Shi’ism God and that the Prophet Muhammad was

Shi’ism The name of the branch of Islam that Shi’a Muslims adhere to. It is the second largest branch of Islam by population; Sunnism is the dominant branch, accounting for over 80% of Muslims. However, because in some regimes, Shi’ism is illegal, their numbers are not counted or its adherents observe in private. For this reason the proportion of Shi’as is not known, although a commonly seen estimate puts the figure at around 15%, or 200 million. Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain are the four countries where Shi’ism dominates numerically (although not necessarily politically), but other nations with large Shi’a populations include Lebanon, Yemen, Kuwait, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria and Tanzania.

Shi’ism and Sunnism have more similarities than differences; adherents of both believe in the same God and that the Prophet Muhammad was his Prophet. However the split between the two started out as a factional difference surrounding the succession on Muhammad’s death. Muhammad’s companions insisted that the leadership should pass to the most capable person, and by popular decision this happened, the leadership passing to Abu Bakr, a friend, adviser and father-in-law of Muhammad, who became the first caliph. However, some questioned the legitimacy of this decision and insisted that Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, should have been the successor. They believed that Ali possessed the same purity and spiritual authority as Muhammad, and held him in almost as high regard, citing his birth in the Kab’ah sanctuary and his being raised in Muhammad’s household as justification for this opinion. Although Ali did eventually become caliph (he was the fourth), the split remains to this day, with Shi’a Muslims rejecting the first three caliphs and treating Ali as the first. Although the differences are sometimes stoked up into violence, they are more often than not caused by political persecution and inequality rather than being due to religious beliefs. For the most part Shi’a and Sunni Muslims live side by side.

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Shi’ite The adjectival form of Shi’a, but the word is also used as a noun, for example ‘He is a Shi’ite’.

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shirk Idolatry, or holding other gods or icons in as high regard as Allah. Shirk was expressly forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad as the belief in one God is central to Islam.