Contemporarily, there are two sects of Islam-Shia and Sunni. Although there is yet another sect called 'Sufi' but mainly the Shia and Sunni constitute the two major sects of Islam religion. Soon after the death of Mohammad Prophet, the two communities emerged.
Two contradictory opinions came to light when the question of successor to the Prophet arose.
While the one group declared Ali who was cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet as his successor, the other group favoured a fair election of the successor and hence rejected the idea of accepting Ali as their religious leader.
The former group came to be known as Shia community which believed that the Prophet had indicated during his lifetime of Ali as his successor. The latter group formed the Sunni community.
The Prophet's actions and customs are Sunna (from custom) hence ahle-sunna, Sunni, or followers of the Sunna. The Sunna includes a wide range of Muslim responses.
Across the world followers would imitate the Prophet with affection in every kind of activity-abstaining from alcohol and pig's meat, colouring a man's beard with henna, using green for clothes and flags, enjoying honey, talking softly, eating moderately and sleeping little.
Particularism, esotericism, idealism and iconoclasm characterize Shiaism. Shias make up about 10 per cent of the Muslim total and their main concentration is in Persia and South Asia.
Shia belief revolves round the figure of Ali and besides him the Prophet, Fatimah, Hassan and Hussain are the key figures of Shia theology and history. Of these five figures, three of them were martyred for the cause of Islam.
Death, martyrdom, tears and sacrifice form the central part of Shia mythology. Thus, a sense of sectarian uniqueness, of group loyalty, faith in the leadership, readiness for sacrifice, devout ecstasy, and divine ritual marks the community.
Besides the leadership of religion, the two sects differ in other matters too. While for the Shias the state and religion are two different aspects and hence considers Imam or Khalifa as only the religious leader.
The Sunnis accept Imam as the leader of both state and religion as for them there is no difference between the state and the religion. Close to this is another difference.
While the Shias appoint Imam or Khalifa on hereditary basis, the Sunnis elect Imam thereby refuting the hereditary system.
Another difference lies in their beliefs. While the Shias believe that I the wrong deeds of Imam adversely affect the namaz (prayers) of people, the Sunnis disagree with this view. Likewise, the Shia believe in the [existence of many Imams at the same time, discussions on Quran, and transitory nature of martial relations; the Sunnis believe in one Imam,
Quran to be above all reasoning and permanent existence of martial relations marriage for a fixed term and usually for a predetermined financial arrangement is considered allowable by the Shias.
The marriage may be for any length of time, even for a matter of hours. On the contrary, Sunnis scoff at the mutt (temporary marriage) deriding it as a lustful act concealed under a religious cover.