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HANDOUT 1: Sunni and Shia – Comparison Chart




Adherents called


Shiites or Shi'i

Meaning of name

"tradition" or "well-trodden path"

"partisans of Ali"

Current adherents

85-90 percent of Muslims,

1.275-1.35 billion

10-15 percent of Muslims,

150-225 million

Did Muhammad designate a successor?



True successor of the Prophet

Abu Bakr, father of Muhammad's wife, A'isha

Ali ibn Abi Talib, husband of Fatimah, Muhammad's daughter

Qualifications for leader of the faith

Tribe of the Prophet; later, any qualified ruler

Family of the Prophet


Imam is a prayer leader; no clerical hierarchy

Imam is exalted position; Ayatollah is title for highest imams

Quality of imams


Infallible manifestations of God; perfect interpreters of the Qur'an

Approach to Islam

Qur'an applies to entire life; individuals approach God directly

More orthodox; Qur'an and laws interpreted by clerics

Holy cities

Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem

Mecca, Najaf, Karbala, Medina, Jerusalem

Day of communal worship (not considered Sabbath or a holy day)




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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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