Sunni and Shiite
After the death of the Prophet Muhammad two major positions developed about the nature of authority over the Muslim community. One group, which came to be called Sunni, from the Arabic word for "tradition," accepted the succession of Muhammad's elected successors, who were known as caliphs. This group was opposed by those who believed that any head of the community had to be a direct descendant of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali. They are called Shiite, from the Arabic word shia meaning "party." The vast majority of Muslims today are Sunnis; Shiites form the majority only in Iran and are sizeable minorities in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

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