Sunni Islam (Arabic سنّة) is the largest denomination of Islam. They do not constitute a sect of Islam. On the contrary, their first and foremost self-identification label is that of mainstream or orthodox 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.
In Islam, political disagreements have usually manifested themselves as religious disagreements; the earliest example of this is that 30 years after Muhammad'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.
Four groups of believers branched off from the main fold of Muslims at this time, two of them with beliefs similar to the present day Sunnis. One of them called for the killers of the third Caliph to be executed, they were called the Shia (partisans) of Uthman, the other held that the restoral of order was more important, they were called the Shia of `Ali. Two other groups arose from the conflict. The Khwarij that declared both partisans to be unbelievers and the Rawafidh , who were extreme partisans of `Ali, to the point of rejecting the earlier caliphs. The sunnis are those who love all the companions and hold none of them to be unbelievers, they hold themselves as the followers of the sunnah (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 are willing to recognize the authority of the Caliphs, who maintained rule by law and persuasion, and by force if necessary. The Sunnis are the largest division of Islam.
Sunnis around the world
Sunni Muslims predominate the majority of countries in Islamic World. From Algeria has nearly 99% (state religion) to Malaysia are mostly Sunni (99%). Kuwait has (70%) and Afghanistan has a clear majority of Sunni Muslims (around 80%, 20% Shia). Sunni Muslims outnumber Shi'ite muslims in Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Somalia (100%), Senegal, Mali, Gambia, Sudan (80), Uzbekistan, Syria (80%), Tajikistan (85%), Libya (97%), Jordan, Yemen (70%), Saudi Arabia (92%), United Arab Emirates Pakistan, and a host of other countries in Islamic World, plus certain islands like the Maldives, Comoros (98%) and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (80%). Iraq (which has 40% Sunni Muslims concentrated mostly in the central & northern (Kurd) parts of the country), Sunni Muslims also constitute a significant minority in many countries, for example: Iran (9% Sunni, 89% Shia), and Bahrain (30% Sunni, 70% Shia). Azerbaijan (92% Shia, the rest mostly Christian and not belonging to any religious denomination), Lebanon (40% Shia, the rest mostly Christians and minority Sunni).
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 historical Sunni scholarship of the last 1400 years to understand the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet. The traditional Sunni understanding of the Qur'an and Sunnah are only reflected in three schools of theology - the Asharites, the Maturidis, and the Atharis.
Many schools of theology deviated from the Sunni way and started their own sects within Islam. These include the Kharijites, Mu'tazilite, Jahmites , Murjites, Qadariyya and the Wahhabis.
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 in regards to the interpretation of the Qur'an and Islamic commandments, and therefore became well known 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.
Shi'a Contrasted with Sunni
The differences between Shi'a and Sunni are historical, and theological. Theological differences include different beliefs in regards to the main principles of the religion of Islam. Such differences can be found in Tawheed (Oneness of God), Nubuwwah (Prophethood) and Immamate (Leadership).
There are differences across the Muslim world, Turkey is mainly a Sunni Muslim country (99%), as is Saudi Arabia (85%), whereas the main religion in Iran is Shi'a Muslim (95%).
- www.Sunniforum.com (Discuss Islam with Muslims) (http://www.sunniforum.com/)
- www.SunniPath.com ( Online Center for Traditional Sunni Islam) (http://www.sunnipath.com)
- www.masud.co.uk (Online Center with articles by Traditional Sunni scholars) (http://www.masud.co.uk)
- www.Zaytuna.org ( Online website of Traditional Islamic Institute) (http://zaytuna.org)
- www.DeenPort.com (Traditional Islamic Portal ) (http://www.deenport.com)
- (Living Islam Tradition - a leading Scholars webpage) (http://www.abc.se/~m9783/)
- www.RumiBookstore.com (Purchase Islamic Books Tapes Online) (http://www.rumibookstore.com/)
- www.WardahBooks.com (Books on Islam in English) (http://www.wardahbooks.com/)
- www.meccahOne.org (Traditional Islamic Radio) (http://www.meccaone.org/)
- www.SunniPort.com (Sunni Forums and Portal) (http://www.sunniport.com/)