Aviva Directory » Faith & Spirituality » World Religions » Abrahamic Religions » Islam » Denominations & Sects » Sunni

The Sunnis are the largest of the Islamic denominations, representing from 80% to 90% of all Muslims.

The division between Sunni and Shi'a occurred in the early days of the Islamic state. Unlike the Catholic-Protestant schism of Christianity, the division in Islam was more political than theological, although theological differences later developed. The split began over a disagreement as to who was going to become the political and religious leader of Islam following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE.

Abu Bakr, Muhammad's father-in-law, was elected as the first caliph, but Muhammad's cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib, argued that he should have been given an equal chance of being elected to the position. Eventually, Ali swore allegiance to the new leader, but the situation results in bad blood between the supporters of Abu Bakr and Ali. After Abu Bakr's rule, Ali's supporters found their favored leaders routinely passed over.

In 656, Ali was chosen as the fourth caliph but he was assassinated in 661. That was when the split occurred, as Ali's supporters formed the Shi'a sect.

Although there are some much smaller sects, most Muslims who are not Shi'a are considered to be Sunni.

While the Shi'a believe that the ruler must be male children from Ali's heritage, the Sunni do not believe in a dynastic succession, holding that any practicing Muslim should be eligible to be selected for the position.

Sunnis believe that that last person to receive revelations from Allah was the Prophet Muhammad, while Shi'ites believe that the Imams hear directly from Allah.

The clergy of the Sunni sect includes the Caliph, the Imam, the Mujtahid, the Allamah, and the Maulana.

However, Sunni Islam does not have a formal hierarchy. Its leaders are informal. They gain influence as they study to become scholars in Islamic law, known as Sharia. There are no prerequisites to becoming a scholar in Islamic law.

The Quran and the hadith, particularly those collected in Kutub al-Sittah, form the basis of Islamic jurisprudence in Sunni Islam, and Sharia rulings are derived from these sources, along with reasoning, public welfare, and discretion.

The Quran was assembled by the companions of the Prophet Muhammad within a few months of his death, and is accepted by all branches of Islam.

Subsequent generations collected and wrote out oral traditions, which became known as hadith. The Sunnis accept the hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim as being the most correct. While they regard the others as authentic, they are given a lesser status. There are four other collections that are revered by the Sunnis.

There is a tradition of mysticism within Sunni Islam, which is largely known as Sufism, although this tradition is present within Shi'ism as well. Still strong within Islam, Sufism was a common element of Sunni Islam until the 20th century, when Salafism and Wahhabism rose in prominence.

The orders of Sufism fall within one of the four orthodox legal schools of Sunni Islam: Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maliki, and Hanbali. Adherents to these orders, however, consider themselves to be orthodox Sunni Muslims, as Sufism is not a sect of its own.

The more recent Salafi and Wahhabi strands of Sunni Islam do not accept the traditional stance on mystical experiences, however.

Sunnis hold to the six pillars of faith (iman), which are a belief in the Oneness of God, the angels, the divine revelations, the prophets, resurrection after death and the Day of Judgment, and preordainment.

Historically, the Hanbalite school of theology had been considered the more traditional form of Sunni Islam. In the late 20th and early 21st century, traditional Sunnism has been appropriated by the more conservative Salafism and Wahhabism.

The focus of this category and its subcategories is on the Muslim denomination known as Sunni Islam. Websites representing the denomination or any of its schools, traditions, of affiliated branches may be submitted to this category, or an appropriate subcategory.

Although many Sunni Muslims practice Sufism, since there are Sufis among the Shia as well, we have established a separate category for Sufi, at the same level as Shia and Sunni.

Websites representing local mosques of masjids should be submitted to the appropriate Local & Global category, however. This would be the one that corresponds to its geographical location.

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