Sunni or Shiite? Is One Correct?
How can we know for sure?
Islam is the religion of Allah, conveyed by a Recitation (called "Quran" in Arabic) to His prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, through the Arch Angel Gabriel (Jibril, in Arabic) over 14 centuries ago.
The meaning of the word "Islam" immediately indicates a total surrender of the human will to the Will of the Devine Creator of the univerise, in total submission, obedience, sincerity and peace.
There are different groups claiming to represent the true Islam. The largest of these are known as the Sunni and the Shiite. Unlike the Catholic/Protestant split, the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims is more than just theological in nature, because there are a number of differing beliefs and practices. Although both branches have similar basic tenets of faith (pillars) on the surface, there are a few major distinctions between them.
The first difference between the two branches is their divergent belief in religious succession.
The Sunni branch believe the legitimate religious leaders (khalifs) are those appointed by consensus: The first khalif was the life-long friend of Muhammad and his father-in-law, Abu Bakr As-Sadeeq; the 2nd khalif was Umar bin Khattab, another close friend and father-in-law to Muhammad; the 3rd khalif was Uthman bin Affan, close friend and son-in-law to Muhammad, the 4th Khalif for the Sunnis was Ali bin Abi Talib, cousin and son-in-law to Muhammad.
The Shiites hold that the true leaders can only be heirs from bloodline descendancy of Ali and Fatimah, the cousin and daughter of Muhammad. Some of the Shiites claim there were five (5) Imams and are called the "Fivers"; another group consider there were seven (7) Imams and they are called the "Seveners" and the largest group is known as the "Twelvers" due to their belief in eleven Imams who were born and died and one final one who went into occultation as a child and will return in the Last Days.
Sunnis adore and hold in high esteem the first four khalifs and all of the companions, wives and family of Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Shiites do not agree with this position on any of the first three, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and the wife of Muhammad (Ayesha), as well as a number of companions, whom they often curse in their worship and prayers.
Both Shiite's and Sunn's accept the Quran in the Arabic language, word for word, as the Last Revelation from Almighty God - Allah.
The difference comes in over what is acceptable for each group from the hadeeth (narrations from Muhammad, peace be upon him).
Sunni's claim there are two absolute collections of hadeeth that are authentic; Saheeh Al Bukhari and Saheeh Muslim, both from Tashkent, Uzbekistan; they also claim a large number of saheeh hadeeth from other collectors: Abu Dawuh, Imam At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majid, An-Nisaai and the collections of the four Imams; Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Imam Ash-shafi and Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
Shiite's claim only the book "Al Kafi" (the Sufficient) as authentic, and reject most other hadeeths.
One interesting difference is the so-called "6th pillar" of the Shiite branch, calling for "tuqiyah" or "covering of the true intentions".
The two groups have the other pillars with certain obvious modifications between them on each pillar:
1. Shahadah (declaration of faith):
For Sunni's: "Ashadu an-laa elaha illalah, wa Ashadu anaMuhammadaRasoolullah"
I bear witness there is none to worship except Allah and I bear witness Muhammad is His messenger"
For Shiite's: "Ashadu an-laa elaha illalah, wa Ashadu anaMuhammadan Rasoolullah wa ashadu Ali waliAllah"
I bear witness there is none to worship except Allah and I bear witness Muhammad is His messenger and I bear witness Ali is the Wali (close friend of) Allah."
2. Salat (ritualistic worship or prayers):
For Sunni's: Place of worship can be almost anywhere except in toilet or camel pen.
5 times a day; Fajr (morning), 2 rakat (units); Dhuhr (noon), 4 rakat (units); Asr (midafternoon), 4 rakat (units); Magrib (sunset), 3 rakat (units); Esha (night), 4 rakat (units). For men all should be prayed on time and in congregation. Shortening and combining of prayers is only during travel.
For Shiite's: Place of worship has to have a place for the head to touch stone, rock, or something of nature (rocks from Karabala are most favored)
5 times a day (but combined together and shorten to two (2) rakat (units) for Dhuhr & Asr, and for Maghrib & Esha); Fajr (morning), 2 rakat (units); Dhuhr (noon), 4 rakat & Asr 4 (but usually combined to 2 + 2 units along with Asr); Magrib (sunset), 3 rakat (units & Esha 4 rakah, but usually combined as 3 for Maghrib and then 2 for Esha).
Men do not have to pray close to each other in congregation.
3. Sawm (fasting the month of Ramadan)
For Sunni's, the time of starting the fast is not until the muathan (caller to prayer) has finished the adhan (call to prayer in the morning) the time of breaking the fast is as soon as the sun has gone out of site on the western horizon.
For the Shiite's, the time to start the fast is a bit earlier than the Sunni's and the breaking of the fast does not occur until somewhat after the sun has gone down and the stars are clear to see (approximately 15 minutes or so longer depending on the geographical location).
4. Zakat (charity tax of 2.5% given directly to the poor people)
Sunni's set a minimum value of the entire estate to be at a certain level before taxes are due.
Shiites are similar.
5. Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah)
Sunni's must make this ritual in the month of Dhul Hijjah, at least once in the lifetime when Allah makes a way for them.
Shiite's are again, similar.
Another clear difference is the diet.
While the Sunni branch consider anything from the sea to be permissable (halal)
The Shiites consider lobsters, shrimp, crabs, oysters, catfish and other crustations and bottom feeders as forbidden to eat (haram). There are many similarities between the Jewish and the Shiite's permissable diets.
Other differences include additional celebrations and holidays for the Shiites, not celebrated by the Sunnis, such as the day of the deaths of the prophet's grandsons, an event with activities such as self castigation (whipping themselves) and others not found in the Sunni's traditions.
For the most part, Shiites and Sunnis have been able to either reconcile or ignore each other's differences and only on rare occassions are they found to be engaged in open dispute and fighting between the two.
The wise saying is clearly, "United we stand - Divided we fall"