Shia and Sunni Islam: Comparison Chart

In Islam, there are two main sects: Sunni and Shi'ite. Sunni Islam is the largest sect, although in some countries it is a minority. Sunnis have their historical roots in the majority group who followed Abu Bakr, an effective leader, as the successor of Muhammad, instead of his cousin and son-in-law Ali.

The Sunnis are so named because they believe themselves to follow the sunnah or "custom" of the Prophet. Shi'ites are those Muslims who followed Ali, the closest relative of Muhammad, as Muhammad's successor.

  Etymology Adherents Main Locations Branches History True Successor of the Prophet Messiah Authority Taqiya Mut'ah Places Holidays
Shi'a "party" or "partisans" of Ali 120 million Iran, Iraq, Yemen Ithna 'Ashariyah (Twelvers; the largest), Isma'iliyah and Zaydiyah c. 632-650 CE; killing of Ali's son Husayn in 680 CE is major event 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, husband of the Prophet's daughter Fatimah (designated by the Prophet) was born in 869, is currently the "hidden imam" who works through mujtahids to intepret Qur'an; and will return at the end of time Qur'an, then infallible imams emphasized still practiced Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Najaf, Karbala Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Ashura
Sunni "well-trodden path" or "tradition" 940 million most Muslim countries none, but four major schools of Muslim law are recognized c. 632 CE; theology developed especially in 10th cent. Abu Bakr, father of the Prophet's favoured wife, 'A'ishah (elected by people of Medina) will come in the future; identity is known only to Allah Qur'an, then ijma' (consensus) of the Muslim community affirmed under certain circumstances practiced in the Prophet's time, but now rejected Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr

Article Info

TitleShia and Sunni Islam
UpdatedNovember 10, 2015
MLA Citation“Shia and Sunni Islam.” 10 Nov. 2015. Web. Accessed 27 Oct. 2016. <>