reasons is that they see so many sects. In the verse below Quran talks about those who inherited the scripture after having sects are always in doubts.

"And they did not become divided until after knowledge had come to them - out of jealous animosity between themselves. And if not for a word that preceded from your Lord [postponing the penalty] until a specified time, it would have been concluded between them. And indeed, those who were granted inheritance of the Scripture after them are, concerning it, in disquieting doubt ". [42:14]

  • 2
    do you have a references for the definition?
    – Kaveh
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 19:17
  • can you explain the origin of the definition?
    – Rafid
    Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 12:05

We can start to derive the definition of a sect from this ayah- (http://quran.com/23/53)

But the people divided their religion among them into sects - each faction, in what it has, rejoicing. (Surat Al-Mu'minūn, 23:53)

So, we can say from the ayah that a basic attribute of a sect is- the people of the sect is happy with what they have, in faith and actions. It can be little be extended like this- "Sects say that only their group is right and thus it's opinions are enough for themselves. And all other groups or sects are wrong- if it is not on all matter, at least on some basic matters.

So, sects claim only they are true Muslims or true believer and others are not. On contrary, difference of opinions among different scholars and schools of Fiqhs is like- "This is our view which is best according to our understanding. But that doesn't mean all others are wrong. Others can still be right on this matter and are overall on right track. And it does not mean following our opinion will make someone closer to Allah than the people not following it."

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