Islam is one of the largest religions in the world, with approximately 1.8 billion followers worldwide. Within Islam, there are two major branches, Sunni and Shia. While both believe in the oneness of Allah, the importance of the Quran, and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, there are significant differences between the two.
The origins of the Sunni and Shia branches can be traced back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE. After his death, a disagreement arose over who should succeed him as ruler of the Islamic community. The majority of Muslims at the time believed that his close companion, Abu Bakr, should be the first caliph, or leader of the Muslim community. This group became known as Sunni Muslims.
However, a small minority believed that the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, should be the first caliph, as he was a blood relative and had a close relationship with the Prophet. This group became known as Shia Muslims. The word "Shia" means "followers," as they were followers of Ali.
The main differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims lie in their beliefs about the authority of Islamic leadership and interpretation of Islamic law.
Sunni Muslims believe that the first four caliphs, including Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali, were the rightful leaders of the Islamic community. They also believe that Islamic law should be based on the Quran and the Sunnah (the teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad). Sunni Muslims do not believe in the concept of a divinely appointed Imam, or religious leader.
Shia Muslims, on the other hand, believe that the first caliph should have been Ali, and that there were 12 Imams who followed him. They believe that these Imams were divinely appointed and had a special connection to Allah, and that they were the rightful leaders of the Islamic community. Shia Muslims also have a different interpretation of Islamic law, known as Sharia, which includes additional practices and customs.
There are also differences in the religious practices of Sunni and Shia Muslims. One notable difference is the way in which they perform the daily prayers, or Salah. Sunni Muslims typically fold their arms during prayer, while Shia Muslims keep them at their sides. Shia Muslims also often use a small clay tablet, called a Turbah, to place their forehead on during prayer, while Sunni Muslims do not.
Another practice that differs between Sunni and Shia Muslims is the observance of Ashura. Ashura is a day of mourning that commemorates the death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Hussain ibn Ali, who was killed in battle in 680 CE. Sunni Muslims observe Ashura as a day of fasting and penance, while Shia Muslims may engage in self-flagellation and other rituals to express their grief.
The majority of Muslims worldwide are Sunni, with estimates ranging from 85% to 90%. Sunni Islam is predominant in many countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey, as well as in several regions of Africa and Asia.
Shia Islam is more prevalent in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain, as well as in areas of Lebanon, Yemen, and Pakistan. There are also significant populations of Shia Muslims in India and Central Asia.
As with any religious or cultural differences, there have been historical conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The most notable conflict occurred in the 7th century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, when a battle broke out between the supporters of Ali and the supporters of the first three caliphs. This conflict, known as the Battle of Karbala, marked the beginning of the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
In more recent history, there have been conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria, among other places. These conflicts have often been fueled by political and economic factors, as well as religious differences. However, it is important to note that the majority of Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, reject violence and extremism.
In summary, the main differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims are their beliefs about the rightful leaders of the Muslim community and their interpretation of Islamic law. Sunni Muslims believe that the first four caliphs were the rightful leaders, while Shia Muslims believe that Ali and the 12 Imams were divinely appointed. Shia Muslims also have different practices, such as the use of a clay tablet during prayer and observance of Ashura as a day of mourning. Despite historical and current conflicts, the majority of Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, share a common faith and reject violence and extremism.