Islam for Dummies

Islam has a number of different sects so not all followers of Islam are the same. The difference can be so marked that some Muslims consider other Muslims to be Kafirs (non-believers).

This makes it problematic for those of us who are strongly opposed to the ideology of Islam because if we say Islam represents “this view” an apologist can bring up a small sect that doesn’t. I oppose Islam because of barbaric Sharia Law and because of the lack of equal rights for women, the acceptance of paedophilia (child marriage) and the hostility and intolerance towards gays, infidels and Jews. Finally, I oppose Islam because its main goal is world peace. Peace according to Islam can only be achieved when everyone is Muslim.

I decided to do some research to find out about all the different sects. I wanted to find out if the issues that concern me about Islam are limited to only a small percentage of Muslims or whether they represented a majority view.

Islam branches and schools

Islam branches and schools

In the beginning Islam was divided into three major sects. These political divisions are well known as Sunni, Shi’a and Kharijites


The first thing I looked at was percentages. I wanted to know what percentage of the total Muslim population followed each of the branches at the top of the chart in order to decide which ones to research in more detail. I went to an Islamic site to find out.

Many people mistakenly think that Muslims are divided into two halves: Sunnis and Shi’it. In reality Shia are between 7.5% to 11%. All the rest (93.5%) are Sunnis

The majority of Muslims are Sunnis – estimates suggest the figure is somewhere between 85% and 90%.

After reading that I realised that I no longer needed to look into the differences between the branches as it is clear that the Sunni branch is followed by the majority of Muslims around the world.

The word Sunni comes from the word sunnah, which means the teachings and actions or examples of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. Therefore, the term “Sunni” refers to those who follow or maintain the sunnah of Muhammad. In many countries, overwhelming majorities of Muslims are Sunnis, so that they simply refer to themselves as “Muslims” and do not use the Sunni label.


As shown on the chart there are four schools of law followed by the Sunni majority.

…these schools represent clearly spelled out methodologies for interpreting Islamic law

…Many traditional scholars saw Sunni Islam in two groups: Ahl al-Ra’i, or “people of reason,” due to their emphasis on scholarly judgment and discourse; and Ahl al-Hadith, or “people of traditions,” due to their emphasis on restricting juristic thought to only what is found in scripture.


Let’s compare the legal view of the ” people of reason” with the view of the ” people of traditions ” as Islamic/Sharia Law is one of the things I most object to about Islam.


Sunni Islam Group ONE:

People of Traditions (Ahl al-Hadith)

… “The people of hadith” or “People of the traditions (of the Prophet)”…is a name given to various Islamic conservative traditionalists, and refers to the adherent’s belief that they …consider themselves free to seek guidance in matters of religious faith and practices from the authentic hadith which, together with the Qur’an, are in their view the principal worthy guide for Muslim. The Ahl-e-Hadith movement is often described as being synonymous with Salafism

…The Salafi movement or Salafist movement is an ultra-conservative reform movement within Sunni Islam that references the doctrine known as Salafism. The doctrine can be summed up as taking “a fundamentalist approach to Islam, emulating the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers—al-salaf al-salih, the ‘pious forefathers’…They reject religious innovation, or bid’ah, and support the implementation of sharia (Islamic law).”[3] The movement is often divided into three categories: the largest group are the purists (or quietists), who avoid politics; the second largest group are the activists, who get involved in politics; the smallest group are the jihadists

…Salafism has become associated with literalist, strict and puritanical approaches to Islam and – particularly in the West – with the Salafi jihadists, who espouse offensive jihad as a legitimate expression of Islam against those they deem to be enemies of Islam.


There are also several fundamentalist movements in Sunni Islam, which reject and sometimes even persecute liberal Muslims for attempting to compromise traditional Muslim values. The Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami organizations are fundamentalist Islamic groups that have given rise to offshoot groups like Hamas who wish to destroy secular Islam and Western society through terrorism to bring back to the world a period of religious Muslim rule.

After reading this it is clear that the People of  Traditions (Ahl al-Hadith) are the fundamentalist, puritanical, literalist and ultra-conservative side of the majority Sunni branch of Islam. When we talk about extremists we’re talking about fundamentalists. It is fair to say that Islamic terrorists are fundamentalists.

Sunni Islam Group TWO:

People of Reason :(Ahl al-Ra’i) literally “the people of rhetorical theology”

Many traditional scholars saw Sunni Islam in two groups: Ahl al-Ra’i, or “people of reason,” due to their emphasis on scholarly judgment and discourse…

…there are several rifts within the Sunni community. There are some liberal and more secular movements in Sunni Islam that say that Shari’a is interpreted on an individual basis, and that reject any fatwa or religious edict by religious Muslim authority figures.

After reading this I can see that so called “moderate Muslims” are more likely to belong to this group of Sunni Islam. The words liberal and secular sound a lot less threatening. These appear to be Muslims who may choose to make up their own minds about how Islamic law should be interpreted, rather than blindly following authoritarian Imans who issue fatwas.

Islamic law also known as Sharia law is pretty brutal even if you choose to interpret it liberally.  An atheist ex-Muslim and human rights activist in Britain has written an excellent article about Sharia law that you can read here.

In her opinion Sharia Law has no place in Britain because:

One: Women
Sharia discriminates against women (and Muslim women specifically): compared to feminist victories elsewhere, women are still not considered equal in most Islamic settings…

Two: Children

Sharia discriminates against children. Not only does it affect children when they are young, but the implications will last their entire life. Top of the list is child marriage…

Three: Homosexuals
Sharia discriminates against homosexuals.

Four: Non-Muslims
Sharia discriminates against non-Muslims, including other sects within Islam such as Bahia’s, Ahmadia’s, and Shia if under Sunni ruling government or the reverse. Under Sharia law, no one is allowed to force someone to convert to Islam, however, someone who is born into an Islamic family will grow up with extreme social pressure from their family. If this person wishes to convert to another religion or be an atheist, they are often considered an apostate, which can be punishable by death…

Five: Non-Believers and Atheists
Sharia discriminates against non-believers, atheists and apostates.

She refers to the second group of Sunni Muslims the People of Reason (Ahl al-Ra’i) when she says:

…I stand, indeed, for human rights in order to support equal rights for all citizens despite our gender, age, sexuality, religion or ethnicity.

I believe this is everyone’s battle, including progressive, secular and liberal Muslims. The right to live, think and express freely your opinions is one of the great achievements of human civilization.

In conclusion the Islam that represents the majority of Muslims around the world is Sunni Islam. Within the Sunni branch of Islam we have two groups. One group is a fundamentalist group and one is a more liberal and secular group. Both groups follow Sharia law though the secular group may interpret it more liberally. 

Sharia law even in a liberal form discriminates against women, children, homosexuals, non-Muslims and non-believers.

I hope you found my dumbed down and simplified investigation into what Islam actually represents useful. Perhaps you can use this knowledge in the future to counter the next person who gives you an example of a sect that only represents a tiny percentage of the world’s Muslim population.

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If you agree with me that’s nice, but what I really want to achieve is to make you question the status quo, look between the lines and do your own research. Do not be a passive observer in this game we call life.

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