Shiites and Sunnis

Q597 :What are the differences between the two sects Shias and Sunnis?

A597 : Linguistically speaking, the term Shia means followers or supporters. In a historical context, it means the supporters of Ali ibn Abu Talib, the Prophet's cousin, who became the fourth ruler of the Muslim state. When he took over, there was a split between him and other groups of Muslims over the question of dealing with those who mounted the rebellion against his predecessor, Uthman ibn Affan. At this time, there was no such sect as Shia. However, after he was assassinated, his supporters wanted his son, Al Hassan, to take over. They maintained that succession should remain among his descendants. The Shias continued to oppose the Ummayid and Abbasid governments for a very long time. This lead to the provision of a religious backing to the political opposition. Hence, the rise of the Shiite school of thought which institutionalizes the role of the imam. Thus, we have the Jaafari or the Imami school of thought which lists 12 imams whom the Shia venerate. The Zaidi school of thought, which is largely concentrated in Yemen, lists only 7 imams. The question of the role of the imam is the basic issue of difference between Shias and Sunnis. The Term "Sunni" on the other hand, means from linguistic point of view a follower of a method. In an Islamic sense, the term Sunnah means the method shown by the Prophet. Within our context, it refers to the majority of Muslims who gave allegiance to the Muslim state, starting with Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali and going through the Umayyids, the Abbasids, etc. They do not recognize the Shiite claim that Ali had a stronger claim to succeed the Prophet as the ruler of the Muslim state. They maintain that anyone has an equal claim provided that he meets the qualifications required for the post. In our day and age, it is more important to stress points of agreement rather than points of disagreement, because what unites Muslims is much greater than what disunites them. With the enemies of Islam trying hard to sow the seeds of discord among us, we should try our best to render their attempts futile.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )