Islam: beliefs and teachings 1 – SUNNI AND SHIA

Within Islam there are two main branches or sects. Sunni Muslims make up the majority of Muslims globally with the Shia group being the minority. In the exam you need to show you understand how this separation came about and comment on any major differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Sunni & Shia Split

 After the death of Muhammad in 632AD the young Muslim community struggled to work out who would lead them. One group believed that the successor to Muhammad should be elected; the other group believed the next leader should be related to Muhammad. The group that would become known as Sunni Muslims elected the leaders called caliphs. Abu Bakr was the first caliph. In contrast, the group who would become known as the Shia Muslims believed that Prophet Muhammad appointed his cousin and son in law called Ali as his successor. Ali was the first in a line of twelve imams. The main Shia group are called “Twelvers” as they believe in the Twelve Imams.

 

Core Beliefs

 Six Articles of Faith in Sunni Islam

  • ‘The Oneness of Allah’ is called Tawhid, ‘He is Allah, the One, the Absolute’ (Surah 112). Islam is a monotheistic faith and to put anything else on the same level as Allah is considered Shirk, the greatest sin a Muslim can commit.
  • Angels are Allah’s ‘Messengers with wings’. They can only act on Allah’s command. Angels give revelations to the prophets eg Angel Jibril giving the Qur’an to Muhammad on the Night of Power. Angels do not have freewill.
  • Sunni Muslims accept five holy or divine books. These are the Qur’an, Torah, Psalms, Gospel and Scrolls of Abraham. Sunni Muslims believe that the Qur’an is Allah’s final revelation to correct the misunderstandings of previous scriptures.
  • Prophets are messengers of Allah. Sunni Muslims believe there have been many prophets over time but their message had been lost or misinterpreted eg Abraham, Moses and Jesus. As the last prophet Muhammad is often called the ‘Seal of the Prophets’ (Qur’an 33)
  • Predestination is a core belief in Sunni Islam. Allah knows everything. The word Qadr means everything is ordered by Allah: nothing is chance or random. Humans do have freewill. Allah knows what humans will do but mankind still makes a free choice as they do not know what Allah has set by his purpose.
  • Sunni Muslims believe in the Day of Judgment when all Muslims will stand alone before Allah who will decide whether they go to Paradise or Hell. Human life is viewed as a test for the life to come and each individual is responsible for their actions, ‘A person’s record is hung around his neck’ (Qur’an 17).

 

Why are the Six Articles important? What influence do they have on the life of a Sunni Muslim?
  • Believing in Tawhid and the absolute power of Allah means a Sunni Muslim will live their life according to His will. Nothing will be viewed as important as Allah.
  • Belief in freewill and the Day of Judgment will mean that each Sunni Muslim will try to live a life in line with the teachings of Islam as they want to reach Paradise and avoid Hell. The angels record all deeds and actions so a Muslim knows they will be judged and that Allah sees all that they do
  • Sunni Muslims will also look to the teachings and lives of the Prophets for guidance. The most important prophet was Muhammad so Sunni Muslims follow him as a role model and take note of his Sunnah (actions of Muhammad) and his Hadith (sayings).

 

The Five Roots of Usul ad – Din in Shia Islam

  • Tawhid – This is the same as Sunni belief. The ‘Oneness of Allah’
  • Justice of Allah or Adalat – Allah is ‘The Just’. Shia Muslims believe that Allah is fair and just. He will judge each Muslim on their actions and Shia Muslims are expected to work for justice, ‘Indeed, Allah commands you towards justice’ (Quran 16)
  • Nubuwwah means Prophethood – Like Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims believe in the Prophets of Allah. Muhammad is the ‘Seal of the Prophets’ (Qur’an 33). Shia Muslims believe that the Imams kept mankind on the right path when there has been no prophets. Shia Muslims believe that the Twelfth Imam is in hiding but alive and keeps them on the right path towards Allah.
  • Imamate – Shia Muslims believe that Muhammad’s rightful successor was Ali, his son in law and cousin. In total there have been twelve imams who are without sin and keep Shia Muslims on the right path towards Allah. This is a major difference between them and Sunni Muslims who believed leaders should be elected.
  • Resurrection – Shia Muslims believe that there will be a Day of Judgment and that humans will be physically resurrected (body raised from the grave) and judged by Allah.

 

Why are the Five Roots of Usul ad-Din important? What influence do they have on the life of a Shia Muslim?
  • Believing in Tawhid and the absolute power of Allah means a Shia Muslim will live their life according to His will. Nothing will be viewed as important as Allah
  • A belief in the Prophets means that Shia Muslims believe there has always been guidance given by God on how to live their life. Muhammad is a role model and they would look to his Sunnah (actions of Muhammad) and the Hadith (sayings) for guidance.
  • Without the prophets (Muhammad was the last prophet) Shia Muslims believe the Imams have given guidance and kept believers on the right path. The Twelfth Imam is still alive and in hiding but his guidance is still important today.
  • A belief in resurrection and the Day of Judgment means that a Shia Muslim will try to live a good life in line with the teachings of Allah as they want to secure a place in paradise.
  • A belief in justice or Adalat means that a Shia Muslim knows that Allah is fair and just. Difficult things that are faced are simply part of Allah’s test for mankind and are fair. Shia Muslims will also try to campaign for justice and support others in need eg through charity.
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