Sunni and Shia Muslims
The Islamic religion comprises two key denominations; Sunni and Shia. Globally, the Sunni are the most populous based on their numbers in continents such as South East Asia, China, South Asia, Africa and most Arabic countries. On the other hand, the Shia make the majority population in countries such as Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Lebanon. The origin of the two denominations date back to Prophet Muhammad’s succession dispute, which has overtime led to lots of conflicts as well as co-operations (Bokhari, Kamran, and Senzai 6). Despite the fact that both denominations refer to the Quran as their religious book, they have different ideologies on “Hadith’. This therefore translates to their religious practices, customs, traditions and beliefs. This paper focuses on comparing the Shia political Islam and its Sunni counterpart.
The Shiites and the Sunnis have three main similarities. They both believe that Allah chose a man called Muhammad as the Islamic prophet to lead them according to the Quran through his revelation and blessings. They believe in the ‘Hadith’, which refers to Muhammad’s teachings and practices (Bokhari, Kamran, and Farid Senzai 8). It is through his lifestyle that he sent the pace for the Islamic political and spiritual legacy as well as its ultimate civilization. The third similarity is their common belief in piety and righteous observation of the principles set by the Quran. Both Sunni and Shia Muslims strive to achieve goodness in their everyday life, which is considered to be the greatest virtues for all humanity. Moreover, they all believe on the need to have strong moral and ethical code that regulates their behavior. Their fundamental right of living is social justice.
Another similarity between these two denominations is the belief in the five pillars of Islam. These are: the unity of Allah, the five obligatory prayers, fasting especially during the Holy month of Ramadan, charity and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Louër 166). They jointly believe that the Quran was divinely inspired and the works of Allah were concluded during Muhammad’s works.
Some of the disparities between Sunnis and Shiite Muslims solely lie in their doctrines. The first difference lies in the concept of Imamate. According to Louër, Shiites believe that the twelve Imams inherited their positions as the ultimate Muslim leader of the Islamic community by Prophet Muhammad’s divine ordination (168). Moreover, they believe that they not only became temporal successors but also inheritors of the prerogatives of the closeness to Allah and were solely depends on in interpreting the Quran. Schism defines three basic functions of an Imam: leadership over the Muslim community, interpret/explain the religious sciences and rules as well as being the spiritual guide to help human beings in understanding the hidden meaning of mysteries (Louër 168). These functions therefore set him apart for election to a public assembly and seclude him to the role of a spiritual guide whereby he is expected to receive authority from Allah. For this reason every Imam is selected by the foregoing Imam by Divine command.
On the contrary, the Sunnis reject the ideology of the Shiites on the ‘Twelvers’- the twelve Imams. They reason given for this is that they do not support the inherited Imamate ideology for the Islamic faith. Louër says that in presenting this argument they cite prophets such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad as having been directly ordained by God to guide humans in worshiping Allah (170). Moreover, they believe that even these prophets are denied the privilege of being closer to God when they fall short of practicing his commandments. Sunni Muslims do not put human beings including the twelve Imams on an equal leverage to those of the prophets. They argue that there is not particular place in the Bible where it is out rightly stated that the twelve Imams are ordained to lead Muslims after the death of Prophet Muhammad. They cling to Muhammad’s last sermon where he stated that he was leaving behind two things that would help humanity not go astray: the Quran and his tradition (Louër 171).
Another difference between the two denominations is their doctrinal belief in paradise and hell on judgment day. According to the Sunni Muslims salvation of humanity solely relies on their faith in Allah, His prophets, the acknowledgement of Muhammad as God’s final prophet and belief in the Quran’s righteous deeds (Haynes 112). They believe that it’s only through God’s mercy that human beings will be redeemed. Despite Muhammad being Allah’s prophet his, redemption is also at Allah’s mercy. On the contrary, the Shiite Muslims believe that their redemption is guaranteed by their obedience and adherence in Muhammad and the twelve Imams.
Haynes also explains that the intercession between God and human beings is also another source of their doctrinal conflict (113). Sunni Muslims believe that there is on being that can serve as mediator between man and God. Their explanation is that only God grants the right to intercession and the dominion of all creation. However, the Shiite Muslims believe that the twelve Imams can intercede on behalf of humans (Haynes 133).
The role and current state of Imams also brings about the current difference between these two Muslim denominations. Sunni Muslims believe that the current Shiite Muslims and the ‘Twelvers’ are all humans who lack and by divine powers (Haynes 113). They are only considered righteous Muslims whereas the Twelvers are respected by their mere relationship to Ali and his wife. Moreover, any righteous and intellectual Muslim can be appointed as an Imam for the purpose of leading prayers and interpreting the Quran as well as the Hadith. According to Haynes, they also consider it sacrilegious to accredit humans with the qualities of divine nature such as flawlessness and the comprehension of all temporal and cosmic matters (114). Shiites on the other hand believe that the highest ranking current Imams receive their guidance and spiritual enlightenment through inspiration from the twelve Imams who are often in direct contact with their faction through contemporary spiritual leaders. These Imams commonly referred to as Ayatollahs are very important due to their mediatory role; they cannot therefore be selected by ruling government rather by the consensus of other Ayatollahs (Haynes 115).
In conclusion, despite the differences between these two denominations, there lies an constant and unifying belief, that of prophet Muhammad, the holy Quran, as well as the five pillars of the Islamic religion. In addition, despite their religion’s orientation, most of the issues addressed by both Islamic groups are basically the same political or social issues concerning secular politicians or governments. They all agree towards fighting government corruption as well as fighting the gap found in classifications based on social status.
Bokhari, Kamran, and Farid Senzai. Political Islam in the Age of Democratization. , 2013. Internet resource.
Haynes Jeffrey. Routledge handbook of Religion and politics. London: Routledge. 2008. Print
Louër, Laurence. Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf. London: Hurst, 2012. Print.