More sects, please, we're British

Click to follow
In theory, all Muslims are of one international community - the umma. In practice, British Muslims are riven by factions of which the ancient split between Sunni and Shia (eg, the ayatollah-led branch of Islam found in Iran) is only the start. There are only around 25,000 Shias in the UK. Most British Muslims are Sunnis from the Indian sub-continent. They are divided into two main sects: the Barelwis and the Deobandis who are, in effect, the Catholics and Protestants of the Muslim world.

The majority of UK Sunnis are Barelwis. They are keen on venerating a host of Sufi saints - living and dead - who mediate between man and God. They give very high status to the Prophet Mohammed - which is why they were in the frontline of the anti-Rushdie protests. They are great rivals of the puritanical Wahhabi sect, which rules the roost in Saudi Arabia. Barelwis have many different holy men and spiritual guides - known variously as a shaikh, a pir or a murshid. Each has a shrine. Different Sufis and shrines have different religious practices.

The Deobandis are the most prominent of a number of reformist sects who want to abandon all local cultural practices and prefer universal principles. Reacting to the British conquest of India, these 19th century reformists attempted to rediscover an Islamic piety strong enough to counter the shift in power away from Muslims to a new British and Christian elite. They are dismissive of the Sufi approach, which they claim has allowed Hindu cultural practices to taint Islam. Women are banned from many of its mosques. Its leaders are scholarly, work in schools of jurisprudence and act as exemplars rather than intercessors.

Other reformist groups include: the Ahl-e-Hadith, centred in Birmingham but with branches throughout the UK. Unlike the Deobandis they do not put much faith in schools of law but place emphasis on the individual - who is sanctioned to create his own interpretations of the Hadith, a collection of sayings attributed to the Prophet.

The Tablighi Jamaat, based in Dewsbury, are even more introspective. They are a Deobandi missionary group who travel round the country - distinctively dressed in cap, beard, long shirt to beneath the knees and trousers above the ankles - trying to persuade other Muslims to adopt their sense of personal renewal - spiritual and moral. Essentially non-political, unlike the Deobandis, from whom they sprang.

Jamaat-I-Islami is largely funded - other groups claim - by Saudi Arabia. They follow that country's Wahhabi doctrines. Though not numerous in UK, they are influential far beyond their numbers. Their doctrine - not unlike Lenin's - is that trained cells of the righteous should capture political power to turn Muslim countries into Islamist states.

In addition, there is a tradition of modernists who want dialogue with contemporary culture. These are wealthier, more educated Muslims, whose approach prevails in secular Muslim countries like Egypt. In Pakistan today, the main bearer of modernism is the women's movement. Modernists do not have broad support in the Muslim community in the UK.