The word Muslim is related to the word Islam and means “one who surrenders” or “submits” to God. The Islamic religion was started by Allah’s revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel (Jibril) in the seventh century. In around 622, Prophet Muhammad founded the first Islamic state, a theocracy in Medina, a city in western Saudi Arabia located north of Mecca. The two major Muslim groups are the Shiites and Sunnis which dates back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and the issue of who was to take over the leadership of the Muslim nation.
The word “Sunni” in Arabic comes from a word meaning “one who follows the traditions of the Prophet. Sunni Muslims form the largest group of Muslims with about 90 % followers. They believe that their leader should be elected from among those capable of the job. The Prophet Muhammad’s closest friend and advisor, Abu Bakr, became the first Caliph (successor) of the Islamic nation. “
On the other hand the word Shiite or “Shia” basically means followers of Ali. Shiite Muslims form about 10% of the Muslims they believe that leadership should have stayed within the Prophet’s own family, among those selected by him, or among Imams chosen by God Himself. Shiite Muslims argue that leadership should have passed directly to his cousin/son-in-law, Ali. Throughout history, Shiite 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. (Caner 102)
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In Sunni culture, the community elects Sunni leaders, who offer suggestions in resolving matters rather than laws. Unlike Sunnis, the Shiite leaders have a supreme authority within the community. Shiites believe their leader, is sinless and has divine insight. (Dodge 109)
During prayers the Sunni Muslims invoke God and the prophet Mohammad, they kneel, bend and touch their forehead to the ground, but Shiites added the name Ali to God and the prophet Mohammad, they also touch their heads to a small stone called turba from the holy city of Najaf during prayers. Additionally, there are differences in times of the prayer, where Shiites are minutes behind Sunnis, This difference goes also to the fasting time during the fasting month of Ramadan, where they break their fasting at slightly different timing and celebrate the end of Ramadan (the ‘Id) a day or two apart.
Sunnis pray in mosques, and those mosques have domes and minarets, while Shiites pray and worship most often in Husseiniya (no domes or minarets), which functions like a mosque and a community center and a place where they share condolences during the memory of Hussein’s death, son of Ali. Sunnis accept that the first four Caliphs, including Ali, were the rightful followers of Muhammad. Shiites believe imams are descendants of the Prophet.
Islam has various schools of law and while Sunni doctrine is more firmly aligned in accordance with those various schools, its hierarchical structure is looser and often falls under state, rather than clerical, control. The opposite is true in Shiitism, the doctrine is more open to interpretation but the clerical hierarchy is more defined and, as in Iran, the ultimate authority is the imam, not the state. (Adrew 35)
The Shiite Muslim believe that today’s Quran is only a small part of the original full Quran and are waiting for their 12th Imam called Imam Mahdi/Al-Qaim whom they expect will appear before the Day of Judgment and will bring the full Quran. Sunni Muslims believe today’s Quran is totally reliable and complete. They also, are expecting a leader called Al-Mahdi to appear at the End Times, based on prophecies of Prophet Mohammad.
The Shiite believe that Imam Al-Mahdi will be a prince of revenge who will kill Sunni scholars and bring back to life those whom the Shiite perceive as their top enemies, such as Prophet Mohammad’s companions & Caliphs, Abu Bakr & Omar, and Prophet Mohammad’s wife, Aisha, and will punish them strictly.
The Sunni believe that Taqiyyah, which is presenting an outer appearance that contradict what ones inside, to protect oneself from harm, is only permitted during war against the disbelievers who are the enemies of Islam. Therefore a Muslim is required to be truthful and courageous in upholding the truth, and to be neither ostentatious, nor deceiving, nor treacherous.
The Shiite Muslims believe that Taqiyyah is a set duty and a pillar of their faith without which their schools of thought could not stand. They learn its ideology and techniques and practice them particularly if they are in awful situations. This principle in turn allows every manner of lying, cunning and deception contributing to the war witnessed in Iraq and Iran.
The Sunnis believe that Al-walaa which is total obedience and devotion it is due only to the Messenger of Allah and no other person deserves strict adherence. On the other hand the Shiite belief in the Twelve Imams including the hidden Imam
Sunnis believe that Allah is the only one God, and there is no intermediary between Him and His worshippers. They also believe in His qualities as they were revealed in the Quran. They do not strike any contrast between the divine attributes and other things in it. The Quran clearly says that “There is nothing like unto Him.” They believe that Allah sent the Prophets and ordered them to hand over to people His Message and guidance. The Shiites also believe in Allah the Exalted and His Oneness, except that they adulterate this belief with polytheistic rituals and observances. They regard their Imams to be infallible and to have knowledge of the unseen.
According to Sunnis the shariah law is itself the vital knowledge and reality. They believe that Muhammad did not hide from his followers any part of that knowledge, contained in the revealed law consequently, the sources of the faith are Allah’s Book and the sunnah (practice) of the Prophet, and there is no need to add anything to that. So they do not pass judgment on the purity of anyone. The view and opinion of anyone may be rejected or accepted apart from those of the infallible Prophet of Allah. In contrast the Shiites view the shariah as being a mere variety of rulings and directives set forth by the Prophet. Furthermore, the Shiites consider their Imams infallible; their every work and practice is deemed incumbent upon their followers.
Both Sunnis and Shiites are true Muslims who:
- Believe in Quran holy book and other God holy books like Torah, the Zabur and the Injil
- Believe in the five pillars of Islam
- Believe in same one God
- Believe in prophet Muhammad (and all other God prophets) and his Sunnah (sayings and practices)
- perform same Salat (praying) facing the same direction of Kaaba (Mecca)
- perform same hajj (pilgrimage) with same ritual worship