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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  • oldmanNZ

    ahh, I see how Muslim is a religion of Peace..
    ” Peace according to Islam can only be achieved when everyone is Muslim.”

    Peace in Muslim means, ” “Whoever is not with us is against us””

    which is similar to:
    quote to Jesus of Nazareth: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters”

    • spanishbride

      Fair enough but I was really pointing out that our SECULAR definition of what peace is does not match what the word means in Islam. The same problem occurs with the word “innocents.” To us being against the slaughter of innocents means being against the slaughter of civilians ie non combatants. In Islam ONLY Muslim lives are considered innocent so non believers like us being slaughtered are not considered innocents.

      • Maria

        The secular definition of peace? Innocents? These are liable to arbitrary interpretations. But the common understanding is informed by Judeo-Christian notions on the dignity of the human person and the universality of that dignity…because of our createdness and our transcendent absolute reality.
        When the God of faith AND reason is obliterated from the discussion we get all sorts of problems. Amongst this also is the human fallen propensity to prefer power for his or herself. Like Satan, people prefer not to bend the knee.

      • Andy

        That’s why we do not have to listen to it. It’s basically abuse.

    • kereru

      Sorry, oldmanNZ, at the risk of sounding like a Muslim apologist, cherry picking verses from the Bible does not give a true understanding of what this text is all about. It is part of a narrative where Jesus was addressing the Pharisees (religious elite) and those who, recognising His supernatural power, attributed it not to God but to Satan. The only harsh words He ever spoke were addressed to these proud hypocrites. Here is the context:

      The encounter arose out of an exorcism which led the more neutral onlookers to suggest that Jesus was the Son of David, the Messiah, working by the power of God. As the Pharisees had already rejected that they found another reason – that Jesus had collaborated with Satan. There was, therefore a radical division between those who recognised God at work and were with me, and those attributing God’s work to Satan, thus proving themselves to be against me. Please note, Jesus was speaking not of a temporary lapse, but of a settled decision to oppose the work of God. By this they were in danger of putting themselves outside the scope of forgiveness.

      By the way, the Koran contains no narratives.

  • Gazza

    Great explanation and detail SB, thanks. Based on your research (not sure if this was included) were you able to determine the type and % of Islam groups here in NZ?

    • spanishbride

      I haven’t gone that far yet but I will certainly look into it if I can. I don’t know if the statistics are available. As far as I know the stats will tell us which percentage of christians are Catholic for example but I suspect all Muslims are labelled Muslim rather than broken down into the many, many different sects. If anyone can help and knows where to get that info please let me know.

      • spanishbride

        Muslims already outnumber Jews in New Zealand and will soon outnumber (according to this 2013 census chart ) Maori Christians and Buddhists. On the bright side even though I am not Christian anymore I can see that it is still accurate that NZ is a majority Christian country, although no religion is in second place. If we put the no religion and Christian numbers together we have a strong counter to Islam but only if we speak up when Muslims demand that our Kiwi culture changes to suit theirs.

        • Gazza

          Thanks SB….this has become a very interesting subject to me and my family and I follow it closely both here in NZ and overseas (Europe) as I am sure a great deal of other WO followers do. Interesting news yesterday of the Egyptian Imams coming to NZ is a case in point….they have not done such a great job at home so what is their intent here!

        • kereru

          ‘Muslims already outnumber Jews in New Zealand and will soon outnumber (according to this 2013 census chart ) Maori Christians and Buddhists.’

          I believe you can add Hindus and Sikhs to your opposition group. Hindus have suffered from Muslim persecution for hundreds of years – that’s why Pakistan and Bangladesh exist. They used to be West Bengal and East Bengal respectively, and part of India, but Muslims don’t seem to be able to co-exist with anybody – not even with those from different branches of their own theocratic ideology.

  • rua kenana

    Is it better to go along with the (unique to?) Shariah idea that apostasy should be punished by beheading and that (for that individual) is the end of it?
    Or should one prefer the not uncommon Christian view that apostasy is punished by the fires of eternal damnation that continue forever even after the individual’s death?
    Personally I prefer to believe in more comforting beliefs.
    The long-extinct Manichaean religion (for instance) at least had tolerably coherent doctrines, Christianity doesn’t, and neither does it seem do the various Islamic versions.

    However thanks for the good research and discussion on the divisions of Islam. What we need next is clarity on which, if any, we should ever allow into this country.

  • Mick Ie

    Whether Sunni or Shia Muslims, both believe Mohammed was their Prophet and follow the Quran although they may have slightly different viewpoint on how they interpret Sharia Law. Therefore, a people whose religion is based on a political ideology will not assimilate in any Western country and will not accept their laws. Any politician or bleeding heart that thinks otherwise needs to look at seeking alternate employment.

  • duve

    This is a very complex subject. Where does Wahhabism fit in? I gather that they are a offshoot of the Sunni, and part of the fundamentalist group that call themselves Salafi.
    The question regarding the type and % of Islam groups her in NZ is very pertinent. The Egyptians sending imams here is in my view more likely to create schisms among our muslim population, than prevent radicalisation.

    • spanishbride

      I left out Wahhabism to keep it simple. Long story short they are not secular or liberal.In fact the word Wahhabism means fundamentalism.I looked just now and found out that the majority of New Zealands Muslims are Sunni.

      ‘…there are now several mosques and two Islamic schools. The majority of the Muslims are Sunni, with a large minority Shia and some Ahmadi Muslims, who run the largest mosque in the country.[1]’

      • spanishbride

        This photo may provide the reason why the Ahmadi Muslims are not considered true Muslims by the Majority Sunni Muslims.

      • duve

        I wonder if there has been any investigation into this aspect by NZ immigration? We don’t need the introduction muslim sectarian squabbles into our society.

      • Maria

        Good point. The Ahmadi are persecuted and they are welcome here. They would never accept a Sunni Imam from Egypt.

      • kereru

        I’m wondering on what basis these imams were allowed to enter NZ. I think we need some answers. I do not believe their spiel for one minute, and coming from Al-Azhar only adds to the suspicion that something’s up.

    • kereru

      Didn’t the Saudi Wahhabists fund (or try to fund) the Christchurch mosque? I seem to remember some disputes there about their unwanted influence.

  • Her Shadow

    Cheers for the overview, I know many will find this info helpful. I am curious as to how this fits in with the demographics of the trustees behind the Religious Diversity Trust, who have set up the Religious Diversity Centre launched by Clark last week. The stated aim of this trust is to advocate “religious diversity”, along with “appropriate educational engagement”, among other “resources” it aims to provide provide, including specialist advice to policy-makers and the media, and offering religious diversity training for companies, agencies, unions, media and others. These are the organisations we must guard against, this is the way that Islam rolls, slowly at first then push, push, push for more acceptance of Sharia law. Islam is insidious, relentless and ultimately ruthless in its quest to achieve its goals. The Religious Diversity Trust and its bastard offspring definitely needs to have more public exposure as to its true intent and purpose.

  • contractor

    SB thanks for detailed explanations, very good, and timely. It will be very interesting to see how the Egyptian “teaching” of our local variants of Islam unfolds.

    • rexabus

      Amen. Keep up the important work whaleoil. Personally, I don’t want to go back to the dark ages. I’m not seeing a way to do much about this at the moment other than spreading the information. Hopefully it’ll bear some fruit.

  • Andy

    Once a muslim, always a muslim.