Difference Between Shia and Sunni

What is Shia?

Shia Islam is one of the sects of Islam. It holds that the Islamic prophet Muhammad appointed Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor and the Imam (leader) after his death.

This viewpoint mainly differs from Sunni Islam, whose followers think that Muhammad did not name a successor and regard Abu Bakr, who was chosen as caliph at Saqifah by a gathering of top Muslim leaders, as the first legitimate caliph after the Prophet.

Ali was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law; he was also the first male convert to Islam and is the first Imam. Ali was the fourth caliph, after the Rashidun caliphs, but was not able to take up the caliphate after Muawiyah I was elected by the Muslim community.

The Shia believe that Muhammad nominated Ali as his successor by God’s and refer to Ali as the first Imam. The word Shia refers to a group of Muslims who believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin, and son-in-law, was the rightful successor of Muhammad as Imam and Caliph.

Shia Islam is the second largest branch of Islam: as of the 2010s, Shia Muslims constituted 10-15% of all Muslims.

What is Sunni?

Sunni Islam is the largest branch of Islam, followed by nearly 90% of the world’s Muslims. Its name is derived from the Arabic term sunnah, which describes the conduct of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Sunnis believe that Muhammad’s teachings and practices (sunnah) form the basis of Islamic law (sharia). Sunni Islam emphasizes the importance of the consensus (ijma) of the Muslim community and tradition (hadith) for maintaining the continuity of the religious community.

Sunni Muslims follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as recorded in the Hadith and Sunnah. They place great importance on the concept of Tawhid (the Oneness of God) and believe in the five pillars of Islam.

Sunni Muslims believe that the first four caliphs – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali – were the rightful successors to the Prophet Muhammad. They also believe that the Qur’an is the final and authoritative word of God, and that Hadith (the Prophet’s sayings and teachings) is a reliable source of religious guidance.

Difference Between Shia and Sunni

  1. The Shia community is a minority group within Islam, making up only about 10-15% of the Muslim population worldwide. The Sunni community, on the other hand, is the majority group, making up around 85-90% of Muslims.
  2. The Shia community believes that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the rightful heir to the Muhammad, while the Sunni community believes that Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s close friend and father-in-law, was the rightful successor.
  3. The Shia community is much more accepting of different interpretations of Sharia than the Sunni community.
  4. The Shia community is generally much more accepting of other Muslim groups, such as the Sufis and the Ismailis. The Sunni community, on the other hand, is often quite hostile towards other Muslim groups, and views them as heretical.
  5. Overall, the Shia and Sunni communities are quite different from one another. These differences have led to a great deal of tension and conflict between the two groups over the centuries.

Comparison Between Shia and Sunni

Parameters of ComparisonShiaSunni
Meaning of nameParty or partisans of AliWell-trodden path or traditions
Estimated followers120 million940 million
Primary locationsIraq, Iran, YemenMost Muslim countries
Historical leadersImamsCaliphs
Concealing faith for self-protection (taqwa)EmphasizedAffirmed under certain circumstances


  1. https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01862610/
  2. https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1525/can.2004.19.2.226