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Comparison Chart Of Shia And Sunni Sects Among Muslims

Updated on January 9, 2016

The Shiites and Sunnis

There are two major sects in the Islamic religion, the Sunni and Shia sects. Though Sunnis are the predominant and larger sect, they are also minorities in certain countries like Iran. The Sunni Muslims believe and follow Abu Bakr, a leader chosen by the people of Medina after the demise of the Prophet, while the Shia Muslims believe in the lineage of the Prophet and are followers of his son-in-law Ali.

Muslims who call themselves Sunnis believe in the "custom" or "sunnah" of the Prophet, while Shiites follow Ali as the Prophet's successor, his closest relative. The word Shia means followers or members of a party, in this case the followers of Ali.

When Muhammad the Prophet died in 632 AD, a schism occurred over succession of the religious following which had by then spread to various countries in the Middle East.This led to the Battle of Siffin, which further intensified in the Battle of Karbala in which the Prophet's son-in-law and his entire family were killed by Yazid I who was the ruling Umayyad or tribal Caliph to which Muhammad belonged. This fueled the cry for revenge by the followers of Ali which subsequently separated the religion into these two sects. Over the centuries, customs, traditions, and religious practices of the sects have gradually differed, though all Muslims consider the Koran to be their divine holy book.

These sectarian differences have often culminated in violent conflicts, and is still a major cause of friction in the Middle East from where the religion originally begun. Such conflicts are widespread, ranging from Pakistan to Yemen to Southeast Asia. These tensions have escalated during power struggles, such as recently in Iraq and Bahrain, and the ongoing Syrian Civil War. The ISIS, which is a force to reckon with in Iraq and Syria, is also an offshoot of this conflict, and is considered a major threat to world peace and harmony with their agenda based on expansionism and intolerance of the Shia sect and other religions.

The following is a table contrasting the major differences and confluences of the Shia and Sunni sects of Islam.

Comparative Table Of Shia And Sunni Sects

 
Sunni
Shia
Followers Known As
Sunnis
Shias or Shiites
Meaning Of Sectarian Names
Tradition/Path That Is well Trodden
Followers/Party/Partisans of Ali
No. Of Followers
940 Million
120 Million
Percentage Spread
90%
10%
Countries With Most Followers
Most Muslim Nations
Iran, Iraq, Yemen
Subsects of Sects
None, though four Muslim schools of law are the major ones
Ashariyah/Ithna/Ishmailaliyah/Zaydiah
Starting Point
632 CE, development in 10th century
632-650 CE, 680 CE is marked as a major event with killing of Ali's son Husayn
Was a Successor Nominated By Muhammad
No
Yes
Successor Of Prophet
Abu Bakr, elected by people of Medina, who was his father in law of his favorite wife Aishah
Ali ibn Abi Talib, husband of Fatimah, the prophet's daughter, designated by Prophet
Who Can Rule Religion?
Quraysh, tribe of Prophet, or any leader that has qualified
Prophet's family only
Current Leaders
Imams
Mujtahids
Leader Identities
Leaders from Humans
Persons who interpret Koran perfectly and are manifestations of God
Future Messiah
Will come some day
Will return when time ends, presently working through Mujtahids to interpret Koran perfectly/Was already here
Authority other than Koran
Collective decision of community, Ijma'
Only the Imams/Mujtahids
Marriage of convenience or temporary
No longer practiced but was done during Prophet's time
Still followed and practiced.
Pilgrimage Centers
Jerusalem, Medina, Mecca
Karbala and Najaf (Iraq), Medina, Mecca, Jerusalem
Holidays
Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha
Ashura, Eid-al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha

Future Of The Strife Between The Two Sects

It cannot be predicted accurately at this point in time whether the conflict between the two sects will escalate or defuse in the future. Suffice it to say that the invasion of Iraq by the US and its allied forces paved the way for a minority Shia dictatorship to be overthrown and replaced by a so called democratically elected puppet government of the invading forces where representation of the Sunnis is minimal. This has led to the creation of a Sunni army of ISIS for furthering the Sunni cause. The tentacles of ISIS may spread worldwide in due course of time and reshape history as well as be the precursor of further wars where most nations of the world might be involved. What was a minor strife about the actual legacy of the faith of Islam may lead to another dreadful war that history has seen twice already, but this time with more ferocity and vengeance than ever before.

Can the strife and internecine warfare between the two sects be resolved? Not in the immediate future, if current events are any indication. However, there may be a point in time when people say enough is enough, and call for all round truce and peaceful coexistence of all faiths and following, not only Islam, but other religions as well. We as world citizens can only hope that such realization dawns earliest on everyone so that we are able to leave our world of today a better and more secure place for our children and theirs for their tomorrows.

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    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      This hub should be read by everyone who desires World Peace. Dip, this is the kind of stuff more and more people need to read, learn and spread. If a Lantern Carrier can light another lantern and on and on, there would be far more people in the World to come together and say "enough is enough".

      We all need to carry a lantern to light the way. Thank you for this work you are doing. Peace and Light.

    • Artois52 profile image

      Artois52 2 years ago from England

      The more that people understand the history behind religious conflict, the better for all. Hopefully, one day, understanding will lead to and end to conflict between all religions and religious factions. Thanks for explaining the facts.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 2 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Thank you for this enlightening article giving the reader a chance to learn about the historical and religious comparisons of two religious sects. Perhaps one day in the distant future two soldiers with families will sit down with each other, one from each sect, and ask the question: Shall we kill each other or shake hands and walk away ogether. We are the last two?

      Voted up and shared.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is an interesting article. I understand more fully the conflict between the two sects. We are living in a dangerous world today, all due to religious beliefs. Why can't they see what war is doing to people? I always believed bombing Iraqi was a BIG mistake...

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      Thanks Ruby, chef-de-joir, Artois and Phyllis.

      I don't know what I did wrong with this hub that HP editorial team have sent me a message that they wont be featuring this. The reason they cite is spam. I thought this was one of my better articles done after extensive research. Can you please help me understand what's gone wrong since I am new here and all my earlier 24 articles have been featured hubs.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      I will take a look at it, Dip, and get back to you.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Great article! I love how you summarized everything neatly in a chart. I learned some interesting facts, like how Yemen is Shia. I never knew that. Great hub!

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      Thanks Mel. Unfortunately this hub has been denied to be a featured article by HP editorial team. They say there are spams. Alicia and Phyllis have given some suggestions, and let's see if it can be featured now after I have made the corrections.

      I am new at HP, and all my earlier 24 hubs have been featured, so this is my first stump. I guess this has to do with some policy changes implemented yesterday.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Weird. I didn't see any spam. Maybe you had too many Amazon capsules. I thought it was excellent.

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      God knows Mel. I have deleted most capsules and have an ebay and amazon each left to cover the two sections. Let's see what happens after the changes are made. I will know how to write next time with these changes though.

    • georgescifo profile image

      georgescifo 2 years ago from India

      Hope that the difference between all the religions and sects settles one day and the world become more beautiful and peaceful.

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      Hope so George, better this lifetime when we can see the world change ourselves.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 years ago from london

      Again another interesting piece. Well-written and explained well. I'm sure that it will be useful to many. Much peace.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi Di Mtra, this is another wonderful article that more people need to read, especially in the Western World. We have all heard of Sunnis and Shias but know little of their history or why there is conflict. Now I know why ISIS was created. This should be a featured hub, I suspect HP may think it controversial in particular the paragraph that includes: "Suffice it to say that the invasion of Iraq by the US and its allied forces paved the way for a minority Shia dictatorship to be overthrown and replaced by a so called democratically elected puppet government of the invading forces where representation of the Sunnis is minimal. " I agree with this totally but just the fact that you mention the US as being part of the cause could be the problem. Others than that maybe try adding a couple more images. I hope it is featured, it deserves to be. Voted up.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      As a sunni Muslim who knows Islamic and Christian history, I can tell you that this article is correct and free of any controversies. Thank you for doing a great job. Hats off to you!

      I would suggest breaking bigger paragraphs into smaller ones and adding more pictures.

      Best regards,

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      Woke up today to read about a blast in a Shia Mosque in Pakistan yesterday that killed 61 people leaving innumerable other injured. The blast was purportedly carried out by an offshoot of the Taliban now representing the ISIS, with its leader claiming to have annihilated their sworn enemies, all in the name of faith.

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      The blast yesterday was one more among many that happen in Pakistan with regular frequency, mostly aimed against Shias by the Sunnis.

      Thanks Jodah, thanks Manatita, thanks Suhail, for your kind words. The hub is featured now, though I still don't know what I did wrong initially. Let's all pray that knowledge wins over ignorance.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      I do have to say that most Pakistanis believe, and there could be a great element of truth in it on the basis of circumstantial evidence and conjecture alone, that the terrorists are being funded and supported by the USA and India from Afghanistan to keep the country destabilized. An indicator of that happening is that the USA and the west destabilized a pretty stable country in Iraq under Saddam Hussain, created a Shi'ite government in Iraq, thereby dividing the country effectively into Sunni and Shi'a regions, leading to bloodshed between Sunnis and Shias. Similarly, they created ISIS to fight against Shi'ite Syria and when it went slightly out of control and turned against Shi'ites of Iraq, the coalition decided to attack it.

      If you look at it carefully, there is more to it then meets the eye.

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      What you say may be true Suhail, but then we as humanity are all affected by this unnecessary warfare, all in the name of religion and politics.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 years ago from london

      Re-read Suhail, my loving Friend Dip

      Pray, meditate, only if you are not yet doing so. I read your hubs, and I find only beauty. Still, some conflict. Wisdom and discernment is necessary, without which you will not understand, and suffer the affliction of which you speak. Serve. Service will broaden the heart and increase receptivity.

      If I did not see you as a nice guy, I would not dream of saying all this. Nothing is ever black and white. Like Suhail, look beyond the clouds. This would apply even to life itself. Om Namo Shivaya!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 2 years ago from USA

      This is a well researched article, and I like that you were able to explain the conflict without taking sides. The problem with a chart to represent so many people is that not everything will fit neatly into the box. The Aga Khan, who is Shia, is called an Imam and is not considered to be a manifestation of God.

      One thing that people should also note is that Muslims are all over the world, and not limited to any particular countries.

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      Thanks Manatita, once again. Thanks Millionaire, I tried to fit them all in one chart, so there might be some disagreements. Re. spread of Muslims, I have stated their maximum concentration region or country wise. This is similar to Jews and Christians who are also spread all over the world.

    • SAQIB6608 profile image

      SAQIB 2 years ago from HYDERABAD PAKISTAN

      Very well researched, simply elaborated and excellent article. Your concept of "enough is enough" is great. I must say 3rd parties other than two mentioned in your hub are responsible for the lengthening of the clash. Plus among the two "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" minded people are carrying it further.

      Dip, I must say being a Sunni muslim myself, there is not even a single mistake/ confusing remark in your hub

      which I highly appreciate. We all need to sit together, rub our heads and must join our hands for a cheerful world. For ENOUGH is ENOUGH already.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Interesting read, and very clearly explained. Well done.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing all the research that you did in this very interesting and informative hub, Dip.

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      Thanks Saqib, thanks Jean, thanks Alicia.

      Saqib-Religious warfare, whether low key or high pitched, has more to do with politics than anything else. But then I wonder if politics alone is the prime mover, which person in his sane mind would kill innocent schoolchildren like the recent tragedy at Peshawar? That sort of barbarity has its motivation in deep rooted fanaticism about religion. Killing soldiers is one thing, killing schoolkids is another. I was very moved by that incident and wrote an article "Why Us Children?" Please read it when you get the time. Thanks again.

    • profile image

      bhaskar 2 years ago

      Very informative and well written. Always wondered about the issues between shias and sunnis. Actually, in our history books, we usually do not find the history of the middle east. Read Daughter of Persia recently which provided a fascinating history of Iran.

    • Priyandc profile image

      Priyan DC 2 years ago from Bangalore

      Thanks Dip.. Well researched and nicely done.. Informative yet engaging. Keep up the great work.

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      Thanks Bhaskar, thanks Priyandc. Great that you liked it. While at this, you may perhaps wish to have a look at the comparison chart of major world religions in the world . I have compared Islam, Judaism and Christianity in a tabular form, and the accompanying text is just that-an accompaniment with major emphasis being the chart.

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      India is one country where the Shias and Sunnis have lived in peaceful coexistence over centuries. In fact the Dawoodi sect of Shias are some of the wealthiest and progressive Indians among all, and have their own code of conduct where they help each other out through a common pool of funds for business and other needs.

    • Dip Mtra profile image
      Author

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      There was this blast at a Shia mosque yesterday in Peshawar, Pakistan where approx 20 people were killed and many other injured. The blast has been claimed by the Taliban.

      Again, one more example of Shia-Sunni intolerance. February 13, 2015

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