What Are The Two Branches Of Islam Called?

Sunnis and Shia: Islam’s ancient schism. The divide between Sunnis and Shia is the largest and oldest in the history of Islam. Members of the two sects have co-existed for centuries and share many fundamental beliefs and practices.

What are the three divisions of Islam?

  • – Sunni Muslims. Sunni Muslims These are followers of the Hanifa, Shafi, and Malik schools. – Shi’ite Muslims. The Shi’ites (also known as the Ja’firi school) split with the Sunni over the issue of the successor to Muhammad. – Sufi Muslims. The Sufi are a mystical tradition where the followers seek inner mystical knowledge of God. – Conclusion.


What are the 2 branches in Islam?

Though the two main sects within Islam, Sunni and Shia, agree on most of the fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam, a bitter split between the two goes back some 14 centuries. The divide originated with a dispute over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad as leader of the Islamic faith he introduced.

What are the 2 largest branches of Islam?

Shiʿa Islam is the second-largest denomination of Islam, comprising around 10% of the total Muslim population.

What are all the branches of Islam?

As with all other world religions, Islam is represented by several major branches: Sunni, Shi’a, Ibadi, Ahmadiyya, and Sufism. These branches started to develop after Muhammad’s death when people began to disagree on the successor of the religion.

Is Ayatollah a title?

Ayatollah (UK: /ˌaɪəˈtɒlə/ or US: /ˌaɪəˈtoʊlə/; Persian: آیت‌الله, romanized: āyatollāh) is an honorific title for high-ranking Twelver Shia clergy in Iran and Iraq that came into widespread usage in the 20th century.

What’s difference between Shia and Sunni?

Those who followed the Prophet’s closest companion (Abu Bakr) became known as Sunni (the followers of the Prophet’s example – Sunnah). Those who followed the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law (‘Ali) became known as Shi’a (the followers of the Party of ‘Ali – Shi’atu Ali).

In what way do the two branches of Islam differ?

What are the differences between Sunnis and Shiites? Their beliefs over who should have succeeded the Prophet Muhammad is the key theological difference between the two. Sunnis also have a less elaborate religious hierarchy than Shiites have, and the two sects’ interpretation of Islam’s schools of law is different.

What is the Sunni branch of Islam?

Sunni, Arabic Sunnī, member of one of the two major branches of Islam, the branch that consists of the majority of that religion’s adherents. Sunni Muslims regard their denomination as the mainstream and traditionalist branch of Islam —as distinguished from the minority denomination, the Shiʿah.

Are Shia and Shiite the same?

Shiites are the second-largest branch of Islam, after Sunnis. Though Shiites hold this basic belief in common, there are further divisions within Shia Islam, another name for the group of Shiites. You can also call a Shiite a Shia, which is its root as well — from the Arabic shi’ah, “partisans or followers.”

What are the two main sects of Islam Class 7?

The two main sects of Islam are Shia and Sunni.

Can ayatollahs marry?

The ultraconservative elderly ayatollahs, officially called Shi’ite sources of emulation, have repeatedly insisted that when a girl reaches puberty, regardless of age, she is allowed to marry with her father’s consent.

Who are the twelvers?

The Twelvers is a branch of Shi’a Islam whose followers believe that there were twelve imams after the death of Muhammad. The 12th imam, however, has been kept alive by God and is hidden somewhere on Earth. Shi’a Muslims believe the 12th imam will one day make himself known and bring equality to all.

Branches of Islam

  • 1. The Sunnis (also known as “traditionalists”)
  • Sunnis constitute 85 percent of the Muslim population. Islamic orthodoxy and tradition, as established by Muhammad and the four “rightly led caliphs,” are revered by Sunnis, who believe themselves to be their custodians. The Qur’an and Hadith are the primary sources of religious and legal authority. As a result of the use of analogy (qiyas) and consensus (ijma’) to settle difficulties that were not expressly specified in the Qur’an and Hadith, legal experts played a significant part in the determination of consensus and the drawing of analogies. Individual and community life should be directed by Islamic law, according to adherents of the Sharia. There are four different schools of interpretation:
  1. It is favored by the Hanifite school of thought to utilize logical judgment in selecting what is best for the common welfare (and is most popular in Iraq, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia). To find the correct way, the Malikite looks first for consensus and then for analogy (this school of thought is particularly prevalent in North Africa, Egypt, and eastern Arabia). Shafi’ite- accepts the authority of the Hadith and downplays the importance of reason (most influential in Indonesia)
  2. Sufi-ite- accepts the authority of the Hadith and downplays the importance of reason
  3. Sufi-ite- accepts the authority of the Hadith and downplays the importance of reason Hanbalites are a reaction against the reliance on ‘opinion’ in other schools
  4. They maintain that the Qur’an is the supreme authority and that only the Hadith is accepted as also authoritative (the dominant school in Saudi Arabia)
  5. They are a reaction against the reliance on ‘opinion’ in other schools
  • This school of thought, which is most popular in Iraq, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia, encourages the application of rational judgment when evaluating what is best for the greater good. For the purpose of deciphering the appropriate way, the Malikite looks first to consensus and then to analogy (particularly influential in North Africa, Egypt, and eastern Arabia). a Shafi’ite is someone who accepts the authority of the Hadith and downplays the importance of reason (this is the religion that is most popular in Indonesia)
  • A Shiite is someone who believes that God is the source of all knowledge
  • And a Sufi is someone who believes that Allah is the source of all knowledge. It is a response against the reliance on “opinion” in other schools
  • It asserts that the Qur’an is the highest authority and that only the Hadith is acknowledged as also authoritative (the dominant school in Saudi Arabia)
  • It is a reaction against the reliance on ‘opinion’ in other schools.

The Major Branches Of Islam

In Sudan, a Sufi Ritual is performed. Sufis are classified as belonging to a mystical Islamic dimension. The Islam religion has more than 2 billion adherents all across the world. The religion itself has been around for about 1,300 years. Practicing Muslims believe that Islam started around 610 CE, when the final prophet, Muhammad, began receiving revelations from God, according to the Quran and other sources. These revelations were written down in the Qur’an by followers of the faith. Islam, like all other global faiths, is divided into various major branches: Sunni, Shi’a, Ibadi, Ahmadiyya, and Sufism, to name a few examples.

Despite their differences, the main denominations all hold some fundamental ideas in common, such as monotheism, sacred scriptures, and so on.

The Major Denominations Of Islam

Approximately 89-90 percent of all Muslims belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, which is by far the largest of the religion’s denominations. In the Middle East, they are found in vast numbers throughout the region, with the highest populations in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. After several years and much argument, Sunni followers came to the conclusion that Muhammad had not designated a specific successor. Abu Bakr Siddique was chosen by his followers after a long period of time and much disagreement This guy was one of Muhammad’s in-laws as well as a close companion of the Prophet.

Islam’s Sunnis believe that the Qur’an applies to all aspects of life and that individuals can approach God personally, with the expectation that he would appear to them on the Day of Judgement.


They believe that Muhammad did pick a successor, Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was also his son-in-law, and that he was chosen by Allah. Shi’a believers also have Imams, who are more central characters and community leaders than other religious leaders since they are the ideal incarnation of God on the earth. More than anything else, this branch is concerned with the individual’s relationship with God, as opposed to the cleric’s interpretation of the Qur’an. Humans will not see God on Judgement Day, according to the Shi’a, in contrast to the Sunni faith.

The vast majority, on the other hand, appears to be concentrated in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan.


They think that Muhammad did designate a successor, Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was also his son-in-law, and that he was chosen by Muhammad. Shi’a believers also have Imams, who are more important characters in their communities and serve as community leaders since they are the ideal incarnation of God on the earth. There is less emphasis on an individual’s relationship with God in this branch, and more emphasis on the interpretation of the Qur’an by a religious leader. Humans will not see God on Judgement Day, according to the Shi’a, in contrast to Sunnis.

As a minority sect, it is impossible to estimate their numbers because they are so small. But the most majority appear to be based in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan, with the remainder scattered around the region.


This denomination was created more recently than the preceding one. Those who follow the Ahmadiyya religion do not believe Muhammad to be the last prophet. Its origins may be traced back to the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), who served as their prophet. His adherents think he was divinely anointed to be the re-inventor of Islamic civilization. They have beliefs that are identical to those of Sunni Muslims, and they likewise consider the Qur’an as their sacred book. Indonesia, South Asia, and West and East Africa have the highest concentrations of Ahmadiyya Muslims, followed by India.

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In accordance with Shi’a belief, the bulk of Sufis follow the Islamic path as given by Ali, Muhammad’s successor. Sufism is an Islamic concept that emphasizes on cleansing of the inner-self, despite the fact that it is not formally a sect of Islam. Sufis believe that humans can have a spiritual encounter with God through intuitive and emotional powers that they have developed through years of rigorous study. This experience does not have to take place in Paradise; rather, it can be had in the real world.

Strength Of Beliefs

Although not a complete list of the various branches of Islam, the denominations listed above are among the most well-known of them. Islam is a centuries-old religion that is also one of the largest in the world, with a complex set of beliefs and customs. Islamists believe that the objective of human life is to live and thank God in order to one day win admittance into Paradise, regardless of which sect they belong to.

Major Branches Of Islam – Similarities And Differences

Rank Major Branches Of Islam Estimated Global Adherents
1 Sunni 1.39 billion
2 Shi’a 200 million
3 Ahmadiyya 15 million
4 Ibadi 3 million
5 Sufism Widely Disputed

Sunnis and Shia: Islam’s ancient schism

AP is the source of the image. Caption for the image The pilgrimage to Mecca is one of many rites that both religions practice, and it is one of the most important. The schism that exists between Sunnis and Shias is the greatest and most ancient in Islamic history. Historically, members of the two religions have lived side by side for centuries and have a number of core beliefs and practices in common. However, there are significant differences in philosophy, ritual, law, theology, and religious organization.

Many recent conflicts, ranging from Lebanon and Syria to Iraq and Pakistan, have emphasized the sectarian difference, driving families and communities apart.

Who are the Sunnis?

It is estimated that Sunnis constitute between 85 percent and 90 percent of the world’s more than 1.5 billion Muslims. Sunnis constitute 90 percent or more of the populations of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, respectively, in the Middle East. Getty Images is the source of this image. Caption: Egypt is home to a number of Sunni Muslims. The earliest centers of study in Islam Sunnis consider themselves to be the religiously orthodox branch of Islam. The term “Sunni” comes from the Arabic word “Ahl al-Sunnah,” which translates as “People of the Tradition.” Specifically, the term “tradition” refers to actions that are founded on what the Prophet Muhammad said or did or agreed to or condemned.

Shia are also directed by the wisdom of Muhammad’s descendants, who are represented by Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin. There are four schools of legal thinking that regulate Sunni living, and each of these attempts to bring the Sunnah to its fullest practical implementation.

Who are the Shia?

Shia Muslims account for around 10% of the world’s Muslim population, with a global population estimated to be between 154 and 200 million people. AP is the source of the image. Caption for the image The deaths of Ali, Hassan, and Hussein paved the way for the development of the Shia notion of martyrdom. Shia Muslims constitute the majority of the population in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, and, according to some estimates, Yemen. Shia Muslims are also the majority in Syria. Afghanistan, India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are also home to significant Shia populations.

  • Ali was killed in 661 at the end of a five-year caliphate that had been beset by internal conflict.
  • While Hassan is supposed to have died from poisoning in 680 at the hands of Muawiyah, the first caliph of the Sunni Umayyad dynasty, Hussein is believed to have been murdered by the Umayyads on the battlefield in 681.
  • There are three major sects of Shia Islam practiced today: the Zaidis, the Ismailis, and the Ithna Asharis (or Ithna Asharis) (Twelvers or Imamis).
  • In 878, the 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, is reported to have vanished from a cave beneath a mosque, according to legend.

What role has sectarianism played in recent crises?

Shia Muslims are disproportionately represented among the weakest elements of society in nations where Sunnis have ruled. They frequently believe that they are the victims of prejudice and injustice. Sunni radicals routinely decry Shia as heretics who should be put to death, and they have a point. AFP is the source of this image. Caption for the image The killing by Saudi Arabia of a famous Shia cleric sparked a diplomatic crisis with Iran, which has since been resolved. A hardline Shia Islamist agenda was initiated by the Iranian revolution of 1979, which was viewed as posing a threat to traditional Sunni countries, notably those in the Persian Gulf.

Many of the battles taking place in the region today have significant sectarian undertones.

While this is happening, Sunni jihadist organizations, especially the Islamic State (IS), have been targeting Shia and their sites of worship in Syria and its neighboring country of Iraq.

Anger erupted across the Middle East in January 2016 following the death by Saudi Arabia of a prominent Shia cleric who had supported widespread anti-government rallies. The murder sparked a diplomatic crisis with Iran as well as protests across the region.

More on this story

Home PhilosophyReligion Beliefs in a Higher Power IslamOther possible titles: Ahl al-Sunnah, Sunna, Sunnism, Sunnite are all terms used to refer to the Sunni religion. Sunni Islam and Arabic Members of one of the two major branches of Islam, namely the branch that has the vast majority of the religion’s believers, are referred to as Sunnis. Sunni Muslims consider their denomination to be the dominant and conservative branch of Islam, as opposed to the Shiah, which they consider to be the minority religion.

  • While the Shiah have always seen Muhammad’s government in Medina as an earthly, temporal dominion, the Sunnis have long regarded Islam’s leadership as being governed not by divine order or inspiration, but rather by the prevailing political circumstances in the Muslim world.
  • Thus, a majority of Sunni jurists developed the stance that the caliph must come from Muhammad’s tribe, the Quraysh, while also devising a theory of election that was flexible enough to allow loyalty to be offered to the de facto caliph, regardless of his ethnic origins.
  • Britannica QuizIslam What is your level of knowledge about the Prophet Muhammad?
  • With this quiz, you may see how well you know about Islam.
  • It was the institution of consensus (ijm) that the Sunnis developed that allowed them to integrate a wide range of practices and traditions that originated through regular historical development but that had no antecedents in the Qur’an.
  • The Sunnis also recognize as orthodox four schools of Islamic law: the anaf, the anbal, the Mlik, and the Shfi.

They totaled around 900 million people in the early twenty-first century and formed the vast majority of all Muslims worldwide. Those in charge of editing the Encyclopaedia Britannica Adam Zeidan was the author of the most recent revision and update to this article.

Understanding the branches of Islam: Sunni Islam

All Muslims adhere to a set of core beliefs and practices that are universally recognized. In any case, leadership disagreements within the Muslim community have resulted in the emergence of several branches, which has resulted in the development of diverse religious identities within Islam. As the greatest branch of Islam, Sunni Islam accounts for 87 to 90% of the world’s Muslim population, according to the United Nations Development Programme. The word ahl al-sunna wa-l-jama’a (‘people of the prophetic tradition and the community’) is derived from the term ahl al-sunna wa-l-jama’a (‘people of the prophetic tradition and the community’).

In contrast to Shiites and Khawarij, it arose among Muslims who believed that Ali was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, and that he had been chosen as Muhammad’s sole legal successor.

This briefing provides a high-level review of the particular characteristics of Sunni Islam, as well as its major institutions and holy sites, as well as the major trends in Sunni Islam today.

(June 2015).

What’s the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims?

Having a clear understanding of the distinctions between the two most populous branches of Islam is vital for understanding many geopolitical crises in the Middle East as well as communal problems within diasporic groups in the Western world. Kim Knott and Matthew Francis provide some perspective for a couple of the most important concerns. A warning of the perils of sectarian strife is provided all too frequently by the savage and catastrophic cycle of bloodshed that has engulfed Iraq between Sunni and Shi’a factions.

Although there are some differences between Sunni and Shi’a groups, they share a great deal more in common than they do in terms of beliefs and practices.

In most cases, when war has erupted, it has been owing to a power imbalance or geopolitical dispute (such as that between Iran and Saudi Arabia) rather than an ideological difference between the parties involved.

According to the United Nations, Shi’a Muslims account for roughly 10% (approximately 162 million) of the world’s Muslim population and constitute a majority in five countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq.


Both groups hold the same fundamental Islamic principles and practices, which include the following:

  • In the Qur’an – All Muslim sects, including Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, recognize the importance of the Qur’an as the ultimate source of guidance
  • There is no validity to the claims that Shi’a Muslims utilize an impure version of the book
  • Islam draws on Hadith – Shi’a and Sunni Muslims both rely on Hadith, however they tend to favor different sets of sayings
  • The Five Pillars of Islam – Both groups acknowledge the five pillars of Islam (Shahada, the declaration that “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His messenger.”
  • The belief that “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His messenger.”
  • The belief that “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His messenger.”) Salah (prayer)
  • Zakat (charitable giving)
  • Sawm (fasting during the month of Ramadan)
  • Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca)
  • Etc.

Shi’ism should not be considered a later branch of Sunni Islam; the two only came to be in their current forms in the ninth century CE, following the death of the last Shi’a Imam and the completion of the collection of the Prophet’s sayings (Hadith). These two schools of thought are regarded orthodox, and Al-Azhar University in Cairo (the world’s oldest Muslim university as well as a Sunni institution) incorporates them both into its curricula. Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have coexisted amicably in many regions of the world, and in some cases, they have even intermarried.

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The most significant ideological disagreement concerns matters of religious authority and the leadership of all Muslims in the aftermath of the Prophet’s death, respectively. Following the Prophet’s closest friend (Abu Bakr), those who were known as Sunni (followers of the Prophet’s example – Sunnah) came to be known as Shia. Following the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law (‘Ali), those who followed him were known as Shi’a (the adherents of the Party of Ali, also known as Shi’atu Ali). Rather than following the Prophet’s example, Sunnis place emphasis on the genealogy of Muhammad’s family, which is traced through a succession of Imams.

  • Iran’s Islamic Revolution resulted in the establishment of a Shi’a theocracy, which has subsequently backed Shi’as in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, in addition to Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Gaza), and Bashar al-dictatorship Assad’s in Syria.
  • Similar to this, the fundamental relationship between Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia’s ruling family has resulted in the marginalization of Shi’a movements in the country, while Shi’a communities in Iraq have been exposed to terrible bloodshed at the hands of the Sunni extremist group ISIS.
  • In 2013, a march in the United Kingdom organised by the Sunni preacher Anjem Choudary contained banners proclaiming that Shi’a were the enemies of Allah, according to the demonstrators.
  • It is important to note, however, that Wahhabist influence has also resulted in more entrenched differences within Sunni Islam as well.

Also, it is useful in gaining a better understanding of conflicts between groups not just in the Middle East, but also in the West.

Sunnis vs. Shiites: A Brief Explainer

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have existed for decades, have risen to a new level this week with the execution of famous Shiite opposition cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by the Saudis. Although a large part of the regional competition is upon who has the greatest political clout in the Middle East, its origins can be traced back to a schism between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam that first emerged 1,400 years ago. Saudi Arabia is by far the most powerful propagator of Sunni Islam, which is also by far the largest sect.

Here’s a quick overview of the gap that exists between the sects:

What was the origin of the Sunni-Shiite split?

Beginning in 632 AD, when the Islamic Prophet Muhammad died and a discussion erupted over who should succeed him, the Islamic world has been split into two camps. Despite the fact that both sides agreed that Allah is the one true God and that Muhammad was his messenger, one group (which eventually became the Shiites) believed Muhammad’s successor should be someone descended from him, whereas the other (which eventually became the Sunnis) believed a pious individual who would follow the Prophet’s customs would be acceptable.

It was a disagreement on political leadership “Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the nonpartisan United States Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center, shared her thoughts on the subject.

Hasan Jamali / Associated Press

What do Sunnis and Shiites have in common?

Sunnis and Shiites are both familiar with the Quran, which contains the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings. Neither of them doubts that Prophet Muhammad was the messenger of Allah. Additionally, they observe Islamic principles, including fasting during Ramadan, pledging to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca, engaging in ritual prayer (which includes five prayers per day), donating to the destitute, and committing themselves to the Islamic religion. Both of their prayer practices are essentially identical, with a few minor differences: Shiites, for example, will stand with their hands at their sides, but Sunnis will place their hands on their bellies when praying.

What are the differences between Sunnis and Shiites?

The most significant doctrinal divergence between the two is their views on who should have succeeded Prophet Muhammad in his mission. Sunnis, on the other hand, have a less complicated hierarchical hierarchy than Shiites, and their interpretations of Islam’s schools of law differ from those of the other group. Shiites accord human individuals the elevated position that is reserved for prophets in the Quran, and they frequently venerate clerics as saints, whereas Sunnis do not accord this rank.

How many of each sect are there?

Sunnis constitute the vast majority of the world’s more than 1.6 billion Muslims, accounting for upwards of 85 to 90 percent of the total. Shia Muslims account for 10 to 15 percent of the world’s Muslims, with a global population of less than 200 million people, according to some estimates. In contrast to the Sunnis, who dominate the Muslim world from West Africa to Indonesia, the Shiites are centered in the Middle East, with a great majority in Iran, a majority in Iraq, and substantial numbers in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, among other countries.

Elizabeth Chuck is a reporter for NBC News who specializes on health and mental health problems, particularly those that affect women and children. She has reported for the network since 2005.

The differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims

Shia and Sunni Muslims have been at odds since the Prophet Muhammad’s death in the seventh century, and the dispute dates back to that time. Nonetheless, as the frequency of disputes between the two branches of the religion has increased, the disparities between the two branches of the religion have come under more scrutiny. According to a 2009 report by the Pew Research Center, Sunni Muslims constitute the great majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims population. Shia Muslims account for between 10% and 13% of the population, whereas Sunni Muslims account for between 87 percent and 90%.

  • Sunni Muslims are also found in more countries and regions around the world.
  • Columbia.edu It was only after Prophet Muhammad’s death that the two factions began to be separated from one another.
  • The majority of people believed that Prophet Muhammad’s rightful successor should be his father-in-law and close friend, Abu Bakr.
  • Although the division was first primarily political in nature, as the minority group was a section that supported Ali’s political power, the division eventually morphed into a religious movement.
  • The twelfth day of the holy month of Muharram is one of the most significant events in the lives of Shia Muslims (the first month in the Islamic lunar calendar).
  • Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz.
  • Reuters Ashoura is the occasion for “collective atonement via sorrow and self-flagellation,” as defined by the Islamic tradition.
  • Each group believes Muhammad to be God’s prophet and adheres to Islam’s five ceremonial pillars, which include fasting during Ramadan and five daily prayers.
  • They also have a common religious text in the form of the Quran.
  • Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses Iranian senior officials at a mosque at his house in the Iranian capital of Tehran, on March 25, 2015.
  • Despite the fact that many Shia and Sunni Muslims live peacefully together, a Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2012 found that 40 percent of Sunni Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa do not accept Shias as fellow Muslims in their communities.

There is also a cleavage between the two communities in the Iraq and Syria conflicts, with many Sunni males joining rebel organizations and men from the Shia community fighting for or with government troops, according to the BBC.

Sunnis and Shias – the key questions

(Graphic courtesy of Ciaran Hughes)

Why the difference?

Following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, a schism developed between Sunni and Shia Muslims, which was tied to the question of who should be chosen to succeed him. One group, later known as the Sunnis, believed that Muhammad’s successor should be chosen in accordance with Arab tribal tradition; the other, known as the Shias, believed that Muhammad’s successor should be chosen from within his own family and supported Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and also his son-in-law. Very early on, there was a split, which resulted in the development of doctrinal disputes.

  1. Carool Kersten is a neurologist.
  2. Shia is derived from the Arabic phrase “Shiat Ali,” which translates as “the party of Ali.” Sunni Muslims elect a caliph to serve as their leader, whilst Shia Muslims elect an imam to serve as their leader.
  3. “A schism occurred very early on, and doctrinal disputes emerged as a result.
  4. The division between the groups, on the other hand, was not clear right quickly.
  5. He lived for five years before succumbing to undetermined causes in a strange manner.
  6. His murder at the hands of the Sunni Umayyad dynasty at the Battle of Karbala cemented his status as a martyr for the Shia faith.
  7. “Karbala is the time,” he said in an interview with Channel 4 News.

What are the differences today?

Across the Middle East and the rest of the world, the Sunni/Shia divide is represented in a variety of ways by geography (see graphic, above). Sunnis are the majority of Muslims worldwide, accounting for at least 80 percent of the population. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Syria are just a few of the nations where Sunnis predominate (see more on Syria, below). Shia Muslims, on the other hand, constitute the majority in a number of nations, including Iran, Iraq, and, more recently, Lebanon. As a result of the historical division, the various sects have adopted a variety of diverse religious rituals and theological perspectives — yet they all have essential beliefs in common, including as the “oneness” of Allah, Muhammad’s status as the final prophet, prayer, and fasting.

  1. On both sides of the issue, there are severe aspects to consider.
  2. Carool Kersten is a neurologist.
  3. The deaths of Ali and Hussein, as well as the fact that Shias have had a more painful history of repression due to their status as a minority, combine to generate a motif of martyrdom that runs throughout Shia history.
  4. When it comes to Islam, the Sunni branch is frequently perceived as more radical than the Shi’ite branch, which is heightened by the fact that al-Qaeda adheres to a Sunni Salafist theology.
  5. Kersten, on the other hand, believes that it is not as straightforward as that.
  6. Some of the discourse that comes out of Iran is categorically in opposition to that point of view.

“It would be far too simplistic to claim that Shias are more moderate than Sunnis. On both sides of the question, there are severe aspects to consider.”

How has this been played out in Syria?

Syria is a majority-Sunni country, although it has been ruled by a Shia minority under President Bashar al-Assad (image, below). Putting it simply, the situation in Iraq prior to the Iraq war was the polar opposite of what it is now – a scenario in which the minority Sunnis led by Saddam Hussein ruled over the majority Shia people. Simply put, the Sunni insurgents are opposed to the Shia-led government. However, because of internal splits within the Shia branch, the issue is much more perplexing.

  • The Seveners believe that there were seven real imams in all of history.
  • Raffaello Pantucci of the Russian Federation Iran is ruled by “Twelvers,” and the terrorist organization Hezbollah, which Iran sponsors, is likewise governed by “Twelvers.” Dr.
  • The enemy of my adversary is, in many respects, an ally of mine, he explained.
  • A number of Sunni nations, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have supplied assistance to the rebels.
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According to Raffaello Pantucci, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, the Syrian conflict has become a “magnet” for both Shia and Sunni combatants, with “organization like Hezbollah collaborating with the government, and Sunni preachers preaching about aiding the rebels.” “On the battlefields of Syria, there is a clear sectarian difference between the Sunnis and the Shias,” he told Channel 4 News.

“It is a tale that came to light during the recent war in Qusair,” says the author.

“We are also witnessing a significant increase in the number of folks coming in for the Sunni side.” The list includes “extremist jihadists,” “footloose young guys interested in fighting on the battlefield,” and “anything in between.”


Despite the fact that Islam is divided into numerous sects, all Muslims adhere to the idea of Tawhid (belief in a single God, Allah), believe in the Quran, and adhere to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him). ​


​Sunni Sunni Islam is the biggest branch of Islam, and those who adhere to it are referred to as Sunnis. Because they think that they are following the Sunnah (also known as “custom” or “tradition”) of the prophet Muhammad, they are referred to as Sunnis (pbuh). Although the exact number of Sunni Muslims in the world is unclear, some experts believe that between 85 and 90 percent of the world’s Muslim population adheres to this branch of Islam. They trace their historical origins to the dominant group that accompanied the caliph Abu Bakr to the throne of Muhammad as his successor.

According to the four schools of thinking, Sunnis base their faith on the Quran and Sunnah as perceived by the majority of the community within the framework of the four schools of thought (madhhabs).

They are all subsets of one another.

They will continue to seek Islamic solutions for the questions given by growing civilizations, regardless of time or place in which they are practiced.


It is believed that the name ‘Shi’ism’ comes from the Arabic phrase’shi’at ‘Ali,’ which literally translates as ‘the party of Ali.’ Several Shi’ite scholars argue that Ali, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuhson-in-law )’s and cousin, should have been elected caliph following the Prophet’s (pbuh) death. The Shiat adhere to the notion of Imamate, who is described as “the divinely inspired, religious and political head of the society;” one who is without sin and who bestows real knowledge on humanity, which is another key distinction.

The great majority of Shi’ites are twelvers, or adherents of the branch known as ‘Ithna Ashari,’ who comprise the bulk of the population.

Shi’a thinking is divided into several schools of thought, the most important of which being the Ja’faryia, which was formed by Ja’far al-Sadiq, the 6th Shia Imam.

They all allude to the number of divine imams who were recognized after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, and they are all capitalized (pbuh).

The three primary holidays observed by Shi’a Muslims are Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, and Ashura (the Day of the Dead). They also observe Ramadan, which is the month of fasting. ​


Ismailis, also known as the ‘Seveners,’ are Shi’a Muslims who developed in 765 as a result of a debate over who should succeed Ja’far al-Sadiq as the sixth imam. Some Muslims think that Ismail, the eldest son of Imam Ja’far, was the legitimate ruler of the whole Muslim community. Ismailis believe that after the sixth Imam Ja’far went away, his eldest son, Ismail, received the authority to govern, and therefore became the seventh Imam of the Islamic faith. These beliefs are in contrast to those held by the twelvers, who believe that the imamate was passed on to Musa al-Kazaim, Ismail’s brother.

  1. Mawlana Hazar, referred to as ‘His Highness the Aga Khan 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia’ Imami Ismaili Muslims,’ is believed to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia’ Imami Ismaili Muslims (pbuh).
  2. Ismaili leaders that are well-known include Ubaydulla, who claimed to be a direct descendant of Fatima and Ali.
  3. “One of its most enduring landmarks was its religious center, the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo,” which has continued to serve as an epicenter of Islamic instruction to the present day, according to the Associated Press.


Unlike the other Shi’a groupings, the Zaydiyyah school of law has a distinct conception of the imamate than the other Shi’a parties. They recognize Zayd ibn Ali, the grandson of Hussain, as the ‘Fifth Imam,’ as their spiritual leader. Zaydis believe that the Imam does not have to be a direct descendant of Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter (pbuh), but rather can be anybody connected to Ali who possesses the highest level of moral purity. Islam: The Straight Path, by John L. Esposito, Oxford University Press, 1994, p.

Islamic Publications Limited launched the official website of the Ismaili Muslim Community in 2007.

48; John L.

How Do Sunni and Shia Islam Differ? (Published 2016)

The killing of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia has the potential to exacerbate tensions in the Muslim world even further. The top leader of Iran’s Shiite theocracy, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared on Sunday that Saudi Arabia, which is run by a Sunni monarchy, will face “divine vengeance” for the slaying of the outspoken cleric, which was part of a mass execution that killed 47 men. It has always been the goal of Sheikh Nimr to see increased political rights for Shiites in Saudi Arabia and the surrounding nations.

  • Here’s a primer on the fundamental distinctions between Sunni and Shia Islamic beliefs and practices.
  • Following the Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632, a rift developed, and disagreements erupted about who should lead the fledgling but rapidly expanding faith.
  • The title was handed on to a loyal assistant, Abu Bakr, however others believed it should have been given to Ali, the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, rather than Abu Bakr.
  • Image courtesy of EPA (European Pressphoto Agency).
  • However, in 680, Hussein and many of his family were slaughtered in the Iraqi city of Karbala.
  • During the month of Muharram, every year, the followers of Ali are commemorated as Shiites, which is a contraction of the word Shiat Ali, which means “followers of Ali” in Arabic.
  • Sunni kings launched a series of conquests that resulted in the caliphate being extended throughout North Africa and Europe.

What are the differences between their points of view?

Many features of Islam are agreed upon by the branches, yet there are significant differences within each of the branches itself.

Shiites regard Ali and the leaders who came after him as imams, or spiritual leaders.

Shiites who call themselves Twelvers look forward to his coming as the Mahdi, or Messiah.

Which sect is the largest, and where are the members of each group concentrated?

They may be found all across the Arab world, as well as in nations like as Turkey, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia, among other locations.

The Saudi royal family, which adheres to an austere and conservative branch of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, has complete authority over Islam’s holiest sanctuaries, which are located in Mecca and Medina, respectively.

Often, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two most powerful Sunni and Shiite states in the Middle East, find themselves on opposite sides of regional disputes.

Amidst an ongoing civil conflict in Syria, where a Sunni majority has been established, the Alawite Shiite sect of President Bashar al-administration, Assad’s which has long controlled the country, is fighting to maintain its hold on power.

The Islamic State’s achievements in Iraq have been aided by strong resentments between the Shiite-led government and the Sunni-dominated populations in the country.

The branches of Islam

Dakar – Senegal hosts a meeting of the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Dakar on March 13-14. Below is a factbox on some different branches of Islam practised within the Islamic world. Sunni Islam One of Islam’s two main denominations, Sunnis account forroughly 85 percent of the world’s roughly 1.5 billion Muslims. As well as the Koran, they emphasise the Sunna, the example setby the Prophet Mohammad and his companions, as recorded in thehadith, an oral history collection set down in writing manyyears after the events.

Historically and with few exceptions, the most powerfulMuslim governments have been Sunni, while non-Sunni groups havetended to be on the political fringes.

Within Sunni Islam there are four classical Sunni schools ofjurisprudence: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali.

Adherents of thevarious schools are rarely antagonistic towards rival schools.

One of the most recent of these’salafi’ movements is the Wahhabi movement which arose in theArabian peninsula in the 18th century and which is stillpromoted by the Saudi authorities.

Shi’ite Islam The Shi’ites are the second of the two main denominations ofIslam, covering up to 15 percent of the world’s Muslims, mainlyin Iran, Iraq, and parts of Lebanon, Turkey and Afghanistan.

The Shi’ites believe that Ali ibn Abi Taleb, Mohammad’scousin and son-in-law, was his rightful heir and should havesucceeded him immediately.

They also believe that Ali’s directdescendants, known as the imams, should have governed after him.

Their hadith collectionsdiffer, especially when the subject is the status of Ali andother characters in early Islamic history.

The largest is theTwelvers, whose adherents believe there have been 12 divinelyordained imams and who account for over three quarters ofShi’ites.

Other branches include the Ismailis, the Seveners, and theZaidis.

Sufis can be Sunni or Shi’ite and their ceremonies caninvolve chanting, music, dancing, and meditation.

Most of those in West Africa emphasisethe role of a spiritual guide, or marabout, regarded as anAfricanisation of Islam.

The Tijani are the most popular Sufi order in West Africa,with a large following in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Senegal andGambia.

Sharia law Sharia, or “the path”, is a body of religious law basedmainly on the Koran and the sayings of Mohammad.

Most states limit the use of sharia to “personal law” onissues such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody.

Egypt, the largest Muslim state in theArab world, says sharia is the main source of its legislationbut has penal and civil codes based mostly on French law.

Nigeria’s northern states adopted a sharia penal code in2000 but punishments have been rare. Dozens of women convictedof adultery and sentenced to stoning to death have been freed.

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