Sunni Islam

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Template:Islam Sunni Islam (Arabic سنّة) is the largest denomination of Islam. Followers of the Sunni tradition are known as Sunnis or Sunnites, and often refer to themselves as the Ahlus Sunnah wal-Jamaa'h. Sunni Muslims constitute 80-90% of the global Muslim population.


The various denominations among Muslims

Thirty years after Muhammad's death, the Islamic community plunged into a civil war, called the Fitna. Many Muslims (among them some of Muhammad's widows and companions) believed that Uthman, the third caliph, was favoring his kin and abusing his power. Discontented Muslim soldiers from garrisons in Iraq and Egypt surrounded Uthman's palace in Medina and demanded that he repent or resign. The caliph temporized, fighting broke out, and Uthman was killed as he sat reading the Qur'an. War broke out between various factions. The war ended when a new dynasty of caliphs, the Umayyads, relatives of Uthman, managed to re-unite most of the Muslim community (ummah).

The current Sunni Muslim tradition follows those who acquiesced in the rule of the Umayyads. Modern Sunnis will admit that Ali ibn Abi Talib, the leader of one faction that clashed with the Umayyads, was a rightful caliph, but they argue that after Ali's death, the caliphate passed to the Umayyads. The Sunni, then and now, are the majority group.

Other Muslims felt that injustice had triumphed. Later commentators gave them various names:

  • Khwarij, or Kharijites, who declared that all the partisans involved in the Fitna were unbelievers. One branch of the Khwarij survives in Yemen and Oman as the Ibadi denomination of Islam.
  • Rawafidh, or Rafidi, the partisans of Ali. This was the genesis of Shi'a Islam. Shi'as are the majority in Iran and Iraq. There are many Shi'a sects. Some Sunni will not accept Shi'a as fellow Muslims.

Other divisions have arisen since the Fitna of the 7th century C.E. Some groups are now extinct. Of the existing groups, Sunni Muslims do not accept members of the Nation of Islam, Ahmadiyya, and Zikri as fellow Muslims.

Sunni Islam worldwide

Need a table here with a list of majority Islamic countries, with total population, total Muslim population, percentage of population who are Muslim, and total Sunni population, percentage of Muslims who are Sunni. Previous list is confusing -- not clear if percentages are of population or Muslims.

Sunni theological traditions (kalam)

Muslims of the centuries following Muhammad had to face many questions that were not specifically answered in the Qur'an, especially questions with regard to philosophical conundrums like the nature of God, the possibility of human free will, or the eternal existence of the Qur'an. Various schools of theology and philosophy developed to answer these questions, each claiming to be true to the Qur'an and the Muslim tradition (sunnah). There were three dominant traditions:

  • Mu'tazilah, the school established in Iraq by Wasil bin 'Ata (699-749), a student of the distinguished scholar Hasan al-Basri (642-728). The Mu'tazilites rose to prominence in 750 C.E., under the new Abbasid dynasty of caliphs. One caliph, al-Ma'mun, declared Mu'tazilah doctrine to be the state creed, and persecuted dissenters. This completely alienated the Sunni Muslim clergy, the ulema, and Mu'tazilism fell into disrepute after the death of al-Ma'mun. There are no current Sunni adherents of Mu'tazilism, though their texts are still read and preserved as important to understanding the history of Sunni theology. The Shi'a follow a Mu'tazili tradition.
    • The Mu'tazilites were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, and attempted to establish religion and ethics on the basis of reason alone. While they accepted the authority of the Qur'an, they argued that it should be accepted because it was reasonable. They understood many Quranic passages metaphorically, particularly those implying that God has a human body. They stressed human free will, and taught that the Qur'an was created in time, existing only from the moment it was revealed to Muhammad.
  • Ash'ariyyah, founded by Abu al-Hasan (873-935). The dominant theology, and the tradition embraced by al-Ghazali, a Muslim jurist and mystic whom many Sunnis follow and revere.
    • Ash'ariyyah theology stresses divine revelation over human reason. Ethics, they say, cannot be derived from human reason: God's commands, as revealed in the Qur'an and the practice of Muhammad and his companions (the sunnah, as recorded in the traditions, or hadith), are the source of all morality.
    • Regarding the nature of God and the divine attributes, the Ash'ari rejected the Mu'tazilite position that all Quranic references to God as having physical attributes (that is, a body) were metaphorical. Ash'aris insisted that these attributes were "true", since the Qur'an could not be in error, but that they were not to be understood as implying a crude anthropomorphism.
    • Ash'aris tend to stress divine omnipotence over human free will. They believe that the Qur'an is eternal and uncreated.
  • Maturidiyyah, founded by Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d.944). Maturidiyyah was a minority tradition until it was accepted by the Turkish tribes of Central Asia (previously they had been Ashari and followers of the Shafi school, it was only later on migration into Anatolia that they became Hanafi and follwers of the Maturidi creed). One of the those tribes, the Seljuk Turks, migrated to Turkey, were later the Ottoman Empire was established. Their preferred school of law achieved a new prominence throughout their whole empire although it continued to be followed almost exculsavely by followers of the Hanafi school while followers of the Shafi Maliki and Hanbali schools followed the Ashari school. Thus, wherever can be found Hanafi follwers can be found the Maturidi creed).
    • Maturidiyyah argue that knowledge of God's existence can be derived through reason alone, thus following the Mu'tazilites.

Sunni view of hadith

The Qur'an as we have it today was written down in approximately 650 C.E., and is accepted by all Muslim denominations. However, there were many matters of belief and daily life that were not prescribed in the Qur'an, but simply the practice of the community. Later generations sought out oral traditions regarding the early history of Islam, and the practice of Muhammad and his first followers, and wrote them down so that they might be preserved. These recorded oral traditions are called hadith. Muslim scholars sifted through the hadith, identifying those which, in their opinion, were authentic, and worthy of imitation, and those which were later innovations. Most Sunni accept the hadith collections of Buhkhari and Muslim as the most authentic (sahih, or correct), and grant a lesser status to the collections of other recorders. There are however, six collections of hadith that are held in particular reverence by Sunni Muslims these are:

  • The Sahih al-Bukhari
  • The Sahih Muslim
  • Sunan Abu Dawud
  • Sunan ibn Majah
  • Sunan at-Tirmidhi
  • Sunan an-Nisai

There are also other collections of hadith which although lesser known, still contain authentic hadith and are frequently used by specialists:

  • Sahih ibn Khuzama
  • Muwatta of Imam Malik
  • Musnad of Ahmed ibn Hanbal
  • Musnad of Umar ibn Abdul Aziz

Sunni schools of law (madhab)

There are four Sunni schools of law:

A madhab is a particular tradition of interpreting Islamic law, or shari'a. The schools were started by eminent Muslim scholars in the first four centuries of Islam. Most Sunnis believe that there are no living jurists of the stature of the founders of the four madhabs. Contemporary scholars can comment on the traditions, but they cannot start new ones. This belief is called "the closing of the gate of ijtihad".

A madhab is not to be confused with a religious sect. There may be scholars representing all four madhabs living in larger Muslim communities, and it is up to those who consult them to decide which school they prefer.

Some Sunni Muslims say that one should choose a madhab and then follow all of its rulings. Other Sunnis say that it is acceptable mix madhabs, to accept one madhab's ruling regarding one issue, and accept another madhab's ruling regarding a different issue.

Some modern Sunni, whether liberals or Salifis, reject some or all of the intricate structure of hadith and shari'a erected over the centuries.

Current trends in Sunni thought and practice

Sufism, Salafism, Wahabism, Liberal movements within Islam.Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimin). To be written.

External links


Articles and instruction:

Internet radio:

et:Sunniidid es:Sunismo fr:Sunnisme he:סונה lt:Sunitai nl:Soennisme ja:スンナ派 no:Sunni islam pt:Islo Sunita ru:Сунниты fi:Sunnalaisuus zh:遜尼派


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