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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Islam: Sunnis and Shiites

Christopher M. Blanchard
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

The majority of the world’s Muslim population follows the Sunni branch of Islam, and approximately 10%-15% of all Muslims follow the Shiite (Shi’ite, Shi’a, Shia) branch. Shiite populations constitute a majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan. There are also significant Shiite populations in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen. Sunnis and Shiites share most basic religious tenets. However, their differences sometimes have been the basis for religious intolerance, political infighting, and sectarian violence.

This report includes a historical background of the Sunni-Shiite split and discusses the differences in religious beliefs and practices between and within each Islamic sect as well as their similarities. The report also relates Sunni and Shiite religious beliefs to discussions of terrorism and sectarian violence that may be of interest to Congress. Also see CRS Report RS21695, The Islamic Traditions of Wahhabism and Salafiyya, by Christopher M. Blanchard.

Date of Report: November 9, 2010
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: RS21745
Price: $19.95

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