WHAT IS Sunnis and Shiites
When Muhammad died, there was debate over who should replace him as leader. This led to a schism in Islam, and two major sects emerged: the Sunnis and the Shiites.
Sunnis make up nearly 90 percent of Muslims worldwide.
They accept that the first four caliphs were the true successors to Muhammad.
Shiite Muslims believe that only the caliph Ali and his descendants are the real successors to Muhammad. They deny the legitimacy of the first three caliphs.
Today, Shiite Muslims have a considerable presence in Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Other Types of Islam
Other, smaller Muslim denominations within the Sunni and Shiite groups exist. Some of these include:
- Wahhabi: This Sunni sect, made up of members of the Tameem tribe in Saudi Arabia, was founded in the 18th century. Followers observe an extremely strict interpretation of Islam that was taught by Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab.
- Alawite: This Shiite form of Islam is prevalent in Syria. Followers hold similar beliefs about the caliph Ali but also observe some Christian and Zoroastrian holidays.
- Nation of Islam:
- This mostly African-American, Sunni sect was founded in the 1930s in Detroit, Michigan.
- This sect broke from the Shiites after disagreeing over how to select a new leader. They are known for radical fundamentalism, and today are called Ibadis.
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