Shia vs Sunni


Shia and Sunni are the two branches of Islam. They share most of the basic tenets and principles of the religion. Differences between Shias and Sunnis initially stemmed from political strife and not any spiritual disagreements. These differences originally appeared after the passing away of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The so-called division of Muslims between Shia and Sunni is akin to the differences between Catholics and Protestants.

Comparison chart



Angels Angels obey God's commandments. They have limited free will, though no drive to sin. God created angels from light. They do not have their own free will and always obey the commandments of God.
Population 200 million 1.2 billion
Place of worship Mosque, Imambarah or Ashurkhana, Eidgah Mosque, Eidgah
Use of statues and pictures Not permitted Not permitted
Clergy Imaam (divinely guided), Ayatollah, Mujtahid, Allamah, Maulana Caliph, Imaam (Saint), Mujtahid, Allamah, Maulana
Marriage Man may marry up to 4 women. Man may marry up to 4 women.
Offshoot religions Baha'i - a separate religion Ahmadiyya (Ahmedi) - a sect of Islam
Belief of God One God One God
Original Language(s) Arabic, Farsi Arabic
Birth of Jesus Virgin Birth Virgin Birth
Second coming of Jesus Affirmed Affirmed
Death of Jesus Denied. Jesus did not die on the cross, but his body went up to heaven. Denied. Jesus did not die on the cross, but his body went up to heaven.
View of other Abrahamic religions Christianity and Judaism are "People of the Book." Christianity and Judaism are "People of the Book."
Resurrection of Jesus Denied. Jesus did not die on the cross. Jesus will come back down from heaven in the future. Denied. Jesus did not die on the cross. Jesus will come back down from heaven in the future.
Holy days Ashura, Eid al Fitr, Eid al Adha, Eid al ghadeer Eid al Fitr, Eid al Adha, Eid-e-Milaad-un-Nabi
Origin From teachings of Prophet Muhammad, a 7th century Arab religious and political figure. From teachings of Prophet Muhammad, a 7th century Arab religious and political figure.
Places most closely associated with independent history of the faith Kufa, Karbala Madinah (Medina), Makkah (Mecca)
Adherents called Shiites, Shia, Shii, Ehl-e-Tash'e Sunni, Ehl-e-Sunnah
Geographic Presence Majority in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Lebanon. Minority spread across the world. Majority in most Muslim countries. Minority spread across the world.
Articles of Belief One God, Angels, Revealed Books of God including the Quran, Messengers, Day of Judgement, Prophethood, Imaamah One God, Angels, Revealed Books of God including the Quran, Messengers, Day of Judgement, Prophethood
Pillars of faith 1. Prayer 2. Fasting 3. Pilgrimage 4. Mandatory alms, 20% for Imaam and the needy (khums) 5.Jihad 6. Promotion of good 7. Dissuasion from bad 8. Re-affirmation 9. Disassociation from the enemies of Islam starting from first Caliph. 1. Testament of Faith 2. Prayer 3. Mandatory alms, 2.5% for needy (zakaat) 4. Fasting 5. Pilgrimage 6. Struggle in the way of God to promote good and stop bad.
Imams identified as Divinely guided. Considered as the only legitimate interpreters of the Quran. Saints. Considered as persons with strong faith in Quran and Sunnah.
Required lineage for ruler Must be male child from lineage of Ali from Fatimah. Can be any practicing Muslim chosen by agreement of the authorities of the muslim populace (ummah).
Muhammad nominated a successor ? Yes, his cousin and son in law Ali ibn Abu Talib No
Successors after the Prophet 12 Infallible Imams; Ali bin Abi Talib, Hassan, Hussain, Ali ZainulAbideen, Muhammad AlBaqir, Jaafar AlSaadiq, Musa AlKaazim, Ali AlRaza, Muhammad AlTaqi, Ali AlNaqi, Hasan AlAskari, Muhammad AlMahdi (hidden). The Four Rightly Guided Caliphs: Abu Bakr, Umar bin Al Khattab, Uthman bin Afan, Ali bin Abi Talib,
Beliefs regarding revealed scriptures Belief in the Quran Belief in the Quran
Continuation of authoritative revelation Partially true. Imaams are considered divinely guided. The purpose is to explain and safeguard the current faith and its esoteric meaning. No, authoritative revelation ended with Prophet Muhammad.
Collection of religious narrations from Imaams and Mujtahids Nahajul Balagha, Kitab al-Kafi, Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih, Tahdhib al-Ahkam, Al-Istibsaar Muatta Maalik, Musnad Ahmad, Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abu Dawood, Jami al-Tirmidhi, Sunan Nasae.
View on the personality of Imaam Ali Prophet said inter alia: - “Exemption from the Hellfire comes with love for Ali (A.S).” - “Of whomever I was master, Ali (A.S) is his master.” - “Ali (A.S) is from me and I am from him, and he is the protector of every true believer after m Considered as a 'Lion of God', the first male convert to Islam, and a warrior champion of the faith.
Branches and their status Ithna Ashariyya ('Twelvers'), Ismailis ('Seveners') and Zaidis ('Fivers'). The latter do not agree to infallibility of Imaams or to the occultation of the 12th Imaam Mahdi. Four contributing schools of Law: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi and Hanbali. Two Schools of Creed: Ashari and Maturidi. These branches count each other on right path with different way of thinking.
Special Day of worship Friday Friday
Temporary unannounced Marriage Yes No, termed as adultery.
Name of the practice means "party" or "partisans" of Ali "well-trodden path" or "tradition"
Current leaders Mujtahids Imaams (not in the same sense as Shi'a, where Imaams are divinely guided)
Intercession permitted Yes (14 Infallibles only - From Prophet until the Mahdi, including Fatima, daughter of the Prophet and wife of Ali) Major groups of Sunnis do not accept intercession. However, the method of prayer at dargahs or ziyarat-gahs (tombs of saints) may be considered close to intercession.
Public affirmation of faith and propagation of teachings The Shia allow 'Taqiyya': which is to be able to deny faith when under grave danger. This extends to the belief that true meaning of faith is hidden until the coming of twelfth Imaam. Little stress on esoteric meaning or taqiyya. While 'inner meaning' of Quraan is accepted as existing, stress is on literal rather than mystic interpretation. Notable exceptions are Sufi schools.
Self Flagellation (Lattum) To commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, Shiite groups march in massive parades on the 10th day of the Muharram month. There is self-flagellation i.e. flogging own back, chest with hands, knives, blades or chains. Permitted by some scholars. No, termed as major sin
Did Islam achieve ultimate glory? No, it was hijacked by hypocrites, especially the first three Caliphs. Yes, mission of Muhammad achieved glory at the time of first three Caliphs and sustained by next three Caliphs including Ali bin Abi Talib.
Building and visiting shrines permitted Yes No
Building and visiting mosques permitted Yes Yes

Contents: Shia vs Sunni

The Division between Shias and Sunnis

The major movements of Islam
The major movements of Islam

The division between Shias and Sunnis dates back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and the question of who was to take over the leadership of the Muslim nation. Sunni Muslims agree with the position taken by many of the Prophet's companions, that the new leader should be elected from among those capable of the job. This is what was done, and the Prophet Muhammad's close friend and advisor, Abu Bakr, became the first Caliph of the Islamic nation. The word "Sunni" in Arabic comes from a word meaning "one who follows the traditions of the Prophet."

On the other hand, Shia Muslims share the belief that leadership should have stayed within the Prophet's own family, among those specifically appointed by him, or among Imams appointed by God Himself. Shia Muslims believe that following the Prophet Muhammad's death, leadership should have passed directly to his cousin/son-in-law, Ali. 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. The word "Shia" in Arabic means a group or supportive party of people. The commonly-known term is shortened from the historical "Shia-t-Ali," or "the Party of Ali." They are also known as followers of "Ahl-al-Bayt" or "People of the Household" (of the Prophet).

From this initial question of political leadership, some aspects of spiritual life have been affected and now differ between the two groups of Muslims.

Differences in beliefs

Shia Muslims believe that the Imam is sinless by nature, and that his authority is infallible as it comes directly from God. Therefore, Shia Muslims often venerate the Imams as saints and perform pilgrimages to their tombs and shrines in the hopes of divine intercession. 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 Muslims contend that leadership of the community is not a birthright, but a trust that is earned and which may be given or taken away by the people themselves.

Shia Muslims also feel animosity towards some of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, based on their positions and actions during the early years of discord about leadership in the community. Many of these companions (Abu Bakr, Umar, Aisha, etc.) have narrated traditions about the Prophet's life and spiritual practice. Shia Muslims reject these traditions (hadith) and do not base any of their religious practices on the testimony of these individuals. This naturally gives rise to some differences in religious practice between the two groups. These differences touch all detailed aspects of religious life: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc.

It is important to remember that despite all of these differences in opinion and practice, Shia and Sunni Muslims share the main articles of Islamic belief and are considered by most to be brethren in faith. In fact, most Muslims do not distinguish themselves by claiming membership in any particular group, but prefer to call themselves simply, "Muslims."

Shia vs Sunni Demographics

Sunni Muslims make up the majority (85%) of Muslims all over the world. Significant populations of Shia Muslims can be found in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Lebanon.

Shia-Sunni Conflict

In June 2012, attacks on Shiite targets in Iraq killed scores of people.[1]

In January 2012, The Economist reported that there was a growing sense of unease in the global Shia community because of attacks on them by Sunni extremists. They cited the attacks on Ashura and later in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bahrain.

In Bahrain, the Shia majority is ruled by a Sunni minority, a government that has grown to become highly unpopular.[2]

In Syria, a regime dominated by Alawites, an esoteric offshoot of Shia Islam, is bloodily failing to suppress an uprising largely led by members of the Sunni majority.[3]

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Theological differences

Most statements about Islam apply to Sunni Islam, which represents the vast majority of the Muslim population. Although the differences between Sunni Islam and the various Shiite sects started out as political, the distinction between the two groups has gradually become more and more theological as well. Shia Muslims continue to hold the same fundamental beliefs of other Muslims, with the principle addition being that they also believe in an imamate, which is the distinctive institution of Shia Islam. The doctrine of the imamate was not fully developed until the 10th century and other dogmas developed still later.

Sunni Muslims view the caliph as a temporal leader only and consider an imam to be a prayer leader, but for the Shia the historic caliphs were merely de facto rulers while the rightful and true leadership continued to be passed along through a sort of apostolic succession of Muhammad's descendants, the Imams (when capitalized, Imam refers to the Shia descendant of the House of Ali). The conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam can thus be said to be fundamentally about the nature of religious authority: is it conferred and transmitted through rational, legal institutions or does it include a charismatic, mystical element?

Religious Authority

Sunni - Rationality & Legality

In principle, Sunni Muslims' relationship with God is direct and is not mediated by anything like a priest or pope (A rabbi is a teacher not a mediator). Some religious figures may exercise a great deal of political or social power, but committees of socially important believers in each community are generally responsible for the management of the mosque and its land. The real ecclesiastical power lies with the four orthodox schools of legal thought because they define the boundaries of Islamic law, theology, and belief.

The Maliki school is centered around Medina and Malik's law book is the earliest known Muslim legal text. The Hanifi school is located in Iraq and stresses the use of individual opinion in rendering legal judgments. Shafii was a member of Muhammad's Quraysh tribe and was a distant relative of his. Shafii studied under Malik in Medina, but ended up following his own path, creating rules of analogy for the purpose of reaching legal opinions on matters which were not covered in direct statements made by Muhammad. Hanbal's legal school is centered in Baghdad and became prominent in Saudi Arabia because it is the only school accepted by the Wahhabi Muslims. It places the primary emphasis on the Hadith as the source of law and rejects later innovations made by other schools, scholars, and religious figures.

Shia - Inherited & Mystical

Unlike the Sunnis, Shia Muslims have from the start regarded inherited, mystical elements as fundamental to the nature of religious authority. The term Shia is a shortened form of Shiat Ali, which means "the party of Ali." At the time of Ali's death in 661, that is probably all it was: a party or tendency of people who supported Ali's claims to the caliphate. Ali was Muhammad's first cousin, in some ways Muhammad's adoptive brother, the husband of his daughter (Fatima) and father of his favorite grandsons. Moreover, Ali was regarded as more authentically representative of what Muhammad stood for and fought for, especially in contrast to the wealthy and worldly Umayyads.

After Ali died, his role was believed to have passed to his two sons, Hasan and Husain, who were also Muhammad's grandsons. Despite this, they did not take over the caliphate - that position went to Mu'awiya, who founded the Umayyad dynasty. After this time, the descendants of Ali became a principle focus of dissent and opposition to the Umayyads. Many came to believe that the Umayyads and following Islamic rulers were corrupt and had fallen away from the path set by Muhammad. Those who believed that justice and good government would only replace tyranny and corruption when the rightful heirs of Muhammad took control came to be known as the Shiites.

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Comments: Shia vs Sunni

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October 6, 2013, 6:58pm

I object on one point. Ahmadiyah is not a sect of Islam. They are declared non-Muslims.

— 39.✗.✗.3

March 25, 2014, 6:32pm

Shias and Sunnis have very very little difference on the belief of Chalips .....but we all should forget differences and embrace islam in its puer form.....if we combune we can exude the conflict and can get florished honourly but Anti muslims are happy with our qurrels

— 223.✗.✗.39

February 6, 2014, 8:05am

Please lets not argue we should stand by each other as one muslims shia and sunni came about political differences and not religious differences all muslims go for Haj, pray 5 times, fast, believe in One God, give shahada, and struggle in the cause of The Al Mighty, so i dont see any difrnces in the pillars of islam we should all standup together to fight for every muslims right be it shia or sunni, my dear brothers killing any one muslim is killing the whole ummah i think we all agree on that. Wasalam

— 105.✗.✗.238

January 15, 2014, 8:53pm

I think this site should have more comparisons like this, especially about slightly older religions like Hinduism.

— 78.✗.✗.238

January 8, 2014, 8:48am

I feel its sick to be fighting over who is right in shia or sunni... the main thing is both of them beleive in Allah. Peoplw need to put their personal differences aside and research for them selfs instead of beleiving what the mullas are narating... we have modern tecnology everyone can pick up a quran and find the correct answers for themselves.

— 210.✗.✗.195

March 31, 2014, 5:29pm

dont compare each other .. there is only one religion Islam .. people who have followed the prophet Muhammad s.a.w till the his last sermon are consider to to be Muslims.. people who disobeyed and started their own rules cannot consider them as Muslims ...please brothers go through the gadeer incident which wz the last sermon ... get into depth it will be a clear msg formuslims

— 223.✗.✗.170

January 31, 2014, 12:15pm

Who r brothrs? "shia" and Sunni, dear 1st cndtn f brthrhud z to b a muslim not "Shia(a non-believer)"

— 141.✗.✗.101

January 18, 2014, 5:42pm

Islam is one, their's no sunni, shia or other muslim branches....Islam is one and Allah is one, Allah is our Almighty ALLAH (God).

…Muhammad is the last Messengers

…Qur'an is the final books (words of Allah) of Allah

…Islam is one

…25 prophets including Adam, Jesus Isa, Nabi Muhammad are the messengers of Almighty ALLAH

— 37.✗.✗.175

January 9, 2014, 3:06am

My beloved brothers there is no usefighting over it respect each other and belive in muhhammad .but gess wat sunnis are rite becuse of therr actions and belif if u dont trust then go ahead find the diffrence in the quran if there isent then stop and I agree with sunnis

— 166.✗.✗.59

December 28, 2013, 9:29am

Har musalman ek doosare musalman ka bhai hai
Aap dono firqon k log is hadees se ittefaaq rakhte hain ki nahi

— 123.✗.✗.90

December 8, 2013, 6:25am

Assalamu alaikum w w. Plz evry1 try 2 undstnd that both shiya and sunni considr Ali rali. 2 b inocent. We all r muslims. Ahlussunnah waljama'a. Our purpose of life z to let Islam b rooted in evry nuk n corner. And our ultimate goal z Jannah. So nvr b divided. Any non islamic readr,plz do undstnd that rooting of islam dosnt mean that v r invaders o rather Islam z d one n only ryt path. We r blesd 2 b Muslims. I am proud 2 b a Muslim...stdy abt Islam n realize d truth...the only truth.!!!!

— 141.✗.✗.180

December 7, 2013, 11:50am

Shia islam is not fake . It believes in 12 imams which is all true....

— 1.✗.✗.170

October 30, 2013, 10:14pm

Is says neither shias or sunnis use pictures, as in to create pictures of their rulers or imams or whoever. Wrong - shias create pictures of their imams!!!

— 151.✗.✗.158

September 4, 2013, 12:00am

Does the Quran explain when someone has a difference of opinion, you should slaughter them and everyone who thinks like them? Or is this a human interpretation?

— 24.✗.✗.93

August 19, 2013, 3:24pm

Islam must be united......Don't fight each other. I'll respect both Sunni & Syiah. I am sunni but my wife was Syiah. We love each other. We are happy family.

— 118.✗.✗.61

July 7, 2013, 9:38am

Thanks for Mr.Haruna Banou advise and comments.

— 180.✗.✗.106

June 27, 2013, 2:24pm

I'm a Shia and I believe that some of this is utter bullshit !! How can you say such things when you don't know anything about Shia . Have you observed a Shia individual ? No ! Your writing what you hear not something that is a fact . Problems arrived when muawiya blamed imaam Ali for the martyrdom of hazrat Usman because he wasn't talking strong steps against his assassins since he wanted to restore peace in Arabia . The unbelievers took advantage of this and two sects of Muslims were created since then . The ones who believed that imaam Ali was innocent came to known as Shia and the others as Sunni . There are Sunni people who only follow prophet Mohammad and not his descendants . Whom he loved with all his heart . Would a parent be happy if you respect him and not his kids ??

— 39.✗.✗.144

May 26, 2013, 10:16pm

I recommend watching 'The Life of Brian', repeatedly, until you get it!

— 220.✗.✗.163

April 15, 2013, 11:32am

As a previous commenter mentioned, Shia Islam originated in Medina. Also, when you refer to qualifications for ruler, what kind of ruler are you referring to? Another correction, Shias believe in the same Quran that Sunnis believe. There is no difference between a Shia’s Quran and a Sunni’s Quran. Furthermore, Imams do not receive revelation the same way Prophets do. We believe Muhammad (SAWS) was the last Prophet and the line of revelation ends with him. Your chart has a lot of mistakes in it. Please get your information from better sources.

— 188.✗.✗.29

January 17, 2013, 10:30am

Place of origin for Shia Muslim is incorrectly mentioned, it should be Madina, Saudi Arabia. In addition, shia school of faith is recognized by name of "Ja'fari".


— 203.✗.✗.26

October 31, 2007, 8:10pm

YouTube video explaining the difference. Don't know how accurate this is, though.

— 24.✗.✗.61

February 11, 2014, 10:58pm


— 185.✗.✗.43

October 30, 2013, 10:11pm

I noticed the chart says that sunnis regard imams as 'saints' nonoooonoooo that is utterly wrong, we regard imams as having great knowlage of the Qur'an Sunnah and hadiths and islamic knolage in general, but they are humans just like the rest of us, they make mistakes and commit sins too. May Allah swt guide all of the misguided and keep us all on the straight path. Some of shias belifefs have no basis in Islam -----> bid'ah.

— 151.✗.✗.158

November 22, 2013, 1:13am

one day all of your pathetic religions will be gone and the world will finally achieve long lasting peace.

— 184.✗.✗.145

October 28, 2013, 10:09am

These facts are all lies , as shia ... This is bullshit sunni facts

— 203.✗.✗.161
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