Given the long history and immense population of Islam, it comes as no surprise that over the centuries individuals have come to interpret their beliefs in Islam differently. Sects, factions, and subgroups have all emerged over the years, choosing to believe and focus their faith in Islam in varying ways. The first divisions in the core of Islam date back to Muhammad's death when followers debated over who would succeed him as their spiritual leader. They initially divided into two groups, the Sunnis and the Shi'ites.
The Sunnis was the most dominant sect of Islam united in their belief in the legitimacy of the first three caliphs (successors to Muhammad) Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman. The conflicts over leadership, belief, and practice enabled the Sunnis to develop what they believed to be correct religious positions, based on the Qur'an, hadith and the consensus of religious scholars, known as ijma. They believed that by following the Islamic community's beliefs and practices to be the true Islam. For this reason they regard themselves as orthodox Islam, representing the consensus of the Islamic community against unruly positions. .
While condemning schisms and sects, the Sunnis also developed the contrasting trend of toleration in order to embrace the widest range of views that could be accepted as orthodox, in accordance with Muhammad's statement on the virtue of diversity. This toleration made it possible for diverse sects and schools of thought to coexist within the larger community of Islam. No group would be excluded unless it specifically renounced Allah and Muhammad. This toleration was the answer of Sunnis to those who were trying to narrow the concept of Islam according to the use of selective passages in the Qur"an or the hadith. .
The less dominant sect of Islam was the Shi'ites. Shi"ties insisted on the importance of descent from Muhammad's family and feel that the role of the Prophet's first successor should have gone to Ali.