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 (the belief in Allah Almighty, articles and pillars of Islam) yet they are divided into different concepts. There are many misconceptions about Shia Muslims in the mind of other Muslims which have addressed in this post.

So we thought of listing those concepts that make them different even when their belief is based on the same fundamentals. 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 the Holy Prophet PBUH. Sunni is an orthodox sect of Islam.

The word Shia also belongs to 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. The Shias also refer to themselves as the followers of the households of Prophet PBUH or the Ahl-al-bait.

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2-The reason for division: The two sects emerged after the death of the Holy Prophet PBUH. After the death of the Prophet PBUH, the question got raised that who will now lead the Muslim nation.

With this question arose different opinions. One group (the Sunni) believed that the leadership shall be handed down to a capable person and thereby viewed Hazrat Abu Bakr R.A 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 the Prophet PBUH.  They believe that either a person who was appointed by the Prophet PBUH himself or an Imam shall have been given the caliphate.

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 the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W but also was his son in law.

The Shia believe that the Muslim leader should have been among the Imams (the one chosen by Allah) or among the Holy Prophet’s family. The Shia simply rejects the recognition of other elected leaders. There are many misconceptions about how Shia Muslims are treated in Saudi Arabia.

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3-Population census of the sects: Among the Muslim population, 85% is that of Sunni while the rest 25% is of Shia. Sunni enjoy widespread of the majority.

However, one thing is to be noted that the two sects are further divided into groups. 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 majority in countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.

4-The difference in offering ritual: Even though the Shia and Sunni hold similar Islamic beliefs yet their Prayers and Marriages do differ. Shia and Sunni hold different religious events as well.  Their beliefs are same yet their practices differ.

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5-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 shrine 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.

6-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 the Prophet PBUH.

Such companions include Hazrat Abu Bakr R.A, Umar Bin Khitab R.A and Hazrat Aisha R.A. 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.