What's the difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims?

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  • 1 decade ago
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    The differences between the Sunni and Shiite Islamic sects are rooted indisagreements over the succession to the Prophet Muhammad, who died in 632 AD, andover the nature of political leadership in the Muslim community. The historic debatecentered on whether to award leadership to a qualified and pious individual who wouldlead by following the customs of the Prophet or to preserve the leadership exclusivelythrough the Prophet’s bloodline. The question was settled initially when communityleaders elected a close companion of the Prophet’s named Abu Bakr to become the firstCaliph (Arabic for “successor”). Although most Muslims accepted this decision, somesupported the candidacy of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law,husband of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima. Ali had played a prominent role during theProphet’s lifetime, but he lacked seniority within the Arabian tribal system and wasbypassed as the immediate successor.This situation was unacceptable to some of Ali’s followers who considered AbuBakr and the two succeeding caliphs (Umar and Uthman) to be illegitimate. Ali’sfollowers believed that the Prophet Muhammad himself had named Ali as successor andthat the status quo was a violation of divine order. A few of Ali’s partisans orchestratedthe murder of the third Caliph Uthman in 656 AD, and Ali was named Caliph. Ali, in was assassinated in 661 AD, and his sons Hassan (ca. 670 AD) and Hussein (680AD) died in battle against forces of the Sunni caliph. Those who supported Ali’sascendancybecame later known as “Shi‘a,” a word stemming from the term “shi‘at Ali,”meaning“supporters” or “helpers of Ali.” There were others who respected and acceptedthe legitimacyof his caliphate but opposed political succession based on bloodline to theProphet. This group, who constituted the majorityof Muslims, came to be known in timeas “Sunni,” meaning “followers of [the Prophet’s] customs [sunna].” In theory, Sunnisbelieve that the leader (imam) of the Muslim community should be selected on the basisof communal consensus, on the existing political order, and on a leader’s individualmerits. This premise has been inconsistently practiced within the Sunni Muslimcommunity throughout Islamic history. The caliphate declined as religious and politicalinstitution after the thirteenth century, although the term “caliph” continued to be used bysome Muslim leaders until it was abolished in 1924 by Turkey’s first President MustafaKemal Ataturk.Shiite Islam: Development and Basic TenetsInitially, theShiitemovement gainedawidefollowingin areasthatnow includeIraq,Iran, Yemen, and parts of Central and South Asia. In most of the world, Shiites wouldcontinue as a minority. Today, according to some estimates, Shiite Islam is practicedamong approximately 10% to 15% of the world’s Muslim population.Leadership of the Community. For Shiites, the first true leader of the Muslimcommunity is Ali, who is considered an imam, a term used among Shiites not only toindicate leadership abilities but also to signifyblood relations tothe Prophet Muhammad.As Ali’s descendants took over leadership of the Shiite community, the functions of animam became more clearlydefined. Each imam chose a successor and, accordingto Shiitebeliefs, he passed down a type of spiritual knowledge to the next leader. Imams servedasboth spiritualand politicalleaders. But asShiites increasinglylost their politicalbattleswith Sunni Muslim rulers, imams focused on developing a spirituality that would serveas the core of Shiite religious practices and beliefs. Shiites believe that when the line ofimams descended from Ali ended religious leaders, known as mujtahids, gained the rightto interpret religious, mystical, and legal knowledge to the broader community. The mostlearned among these teachers are known as ayatollahs (lit. the “sign of God”).Shiite Jurisprudence and Core Beliefs. The basic sources for Islamicjurisprudence, be it Sunni or Shiite, are the Quran, the sunna (customs of the ProphetMuhammad) as relayed in the hadiths (sayings of the Prophet and his companions), qiyas(analogy), ijma‘ (consensus), and ijtihad (individual reasoning). The primaryfunction ofthe learned religious leaders is the interpretation of Islamic law (shari‘a). There are nocodified laws in either Sunni or Shiite Islam. Rather, there are sources for theinterpretation of law, and these sources are similar among Shiites and Sunnis. Shiitehadiths differ from Sunni hadiths, mainly in that they include the sayings of the Shiiteimams who are considered to have been divinely inspired. Shiite legal interpretation, incontrast to Sunni interpretation, also allows more space for human reasoning.Shiite religious practice centers around the remembrance of Ali’s younger son,Hussein, who was martyred near the town of Karbala in Iraq by Sunni forces in 680. Hisdeath is commemorated each year on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram ina somber and sometimes violent ritualistic remembrance known as “Ashura,” marked

    among some Shiites by the ritual of self-flagellation. As a minority that was oftenpersecuted by Sunnis, Shiites found solace in the Ashura ritual, the telling of themartyrdom of Hussein and themoral lessons to belearned from it, which reinforcedShiitereligious traditions and practices.Twelver Shiism. Twelver Shiism - the most common form of Shiism today - ispervasive in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain. Twelvers accept a line of twelve infallibleimams descendent from Ali and believe them to have been divinelyappointed from birth.The twelve imams are viewed as harbors of the faith and as the designated interpreters oflaw and theology. Twelvers believe that the twelfth and last of these imams“disappeared” in the late ninth century. This “hidden imam” is expected to return someday to lead the community. Following the twelfth imam’s disappearance, as one scholarnotes, many Twelvers “chose to withdraw from politics and quietly await his coming.”1Thisisconsidered as the “pacifist” trend amongTwlevers. In thetwentieth century, whenchanges in the political landscape of the Middle East called to activism some groups inLebanon and Iran, a new and competing “activist” trend found appeal among certainTwelver groups, typified by the late Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini.Ismaili or Sevener Shiism. Although most Shiites agree on the basic premisethat Ali was the first rightful imam, they disagree on his successors. The Ismailis, whoare the second largest Shiite sect, broke off in the eighth century, recognizingonlythe firstseven imams (the seventh was named Ismail, hence the names “Ismaili” and “Sevener”).Historically and at least until the sixteenth century, the Ismailis were far more disposedthan the Twelvers to pursuing militaryand territorial power. In the past, theyestablishedpowerful ruling states, which played significant roles in the development of Islamichistory. Today, Ismailis are scattered throughout the world but are prominent inAfghanistan (under the Naderi clan), in India, and in Pakistan. There are also Ismailicommunities in East and South Africa.Other Shiite Sects. The Zaydis, who acknowledge the first five imams and differover the identity of the fifth, are a minority sect of Shiite Islam, mostly found in Yemen.The Zaydis reject the concepts of the imams’ infallibility and of a “hidden imam.” Othersects, such astheAlawites and Druzes, aregenerallyconsidered to bederived from ShiiteIslam, although some do not regard their adherents as Muslims. The Alawites existmostlyin Syria and Lebanon. The Assad familythat effectivelyhas ruled Syria since 1971are Alawite. For the most part, Alawites interpret the pillars (duties) of Islam as symbolicrather than applied, and theycelebrate an eclectic group of Christian and Islamic holidays.Little more is known about this sect because most of its practices are secretive. InTurkey,the Alevis are an offshoot group of Shiite Islam that has been often confused with SyrianAlawites or with other Shiite communities. Not much is known about their religiouspractices. Alevis are, for the most part, well-integrated into Turkish society, where theyspeak both Turkish and Kurdish. The Druze community, which is concentrated inLebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Israel, was an eleventh-century offshoot of Ismaili ShiiteIslam. Today, the Druze faith differs considerably from mainstream Shiite Islam. MostDruze practices are secretive and are kept among the elites of the community.

    The majority of Muslims today are Sunnis.They accept the first four Caliphs (including Ali) as the “rightly guided” rulers whofollowed the Prophet. Theyreject the belief that the subsequent Shiite imams are divinelyinspired leaders who should be revered. Sunni Muslimsdonot bestow upon human beingsthe exalted status given onlyto prophets in the Quran, in contrast to the Shiite venerationof imams. Sunnis have a less elaborate and arguablyless powerful religioushierarchythanShiites. In contrast to Shiites, Sunni religious teachers historicallyhave been under statecontrol. At the same time, Sunni Islam tends to be more flexible in allowing lay personsto serve as prayer leaders and preachers. In their day-to-daypractices, Sunnis and Shiitesexhibit subtle differences in the performance of their obligatory prayers. Both groupsshare a similar understanding of basic Islamic beliefs.Islamic Law.Within Sunni Islam, there are fourschools of jurisprudence that offeralternative interpretations of legal decisions affecting the lives of Muslim believers.Traditionally, the study of law was done at the Islamic educational institutions known asmadrasas.2The four schools of jurisprudence rely mostly on analogy as a way toformulate legal rulings, and they also give different weight to the sayings of the Prophetand his companions (hadiths) within their decisions. In some secular countries, such asTurkey, the opinions issued by religious scholars represent moral and social guidelinesfor how Muslims should practice their religion and are not considered legally binding.The four legal schools, which vary on certain issues from strict to broad legalinterpretations, are the (1) Hanafi: this is the oldest school of law. It was founded in Iraqby Abu Hanifa (d. 767 AD). It is prevalent in Turkey, Central Asia, the Balkans, Iraq,Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh; (2) Maliki: thiswas founded in the Arabian Peninsula by Malik ibn Anas (d. 795 AD). It is prevalent inNorth Africa, Mauritania, Kuwait, and Bahrain; (3) Shaf‘i: this school was founded byMuhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi‘i (d. 819 AD). It is prevalent in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia,Somalia, parts of Yemen, Indonesia, and Malaysia; and (4) Hanbali: this was founded byAhmad Hanbal (d. 855). It is prevalent in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, parts of Oman, and theUnited Arab Emirates.Sectarian Divisions.Sunni Islam has had less prominent sectarian divisions thanShiite Islam. The Ibadi sect, which is centered mostlyin Oman, East Africa, and in partsof Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia, has been sometimes misrepresented as a Sunni sect.While, in general, the Ibadi religious and political dogma resembles basic Sunni doctrine,the Ibadis are neither Sunni nor Shiite. The Ibadis believe strongly in the existence of arighteous and just Muslim society. They argue that the Muslim leader should be chosenfor his knowledge and piety, without regard to race or lineage, and that he should beselected by the leaders of the community.The Sunni puritanical movement called “Wahhabism” has become well-known inrecent years and isarguablythe most pervasive revivalist movement in the Islamicworld.This movement, founded in Arabia by the scholar Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab

    Wahhabism and Salafiyya is considered to be an offshoot of the Hanbali school of law. Unlikeother schools of law, which usually relied on scholarly interpretations of religious texts,Hanbali followers tended to apply the Quran and the hadith in a literal way. In the samevein, Abd al-Wahhab encouraged a return to the pure and orthodox practice of the“fundamentals” of Islam, as embodied in the Quran and in the life of the ProphetMuhammad. Inthe eighteenth century, Muhammad ibn Saud, founder of the modern-daySaudi dynasty, formed an alliance with Abd al-Wahhab as he began the process ofunifyingdisparate tribes inthe Arabian Peninsula. From that point forward, there has beena close relationship between the Saudi ruling family and the Wahhabi religiousestablishment. The most conservative interpretations of Wahhabi Islam view Shiites andother non-Wahhabi Muslims as dissident heretics.3Shared Beliefs and PracticeCore Beliefs. Although there are considerable differences between Sunni andShiite Islam, the two Islamic sects share common traditions, beliefs, and doctrines. AllMuslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad was the messenger of Allah (the Arabicword for God). All believe that they must abide by the revelations given to the Prophetby Allah (as recorded in the Quran) and by the hadith. The concepts of piety, striving forgoodness, and social justice are fundamental to Islamic belief and practice. Additionally,all Muslims are expected to live in accordance to the five pillars of their faith: (1)shahada - recital of the creed “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is HisProphet”; (2) salat - five obligatory prayers in a day; (3) zakat - giving alms to the poor;(4) sawm - fasting from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan; and (5) hajj -making a pilgrimage to Mecca once during a lifetime if one is physically and financiallyable.Popular Religion and Sufism. Sufism has sometimes been mistaken for beingan Islamic “sect,” but the practices of Sufism transcend, in many ways, the sectariandivisions of Sunni and Shiite Islam. “Sufism” can be described as a way of practicingIslam.Itisa termused looselytorefer tonumerous mysticalorders, which generallyteachthat through mystical practices, a Muslim may seek an understanding of the divine anda personal experience with God. Because of its accommodative teachings, Sufism alsoserved as a vehicle for Muslims to accept the basic tenets of both Shiite and Sunni Islam.For instance, manySufis value Ali’s prominence and unique virtues as espoused byShiiteIslam without rejecting the first three Sunni Muslim Caliphs. Historically, most Sufigroups have been flexible in accommodating local non-Muslim practices and customswherever Islam has spread. This flexibility has led to the persecution of Sufis by someorthodox Islamic establishments who view Sufi practice as heretical.Although Sunni Islamic doctrines frown upon the idea of human beings possessingintercessory powers, Sufism has contributed to the spread of popular religious practicesby promoting the veneration of pious individuals and holy shrines in many parts of the Islamic world. Sufism has sometimes been represented as a strictly pacifist and apolitical form of Islam and, in recent years, has been offered by some groups as a moderate alternative to the puritanical Wahhabi doctrine. Some Sufi groups, however, are not pacifist or apolitical or moderate.

  • Pamela
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    They both live by Islam, but Iran is Shiite. The only way I can explain this they supposedly live from the Qur'an (koran). But they are sects, similar too some of our religion would be like the Baptist and Methodist, we may believe a little different but under the same God. They shiite and sunni Muslims are battling for who are the correct sect to rule Islam. Islam is not a peaceful religion it is chaotic and misery. In essences they kill one another, their own people, because basically they are confused.

  • 1 decade ago

    The Muslim controversy was about who would be the caliph (religious leader) after Umar, the second caliph following Mohammed. Being caliph at that time was an extremely powerful position: Mohammed had wished to conquer the earth, and those succeeding him vigorously pursued this end. The first caliph after Umar, Uthman, was murdered after 12 years. Ali, Mohammed’s son-in-law, became the next caliph, but met with wide-spread opposition, including that of his mother-in-law. Five years later, after several wars with other Muslims he too was murdered. The next caliph, Muawiya, started a dynasty which lasted 15 generations: the Umayyad Caliphate. This caused the Muslims to split because one group, the Shiites, wanted Ali’s son Hussein to be the next caliph, while the majority, known as Sunnis, were in favor of the Umayyad caliph.

    The line of Mohammed through Ali and Hussein became extinct in 873 AD when the last Shiite Iman, Al-Askari, who had no brothers, disappeared within days of inheriting the title at the age of four. However, the Shiites did not want to accept that he died; instead they believed that he was merely “hidden” and would soon return. After several centuries, this still did not happen and spiritual power was passed down to a council called the Ulema, which consisted of twelve scholars who elected a supreme Imam. The best example of a Shiite Imam was probably Ayyatollah Khomeni, whose portrait still hangs in a lot of Shiite homes. The Shiite Imam has come to be imbued with Pope-like infallibility and the Shiite religious hierarchy is quite similar in structure and religious power to that of the Catholic Church within Christianity.

    Sunni Islam, on the other hand, more closely compares to the myriad independent churches of American Protestantism. No one person is appointed as head of the religion. Sunnis have scholars and jurists, who may offer non-binding opinions; however, they don’t have a formal clergy. For the Shiites, their Imams are fully spiritual guides, who have inherited some of Mohammad’s inspiration. Their Imams are thought to be inerrant interpreters of law and tradition. Shiite theology is distinguished by its glorification of Ali. In Shiite Islam there is an extremely strong theme of martyrdom and suffering, particularly focusing on Ali and Hussein, plus other important figures in the Shiite history.

  • 1 decade ago

    Among the Sunnis the spiritual successor to Mohamed was his right hand man. Among the Shiites th succession passed from father to son.

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  • 1 decade ago

    The difference is much like the difference between Jew and Orthodox Jew or Christian and Evangelical Christian. One believes very literally in the words of the Koran while the other uses it more as a reference in how to live in the 21st century.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    It is not as important as who is responsible for the sectarian war. Civil war , as it was, if you will. THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION, the CORPORATE MEDIA STATIONS OF AMERICA! don't preach and they won't disclose the story of the beautiful young15 year old whose body was found beheaded, but the head of a dog was sewn back on to her neck.

  • 1 decade ago

    It has to do with the split after the death of Mohammed. Can't really remember what else.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam

    That'll prolly help you out, though.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    The number of virgins they will get after a suicide bombing.

  • 1 decade ago

    i forget which is which but one group believes there was one chosen allah and the other believes differently...forgive me for any inaccuracies.

  • itsme
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago

    followers of different prophets and rules

  • 1 decade ago

    takes one to know one

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