What are the differences historically, culturally, and theologically between Sunni and Shi'a Islam? In light of current events in the Middle East, why is it important to recognize these differences today?

The main difference between Sunni and Shi'a Islam is that Sunni Muslims believe that Abu-Bakr, the Prophet's closest friend, is Muhammad's rightful successor, while Shi'a Muslims believe that Ali, the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, is his rightful heir.

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Sunni and Shi'a Islam are the two largest denominations of the Islamic religion. Both Sunni and Shi'a Muslims believe in the core principles of Islam and agree with the holy book of Islam, the Quran.

The most notable difference between Sunni and Shi'a Islam has to do with the rightful...

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Sunni and Shi'a Islam are the two largest denominations of the Islamic religion. Both Sunni and Shi'a Muslims believe in the core principles of Islam and agree with the holy book of Islam, the Quran.

The most notable difference between Sunni and Shi'a Islam has to do with the rightful succession of the Prophet Muhammad and the leadership of the Islamic faith. The disagreement between the two denominations dates back to the seventh century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, who didn't have a male heir.

Sunni Muslims argued that the Prophet's successor should be chosen by the other important and prominent members of the Islamic community, who agreed that Muhammad's closest friend and companion, Abu Bakr, should be the one to succeed the Prophet after his death.

On the other hand, Shi'a Muslims argued for someone from Muhammad's family; they believed that Muhammad's son-in-law and cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib should be chosen as the Prophet's successor and leader of Islam (hence the name Shi'a, or Shiat Ali, which translates to "Party of Ali").

The Sunni Muslims won, and Abu Bakr was chosen as Muhammad's heir and the first Caliph, but this difference in opinion is prevalent to this very day, and it is essentially what separates the two Islamic denominations both historically and culturally.

Another difference is in the leadership of the Islamic community. Since the abolishment of the Caliphate in 1920, the Sunni Muslims have no main spiritual leader; the leader of the mosque is known as the imam. The Mujtahids or the Grand Ayatollahs are the main religious leaders of the Shi'a Islamic community; the Imams are also recognized as leaders of ummah.

It's noteworthy to mention that despite the fact that these communities have coexisted together for centuries, there is still a lot of tension and hostility between the two groups, which was and still is the cause for several violent conflicts.

You can find more information about the differences between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims here.

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