The central difference between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims is the manner in which they have chosen to recognize leadership in Islam following the death of the prophet Muhammad. Etymologically, Sunni people are those who “follow the traditions of the Prophet,” whilst the Shia are those who follow the “Household of the Prophet,” and these are apt descriptors of the manner in which they differ.
Sunni Muslims chose to recognize the authority of Muhammad’s companions, who declared that the role of leadership was to be accorded to one deemed capable, establishing a Caliphate under Muhammad’s confidante, Abu Bakr. Shia Muslims on the other hand, chose not to recognize the authority of the Caliphate, and instead devoted themselves to a line of Imams they believe to be appointed through divine right. Shia Muslims are essentially the minority, with Sunni Muslim comprising 85% of the world’s Islamic population.
Generally speaking, Amin maintains that despite these political differences, their core beliefs are fundamentally the same. The fundamental analogy he provides is the contrast between Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Orthodoxy. The Shia Imam is essentially a nigh-infallible figure accorded Pope-like reverence, while the Sunni choose a more individualistic and secular form of respect, eschewing formal clergy in favor of scholarship and independence much like Protestantism.
Other than that, they agree on many critical aspects of Islam: the Five Pillars, and neither group denies the other’s right to identifying as Muslim. As Athar observes, many Muslims do not actually actively distinguish themselves nominally. However, Athar also argues that the political ramifications of their differences have led to an unfair stigmatization of the Shia Muslims within Western media, if it chooses at all to inform non-Muslims of these differences. One notable misconception is the notion that Shia do not pay ‘zakat’ or poor-due when in fact, they do.
They simply choose not to make this contribution through the Sunni government, which they believe to be corrupt. Works Cited Amin, Hussein Abdulwaheed. “The Origins of the Sunni/Shia split in Islam. ” Islam For Today. 17 August 2007. Retrieved August 29, 2008 from: http://www. islamfortoday. com/shia. htm Athar, Shahid. “Shia Sunni Unity: Shia Sunni Differences, Shia Sunni Conflict. ” Islam Online. 5 June 2007. Retrieved August 29, 2008 from: http://www. ezsoftech. com/Akram/shiasunniunity. asp