A worldview is a set of claims that purport to be based on ultimate reality.

How to Distinguish Between Shia and Sunni

Posted by ssbg on December 30, 2006

This is from 

Know Your Muslims:
How to Distinguish Between Shia and Sunni

Is Al Qaeda Sunni or Shi’a? If you don’t have clue you’re not alone. Jeff Stein, the National Security editor for Congressional Quarterly, posed that simple question to two Republicans on the Intelligence Committee, a Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, and several top counterterrorism officials at the FBI.

None of them knew the answer.

Do Sunnis and Shi’ites have the same beliefs in common? Mostly, at least on the basics. For Christians, the Nicene creed is often viewed as the basic statement of faith, the essentials agreed upon by all orthodox believers. Muslims have a similar creed (shahadah) roughly translated as, “”There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” The Shi’a, however, tack on an additional sentence: “…Ali is the Friend of Allah. The Successor of the Messenger of Allah And his first Caliph.”

Who is this Ali? Ali was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law and the reason these groups don’t get along (the terms Shi’a and Shi’ite come from condensing Shiat Ali, “partisans of Ali”). After Muhammad died, the leadership of the Muslim believers (the Ummah) was the responsibility of the Caliph, a type of tribal leader/Pope. The Sunnis respect Ali and consider him the fourth Caliph while the Shi’a contends he was cheated out of being first. Sunnis, following the tradition of the period, thought the Caliph should be chosen by the community while Shi’ites believe the office should be passed down only to direct descendants of Muhammad.

So the leader of the Shi’ites is descended from Muhammad? Somewhere around 873 AD, the Muhammad blood line came to an end with Muhammad al-Mahdi. For the leader-electing Sunnis this was no big deal. But for the Shiites, who believed that the office of Chief Religious Leader (i.e., Imam) was hereditary gig, this posed a bit of a problem. So instead of accepting the idea that the last Imam died, they claimed he was just “hidden.”

Al-Mahdi was obviously very good at hiding because he stayed out of sight for centuries. After awhile the Shi’ites realized that he might not be coming back anytime soon and decided that Al-Mahdi’s “spiritual power” had passed on to the ulema, a council of twelve scholars who could elect a supreme Imam. (The late Ayyatollah Khomeni is probably the only supreme Shi’a Imam that you’d recognize by name.)

Which group is bigger? Around 85 percent of the world’s Muslims are Sunni while only about 15 percent are Shi’a. Iran is predominantly Shi’a while Saudi Arabia, and almost all other Arab countries, are Sunni.

And al Qaeda is…? Members of al Qaeda are part of a strict, legalistic version of Sunni known as Wahhabism.

So the 9/11 hijackers would be…? The hijackers where al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is Sunni. Ergo, the hijackers were Sunni Muslims.

Can you be a Shi’ite and be in al Qaeda? Probably not. Wahhabis view Shi’ites as heretics. They also say that same about many other groups of Sunnis, though, so Shi’ite Muslims shouldn’t take it personal.

What about Hezbollah? Hezbollah is a Shi’a political/terrorist group. It’s easier to remember which group they belong to if you keep in mind that they are backed by Iran.

So Hamas would be Shi’a too? Uh, no. Hamas is a Sunni political/terrorist group.

How do you tell them apart? Hezobollah is in Lebannon (the country north of Israel) while Hamas is in Israel (since the state of Palestine doesn’t exist on the map). They do share a common bond, though, in their hatred of the U.S. and Israel.

It’s probably more complicated than that, isn’t it? Definitely. But with this information you’ll know more than anyone on the House Intelligence Committee.

(HT: Get Religion)

Update: Ten minutes after I hit the Post button, I find that Dean Barnett has also written a better and more comprehensive FAQ on Shiites and the Sunnis.


14 Responses to “How to Distinguish Between Shia and Sunni”

  1. Cora said

    But Iran is NOT predominantly Shiite !!!! Here’s some information for you from the US Library of Congress…

    “Sunni Muslims constitute approximately 8 percent of the Iranian population. A majority of Kurds, virtually all Baluchis and Turkomans, and a minority of Arabs are Sunnis, as are small communities of Persians in southern Iran and Khorasan. The main difference between Sunnis and Shias is that the former do not accept the doctrine of the Imamate. Generally speaking, Iranian Shias are inclined to recognize Sunnis as fellow Muslims, but as those whose religion is incomplete. Shia clergy tend to view missionary work among Sunnis to convert them to true Islam as a worthwhile religious endeavor. Since the Sunnis generally live in the border regions of the country, there has been no occasion for Shia-Sunni conflict in most of Iran. In those towns with mixed populations in West Azarbaijan, the Persian Gulf region, and Baluchestan va Sistan, tensions between Shias and Sunnis existed both before and after the Revolution. Religious tensions have been highest during major Shia observances, especially Moharram.”

  2. Cora said

    Please correct my misinformed “correction”. Yes, Iran is predominately Shia (just as my own illustration further underscores.)

    • Ted said

      You are funny Cora! Question: So do Sunni terrorist’s blow themselves up (suicide bombers) while a Shi’ite terrorist tend to blow things up from afar, and live to fight another day. Or is it the other way around?

  3. SOMEONE said

    hamas and hezbollah are not terrorist organizations

    • Leonx9092 said

      It depends on the countries. Some view them as terrorist organization but some aren’t.

    • FMK said

      This has been of interest to me lately so here is some more detail (mostly cut and pasted) I have come across…
      Article 7 of the Hamas Covenant provides the following quotation, attributed to Mohammed: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews)…”
      As of 2009, Hamas is listed on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The FBI and United States Department of Justice have stated that Hamas threatens the United States through covert cells on US soil.
      At the same time, is the legitimately elected leadership of the Palestinian National Authority. They use suicide bombers, and have been accused of using children as human shields. They state that they will never negotiate with or recognize their enemy, the state of Israel.

      Hezbollah, a political/paramilitary organization from Lebanon, shares basically the same views on Jews as Hamas. Throughout most of the Arab and Muslim worlds, Hezbollah is referred to as a resistance movement. But the US, Canada, and of course Israel classify the entire organization as terrorists, The UK classes the military wing as terrorist, and Australia considers Hezbollah External Security Organization terrorist. There’s been terrorist attacks all over Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, and even Argentina blamed on Hezbollah, not all have been verified, but if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…

  4. cryptic said

    You dumb author how can it be sunnis during 9/11 when over 3000 jews didnt attend work and if you look at the footage probably you will see that the buildings ignited before the place reached it.
    Thats right the number of sunnis are 85% and increasing and do you know why because more and more people and reverting and converting to the sunnah and following the correct path. There are many reasons as to why people dont choose to follow the shia madhab but i will point a few, they think that the imams are infallible if you dont know the word look it up, they hit themselves because imam hussein(may allah be pleased with him) was a shahid ( but what about imam ali(RA), the shia believe in books and scholars, whats this Hypocrisy. And even if it were the sunnis that destroyed the twin buildings iam very pleased because when you americans and aus and french and all other nato forces went to irag and afghanistan through pakistan and killing innocent people dont they have a life, kids to take care of, share brotherhood and sisterhood and kiiling innocent people in palestian. You deserve far worse than that compared what the sunnis are doing to you because thats what the media has screwed it into your dumn and illeterate head with no thinking and feeling towards young kids dieing and massacred. And as for irag it was the shia people that helped the stupid nato forces to enter irag that destroyed the country and now it will take their lifetime and it wont develop as to it was before.

  5. fiziee said

    “So Hamas would be Shi’a too? Uh, no. Hamas is a Sunni political/terrorist group.”

    How could you say someone who protects his country, family, property, religion as a terrorist?

    • Ozi Joe said

      Someone who blows himself up to kill innocent people is not what you would refer to as a family or religious man.

      • Firoz said

        A guy blowing himself up is a sign of desperation. You’ve got the worlds 4th largest army (Israel) which is being supplied arms by the largest supplier of arms (USA) to fight probably the smallest and most ill-equipped group of people in the world (Palestine), so you see why these people go to these lengths.

        You sit there in the USA, all you know about is how many yards a particular football player ran, or how many home runs a particular baseball player scored, or which MacDonalds meal you’ll be eating. This is your only concern. The Palestinians have to worry about food, water, etc on a daily basis.

        If you were in their position, what would you do? Lay out the red carpet for your oppressors, or do you look for ways to free yourself. Or are you a typical American who’ll run away and hide behind a couch, unless hes given a tank to fight with?

        Think about it!

  6. Best Bible Quotes…

    […]How to Distinguish Between Shia and Sunni « SSBG[…]…

  7. said…

    […]How to Distinguish Between Shia and Sunni « SSBG[…]…

  8. Anonymous said

    Oh, seriously? wasting your time with the cannibalistic religion believers? give me a break.

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