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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.


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 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.”

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.




Surah- chapters in the Quran within each Juz (part in the Quran)

Sijadah– prayer rug Musilms use to pray on

Sources: No SectsThe Economist Explains: Difference between Sunni and Shia,



  1. I believe difference is basically because poeople are unable to live with each other’s differences. Each claims that his version of religion is the only right one. The absolute truth.
    The truth is in the heart, not in the way people pray or fast. It’s how they feel in that prayer or duaa that makes a difference. Religion is love. It should provoke love and acceptance. If it provokes any other type of negative and hatred feelings, one must rethink.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey thanks for reading 🙂 I totally agree!People now a days have become so busy about who is right that they forget to do what is right. Religion is love like you said, I wish more people would see that too!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think religiously there isn’t so big a difference, no bigger than Catholicism and Protestantism.
    I believe that politics are the main force driving the wedge between Sunni and Shia groups or governments now, The U.S. backs Saudi Arabia who backs Sunni governments to fight against Shia groups or countries, while Russia backs Iran who backs Shia governments or groups in their fight against Sunni groups or countries. This is the case in nearly every conflict in the Middle East right now. The only exception I can think of is with Iran backing Hamas… which I think is because Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to support a group that is openly hostile towards Israel for fear of losing American support.
    Just my two cents.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Assalaamu `alaykum,

    There are unfortunately a few inaccuracies regarding your representation of the Sunni tradition. I hope that what follows is taken as an opportunity for education rather than a chastisement 😊

    “Sunnis pray with their hands across the chest…”

    Actually, the majority of Sunnis (Hanafis and Shafi`is) pray with their hands clasped either below or immediately above the navel, but it’s the well-known (mashhur) and stronger position of the Maliki madhhab to leave the hands hanging by the side (sadl). Hands clasped across the chest is a minority opinion of the Hanbali madhhab (often insisted on by the Wahhabi sect).

    “In addition, after reciting Al-Fatiha, Sunnis recite one verse of a Surah and then say ameen…”

    This is not the case. First, we say “aameen” (silently or aloud depending on madhhab) after recitation of al-Fatihah. Thereafter, and only in the first two raka`at, recitation of no less than 3 short ayaat (e.g. Surah al-`Asr) is wajib; recitation of a single ayah is sufficient only if its length is comparable to 3 shorter ayaat.

    “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.”

    This is also not the case. These 6 books are indeed popular, and the compilations of Imams Bukhari and Muslim do only contain ahaadeeth considered to have “saheeh” chains of narration *according to those imams’ criteria*, but no scholars of Ahl as-Sunnah count them as “100% authentic.” The Muwatta of Imam Malik, for instance, isn’t included in the 6, but is considered more authentic than Bukhari by most Malikis and some Hanafis.

    “The Sunnis consider all Hadith and Sunnah narrated by any of twelve thousand companions to be equally valid.”

    I know you didn’t write this, but it’s also not correct. Each mujtahid imam of the Sunni tradition had their own principles by which they judged ahaadeeth and extracted rulings from them (I’m Hanafi so I can only expound on my own madhhab), but saying any of the Sahaba radiyAllahu `anhum are “equally valid” is too much of a stretch to be accurate.

    I apologize for the lengthy reply, and I hope you don’t take it as a criticism. I pray Allah grants you sincerity and success in your endeavors, and increases you in knowledge and blessing. Ameen.

    Liked by 1 person

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