by Pastor Gordon Brubaker

Christ Meeting the World

"Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them,
for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you."

1 Timothy 4:16


Serious Study Home / Community Door / Christianity and Islam Home Page

A Study of Conflicting Beliefs

Session Nine - January 15, 2003
"Why is Christianity splintered and Islam so United?"


Over the last 2000 years many "sects" (denominations) of Christianity have appeared. The critics of Christianity say that we are splintered. I believe a closer look at the divisions within Christendom, however, are not as much theological as they are political.

The Protestant reformation of 1517, starting with Martin Luther’s "95 Thesis." was over Vatican politics not theology! Every Christian "sect" (denomination) accepts the original documents of the early church! These have never been in question for 2000 years.

Church splits have occurred over:

  • political systems (episcopal, congregational, independent);
  • worship expressions (language of the church, i.e. Latin or a native language, music, i.e. instruments in church or not, etc.);
  • physical structures (stain glass, etc.);
  • outward expressions (camp meetings, holiness movement, social gospel, etc.)

But there is an undisturbed unity of historical Christianity based upon the great creeds of the faith:

  • The Holy Bible;
  • The Apostles’ Creed;
  • Nicene Creed
  • Basic Christian Dogma has not altered since the beginning


"For fifty years, Western politicians have depended upon the supposedly moderate Muslims, Sunnis, to help stabilize Islam’s radical fringe, the Shi’ites. Now a most remarkable shift has taken place. Usamah Bin Ladin was a Sunnie Muslim, but he drew followers from across sectarian lines, and the demarcation between the various groups within Islam is no longer pronounced." Unveiling Islam, page 162.

It is sin for a Muslim to kill another Muslim. Yet it happens all the time. Look at Iraq. Saddam Hussain has attacked and murdered Muslims that live in Iran, and vice versa. The Kurds that he killed were also Muslims. Islamic extremists have assassinated Egypt’s Leader Anwar El-Sadat in 1981.

Remember to be a true Muslim is not based on what you believe, but your actions. Thus, to many Devout Muslims, those who do not follow their practice are not true Muslims and enemies of Islam! Thus the Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shaw of Iran because he did not follow the "true" practice of Islam. Anyone who makes peace with an enemy or befriends an enemy, one who is not a Muslim, is deserving of death for they have betrayed Allah.

Sunnies - middle of the road

Sunnies are the mainstream of Islam. Following the death of Muhammad, they purposed that the successor should be elected from among the people. The Shi’ites supported the blood line of succession directly from Muhammad. Among the Sunnis , the community became the final resource for law and ethics. Unveiling Islam, page 163.

The term sunna, by which the Sunnites refer to themselves ("people of the sunna"), probably means "middle of the road" (as opposed to the peripheral ways taken by sectarians).

BELIEFS formed toward the end of the 10th century:

  • The Sunnites' inclusive definition of a Muslim, for instance, was conceived in reaction to the narrow extremism of the Kharijites.
  • Strong emphasis on God's power, will, and determination of human fate developed in reaction to the Mutazilite insistence on the absolute freedom of the human will.
  • In the early 10th Century the philosopher al-Ashari and his followers, denied the freedom of the human will, regarding the concept as incompatible with God's absolute power and will. They also denied that natural human reason can lead to a knowledge of good and evil. Moral truths are established by God and can be known only through revelation.
  • The Sunnite tendency having been to accommodate minor differences of opinion and to affirm the consensus of the community in doctrinal matters. Four schools of law also developed in the Sunnite tradition: the Shafi'i, the Hanafi, the Maliki, and the Hanbali.

Shi’ites - partisans

Shi’ites (Arabic, "partisans"), the only surviving major sectarian movement in Islam. The Shi’ites, in contrast to the orthodox Sunnites, emphasize esoteric knowledge rather than the consensus of the community. "Islam," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


  • After the assassination of the fourth caliph, Ali, in 661, the Shi’ites (partisans of Ali) were those Muslims claiming that it had been Ali's right to succeed Muhammad directly and that the previous caliphs had therefore been usurpers. This doctrine, known as legitimism, was rejected by the majority of the Muslim community, who came to be known as Sunnites.
  • The imam. Believe a doctrine of the infallibility, sinlessness, and divine right to authority of the descendants of Ali, whom they called imams. Believed to be a fully spiritual guide, inheriting some of Muhammad’s inspiration, and not merely a contractually elected administrator like the Sunni caliph. In Shi’ite Islam, the imam was believed to be an inerrant interpreter of law and tradition, Unveiling Islam, page 164.
  • The last imam disappeared in 880, and Shi’ites to this day await his return, when they believe that justice will be established on earth. Until that time even the best ruler is only half legitimate.
  • During the early centuries of Islam, the Shi’ites, politically defeated and persecuted, became an underground movement and adopted the principles of taqwa (which in this case means "dissimulation of faith") and of an esoteric interpretation of the Koran. Thus, Shi’ites believe that beneath the explicit and literal meaning of the Koran are other levels of meaning, which are known only to the imam, who can reveal them to chosen followers.
  • The Shi’ite community insists on the shari’a as a governmental absolute. In countries where Shi’ite Islam holds sway, theocracy (rule of god) is seen as the best option to rule and live. Laws are determined by the Qur’an and the hadith, Unveiling Islam, page 164-165.
  • An emphasis upon martyrdom and suffering, Unveiling Islam, page 164.
  • Shi’ites pay the tax called zakat (originally levied by Muhammad to help the poor and later levied by Muslim states) to their religious leaders rather than to state authorities, as they did before achieving political power (for instance, in Iran in the 15th century). As a result, many Shiite leaders in Iran and Iraq have immense wealth and property.

During the 10th and 11th centuries, Shia Islam had a large following throughout the Middle East, but the spread of the popular mystical movement known as Sufism seems to have greatly diminished its strength. Today Shi’ites are in the majority in Iran, and large numbers are found in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, and parts of Central Asia. Their total number exceeds 165 million. In recent years several Shiite leaders, including the Iranian political leader the Ayatollah Khomeini, advocated rapprochement and solidarity with Sunni Islam. "Shi’ites," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Sufism - Islamic mysticism

Sufism was born out of small groups of pious Muslims who, reacting against the growing worldliness of the Islamic community, began to emphasize the inner life of the spirit and moral purification. Sufism developed into a mystical doctrine, with direct communion or even ecstatic union with God as its ideal.

Sufis based their teachings on the simplicity of lifestyle of Muhammad and the first caliphs, as well as the rejection of wealth. Sufism appealed to countries where Buddhism and Hinduism were strong, Unveiling Islam, page 165.

The term sufi (Arabic, "man of wool") was adopted of the sufi mystic who claimed to have methods of finding mystic knowledge of God, or Allah. The Sufi mystic, described as a pilgrim on a journey, follows a path of seven stages: repentance, abstinence, renunciation, poverty, patience, trust in God, and acquiescence to the will of God. Then, with the grace of God, a higher level of consciousness is attained, in which knowledge, the knower, and the known are realized as one.

Eventually, formal pantheistic doctrines emerged; statements that the universe and God are actually one further outraged the orthodox, who believed that God, as creator of the world, transcends it. In addition, although most early Sufis conscientiously observed the religious law, some scorned it outright, proclaiming their inner light a sufficient source of religious guidance.

In the late 11th and early 12th centuries, the Islamic philosopher and theologian al-Ghazali finally reconciled the orthodox to mysticism. He de-emphasized the pantheistic aspects of Sufism, maintaining, on the one hand, that the individual should strive to attain the Divine Presence, but, on the other hand, that the good Sufi must live in peace with the rest of the community. His interpretation of Islam, which stressed the personal, emotional relationship of the individual to God, was accepted by the Islamic community within a century after his death. Sufism then became a vital force, winning over many more people, especially in western Asia, to orthodox Islam.

Fakir (Arabic faqir,"poor man"), is a term used to describe a member of any of the Muslim mendicant (beggar, one dependent on alms) orders and, by extension, a member of one of the mendicant Hindu orders of India. As applied specifically to Muslim devotees, the term is used synonymously with dervish. Many fakirs pass their lives as itinerant beggars and preachers, although most Hindu fakirs live under the strictest monastic regimen, devoting themselves to meditation and prayer and practicing the severest forms of asceticism.

A certain class of fakirs, whose only connection with the genuine religious orders is a claim to sanctity, practice such mortifications of the flesh as lying on beds of nails, and perform tricks of sleight of hand, hypnotism, and ventriloquism to promote the collection of alms. In many regions they are held to be unrivaled in the arts of magic, sorcery, and jugglery. "Fakir," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


  • Rejection of "worldliness and extravagance."
  • Denial of self: extreme fasting, long periods of meditation, the whirling dervish (spinning dance), and other meditation aids such as the chanting of the divine names of Allah help them commune with Allah.
  • Emphasizes the inner life of the spirit and moral purification with direct communion or even ecstatic union with God as its ideal.
  • Teach the centrality of the love of Allah.
  • Teach an allegorical and symbolic interpretation of the Qur’an.

Druse or Druse - the secret Muslim

Live mainly in the mountainous areas of Lebanon and Southern Syria. Their religion completely dominates their habits and customs.

The seven cardinal principles to which they adhere are as follows: (1) veracity in dealing with each other, (2) mutual protection and assistance, (3) renunciation of other religions, (4) belief in the divine incarnation of Hakim, (5) contentment with the works of God, (6) submission to his will, and (7) separation from those in error and from demons.


  • At various times God has been divinely incarnated in a living person and that his last, and final, such incarnation was al-Hakim (al-Hakim bi-Amrih Allah), the sixth Fatimid caliph, who announced himself at Cairo about 1016 as the earthly incarnation of God. "Druze," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
  • Transmigration of souls, with constant advancement and final purification.
  • Demand abstinence from wine and tobacco and from profanity and obscenity.
  • Secrecy. The Druze do not pray in a mosque. Meetings for prayer and religious instruction, held on Thursday evenings, take place in inconspicuous buildings outside their villages. In order to protect their religion and not divulge its secret teachings, they worship as Muslims when among Muslims, and as Christians when among Christians. Jesus Christ is acknowledged by the Druze as one of the divine incarnations.

According to the latest available statistics, the Druze in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan number about 350,000. Because of the Druze practice of outwardly conforming to the faith of the people among whom they live, their exact number is difficult to determine. "Druze," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Ismailis - the seveners

An offshoot of the Shi’ites, the Ismailis emerged from a dispute in 765 over the succession of Jafar al-Sadiq, whom Shi’ites acknowledged as the sixth imam, or spiritual successor to Muhammad. The Ismailis recognized Ismail, the eldest son of Jafar, as his legitimate successor. On Ismail's death they acknowledged his son Muhammad as the seventh and last imam, whose return on Judgment Day they await. The Ismailis are also known as Seveners, because they accept only 7 imams, rather than the 12 who are recognized by other Shi’ites.

Formed the Fatimid dynasty of North Africa (969-12 century). A splinter group of Ismailis, known to Westerners as Assassins, established a stronghold in the mountains of northern Iran in the 12th century and carried out terrorist acts of assassination against important religious and political leaders of Sunni Islam.

The two main branches of Ismailis today are the Bohras, with headquarters in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, and the Khojas, concentrated in Gujarât State, India. Another subsect, headed by the Aga Khan, has followers in Pakistan, India, Iran, Yemen, and East Africa. "Ismailis," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


  • Although Ismailis subscribe to basic orthodox Islamic doctrines, they also maintain esoteric teachings (only to be understood by a few special people) and corresponding interpretations of the Koran. Developed in the 9th and 10th centuries under the influence of Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, they believe the creation of the universe is by a process of emanation from God.

Wahhabis - radical Sunnism

Considered to be the most radical Muslims in the world. A puritanical reform movement begun by Syrian jurist Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92), its goal was aimed at reviving Islam by purifying it of un-Islamic influences.


  • Strict interpretation of the Qur’an and Hadith.
  • Rejection of all innovations and also the principle of consensus of the Muslim community on any text of Islamic writ and customs compatible with the Qur’an or Hadith.
  • An ascetic life. Rejection of all luxury, dancing,, gambling, music, and the use of tobacco.
  • kismet - fate. Determines their purpose in jihad - warfare between Islam and all infidels who do not worship Allah.

Wahhabis today probably exceeds 8 million, but they are confined almost entirely to the Arabian Peninsula, in Saudi Arabia.

Nusairiyyah - secret paternal Islam

An estimated 600,000 live and are dominant in Syrian political and military life. Their doctrine is a mixture of Islamic, Gnostic, and Christian. Sunnis treat them as heretics.


  • Ali was Allah in the flesh. Ali created Muhammad from his spirit, and Muhammad created Salman, an early Shi’ite saint. These three form a trinity in which Ali is described as the "meaning," Muhammad as the "name," and Salman as the "door."
  • The authority of the Qur’an and all forms of prayer are rejected. All Islamic teaching can be interpreted allegorically and therefore does not have to be taken literally.
  • Men are reincarnated. Women do not have souls, so they do not need to learn the secrets of Nusairi doctrine.


Unveiling Islam, chapter 11

"Sunnites," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

"Islam," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

"Shi’ites," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

"Sufism," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

"Fakir," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

"Druze," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

"Ismailis," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

"Wahhabis," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

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