What is the difference between Sunnis and Shi`ahs? Please make a clear distinction between the ideas of these two groups of Muslims.
Are the Shi`ahs “Muslims”. How can we say that Shi`ahs are not right in their beliefs. Please give a complete view about this matter, and how we can convince Shi`ahs towards the right beliefs?
I hope your answer will be very helpful to understand and accept the reality.
In one of my earlier responses to a similar question I had written:
There are a number of differences in the Shi`ah (Shiite) and the Sunni Juristic opinions. However, not all these differences can be termed as the “basic differences” in these two major sects of Islam. The basic difference in the two sects is that of the Shiite faith of the system of “Imamah“. The Shiite faith of “Imamah” implies that after the Prophet (pbuh), there shall be no other prophet, but the only true leader of the Muslims, at any given time, is an “Imam” who, like the prophets of God, is directly appointed by God. The appointment of the first “Imam” was made by God through the last Prophet (pbuh), while every subsequent “Imam” is appointed through the “Imam“, who precedes him. Another qualification of the “Imam“, according to the Shiite belief is that he shall belong to the family of the last Prophet (pbuh). The Shiite belief holds that the “Imams“, like the prophets of God, are “ma`soom” (sinless, innocent) and, therefore, should be obeyed in all matters and under all circumstances. The “Imams“, according to the Shiite faith, are thus not just the political leaders of the Muslims but also their religious leaders and clergy. The Sunni school, on the other hand, does not ascribe to any such belief.
This may, at first sight, seem to be a trivial difference between the two schools. However, a close analysis reveals that it amounts to a difference in the basic sources of religion and religious knowledge information and directives for the two schools. The Sunni school, because of its lack of belief in the institution of “Imamah” holds the last Prophet of God and the book revealed on him as the two primary sources of Islam, while the Shiite school, because of the importance and position it gives to the “Imams” holds them to be an autonomous source of their religion. Anything that an “Imam” says, anything that he does and anything that he narrates is “religion” for the Shiite school. Differing with an “Imam” in any matter is of about the same consequence as differing with a prophet. Not submitting to the directions of an “Imam” is as grave a sin as refusing to submit to the directions of a prophet of God.
In my opinion, the stated difference is the basic and the primary difference between the two sects. Most of the other differences between the two sects either stem from this basic difference or are basically juristic in their nature. By juristic differences is meant such differences that are also widely present in the various sub sects of the Sunni school or those of the Shiite school.
As far as the question that whether Shiites are Muslims or not is concerned, I strictly believe that it is not the jurisdiction of the scholars or students of religion, like myself, to declare an individual or a group “non-Muslim”. The job of the scholars and students of Islam is to inform people of the true teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Declaring an individual or a group “Muslim” or “non-Muslim” is a legal matter, as far as the life of this world is concerned. Only the legal authorities that are competent for this purpose should, therefore, be referred to for such declarations. In my opinion, because this issue pertains to the whole Muslim community, therefore such decisions should only be taken by the collectivity of the whole Muslim community. Scholars of Islam should strictly refrain from declaring each other “non-Muslims”, as such actions would only result in breaking the already weakened Muslim community into further smaller pieces.
How can we say that Shi`ahs are not right in their beliefs? … and how we can convince Shi`ahs towards the right beliefs?
In my opinion, there is no need to refute anyone’s beliefs. The thing that should actually be done is to understand and promote the true teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Our affiliations should not be with any sect or sub-sect of Islam, it should be with Islam itself. I believe that if we want to convince our brethren of the true teachings of Islam, we should first of all try to rid our own selves of all sectarian biases and prejudices and try to study and understand Islam with an open mind. It is only after we rid ourselves of all kinds of sectarian biases and prejudices that we should expect others to do the same.
May the Almighty help us all in understanding His deen.
24th June 1999