بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم
The recent killing of a prominent Shia cleric, Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, by Saudi Arabia brought up this highly-asked question again: What is the difference between Sunnis and Shias? And why is there so much dispute between these two groups?
I’m not going to say which sect I belong to, because that in itself is a sin since we are supposed to be one Ummah, not a divided number of sects fighting one another.
“Indeed, those who divide their religion and break up into sects, you have no part with them in the least: their affair is with God: He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they used to do” -Quran 041:033
Although this is forbidden, reality remains unchanged and we have divided into difference sects, and here are some ways in which we have grown different overtime.
WHAT ARE SOME DIFFERENCES?
PRAYER: Shias pray with their hands at their sides, and Sunnis pray with their hands across the chest. Prayer times vary by 5-15 minutes, and the call to prayer is slightly different.
In addition, after reciting Al-Fatiha, Sunnis recite one verse of a Surah and then say ameen, where as Shias recite the whole Surah if it’s short or do the same as Sunnis if it’s a long Surah.
Additinally, Shias pray with a Turbah– a clay disk that they use to represent praying on the earth as prophet Mohammad (pbuh) and his followers used to do prior to Sijadas.
FASTING: There is dispute regarding the right time to break the fast, and as a result there is usually a 5-15 minutes difference between the Sunni and Shia breaking of the fast in Ramadan. However, many scholars agree that it’s best to break the fast together with the majority present to preserve the “oneness” of our Ummah.
HAJJ: Several differences exist, however because the process of Hajj is so detailed, it would take too long to list them all and to outline the discrepancies. In addition, the differences are very minor and as a result don’t stand out when performing Hajj.
CHARITY: Both Sunnis and Shias give a 2.5% Zakat to the needy and the poor. However, in addition to that Shias give a charity called Khums.
In 632 C.E, the Prophet Mohammad’s (pbuh) death required that a new leader be selected to take his place. Sunnis wanted Abu Bakr a.s, who was a friend of the prophet and the father of his wife Aisha a.s, to take over. While Shias wanted Ali a.s to take over, the prophets cousin and son-in-law. In the end, Abu Bakr a.s became the first caliphate and Ali a.s ruled later as the fourth caliphate.
This division that started out with the caliphate grew even greater when the Prophet Mohammad’s (pbuh) grandson, Hussain a.s, and other relatives were killed in Kerbala, by the ruling caliphate at the time who was a Sunni. This, along with a series of complicated events, ignited great hostility between the two sects that has continuously grown into modern times.
THE REAL DIFFERENCE
The real difference is in the Hadith books. Sunnis and Shias follow different Hadith books and that has been the major contributor to their differences in the practice of Islam.
Sunnis follow a set of 6 major Hadith books called “Sihah Sitta” that Sunnis consider 100% authentic (or Sahih) by scholars such as: Bukhari, Muslim etc.
Shias follow a set of 4 major Hadith books called the “Kutub Al-Arba”. Shias consider the hadith by the 12 Imams as Sahih.
Obviously there are MANY other hadith books that both follow or use as a resource, but these are the main books and the reason why these sects accept different hadiths. There is a lot more to discuss about hadith and how it has shaped each sect differently, but inshAllah that will be discussed in-depth some other time for now, here is a great summary of what I’m trying to say:
“Interpretation of the Hadith and Sunnah is an Islamic academic science. The Shi’as gave preference to those credited to the Prophet’s family and close associates. The Sunnis consider all Hadith and Sunnah narrated by any of twelve thousand companions to be equally valid. Shi’as recognize these as useful texts relating to Islamic jurisprudence, but subject them to close scrutiny. Ultimately this difference of emphasis led to different understandings of the laws and practices of Islam.” -projectaladin.org
In conclusion I find it ironic how, we as Muslims, ask the West to look beyond the minority of terrorists who have hijacked our religion to see it for the just religion that it is. But then go ahead and judge each other based on a minority of Sunni extremists and Shia extremists to drift further apart from our brothers and sisters. We can’t ask others to accept us when we haven’t even accepted each other.
**IT’S IMPORTANT TO CORRECT ME IF ANYTHING I STATED IS WRONG**
Surah- chapters in the Quran within each Juz (part in the Quran)
Sijadah– prayer rug Musilms use to pray on