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Encyclopedia > Sunni Muslim
This article forms part of the series
Vocabulary of Islam
Five Pillars
Profession of faith
Prayer · Alms · Fasting
Pilgrimage to Mecca
Jihad (See Sixth pillar of Islam)
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Caliph · Shia Imam
Companions of Muhammad
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Functional Religious Roles
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Ayatollah · Mufti
Interpretive Texts & Practices
Qur'an · Hadith · Sunnah
Fiqh · Fatwa · Sharia
Sunni: Hanafi · Hanbali · Maliki · Shafi'i
Shi'a: Ithna Asharia · Ismailiyah · Zaiddiyah
Others: Ibadi · Kharijite · Murjite · Mu'tazili
Sufism · Wahhabism · Salafism
Non-Mainstream Sects / Movements
Ahmadiyyah · Nation of Islam
Nation of Gods and Earths · Zikri · Druze
Related Faiths
Alawi · Babism · Bahá'í Faith · Yazidi

Sunni Islam (Arabic سنّة) is the largest denomination of Islam. Followers of the Sunni tradition are known as Sunnis or Sunnites, and sometimes refer to themselves as the Ahlus Sunnah wal-Jamaa'h.

It is widely believed among Sunnis that the name Sunni derives from the word Sunnah which represents the prophet Muhammad's manner of conduct. Some have argued that "Sunni" actually means or is derived from a word that means "a middle path" referring to the idea that Sunnism is a more neutral position than the perceivedly more extreme viewpoints of the Shia and the Kharijites.



In Islam, political disagreements have usually manifested themselves as religious disagreements; the earliest example of this is that 30 years after Muhammed's death, the Islamic community plunged into a civil war that gave rise to three sects. One proximal cause of this first civil war was that some rebels in Iraq and Egypt resented the power of the third Caliph and his governors. After the Caliph was murdered, war broke out in full force between different groups, each fighting for power. The war ended with a new dynasty of Caliphs who ruled from Damascus.

Two groups of believers branched off from the main fold of Muslims at this time, and the core group of Muslims were later to be known as Sunnis. They hold themselves as the followers of the sunna (practice) of the prophet Muhammad as related by his companions (the sahaba). Sunnis also maintain that the Islamic community (ummah) as a whole will always be guided. They were willing to recognize the authority of the Caliphs, who maintained rule by law and persuasion, and by force if necessary. The Sunnis became the largest division of Islam.

Sunnis around the world

Algeria has nearly 99% (state religion) Sunni muslims, Kuwait has (70%) and Afghanistan has a clear majority of Sunni muslims (around 80%). Sunni muslims outnumber Shi'ite muslims in Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Sudan (70%), Syria (80%), Tajikistan (85%), Libya (97%), Jordan (92%) and certain islands like the Maldives, Comoros (98%) and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (80%). Iraq (which has 40% Sunni Muslims concentrate mostly in the central & northern (Kurd) parts of the country), Sunni muslims also constitute a significant minority in many countries, for example: Iran (10%), and Bahrain (30%).

This enumeration is incomplete (so far) since it lacks data on Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Brunei, Chad, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea, Indonesia, Lebanon, Malaysia , Mali, Mauritania, Mayotte, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, which all are countries where a majority of the population is Muslim.


Basis for theology

Sunnis base their religion on the Quran and the Sunnah as understood by the majority of the community under the structure of the four schools of thought. Many other groups also claim to follow the Quran and the Sunnah, but the difference between Sunnis and others is that Sunnis follow the sound Sunni scholarship of the last 1400 years to understand the Quran and Sunnah which preserved how it was understood by the companions of the Prophet.

The four Sunni schools of law (madhahib), the Hanafi, the Maliki, the Shafi'i and the Hanbali are mistakenly understood by some to be different sects. This is quite contrary to the truth. These four schools of law attribute themselves to four great scholars of early Islam, Abu Haneefah, Malik, Shafi'i, and Ahmad bin Hanbal. These scholars amongst others were known for their knowledge and piety, and therefore became wellknown throughout the Muslim lands. They differed only in minor issues of application of certain principles in the religion and were in no way in opposition to each other. As a matter of fact, three of the four were students of each other. Ahmad bin Hanbal was a student of Shafi'i, who was a student of Malik.

Tasawwuf or Sufism is considered by the majority of Sunnis to be integral part of Sunni Islam. It deals with the spiritual aspects of a Sunni's everyday life. Some of the most famous Sufi schools are the Qadiri, Naqshbandi, Shadhili, Chishti, and Rifa‘i paths or tariqas.

View on other groups

Sunnis view the Shi'ites to be from the ahlul-bidah - i.e. the people of innovation. The Shi'ites are thought by many Sunni to have extreme views in regards to some of the companions of the Prophet of Islam to the extent that they curse and declare them as disbelievers. There are many other opinions held by the Shi'ites unacceptable by Sunnis (and vice-versa), such as the belief in the Imamate and difference on the Caliphate, and many others.

Other groups considered by Sunnis to be beyond the bounds of Islam are Nation of Islam, Ahmadiyya, Zikri, and Ismailis.

External links

  1. www.SunniPath.com ( Online Center for Traditional Sunni Islam) (http://www.sunnipath.com)
  2. www.masud.co.uk (Online Center with articles by Traditional Sunni scholars) (http://www.masud.co.uk)
  3. www.Zaytuna.org ( Online website of Traditional Islamic Institute) (http://zaytuna.org)
  4. (Living Islam Tradition - a leading Scholars webpage) (http://www.abc.se/~m9783/)
  5. www.RumiBookstore.com (Purchase Islamic Books Tapes Online) (http://www.rumibookstore.com/)
  6. www.WardahBooks.com (Books on Islam in in English) (http://www.wardahbooks.com/)
  7. www.SunniPort.com (Islamic Forum and Portal ) (http://www.sunniport.com)
  8. www.meccahOne.org (Traditional Islamic Radio) (http://www.meccaone.org/)
  9. www.Sunniforum.com (Discuss Islam with Muslims )

  Results from FactBites:
Sunni Muslims - definition of Sunni Muslims in Encyclopedia (851 words)
Sunni muslims outnumber Shi'ite muslims in Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Sudan (70%), Syria (74%), Tajikistan (85%), Libya (97%), Jordan (92%) and certain islands like the Maldives, Comoros (98%) and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (80%).
Sunni muslims also constitute a significant minority in many countries, including Iraq (which has 22% Sunni Muslims living mostly in the central parts of the country), Iran (10%), and Bahrain (30%).
Sunnis base their religion on the Quran and the Sunnah, which is recorded in the books of Hadith.
  More results at FactBites »



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