Study reveals in-depth insight into Sunni-Shi'ite relations

A study of 5,000 Muslims from five countries has revealed the similarities and differences in Sunni and Shi'ite attitudes to extremism, sectarianism and religious practice.

Study reveals in-depth insight into Sunni-Shi'ite relations

World Bulletin / News Desk

As Muslims from all walks of life celebrate the sacred day of Ashura today, results from a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center about Sunni-Shi’ite relations have been released.

The study, which was carried out between November 2011 and May 2012, surveyed 5,000 Muslims in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, with an equal representation of both Sunnis and Shi’ites. Although Shi’ite only account for 10%-13% of the Muslim world, Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan have a Shi’ite majority.


Both Sunnis and Shi’ites surveyed in the study expressed concerns over extremist groups, with two-thirds of all Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan showing the greatest concern. Half of all Muslims in Lebanon also expressed the same fear, while only a quarter of Muslims in Iran said they suffered from such anxieties. Only 6% of Muslims in Azerbaijan said this was a problem in their country.

Overall, despite being a minority in the wider Muslim world, Shi’ites expressed less concern than Sunnis over extremism, especially in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. Sunnis and Shi’ites in Afghanistan and Azerbaijan demonstrated little difference in this regard.


The study failed to identify a correlation between the freedom of worship and sectarian tensions. 90% of all Muslims in Lebanon said they had the freedom of worship, but two-thirds still said that sectarian tensions was a major or moderate problem in their country. On the other hand, only half of Muslims in Iraq felt they had the freedom of worship, with Sunnis feeling slightly more constricted by their Shi’ite counterparts, but fears over sectarianism was again slightly less than that in Lebanon. This figure was also lower in Afghanistan, and down to about a quarter in Iran, where only 44% of Sunnis said they had the right to worship in contrast to 88% of Iranian Shi’ites.

Once again, Shi’ites in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, were 27-33% less likely than Sunnis to worry about sectarianism, while there was very little difference between the two in Afghanistan. In Azerbaijan, sectarianism is generally not seen as a problem.


Three-quarters of both Shi’ites and Sunnis in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran said religion was very important to them. Little difference was noted between the Sunnis and Shi’ites in Azerbaijan, where just under a half of all Muslims said they were religious. In Lebanon, however, two-thirds of Sunnis responded positively to this question, compared to only half of Shi’ites. Moreover, Shi’ites in Afghanistan are 15% less likely to pray on a daily basis than Sunnis.


Differences are also found in religious practices, primarily around the veneration of saints and the deceased. While nine-tenths of Shi’ites say it is acceptable to visit shrines, 72% of Sunnis disagree. While most Sunnis and Shi’its reject appealing to dead ancestors for help, Shi’ites in Iraq, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Lebanon are overall more likely than Sunnis to uphold this practice. In Iran, however, Sunnis and Shi’ites participate in such rituals on an equal level.

Also, certain acts that are performed by some Shi’ites on the day of Ashura in commemoration of the slain grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.), Hussein, are not practiced by Sunnis, although many Sunnis do fast on this day along with Shi’ites, albeit for different reasons.


All together, both Sunnis and Shi’ites generally believe in one diety, Allah, without associating any partners or equals to Him. They both believe in the Islamic tenants of faith, including the Holy Scripture, the angels, the messengers, heaven and hell.

While level of religious commitment varies on a case by case basis, Sunnis and Shi’ites both generally pray on a daily basis and fast in the month of Ramadan.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 13 Kasım 2013, 14:01