You are here:

Comparative Religious Studies/The Denominations In Islam In Order of Conservatism/Orthodoxy


I am particularly confused about which denomination between Sunni Islam and Shi'a Islam is the most conservative/Orthodox. I've never seen—for a lack of better terminology—an Islamic equivalent of—for a lack of better terminology—the conservative-to-liberal hierarchy of Jewish denominations.In other words, I can easily recite, "Hasidic [Haredi, Ultra Orthodox], Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Conservadox, Conservative [Masorti]...". I could never do the same for Islam.

This is what makes fully understanding the news related to the Middle East (including Israel and her enemies), a claim that Sunni Islamic terrorism is more of a threat than Shi'a Iran, and the faith of one of my friends hard. Therefore, please enlighten me on the conservative-to-liberal hierarchy of Islamic denominations, so that I can understand Middle Eastern news, claims about Islam, and my friend's faith.

Hi Nicole,
These term do not really apply.

Here an accurate summary:

The original split between Sunnis and Shiites occurred soon after the death of Muhammad, in the year 632.

"There was a dispute in the community of Muslims in present-day Saudi Arabia over the question of succession," says Augustus Norton, author of Hezbollah: A Short History. "That is to say, who is the rightful successor to the prophet?"

Most of the Prophet Muhammad's followers wanted the community of Muslims to determine who would succeed him. A smaller group thought that someone from his family should take up his mantle. They favored Ali, who was married to Muhammad's daughter, Fatimah.

"Shia believed that leadership should stay within the family of the prophet," notes Gregory Gause, professor of Middle East politics at the University of Vermont. "And thus they were the partisans of Ali, his cousin and son-in-law. Sunnis believed that leadership should fall to the person who was deemed by the elite of the community to be best able to lead the community. And it was fundamentally that political division that began the Sunni-Shia split."

The Sunnis prevailed and chose a successor to be the first caliph.

Eventually, Ali was chosen as the fourth caliph, but not before violent conflict broke out. Two of the earliest caliphs were murdered. War erupted when Ali became caliph, and he too was killed in fighting in the year 661 near the town of Kufa, now in present-day Iraq.  

The violence and war split the small community of Muslims into two branches that would never reunite.

Comparative Religious Studies

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Shlomo Phillips


Since 1969 I have sought insight into the nature of God and Truth. I am happy to share my insights with you.

To varying degrees I have worked and studied with many different groups including:

Jews (my religion) Noahides, Christians, Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Swami Muktinanda's Sidha Yoga Foundation, the Yoga Society (of Sri Ramamurti Mishra), Sikhism, various Pagan and neo-Pagan groups, Sunni Islam (Wahabi), Sufism, Taoism, various Buddhist sects (including the Dharmad Hatu of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche), diverse Hindu sects, many Christian denominations and movements, and have been involved with numerous other groups and movements too numerous to mention.

In this AllExperts category I can any questions about any religion you are interested in.


Creator and author of and other websites and blogs. I hold an MA in Religious Studies, ordinations and initiations into various religions.


Experience: A lifetime invested in seeking God. I am an ordained Independent Jewish rabbi. I hold an MA in Religious Studies from John F Kennedy University. I hold three Christian ordinations, a counseling ordination from the Interfaith Seminaries of Santa Cruz. I am a twice initiated Vaishnava bramana (Gopinath Gaudiya matha and ISKCON), have practical experience with many other branches Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Paganism (Wodenwic and other sects), Islam (Sunni, Shia and Sufi), Wicca (especially Welsh Traditionalist and Gardnarian) and various other traditions. I own and author, and other sites including my Facebook site.

©2017 All rights reserved.