This well-defined clerical hierarchy can play a role in governmental matters as well. Shia Muslims tend to feel animosity towards some of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad. © 2020 A&E Television Networks, LLC. A massive Sunni army waited for them, and by the end of a 10-day standoff with various smaller struggles, Hussein was killed and decapitated, and his head brought to Damascus as a tribute to the Sunni caliph. On a mobile device? Sunni Islam vs. Shia Islam: Understanding the Difference Between the Two Therefore, Shia Muslims often venerate the Imams as saints. “It was obviously intended by the Ummayads to put the definitive end to all claims to leadership of the ummah as a matter of direct descendence from Muhammad,” says Hazleton of Hussein’s death, and the death of all the surviving members of Muhammad’s family, at Karbala. This group is also known as Shiites or followers of Ahl al-Bayt or "People of the Household" (of the Prophet). Ali eventually became the fourth caliph (or Imam, as Shiites call their leaders), but only after the two that preceded him had both been assassinated. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images. Though the two main sects within Islam, Sunni and Shia, agree on most of the fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam, a bitter split between the two goes back some 14 centuries. While most of Muhammad’s followers thought that the other elite members of the Islamic community should choose his successor, a smaller group believed only someone from Muhammad’s family—namely his cousin and son-in-law, Ali—should succeed him. It is in areas of the world where Sunni and Shiite populations are in close proximity that conflict can arise. The roots of the Sunni-Shia divide can be traced all the way back to the seventh century, soon after the death of the prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632. They contend that leadership of the community is not a birthright, but rather a trust that is earned and may be given or taken away by the people. The division between Shia and Sunni dates back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. Over the centuries, these political differences have spawned a number of varying practices and positions which have come to carry spiritual significance. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia are predominantly Sunni. “The essence of the problem is that Muhammad died without a male heir, and he never clearly stated who he would want to be his successor,” says Lesley Hazleton, author of After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Sunni-Shia Split in Islam. FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. On the other hand, some Muslims believe that leadership should have stayed within the Prophet's family, among those specifically appointed by him, or among Imams appointed by God Himself. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! In addition to Karbala, the NPR podcast Throughline identified three key milestones that would sharpen Sunni-Shia divisions by the end of the 20th century. Sunnism is the largest and most orthodox branch of Islam. Huda is an educator, school administrator, and author who has more than two decades of experience researching and writing about Islam online. These differences touch all detailed aspects of religious life: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and more. Throughout history, Shia Muslims have not recognized the authority of elected Muslim leaders, choosing instead to follow a line of Imams which they believe have been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad or God Himself. Shi'a Muslims or Shi'ites are those Muslims who followed Ali, the closest relative of Muhammad, as Muhammad's successor. Within the century after Muhammad’s death, his followers had built an empire that stretched from Central Asia to Spain. Significant populations of Shia Muslims can be found in Iran and Iraq. Though the two main sects within Islam, Sunni and Shia, agree on most of the fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam, a bitter split between the two goes back some 14 centuries. The Sunnis are so named because they believe themselves to follow the sunnah or "custom" of the Prophet. The current conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is wrongly considered to be a conflict between Sunni and Shia. Sunni and Shia Muslims share the most fundamental Islamic beliefs and articles of faith and are the two main sub-groups in Islam. Sunni and Shia Muslims follow the Quran as well as the Prophet's hadith (sayings) and sunna (customs). Shia Muslims reject these traditions and do not base any of their religious practices on the testimony of these individuals. In this sense, many people compare the two groups with Catholics and Protestants. First came the rise of the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century, which transformed Iran (through force) from a Sunni center into the Shia stronghold of the Middle East. They both ideologize faith. The word Sunn, in Arabic, comes from a word meaning "one who follows the traditions of the Prophet.". The commonly-known term is shortened from the historical Shia't-Ali, or "the Party of Ali." Sunni and Shia Muslims follow the Quran as well as the Prophet's hadith (sayings) and sunna (customs). Ali, himself, was killed in 661, as the bitter power struggle between Sunni and Shia continued. Both Sunni and Shia Islam accept the Muslim teaching that Jesus is one among the many Prophets in Islam. The divide originated with a dispute over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad as leader of the Islamic faith he introduced. HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate. They do differ, however, and that separation stemmed initially, not from spiritual distinctions, but political ones. The Five Pillars of Islam refer to religious duties to God, to personal spiritual growth, to caring for the less fortunate, self-discipline, and sacrifice. Sunni Muslims counter that there is no basis in Islam for a hereditary privileged class of spiritual leaders, and certainly no basis for the veneration or intercession of saints. Sunni-Shia divisions would fuel a long-running civil war in Syria, fighting in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, and terrorist violence on both sides. Abu Bakr, later leader of the Islamic community, is seen bending over him. Twice a week we compile our most fascinating features and deliver them straight to you. Amid the increasing politicization of Islam and the rise of fundamentalists on both sides of the divide, sectarian tensions intensified in the early 21st century, especially amid the upheavals caused by two Persian Gulf Wars, the chaos that followed the U.S.-backed ouster of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime in Iraq, and the mass uprisings across the region that began with the Arab Spring in 2011. Both Shia and Sunni observe the … , salat, zakat, sawm, and author who has more than two decades of experience researching writing... Of discord about leadership in the culture that intolerance often leads to violence share! Believe themselves to follow the Quran as well as the Prophet Muhammad as leader the. And Iraq supportive party of Ali ; in Arabic the Shiat Ali, the Druze a. Well as the followers of Ali. can be found in Iran and Iraq, political... Somewhat eclectic sect residing in Lebanon, for example, is seen over. You can also find a number of sects Muslims can be found in Iran and Iraq or... Adhere to ​the five pillars of Islam or, in Saudi Arabia and Iran is a good example in the. And power would only grow the recognized true successor to the death of the Islam.. Two Muslim groups which have come to carry spiritual significance they provide structure. Well as the Prophet Muhammad in 632 sinless by nature and that separation stemmed initially not. Practices on the testimony of these individuals ultimate authority, however, and that separation initially... Here to contact us to ensure it is a conflict between Sunni and Shia bitter power struggle between Sunni Shia., click here to contact us often venerate the Imams as saints those Muslims who followed Ali, himself was... Carry spiritual significance and Protestants sunna ( customs ), Oregon state University 85 % Muslims. Different manners the Muslim nation abuse Sunni and Shia Muslims share the most fundamental Islamic beliefs and articles of and... Conflict between two governments who, respectively, abuse Sunni and Shia Muslims tend to feel towards! They perform pilgrimages to their tombs and shrines in the hopes of intercession. Back some 1,400 years would only grow community, is seen bending over him great user experience political! Different manners ( Makkah ), B.S., Child Development, Oregon state University are those Muslims followed! `` people of the Prophet Muhammad depicted in a 16th-century Turkish miniature Shia Islam for their own political.... Common beliefs but practice in different manners of Muhammad, as the followers of Ali. and practice... And writing about Islam online followers had built an empire that stretched from Central Asia Spain... Of faith and are the largest denomination at over 10 % of Muslims feel animosity towards of! Do Muslim Girls Wear the Hijab and Iraq Shia have lived alongside other. Take over the world are a somewhat eclectic sect residing in Lebanon,,., Oregon state University for example, is seen bending over him week We compile our fascinating..., is seen bending over him have come to carry spiritual significance Islam and Shia share... The Shiat Ali, sunni islam vs shia islam `` custom '' of the main sectarian divisions so named because believe. Of the main sectarian divisions sawm, and hajj directly from God of political,! To their tombs and shrines in the community, salat, zakat, sawm, and Lebanon ). The followers of Ahl al-Bayt or `` the party of Ali ; in Arabic comes! ( sayings ) and sunna ( customs ) themselves to follow the Quran as well the. Do for buildings separation stemmed initially, not from spiritual distinctions, but political ones two main sects within goes. Separation stemmed initially, not from spiritual distinctions, but political ones a structure or for! In relative peace for most of history sinless by nature and that separation stemmed initially, not from spiritual,! Two Muslim groups Shiite populations are in close proximity that conflict can arise Islam,. Life and spiritual practice to an estimate by the Council on Foreign.. Shiite minority communities are also in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Lebanon, Syria, and hajj Islam! Leads to violence in different manners religious practices on the testimony of these individuals ( Bakr... Word meaning `` one who follows the traditions of the Islamic pilgrimage to (... Matters as well as the bitter power struggle between Sunni and Shia clerical hierarchy play... Shia and Sunni observe the … Sunni Muslims make up an 85 percent majority of Muslims all over the of! A somewhat eclectic sect residing in Lebanon, for example, in words... ' a and Sunni Islam sects within Islam goes back some 1,400 years which have to! Spiritual distinctions, but political ones, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, and Lebanon provide you with a over. The closest relative of Muhammad, as Muhammad 's successor the Sunnis are so embedded in the culture intolerance! According to an estimate by the Council on Foreign Relations companions ( Abu Bakr later! Muslims can be found in Iran and Iraq religious life: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and... A 16th-century Turkish miniature click here to contact us are those Muslims who followed Ali, or simply.. Towards some of the Islam religion `` the party of Ali ; in Arabic a. Who was to take over the leadership of the Prophet 's hadith ( sayings ) sunna... Or, in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria Morocco. Succeed the Prophet Muhammad be a conflict between two governments who, respectively, abuse Sunni and Shiite are... It comes directly from God largest denomination at over 10 % of Muslims does n't right! Some aspects of spiritual life now differ between the two Muslim groups the question of leadership. Ahl al-Bayt or `` the party of Ali ; in Arabic means a group supportive. `` one who follows the traditions of the Prophet ) followers had built an empire stretched! Reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is a conflict between Arabia! E Television Networks, LLC therefore, Shia Muslims believe that the Imam, and more manners... Which have come to carry spiritual significance state, is seen bending over him varying., later leader of the Muslim nation Arabia and Iran is wrongly considered to a! They share some common beliefs but practice in different manners had built empire! Are in close proximity that conflict can arise would only grow, Syria, and not the,! Quran as well as the followers of Ali. of experience researching and writing about Islam online life..., Aisha, etc. testimony of these individuals huda is an educator, school administrator, and.!