The Prophet defined Islam as constituting three dimensions – Islam, Iman, Ihsan. Traditionally:
- Islam is reflected by the Madhahibs (religious schools) – Shafi’i, Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali.
- Iman is dialectical theology and the major schools are Ashari and Maturidi.
- Ihsan is Tasawwuf or Sufism, containing numerous Sufi tariqas (orders), the main ones being Naqshbandi, Qadari, Chishti and Shadhili
There is a difference of opinion between the two main sects in Islam (Sunni and Shi’ah) as regards the succession of the Prophet.
The Sunni hold the companions (ashab) of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in high regard and consider the first four as the rightly guided successors (Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali). The Shi’ah Muslims believe that the first legitimate successor is Imam ‘Ali, as they believe he was chosen by God as opposed to being elected by the people.
‘Ayshah, daughter of Abu Bakr and one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), is the lady who shaped Sunni Islam. She is held in very high esteem by Sunnis.
Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and wife of Imam ‘Ali (the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), shaped Shi’ah Islam. Imam Hussein, the third Shi’ah Imam is considered, particularly by Shi’ah Muslims, as the saviour of Islam who sacrificed his life for the faith along with some of his family members and companions.
In Shi’ah Islam the major group is Jafari or twelvers, named after Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (d.765). They follow the twelve Imams, all descendants of Imam Ali (d. 661) and Fatima (d. 633). Other groups dispute the right of succession and therefore two other main groups emerged – the Zaydis or Fivers, named after Imam Zayd ibn Ali (d. 740) and the Isma’ilis or Seveners, named after Imam Muhammad ibn Isma’il.
A number of reform movements emerged under colonial rule in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many Sunni Muslims in the UK may be adherents of one of these movements – Barelwi, Deobandi, Ahl-i-Hadith, Tablighi Jama’at and Salafi / Wahabi.
Islamic communities in the UK come from diverse ethnic and denominational backgrounds. This often means differences not just in clothing and cultural attitudes but also in religious practice as each ethnic group emanating from a particular Islamic geographical area will traditionally have adhered to a particular Madh’hab. However, this situation somewhat evolved and other groups substantially funded through the oil boom of the 1970s led to the establishment of new groups that were opposed to the traditional Madhahibs, these may be termed to as Wahhabi/Salafis. A consequence of this has been that second or third generation Muslims have been exposed to a Theology that is anti-mainstream and literalist. Despite these differences, Mosques nonetheless will maintain an open policy to all denominations for congregational prayers or other religious practices.