f the worldwide Muslim population, the Shi’a account for about thirteen percent
The religion of Islam is generally divided into two main schools; the Sunni and the Shi’a. Of course there are at least five other schools of Islam, however, the Sunni and Shi’a make up the majority of Muslims. (Carmody, 2002) Of the worldwide Muslim population, the Shi’a account for about thirteen percent.
Although this is a small percentage, their influence the world over is strong, especially in the regions of Iraq and Iran where most of them reside. Sunnis, on the other hand, reside mostly in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. (Smith, 1991) Although there are some major differences between the two sects, they generally follow the same path of faith, stemming from the founder of the religion, Muhammad.
Muhammad was born about 570 C.
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E. Around 610 he began to receive revelations which, after his death, were collected into what became known as the Qur’an. According to Islamic doctrine, these revelations were from a sacred text from heaven which God himself had written.
Seeing a prophet in Muhammad, God sent him the angel Gabriel to reveal what was in the book. (Carmody, 2002) This was the beginning of the religion of Islam.
After Muhammad’s death in 632, the religion of Islam began to split. (Carmody, 2002) The Sunnis began following three main caliphs, or Islamic teachers, who proclaimed themselves the leaders of the religion after Muhammad’s death.
Shi’as, on the other hand, refused to be led by the caliphs and claimed that the true leader of Islam was Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali. (Smith, 1991) They believed that the family of Muhammad was the only true authority of Islam.
The Shi’a, which literally means “followers,” has both their own traditions and Islamic laws which differ from that of the Sunnis. The Shi’as, for instance, although they follow something similar to the Five Pillars of Islam, do not call it that.
The Five Pillars is central to the belief of Sunnis. Shi’as, however, also have 5 central tenets, but these they call, Usūl al-Dīn, or the “Roots of Religion”. These tenets are Tawhīd (Oneness), Adalah (Justice), Nubuwwah (Prophethood), Imamah (Leadership), and Qiyamah (The Day of Judgment). (Wikipedia, 2006)
Besides these, there are also the Furū al-Dīn, or the “Branches of Religion.” The Furū al-Dīn are basically rules according to which a Muslim should live their life, such as fasting, pilgrimage, prayer, etc. (Wikipedia, 2006)
There have also been cultural practices that over time have developed into strictly Shi’a beliefs. One of these is known as taqiyya. This rule permits a Shi’a to deny their religion to save their life or the lives of family members. According to the Shi’a, the Sunni are wrong in condemning this practice because it is sanctioned by the Qur’an. (Wikipedia, 2006)
Another practice that sets apart the Shi’a from the Sunni is that of Nikah Mut’ah. This has to do with the idea of permitting a fixed-time marriage. It states that a man and woman can, if they both so choose, contractually enter into a marriage for a specified period of time. Although the Sunni frown upon this practice, and the Shi’a do not practice it regularly, they believe it is sanctioned by the Qur’an and therefore permissible. (Wikipedia, 2006)
It is easy for such a large endeavor to get caught up in bureaucracy and find areas in which to split. It makes one wonder what Muhammad would think of the religion if he were around today.
Carmody, D.L., & Brink, T.L. (2002). Ways to the center: An introduction to world religions.Belmont: Wadsworth.
Islam. Islam. In Wikipedia [Web]. Retrieved May 7, 2006, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam#Schools_.28denominations.29
Shi’a Islam. (2006). Shi’a Islam. In Wikipedia [Web]. Retrieved May 7, 2006, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shi%27a
Smith, Huston (1991). The World’s Religions. San Francisco: Harper Collins.