Understanding the branches of Islam: Shia Islam

11-01-2016

Islam is based on a number of shared fundamental beliefs and practices. Nonetheless, over time leadership disputes within the Muslim community have resulted in the formation of different branches of the Islamic faith, which have ultimately resulted in the development of distinct religious identities within Islam. Despite many shared religious and cultural connections, these branches differ from each other in their interpretations of certain aspects of the faith, in their view on Islamic history, or their conceptions of leadership. Followers of Shia Islam – a minority in the world's total Muslim population – believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib and his descendants are the only legitimate successors to the Prophet Muhammad. This view, however, has not spared Shiite Muslims from disagreements over the leadership, which eventually led to the emergence of numerous communities. Understanding their origins and religious foundations – in particular in relation to the much larger Sunni branch – may prove essential for a better comprehension of developments in Syria, or regional rivalries between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Islam is based on a number of shared fundamental beliefs and practices. Nonetheless, over time leadership disputes within the Muslim community have resulted in the formation of different branches of the Islamic faith, which have ultimately resulted in the development of distinct religious identities within Islam. Despite many shared religious and cultural connections, these branches differ from each other in their interpretations of certain aspects of the faith, in their view on Islamic history, or their conceptions of leadership. Followers of Shia Islam – a minority in the world's total Muslim population – believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib and his descendants are the only legitimate successors to the Prophet Muhammad. This view, however, has not spared Shiite Muslims from disagreements over the leadership, which eventually led to the emergence of numerous communities. Understanding their origins and religious foundations – in particular in relation to the much larger Sunni branch – may prove essential for a better comprehension of developments in Syria, or regional rivalries between Iran and Saudi Arabia.