What Are The Two Sects Of Islam? (Perfect answer)

Does Islam have different sects?

  • Muslims have no sects. In Islam, there are two major schools of thought, the Shia and the Sunni. Both have many things in common. They follow the same book – Quran. They follow the same prophet Muhammad (P).


What are the two sects of Islam and how do they differ?

Although Sunni and Shiite Muslims are both sects of the Islamic faith, the differences between these two groups stem from conflicting religious beliefs. Political conflict separates the groups as well Saudi Arabia, a Sunni nation, and Shiite Iran continue to compete for regional influence in the Arab world.

What is difference between Sunni and Shiite?

The main difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims is their belief surrounding who should have succeeded the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD. Historically, Sunni Muslims believed that Abu Bakr was the rightful successor, while Shiite, or Shia, Muslims thought it should have been Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Why did Sunni and Shia split?

The origin of Shia–Sunni relations can be traced back to a dispute over the succession to the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a caliph of the Islamic community.

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.

How many sects are there 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.

Is Shiite and Shia 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.”

Do Shia believe in Prophet Muhammad?

Muslims believe that Muhammad and other prophets in Islam possessed ismah. Twelver and Ismaili Shia Muslims also attribute the quality to Imams as well as to Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad, in contrast to the Zaidi, who do not attribute ‘ismah to the Imams.

What is a caliphate in Islam?

Caliphate, the political-religious state comprising the Muslim community and the lands and peoples under its dominion in the centuries following the death (632 ce) of the Prophet Muhammad.

What do Sunni Muslims believe?

Sunni Muslims. Sunni Muslims strongly believe that the redemption of human beings is dependent on faith in Allah, His prophets, acceptance of Muhammad as the final prophet, and belief in righteous deeds as explained in the Koran. The mercy of Allah will determine the redemption of all human beings.

Is Turkey Sunni or Shia?

Religious statistics Most Muslims in Turkey are Sunnis forming about 80.5%, and Shia-Aleviler (Alevis, Ja’faris, Alawites) denominations in total form about 16.5% of the Muslim population. Among Shia Muslim presence in Turkey there is a small but considerable minority of Muslims with Ismaili heritage and affiliation.

Is Afghanistan Sunni or Shiite?

Afghanistan is an Islamic emirate, in which most citizens follow Islam. As much as 90% of the population follows Sunni Islam. According to The World Factbook, Sunni Muslims constitute between 84.7 – 89.7% of the population, and Shia Muslims between 10 – 15%. 0.3% follow other minority religions.

What are the 5 sects of Islam?

As with all other world religions, Islam is represented by several major branches: Sunni, Shi’a, Ibadi, Ahmadiyya, and Sufism.

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.

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.

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.

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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. It is believed by Ithna Asharis that the so-called “expected imam” did not die, and that he will return to earth at the end of time to restore justice.

What role has sectarianism played in recent crises?

It is believed that the Shia make up between 154 and 200 million people worldwide, accounting for around 10% of all Muslims. AP provided the image. Caption for image After Ali, Hassan, and Hussein died, the Shia notion of martyrdom came into being as a result of their deaths. Islamists, known as Shia Muslims, are the majority of the population in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, and, to some extent, Yemen. Afghanistan, India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are also home to significant Shia minorities.

  1. When Muhammad died in 632, they asserted that Ali was the true successor to Muhammad as leader (imam) of the Muslim community, and that Ali had been chosen by Allah.
  2. Despite their claims to rightful right of accession to the caliphate, Hassan and Hussein were denied this right by the caliphate’s rulers.
  3. It was because of these occurrences that the Shia idea of martyrdom and mourning rituals came to be established.
  4. The Ithna Asharis are the largest group, and they believe that Muhammad’s religious leadership, spiritual authority, and divine direction were handed on to 12 of his descendants, starting with Ali, Hassan, and Hussein, and continuing through the generations after them.
  5. Those who believe in Ithna Asharis think that the so-called “expected imam” did not die and will come at the end of time to bring about justice on earth.

More on this story

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?

As a result of Saudi Arabia’s execution of famous Shiite opposition leader Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr last week, long-standing tensions between the two countries have been exacerbated. 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 more than 1,400 years ago.

Saudi Arabia is by far the most powerful propagator of Sunni Islam, which is also by far the largest sect in terms of population. In the eyes of Shia Muslims, Iran is the epicenter of the religion’s power. An overview of the sectarian divisions is provided below:

What do Sunnis and Shiites have in common?

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have been simmering for decades, erupted last week after the Saudis murdered Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a renowned Shiite opposition preacher. Much of the regional competition is upon who has the most political clout in the Middle East, but its roots can be traced back to a divide between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam that began more than 1,400 years ago. Saudi Arabia is by far the most powerful propagator of Sunni Islam, which is also the largest sect in the world.

Here’s a quick introduction on the rift that exists between the two sects:

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 are the two main sects of Islam?

What are the two most important branches of Islam?


Islam is the world’s second most popular religion, behind Christianity, with over a billion adherents. The Middle East, North Africa, Indonesia, and Malaysia are the countries where it is most extensively practiced. In some places of the world, on the other hand, there are significant numbers of adherents.

Answer and Explanation:

The Sunni and Shia sects of Islam are the two largest groups in the world. The Sunni community is significantly greater. The majority of Shia adherents live in Iran, however there are also significant numbers of Shia in other countries. See the complete response below for more information.

Learn more about this topic:

Islam is divided into two groups: the Sunni and the Shiite (Chapter 6/Lesson 8). Sunnis and Shiites disputed over who should replace Muhammad as Islamic leader after the Prophet’s death in 632 CE, igniting the Islamic Civilizational Divide. Discover the differences between Sunnis and Shiites, as well as the causes that contributed to the Islamic division.

Explore our homework questions and answers library

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

Shi’a thought is divided into several schools of thought, the most important of which is the Ja’faryia, which was founded 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.

What’s the Difference Between Shiite and Sunni Muslims?

Despite the fact that Sunni and Shiite Muslims are both branches of the Islamic religion, the distinctions between these two groups are rooted in their differing theological views, which are at odds with one another. Political tension also creates divisions amongst the groups. A rivalry for regional dominance in the Arab world continues between Saudi Arabia, a Sunni nation, and Shiite Iran, a Shiite nation. As anti-government rallies and car bombs rage across Saudi Arabia, Sunni officials have accused their Shiite communities of being loyal to the regime in Tehran.

  • Furthermore, both Sunnis and Shiites believe that the Prophet Muhammad created the Islamic faith around the seventh century.
  • Because the Sunnis believe that Muhammad had no legitimate heir, they advocate for religious leadership to be elected by the whole Islamic community through a popular vote.
  • Muslims who adhere to Shiite beliefs believe that only Allah, the God of their faith, has the authority to choose religious leaders, and that as a result, all successors must be direct descendants of Muhammad’s family.
  • Other religious differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims include their belief in a figure known as the Mahdi, which is Arabic for “guided one.” Both sides consider the Mahdi to be the only ruler of the Islamic society, and they are correct.
  • and will return to Earth at Allah’s command in the near future.

As reported by CNN.com, just 10% of the total Muslim population in the Islamic world is Shiite, which is the minority religion. Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain, a Gulf island state, are the only nations in the Middle East with a Shiite majority, according to the United Nations.

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The original version of this article appeared on Live Science. From 2010 until 2012, Remy Melina worked as a staff writer for the Live Science website. With honors from Hofstra University, she earned her bachelor’s degree in communication.

What Are the Two Major Sects in Islam?

Following the death of the Muslim prophet Muhammad in the early seventh century, the approximately 100,000 Muslims who survived him were faced with the task of selecting a new leader for their fledgling Muslim empire. In order to lead them, the vast majority of Muslims picked Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad’s closest associates. A smaller faction, on the other hand, contended that Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, should be appointed as the next leader. This difference of opinion resulted in the division of Islam into two major factions, which are still separated today: Sunni and Shiite.


Abu Bakr was chosen as the head of the Sunni Muslims. They continue to be the dominant sect within Islam, as well as in the majority of Muslim-dominated nations. Muslims of Sunni faith stress the importance of religion in the formation of state policy, and they typically place a high level of trust in Shariah, or Islamic law based on the Quran, as well as acknowledged interpretations of that holy book. When the Quran is not explicit on a particular matter, they also allow for ijtihad, or the reasoned opinion of sincere believers, to be considered.


Shiites, the second largest Muslim sect, believe that Muhammad’s cousin Ali should have been appointed as the ruler of the Muslim community. Shiites place a high value on the saints and imams of their religion. There have been 12 imams, each of whom was blameless and infallible in his doctrinal decisions, according to the most widely accepted Shiite belief system. Those who follow Shiite Islam believe that the Mahdi, the final imam, will arrive at some point in time and deliver the Islamic religion to victory.

3Major Differences

New differences have emerged between Sunnis and Shiites as a result of the passage of time. Many of these divergences are the result of debates on historical practices. For the most part, both parties rely on hadiths, or traditions about Muhammad’s sayings and acts, to aid them in their interpretation of the Quran. On the other hand, Shiites place greater emphasis on hadiths that originate from Muhammad’s immediate family and associates, whereas Sunnis accept hadiths from a far wider range of sources as acceptable sources.

4Key Similarities

Despite their theological differences, the vast majority of Sunnis and Shiites think that their commonalities outweigh their religious differences. The majority of members of each sect consider the other to be a real Muslim. Islam and Judaism both worship Allah and believe that the verses of the Quran were dictated to the Prophet Muhammad straight from him. Both organizations adhere to fundamental Islamic principles, such as the obligation to pay alms to the poor and to pray on a regular basis, however the specific manner in which they carry out these commandments differ.

Robert Phillips is now studying history and Arabic at the University of Oklahoma, where he focuses in writing about health, history, travel and languages. He also enjoys writing about video games and education.

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 Difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims and Why It Matters

Lutherans and Baptists are nearly identical in their beliefs. That is incorrect, and both sides would very certainly agree on that issue. It is also not correct to say that all Muslims are the same. Over 1.5 billion Muslims live in the world, with approximately 85 percent belonging to a sect known as Sunni and just 15 percent belonging to a group known as Shia. The division is a long-standing one, dating back 1,387 years to be exact. However, it continues to pose a danger to the stability of the whole Middle East and provides background for many of the stories we see in the news throughout the world.

When Muhammad, the prophet and creator of Islam, died, it was the beginning of the end.

Dispute over Muhammad’s Successor

When Muhammad died in AD 632, a huge controversy erupted about who would succeed him as the spiritual head of the new religion that had emerged. Islam was more than just a private religion; it was a social and political force that shaped events. He would have enormous control over society, government, and commerce as Muhammad’s heir. “It all began with Muhammad’s death, the prophet and creator of Islam,” says the author. Some others believed that anyone with the necessary qualifications could take over.

They insisted on the control of Muhammad’s father-in-law and friend Abu Bakr, whom they considered to be his heir.

As a result of their support for Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, this group became known as theshi’atuAli (the “party of Ali”), also known as Shiite Muslims.

Despite this, the Shiites refused to acknowledge Abu Bakr as legitimate and remained firm in their belief that they were obligated to Muhammad’s descendants, whom they referred to as l al-Bayt, or “the family of the house.” Ali was the father of two boys, Hasan and Husayn, who were both beloved by the Shiite community.

For Shiite Muslims, this fight and Husayn’s death are a sad reminder of their past.

Similarities and Differences in Religious Practice

Both sects adhere to Islam’s fundamental principles and practices, which are maintained by both. Those who follow Islam adhere to the Qur’an as a revelation from Allah as well as the Five Pillars of Islam, which include helping the poor, fasting during the month of Ramadan, participating in daily ritual prayers, making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and proclaiming that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. Shiite Muslims do the five daily ritual prayers, although they do it in three sessions rather than five as is customary for Sunni Muslims.

  1. Many of these tablets include the names of Husayn and other members of the prophet’s family written on them, as well.
  2. Shiites adhere to a set of 10 required deeds in addition to the fundamental Five Pillars.
  3. They live in mourning, and they dress in black for the most of the year.
  4. On this day, Shiite Muslims around the Middle East and Asia take to the streets, screaming laments over the murder of Husayn, weeping loudly, and beating themselves in solidarity.
  5. Shiite Muslims flock to the Iraqi city of Karbala on pilgrimage, with many selling all they own to pay homage to the site of a historic conflict dating back thousands of years.
  6. These remembrances are not restricted to the Middle East alone, though.
  7. In the eyes of Sunni Muslims, the Shiite fixation with the house of Muhammad represents a false Islam that concentrates an excessive amount of reverence on the prophet’s family.

Shiite Muslims, on the other hand, believe that Sunnis are not genuine Muslims. Due to their strong differences, which have gone unsolved for millennia, the Middle East has been shattered, with permanently unresolved tension.

Shiites and Sunnis on the Modern Map

Saudi Arabia and Iran are the two most powerful countries in the Islamic world, representing the two major branches of Islam. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is considered to be the spiritual core of Sunni Islam. Iran is mostly Shiite, and it has been ruled by a Shiite Supreme Leader since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when the country gained its independence. The power struggle between these two countries is a continual source of contention in the Middle East. Some Middle Eastern nations contain considerable populations of Islamic sectarian minorities, particularly in Syria and Iraq.

  1. Following his death, rumors emerged that some Shiite Muslims who were present at his funeral danced and sang their Shiite chants in celebration of their triumph, proclaiming that they had reclaimed the territory of Iraq.
  2. Multiple upheavals in the Middle East throughout the years have made it more difficult to maintain peace in the region.
  3. It is critical to understand these dynamics in order to decipher headlines that depict continuous disputes and tensions among Muslim factions.
  4. Shiite and Sunni Muslims may be found all throughout the world, and they may even reside in your own neighborhood.

Building Meaningful Relationships with Shiite and Sunni Muslims

Considering this, how should we interact with our Muslim friends and neighbors in this context? First and foremost, it is important to recognize that the majority of Shiite Muslims consider themselves to be a persecuted minority. Even devout Shiites who perform the Hajj to Mecca are subjected to maltreatment in Saudi Arabia, where the bulk of the population is Sunni. This should serve as inspiration for our prayers. Pray that people who believe they are oppressed would come to realize the freedom and peace that comes from placing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. All Muslims living in America, whether they are Sunni or Shiite, are considered minorities.
  2. Simple gestures of kindness may have a significant impact on Muslims’ perceptions of Christians and their Savior, and they should be encouraged.
  3. Consider inviting Muslims you know to your home for a dinner in the evening to break their fast with you.
  4. The majority of Muslims approach dialogues with confidence in their views in opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  5. They have the potential to obtain freedom when we compassionately communicate the truth of Christ with them because the Spirit unlocks their hearts as they hear the message.
  6. We are talking about the reality of a spotless Savior who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins so that everyone who puts their faith in him might be forgiven and accepted into the family of God.

Undeniably, it is this good news that unifies Christians in a call to love, a call to travel, and a call to declare its truth to all Muslims, whether Sunni or Shiite. Madeline Arthington works as a writer for the International Monetary Fund. She currently resides in Central Asia.

What is the Shia-Sunni divide?

Tensions between Sunnis and Shias have been escalating recently, with multiple incidences of violence recorded in recent months, including the following: The most recent incident occurred on Tuesday, August 1, when a suicide bomber detonated himself in the largest Shiite Muslim mosque in Afghanistan’s Herat province, killing at least 29 people. Earlier in June, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for two assaults in Iran that claimed the lives of at least twelve people. In the Middle East, Iran is a Shia Muslim majority state that frequently finds itself at odds with Sunni governments and extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

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What is the true nature of the Shia-Sunni divide?

History of divide

Both Sunnis and Shias, who derive their faith and practice from the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad, are in agreement on the majority of Islamic principles, according to the Islamic scholars. The distinctions are more closely tied to historical events, ideological inheritance, and issues of leadership than anything else. The earliest and most significant distinction developed following the death of Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632. Who would serve as caliph – the “deputy of God” in the absence of the prophet – became a point of contention.

  1. Those who belonged to this sect believed that Ali had been anointed by the prophet to serve as the political and spiritual head of the newly formed Muslim society.
  2. Abu Bakr was appointed as the first caliph, while Ali was appointed as the fourth caliph.
  3. It was 656 when Aisha and Ali went to combat against each other in the Battle of the Camel in Basra, Iraq, in the year A.D.
  4. Following that, Mu’awiya, the Muslim governor of Damascus, joined the fight against Ali, intensifying the already-existing divides among the community even more.
  5. Hussein, Ali’s youngest son and the son of Fatima, the prophet’s daughter, commanded a party of partisans in the Iraqi city of Kufa against Mu’awiya’s son Yazid.
  6. This fight, known as the Battle of Karbala, is of tremendous historical and theological significance to the Shias of the Middle East.
  7. Photograph by Ebrahim Noroozi for the Associated Press Hussein was assassinated, and his soldiers were routed.
  8. Every year on the Day of Ashura, Muslims commemorate the battle that took place on that day.

Taking place on the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic lunar calendar, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit Hussein’s shrine at Karbala, and many Shia communities partake in symbolic acts of flagellation and suffering to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein.

Leadership disagreements

Islamic communities grew increasingly complicated and overlapping as time went on, stretching from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa, and from North Africa to Asia, and eventually encompassing the whole globe. As a result of this evolution, more formalized systems of religious and political leadership were required. In dealing with these difficulties, Sunnis and Shias used contrasting ways. In the Ummayad (based in Damascus from A.D. 660-750) and Abbasid (based in Iraq from 750-1258 and in Cairo from 1261-1517) periods, Sunni Muslims had faith in the secular leadership of the caliphs, which was supported by the state.

  • These institutions continue to assist Sunni Muslims in making decisions on subjects like as worship, criminal law, gender and family, banking and money, and even bioethical and environmental problems.
  • Shias, on the other hand, looked to Imams as their spiritual leaders, whom they thought to be divinely chosen leaders from among the prophet’s family who guided them in their religious practices.
  • In the absence of direct descendants to rule on their behalf, Shias designate delegates to rule on their behalf (often called ayatollahs).
  • Within Shia Islam, there are also other sects to choose from.

Differences masked during Hajj

Aside from theological disagreements, problems of practice and geopolitics continue to aggravate the rift between the two sides. For example, when it comes to theology, Sunnis and Shias depend on various “Hadith” traditions from which to take their inspiration. Hadith are records of the prophet’s words and acts, and they are regarded an authoritative source of revelation, second only to the Quran in terms of authority. A biographical portrait of the prophet, context for Quranic verses, and the application of Islamic law to daily life are all provided by these works, which are also used by Muslims.

  • In addition, Shias and Sunnis have differing views on prayer.
  • A major religious gathering in Mecca is the Hajj pilgrimage, during which both Shia and Sunni Muslims gather to worship.
  • While the Hajj is supervised by Saudi officials, there have been difficulties with Shia states such as Iran over allegations of discrimination.
  • In Sunni Islam, there is no such organizational structure.
  • Despite the fact that the vast majority of Sunni and Shia Muslims are able to coexist peacefully, the present global political scene has elevated division and sectarianism to unprecedented heights.

Shia-Sunni hostilities are raging in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Pakistan, and the gap is widening across the Muslim world as a result of this. Muslim communities all throughout the world are still affected by this historical rift in their day-to-day existence.

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.

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.

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