Sunnis and Shia in the Middle East BBC News
Sunnis and Shia in the Middle East BBC News from


The Sunni-Shiite divide is a significant aspect of the Muslim world that has shaped its history and continues to have an impact on current affairs. This article aims to provide an overview of the Sunni-Shiite map, highlighting the key differences and similarities between these two major sects of Islam.

The Sunni-Shiite Split

The division between Sunni and Shiite Muslims dates back to the early days of Islam, following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE. The split arose due to a disagreement over who should succeed the Prophet as the leader of the Muslim community, known as the caliph. The Sunnis believed that the caliph should be elected by the Muslim community, while the Shiites believed that the caliph should be a direct descendant of the Prophet.

Sunni Majority Countries

The majority of Muslims around the world are Sunni, making up approximately 85-90% of the global Muslim population. Sunni Islam is the dominant sect in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, is the birthplace of Islam and the center of the Sunni world. The Saudi government follows a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, which has influenced the religious and cultural landscape of the country.


Egypt, with its rich Islamic history and heritage, is another Sunni-majority country. Al-Azhar University, located in Cairo, is one of the oldest and most prestigious Islamic institutions in the world and has played a significant role in shaping Sunni religious thought.


Turkey, a country straddling Europe and Asia, has a predominantly Sunni Muslim population. However, Turkey is known for its secular political system, which has led to a unique blend of Islamic and Western influences in the country.


Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, is overwhelmingly Sunni. Islam in Indonesia has its own unique characteristics and is influenced by local traditions and customs.


Pakistan, a South Asian country with a large Muslim population, is also predominantly Sunni. However, Pakistan has a significant Shiite minority, particularly in the province of Balochistan and the northern areas of the country.

Shiite Majority Countries

Shiite Muslims make up a minority of the global Muslim population, accounting for approximately 10-15%. Shiite Islam is the dominant sect in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Lebanon.


Iran, formerly known as Persia, is the birthplace of Shiite Islam and is home to the largest Shiite population in the world. The Islamic Republic of Iran follows the Twelver Shia branch of Islam, which believes in the twelve imams as rightful successors to the Prophet Muhammad.


Iraq has a significant Shiite majority, with the majority of its population adhering to Twelver Shia Islam. The country has a complex sectarian landscape, with tensions between Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish communities playing a major role in its political and social dynamics.


Bahrain, a small island nation in the Persian Gulf, has a Shiite majority population. However, the ruling monarchy is Sunni, leading to ongoing tensions and protests demanding greater political rights for the Shiite majority.


Lebanon has a unique sectarian makeup, with a significant Shiite population represented by the Hezbollah political and military organization. The Shiite community in Lebanon plays a prominent role in the country’s politics and society.


Azerbaijan, a predominantly Shiite country, is located in the South Caucasus region. The Shiite population in Azerbaijan follows the Twelver Shia branch and has historically maintained good relations with Iran.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam?

Sunni and Shiite Islam differ primarily in their beliefs about the caliphate and the role of the imams. Sunnis believe that the caliph should be elected, while Shiites believe in the hereditary succession of the Prophet’s family.

2. Why is the Sunni-Shiite divide significant?

The Sunni-Shiite divide has had a significant impact on the political, social, and cultural dynamics of the Muslim world. It has fueled sectarian tensions, conflicts, and power struggles in various countries.

3. Are there any similarities between Sunni and Shiite Islam?

Both Sunni and Shiite Muslims share the core beliefs and practices of Islam, such as the belief in one God (Allah) and the importance of the five pillars of Islam (faith, prayer, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage).

4. Can Sunni and Shiite Muslims marry each other?

Intermarriage between Sunni and Shiite Muslims is not uncommon, although it may vary depending on cultural and societal norms in different regions. Interfaith marriages can sometimes be challenging due to the differing religious practices and traditions.

5. Can Sunni and Shiite Muslims pray together?

Sunni and Shiite Muslims can pray together, as the basic principles of prayer are the same. However, there may be differences in the way certain prayers are performed or specific rituals associated with prayer.

6. Is the Sunni-Shiite divide solely based on religious differences?

The Sunni-Shiite divide is not solely based on religious differences but has historical, political, and social dimensions as well. It has been influenced by various factors, including power struggles, regional conflicts, and sectarian identities.

7. How does the Sunni-Shiite divide impact global politics?

The Sunni-Shiite divide has a significant impact on global politics, particularly in the Middle East. It has fueled conflicts and proxy wars, such as the sectarian tensions in Iraq, the Syrian Civil War, and the ongoing rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

8. Are there any efforts to bridge the Sunni-Shiite divide?

There have been various efforts to bridge the Sunni-Shiite divide and promote inter-sectarian dialogue and understanding. Organizations and initiatives have been established to foster unity and cooperation among Muslims of different sects.

9. How does the Sunni-Shiite divide affect everyday life for Muslims?

The Sunni-Shiite divide can impact everyday life for Muslims, particularly in regions where sectarian tensions are high. It can affect social interactions, access to religious resources, and even employment opportunities in certain cases.

10. Is the Sunni-Shiite divide a recent phenomenon?

The Sunni-Shiite divide dates back to the early days of Islam and has been a part of the Muslim world’s history for centuries. It is not a recent phenomenon but has been shaped and influenced by various historical events and developments.


Sunni, Shiite, Muslim world, Islam, Sunni-Shiite divide, Sunni majority countries, Shiite majority countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, caliph, imams, religious differences, global politics, everyday life, interfaith marriages, inter-sectarian dialogue, historical events.

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