Succession to Muhammad

The succession to Muhammad is the central issue that split the Muslim community into several divisions in the first century of Islamic history, with the most prominent among these sects being the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam. Shia Islam holds that Ali ibn Abi Talib was the appointed successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad as head of the community. Sunni Islam maintains Abu Bakr to be the first leader after Muhammad on the basis of election.

The contrasting opinions regarding the succession are primarily based on differing interpretations of events in early Islamic history as well as of hadiths (sayings of Muhammad). The Sunni believe that Muhammad had not appointed a successor and had instead intended for the Muslim community to choose a leader from among themselves. They accept the rule of Abu Bakr, who was elected at Saqifah, and that of his successors, who are together referred to as the Rashidun Caliphs.

On the other hand, the Shia believe that Ali had previously been nominated by Muhammad as heir, most notably during the event of Ghadir Khumm. They primarily see the rulers who followed Muhammad as illegitimate. Instead, in the Shia view, the rightful successors of Muhammad are Ali and eleven Imams of his lineage, who are viewed as divinely appointed. The last of these Imams, Mahdi, went into occultation in 260 AH (874 CE), due to the hostility of the Imam's enemies and the danger to his life.[1] His advent is awaited by the Shia and Sunni alike, although the two sects hold different views about Mahdi.[2]

In addition to these two main views, there are also other opinions regarding the succession to Muhammad.