Difference Wiki

Sunni vs. Shia: What's the Difference?

Edited by Huma Saeed || By Sumera Saeed || Updated on October 3, 2023
Sunni and Shia are the two main branches of Islam, differing primarily over leadership succession after Prophet Muhammad. Sunni accepts the community-elected caliphs, while Shia supports Ali and his descendants.

Key Differences

Both represent the two predominant branches of Islam, making up the vast majority of the Muslim population worldwide. While both follow the core beliefs and practices of Islam, they have historical, theological, and jurisprudential differences.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023
The rift originated over the leadership succession after Prophet Muhammad's death. Sunni Muslims believe that the leadership of the community after Prophet Muhammad should be a matter of consensus and have accepted the leadership of the community-elected caliphs. Shia Muslims, on the other hand, believe that leadership should stay within Prophet Muhammad's family, starting with his cousin and son-in-law, Ali.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023
From a theological perspective, Sunni Islam emphasizes community consensus and is more diverse in its beliefs and practices. Shia Islam places greater emphasis on the role of certain key figures in Islamic history, like Imam Ali and the other Imams, and has distinct rituals and practices tied to commemorating them.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023
Geographically, Sunni Muslims form the majority in countries like Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Shia Muslims, however, are predominant in countries like Iran and Iraq. Over the centuries, political struggles have sometimes amplified the sectarian differences.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023
Despite their differences, it's essential to remember that both Sunni and Shia Muslims share many core beliefs and practices, such as the Five Pillars of Islam, reverence for the Quran, and the importance of the Hajj pilgrimage.
Sara Rehman
Oct 03, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Root Origin

Comes from "Ahl al-Sunna," meaning "people of the tradition."
Derived from "Shi'atu Ali," meaning "partisans of Ali."
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Pronunciation

SOO-nee
SHEE-ah
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Usage in Sentence

Often used as an adjective (e.g., Sunni Muslims).
Typically used as an adjective (e.g., Shia Muslims).
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Plural Form

Sunnis
Shias or Shiites
Harlon Moss
Oct 03, 2023

Associated Nouns

Sunnism (referring to the beliefs/practices)
Shiism (referring to the beliefs/practices)
Janet White
Oct 03, 2023
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Sunni and Shia Definitions

Sunni

A Muslim who adheres to the teachings and practices derived from the Prophet's sayings and actions.
Sunni mosques often have a diverse congregation from various cultures.
Huma Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Shia

A follower of the Islamic tradition that places emphasis on certain key figures in Islamic history.
Shia neighborhoods are often adorned with banners and flags during religious commemorations.
Harlon Moss
Oct 03, 2023

Sunni

A member of the largest branch of Islam that recognizes the first four caliphs as legitimate successors to Prophet Muhammad.
The majority of Muslims in Egypt are Sunni.
Sara Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Shia

An adherent who recognizes a line of spiritual leaders known as Imams descending from Ali.
Shia communities often gather for lectures during the month of Muharram.
Aimie Carlson
Oct 03, 2023

Sunni

Pertaining to the tradition and practices upheld by the majority of the Muslim world.
Sunni jurisprudence is diverse with multiple schools of thought.
Harlon Moss
Oct 03, 2023

Shia

An adherent of the teachings and practices derived from a distinct lineage of Islamic leaders.
Shia scholars have contributed immensely to Islamic literature and jurisprudence.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Sunni

An adherent of the mainstream beliefs and practices of Islam as understood by the majority.
Sunni teachings emphasize community and unity in the faith.
Janet White
Oct 03, 2023

Shia

A Muslim who believes leadership should remain within Prophet Muhammad's family, especially with Ali.
Shia Muslims annually commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Sunni

A follower who believes in the leadership chosen by consensus after the Prophet's death.
Sunni history is filled with tales of scholarly endeavors and caliphs.
Harlon Moss
Oct 03, 2023

Shia

Pertaining to one of the two main branches of Islam, characterized by reverence for the family of the Prophet.
Shia traditions are rich with stories of the Imams.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Sunni

The branch of Islam that accepts the first four caliphs as rightful successors of Muhammad.
Sumera Saeed
Jul 11, 2017

Shia

(Used with a pl. verb) The Shiites.
Sumera Saeed
Jul 11, 2017

Sunni

Pl. Sunni or Sun·nis A Muslim belonging to this branch; a Sunnite.
Sumera Saeed
Jul 11, 2017

Shia

(used with a sing. verb) A Shiite.
Sumera Saeed
Jul 11, 2017

Sunni

A member of the branch of Islam that accepts the first four caliphs as rightful successors to Muhammad
Sumera Saeed
Jul 11, 2017

Shia

Shiite.
Sumera Saeed
Jul 11, 2017

Sunni

One of the two main branches of orthodox Islam
Sumera Saeed
Jul 11, 2017

Shia

One of the two main branches of orthodox Islam; mainly in Iran
Sumera Saeed
Jul 11, 2017

FAQs

How did the Sunni and Shia split begin?

It began over leadership succession after Prophet Muhammad's death.
Huma Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Do both Sunni and Shia follow the Quran?

Yes, both Sunni and Shia revere and follow the Quran.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Which group, Sunni or Shia, has a larger global population?

Sunni Muslims comprise a larger portion of the global Muslim population.
Sara Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Are there doctrinal differences between Sunni and Shia?

Yes, there are theological and jurisprudential differences between Sunni and Shia.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

What language do Sunni and Shia prayers use?

Both Sunni and Shia conduct prayers in Arabic.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Which countries are predominantly Sunni?

Countries like Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are predominantly Sunni.
Janet White
Oct 03, 2023

Are there different sects within Sunni and Shia Islam?

Yes, both Sunni and Shia have various sects or schools of thought.
Harlon Moss
Oct 03, 2023

What are Sunni and Shia?

Sunni and Shia are the two primary branches of Islam.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Are relations between Sunni and Shia always strained?

No, while there are historical and political tensions, many Sunni and Shia live in harmony, intermarry, and share communities.
Harlon Moss
Oct 03, 2023

Which countries have a significant Shia population?

Iran and Iraq are two countries with a majority Shia population.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

How do Sunni and Shia practices differ during Ramadan?

Core practices are similar, but there might be differences in traditions, prayers, and community events.
Aimie Carlson
Oct 03, 2023

Do both Sunni and Shia go on Hajj?

Yes, both Sunni and Shia perform the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Harlon Moss
Oct 03, 2023

How do Sunni and Shia views on leadership differ?

Sunni believes in community-elected leadership, while Shia believes in leadership from Prophet Muhammad's family.
Janet White
Oct 03, 2023

Are there cultural differences between Sunni and Shia communities?

While religious differences exist, many cultural differences are regional rather than strictly Sunni or Shia.
Sara Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

Are the Five Pillars of Islam the same for Sunni and Shia?

Yes, both Sunni and Shia adhere to the Five Pillars of Islam.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

Can Sunni and Shia marry each other?

Yes, Sunni and Shia individuals can and do marry each other, though cultural and regional factors can influence this.
Janet White
Oct 03, 2023

How do Sunni and Shia views on the caliphs differ?

Sunni accepts the first four caliphs, while Shia does not recognize their leadership as legitimate.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 03, 2023

What are the main festivals for Sunni and Shia?

Both Sunni and Shia celebrate Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Additionally, Shia specifically commemorates events like Ashura.
Sara Rehman
Oct 03, 2023

How do Sunni and Shia views on the Mahdi differ?

Sunni believes in a future Mahdi, while Shia typically associates the Mahdi with the Twelfth Imam.
Janet White
Oct 03, 2023

How do Sunni and Shia jurisprudential schools differ?

Sunni has multiple schools like Hanafi and Maliki, while Shia predominantly follows the Ja'fari school.
Aimie Carlson
Oct 03, 2023
About Author
Written by
Sumera Saeed
Sumera is an experienced content writer and editor with a niche in comparative analysis. At Diffeence Wiki, she crafts clear and unbiased comparisons to guide readers in making informed decisions. With a dedication to thorough research and quality, Sumera's work stands out in the digital realm. Off the clock, she enjoys reading and exploring diverse cultures.
Edited by
Huma Saeed
Huma is a renowned researcher acclaimed for her innovative work in Difference Wiki. Her dedication has led to key breakthroughs, establishing her prominence in academia. Her contributions continually inspire and guide her field.

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