Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions

2019 Edition
| Editors: Henri Gooren

Sunni-Shi’a Divide

  • Ken ChitwoodEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-27078-4_510


Both Sunnis and Shi’as – drawing their faith and practice from the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad – agree on most of the fundamentals of Islam. The differences are related more to historical events, ideological heritage, and issues of leadership. This entry is a brief overview of the historical, theological, and practice contours of this divide.

The History of the Divide

The first and central difference emerged after the death of Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632. The issue was who would be the caliph – the “deputy of God” – in the absence of the prophet. While the majority sided with Abu Bakr (Sonn 2010), one of the prophet’s closest companions, a minority opted for his son-in-law and cousin – Ali. This group held that Ali was appointed by the prophet to be the political and spiritual leader of the fledgling Muslim community.

Subsequently, those Muslims who put their faith in Abu Bakr came to be called Sunni (“those who follow the Sunna,” the sayings, deeds, and...


Sunni Shi’a Islam Sunni-Shi’a Divide 
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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of FloridaGainesvilleUSA