I have a question and this infact pertains to me I am a sunni muslim and in love with a muslim girl but she belongs to a different sub sect namely shiite well its not only a one sided feeling as she also is in love with me and has also professed her feelings but what is holding us back is the fact that she is a shia muslim is marriage between a shia and a sunni halal or is it null and void as my Parents say it is null and void is it neccessary for the girl to convert to the sunni subsect or she can continue being a Shia Also pls tell me what are the major differences beteween the two schools If Possible give me a detailed overview on thier practices as i would like to also have knowledge on the above subject cause my decision should not only be emotional but also Practical and on the lines of islam and Awaiting your early reply”
Shia and Sunni are both Muslims and therefore from a purely religious point of view there is absolutely no problem for them to be married. The answer, however, might be totally different when it comes to cultural or relationship point of view. For many it is difficult enough to accept that their spouse has different opinion, let alone having a fundamentally different understanding of religion. Problems may arise when it comes to religious ceremonies and practices, relationships with members of the different religious community, raising kids, etc… The other difficulty is that not only do the two persons need to be open-minded and be tolerant enough to accept their differences, they also need to be brave and strong against possible reactions from the members of the two communities who may have extreme sectarian feelings and beliefs. Your parent’s belief that the marriage is void is only an example.
I have never understood the meaning of expressions like “is it necessary for him/her to convert to …” Either a person realises that a belief is true and he/she naturally accepts it or a person does not realise it and therefore does not accept it. There is no value in accepting something that one is not firmly convinced of. If the lady you are referring to is so casual about her faith that she is happy to give it up for the sake of marriage then perhaps the whole issue of two different beliefs is not as serious as it sounds. Note that even if the girl converts to what you call ‘Sunni’ it does not clear up the potential problem. She still has relatives and a community who she cannot disassociate herself from and her conversion may bring even more problems to both of you.
So to make it brief, from the Islamic perspective there is nothing wrong with marriage between a Shia Muslim and a Sunni Muslim. However, there are certain – often wrong – social and cultural issues that should be carefully thought of and be prepared for, before such marriages take place.
There are different sub-sects among these two main sects of Muslims. However the major differences between typical Shia Muslims and Mainstream Muslims are as follows:
While mainstream Muslims believe that after the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the door for any new divine guidance has been closed for ever, Shia Muslims believe that divine guidance continued after the Prophet by 12 divinely appointed Imams who were infallible (like the Prophet) and had advantage of accessing unseen knowledge where necessary.
Shia Muslims believe that the position of Imamah is higher than the position of Prophethood and therefore Imams have a higher position than ordinary Prophets. They believe Prophet Muhammad was himself an Imam so his position was higher, as for prophets like Ibrahim, Musa and Isa (pbut), they have differences of opinion but the prominent view is that their position is lower than the position of Shia Imams.
Following from the above, while mainstream Muslims believe that the appointment of Khalifa should be by Shura (consultation) after the demise of the Prophet (pbuh), Shia Muslims believe that Ali (ra) was the divinely appointed Imam after the Prophet (pbuh) and that those who took his place have intentionally suppressed him and Ahl Albayt of the Prophet by not letting them have their right and that most of the rest of the companions did not remain loyal to the directives of the Prophet (pbuh) in that they did not support Ali (ra) to become the first Khalifa.
Following from the first point, Shia Muslims believe that the last Imam was the Mahdi that was predicted by the Prophet (pbuh), that he was born in 255 A.H and went into occultation later and he is still alive and will return before the day of judgement to bring justice on the face of Earth.
Following from the first point, Shia Muslims do not rely on Ahadith that reached us through the companions of the Prophet (pbuh), instead they mostly rely on sayings of their Imams (mostly the 6th Imam, Imam Jafar Al-Sadiq who is also very much respected by the mainstream scholars) that have reached them through the companions of Imams.
All the above leads to some differences in religious practices among Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims. While the main practices like prayer, Zakah, fasting and Hajj are in principal the same, there is a strong emphasis on Tawassul (seeking intercession) of Imams and calling them, visiting Imam’s shrines, loving them as a means to salvation, grieving for Imams and reading prayers that are narrated from their Imams.
Please do not hesitate to let us know if any clarification is needed or if there are any further questions in this regard.
June 23, 2006