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Comparing Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims

Shi’ite
Sunni
Percentage of followers in Iran (Source: The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2005) About 89 percent of Muslims in Iran are Shi’ite Muslims. About 10 percent of Muslims in Iran are Sunni Muslims.
Percentage of followers in the world About 15 percent of the world’s Muslims are Shi’ites. About 85 percent of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis.
History (1) Mohammed was the founder of Islam. Shi’ites believe that the leadership of Muslims should have been passed down to someone in Mohammed’s family. Sunnis believe that it was right for leadership to be passed from Mohammed down to leaders called “caliphs” (KAY-liffs).
History (2) Quarrels over who should be the leader resulted in the death of Mohammed’s grandson, Hussein. Hussein is still highly honored among Shi’ites as a Muslim martyr. Caliphs were chosen by elders among the Sunnis.
Leaders Imams are very important leaders among Shi’ites. Many Shi’ites, called “Twelvers,” believe that the 12th imam, who disappeared in the 800s A.D., did not die. They believe he will return as “the Mahdi” at the end of the world. Religious experts among Iranian Twelver Shi’ites are called “ayatollahs.” Sunni imams are simply the leaders of Friday prayers. (Friday is the Muslims’ holy day.)
Free will Shi’ites believe that humans were created with free will. Muslims worship Allah; they believe he created the world. Many Sunnis believe that good and evil are the will of Allah and that everything is decided by him before it happens.
Salvation Both Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims believe that human beings are born sinless, and they do not seek a personal Savior. They depend on their own good works to please Allah and to get them into paradise when they die. Neither Shi’ites nor Sunnis believe the following: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Also see Romans 5:12 and Ephesians 2:8,9.