Difference in Shia and Sunni Islam – What is the bone of contention between two factions of Islam?

Shia vs Sunni

Historical origin of Shia – Sunni Dispute

  • After the death of Prophet Muhammad in 631 BC, his followers splitted and they developed bitterness towards each other.
  • The followers got divided into two groups. One group suggested that only the bloodline of Prophet should succeed him while the second group was of the view that any of the pious successor could be chosen. The second group said that the Islamic should jointly choose the pious successor.
  • Both Shia and Sunni groups shared similar views on religion but their views were divided on World views, Doctrine, Rituals, Laws and Theology.
  • While the first group supported Abu Bakr, the companion of Prophet as his successor, the other group was in favour of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet.
  • The supporters of Abu Bakr was known as ‘Sunni’. It was derived from ‘Ahi Al-Sunnah’ which means People of Tradition – practices based on what Prophet Muhammad said, what he did , what he forbade or what he condemned. Sunnis were one of the prominent followers groups of early Islam and they believed in consensus rather than dynasty.
  • Shias considered that the basis of succession must be lineage and therefore they supportes Ali Ibn Abi Talib.
  • Shias were in the minority and the Sunni community won. Abu Bakr was chosen as First Caliph, Umar Ibn al-khattab was chosen as Second Caliph and Uthman Inb Affan was chosen as Third Caliph. Despite losing in numbers, Shia kept their beliefs intact and they accepted only the descendants of Prophet as his successors. At last in 656 AD, Ali Ibn Abi Talib was chosen as Fourth Caliph but his rule was short lived as he was assassinated.

If you want to know why Abrahamic religions ( Islam, Christianity and Judaism) fight each other, click here.

Civil War :

  • By then, Caliphate was not confined to the Arabian peninsula only. Taken in the form of taxes and tributes collected under the banner of Islam, considerable financial amounts were also at stake.
  • After the war, the Caliphate was passed over to Umayyad Dynasty in Damascus and then to Abbasid Dynasty of Baghdad.

Battle of Karbala and it’s lasting Significance:

  • In 681 AD , Ali’s son Hussein reached Karbala to kill corrupt Sunni Caliph Yazid with his 72 followers. But Hussein was killed and his head was brought back to Damascus.
  • The martyrdom of Hussein inspired even more Shias and it became a watershed moment for Shias. Even today, ‘ Ashura’ is celebrated on the 10th day of Muharram and it is one of the most important days of Shia Calendar.
  • Sunnis feared that Shias may use ‘Battle of Karbala’ to garner public support and thus they started marginalisation of Shias.
  • In 16th Century, Safavid Dynasty was the first Shia Dynasty to come into existence and it strengthened it’s position in Iran.
  • After the European colonialism, these empires declined but the difference kept increasing with time.

Dispute in 20th Century:

  • In the second half of 20th century, the conflict again became sharp and both kept fighting with each other for religious and political supremacy.
  • Today out of 1.6 billion Muslims, only 10 % are Shias living mostly in Iran, Iraq etc.
  • The Shia-Sunni divide has not much significance within a country as they differed only in some practices and beliefs.
  • In 1979, Islamic Revolution took place in Iran. The new Shias clashes with Sunni Conservatives of Saudi Arabia. But interestingly, despite differences, neither Iran not Saudi Arabia declared war upon each other

The Shia-Sunni conflict has existed for centuries and this proves that the conflict is more about wealth and powers rather than religious doctrines.

Sodhi Gautam

Sodhi Gautam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *