Sunnis vs. Shi'ites

An Outline Of The Differences Between The Sunnis and The Shi'ite in Matters of Faith And Doctrine

  1. The Glorious Qur'an

  2. Ahaadeeth (The Prophetic Traditions)

  3. The Companions of the Prophet

  4. Belief in the oneness of Allah

  5. Seeing Allah

  6. The Unseen

  7. Aalur-Rasool (the family of the Messenger - may Allah be pleased with them all)

  8. The meaning of Shari'ah and Haqeeqah

  9. Islamic jurisprudence

  10. Al-walaa' (obedience and devotion)

  11. Taqiyyah (calculated deception)

  12. Governing the Islamic state

  13. Editors note:

The Glorious Qur'an
Sunnis Shi'ites
There is unanimous agreement among them regarding its authenticity, and its text being safeguarded from any additions or deletions. The Qur'an is to be understood in consonance with the rules and bases of the Arabic language. They believe in every single letter of it, it being the word of Allah the Exalted. The Qur'an is neither temporal nor newly created, but is eternal. Falsehood does not approach it from before it or behind it. It is the primary source of all the Muslims' tenets of faith, their rites and rules of conduct.
To some of them, the Qur'an's authenticity is doubtful, and if it appears to contradict any of their sectarian beliefs or doctrines, then they give the Qur'anic text strange, far-fetched interpretations that agree with their sectarian views. For that reason they are called Al-Mutawwilah (those who give their own interpretations to the revealed texts). They love to draw attention to the discord that occurred at the time when the Qur'an was first compiled. The views and opinions of their Imams are the primary source of their jurisprudence.
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Hadeeths (The Prophetic Traditions)
Sunnis Shi'ites
For the Sunnis, it is the second source of revealed law, complementary to the Noble Quran It is not permissible to contradict or reject the rulings and directives contained in those Hadeeths (ahaadeeth) which are reliably attributed to the Prophet (may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him). The methodology applied in determining the authenticity of these traditions utilizes a set of stringent rules agreed upon by the scholars who specialize in this field, and involves detailed analysis of the chain of transmitters of any given tradition. No distinction is made between male and female narrators; judgment is made solely on the basis of individual trustworthiness and technical ability in relating traditions, and every narrator's history is recorded. No tradition is accepted from a known liar, or from one whose morals or scholarly ability were not corroborated, or from anyone, merely on the basis of his family connection or lineage. The compilation of the Prophetic Traditions is taken to be a sacred Trust, the fulfillment of which overrides all other considerations.
The Shi'ites reject all Prophetic Traditions which were not related by members of Ahlul-Bait, or their descendants. The only exception to this rule is their acceptance of a few Hadeeths (ahaadeeth) narrated by those who sided with 'Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) in his political wars. They do not attend to the authenticity and soundness of the chain of narrators, nor do they approach the study of the Prophetic Traditions with a scientific, critical attitude. Their narrations often appear in a form like that of the following example: "It has been reported regarding Muhammad bin Isma'eel by way of some of our friends through a man who transmitted it from him ['Ali] that he said..." Their books are filled with hundreds of thousands of traditions whose authenticity cannot be confirmed. They have built their religion specifically upon these spurious texts while outright rejecting over three quarters of the authentic Prophetic Traditions. This is one of the main differences between the Shi'ites and the Sunnis.
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The Companions Of The Prophet
Sunnis Shi'ites
It is unanimously agreed that the noble Companions deserve our utmost respect, and are absolutely trustworthy. As for the discord which occurred among them, it is to be considered as the consequence of the sincere exercise of personal conviction and opinion. The discord was resolved and is a thing of the past. It is not permissible for us to hold, on the basis of past differences among the Companions, grudges and ill will which continue for generations. The Companions are those whom Allah has described in the best of terms; He has praised them upon many occasions. It is not lawful for anyone to make any accusation against them or cast suspicion upon them, and there is no benefit to be derived therefrom.
They charge that all save a few of the Companions had turned apostate after the death of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). On the other hand, they grant the Companion 'Ali bin Abi Taalib a very special status; some of them consider him vicegerent, and some view him as a prophet, while others take him for a god! Shi'ites pass judgment on Muslims in accordance with their position with regards to 'Ali. Whoever was elected caliph before 'Ali is held by them to be a tyrant, an apostate or a sinner. The same judgment is passed on every Muslim ruler who did not step down for any of the descendants of 'Ali and his wife Fatimah (may Allah be pleased with them). The Shi'ites have thus created an atmosphere of animosity throughout the history of Islam, and the question of partisanship of Ahlul-Bait developed into a school of thought which preached and perpetuated such detrimental teachings down through the generations.
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Belief In The Oneness Of Allah
Sunnis Shi'ites
Sunnis believe that Allah is the One, the Only, God, the Almighty Subduer. He has no partners or rivals, and He has no equal. There is no intermediary between Him and His worshippers. They believe in His attributes as they were revealed In the Qur'anic verses, and they do not obscure their obvious meanins with far-fetched Interpretations. They do not strike any comparison between the divine attributes and other things, for as Allah says in His Book "There is nothing like unto Him." They believe that Allah sent the Prophets and commissioned them with conveying to mankind His Message and Guidance. They conveyed Allah's Message and did not conceal any part of it They believe that knowledge Of the unseen belongs to Allah alone. Intercession is confined to the Hereafter, and none may intercede except by Allah's permission. All supplication, vows, offerings of sacrifices and requests for needs are to be directed to God alone; they are not to be directed to any other besides Him. Allah alone controls good and evil. There is no one, living or dead in His authority or in His administration of affairs. All beings depend on Him, and need His favor and mercy. The knowledge of Allah is attained through knowledge of divinely revealed law, and this has precedence over the exercise of reason, which might never guide one to the truth, although it may provide reassurance to the believer, and help him to achieve tranquillity.
The Shi'ites also believe in Allah the Exalted and His Oneness, except that they adulterate this belief with polytheistic rituals and observances. They implore and make supplication to Allah's slaves and worshippers rather than to Him alone, saying "O Ali! and "O Husain!" and "O Zainab!" Similarly they make vows and sacrifice beasts in the name of others besides Allah. They request the dead to fulfil their needs as is shown by their prayers and poems. They consider their Imams to be infallible, to have knowledge of the unseen, and to partake In the administration of the universe. It is the Shi'ites who Invented Sufism (mysticism) to consecrate their deviated tenets and thus give them the air of legitimacy They claimed that there is special power and authority invested in the "awliyaa"' (mystic saints), "aqtaab" (those considered to be the spiritual axes of the universe, which turns due to their exalted status), and Ahlul-Bait Shi'ite scholars and clergy impressed upon their followers the concept of a hereditary privileged class, as a matter of religion, although this has no foundation in Islam at all. Knowledge of Allah, is attained, according to them, through the exercise of reason, not by knowledge of divinely revealed law. That which came to us by way of revelation in the Qur'an merely represents an affirmation of reason's judgment; it is not considered to be a source which is independent of, and beyond the limits of reason.
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Seeing Allah
Sunnis Shi'ites
Sunnis believe that believers will be blessed with the sight of Allah in the Hereafter, as is mentioned in the Qur'an: "On that Day faces [of the believers] will be resplendent, looking towards their Lord."
The Shi'ites believe that to see Allah is not possible in this world nor in the Hereafter.
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The Unseen
Sunnis Shi'ites
Allah the Exalted has reserved knowledge of the unseen for Himself; however, He has revealed to His Prophets some of the affairs and conditions of the unseen, for particular reasons. The Qur'an says: "And they do not encompass anything of God's knowledge except what He will to reveal thereof"
They claim that knowledge of the unseen belongs solely to their Imams, and it is not for the Prophet to inform us about the unseen. Some Shi'ites have gone so far as to claim godhead for those Imams.
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Aalur-Rasool (The Family Of The Messenger)
(May Allah Be Pleased With Them All)
Sunnis Shi'ites
Aalur-Rasool, according to the Sunnis, has various meanings. The best single definition of this term is "the followers of the Prophet Muhammad in the faith of Islam." It is also defined as "the pious and God-fearing people of the Prophet's ummah (nation of believers)." It is also said that the term refers to the believing relatives of Muhammad, from the tribes of Haashim and 'Abdul-Muttalib.
According to the Shi'ites the term Aalur-Rasool refers only to 'Ali bin Abi Taalib, to some of his sons, and to the descendants 'of those sons.
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The Meaning Of Shari'ah (Islamic Law) And Haqeeqah (The Truth)
Sunnis Shi'ites
In the Sunnis' view, the shariah (the divinely revealed law) is itself the haqeeqah (the essential knowledge, the reality). They hold that Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, did not conceal from his nation of believers any part of that knowledge, contained in the revealed law. There was no good thing that he did not guide us to, and no evil thing that he did not warn us about. Allah has said 'On this day I have completed your religion. Therefore, ' the sources of the Islamic faith are Allah's Book and the sunnah (practice) of the Prophet, and there is no need to add anything to that. The relationship of the believer with Allah, and the path to the achievement of 800d works and worship, are clear and direct. The only one to know the actual condition of the believers is Allah, so (i.e do not pass judgment on the praiseworthiness or purity of anyone, lest we overstep our bounds). The views and opinions of anyone may be accepted or rejected, except or those of the infallible Prophet of Allah, upon whom be Allah's blessings and peace.
The Shi'ites see the shari'ah as being merely the various rulings and directives set forth by the Prophet; they concern the common and superficial folk only. As for the haqeeqah, no one knows it except the Imams of AhlulBait These Imams acquire the sciences of haqeeqah through inheritance, one generation after another. It remains a secret possession among them. Furthermore, the Shi'ites consider their Imams infallible; their every work and practice is deemed incumbent upon their followers. They believe that one may communicate with God only through intermediaries, and it is for this reason that their religious leaders have such an inflated opinion of themselves, as evidenced by the exaggerated titles they take for themselves, e.g. Baabullah (the door to Allah), Waliyullah (the friend of Allah), Hujjatullah (Allah's proof), Ayatullah (the sign of Allah), Al-Ma'soom (the infallible one), etc.
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Islamic Jurisprudence
Sunnis Shi'ites
Ahlus-sunnah adhere strictly to the legal rulings and directives of the Noble Qur'an, as clarified by the sayings and practices of the Messenger We also depend upon the sayings of the Companions and the generation of trustworthy scholars who followed them. They were the nearest to the Prophet's era and the most sincere in supporting his mission, throughout the tests and trials which had to be endured in the course of establishing Islam. Since this religion has been completed, no one has the right to formulate new legislation or directives; however, in order to properly understand the details of the revealed law, and to apply it according to new situations and circumstances while keeping in mind the general welfare of the people, one must refer to the qualified Muslim scholars who must work solely within the bounds established by Allah's Book and the sunnah of the Prophet (may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him).
They depend only on the exclusive sources which they claim for their Imams: upon their farfetched interpretations of the Quran; and upon their contrary attitude which puts them at odds with the majority of the Muslim peoples. The Shi'ites consider their Imams to be infallible, and to have the right to create new rulings and directives .in contradiction to the revealed law. For example, they have altered:
(a) The call to prayer and the prescribed times and postures of prayers.
(b) The rites of Hajj (pilgrimage) and visitation to the sacred places.
(c) The specified times for beginning and breaking the fast.
(d) The rulings with regards to zakaah (alms-tax) and its distribution.
(e) The inheritance laws. The Shi'ites are very particular to take positions in opposition to Ahlus-Sunnah, thus widening the gap between Sunnis and Shi'ites.
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Al-Walaa' (Obedience And Devotion)
Sunnis Shi'ites
Al-walaa ' means "total adherence, obedience and devotion." The Sunnis believe that it is due only to the Messenger of Allah, for Allah says in His Book "Whosoever obeys the Messenger, he has verily obeyed Allah.'' No other person deserves our strict adherence or our obedience and devotion. Our responsibilities to others are defined by known legal principles, and there is no obedience due to any human being if that entails disobedience to the Creator.
They view al-walaa' as being one of the pillars of iman. They define it as the firm belief in the Twelve Imams including the "hidden" Imam). They consider one who does not have strict devotion to Aalul-Bait as one who has no faith. They will not pray behind such a person, nor will they give him zakaah although he be deserving of it. Such a person would be treated as a kaafr by them.
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Taqiyyah (Calculated Deception)
Sunnis Shi'ites
It is defined as presenting an outer appearance that belies what one conceals inside, to protect oneself from harm. It is considered impermissible for a Muslim to deceive other Muslims, because of the Prophet's saying: Whoever deceives is not of us." Resorting to taqiyyah is permitted only in one situation: during war against the disbelievers who are the enemies of Islam. That is part of the etiquette of war. It is incumbent on the Muslim to be truthful and courageous in upholding the truth, and to be neither ostentatious, nor deceiving, nor treacherous. He should give sincere counsel, enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil.
In spite of the differences among the various Shi'ite sects, they all agree that taqiyyah is a prescribed duty and a pillar of their faith. Their schools of thought could not stand without it. They learn its principles and methods and they practice it, especially if they are in dire circumstances. They exaggeratedly praise and flatter those whom they consider disbelievers, whom they consider deserving of slaughter and destruction. The verdict of kufr is passed on anyone who is not of their sectarian school, and for them "the end justifies the means." Their ethics allow every manner of lying, cunning and deception.
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Governing The Islamic State
Sunnis Shi'ites
The state is ruled by a Caliph (Khalifa) elected to his position of leadership from among the Muslim people. To be leader, a man must be sane, rightly guided and knowledgeable. He should be known for his piety and trustworthiness, and he should be capable of bearing such a responsibility. The caliph is nominated to his position Of leadership by those Muslims endowed with knowledge and experience. If he does not hold firm to his duty, and deviates from the directives of the Qur'an, then they may remove him from his position and strip him of all authority. Otherwise, he deserves the obedience and cooperation of every Muslim. The role of caliphate is, to the Sunnis, a great burden and responsibility, not a mere honor or opportunity for exploitations.
Generally speaking, the right to govern according to Shi'ites, is hereditary, and restricted to 'Ali, and his descendants by Fatimah (the daughter of the Prophet). There is, however, some slight difference among them on the point of the hereditary right as to whom it belongs to. Due to this view of theirs, the Shi'ites are never loyal to any ruler unless he is one of the descendants of 'Ali bin Abi Taalib. When the practice of hereditary leadership vested in the descendants of 'Ali and Fatimah could no longer be maintained, because the line had come to an end, the Shi'ites invented the doctrine of Ar-Raj'ah, according to which the last Imam was not dead, but "hidden". He is expected to arise and return at the end of time, when he will slaughter all of his political opponents, and those of his ancestors, and will restore to the Shi'ites their rights which were "plundered" by the other sects over the centuries.
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Editors note: With reference to the use of the terms "Sunni and Shi'ite" Muslims prefer to simply be called "Muslim". One is either Muslim or not. There is no such thing as a Shi'ite Muslim. The Term Sunni is used here to denote those who Practice Islam according to Authentic Traditional Islamic sources, not to indicate that Shi'ite and Sunni's are both Muslims. Shi'ism is a separate religion and should be regarded as such.