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:
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)
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 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)