Sunni & Shia
The Qur’an has explicit instruction, a prohibition in effect, for Muslims to NOT become divided.
The Qur’an in Chapter (Surah) 3 Verse (Ayat) 103 states: “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided.”
Arabic: وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا ۚ وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِّنَ النَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ
Despite this fact divisions do exist. The two largest and most well known are Shia and Sunni.
Since neither are specifically mentioned in the Qur’an they will be discussed only briefly and generally.
After the death of Prophet Muhammad (عليه السلام) in 632 A.D. there was a disagreement over who would lead the Muslim community (Ummah) as the next Khalif (خليف).
Note: A Khalif is essentially a spiritual and religious leader of the Muslim community (Ummah).
The rightful successor at the time was Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (رضي الله عنه) since he was the closest companion of the Prophet. Serving as a chief advisor from 622 – 632 A.D.
However, there were some who believed his succession was not legitimate. Their belief was Ali ibn Abi Talib (رضي الله عنه) was the rightful successor.
This belief was supported by the fact that Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad (عليه السلام) so traditionally he would be next in line.
That ended up turning into a dispute within the Muslim community (ummah) and from it emerged two divisions. The followers of Ali and the supporters of Bakr.
Two divisions which eventually became known as Shia and Sunni. With Shia meaning the “followers of Ali” and Sunni “adherents of the Sunnah”.