Difference Between Shia and Sunni

In Islam, every Muslim believes that Allah is their one and only lord and Muhammad (PBUH) is His last Prophet.


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The Holy Quran is the last manual of instructions from Allah to all mankind, and after everyone’s death, one day, He will resurrect every soul that died.

After the resurrection, all humans will be questioned about their deeds and actions.

Though even in Muslims, there are supposed to be two groups- Sunni and Shia, and their separation happened when the last Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) died in AD 632.

Key Takeaways

  1. Shia and Sunni are the two most extensive branches of Islam.
  2. Shia Muslims believe that Ali, the cousin, and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, was his rightful successor, while Sunni Muslims think that the first four caliphs were rightful successors.
  3. Shia and Sunni have different beliefs and practices regarding prayer, religious holidays, and other aspects of the Islamic faith.

Shia vs Sunni

The difference between Shia and Sunni is that the Shia people believe that after Muhammad’s departure, the legal descendant should be the fourth caliph Ali, who was the son-in-law and cousin of the beloved Prophet. At the same time, the Sunni people believe that rightfully the responsibility of leadership should have fallen upon the first four caliphs one by one: Abu Bakr, Omar, Osman, and then finally, Ali.

Shia vs Sunni

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Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonShiaSunni
PopulationFrom 10 to 13 per centFrom 87 to 90 per cent
Responsibility of leadership after ProphetThey believe that the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law Ali should be the rightful leader whom Muslims should follow after Muhammad.They don’t believe in such things. They believed that the 4 caliphs, Abu Bakr, Omar, Osman, and Ali, were the rightful leaders, and they were the ones who could show the proper ways to maintain the religion as the Prophet has shown.
Mostly live inLives mainly in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, etc.Sunni believers contain a significant population in most Muslim countries.
Day of religious observanceBoth Eid days and Ashura.Only two Eid days.
Grave worshippingAllowed.Definitely not allowed, and if it happens, it will be known as shirk, meaning the faith is broken.


Who are Shia Muslims?

Both groups of Muslim people, meaning Shia and Sunni Muslims, have made plenty of theories of their own regarding their religion Islam.

Shia Muslims tend to think that after Muhammad’s demise, the leadership responsibility should pass on to the Prophet’s family members, such as Ali (Ra), the husband of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima.

They also think that politically the authority should not only fall upon Ali but also, after his departure, the string should get passed on to his descendants, the Imams.

It is believed that there were 12 Imams.

With the passing of days, these Imams were killed by Sunni Muslims for their own agenda. They also believe that the 12th Imam hasn’t died; he just went vanished and will come back to bring back the fallen law.

On the Day of Ashura, every Shia mourns the death of the Prophet’s grandson Hussain and his entire family, that was massacred in Karbala, Iraq.

On the matter of prayer, Shia Muslims pray a little bit differently than Sunni Muslims. While praying, Shias put their hands at their sides; on the other hand, Sunnis put their hand on their chest or stomach.

Most Shia Muslims are in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon, etc. According to recent research, Shia Muslims have also been found in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Qatar, Turkey, UAE, etc.


Who are Sunni Muslims?

The most accepted and biggest group of Islam are the Sunni people. The central portion of the Muslim community is called the Sunni Muslims. They cover almost 1.5 billion people in this world. That is nearly 90% of the whole Muslim population.

The central Muslim countries are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, etc.

They contain 90% Sunni Muslims, at least. Others fall into the group of Shias. In Arabic, the “Sunni” has a distinctive meaning.

That is – ‘prophet’s follower’ or ‘those who walk on the path the beloved prophet showed. Those who belong to the Sunni Muslim community must accept the judgment of the prophet’s companions.

After the death of Muhammad, a few companions of his decided that an election should choose the next leader among those who have the ability to do the work for their religion.

And the first one who was selected to do the job was Abu Bakr. He became the first Caliph of the Muslim community, as he was the closest friend and confidant to the prophet.

Sunni Muslims believe that the first four Caliphs of the Islamic Union were the rightful choice. After their demise, their descendants of them ruled one after another in the Muslim community.


Main Differences Between Shia and Sunni

  1. In the Islamic world, Shia Muslims can be found in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, etc. And Sunni Muslims can be found in every major Muslim country, about 90%  of the whole Muslim society.
  2. According to Shia people, after the prophet’s death, his cousin and son-in-law Ali should have been the rightful leader. The fact that leadership went to the prophet’s other confidants before Ali is unacceptable to Shia Muslims. On the other hand, according to Sunni Muslims, the rightful successor after the prophet’s demise was Abu Bakr, Omar, Osman, and then Ali, as we have already discussed above.
  3. While praying salah, Shias tend to pray by putting their hands on their sides. And regarding the same matter, Sunnis tend to pray by putting their hands on their chest or stomach.
  4. Shias mostly believe in one best leader in the whole community. But Sunnis are most liberal and dissimilar in nature and views. They believe it is alright to have multiple leaders in different Muslim countries.
  5. Another particular difference between these two groups is- on the day of “Ashura”, Shias follow the tradition of self-flailing and grieving. Sunni Muslims don’t follow such acts. To them, these actions are unacceptable, and they don’t believe it – express the right path of Islam.
  6. Shia people believe that after the prophet’s death, the Muslim community should have followed certain Imams and leaders, and the responsibility must pass on to the descendants of those leaders. On the other hand, the Sunni people believe in the Holy Quran and the word of their beloved prophet, the Sunnah.
  1. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/369714
  2. https://www.livingston.org/cms/lib4/NJ01000562/Centricity/Domain/578/The%20Origins%20of%20the%20Shia.docx
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