Further Similarities and Differences:
(between esoteric, exoteric & Sunni/Shia) and (between Islam/Christianity/Judaism)

Reproduced , with permission,  from Exploring World Religions, © 2001,
Oxford University Press Canada

Islam has two sects: the Sunnis and the Shi’ahs. Sufism belongs to, and is practised by, both the Sunnis and the Shi'ahs.  Sufis are not considered to be a separate sect.  Both the Sunni and the Shi’ah sects, as well as the Sufis, believe in one God and that Muhammad is the Prophet of God. This is their core belief.  However, there are some differing features that are noteworthy.

  • Approximately eighty-five per cent of the world's Muslims are Sunnis. 
  • The name is derived from the word sunna, which means “well-trodden path.” 
  • Sunni groups came into existence after the death of the Prophet.  Over time, they have emerged as the most influential group in Islam. 
  • They believe in building consensus within the community in order to arrive at a just and equitable society. 
  • Sunnis follow the traditions of the Prophet as well as the four schools of Sunni law: Hanafi, Shafii, Hanbali and Maliki. 
  • Known as the “party of Ali.” Shi’ahs believe that, prior to the death of Muhammad, the Prophet chose his son-in-law, Ali, as his successor. Ali was not chosen as leader in favour of Abu Bakr creating a political division within the Muslim community.  Later, these developed into doctrinal differences.
  • Shi'ahs believe that, after the death of Muhammad, a series of infallible leaders called Imams were to take charge of Islam and guide the community.
  • The Shi'ahs are a small but noticeable group within Islam, dominating politics and religious life in Iran and representing a vocal minority in Iraq, East Africa, Pakistan, and India. 
  • The Arabic word suf, which the word sufi is derived from, means “wool,” so it is likely that the Sufis were named after the ascetic clothing that they wore.  Others say that sufi is derived from the word safa which means “purity.”
  • Sufism developed into a mystical philosophy of Islam. 
  • According to the Sufi tradition, the goal is to develop spiritually, both inwardly and outwardly, in order to discover the reality of God.
  • Sufis emphasize sincerity and excellence, performing prayers and meditations.  To develop a constant and deep concentration, the Sufis employ physical methods such as playing Sufi music, chanting the name of God over and over again, or dancing, as in the case of the whirling dervishes. 

Five Great Prophets

Islamic Perspective
Jewish Perspective 
Christian Perspective
Noah  Noah warned people of the error of their sinful ways, built an ark, survived the flood, rebuilt civilization and shared new laws governing God's creation. Same as Islam.  Same as Islam.
Abraham  Abraham is one of seven prophets who received the Scriptures from God.  He is mentioned frequently in the Qur'an.  He taught people to abandon idolatry. Abraham proved to be the source of two great prophetic families: the Arab lineage through his son Ismael and his mother Hagar.  In the end, Abraham gave people a sense of their moral and religious obligations.  Abraham is seen as the patriarch of Jewish faith. He taught people to worship the one God and abandon idolatry.  Jews believe that the Hebrew line descends through Abraham's son Isaac, who was the son of Sarah.  Same as the Jewish.
Moses  Moses was sent to proclaim the one God to the idolaters of Egypt.  Moses, who is mentioned over 200 times in the Qur'an, is very highly regarded in Islam. Moses used miracles to demonstrate God's power over the Egyptians.  Moses received God's law in the form of the Ten Commandments.  Agrees with the Islamic position.  Also, Moses was sent by God to free the Hebrews from slavery, leading them out of bondage to the Promised Land.  He was also sent to give the Jews God's law through the Ten Commandments. Same as the Jewish.
Jesus  Jesus was born miraculously by the virgin Mary and, over the course of his life, performed many miracles.  Jesus is seen as the champion of the poor and oppressed who demonstrates the superiority of God's healing power over human science.  However, the Qur'an specifically denies that Jesus was the divinely appointed son of God.  The Qur'an also does not support the belief that Jesus died on the cross.  Instead it holds the position that Jesus never died and ascended into heaven and will return to aid humanity again in the future.  Holds no formal view of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God and part of the Holy Trinity.  Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, suffered persecution, was crucified and died, and rose again after three days.  He ascended into heaven and will return to judge the living and the dead.
Muhammad  Muhammad is “The Seal of the Prophets,” the last of those who have come to convey the Divine wisdom of God to humanity.  He is afforded the highest spiritual prominence because he directly received the divine word of God.  He instantly conveyed these Quranic revelations to all people.   He is “The Prophet,” who Muslims view with great respect, indicating this with the words “peace be upon him” after speaking or writing his name.  For Muslims, Muhammad is the last prophet, who completed the teachings of all the prophets who came before him. All the preceding prophets are regarded as “Muslims” in the sense that they all taught: a) belief in One God, and b) the importance of living a virtuous and moral life. These two fundamentals constitute “Islam” in the broadest sense of the word, i.e., submission to the Will of God.  Holds no formal view of Muhammad. Holds no formal view of Muhammad. 


Exploring World Religions ©2001, Oxford University Press, 70 Wynford Dr., Don Mills, ON M3C  1J9 Canada.