Dhimmis (minorities of other religions) participated as equal citizens in this renaissance and Muslim scholars made more scientific discoveries during this time than in the whole of previously recorded history (Goldschmidt & Davidson, 2007). The break between the Shiis (those who considered Ali to be legitimate ruler of the nation) and the Sunnis (those who revered Muhammad and all four rashidun) occurred during this period. Mystic Islam (best known as Sufism), or esoteric groups were born during this period as well as Muslim philosophy.
Today, approximately 80-90% of Moslems are Sunnis whilst 10-20% are Shiites. The key difference between Sunnis and Shiites is that Sunnis believe that the first four caliphs were rightful successors to Mohamed and that caliphs should be chosen by the whole community. The Salafi sect (otherwise notoriously known as Wahabbissm) is an extreme Islamic movement derived from Sunnism. Shiites, on the other hand, believe in the leadership of Imams from Ali, Mohamed's assassinated son-in-law, and that the caliphate is a result of divine will. The Twelver Shiites are one of the several groups that emerged from Shiiism.
Sufism, a mystical, ascetic and very moderate and tolerant derivation, is not considered Islamic by many Moslems (although it, itself, insists that is follows the Koran). Believing that goodness can be found from all religions, Sufism accesses God through the emotions and intuition.
Incidentally, many people erroneously confuse Moslems with 'Arabs', but the latter belong to a country in Saudi Arabia, whereas there are about 1.41-1.57 billion Muslims all over the world in countries that range from Europe to America to sizable communities in South and Central Asia, the Middle East, and in sub-Saharan Africa. All are Moslem due to the fact that they practice their Moslem faith, but are not Arabs since they do not live in Saudi Arabia.
From 1500 -- 1700, Islam seemed invincible. The Safavid Empire was succeeded by the Mogul Empire, which reached its climax under Suleiman the magnificent and then imploded in on itself, leaving the West to take over in 1750.
The alien cultural influence of the West and its imposition of Western values instigated Islamic fundamentalism, one of its founders being Sayid Qutb (1906-1966), who told Moslems to model themselves on Mohammed by separating themselves from mainstream societies, and engaging in a violent jihad where one must convert non-Muslims to Islamic faith. Fundamentalist movements, such as the Taliban, and fundamentalist-inclined individuals, such as Khomeini and Osama ibn Laden, have all been influenced by Qutb where there is a resurgence of a return to alleged traditional Islam, in some countries more radically than in others (Armstrong, 2000).
Euro-American perceptions, as Brown (1999) argues, categorizes Islam in general, often faulty ways and these misperceptions carry across in the media. Most people think of Jihad as a crusade to destroy non-Moslems, but as Goldschmidt and Davidson (2010) argue, Mohammad's concept of Jihad did not call for conversion of massacre of Christians or Jews. It was a jihad of a different kind, dedicated to self-improvement. Americans are still confused about the character of the religion. Whilst some see it as intolerant and aggressive, others view it as a relation to their Judeo-Christian past. This clash was exemplified by the recent conflict over the building of a Mosque near Ground Zero. Whilst Obama seconded the motion on the grounds that Muslims have the choice to build their house of worship wherever they wish, about six out of ten New Yorkers opposed the idea on political and ideological grounds. The problem here was that Islam was being confounded with Islamism, otherwise known as fundamentalism. There is a huge historical tradition of tolerance, however that many individuals of the West are ignorant about (Goldschmidt & Davidson, 2010). As Goldschmidt and Davidson (2010) show, understanding the true context and background of Islam and Islamic belief may corrode this intolerance and may stimulate a meeting of different faiths and cultures where we can begin to understand one the other and draw a distinction between Islamism and Islam.
Armstrong, K. (2000). Islam: A Short History The Modern Library: UK.
Brown, D. (1999). Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought Cambridge: Cambridge Univ,. Press
Goldschmidt, A. & Davidson, L. (2010) A concise history of the Middle East Boulder, CO: Westview Press
Hourani, A. (1991) A History of the Arab People London: Penguin