Differences between Sunni & Shia communities

Shi’a (literally means: group or party/ in this context, they are the followers of Hazrat Ali (Allah be pleased with them)-they take up 10% approximately of the total Muslim community) believe Hazrat Ali (Allah be pleased with them) was chosen by our Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessing be upon Him) to succeed him & hence consider him to be their first Imam.


Sunnis (literally means: way/in this context, they’re the followers of the Sunnah-they take up the rest 90%) believe Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessing be upon Him) didn’t nominate his immediate successor & therefore the leader should be chosen through consultation &b agreement of the majority of Muslims.


  • Sunnis consider the first 4 caliphs (including Hazrat Ali) as the rightly guided & believe that a leader should be chosen through consultation & agreement of the majority.
  • Shias believe that Muslims leaders or Imams have to be direct descendants from the family of the prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessing be upon Him) through Hazrat Ali & Fatimah (Allah be pleased with them).
  • Sunnis believe that after prophet Muhammad, the rightful leader was Hazrat Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with them). Shias believe it should have been Hazrat Ali, & regard the first 3 khulafa as usurpers & traitors.


Shias regard their imams as semi-divine figures who act as intermediaries between man & God, & can determine what the Quran means & what the law should be.


  • Shias believe that the imams were sinless & could not sin. Sunnis believe only the messengers of Allah are free from sin.
  • Each Shi’a imam is chosen by the previous, thus ensuring continuity. There are 12 imams in total (ithna ‘ashariyyah, or Twelver’s, is the largest branch of shia’ism).
  • Shias believe their twelfth & last imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, the awaited one, went into occultation (in hiding) & will return to establish justice on earth.
  • Special leaders, ayatollahs, are in touch with the hidden imam, & receive instructions & guidance from him.
  • Sunnis believe authority lies in the Quran & hadith, & interpretation (ijtihaad) of scholars. Prophet Muhammad was the final messenger, therefore nobody receives any new divine message.
  • The concept of shari’ah is similar, but Shi’as give more preference to the sayings of their imams & often disregard or reject the sayings of those whom they regard as traitors or collaborators against Hazrat Ali.
  • Shias celebrate the 10th of Muharram when Hazrat Husain, the grandson of prophet Muhammad, was killed. They weep on this day & some even beat themselves to remember the pain of Hazrat Husain.
  • Shi’as also make pilgrimage to the tombs & shrines of their Imams & saints in places such as Karbala & Najaf in Iraq.
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Tayyib HMC FInder

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