According Shiites and Sunnis believe that the

According to the Quran, there
is only one and one way leading to God, which is Islam. The Quran exhorts
believers to be united around one cardinal principle of Islam. Sabrina,
however, believes that this divine unity exhorted by the Quran has only
remained an ideal, since Muslims have never united as one community around one
and the same conception of their religion (Sabrina 11). According to an account
attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, the Muslim community will split into
seventy three sects, of which seventy two will go to hell and only one will be
save. The one to be saved is known as ‘the group’. Obviously each sect claims
to be the elected one. Islamic scholars interprete the term according to their
understanding of the saying of the Prophet. Some scholars refer to ‘the group’
as the virtuous; others see the Sunnis as the redeemed. This saying of the
Prophet has fuelled discussions and sometimes tensions between the various
sects of Islam. Similarities and differences between two major sects-the Sunnis
and the Shias is the central theme of this short essay.

Although there are considerable
differences between Sunni and Shiite Islam, the two Islamic sects share common
traditions, beliefs, and doctrines. All Muslims, including the Shiites and
Sunnis believe that the Prophet Muhammad was the messenger of Allah (the Arabic
word for God). The two sects believe that they must abide by the revelations
given to the Prophet by Allah (as recorded in the Quran) and by the hadith
(sayings of the Prophet and his companions). The concepts of piety, striving
for goodness, and social justice are fundamental to Islamic belief and
practice. Additionally, all Muslims are expected to live in accordance with the
five pillars of Islam: Shahada—recital of the creed “There is no God but Allah,
and Muhammad is His Prophet”; Salat—five obligatory prayers in a day; Zakat—
giving alms to the poor; Sawm—fasting from sunrise to sunset during the month
of Ramadan; and Hajj—making a pilgrimage to Mecca once during a lifetime if one
is physically and financially able

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To both Sunnis and Shias, Islam
is considered the one true faith. Other religions are condemned by Muslims, for
whom Islam is more than just a belief; it is a way of life. The basic sources
for Islamic jurisprudence, be it Sunni or Shiite, are the Quran, the sunna
(customs of the Prophet Muhammad) as relayed in the hadith, qiyas (analogy),
Ijma’ (consensus), and Ijtihad (individual reasoning). The primary function of
the learned religious leaders is the interpretation of Islamic law (shari’a).
There are no codified laws in either Sunni or Shiite Islam. Rather, there are
sources for the interpretation of law, and these sources are similar among
Shiites and Sunnis.

Both denominations accept the Qur’an,
the Muslim holy book, as the indisputable will of Allah and His plan for
humanity. Both Sunnis and Shias believe that the body of Quranic laws (called
sharia) supersedes worldly laws. Nevertheless, both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims
accept the centrality of the Qur’an. Despite adhering to the same text, it is
not uncommon for Sunnis to accuse Shi’as of using a different, corrupted
version. Both draw on narratives of what the Prophet said (Hadith), but they favor
different collections.

Roberts has pointed out clearly
that the rivalry of the branches of Islam has been hardened by mutual distrust
and intolerance (Roberts 57). In places where they live side by side, such as
Lebanon, Iraq, and parts of Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, their dislike and even
hatred of each other us stronger than that felt towards other religions. Open
conflicts between Sunnis and Shiias in Pakistan and Afghanistan is frequent and

The first point of departure of
Sunnis from Shia is the issue of succession. After the Prophet died in 632, the
problem of succession arose, with the crucial question being who would be the
most legitimate to the community after him and what methods should be used to
select his successor. The doctrine of the Imamate which is rejected by Sunnis,
leads Shiites to refuse the legitimacy of the firsts three caliphs. They do not
recognize the authority of Abubakar, Umar and Uthman who were the first three
Caliphs. These three Caliphs are vilified and insulted by the Shiites for
usurping power from Ali, the Prohets cousin who they believe should have been
the first Caliph. When Muhammad, the prophet of
Islam, died, the majority of Muslims believed that power should be passed down
through elected leaders. A small minority, later called the Shia, rejected
these elected officials and instead chose to follow the blood descendants of
the Prophet himself or imams chosen by God, creating the Sunni-Shia split.
Today, Sunnis still comprise the vast majority of Muslims.

The second and major point of
departure touches on the cardinal principle of Islam. The Shiites are
reproached by the Sunnis for not adhering to the doctrine of tawhid (the
doctrine of oneness of God). The Shiites are accused of associating God with
the imams and the ahlul bayt (Prophet’s household) figures they worship. This
is a very serious issue of contention between the two sects. The Shiites are
also accused of not accepting the Quran, which they suspect of falsification,
for they have adulterated it with addition of some verses. They are thus
falsifiers and they do not admit same hadiths as the Sunnis and hence have
forged their own.

According to Sunnites, Shiites
have introduced various innovations, like the doctrine of intercession and
their devotional practices at tombs of Imams and saints, with some among them
being more venerated than the Kabaa and Mecca. The annual celebration of Ashura
by the Shiites is a major aberration according to the Sunnis. Sunnis do not
tolerate any kind of religious frenzy of any kind brought on by self-flagellation
practiced by some Shias during the ten-day periods to commemorate the suffering
and death of Hussayn(the grandson of Prophet Muhammad). Moreover, the adulation
the Shias accord Husayn and his grieving mother Fatima in connection with their
imams suffering and death strikes some Sunnis and outside observers as having
uncomfortable resemblance to the particular reverence Christians give to Jesus
and Mary during the Holy Week.

Laws and jurisprudence is
another area of difference between Sunni and Shi’a. Although both groups rely
first and foremost on the Qur’an and Sunnah, they differ in how they formulate
laws in areas not covered by these sources. Sunni Islam recognizes four legal
schools, Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali and Shafi’i. Shi’as rely largely on one legal
tradition, the Jafari school, named after the sixth Shi’a imam. These schools
exercise their influence in different countries.

Related to this is the question
of Divine revelation. For Sunnis, Muhammad is the seal of prophets, the final
and absolute word from God. There can be no further revelations before the end
of time. Shias on the other hand, generally accept that the Quran was created,
they do not rule out the possibility of further revelation via the last Imam
Muhammad al Mahdi.

It remains to be seen whether
these incessant mutual charges, accusations, counter accusations and
significance of how to judge the Prophet’s companions and the traditions handed
down by them are able to form a basis for rekindling a universal spirit in





Brenton Betts The Sunni-Shi’a Divide: Islam’s Internal
Divisions and Their Global Consequences Potomac Books, Inc., 2013

The Dynamic of Sunni-Shia
Relationships, Edited by Brigitte Marechal and Sami Zemni, 2013C. Hurts & Co Ltd

Ahmed, Akbar S.,Islam Today-A short introduction to the
Muslim World, London and New York: I.B.Tauris, 1999