Almost from the beginning of Islam in the early 600s, Muslims (followers of the Islamic religion) split into two main groups: the Sunnite (pronounced SOON-eyet) Muslims and the Shiite (pronounced SHE-eyet) Muslims. The largest group is the Sunnites, who believe that leadership passes to caliphs (leaders of the Islamic community) selected from the prophet Muhammad's tribe. The Shiites, however, believe the true leaders of Islam must descend from the family of Ali (c. 600–661), who was Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law. Ali was caliph from 656 to 661. Despite some differences in practices between the sects, all Muslims uphold the Five Pillars of Faith (basic requirements of the Islamic religion).
Further Information: Dunn, John. The Spread of Islam. San Diego: Lucent, 1996; Knight, Khadijah. Islam. New York: Thomson Learning, 1996; VanDoodewoord, William. A Comparison of Shiite and Sunni Belief and Practice. [Online] Available http://www.rim.org/muslim/shiite.htm, October 20, 2000.