Are there any theological differences between Sunni Islam & Shia Islam?

If there are any theological differences between Sunni Islam & Shia Islam, what are they?

There are a lot of things I’ve heard about Shiism, but I don’t want to base my understanding of Shiism just on hearsay. But, of the things that I actually know, there is a big difference between the beliefs of sunnis and shias when it comes to the status of Muhammad’s wife, Aisha [may Allah be pleased with her]. Sunnis revere her as a saintly woman, one of the most prolific scholars of her day and a shining role model to both sexes [not just to women]. She was the daughter of Muhammad’s best friend and most devout follower, Abu Bakr, so Aisha [may Allah be pleased with them] had the finest of upbringings.

Shias believe that she was a liar, an apostate, conspired to steal the rightful caliphate from Ali ibn Abu Talib [may Allah be pleased with him] and that she even attempted to murder the prophet Muhammad [audhubillah]. Evidently, they don’t believe surah 33:6, which regards all of Muhammad’s wives as ‘Umm al-Mumineen’ or ‘Mothers of the Believers’. Shias hate our mother Aisha [may Allah be pleased with her] and sometimes pray for curses to be sent upon her. It is only by Allah’s utmost forbearence that the people who do this are not struck dead [on the spot] upon uttering such filth.

I’ve heard its sort of like the Catholic/Protestant divide. Shias are more like Catholics in that they have a form of “apostolic succession” (imams), they have saint-like figures, etc. Sunnis are comparable to Protestants in that they believe the Shias have added stuff that was not practiced or taught by Muhammad . . . . or something like that.

Sunni religious organization is often more loose and less hierarchical while Shiites are more hierarchical in structure. It’s not a perfect comparison, but it is one that is often made.

Not a good comparison because I’m Sunni and we are nothing like Protestants. I would liken the Wahabis to the Protestant because they protested the traditional Sunni way for a more radical reform. Instead of following a school of thought lets follow the Quran and Sunnah directly.

The Sunni/Shia differ on several levels, We have our own legal schools and doctrinal schools. We only agree on the Quran. We differ on hadiths, we don’t follow the same hadiths.

Some differences:

  1. Some Shia believe their leaders are infallible, while Sunnis do not.
  2. Some Shia believe that some of the companions willfully lied, and committed gross mistakes while Sunni do not.
  3. Some Shia sects believe in reincarnation, Sunni Muslims do not.
  4. Some Shia believe God’s speech is created, while Sunni Muslims do not.
  5. Shia believe that Ali was the rightful first heir to Prophet Muhammad, while Sunni
    Muslim believe Abu Bakr was the rightful first heir to Prophet Muhammad, while was the fourth heir to Prophet Muhammad.
  6. Some Shia believe in temporary marriages, while Sunni do not.

Etc etc…


Can I just ask, do you do the dervish thing?

I watched a documentary on Sufi’s in India doing a dervish dance, the chanting and the twirling was amazing, I almost got hypnotised myself. :whacky: It was utterly fascinating.

Does a Sunni Muslim also have to be a Sufi or is it a case of not all Sunnis are Sufi?

Can Shia Muslims be Sufis as well?

Thank you to everyone for your replies. It’s all very interesting. I am most surprised to learn that some Shiites believe in reincarnation.

I think Sunnis call it Sufism and Shia call it irfan.

Thank you. :slight_smile:

It is unwise to compare the Catholic/Protestant divide to the Sunni/Shia divide, because the issues are completely different. While I see the analogy, the similarities are superficial at best, and cannot be used.

I absolutely do not mean to say that you are stupid, to be clear (I have a little bit a phobia about people interpreting what I say too negatively, so it is my OCD complex that makes me write this:))

Benedicat Deus

I don’t do the whirling, no. The whirling is an example of what muslims call ‘bid’ah’, which is a religious innovation. Innovating is a big no-no as far as Islam is concerned. I don’t do the whirling for the same reason that I don’t do jumping jacks in the middle of salah; there’s no evidence that the Prophet or his companions practiced it. I do practice loud dhikr, though (and I think that’s what you were referring to when you mentioned chanting).

From what I’ve read, that whirling excercise was not meant as a form of worship; rather, it was the natural result of spiritual ecstasy. Jalaludin Rumi [may Allah have mercy on him] was the first person to do this whole whirling business; he would often stand in his mosque with his hand on a pillar, would improvise poetry and spinning occasionally. It’s not that he was in a trance-- he was fully aware of what he was doing. The spinning was more or less a consequence of feeling connected to God.

Some Sunni scholars consider it among the good innovations, while other Sunni scholars consider it among the bad innovation. So Sunni scholars differ concerning this issue.
No need to debate. It is a difference of opinion among sunni scholarship. I don’t do it, but I don’t see anything wrong with the Sufis who choose to do it.

So perhaps a better comparison could be drawn to Catholic v EO?


I can only answer for Twelvers.

The big thing is the 12 Imams being infallible. With the last, Imam Mahdi being in Occultation (hiding of sorts) and guiding the Shia.

Prayer is a bit different as we use a Turbah to pray on. It is a piece of Earth generally. My understanding is that you can use any natural non-organic material. Rocks etc.

Shia have Clergy. Ayatollahs etc. All Shia pick a Marja to get rulings from. I use Sistani as he has a book in English even I can understand. :smiley:

Shia have Mutah, which is temporary Marriage. It is a hot issue, and that is really not something I can go into detail on.

Hope this helped.

Does all Islam have temporary marriage or just Shia?

This it?

"This topic is highly controversial in the Muslim world. Muslims believe that in the first period of Islam, Mut’ah was permissible,[23] but Sunni Muslims believe that it was later abolished. The duration of this type of marriage is fixed at its inception and is then automatically dissolved upon completion of its term. For this reason, nikah mut‘ah has been widely criticised because it can be used as a religious cover for and de facto legalization of certain types of prostitution.[24][25][26][27][28]

According to Karen Ruffle, assistant professor of religion at Toronto University, even though mutʿah is prohibited by Sunni schools of law, several types of nonpermanent marriage exist, including misyar (ambulant) marriage and ʿurfi (customary) marriage, that gained popularity in parts of Sunni world [29] Misyar has been suggested by some western authors to be a comparable marriage with Nikah mut’ah and that they find it for the sole purpose of “sexual gratification in a licit manner”[30][31] According to Florian Pohl, assistant professor of religion at Oxford College, Misyar marriage is controversial issue in the Muslim world, as many see it as practice that encourages marriages for purely sexual purposes, or that it is used as a cover for a form of prostitutuion"

Just the Shia.

Hi all I do not know if this would be a good place to ask but I will give it a whirl.

What would happen, if there was an adult member of a muslim family in the middle east, who suddenly denounced the name of Allah, for all to hear, and proclaimed they had converted to Christianity and found salvation through Jesus Christ the risen Saviour of the world?

Would she be allowed to continue living with her family?

thank you

Arabic speaking Christians call God Allah too. So how can you denounce the name God and be Christian?

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