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Who should replace Muhammad?
Muhammad is the prophet of Islam and the founder of one of the world’s largest and
most influential religions. His guidance and inspiration have led his people to create
the most powerful empire in Southwest Asia and build a religious movement that will
influence history for thousands of years.
It is now the year 632, and Muhammad has died. Unfortunately, he never told anyone
who should be his successor (replacement). The Muslim community must now choose
a new leader. Two factions disagree over who this new leader should be.
Sh i a
One group believes that Muhammad’s vision
and leadership are gifts from God. Only a
relative of Muhammad could lead Islam. The
logical choice, then, would be Ali,
Muhammad’s cousin and closest family
member. We call this group the Shia.
Su n n i s
Another group believes that any good Muslim
can lead. This leader would need to be wise
and know a great deal about Islam. The
logical choice, then, would be Abu Bakr,
who was a Muhammad’s close friend and
advisor. We call this group the Sunnis.
This disagreement leads to the division of Islam into Sunni and Shia sects, and
many years of wars and other bloody conflicts. Over the years additional
differences have emerged between the two sects. Today 85% of all Muslims are
Sunni, while 15% are Shia. Even today, the dispute between Sunni and Shia
Muslims is a major source of conflict in Southwest Asia. The largest population
of Shia Muslims lives in Iran, while the second largest population is in Iraq.
The Sunni / Shia Division
What disagreement caused Islam to break into Sunni and Shia sects?
According to Shia belief, who can
lead the Muslim people?
According to Sunni belief, who
can lead the Muslim people?
How many Muslims today are
How many Muslims today are
The two largest populations of
Shia Muslims live in which