Difference Between Sunni and Shia


Main Difference

Sunni and Shia are the two major divisions of the World’s 2nd largest religion Islam. Islam is world’s 2nd largest religion with 24% of world’s population being Muslims. Muslims are further divided into two major sects or divisions. Sunni and Shia. Ahal-e-Sunnah or more commonly known as Sunni is the largest sect of Islam with over 85 to 90% total Muslims are Sunni. Shia is the 2nd largest division of Islam with 15 to 10% of overall Muslim Population. After the death of Prophet Muhammad, Muslims were divided into two groups by political differences. According to Sunni’s Prophet, Muhammad did not appoint him any successor; the Muslim community unanimously selects Abu Bakr as the first Caliph of Islam after Prophet Muhammad. Abu Bakr was among the closest companions of Prophet Muhammad and was also Father in Law of Prophet Muhammad. On the other hand, According to Shia Muslims, Prophet Muhammad wanted Ali Ibn Abi Talib as his successor, and they consider Ali Ibn Abi Talib to be the first Caliph and Imam.

Comparison Chart

BelieveSunni believe Prophet Muhammad did not appoint any successor and the community chose Abu Bakr as the first caliph.Shia believes Prophet Muhammad wanted Ali Ibn Abi Talib, his son-in-law, and cousin to be his successor.
Population1.2 Billion200 Million
Successor after ProphetAbu Bakr (Father In Law and companion of Prophet Muhammad).Ali Ibn Abi Talib (Son in Law and cousin of Prophet Muhammad).
Majority Found InIraq, Iran, Yemen, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Bahrain etc.Mecca, Medina, UAE, and in all the Muslim countries of the world.
Mourning and Self-ScourgeSunni does not self-flagellate or mourn, they consider it as a Sin.Shia Muslims mourn and self-flagellate themselves on Ashura and in other days too.

What is Sunni?

Sunni or Aahal e Sunnah are the Muslims who considered that Prophet Muhammad did not appoint him any successor; the Muslim community collectively elected Abu Bakr as the First Caliph of Islam. Sunni Muslims are the largest denomination of religion after Catholics. 85 to 90% of Muslims all around the globe are Sunni Muslims. They have a political contradiction with Shia Muslim, who considered Ali Ibn Abi Talib as the first Caliph and Imam. Sunni Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad did not appoint his any successor himself and the Muslim community that time unanimously elected Abu Bakr as the first official Caliph of Islam. Abu Bakr was among the closest companions of Prophet Mohammad, and he was also the Father in the law of Prophet Muhammad. After the decision, the political differences between Shias and Sunnis kept on increasing. According to Sunnis, there are four rightful Caliphs as they were appointed in order. 1st caliph Abu Bakr, 2nd Caliph Umer Bin Khattab, 3rd Usman Bin Affan and fourth Ali Ibn Abi Talib. Sunni Islam is considered as the orthodox Islam as it possesses a massive percentage of followers. Sunni does believe in the fourth caliphs and the further decedents from this chain as mentioned in history. Sunni’s further have various divisions and school of thoughts. Major Sunni School of thoughts includes Maliki, Shafi, Hanbali, and Hanafi. Sunnis celebrate traditional Holy days such as Eid Ul Fitr after the month of Ramazan, in which the Muslims keep fast. Eid Ul Adha at which Muslims sacrifice animals i.e. sheep, goats, cows, etc. as a Sunnah of Prophet Ibrahim. At the 10th of the month of Muharram or more commonly known as Ashura Sunnis keep fast in remembrance of Hussain, grandson of Prophet Muhammad who was martyred with his family in the battle of Karbala and for Moses as well in remembrance of his crossing of the sea. Sunnis do not mourn like Shia Muslims and do not self-flagellate themselves as Shia do commonly.


What is Shia?

Shia Muslims and Sunni do possess similar basic beliefs about One God (ALLAH), Prophets, Holy Books, Angels, Predestination and Judgment day. The major difference between both these divisions of Islam is due to the political difference that formed after the death of Prophet Muhammad. Shia Muslims are the 2nd largest sect of Islam with over 10 to 15 % overall Muslim population all around the globe. According to Shia beliefs, Prophet Muhammad wanted his son in law and cousin Ali Ibn Abi Talib as his successor and First caliph. Abu Bakr, the Father in Law of Prophet Muhammad, was chosen as the First Caliph despite Ali Ibn Abi Talib which led the political differences. Shia Muslims does not consider the three caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar Bin Khattab, and Usman Bin Affan) before Ali Ibn Abi Talib that in real remain Caliphs and completed their reign. Shia only considers Ali Ibn Abi Talib as their first Caliph and Imam. Including Ali Ibn Abi Talib Shia Muslims believe in 12 Imams that are Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Hassan Ibn Ali, Hussain Ibn Ali, Zain Ul Abideen Ibn Hussain, Muhammad AlBaqir, Jaafar AlSadiq, Musa ALkazim, Ali ALraza, Muhammad AliTaqi, Ali AlNaqi, Hasan Alaska and the one yet to come that is Al-Mehdi. Shia Muslims mourn and self-Scourge themselves in the remembrance of the martyrdom of Hussain Ibn Ali and his family at the Battle of Karbala on 10th of Muharram. Apart from flagellating on Ashura, mourning and self-flagellation is part of their regular activities in mosque and Imambarghas.

Sunni vs. Shia

  • Sunni Muslims are the majority Muslim division with 85 to 90% population among over all Muslims.
  • Shia Muslim is the 2nd major Muslim division with 15 to 10% overall population.
  • Sunni considered Abu Bakr as the first caliph.
  • Shia considered Ali Ibn Abi Talib as the first Caliph and Imam.
  • Shia mourns and self-flagellate themselves.
  • Sunni does not mourn or self-flagellate and consider it as a sin.

Comparison Video

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Harlon Moss

Harlon currently works as a quality moderator and content writer for Difference Wiki. He graduated from the University of California in 2010 with a degree in Computer Science. Follow him on Twitter @HarlonMoss