Decoded: Shia Vs Sunni

The Islamic religion was founded by Mohammad in 7th century. In 622, he found the first Islamic state of Medina, a theocracy north of Mecca. The age old dispute between the world’s Muslim population began after the death of Islamic prophet Mohammad in year 632. The disagreement is on various fronts; mostly based on  who the successor of Allah is. In today’s world we see that Sunnis are a majority in most Muslim communities in Southeast Asia, China, South Asia, Africa, most of the Arab World, and among Muslims in United States. Shias on the other hand are a majority in Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Bahrain. The disagreement between the two sects is on the following lines:

Who succeeded Mohammad?

The Sunni population believes that Mohammad did not nominate a successor and that his four caliphs (religious leaders) and their lineage succeeded him. The caliphs and their progeny were the religious rulers who ruled the Arab world till the break of the Ottoman Empire during First World War. They believe that Abu Bakr, the father of Mohammad’s wife Aisha and the Caliphs were Muhammad’s rightful successor and that the method of choosing or electing leaders endorsed by the Quran is the consensus of the Muslim community.

The Shias on the other hand believe that Mohammad named his son-in-law Ali Ibn Abi Talib and the twelve Imams (a person who leads prayers in the mosque) as the religious leaders.  Ali was married to Mohammad’s daughter Fatimah and his direct descendants were chosen to be the successors. They disregard the first three caliphs and think of Ali as the second most “divinely” leader. The twelvers believe that the Imamate of the Shia encompasses far more of a prophetic function than the Caliphate of the Sunnis. Unlike Sunni, Shias believe special spiritual qualities have been granted not only to Muhammad but also to Ali and the other Imams. The twelvers believe the Imams are immaculate from sin and human error, and can understand and interpret the hidden inner meaning of the teachings of Islam. In this way the Imams are trustees who bear the light of Muhammad.

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In Islam, Mahdi is the prophesized redeemer of Islam who will rule for 7,9 or 19 years (depending on the beliefs) before the Judgement Day and will help rid the world of all the Evil.  The Judgement Day being the day god finally assesses humanity. (No way we’re passing that test)

Shias believe that Mahdi will be the resurrected twelfth Imam and will rejuvenate the Islamic society at the end of the world.

In contrast, mainstream Sunnis believe the Mahdi will be named Muhammad and will be a descendant of Muhammad, and will revive the faith, but will not necessarily be connected with the end of the world.


Hadiths are reports of sayings by Prophet Muhammad on any matter.

The Shias accept some of the Sunni hadiths to argue some of their cases. They also consider sayings of Ahl-al-Bayt. Some Sunni accepted Hadiths are less favored by Shia due to Aisha’s opposition of Ali.

The above are just few of the major divides between Shia and Sunni. On a completely unrelated note, as I read and gathered information for this article I thought of whether the Al-Qaeda was Shia or Sunni. Turns out that it was Sunni, which means that the First World War completely devastated them; destroying the Ottoman Empire and ending the reign of the Caliphs.  He, Osama Bin Laden, made this very clear in a videotape made post 9/11, broadcasted by the Al-Jazeera, he proclaimed, “What America tastes now is only a copy of what we’ve tasted. Our Islamic nation has tasting the same disgrace for more than eighty years, of humiliation and disgrace, its sons killed and their blood spilled, its sanctities desecrated.”


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