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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

Followers Known As
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
Countries With Most Followers
Most Muslim Nations
Iran, Iraq, Yemen
Subsects of Sects
None, though four Muslim schools of law are the major ones
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
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
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
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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