The identity and diversity of differing traditions in Islam

The main difference between Sunni and Shi’ah Muslims stems from a debate about leadership. The question is:

Should there be a family line or rulers, or did Muhammadintend for there to be elections to find the best candidate to lead?

Those who believe in the election of a new leader became known as Sunni Muslims.

Sunni Muslims

The word 'Sunni' is related to the Arabic word 'Sunnah' and means 'followers of the Prophet's Sunnah or tradition'.

Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims worldwide. They believe that Muhammad’s role as the prophet of Allah ended with him. In other words, no one else revealed Allah’s laws and will after Muhammad.

Shi’ah Muslims

The word 'Shi'ah' comes from a phrase meaning 'followers of Ali'.

Ali was the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin.

For Shi’ah Muslims, the Hadith of Ali (the record of the traditions or sayings of Ali) is consulted as well as those of Muhammad.

Shi’ah Muslims believe that a new imam should be chosen by his predecessor through divine inspiration. In other words, it is Allah’s choice, and Allah did not leave Muslims without guidance and leadership.

Sufi Muslims

The members of this section of Islam want to feel as close to Allah as they possibly can, they are not happy with simply following the Five Pillars of Islam.

Sufi Muslims trace back to the 8th century CE to a group who dedicated their lives to reflection and meditation based on the Qur’an. This tradition emphasises a relationship with Allah. There is a focus on purity of the heart, rather than living out rituals.

Sunni, Shi’ah and Sufi Muslims differ with regards to their holy scriptures and some ritual practices.