Difference Between Shia and Sunni

Shia vs Sunni

The world is home to different religions spread across the world. This rather complex network of religions is further made complicated by the many denominations of which they are consisted. Islam is one such religion which is made up of two such denominations, Sunni and Shia which while agreeing on one or more core beliefs have their own separate beliefs, traditions and customs thereby differentiating one religious sector from another. Religion has a tendency to seep into the lives of those who practice it and these influences most often defines the role that it plays in a person’s life.  Thereby, if one is to properly understand the context of any religion, it is important to know the denominations that fall under it. 

What is Sunni Islam?

Sunni Islam which is known to be the largest branch of Islam takes its name after the Arabic word ‘Sunnah’ which denotes the actions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad that are recorded in hadiths. After the Muhammad’s death the prophet as elected by the people of Medina, Sunni Muslims are said to have accepted Abu Bakr , father of the Prophet’s favoured wife, Aishah , as the successor of Muhammad and followed him as he had proved himself to be an effective leader. Considered to be the most orthodox form of Islam, Sunni religion today is recorded to have over 940 million followers, which is comprised of about 75% of the world Muslim population of all the Muslim countries worldwide. Sunni Islam is more popularly spread in countries such as Africa, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and some of the Arab world. It is based on six articles of faith referred to as the ‘Six pillars of Iman”.

  1. Reality of one God Allah
  2. Existence of angels of Allah
  3. Authority of the books of Allah
  4. Following the prophets of Allah
  5. Preparation for and belief in the Day of Judgment
  6. Supremacy of Allah’s will – belief in predestination good or bad is from Allah alone

What is Shia Islam?

Shia Islam derives its name from the historic phrase ‘’ShīʻatuʻAlī’’ which means “followers of Ali”. It bases its teachings upon the Holy Book of Quran similar to all other Muslim denominations. However, followers of Shia believe that only God reserves the right to pick a representative who will safeguard Islam and therefore, the Quran and sharia appoints its leader. According to this, after the death of the Prophet, ‘Ali ibn AbiTalib, the husband of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah, was appointed as the successor of Muhammad and leader of the people, referring to various narrations where they believe that Muhammad appointed Ali as his successor. Today, Shia Islam is more popular in countries such as Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

What is the difference between Shia and Sunni?

• Sunni muslims are the followers of Abu Bakr whereas Shia Muslims are the followers of Ali.

• Sunni believes that in order to become leader, it is enough to base their origin within the tribe of the prophet. Shia Muslims believe that one has to belong to the family of the prophet in order to become the leader of the Muslims.

• The Sunni denomination is the most traditional and the most largely followed denomination of Islam.

Shia Muslims believe in a temporary marriage where a marriage is set for a prefixed period of time.

• Sunni Muslims believe that the Al Mahdi is yet to come whereas Shia Muslims believe that he is already on earth.

• Sunni Islam can be found in countries like Africa, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and some of the Arab world. Shia Islam is more popular in countries like Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

• With regards to their belief in the Al Mahdi, Sunni Muslims believe that Al Mahdi is yet to come while Shia Muslims believe that Al Mahdi was already on earth and that he is currently the “hidden imam” working in the guise of mujtahids to interpret Quran and will return at the end of time.

Shia Muslims believe in temporary marriage where a couple enters in to wedlock for a preset period of time while Sunni Muslims believe in a more permanent marriage which ends only in divorce of in the case of the death of a spouse.