What is the difference between Shia and Sunni muslims?

This neat explainer finds that Sunni muslims are:

  • After the death of Prophet Muhammad, the supporters of Abu Bakr, a friend of the prophet became Sunnis. They make up 80% of muslims today.
  • While both follow five pillars of Islam, Sunnis rely on Prophet and his teachings (the sunna), which is why Shias accuse Sunnis of dogmatism.
  • Sunnis consider Shias to have committed heresy (see below).

Shia muslims are:

  • After the death of Prophet Muhammad, the supporters of Ali, Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, became Shias (short for “shiaat Ali”, partisans of Ali).
  • While both follow five pillars of Islam, Shias rely on their ayatollahs (first 12 of whom were direct descendants of Ali) as the reflection of God on Earth. (This is what Sunnis consider heresy).
  • Mindful of their minority, Shias have mostly chosen to remain at peace with the Sunnis, unlike the sectarian violence that occurred among the Christians.
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