Sects, Hereafter, trials of life
Do Muslims have many sects?
Muslims have no sects.
In Islam, there are two major schools of thought, the 'Sunni' and the 'Shia', which have more in common than differences. They follow the same book (The Qur'an), the same prophet (Muhammad), offer their prayers five times a day, fast in the month of Ramadan, and go for pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj).
Those who follow Prophet Muhammad, in accordance with his sayings and actions, are called Sunni. And those who in addition also follow the sayings and views of Ali ibn Abu Talib, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law (as Ali was married to his daughter Fatima) are called Shia.
In addition to the Qur'an and hadith (prophetic traditions), the Shias and the many sects that comprise them rely on the rulings of their Imams (preeminent religious leaders) which has resulted today in differences in religious practice, traditions, and customs, often related to jurisprudence.
Historically, these differences originated from the question of succession after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE. Shia believe that Ali was the rightful successor to Prophet Muhammad since he was family, and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had formally announced this before his death. As such they view him as the first in line of Imams, whom they regard as the spiritual and political successor to Prophet Muhammad. In contrast, Sunni believe that Prophet Muhammad did not appoint any particular person as his successor and the Muslim community was free to choose the most qualified person as ruler. They chose the Prophet's companion Abu Bakr as the first caliph rather than Ali. Matters worsened when Hussein, Ali's son and Prophet Muhammad's grandson, was killed along with his family in Karbala, Iraq, by one of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid's generals, fifty years after the death of Prophet Muhammad. The people of Iraq regretted their failure to support Hussein that resulted in his death, and this led to the originally political dispute taking on a more theological nature.
Today, the majority of Muslims around the world - over 80% - are Sunnis while only 10 - 16% are Shias, most of whom live in Iran, Iraq, and Azerbaijan.
Do Muslims believe in the Hereafter?
God who is Just and manifests His justice has established the system of accountability. Those who do good deeds will be rewarded and those who do wrong will be punished accordingly. Thus, He created the Heaven and Hell and there are admission criteria for both. Muslims believe that the present life is a temporary one - a test and if we pass the test, we will be given a life of permanent pleasure in the company of good people in Heaven.
If God is All Merciful, why is there so much suffering in the world?
It is sometime very difficult to accept that God is the Most Compassionate and Most Merciful when there are so many suffering and injustices in the world.
Muslim - like other religious people of other faiths - believe that God tests people in different ways, through hardship and ease. How they respond to this is a test of their moral fiber. Responding to hardship with patience, fortitude and remembrance of God will be rewarded with great reward in this life and/or the afterlife. Additionally, disasters can bring the best out in people, inspiring them to carry out heroic deed in response to their own or another's hardship. Muslims also take comfort in their belief that life doesn't end after death.
If a person is a good person throughout his or her life, but does not believe in Allah, will he/she go to hell?
Allah will reward the righteous people in this life. But even if a person's morals are good, they still need to believe in Allah and Prophet Muhammad prior to dying in order to enter Heaven. Regarding the dead children of non-believers, their case is referred to Allah in Hereafter since, as Prophet Muhammad narrated in Sahih Al-Bukhari 1384, "Allah knows best what they would have done".
Ultimately, the final decision lies with Allah. He alone knows the innermost secrets of human hearts and will judge everyone with absolute justice.