There are various schools of Islam including the main ones: Sunni, Shiism, Sufism, Wahhabism.

Which Islamic school should a non-Muslim convert to first?


7 Answers 7


My answer is a little different from the others, but maybe I can offer a useful perspective, as I myself am a very recent convert to Islam, and I had to deal with this exact same question. Almost all of the Muslims where I live are Sunni, but at the time I converted, I had a very close friend who was Shi'a, and who would have liked me to become a Shi'a too. So I found this a very difficult question to deal with.

The different sects and different schools have different rules for living. They pray slightly differently. There are slightly different rules about halal food. There are different rules about what behaviour is permissible. If you're going to be a Muslim, you'll need to know which rules to live by.

The Sheikh at one masjid (mosque) close to me told me that as soon as I convert, I should decide immediately whether to be Sunni or Shi'a. I told him that I didn't know enough about either sect to be able to choose between them. He told me that if I tried to hedge my bets between the different sects, I would become horribly confused trying to live an Islamic life, and would end up never knowing what I could and couldn't do. And, of course, he wanted me to be Sunni.

A few months later, I have to admit that he was right. It's very confusing to try and learn Islam from Sunnis and from Shi'as at the same time. Pick one and run with it. At the time that I converted, I was more comfortable with Sunniism, although I would find it hard to justify my reasons for feeling this way.

An important point to realise is that such a decision isn't irrevocable. If I decide in the future that the Shi'a view is correct, I can start doing things the Shi'a way. And if this doesn't work out for me, I can revert back to Sunni.

Converting to Islam is the most important step to take; and this will change your life like nothing else you've ever done. Once you have converted, you will have quite a learning curve to go through. As you learn more and more about Islam, you will have a better understanding of what the differences are between the sects and between the schools; and you will gain your own understanding of which is right for you.

But until that day, just pick a sect and follow their teachings. As other answerers have said, there is only Islam; and being Muslim at all is far more important than being one particular flavour of Muslim.

If you asked this question because you are thinking of converting, then I wish you luck. May Allah guide you to the truth. Also, if you want to discuss my experiences with me, comment on this answer and we can go to the chat room or something. I am happy to help you in any way that I can.

  • 4
    You are right that "... such a decision isn't irrevocable. If I decide in the future that the Shi'a view is correct, I can start doing things the Shi'a way. And if this doesn't work out for me, I can revert back to Sunni." but that's far away from being as easy as you think. Becoming Shia after being Sunni is like becoming Muslim after being a Christian, since denying the three first Caliph by a Sunni is as difficult as denying Paul by a Christian, and that you are then choosing to be part of the minority and it will not be very easy!
    – owari
    Dec 6, 2012 at 13:23

وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّـهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَـٰكِن يُضِلُّ مَن يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَلَتُسْأَلُنَّ عَمَّا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

And if Allah had willed, He could have made you [of] one religion, but He causes to stray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. And you will surely be questioned about what you used to do. [16:93]

I hope my answer will not be considered as effort on Sectarianism. Actually your question seems to me very important and fundamental, and answers to it can be very informative, so that even I have asked a question here that somewhat addresses a similar issue. Personally I was going to convert to a Sunni sect maybe a decade ago. I was extensively seeking for reasons why to believe in what. Then one day a very simple reasoning grabbed my attention and that was only a beginning for further studying religion. So I think this is also necessary for everyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, to think why I believe in what I believe? For my parents believing so? For the culture I have born in? Since most of the people believe in the same sets of beliefs? What if I was born or grown up in another family, culture, country, era? These all were my mind-consuming questions and might be questions for other as well and that's why I think your question can be so informative if answered reasonably for at least some people, if not everyone.

Indeed, according to Quran, everyone who does anything would be questioned about in the Judgment day ["... And you will surely be questioned about what you used to do"], so we should all have reasons for ourselves for what to believe, so to be able to walk on the firm ground rather than to walk suspectingly. What can be the source of such a confident? Parents?

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ اتَّبِعُوا مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ قَالُوا بَلْ نَتَّبِعُ مَا أَلْفَيْنَا عَلَيْهِ آبَاءَنَا أَوَلَوْ كَانَ آبَاؤُهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَهْتَدُونَ

When it is said to them: "Follow what Allah hath revealed:" They say: "Nay! we shall follow the ways of our fathers." What! even though their fathers Were void of wisdom and guidance? [2:170]

قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا أَهْوَاءَ قَوْمٍ قَدْ ضَلُّوا مِن قَبْلُ وَأَضَلُّوا كَثِيرًا وَضَلُّوا عَن سَوَاءِ السَّبِيلِ

Say: "O people of the Book! exceed not in your religion the bounds (of what is proper), trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by,- who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the even way. [5:77]

the majority of people?

وَلَقَدْ أَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ آيَاتٍ بَيِّنَاتٍ ۖ وَمَا يَكْفُرُ بِهَا إِلَّا الْفَاسِقُونَ / أَوَكُلَّمَا عَاهَدُوا عَهْدًا نَّبَذَهُ فَرِيقٌ مِّنْهُم ۚ بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ

And We have certainly revealed to you verses [which are] clear proofs, and no one would deny them except the defiantly disobedient. / Is it not [true] that every time they took a covenant a party of them threw it away? But, [in fact], most of them do not believe. [2:99,100]

وَإِن تُطِعْ أَكْثَرَ مَن فِي الْأَرْضِ يُضِلُّوكَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ ۚ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَخْرُصُونَ

And if you obey most of those upon the earth, they will mislead you from the way of Allah. They follow not except assumption, and they are not but falsifying. [6:116]

وَمَا يَتَّبِعُ أَكْثَرُهُمْ إِلَّا ظَنًّا ۚ إِنَّ الظَّنَّ لَا يُغْنِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ شَيْئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلِيمٌ بِمَا يَفْعَلُونَ

And most of them follow not except assumption. Indeed, assumption avails not against the truth at all. Indeed, Allah is Knowing of what they do. [10:36]

NO! But many times in Quran we are invited to think and reason. I rather like to suggest you a school and some reasons for that but I fear it be Sectarianism, so like @rowman suggested I invite you to study as much as you can about all the schools and conclude for yourself. Also you can search for some hints in Quran and Ahadeeth like the kind of which I have tried to address in this question.



As others have also mentioned all the Islamic sects, believe in Allah and the Prophet (pbuh). However there is a difference of opinion on various things. Between Shia and Sunni there is mainly a difference of opinion on the concept of Imamah. Among Sunni it is a matter of following one of the major four sects. Wahhabism is also a Sunni sect which in fact is a movement newly created as you can read here.

What I recommend you is to read some books but from different schools of thoughts and Scholars and then decide which one you find it more rational and authentic. This can be answered in another question. Just don't be overwhelmed with the information that you get from only one sect.

I am not going to advertise the sectarianism but the various Islamic schools of thought are different at the end of the day. This fact cannot be neglected in any way. One should strive to find the truth (although all the sects claim it).

Hope it helps,

  • +1 Very true. How people can pretend that Sunni is the same as Shia or Alawite is beyond me. It's like saying we are the same as the jews because we both believe in Moses.
    – Hanif
    Dec 4, 2012 at 11:59

I was born in a family which had strong influence of Sufism. With such a surrounding, I believed in some of the 'powers' of Sufis, like their souls listens to your prayers and can advocate to ALLAH for you even when they are dead. It was amazing that, some of my family members used to read Quran but did not read the translation in our native language. Therefore, they missed some straightforward guidance of holy Quran. Later on in my life (when I was 24/25), I started reading authentic translations of holy Quran. I was amazed by it's power and sophistication. Verses like this changed some of my old beliefs:

Say (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم): "Who is the Lord of the heavens and the earth?" Say: "(It is) Allah." Say: "Have you then taken (for worship) Auliya' (protectors) other than Him, such as have no power either for benefit or for harm to themselves?" Say: "Is the blind equal to the one who sees? Or darkness equal to light? Or do they assign to Allah partners who created the like of His creation, so that the creation (which they made and His creation) seemed alike to them?" Say: "Allah is the Creator of all things; and He is the One, the Irresistible." (Quran 13:16)

"Allah! There is no god but He,-the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory)" (Quran 2: 255)

There are people with exceedingly high moral who may have attained closeness to ALLAH and maybe their prayers have more weight when they are alive. Maybe they can be called Sufis. However, a dead soul (or even a living soul) cannot advocate for someone without the permission of ALLAH (Quran 2:255).

What disturbs me about Shia view is their too strong belief in the Imams. Even they consider their Imams to be Sinless and perfect [http://www.shia.org/fundamental.html]. Islam is a strictly monotheistic religion where only ALLAH is perfect. Such attributes given to Imams undermine Islam's strictly monotheistic belief. Therefore, personally, I feel at ease with the teachings of Quran and Sunnah (the authentic narrations of prophet's (pbuh) life) and I would recommend reverts/converts to follow these two sources of guidance (primarily Quran and then Sunnah).

  • 2
    Being sinless is equal to being God? No! A person can be a perfect human but a perfect human is still a created human and not a god or the God! If you have questions from Shia Muslims you can ask them in this website or elsewhere but they worship a single God who is perfect and no one, absolutely no one, neither the holy prophet peace be upon him and his household or the Imams peace be upon them, can do anything until He allows. Also martyrs are not dead according to Quran if you mention although even dead person are alive in Barzakh and can ask Allah for their children's forgiveness and etc.
    – owari
    Dec 6, 2012 at 17:22

I would not want to give a politically-correct answer to this question. Rather I will use a different approach.

If you are a Muslim, answer y/n to the list below with what you agree.

  1. Do you agree that there is no god except Allah?
  2. Do you agree that Muhammad (SAWS) is the final Messenger of Allah?
  3. Do you agree to Allah's promise in the Holy Qur'an that He will preserve the Qur'an for our guidance till the end (HQ 15:9)?
  4. Do you agree that the Qur'an that we have in our hands today is the same book that was revealed word-for-word and syllable-for-syllable to Muhammad (SAWS)?
  5. Do you agree that the best person to understand the Qur'an and implement it in his life is the Messenger (SAWS) himself?
  6. Do you agree that the best people to have understood the Qur'an as students of the Messenger (SAWS) himself were his companions (the Sahaabah)?
  7. Do you then agree (logically following from points 5 and 6 above if you answered Y to them) that the best of people to understand the Qur'an were the Messenger (SAWS) and his companions (RA) and of course, their students, the tabieen? In everyday parlance, we refer to the companions and their students as the salaf-us-saliheen or the pious predecessors. They are the best of people and the Messenger (SAWS) also commends them as the best of people in this ummah.
  8. Do you then agree that the words and the actions of the Messenger (SAWS) known as the Sunnah are the best to emulate if a person would want eternal salvation; and any religious practice that deviates from the Sunnah is to be shunned since it leads to the fire of Hell? (There are words by the Messenger to this effect.)
  9. Finally, do you then agree that Revelation is not just of the Qur'an but also includes the words and deeds of the Messenger (SAWS), since they too are part of the Religion? And the Sahaabah are the most trusted people to transmit these to us. Do you also agree that we owe a debt of gratitude to the Sahaabah for being the sole link between us and the Messenger (SAWS) and what was revealed to him?

If you agree to all of these, congratulations! Just read the Holy Qur'an and follow the Sunnah of the Messenger (SAWS) as found in the valid books of the hadeeth, and you will in sha Allah be on the right path. And yes, don't bother with the labels that people will accord upon you. Just ignore them.

The moment you agree to follow the Messenger (SAWS) and his Companions (RA), you become a part of the jama'ah, and this jama'ah is not restricted by space or time. Even if you are the only person in the entire world who believes in faithfully following this blessed group and the entire world is against you, know that you are in jama'ah and they are not.

  • Welcome. Please beware that point 6 & 7 just applies to your own sect.
    – rowman
    Dec 6, 2012 at 10:51
  • 2
    As @rowman has already mentioned the answer to your 6th and 7th question depends. Maybe Sunni brother would simply answer yes, but according to Quran there were a number of hypocrites in the companions of the holy prophet (that can fabricate Hadeeth after the prophet passed a way), so the answer to those questions is only conditionally yes, not all the companions but only some of them! And answering the question "which of them and why?" will make you either a "Sunni" or "Shia" Muslim! ;) Anyway, welcome to the Islam.SE.
    – owari
    Dec 6, 2012 at 11:17
  • But this is precisely what I'm talking about. You've given a list of 9 questions, whereas I'm under the impression that 1. and 2. are the main ones. Dec 7, 2012 at 0:21
  • @Larry, Islam is not just a theoretical concept, it is also a practical religion with well-defined methods of worship. These acts of worship extend right from the utterance of the shahaadah (No god except Allah, and Muhammed (SWAS) is His Messenger) to prayers and other forms of worship. Since Islam, as brought by the last Messenger (SAWS), is meant for the guidance of humanity till the last day, Allah will not leave us humans in the lurch. It is His promise that He will preserve His religion for us.
    – Najeeb
    Dec 7, 2012 at 4:54
  • 3
    owari, the hypocrites mentioned in the Qur'an are very well-known and documented, and they are not referred to as companions. Anyway, I don't want this thread to degenerate, so let's desist here. rowman, thanks for the answer; @Larry, that should be a hint for you. Use your head and listen to your heart and do not be swayed by reactionary ideologies. Islam came for humanity's redemption and it is incumbent upon every Muslim to spread it. Anything that deviates from this main message to other non-issues is actually hurting not just Islam but also humanity as a whole.
    – Najeeb
    Dec 7, 2012 at 5:21

Sunni, Shiite, Sufi ... etc. These are all simply labels created after the fact. There is only Islam. When you convert (or revert, which is more in vogue these days) you convert to Islam. Period. You testify that you believe that Allah is the one and only god, and that He has sent the Prophet Mohammad as a messenger with Islam as His message and Quran as His words.

Now, how you interpret that more definitely is really up to you. Listen to what various people and scholars have to say. Your interpretation may fall in line with one of the above labels, straddle two or more of them, or perhaps none of them. People from each label will claim that they are the owners of the "One and Correct Way" (as is natural), but in truth only Allah knows if the path we are taking is the most righteous one.

Part of the individual journey of faith each of us take is to try to figure out which way is the most correct way, and follow it. We will all commit mistakes along the way, but only Allah will judge us for those.


I am a Muslim, a Sunni one, but after that I don't know what sect or school I belong to, because I have been following only what has been written in Quran. The best would be to just be a Muslim, read the Quran in full, and then let your consciousness decide.

We can't say which one is good and which isn't.

Hoping to hear a lot of negative comments on this one now :)


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