Sunni and Shi'a Muslims both believe in the oneness of Allah and follow the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Sunni and Shi’a Muslims also agree on the importance of the prophets.
Each branch of Islam has some central beliefs. Sunni Muslims follow the six articles of faith and Shi’a Muslims follow the five roots of Usul ad-Din.
The six articles of faith - Sunni Islam
Tawhid is having absolute faith in the oneness of God. Allah is simply the Arabic word for God and is not the name of any other being. Nothing can be likened to him and it is important to note that Allah has no plural in Arabic.
Angels (malaikah) are important because God’s greatness means that he cannot communicate directly with humans. He therefore passed messages (Risalah) to his prophets via the angels, who were his first creation.
The holy books should be respected, especially the Qur’an, which is a direct revelation from God – it is God’s word.
The prophets (nubuwwah) should be respected, especially Muhammad, known as the Seal of the Prophets (the last prophet). It is important to note that Muslims accept Isa (known by the name Jesus in Christianity) as a prophet. There are 25 prophets named in the Qur’an.
Sunni Muslims believe in the Day of Judgement and the afterlife (Akhirah). All Muslims will be judged by God and sent to either Paradise or Hell.
Al-Qadr means that everything in the universe is following a divine masterplan. This shows the importance of God’s will, as Allah knows or decides everything that will happen. In all things the master-planning is God’s (Qur’an 13:42).
What is the importance of the six articles of faith?
Knowing that there is only one God, Sunni Muslims believe that people should live following his rules. The holy books help with this as they give guidance on how Muslims can live their lives on the right path. The prophets are sent by God to teach humans how to live as Allah wished and to teach how to obey his laws.
A lot of Sunni Muslims believe that the angels record the deeds of humans on Earth, which encourages Muslims to do good if they want to have a place in Paradise.
The belief in the Day of Judgement means believing that this life is a test and Allah determines everything, even human free will. However, humans are still responsible and held accountable for their actions.
The five roots of Usul ad-Din - Shi’a Islam
The theology of the twelve imams of Shi’a Islam contains the five key principles known as Usul ad-Din:
Tawhid - the belief that God is one, almighty and unique.
Divine justice (Adalat) - God will judge everyone on the Day of Judgement.
The prophets (nubuwwah) - who should be respected, especially Muhammad.
Authority of the imams (imamate) - these twelve imams were chosen by God to lead Islam after Muhammad.
Day of Resurrection (Al-Ma’ad) - Muslims will be resurrected and judged by God.
What is the importance of the five roots of Usul ad-Din?
Shi’a Muslims believe that the prophets provide guidance on the past and the Qur’an. They agree that if there is only one God then Muslims should follow his rules.
Shi’a Muslims believe that Allah is always right and just and sometimes may act in ways that are beyond our understanding. Muslims believe they face judgement in the afterlife. Therefore, they need to follow the right path in their lives in order to pass any test that God sets for them.
They believe that leaders such as imams protect the religion and guide Muslims along the right path.
Similarities between Sunni Islam and Shi’a Islam
Although they are split, Sunni and Shi’a Muslims share many of the same beliefs:
Allah is the one God.
They regard the Holy Qur'an as the word of Allah.
They acknowledge the same prophets.
They believe that angels passed on messages to the prophets.