Islamic religion was initially faced by difficult circumstances after the death of Prophet Muhammad which led to the split of Islam into two branches namely Sunni and Shia Muslims. The division was as a result of spiritual and political leadership regarding the Succession of the prophet which brought disagreement to a level of many people losing their lives. Eventually each of the two branches adopted some practices which led to the differences in their beliefs. However under the umbrella of the Koran teachings the two major branches still maintain some similarities which are extensively discussed in this paper. The Significance point to note is that both branches utilize the teachings that were laid down by Prophet Muhammad despite their Separation.
Sunni and Shia Muslim
Islam is among the religions in the world that has tremendously grown currently with the representation almost in every part of the world. With the foundation of the Islam based on the book of Koran, the originality can be traced way back in 7th century from the teachings of Muhammad whom according to Islamic religion is believed to be Gods last prophets in the world. Although the organization of the Islamic religion was done by Muhammad, Muslims believe that the concept of the religion existed prior to the arrival of Muhammad. This is actually from the definition of the terminology Muslim which tends to portray an affirmation that the earlier prophets represented Muslims. This paper will venture on the representation of the Sunni and Shia Muslim as well as their differences and similarities of these two major branches and brief introduction of the factors that lead to the split will be covered.
The formation of the two major branches of Muslim can be traced back during the period when the Islamic religion was in the process of organization. This was mostly attributed by the policies on establishment and the leadership that was initially introduced. Under this contradictions and disagreements the major branches namely Sunni and Shia came up. Recent statistics indicate that Sunni Muslim has a bigger percentage as compared to the Shia Muslims which represents around 15 per cent of the total Muslim world wide. The split took place after the death of Prophet Muhammad (Madelung, W.1996). The succession of Muhammad was surrounded by some disagreements because Shia Muslim regarded Ali who was Muhammad cousin to be the direct successor of the prophet after his death but the Sunnis held on the point of Ali being the fourth on the succession linage. However the succession took place according to Sunnis arrangement whereby Ali took over the leadership after the death of the third caliph Uthman who was murdered. In accordance to the exercise that is supposed to be carried out in the investigation of the murder. Ali was criticized by the prophet Muhammad wife, Aisha which resulted to the battle in 656 AD but Aisha was defeated. The battle was not yet over since Ali was confronted by Muaniya ummayad who was the cousin to Uthman on the claims that justice was not done following the murder of Uthman. Ali compromised with Muaniya which angered Ali supporters and eventually one of them killed Ali.
Following the death of Ali, Muaniya became the caliph although Ali saw Hussein was the one supposed to succeed his father. All did not go well with Muaniya since he was killed. More separation between the Shia Muslims and the Sunnis increased when the son of Muaniya called Yazid took over the caliphate and led to opposition from Hussein the younger son of Ali who claimed to be the right person to take over. Unfortunately Hussein and his men were slaughtered and Yazid continued as caliph. The differences between the Shias and Sunnis continued to date which are clearly defined by their teachings and believes.
In an attempt to distinguish the two major branches of the Muslims several differences are discussed below. According to (Kramer, M. 1987) the Sunnis came from the terminology sunnah which stands for the word custom. After the death of the prophet Muhammad, majority of the Muslims decided to follow the customs which were demonstrated by the prophet Muhammad. They actually believed that he did not name his successor as the prophet and that is why they concentrated on practices that prophet taught before his death, hence the title Sunnis. On contrary Shia Muslims believed that the prophet designated Alias his successor and that they are obliged to follow his leadership. This concept facilitated the split between the Sunnis and the Shia Muslim.
Shia Muslim base their religious leadership on a certain hierarchy which is led by imam or a spiritual leader who is believed to lead under divine authority and therefore Shia Muslims are subjected to imams doctrinal decisions with no objection or argument. This follows the belief that the supreme imam the later Ayatollah Khomeni inherited the spiritual authority from the prophet Muhammad and through the spiritual guidance he had religious power merely bestowed on him. Shia Muslims also refers imams as the right figures to analyze and interpret the Muslim teachings in accordance to the Islamic religion. Sunnis on the other hand base their spiritual guidance on jurists and scholars who have only the duty of researching and explaining the Islamic teachings with a divinity attachment. Their opinions are not considered to be final and they can always agree on any opinions as long as it is in accordance with Islamic teachings.
The death of Ali and his son Hussein has a significant value to the Shia Muslim. They consider them as the martyrs, who died in the defense of the Islamic as a religion. This aspect has been considered to be among the Shia Muslims background and has even been associated with some religion practices which are carried out to commemorate past events. On contrary Sunni Muslims believe in the exercise of carrying out the missionary work to convert the non-Muslims to become Muslims other than dwelling on the tradition and practices that Shia Muslims are involved in. These practices therefore contradict Shia Muslims efforts which they aim on persuading other Muslims to join them, and according to Sunnis this has less to do with the Islamic fundamentals, therefore concluding that the Shia Muslims fail to take the Islam faith seriously.
As part of the Islamic practices Muslims have a specific prayer arrangement which takes part five times in one day. Among the five prayers involved are fajr, zulir, asr, Maghrib and Isa. According to the Islamic teachings each Muslim is supposed to pray five times in a day. This is mostly adhered to by the Sunni Muslims, but for the Shia Muslims pray less than five times and sometimes they combine the prayers to pray three times in a day. This contributes to the difference between the two branches. Still on this point of prayer, the Shia Muslim has a different way in which they perform the Salat and Wudu. Normally while the Muslim is performing his prayer, he places his forehead on the prayer mat but the Shia Muslim use the dry clay which is found in Karbala. This is in conjunction with the Shia believed about the battle in Karbala.
Islam has a lot of teachings and guidelines that touches most aspects of the daily life of Muslims. This is meant to effectively form the basis of uniform principles to distinguish a Muslim from a non Muslim. Among the aspects included is the marriage but according to the division that took place, the concept of marriage is found to differ between the Sunnis and the Shia Muslims. Mutah which is referred to as temporary marriage in Islam is normally practiced by Shia Muslims but Sunni Muslim rejected it after the death of the prophet Muhammad. After the split of Sunni and Shia Muslims, the Sunni which has the biggest percentage has no sub sects but the Shia Muslim further subdivided to various sub sects which includes the Ismailiya, Zaydiyah and the twelvers which is the largest among the sub sects. This subdivision was actually facilitated by religious disagreements in the aspect of imams. For instance, twelvers recognize 12 imams but others have different opinions on the number of imams.
Apart from the differences that exist between the above discussed two major branches of Islam, they also have some similarities which generalize them as Muslims. One of he striking similarity is that both Sunni and Shia Muslim believe in one God and that they both recognize Prophet Muhammad as the last prophet of God. Under this believe they both use the Koran as the Holy Scriptures. This actually facilitates them in recognition of either group to be Muslims. According to Islam Koran is the words that come from God and through Angel Gabriel, they were passed to the prophet Muhammad as the last message of God to the Muslims. The writing of Koran was done by the prophet Muhammad as the last massager of God to the Muslims. The writing of Koran was done by the prophet who was assisted by his companions. Most of the writings in the Koran clearly elaborate the principles under which the Muslim is supposed to base his life upon and also the values to be followed. Both Sunnis and Shias also believe in reciting the Koran which is normally done in Arabic, since the original Koran was written in Arabic and they attempt to preserve the original message.
Similar to other religions, Islam is based on a foundation that entails the beliefs and practices which gives the guidance and instructions to be followed by Muslims. In Islam the fundamentals are referred as five pillars of Islam. Both Sunnis and the Shia Muslims adhere to these Islamic fundamentals. Muslims are therefore united by them as the representation of the five duties of Muslim in the society.
With most of the preaching that was carried out by Muhammad in the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia both Sunnis and the Shia believe that it is a holy city. Every year there are specific days in which Muslim from all over the world assemble in holy city Mecca to conduct prayers. Other Islamic holy cities include medina and Jerusalem. Therefore both the Sunnis and Shia Muslims believe in these three holy cities but the Shia Muslims have two additional cities, they are Najaf and Karbala. This practice is also found in the holy days. Islamic major holidays represent area where similarities between both major branches are witnessed. Eid – Al Adha and Eid al Fitr are both recognized by the Sunnis and Shia Muslim. They are usually celebrated in specified days of the year.
(Coulson, N. J.1971) Argues that Islamic teachings have in most cases been presented following what is written in Koran without distorting the message. On this concept therefore a lot of basic message has been maintained by both branches which have facilitated the aspect of Islamic religion. Examples involve the teachings on the Day of Judgment. From the book of Koran, there is substantial information about the events that would take place in that day. Both branches clearly appreciate the message. The similarities in the beliefs eventually derive a conclusion that although there are major differences between the two branches from the originality of the Islamic religion, they mostly share major concept that distinguishes a Muslim from a non-Muslim.