Both Sunni and Shia Islam share a number of similarities. However, there are also significant differences when it comes to core beliefs. The core beliefs within Sunni Islam are established within the Six Articles of Faith. Many of these concepts we have already encountered. At the heart of the Six Articles is the notion that Allah is one. The word used to describe this is tawhid. Islam is a monotheistic faith. Sunni Muslims also believe in the existence of angels who serve Allah and communicate with mankind; just as the Angel Jibril (Gabriel) spoke to Muhammad urging him to ‘read’ when the Qur’an was first revealed. As we have already examined, Sunni Muslims also hold that aside from the Qur’an there are other books considered to be holy. These books are the Torah (Tawrat), Psalms, Scrolls of Abraham and the Gospel of Jesus. Such books display clearly the connections found between the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Such connections are echoed in the fourth article, that of prophethood. Again, as we have previously discussed Judaism, Christianity and Islam share a number of prophets eg Moses. However, it is Muhammad who is seen as the final prophet from Allah who corrects the mistakes of previous revelations and prophets. The final two articles are linked, that of the Day of Judgement (afterlife) and Predestination. For Sunni Muslims it is believed that there will be a Day of Judgement at the end of time when all will be called before Allah and judged. All will be divided between the eternal destinations of Paradise and Hell based on their behaviour. God knows and plans all that comes to pass in the world and the lives of individuals. This is known as predestination.
Shia Muslims share the concepts of monotheism and prophethood as well as the notion of a Day of Judgement within the Five Roots of ‘Usul ad Din’. The main differences arise with greater emphasis being placed on the idea that Allah is completely fair and just. Allah does not hurt or treat anyone unfairly. The concept of Adalat (fairness) is central to Shia belief and they look forward to a time when the Mahdi will bring justice and fairness back to the world. Finally, the main difference lies in the central belief of the Imamate. As already discussed, Shia Muslims believe that Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son in law was the rightful leader of the community after his death. He was chosen by Muhammad according to Shia belief. The Imamate refers to the belief in a line of Imams (leaders) following Muhammad’s death. The largest Shia sect believe that there has been twelve Imams and are often referred to as ‘The Twelvers’.