Islam is the second largest religion in the world in terms of the population as well as global spread. the religion in the year 610 CE after receiving a revelation through Gabriel who delivered a message to him from God. Islam believers and followers are referred to as Muslims.
The Quran is their holy book that acts as a guide for all Muslims as it contains the message from Prophet Muhammad. It guides Muslims on how to live and or conduct their lives religiously. Blanchard (2009, 2) indicates that several Muslim groups have emerged. The groups are defined by their beliefs and practices through their interpretation of the Quran.
Among them are the Shia, the Sunnis, Sufism, Ahmadiya, Ibadi, and Yazdanism amongst others. The paper focuses on the Sunni and Shia groups, which are the largest in the world of Muslims, in an effort to find out their defining factors in terms of development, beliefs and traditions, and their significant followers amongst other parameters.
Development of the Shia
The Shia group of Muslims is the second largest group after the Sunnis. It constitutes about 10-20% of the whole Muslim population in the world. The development of the Shia community started immediately the prophet died due to the different schools of thought adopted by leaders who were around the prophet.
This difference was brought about by a succession in terms of who should succeed the prophet in addition to how it should be done. In fact, the prophet had died without clearly indicating how the succession would happen. Therefore, the leading clerics around him took upon themselves to define what the prophets succession would have meant thus leading to the emergence of the two groups.
Shomali (2003) postulates that the Shia group was guided by the belief that the prophet had appointed his caliph through divine messages that he had given his followers when he was alive. This revelation was simply an interpretation of the messages he had left behind, which was contrary to what the Sunni group believed.
The Shia group is guided by the belief that the Muslim nations leadership is a prerogative of God who should be the sole appointer of their leader. This teaching led this group to follow Ali ibn Abi Talib who was Prophet Mohammads son in-law.
Development of the Sunni
The development of the Sunni can be traced back to the time when the prophet Muhammad died. There was a need to appoint a successor in his place. The Sunni can be described as the largest branch of Islam making up 75-90% of the Muslim population in approximation. The emergence of the Sunni group came about the same time as the Shia group. The two can be described as the original groups of Islam immediately after the demise of the prophet.
Elshamsy (2008) states that the Sunni came about due to the belief that the appointment of the caliphate was a prerogative of the people and that the first four caliphs were supposed to be the successors of the prophet because he had not appointed a successor nor defined the succession procedure to his followers at the time of his death.
The Sunnis therefore believe that a caliph should be chosen by the community and can be anyone as long as he or she is righteous as per the Quran teachings. They therefore do not believe that only the descendants of the prophet should lead the Muslim community.
Beliefs and Traditions of the Shia
The Shias just like all other Muslims believe that Prophet Mohammad was Gods last prophet and that he was sent by Allah as a messenger to the people to spread Islam. The Shia people believe in the hadith, which are defined as the sayings of the prophet and his aides, which usually form part of the Quran.
The Shias believe in the five pillars of Islam, which are Shahada, Salat, Zakat, Saum, and Hajji. These five tenets are the guiding principles that all Muslims should follow for them to attain holiness. Other than the Quran, the Shia derive their teachings and practices from the Sunna, which are the customs and practices done by the prophet ranging from the qiyas, which are analogies to the Ijma, which can be described as a consensus, not ignoring the ijtihad, which is a given individuals reasoning as Barzegar (2008, 88) reveals.
The Shia group believes that the leadership of Islam should be God appointed since He (God) appointed the prophet and that it should follow the prophets bloodline. The group also holds that the mujtahids, who are spiritual people, took over the leadership of faith and community when the Imams who were offsprings of Ali ended and that the heads have the mandate to construe lawful, supernatural, and holy knowledge to the community.
The Shia group views and commemorates Ashura, which is the tenth day of the month Muharram according to the Islamic calendar according to Fibiger (2010, 32). This day marks the time when Hussein who was Alis youngest son was killed by Sunni forces in Karbala Iraq.
Thus, it observes the day by self-flagellation. Hussein was killed in the year 680 by Sunni forces. The Shia group is strongly guided by the doctrine of the imamate. It centers most of its beliefs and teachings on Ali. According to it, the Imam is sinless and infallible and a source of religious absolute.
Beliefs and Traditions of the Sunni
Just like the Shia, the Sunni came about due to the succession debate within the Muslim society. The Sunnis suppose that the religious head should be chosen through consent of the community and not simply from the bloodline of the prophet. They believe that the prophet Muhammad was a messenger sent by God. They believe in the hadith and the teachings of the Quran.
Just like the Shia, the Sunni believe and practice the five pillars of Islam, which are Shahada, Salat, Zakat, Saum, and Hajj. Shias teachings are based on the Quran, the Sunna, the hadith, the qiyas, the Ijma, and Ijtihad. The Sunnis never bestow the status of the prophet to their leaders, as they believe that the last person to have the status was the prophet himself. The Sunnis do not have a strict and complicated religious hierarchy.
They allow laypersons to lead prayers at the mosque. The practice is only restricted to religious leaders under the Shia group. The Sunnis have several permissible institutions that provide jurisprudence when it comes to the construal of legal issues. The four are Hanfi, founded by Abu Hanifa, Maliki, founded by Malik ibn Anas, Shafi founded by Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi, and the Hanbali, which was founded by Ahmad Hanbal.
These legal schools are prevalent in specific regions of the world, which have chosen to use them as Blanchard (2009, 3) points out. Within the Sunni group, there is a movement called Wahabi, which can be described as purist that interprets the Quran in a fundamentalist way.
The Sunni group believes that they are the original group and that their interpretation of the Quran is the correct one. Under the Sunni group, the Imams have a big responsibility when it comes to matters of birth, marriage, and death. They are viewed as the leaders of the religion.
Leaders and Significant Followers of Shia
The Shia can be described as the most fragmented group in the Muslim nation because of the different factions it has among its followers. The Shia group follows Ali who was Muhammads cousin as well as the son in law with the belief that Muslim leadership is God appointed. The Shia group has most of its followers in Iraq, Iran, Yemen, central Asia, and Southern Asia. The Shia group is divided into different groups with two major ones coming out prominently.
As Shomali (2003) explains, there is the twelver Shiism that believes in the line of twelve imams who are descendants from Ali whose appointments were divine from birth. The twelve Shia leaders are Ali ibn Abu Talib, Hassan ibn Ali, Husayn ibn Ali, Ali ibn Husayn, Muhammad ibn Ali, Jafar ibn Muhammad, Musa ibn Jafar, Ali ibn Musa, Muhammad ibn Ali, Ali ibn Muhammad, Hassan ibn Ali, and Muhammad ibn Alhassan. All of these leaders were assassinated. They existed at different lines with all of them being descendants of Ali.
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