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Must I Choose Between Being a Sunni or Shiite Muslim?



Reply Date

Oct 04, 2017


I find it confusing to understand the difference between Sunni and Shiite, both claim that they are right, How can I choose between them?



sunni shiite

Short answer: Be Muslim. Both Sunni and Shiite Muslims are MUSLIM. The differences between them are not matters of faith but matters of practice. Choose to embrace Islam and be Muslim, not Sunni or Shiite.

Salam Dear Mikey,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

I would like to make a differentiation, which I find crucial, between three concepts:

1) Faith or creed (which is `aqeedah in Arabic).
2) Politics
3) Islamic Law (which is ‘Fiqh’ in Arabic).

These topics should not be mixed.

What makes someone a ‘Muslim’ or a ‘believer’?

A man once came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in his mosque and in front of a number of the companions, and asked him: “What is belief?”

The Prophet answered:

To believe in God, His Prophets, His Books, His angels, and destiny, its good and its evil.

The man asked: “What is Islam?”

The Prophet answered:

To say that you bear witness that there is no god but God (Allah) and Muhammad is His messenger, to maintain prayers, to give charity, to fast the month of Ramadan, and to visit the House (in Makkah) in pilgrimage. (Al-Bukhari)

THIS is what makes someone a Muslim.

In terms of faith: the above are the “six pillars of faith” as scholars called them.

And in terms of practice: the above are the “five pillars of Islam.”.

So, are there any differences between Sunnis and Shiites in what makes you ‘a Muslim’? No difference, as long as both groups believe in and embrace those pillars.

Regarding Differences in Practice

There are some differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Islamic law, which is what is lawful and what is unlawful.

These differences are no different than the differences between any other schools of Islamic law (madhaahib al-fiqh), such as Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafie, Zahiri, etc.

The significant differences between Sunni and Shiite (in the past and the present) were differences over what I insist on calling ‘politics’ rather than faith.

Many Sunnis and Shiite Muslims will disagree with that, because they consider the issue of political leadership to be an issue of faith.

I disagree.

I am not saying that there could be right and wrong in politics and Haram and Halal, but to make political positions a matter of ‘faith’ is not justified according to sound scholarship.

I am speaking of issues on who should have become a Caliph after the Prophet (peace be upon him) or how some nation should resist an occupation, etc.

Be a Muslim. Period.

Regarding your question Mikey, you don’t have to ‘choose’ between them.

Be a ‘Muslim’ only, and be good to all of your fellow Muslims, whatever their political stand on issues are.

Do not call anybody names, be it a companion, a Shiite imam, or one of today’s scholars, because this is all forbidden in Islam.

Regarding the law, ask a scholar that you feel you could trust, and follow their school, whatever it is.

You could also submit a question to our Ask the Scholar section, as well.

But if you could educate yourself, long enough to be able to judge for yourself, it is highly rewarding to do that.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

(From AboutIslam’s archives)

Read more…

Sunnis and Shi’is are Closer to Each Other than it Seems

“Why Can’t I Be a Sushi “- A Different Approach to the Sunni-Shia Conflict

How to Overcome Sunni-Shia Hatred?

Irish Muslims Overcome Sectarianism

About Dr. Jasser Auda

Jasser Auda is a Professor and Al-Shatibi Chair of Maqasid Studies at the International Peace College South Africa, the Executive Director of the Maqasid Institute, a global think tank based in London, and a Visiting Professor of Islamic Law at Carleton University in Canada. He is a Founding and Board Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, Fellow of the Islamic Fiqh Academy of India, and General Secretary of Yaqazat Feker, a popular youth organization in Egypt. He has a PhD in the philosophy of Islamic law from University of Wales in the UK, and a PhD in systems analysis from University of Waterloo in Canada. Early in his life, he memorized the Quran and studied Fiqh, Usul and Hadith in the halaqas of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. He previously worked as: Founding Director of the Maqasid Center in the Philosophy of Islamic Law in London; Founding Deputy Director of the Center for Islamic Ethics in Doha; professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Alexandria University in Egypt, Islamic University of Novi Pazar in Sanjaq, Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, and the American University of Sharjah. He lectured and trained on Islam, its law, spirituality and ethics in dozens of other universities and organizations around the world. He wrote 25 books in Arabic and English, some of which were translated to 25 languages.

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