What Are The Two Main Branches Of Islam? (Question)

A disagreement over succession after Mohammed’s death in 632 split Muslims into Islam’s two main sects, Sunni and Shia.

What are the three main divisions of Islam?

  • Major Divisions of Islam. There are three Major divisions of Islam Sunni, Shi’ah, and Khawarij. The Sunni Muslims are the largest denomination of Islam. The word Sunni comes from the word Sunnah, which means the teachings and actions or examples of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.


What are the two main branches of Islam quizlet?

Two Main Sects of Islam: Sunnis and Shi’ites.

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.

What is one of the main branches 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.

What are the three main branches of Islam quizlet?

Please show at least one difference between the three main Branches of Islam, Sunni, Shia and Sufi. One major difference in their historical view is that the Sunni branch believe as the successor of Mohammad.

Which religion is mostly practiced in India?

While 94% of the world’s Hindus live in India, there also are substantial populations of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and adherents of folk religions. For most Indians, faith is important: In a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, eight-in-ten Indians said religion is very important in their lives.

What are the 3 main sects of Islam?

Muslims Adhere to Different Islamic Sects

  • Sunni Muslims include 84%–90% of all Muslims.
  • Shi`ite Muslims comprise 10%–16% of all Muslims.
  • Sufis are Islamic mystics.
  • Baha’is and Ahmadiyyas are 19th-century offshoots of Shi`ite and Sunni Islam, respectively.

What are the two main sects of Islam Class 7?

The two main sects of Islam are Shia and Sunni.

What are the 3 types of Islam?


  • 3.1 Murijite Islam.
  • 3.2 Muʿtazila Islam.

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 largest branch of Islam?

Sunni Islam is by far the largest branch of Islam: its followers make up 87 to 90% of the global Muslim population.

How can you tell between Sunni and Shia?

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).

What do u mean by jihad?

jihad, (Arabic: “struggle” or “effort ”) also spelled jehad, in Islam, a meritorious struggle or effort.

What are three groups within Islam and how do they differ?

What are three groups within Islam and how do they differ? Shia believe the leader should be a descendant of Muhammad. Sufi pursue a life of poverty and devotion to a spiritual path. What division of Islam believes that only a relative of Muhammad is qualified to be a caliph?

Islam’s Sunni-Shia Divide, Explained

Despite the fact that the two largest factions within Islam, Sunni and Shia, agree on the majority of Islam’s essential principles and practices, a severe division exists between the two that dates back more than 14 centuries. In the beginning, there was a disagreement about who should follow the Prophet Muhammad as head of the Islamic faith that was introduced by the Prophet Muhammad. According to a recent estimate by the Council on Foreign Relations, around 85 percent of the approximately 1.6 billion Muslims across the world are Sunni, with only 15 percent belonging to the Shia faith.

Despite their differences, Sunni and Shia Muslims have coexisted in relative peace for the most of history, despite their disagreements.

The Aftermath of Muhammad’s Death

The origins of the Sunni-Shia division may be traced all the way back to the seventh century, just after the death of the prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632, when the two groups first met. While the majority of Muhammad’s supporters felt that his successor should be chosen by the other prominent members of the Islamic community, a tiny fraction believed that only someone from Muhammad’s family—specifically, his cousin and son-in-law, Ali—should be chosen to replace him. This group became known as Ali’s followers, or in Arabic, the Shiat Ali, or just Shia, as a result of their religious beliefs.

Ali finally rose to become the fourth caliph (or Imam, as Shiites refer to their religious leaders), but only after the two caliphs who came before him were both slain.

Not only was the control of Muhammad’s religious and political heritage at danger, but also a substantial sum of money in the form of taxes and tributes collected from the different tribes that had gathered under the banner of Islam, which was at stake as well.

Within a century after Muhammad’s death, his followers had established an empire that spanned from Central Asia all the way down to southern Europe. The Battle of Karbala took place in Iraq. Fine Art Photographs/Heritage Photographs/Getty Images

Battle of Karbala and Its Lasting Significance

A group of 72 followers and family members marched from Mecca to Karbala (present-day Iraq) in 681 to face the corrupt caliph Yazid of the Ummayad dynasty, who was ruling the country at the time. Upon their arrival, a vast Sunni army awaited them, and at the conclusion of a ten-day standoff that included several minor battles, Hussein had been murdered and beheaded, and his head had been sent to Damascus as a tribute to the Sunni caliph. Hussein’s death, as well as the deaths of all surviving members of Muhammad’s family, at Karbala was “clearly intended by the Ummayads to put an end to all claims to leadership of the ummah based on direct descent from Muhammad,” writes Hazleton of the Ummayads’ intention to put an end to all claims to leadership based on direct descent from Muhammad.

He was killed in Karbala, and his martyrdom at Karbala became the primary tale of Shia tradition, and it is honored every year on the Shia calendar on Ashoura, which is the most serious day.

The Sunni-Shia Divide Into the 21st Century

Apart from Karbala, the NPR podcastThroughline highlighted three major turning points in Islamic history that will exacerbate Sunni-Shia divides by the end of the twentieth century. Following the establishment of Iran’s Safavid dynasty in the 16th century, which (by force) changed the country from a Sunni hub to a Shi’a bastion in the Middle East, followed the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century. It was in the early twentieth century that the victorious Allies partitioned the region formerly controlled by the former Ottoman Empire during World War I, tearing apart centuries-old religious and ethnic groups in the process.

Sectarian tensions grew in the early twenty-first century as Islam became increasingly politicized and fundamentalists on both sides of the divide rose in popularity.

Sunni-Shia differences would fuel a long-running civil war in Syria, as well as warfare in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and other places, as well as terrorist attacks on both sides.

Despite the fact that the Sunni-Shia division has persisted for millennia, the fact that the two sects have coexisted in relative harmony for many centuries implies that their conflicts may have less to do with religion and more to do with money and power.

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.

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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.


Ibadi Islam is a branch of Islam that is less well-known. This sect predates both Sunni and Shi’a Islam and is believed to be a highly orthodox branch of the religion. They have the same belief as the Shi’a, which is that God will not appear on the Day of Judgment. In contrast to Sunni and Shi’a beliefs, the Ibadi believe that the Muslim community may rule itself without the need for a single leader to guide it.

Ibadi also varies in that they do not believe that the Muslim monarch must be a descendent of Muhammad’s tribe, the Quraysh, as does the majority of the Muslim population. The Ibadi ethnic group constitutes 75% of the population of Oman.


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.


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

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. A. The Sunnis (also known as “traditionalists”)
  2. B. Sunni Muslims constitute 85 percent of the population. In the eyes of Sunnis, Muhammad and the four “rightly led caliphs” founded Islamic orthodoxy and tradition, and they are the protectors of that tradition. The Quran and Hadith are the primary sources of religious and legal authority. When the Qur’an and Hadith were not specifically referenced, the concepts of analogy (qiyas) and consensus (ijma’) were employed to resolve disputes. This resulted in an increased importance being placed on the work of legal experts in order to reach consensus and draw parallels. Those who adhere to Sharia law think that it should influence both individual and social life. Interpretation can be classified into four schools:
  • 2.The Shi’ites (also known as “partisans”)
  • Shi’ites began as a political dispute over the leadership of Islam
  • They considered Ali (a cousin of Muhammad) to be the first legitimate successor to Muhammad – “Shia Ali” (the party of Ali)
  • They considered Ali to be the first legitimate successor to Muhammad
  • And they considered Ali to be the first legitimate successor to Muhammad. Shi’ites believe that revelation ceased with Muhammad and the Qur’an, but they also believe that there is a lineage of imams who have been bestowed with supernatural powers to interpret the Sharia. Theimams’ teachings are thought to be infallible
  • Shi’ites are referred to as “Seveners” because they believe that a succession of sevenimams followed the martyrdom of Husayn (Ali’s youngest son)
  • Shi’ites have traditionally believed in the existence of aMahdi -a messiah figure who will one day appear and restore the purity of the faith
  • Shi’ites have traditionally believed in the existence of aMahdi -a messiah figure who will one day appear and restore the Shi’ite Muslims recreate the martyrdom of Husayn throughout the month of Muharran
  • Shi’ites despise the conventional Sunni reading and interpretation of the Qur’an, which they consider to be corrupt. (It is speculated that the current edition of the Quran, which does not designate Ali as Muhammad’s successor, was tampered with by Muhammad’s opponents.) As a result, the Qur’an must have hidden meanings that can only be discovered via metaphorical interpretations)
  • Ayatollah (Arabic for “sign of Allah”): one who is considered to be so righteous and steeped in the true faith that he can make independent judgments that carry the authority of the imam
  • Shi’ites are the ruling majority in modern Iran
  • An influential minority in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, and Iraq
  • A minority in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, and Iraq
  • The Sufis (mystics) are the third group. As a sign of poverty and the rejection of earthly pleasures, the wordufime (which means “woolen”) alludes to the coarse wool clothing worn by early Muslim mystics as a symbol of poverty and rejection of worldly pleasures. According to Sufis, their origins may be traced back to the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran. In their view, older Islam was more concerned with actual spiritual things, as opposed to the more materialistic interests of Islam when it had evolved to become a world power in the later centuries. Al-Hallaj announced, “I am the truth,” and was condemned to death in 922 because he was deemed a heretic. al-Ghazali: a professor of theology who attempted to bring together the legalistic and mystical schools of Islam
  • He prescribed Sufism as a remedy for spiritual ills, but he also believed that mystics were still bound by the ritual obligations of the orthodox faith
  • He was born in Baghdad and died in Cairo. 4. The Nation of Islam (sometimes referred to as “Black Muslims”)
  • Wallace Fard, who announced a revelation for African Americans in 1930, claiming that their redemption would come via self-knowledge, which would allow them to regain a feeling of their own history, founded the organization in Detroit in 1930. After Fard’s unexplained disappearance in 1934, Elijah Muhammad took over as Fard’s successor
  • Elijah Muhammad preached that Fard was an embodiment of Allah and pushed his fellow blacks to withdraw from white society and to establish their own institutions
  • Elijah Muhammad died in 1936. Christianity is viewed negatively as a religion of Western culture, and followers adhere to a strict lifestyle that includes five daily prayers, no intoxicants or tobacco, a pure diet, and no illicit sex. Traditional teachings include distrust of Western materialistic culture, the belief that humanity was originally black, and that the white race was created by a black scientist named Yakub who had rebelled against Allah, Christianity is also viewed negatively as a religion of Western culture. Elijah’s son, Wallace D. Muhammad, and Malxolm X both made efforts to bring the Nation of Islam more in line with traditional Islam (e.g., “The World Community of al-Islam in the West”)
  • Malxolm X was the first to make such an endeavor.

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.

  1. Ali was killed in 661 at the end of a five-year caliphate that had been beset by internal conflict.
  2. 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.
  3. There are three major sects of Shia Islam practiced today: the Zaidis, the Ismailis, and the Ithna Asharis (or Ithna Asharis) (Twelvers or Imamis).
  4. In 878, the 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, is reported to have vanished from a cave beneath a mosque, according to legend.
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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.

The branches of Islam

In Dakar, Senegal will host a conference of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on March 13-14, according to a press release. Below is a factbox containing information on some of the numerous branches of Islam that are practiced throughout the Islamic world. Sunni Islam is a branch of Islam. Sunnis are one of Islam’s two major denominations, and they account for around 85 percent of the world’s roughly 1.5 billion Muslims, making them the largest religious group on the planet.

  1. They believe that Mohammad’s first four caliphs were the genuine heirs to his position as prophet.
  2. The only exceptions were the Fatimid Caliphate, which existed 1000 years ago, and Iran, which existed from the 16thcentury onwards, both of which were Shi’ite.
  3. Hanafi is the most conservative of the four schools.
  4. People who belong to different schools are rarely hostile toward their counterparts who belong to other schools.
  5. In the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century, the Wahhabi movement began, and it is actively pushed by the Saudi rulers today, as one of the most recent of these “salafi” groups.
  6. Islam adherents to the Shi’ite sect The Shi’ites are the second largest of the two main varieties of Islam, accounting for up to 15 percent of the world’s Muslims, mostly in Iran, Iraq, and portions of Lebanon, Turkey, and Afghanistan.
  7. Shi’ism arose as a result of a political disagreement about who should administer the Muslim community following the Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632AD.

They view the first three intervening caliphs, who are considered by Sunnis to be among the “RightlyGuided,” to be usurpers, and have declared them to be such.

Over the years, variations in theological and liturgical beliefs have emerged between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

Shi’ite Islam is divided into numerous groups, which differ primarily in the chain of succession of imams following Ali.

Twelvers believe that their final imam, Muhammad ibnHassan, did not die but rather went into “occultation” in the 9thcentury and would return as the Mahdi to redeem the world at some point in the future.

Sufism Sufism, which is not a religious sect, concentrates on the mystical parts of Islam, with the goal of coming to know God via meditation and emotion.

A large number of Sufi organizations may be found in West Africa and Sudan, and they are viewed with suspicion by the more doctrinally rigorous branches of Islam in the Middle East.

It claims several million followers in Senegal and Gambia, but it has garnered criticism for its reverence of its founder, Amadou Bamba, as well as its teaching that pilgrimage to the Senegalese city of Touba may substitute for the Haj to Mecca.

The more hardline Deobandi Sufis have fought with the more moderate Barelwi Sufis throughout South Asia.

Sharia, often known as “the road,” is a corpus of Islamic law that is primarily based on the Koran and the sayings of Mohammad, as well as other sources.

Most states restrict the application of sharia law to “personal law” problems like as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody, among others.

Egypt, the biggest Muslim state in the Arab world, claims that sharia is the primary basis of its legislation, but it also has criminal and civil codes that are mostly based on French legal principles.

In 2000, the northern states of Nigeria enacted a sharia criminal law, although sentences have been few and far between. Hundreds of women who were convicted of adultery and condemned to death by stoning have been released.

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).


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. The differences between these four schools of law are mostly in the manner in which they are applied. 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).
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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.

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).

Ismaili leaders that are well-known include Ubaydulla, who claimed to be a direct descendant of Fatima and Ali.

“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.

The Bohras, the Nizaris, and the Druze are some of the other groups that make up the Ismaili community. ​


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.

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.

They both believe in Islamic law, but their interpretations of it are quite different from one another.

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.

She has reported for the network since 2005.

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.


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.

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