1Questions of Hereditary Succession
Shiites believe the Prophet Mohammed should have been succeeded by his son-in-law, Imam Ali, and leadership of the Muslim world should pass through the prophet’s descendants. Sunnis don’t believe the leadership of the Muslim world should necessarily pass through hereditary succession.
2Reverence of Imam Ali and His Family
Shiites continue to observe what they consider to be Imam Ali and his descendents’ persecution and to revere his family, making annual pilgrimages to shrines to the Imam and his 11 descendants.
3The Sunni Majority
Sunnis greatly outnumber Shiites, constituting nearly 90% of the global community of Muslims. The governments of some Persian Gulf countries—including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates—are Sunni, while Iran and Iraq are ruled by Shiites. Syria’s regime is Alawite, a Shiite offshoot.
4Styles of Prayer
Shiites and Sunnis pray differently: Sunnis cross their arms, while Shiites keep their arms by their sides. Sunnis observe five daily prayer sessions; Shiites condense the five prayers into three sessions.
Shiites are governed by more hierarchical structures, following living religious leaders. But Sunnis typically follow scholarly texts penned by past religious leaders.