Sunni and Shi'a (Shi'ites)

When Muhammed died suddenly in Medina on the 8th June, 632, the Muslim community was faced with a major leadership crisis. Muhammed had left no instructions as to the appointment of a successor. A new leader could not be called a 'prophet' as Muhammed was regarded as the final prophet. With his death, no further revelations could come from Allah so the community had to rely on the writing of the Qu'ran and the Hadith. As Muhammed was being prepared for burial a crucial meeting took place. As Islam incorporated a complete way of life, the early Muslim community did not distinguish between religion and politics, nor did they recognise local secular government authorities. This became a crucial point of contention dividing the Muslims in Mecca from those in Medina and both groups laid claims to a successor. Those from Mecca chose Abu Bakr, one of Muhammed's closest and most trusted friends and he was named Khalifat Rasul Allah (Successor to the Messenger of God) and became the first Caliph. Abu Bakr became both the religious and political leader of Islam. This philosophy is held by the Sunni sect of Islam.

However, those from Medina felt strongly that Muhammed did in fact leave a successor in his son-in-law, Ali. Ali, who was married to Muhammed's daughter, Fatima, was chosen through a process of elections. Ali, and his supporters, protested Bakr's appointment and became a separate identity, forming the Shi'a sect of Islam. As Islam was a divine revelation not to be understand by earthly wisdom, the Shi'a felt that it was necessary for a leader to become a religious authority.

Sunni Islam became a more orthodox religion because of the basic belief that the Qu'ran is the final revelation and can not be added to. Shiá Islam believes that as the Imam is a religious scholar, he is able to receive further divine revelation and can sometimes add to the Qu'ran.

As a result, Shiá Islam is often represented as more radical. The issue of leadership was not totally supported by all Muslims and divisions, and sub-divisions, were formed including the Ismaelis, Sufi, Alawi, Shafi'íte, Hanafi'rite, and others. While all Muslims believe in the same fundamental values, these values are expressed in many different practices and ceremonies depending on geography and which particular division of Islam. The beginning of the Muslim year, called Muharram, literally means 'the sacred month'. Shi'a Muslims observe this month as a time of mourning to remember the martyrdom of Ali's son and Muhammed grandson Husain, and Husain's son Qasim. From the 7th to the 10th day of Muharram, ceremonies are held which include recitals of the tragic event and an elaborate procession in which young men beat themselves with a bundle of sharp blades until blood flows. Sunni Muslims also observe this ceremony, however, they do not participate in beating themselves. Shi'a Muslims believe more strongly in the redemptive aspect of martydom. During prayer Shafi'ite Muslims place their hands on their chest, while Sunni Muslims perform prayers place their hands loosely by their side. For women, both Shafiíte and Sunni, place their hands on their chest.

This is an excerpt from the original 30-Days booklet, Copyright 1999 by
30 Days Muslim Prayer Focus

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