6 Major differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims

Shia and Sunni are the two major sects of the religion Islam. The two sects have the same fundamental beliefs yet they are divided into different concepts. Here are some major differences between the two sects:

  1. Meaning of Shia and Sunni

The word Sunni has Arabic roots which refer to the person who practices the teachings and traditions of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Sunni is an orthodox sect of Islam.

The word Shia also belongs to the Arabic dictionary and refers to a party of supportive individuals. The word Shia is a basic short form of Shia-t-Ali. Shia-t-Ali refers to the party of Ali.

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  1. The reason for division

The two sects emerged after the death of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. After the death of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the question got raised that who will now lead the Muslim nation.

  • One group (the Sunni) believed that the leadership shall be handed down to a capable person and thereby viewed Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه as the most vital candidate. Abu Bakr, therefore, became the first Islamic Caliph.
  • The other group (Shia) deemed that the Caliphate should have remained within the family of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.   They are of the view that Hazrat Ali bin Abu Talib was to be made the leader.

Hazrat Ali was not only the cousin of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ but also was his son-in-law.

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  1. Population census of the sects

Among the Muslim population, 85% is that of Sunni while the rest 15% is Shia. Sunni enjoy the widespread of the majority.

  • The Shia has formulated a significant population in countries like Iran and Iraq. While they hold a minority in countries like Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and Lebanon.
  • Sunni have formulated the majority in countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
  1. The difference in offering ritual

Even though the Shia and Sunni hold similar Islamic beliefs, yet their Prayers and Marriages differ. Both Shia and Sunni Muslims mourn the death of Imam Hussain رضي الله عنه but Shia Muslims do by beating themselves.

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  1. Conflict upon Muslim Leader

Shia believes that an Imam shall have been appointed as a Muslim leader as the Imam is pure from sins. They regard them as saints and thereby pay a pilgrim to their shrines and tombs.

Sunni, however, rejects the philosophy on grounds that leadership is not to be transferred only to the privileged ones or to the spiritual leaders. Those who earn it shall lead the Muslim nation.

  1. The difference in practices

The Sunni and Shia follow the Quran but why do their practices differ? The reason is that the Shia do not accept the leadership of certain companions of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

Such companions include Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه, Umar Bin Khitab رضي الله عنه, and Aisha رضي الله عنه. As many of the Hadith are narrated by these close companions, Shia rejects them, and thereby their religious practices such as marriage, fast and prayer are different from Sunni.

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Steve has been living in Saudi Arabia since 2013 and writing about Saudi rules, regulations, guides, and procedures since then.