How did Islam remain so united?

Here’s where I’m coming from: Christianity has not remained very united at all. In 1054, the faith split in half between Catholicism in the west and Orthodoxy in the east. Then between the years 1378 and 1417 the Catholic Faith suffered The Western Schism when multiple people claimed to be Pope; fortunately, as there can be only one, a council ended this schism. But later, in the 1500s, The Protestant Reformation and the many other reformations that followed split Christianity further and further until the Church was anything but universal.

By comparison, the only real split Islam had was between Shiite and Sunni. This can hardly be called a split, as around 90% of Muslims are Sunni and the differences between the two groups are pretty minor.

How has The Muslim World managed to avoid the fractious reformations and schisms that caused so much disunity in Christendom?

Well, it certainly hasn’t had anything like apostolic succession or a united hierarchy. Much like Judaism, there is no global center for leadership, and everything is kind of broken off to wherever people happen to be when it comes to local authority.

Also, I would argue that the differences between Sunni and Shia are pretty major. They both have the same Koran, but (again comparing to Judaism) there are other sets of teachings roughly comparable in importance and authority to that of the Talmud, however there are large bodies of teachings recognized by one group and completely rejected by the other. More to the point, the content of these disputed teachings has much to do with eschatology, the Messiah, and the role that Muslims play in getting from A to B. Very important stuff, certainly far more serious differences than many of the heresies dealt with in the early church.

There really is quite a bit of variety within Islam, although admittedly it is (overall) the most monolithic of the major world religions. I would say that’s mostly because Islam has a history of pretty vicious coercion, especially when it comes to regulating the beliefs and practices of those who are born into Islam. If anyone wants to go do something different, they are not just cast out of Islam- they are forcibly silenced, prevented from infecting anyone else with their errors, or just killed. And in most of the majority-Muslim countries in the world today, that type of coercion continues to happen big time. There is quite a bit of variance from country to country when it comes to public opinion about Sharia law as it relates to non-Muslims, but there is always some degree of coercion when it comes to those who were born into Islam.

Catholicism used to be just like that. Basically exactly like that, the era of Christendom can easily be described as Christianity’s version of Sharia law, and the coercive behavior was present in different amounts at different times, depending on who was in charge and what was going on. Of course, Islam has done all of this without a global hierarchy and they’ve even done it without any concept of divine tradition or divine teaching authority. A mullah is not at all like a priest or a bishop, a mullah is exactly like Islam’s version of a Protestant minister who might be really smart, maybe not, and might have gone to some really good schools, but then again maybe not. Except in Islam there is nothing like a priest or a bishop to compare him to, they are nowhere to be found. (Edit- except in Christianity, of course. What I am saying is that this concept does not exist within Islam. Just imagine if the entire concept of sacerdotalism was absent from the entire Christian religion. And oh how disunited that would be, except maybe not as we can see with Islam).

I do think that as you look into this a bit more, you’ll see that there is more fracturing within Islam than you are initially giving it credit for. But I do agree that it’s been held in check to a greater extent than in Christianity- and that is mostly because the Reformers didn’t let the Catholics get away with violence and coercion to the extent that they would have liked…the Enlightenment was a major thing that never really happened in the Muslim world, that’s certainly worth mentioning…and Islam continues to have Sharia law, it continues to coerce where it can and that happens to affect the vast majority of Muslims in the world today.

If the Reformation had failed, if the CC had been successful in making Protestantism illegal and then enforcing those laws effectively, if major aspects of the Enlightenment were stricken from the historical record, Christianity would probably be at about the same level. And that would be a terrible thing, if you ask me. Freedom is a valuable thing, and unity is less than worthless if it’s achieved through coercive means. And that is exactly what the Catholic Church was trying to achieve in its fight against Protestantism.

I do have a question of my own that I’d like to counter with, though. How does the unity of Islam compare to the unity of specifically Orthodox Christianity? If you exclude the Catholic Church and its Protestant issues, and if you minimize the importance of the Schism in the same way that you’ve minimized the Sunni-Shia rift- what sort of comparison are we making if we’re looking at Islam alongside Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, taken together? And a follow-up: What if we just compare Sunni Islam to Eastern Orthodoxy? How do you suppose that comparison would go?

Please keep in mind that Sunni Islam does not have a teaching hierarchy- rather, what happens is a regular gathering of all the most prominent religious Sunni leaders and there, they talk about what they can all agree on and what they can’t all agree on. They make an effort to agree on as much as they can, and they hope to influence each other in a way that they can achieve a little bit more consensus each time they get together. So that’s their process, and assessing just how much all these Sunni leaders agree with each other is a pretty complex matter that can’t be easily summarized in a sentence or two. Within Sunni Islam, there is of course much that is pretty monolithic but there are also a bunch of recurring issues on which common ground and consensus is very difficult.

But it’s easy for this to fly beneath the Christian radar, especially if it’s news to you that they meet like this and go through that process at all. And for what it’s worth, Evangelical Protestants have a similar process of seeking consensus but Catholics give us zero credit for having any real unity with one another. Yet here you go talking about Sunni Islam, and despite these striking similarities in teaching authority and the process of achieving consensus, you’re giving them all the credit in the world for having fantastic unity. The truth is more complicated in both cases, it lies somewhere in between.

Very simple, Christianity is from God so the devil is going after what hurts him and his agenda to bring souls to hell with him, Islam isnt so thats why it doesnt get attacked by the devil.

There are many, many different forms of Islam. They are also closely tied by powerful goverments that enforce the laws based on the sect of the one in power.

90% of them are able to convene and hammer out doctrine together on a regular basis, though, compared to 50% of Christianity. I believe that is the comparison that the OP is getting at. There is a key distinction between Sunni unity and Catholic unity, though, apples and oranges is an overused term but this really is that. So I’m also kind of agreeing with you.

so where do the extremists come from who believe in terrorism to get the result they want? I wouldn’t call them united?

Islam is not at all united and Sunni Islam and Shi’i Islam are not two united groups. Nor are the differences between Sunni Muslims and Shi’i Muslims “pretty minor.” There is even a famous saying (hadith) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad: “My community (ummah) will be divided into seventy three sects. All of them will be in Hell Fire except one?”

Among Shi’i Muslims there are Twelver Shi’is, Zaydi Shi’is, and Ismailis. Among Sunnis there are four different madhhabs or “schools of law,” the Hanbalis, Shafi’is, Malikis and Hanafis. And there is no central authority in Sunni Islam especially that can define orthodoxy or heterodoxy. The differences between Shi’is and Sunnis are pretty major and some of the differences in the Sunni madhhabs are minor but not all of them.

There are offshoots of Islam like the Ahmadis in Pakistan, the Alawis in Syria, the Druze, and even the Baha’is.

Isn’t there also a sufi Islam or something like that?

The apparent unity in Islam is somewhat of a mirage, as there are divisions within it, which like those in Christendom, sometimes fail to get along.

The third bloodiest war of the 1900s was fought in the 1980s between Muslim Iran and Muslim Iraq.


My Muslim friend has told me that there are different sects of Muslims. I once asked why Muslims visit Our Lady of Fatima and she was quite confused since that was not done by her sect.

Sufi Islam is just the mystical dimension of Islam just as there is a mystical dimension of Catholicism in the writings of Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, St. John of the Cross, and Thomas Merton.

I think that the meteoric rise of Islam and its relative historical stability, is due (at least in part) to the simple rules of faith that every person can easily memorize and incorporate into his or her daily life: declaration of faith, daily prayer, alms, fasting, and pilgrimage. They are easy, simple, sacrificial, and largely communal.

There is no Muslim Martin Luther, no Reformist Mosques, and I’m pretty sure there was never a Muslim King who founded his own sect so as to marry whoever he wanted (cough, Henry VIIIth cough).

But anyway, I would like to hear an answer from an actual Muslim person at some point.


Are you sure about that? :slight_smile:

At first, the devout Muslims who gathered in a Washington, D.C., conference center seemed like they could have come from any mosque. There were women in headscarves and bearded men who quoted the Quran.

But something was different. While mingling over hors d’oeuvres, they discussed how to change Islam’s future. A woman spoke about fighting terrorism; she had married outside the Islamic faith, which is forbidden for a Muslim woman. A Pakistani man mentioned his plans to meet friends for drinks, despite the faith’s ban on alcohol.

In a corner of the room, an imam in a long gray tunic counseled a young Muslim with a vexing spiritual conflict: being gay and Muslim. The imam, also gay and in a relationship, could easily sympathize with the youth’s difficulties.

On this brisk Monday night in late October, members of Muslims for Progressive Values, a nascent American reformist organization, had gathered from around the country to celebrate a milestone: In four years, the group had grown from a few friends to a thousand members and spawned a string of small mosques and spiritual groups that stretched from Atlanta to Los Angeles.

there is a simple prayer to say to become a Muslim.
No baptism, confirmation, RCIA, however they do believe it is best to read the Koran in Arabic rather than a translation into English or another language.

It’s not so much a prayer but a statement of faith or creed (shahada): “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

In my view Islam is not that united… but what unity they have could be attributed to the Qur’an… Observing the five pillars of Islam including pilgrimage and Zakat… The Caliphate up until the early 1920’s help provide unity among Sunnis…

A brief summary of the various branches of Islam can be found here:

Islamic unity has been tested more than a few times historically… Sadly Muslims have killed Muslim.

The split between Shiah and Sunni was early and a very decisive serious division that continues to this day. The differences are not so “minor” as you suggest.

right. instead of God they use Allah correct?

If you say it in Arabic, but Allah is just the Arabic word for God. Even Arabic speaking Christians call God “Allah”.

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