Differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims
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Whats the Difference Between Shiite and Sunni Muslims?
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. Amidst anti-government protests and car bombings, Sunni leaders in Saudi Arabia have accused their Shiite populations of loyalty to Iran.
One thing that Sunnis and Shiites have in common is that they are the two largest denominations of the Islamic faith . Additionally, both Sunnis and Shiites believe that the Prophet Muhammad established the Islam religion during the seventh century.
The schism between the two sects began after the death of Muhammad in 632 A.D., at which point a dispute over the identity of Muhammad’s religious successor caused the followers of Islam to divide into Sunnis and Shiites.
The Sunnis believe that Muhammad had no rightful heir and that a religious leader should be elected through a vote among the Islamic community’s people. They believe that Muhammad’s followers chose Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s close friend and advisor, as his successor.
Shiites believe that only Allah, the God of the Islam faith, can select religious leaders, and that therefore, all successors must be direct descendants of Muhammad’s family. They maintain that Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was the rightful heir to the leadership of the Islam religion after Muhammad’s death.
Another contentious religious difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims concerns the Mahdi, which is Arabic for “guided one.” Both groups perceive the Mahdi as the sole ruler of the Islamic community. But while the Sunnis hold that the Mahdi has not yet been born and anticipate his arrival, the Shiites believe that the Mahdi was born in 869 A.D. and will return to Earth under Allah’s orders.
Most Muslims are Sunnis. Of the entire Muslim population in the Islamic world, only 10 percent are Shiite , according to cnn.com. The only countries that have a Shiite majority in the Middle East are Iran, Iraq and the Gulf island state of Bahrain.
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Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.
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The differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims
Oct. 4, 2015, 10:00 AM
The conflicts between Shia and Sunni Muslims go back to the seventh century and the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
Yet a spotlight has been shone recently on the differences between the two branches of the religion as the number of clashes between both groups has intensified.
The vast majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are Sunni, according to a 2009 study by the Pew Research center .
Between 10% and 13% are Shia Muslims, and 87% to 90% are Sunni Muslims. Sunni Muslims are also present in more countries and regions throughout the world, whereas most of Shia Muslims live in four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India, and Iraq.
The separation of the two groups started after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The majority believed that his rightful successor was his father-in-law and close friend, Abu Bakr, but a small group believed the Prophet Muhammad’s successor should be Ali ibn Abi Talib, his cousin and son-in-law and father of his grandchildren. The Sunni majority got their way, as Abu Bakr became the first Muslim caliph and successor of the prophet. Although the divide was at first mostly political , as the minority group was a faction supporting the power of Ali, over time, the divide evolved into a religious movement.
One of the most crucial differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims is the importance that the Shiites give to Ali, whom the Sunni do not recognize as being the prophet’s rightful successor.
One of the most important dates for Shia Muslims is the tenth day of the holy month of Muharram (the first month in the Islamic lunar calendar). Shia Muslims celebrate the anniversary of the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and son of Ali.
The occasion of “collective atonement through lamentation and self-flagellation” is called Ashoura. This practice is particular to the Shiites and often draws criticism and protests from Sunnis who do not celebrate that day nor view it as important.
Both groups, however, agree that Muhammad is God’s messenger and follow the five ritualistic pillars of Islam, which include fasting during Ramadan, five daily prayers, and the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage to Mecca which devolved into a stampede this year, killing more than 700 people .
They also both share the holy book of the Quran. The primary difference in practice comes in that Sunni Muslims mainly rely on the Sunnah, a record of the teachings and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad to guide their actions while the Shiites more heavily on their ayatollahs, whom they see as a sign of God on earth.
Although many Shia and Sunni Muslims cohabit peacefully, a Pew Research Center survey from 2012 shows that 40% of Sunni Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa do not accept Shias as fellow Muslims .
The conflicts in Iraq and Syria are also show a divide between the two, as many Sunni men have joined rebel groups, while men from the Shia community are most often fighting for or with government forces, the BBC reports.
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