Sunni Islam

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Sunni Muslims are the largest denomination of Islam. They are referred to as Ahl ul-Sunna (Arabic: أهل السنة; "people of the tradition"). The word Sunni comes from the word sunna (Arabic : سنة ), which means the tradition of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. Sunnis are also referred to as Ahl ul-Sunna wa-l-Jama'ah (Arabic: أهل السنة والجماعة) (people of tradition and congregation) which implies that the Sunnis are united. They represent the branch of Islam that came through the caliphate, which started with Abu Bakr.

Sunni (Arabic: سني ) means follower of the sunna of the Prophet, with some details.

Contents

[edit] Demographics

Main article: Demographics of Islam

There are many challenges to demographers in calculating the proportion of the world's Muslims who adhere to each of the main traditions. Using various sources, one can arrive at a figure of roughly 15% Shi'ite<ref>Demographics of Islam</ref>. However, other reasonable calculations indicate an estimate as low as 7.5% Shi'a<ref>Shi'a Islam</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref>. Britannica 2006 says: "The total Shi'ite movement comprises probably less than 10 percent of the Islamic world."

[edit] Sunni schools of law (Madhab)

There are four major Sunni schools of law:

There are other Sunni schools of law, although many are followed by only small numbers of people and are relatively unknown due to the popularity of the 4 major schools of law; also many have died out or were not sufficiently recorded by their followers to survive.

Islamic law is known as the Shari'ah, though those who ascribe to different schools pray in the same mosques with little to no enmity between them. The Shari'ah is based on the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Interpreting the Shari'ah to derive specific rulings (such as how to pray) is known as Fiqh, which literally means understanding. A madhab is a particular tradition of interpreting Fiqh. These schools focus on specific evidence (Shafi'i and Hanbali) or general principles (Hanafi and Maliki) derived from specific evidences. The schools were started by eminent Muslim scholars in the first four centuries of Islam. As these schools represent clearly spelled out methodologies for interpreting the Shari'ah, there has been little change in the methodology per se. However, as the social and economic environment changes, new Fiqh rulings are being made. For example, when tobacco appeared it was declared as 'disliked' because of its smell. When medical information showed that smoking was dangerous, that ruling was changed to 'forbidden'. Current Fiqh issues include things like downloading pirated software and cloning. The consensus is that the Shari'ah does not change but Fiqh rulings change all the time.

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.

Many Sunnis advocate that a Muslim should choose a single Madhab and follow it in all matters. However, rulings from another Madhab are considered acceptable as dispensations (rukhsa) in exceptional circumstances. Many Sunnis however do not follow any madhhab, indeed some Salafis reject strict adherence to any particular school of thought, prefering to use the Qur'an and the Sunnah alone as the primary sources of Islamic Law.

[edit] Sunni theological traditions (Kalam)

Some Islamic scholars faced questions that they felt 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 the following dominant traditions:

  • Mu'tazilah was 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, 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, <ref>Template:Cite web </ref> 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 Qur'anic passages metaphorically, particularly those implying that God has a human shaped 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 al-Ash'ari (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 Qur'anic references to God as having physical attributes (that is, a body) were metaphorical.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> 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 followers of the Maturidi creed). One of the tribes, the Seljuk Turks, migrated to Turkey, where later the Ottoman Empire was established.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Their preferred school of law achieved a new prominence throughout their whole empire although it continued to be followed almost exclusively 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 followers, there can be found the Maturidi creed.
    • Maturidiyyah argue that knowledge of God's existence can be derived through reason.
  • Athariyyah (meaning Textualist) or Hanbali, no specific founder, but Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal played a key historic role in keeping this school alive.
    • This school differs with the Ash'ariyyah in understanding the names and attributes of God, but rather affirms all of God's names and attributes as they are found in the Qur'an and Sunnah (prophetic traditions), with the disclaimer that the "how" of the attribute is not known. They say that God is as He described Himself "in a way befitting of His majesty." Thus, regarding verses where God is described as having a "yad" (hand) or "wajh" (face), the textualists say that God is exactly as He described himself in a way befitting of His majesty, without inquiring as to the "how" of these attributes.
    • The Athariyyah still believe that God does not resemble His creation in any way, as this is also found in the texts. Thus, in the Athari creed, it is still prohibited to imagine an image of God in any way. The Athariyyah say that the "yad" (hand) of God is "unlike any other yad" (since God does not resemble His creation in any way) and prohibit imagining what God would be like, even though this attribute of a "yad" is still affirmed.
    • This is the view of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal who said: "The hadeeths (regarding the attributes of Allah) should be left as they are...We affirm them, and we do not make any similitude for them. This is what has been agreed upon by the scholars."<ref>Reported by ibn al-Jawzi in Manaaqib Imam Ahmad, pg. 155-156.</ref>

[edit] Sunni view of hadith

The Qur'an as we have it today was compiled by Sahabah in approximately 650 A.D, and is accepted by all Muslim denominations. However, there were many matters of belief and daily life that were not directly 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 and evaluated the chain of narration of each tradition, scrutinizing the trustworthiness of the narrators and judging the strength of each hadith accordingly. Most Sunni accept the hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim as the most authentic (sahih, or correct), and grant a lesser status to the collections of other recorders. These two books (Bukhari and Muslim) are strict in their accuracy and therefore are recognized by all Sunni Muslims. There are however, six collections of hadith that are held in particular reverence by Sunni Muslims:

There are also other collections of hadith which, although less well-known, still contain many authentic hadith and are frequently used by specialists such as:

[edit] Current trends in Sunni thought and practice

[edit] Web Links

[edit] See also

[edit] References

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Sunni Islam

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