Difference between Sunni and Shia

By: | Updated: Nov-18, 2017

As denominations if the Islam religion, Sunni and Shia basically share the same faith. But despite their similarities in spiritual beliefs, they still have distinct differences. This article provides information on the differences between the two.

Summary Table

SunniShia
Largest denomination of the Islam religionSecond largest denomination of the Islam religion
Believe that a new leader should be chosen or elected among those that are most capable within their religious groupBelieve that leadership should be kept within Muhammad’s family
Believed that Abu Bakr, father-in-law of Muhammad, was the right successor and the first Islamic CaliphBelieved that Ali ibn Abi Talib, son-in-law of Muhammad, was the successor and first Islamic Caliph
Mostly live in China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa, and the Arab worldMostly live in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain

Definitions

Sunni
Sunni Muslim women protesting at Beirut, Lebanon

Comprising about 85% of Muslims, Sunni is the largest denomination of the Islam religion. The term Sunni means “one who follows the traditions of the Prophet.” There was a division within the Muslims after Muhammad’s death, and the Sunnis are one division. The Sunnis firmly believe that a new leader should be chosen or elected among those that are most capable.

They believed that Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law, was the right successor and the first Islamic Caliph instead of the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali. The Sunnis strongly adhere to the Quran, together with hadith and the binding juristic consensus based on all traditional jurisprudence within Sunni Islam.

They practice the six articles of faith known as “Six Pillars of Iman (faith)” namely: (1) Belief in the One God; (2) Belief in the existence of angels; (3) Belief in the existence of prophets; (4) Belief in God’s revelations, including the Torah (revealed to Moses), the Psalms (revealed to David), the Gospel (revealed to Jesus), and the Quran (revealed to Muhammad); (5) Belief in the Day of Judgment; and (6) Belief in God’s predestination. The majority of the Sunnis live in the Southeast Asia, China, South Asia, Africa, and most of the Arab world.

Shia
Shia Muslims on a protest in Tehran, Iran

On the other hand, Shia Muslims are deviants of the Islam religion who believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, son-in-law of Muhammad, is the successor and first Islamic Caliph. They believe that their leader should be from the family of Muhammad. They comprise over 10% of the religion of Islam, and they are referred to as Shias of Ali, Shias, or the Shi’a collectively and Shi’i individually. They also adhere to the Quran.

One of the most important and controversial practices of their faith is self-flagellation. The day of Ashura i-e 10th of Muharram marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein ibn Ali (R.A.) and a Shia Imam was killed by the forces of the second Umayyad caliph. Shia’s beat their bodies using steel chains for this purpose. Right now, the majority of Shias mostly live in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain.

Sunni vs Shia

So what’s the difference between Sunni and Shia?

Sunni Muslims are the largest denomination of the Islam religion. They comprise about 85% of Muslims, while Shia Muslims are the second largest denomination at over 10% of Muslims.

The division among Muslims is rooted from differences in political beliefs. The Sunnis firmly believe that a new leader should be chosen or elected among those that are most capable within their religious group. Shia Muslims, on the other hand, believe that leadership should be kept within Muhammad’s family.

Following the prophet’s death, the Sunnis believed that Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law, was the right successor and the first Islamic Caliph. Shia Muslims, by contrast, believed that Ali ibn Abi Talib, son-in-law of Muhammad, is the successor and first Islamic Caliph.

Sunni Muslims mostly live in China, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and most of the Arab world, while the majority of Shias live in the countries of Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain.

Did this article help you?
Thank you!
Thank you!
What was wrong?