Comparison Charts

Compare Shia and Sunni Islam

In Islam, there are two main sects: Sunni and Shi'a. Sunni Islam is the largest sect, although in some countries it is a minority. Sunnis have their historical roots in the majority group who followed Abu Bakr, an effective leader, as the successor of Muhammad, instead of his cousin and son-in-law Ali. The Sunnis are so named because they believe themselves to follow the sunnah or "custom" of the Prophet. Shi'a Muslims or Shi'ites are those Muslims who followed Ali, the closest relative of Muhammad, as Muhammad's successor. The following chart compares some basic facts about Shi'a and Sunni Islam.

etymologyArabic, "party" or "partisans" (of Ali)"well-trodden path" or "tradition"
adherents (world)120 million940 million
main locationsIran, Iraq, Yemenmost Islamic countries
branchesIthna 'Ashariyah (Twelvers; the largest), Isma'iliyah and Zaydiyahnone, but four major schools of Muslim law are recognized
historyc. 632-650 CE; killing of Ali's son Husayn in 680 CE is major eventc. 632 CE; theology developed especially in 10th cent.
successor of prophet'Ali ibn Abi Talib, husband of the Prophet's daughter Fatimah (designated by the Prophet)Abu Bakr, father of the Prophet's favoured wife, 'A'ishah (elected by people of Medina)
Messiahwas born in 869, is currently the "hidden imam" who works through mujtahids to intepret Qur'an; and will return at the end of timewill come in the future; identity is known only to Allah
taqiyaemphasizedaffirmed under certain circumstances
PlacesMecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Najaf, KarbalaMecca, Medina, Jerusalem
holidaysEid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, AshuraEid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr

Article Info

Title Compare Shia and Sunni Islam
Last UpdatedFebruary 13, 2021
MLA Citation “Compare Shia and Sunni Islam.” 13 Feb. 2021. Web. Accessed 30 Nov. 2021. <>