Sunni Islam
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Sunni Islam

The calligraphic representation of religious Sunni Islamic figures, such as Muhammad, Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman, Ali, Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali, along with Allah (God).

Sunni Islam is the largest denomination of Islam, followed by 85-90% of the world's Muslims. Its name comes from the word Sunnah, referring to the behaviour of Muhammad.[1] The differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims arose from a disagreement over the succession to Muhammad and subsequently acquired broader political significance, as well as theological and juridical dimensions.[2] According to Sunni traditions, Muhammad designated Abu Bakr as his successor (the first caliph).[3][2] This contrasts with the Shia view, which holds that Muhammad announced his son-in-law and cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor.[4] Political tensions between Sunnis and Shias continued with varying intensity throughout Islamic history and have been exacerbated in recent times by ethnic conflicts and the rise of Salafism and Wahhabism.[2][5][6]

The adherents of Sunni Islam are referred to in Arabic as ahl as-sunnah wa l-jamah ("the people of the Sunnah and the community") or ahl as-Sunnah for short. In English, its doctrines and practices are sometimes called Sunnism,[7] while adherents are known as Sunni Muslims, Sunnis, Sunnites and Ahlus Sunnah. Sunni Islam is sometimes referred to as "orthodox Islam",[8][9][10] though some scholars view this translation as inappropriate.[11]

The Quran, together with hadith (especially those collected in Kutub al-Sittah) and binding juristic consensus, form the basis of all traditional jurisprudence within Sunni Islam. Sharia rulings are derived from these basic sources, in conjunction with analogical reasoning, consideration of public welfare and juristic discretion, using the principles of jurisprudence developed by the traditional legal schools. In matters of creed, the Sunni tradition upholds the six pillars of im?n (faith) and comprises the Ash'ari and Maturidi schools of Kalam (theology) as well as the textualist school known as traditionalist theology.



The Arabic term Sunna, according to which Sunnis are named, is old and roots in pre-Islamic language. It was used for traditions which a majority of people followed.[12] The term got greater political significance after murder of ?Uthm?n ibn ?Aff?n. It is said M?lik al-Aschtar, a famous follower of ?Al? ibn Ab? T?lib, encouraged during the battle of Siffin with the expression, Ali's enemy Muwiya ibn Ab? Sufy?n kills the sunna. After the battle, it was agreed that "the righteous Sunnah, the unifying, not the divisive" ("as-sunna al-dila al-mi?a ?air al-mufarriqa") should be consulted to resolve the conflict. The time when the term sunna became the short form for "sunnah of the prophet" (sunnat an-nab?) is still unknown.[13] During the Umayyad Caliphate several political movements, among them the Shia and the Kharijites, who rebelled against the formation of the state led their battles in the name of "the book of God and the Sunna of his Prophet".[14] During the second Civil War (680-92) the Sunna-term received an anti-shia connotation. It is recorded by Masr?q ibn al-Adschda? (d. 683), who was a mufti in Kufa, that he regarded love towards the first two Caliphs Ab? Bakr and ?Umar ibn al-Chatt?b and acknowledge their priority (Fad?'il). A disciple of Masr?q, the scholar ash-Sha?b? (d. between 721 und 729), who first sided with the Shia in Kufa during Civil War, but turned away in disgust by their fanatism and finally decided to join the umayyadic Caliph ?Abd al-Malik, popularized the concept of sunnah.[15] It is also passed down by asch-Scha?b?, that he took offensive at the hatred on i?a bint Ab? Bakr and considered it a violation of the sunnah.[16]

The term Sunna instead of the longer expression ahl as-sunna or ahl as-sunna wa-l-?ama as a groupname for Sunnis is a relatively young phenomenon. It was probably Ibn Taymiyyah, who used the short-term for the first time.[17] It was later popularized by pan-Islamic thinkers such as Rashid Rida in his treatise as-Sunna wa-?-?i?a au al-Wahh?b?ya wa-r-R?fi?aaqiq d?n?ya ta?rya i?timaya i?laya ,,Sunna and Schia, oder Wahhabism and R?fiditsm: religious history, sociological und reformoriented facts") pusblished 1928/29.[18] The term "sunna" is usually used in Arabic discourse as designation for Sunnis, when they are intended to be contrasted with Shias. The word pair "Sunnah-Shia" is also used on Western research literature to denote the Sunni-Shia contrast.[19]

Ahl as-Sunna

One of the earliest supporting documents for ahl as-sunna derives from the basric scholar Muhammad Ibn Siri (d. 728). His is mentioned in the Sahih of Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj quoted with: "Formerly one did not aksed about the Isnad. But when the fitna started, one said: 'Name us your informants'. One would then respond to them: if they were Sunnah people, you accept their hadith. But if they are people of the Innovations, the hadith was rejected."[20] G.H.A. Juynboll assumed, the term fitna in this statement is not related to the first Civil War (665-661) after murder of ?Uthm?n ibn ?Aff?n, but the second Civil War (680-692)[21] in which the Islamic community was split into four parties (Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, the Umayyads, the Shia under al-Mukht?r ibn Ab? ?Ubaid and the Kharijites). The term ahl sunna designated in this situation whose, who stayed away from heretic teachings of the different warring parties.[22]

The term ahl as-sunna was always a laudatory designation. Abu Hanifa (d. 769), who sympathized with Murdshia, insisted that this were "righteous people and people of the Sunnah" (ahl al-?adl wa-ahl as-sunna).[23] Acccording to Josef van Ess this term did not mean more than "honorable and righteous believing people".[24] Among Hanafits the designation ahl as-sunna and ahl al-?adl (people of the righteous) remained interchangeable for a long time. Thus the Hanafite Ab? l-Q?sim as-Samarqand? (d. 953), who composed a catechism for the Samanides, used sometimes one expression and sometimes another for his own group.[25]

Singular to ahl as-sunna was ib sunna (adherent to the sunnah).[26] This expression was used for example by ?Abdall?h ibn al-Mub?rak (d. 797) for a person, who distances himself from the teachings of shia, kharijites, qadarites and murdajites.[27] In addition, the Nisba adjective sunn? was also used for the individual person. Thus it has been recorded, the Kufic scholar of the Quran Abu Bakr ibn'auyash (d. 809) was asked, how he was a "sunni". He responded the following: ,,The one who, when the heresies are mentioned, doesn't get excited about any of them."[28] The andalisian scholar ibn Hazm (d. 1064) taught later, that whose who confess to Islam can be divided into four groups: ahl as-sunna, Mutazilites, Murdschiiten, Schiiten und Charidschiten.[29] The Mu?tazilites replaced the Qadarites here.

In the 9th Century, one started to extent the term ahl as-sunna with further positive additions. Abu l-Hasan al-Ashari used for his own group expressions like ahl as-sunna wa-l-istiq?ma (,,people of Sunna and Straightness"), ahl as-sunna wa-l-?ad (,,people of Sunnah and of the Hadith")[30] or ahl al-?aqq wa-s-sunna[31] (,,people of truth and of the Sunnah").

Ahl as-Sunna wa-l-jama

When the expression 'ahl as-sunna wal-jama' appeared for the first time, is not entirely clear. Der Abbasite Caliph Al-Ma'm?n (reigned 813-33) criticized in his Miha-edict a group of people, who related themselves to the sunnah (nasab? anfusa-hum il? s-sunna) and claimed , they are the "people of truth, religion and community"(ahl al-?aqq wa-d-d?n wa-l-?ama).[32]Sunna and jama are already connected here. As a pair, these terms already appear in the 9th Century. It is recorded that the disciple of Ahmad ibn Hanbal Harb ibn Ismail as Sirjdshani (d. 893) created a writing with the title as-Sunna wa-l-?ama, to which the Mutazilite Abu l-Qasim al-Balchi wrote a refutation later.[33]Al-Jubba'i (d. 916) tells in his Kit?b al-Maq?l?t, that Ahmad ibn Hanbal attributed to his students the predicate sunn? jama (,,Jammatic Sunnite").[34] Dies deutet darauf hin, dass die Hanbaliten die Wendung ahl as-sunna wal-?ama als erste als Selbstbezeichnung verwendeten.[35]

But also the Karramiyya founded by Muhammad ibn Karram (d. 859) referred to the sunnah and community. They passed down for praise of their schoolfounder a hadith, according to which the prophet Muhammad predicted that at the end of times a man named Muhammad ibn Karram will appear, who will restore the sunna and the community (as-sunna wal-?ama) and take Hidraj from Chorasan to Jerusalem, just how Muhammad himself took a Hidraj from Mecca to Medina.[35] According to the testimony of the transoxanian scholar Abu l-Yusr al-Bazdawi (d. 1099) the Kullabites (followers of the Basrian scholar ibn Kullab (d. 855)) dayed about themselves, taht they are among the ahl as-sunna wal-jama too.[36]

Abu l-Hasan al-Ashari used the expression ahl as-sunna wal-jama rarely,[37] and preferred another combination. Later Asharites like al-Isfaranini (d. 1027) nad Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi (d. 1078) used the expression ahl as-sunna wal-jama too and used them in their works to designate the teachings of their own school.[38] According to al-Bazdawi all Asharites in his time said they belong to the ahl as-sunna wal-jama.[36] During this time, the term has been used as a self-designation by the hanafite Maturidites in Transoxiania, used frequently by Abu al-Layth al-Samarqandi (d. 983), Abu Schakur as Salimi (d. 1086) and al-Bazdawi himself.[25] They used the term as a contrast from their enemies[39] among them Hanafites in the West, who have been followers of the Mutazilites.[40] Al-Bazdaw? also contrasted the ahl as-sunna wal-jama' with ahl-al-?ad, "because they would adhere to teachings contrary to the Quran".[41]

According to Schams ad-D?n al-Maqdis? (end of the 10the Century) was the expression ahl as-sunna wal-jama a laudatory term during his time, similar to ahl al-?adl wa-t-taud (,,people of righteousness and Divine Unity"), which was used for Mutazilites or generally designations like Mu'min?n (,,Believer") oder ab al-hud? (,,people of guidance") for Muslims, who has been seen as rightoues believers.[42] Since the expression ahl as-sunna wa-l-jama was used with a demand on rightoues belief, it was used in academic researches translated as "orthodox".[43]

There are different opinnions regarding what the term jama in the phrase ahl as-sunna wal-jama actually means, among Muslim scholars. In the Sunni Creed by at-Tahawi (d. 933), the term jama contraasts several times the Arabic term furqa ("Division, sectarianism").[44][45] Thus at-Tah?w? explains that jama is considered as true or right (?aqq wa-?aw?b) and furqa as aberration and punishment (zai? wa-?ab).[46] Ibn Taymiyyah argues, that jama as opposite term to furqa inherents the meaning of i?tim ("Coming together, being together, agreement"). Furthermore he connects it with the principle of Ijma, a third juridical source after the Book (= Quran), and the Sunnah.[47] The Ottoman scholar Muslih ad Din al-Qastallani (d. 1495) held the opinnion that jama means ,,Path of the Sahaba" (?ar?qat a?-?aba).[48] The modern Indonesian theologican Nurcholish Madjid (d. 2005) interpreted jama as an inclusivistic concept: It means a society open for pluralism and dialogue and does not emphasize that much.[49]


The Kaaba mosque in Mecca is the largest and most important mosque in the world.

One common mistake is to assume that Sunni Islam represents a normative Islam that emerged during the period after Muhammad's death, and that Sufism and Shi'ism developed out of Sunni Islam.[50] This perception is partly due to the reliance on highly ideological sources that have been accepted as reliable historical works, and also because the vast majority of the population is Sunni. Both Sunnism and Shiaism are the end products of several centuries of competition between ideologies. Both sects used each other to further cement their own identities and doctrines.[51]

The first four caliphs are known among Sunnis as the R?shidun or "Rightly-Guided Ones". Sunni recognition includes the aforementioned Abu Bakr as the first, Umar as the second, Uthman as the third, and Ali as the fourth.[52] Sunnis recognised different rulers as the caliph, though they did not include anyone in the list of the rightly guided ones or R?shidun after the murder of Ali, until the caliphate was constitutionally abolished in Turkey on 3 March 1924.

Transition of caliphate into dynastic monarchy of Banu Umayya

The seeds of metamorphosis of caliphate into kingship were sown, as the second caliph Umar had feared, as early as the regime of the third caliph Uthman, who appointed many of his kinsmen from his clan Banu Umayya, including Marw?n and Walid bin Uqba on important government positions, becoming the main cause of turmoil resulting in his murder and the ensuing infighting during Ali's time and rebellion by Mu?wiya, another of Uthman's kinsman. This ultimately resulted in the establishment of firm dynastic rule of Banu Umayya after Husain, the younger son of Ali from F?tima, was killed at the Battle of Karbal?. The rise to power of Banu Umayya, the Meccan tribe of elites who had vehemently opposed Muhammad under the leadership of Abu Sufy?n, Mu?wiya's father, right up to the conquest of Mecca by Muhammad, as his successors with the accession of Uthman to caliphate, replaced the egalitarian society formed as a result of Muhammad's revolution to a society stratified between haves and have-nots as a result of nepotism, and in the words of El-Hibri through "the use of religious charity revenues (zak?t) to subsidise family interests, which Uthman justified as 'al-sila' (pious filial support)".[53][54][55] Ali, during his rather brief regime after Uthman maintained austere life style and tried hard to bring back the egalitarian system and supremacy of law over the ruler idealised in Muhammad's message, but faced continued opposition, and wars one after another by Aisha-Talhah-Zubair, by Mu?wiya and finally by the Kh?rjites. After he was murdered his followers immediately elected Hasan ibn Ali his elder son from F?tima to succeed him. Hasan, however, shortly afterwards signed a treaty with Mu?wiya relinquishing power in favour of the latter, with a condition inter alia, that one of the two who will outlive the other will be the caliph, and that this caliph will not appoint a successor but will leave the matter of selection of the caliph to the public. Subsequently, Hasan was poisoned to death and Muawiya enjoyed unchallenged power. Not honouring his treaty with Hasan he however nominated his son Yazid to succeed him. Upon Mu?wiya's death, Yazid asked Husain, the younger brother of Hasan, Ali's son and Muhammad's grandson, to give his allegiance to Yazid, which he plainly refused. His caravan was cordoned by Yazid's army at Karbal? and he was killed with all his male companions - total 72 people, in a day long battle after which Yazid established himself as a sovereign, though strong public uprising erupted after his death against his dynasty to avenge the massacre of Karbal?, but Banu Umayya were able to quickly suppress them all and ruled the Muslim world, till they were finally overthrown by Banu Abb?s.[56][57][58][59]

Caliphate and the dynastic monarchy of Banu Abb?s

The rule of and "caliphate" of Banu Umayya came to an end at the hands of Banu Abb?s a branch of Banu H?shim, the tribe of Muhammad, only to usher another dynastic monarchy styled as caliphate from 750 CE. This period is seen formative in Sunni Islam as the founders of the four schools viz, Abu Hanifa, Malik ibn Anas, Sh?fi'i and Ahmad bin Hanbal all practised during this time, so also did Jafar al S?diq who elaborated the doctrine of im?mate, the basis for the Shi'a religious thought. There was no clearly accepted formula for determining succession in the Abbasid caliphate. Two or three sons or other relatives of the dying caliph emerged as candidates to the throne, each supported by his own party of supporters. A trial of strength ensued and the most powerful party won and expected favours of the caliph they supported once he ascended the throne. The caliphate of this dynasty ended with the death of the Caliph al-Ma'mun in 833 CE, when the period of Turkish domination began.[60]

Sunni Islam in the contemporary era

Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque in Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia.

The fall, at the end of World War I of the Ottoman Empire, the biggest Sunni empire for six centuries, brought the caliphate to an end. This resulted in Sunni protests in far off places including the Khilafat Movement in India, which was later on upon gaining independence from Britain divided into Sunni dominated Pakistan and secular India. Pakistan, the most populous Sunni state at its birth, however later got partitioned into Pakistan and Bangladesh. The demise of Ottoman caliphate also resulted in the emergence of Saudi Arabia, a dynastic absolute monarchy with the support of the British and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism.[61][62][63][64] This was followed by a considerable rise in Wahhabism, Salafism and Jihadism under the influence of the preaching of Ibn Taymiyyah a self proclaimed advocate of the traditions of Ahmad ibn Hanbal. The expediencies of cold war resulted in encouragement of Afghan refugees in Pakistan to be radicalised, trained and armed to fight the communist regime backed by USSR forces in Afghanistan giving birth to Taliban. The Taliban wrestled power from the communists in Afghanistan and formed a government under the leadership of Mohammed Omar, who was addressed as the Emir of the faithful, an honorific way of addressing the caliph. The Taliban regime was recognised by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia till after 9/11, perpetrated by Osama bin Laden - a Saudi national by birth and harboured by the Taliban - took place, resulting in a war on terror launched against the Taliban.[65][66][67]

The sequence of events of the 20th century has led to resentment in some quarters of the Sunni community due to the loss of pre-eminence in several previously Sunni-dominated regions such as the Levant, Mesopotamia, the Balkans, the North Caucasus and the Indian sub continent.[68] The latest attempt by a section of Salafis to re-establish a Sunni caliphate was seen in the emergence of the militant group ISIL, whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is known among his followers as caliph and Amir-al-mu'amineen, "The Commander of the Faithful".[69] Jihadism is however being opposed from within the Muslim community (known as the Ummah in Arabic) in all quarters of the world as evidenced by turnout of almost 2% of the Muslim population in London protesting against ISIL.[70][71]

Following the puritan approach of Ibn Kathir, Muhammad Abduh and Muhammad Rashid Rida, many contemporary tafsir (exegetic treatises) downplay the earlier significance of Biblical material (Isr?'iliyy?t). Half of the Arab commentaries reject Isr?'iliyy?t in general, while Turkish tafsir usually partly allow referring to Biblical material. Nevertheless, most non-Arabic commentators regard them as useless or not applicable.[72] A direct reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be found. It remains unclear whether the refusal of Isr?'iliyy?t is motivated by political discourse or by traditionalist thought alone.[72] The usage of tafsir'ilmi is another notable characteristic of modern Sunni tafsir. Tafsir'ilmi stands for alleged scientific miracles found in the Qur'an. In short, the idea is that the Qur'an contains knowledge about subjects an author of the 7th century could not possibly have. Such interpretations are popular among many commentators. However, some scholars, such as the Commentators of Al-Azhar University, reject this approach, arguing the Qur'an is a text for religious guidance, not for science and scientific theories that may be disproved later; thus tafsir'ilmi might lead to interpreting Qur'anic passages as falsehoods.[73] Modern trends of Islamic interpretation are usually seen as adjusting to a modern audience and purifying Islam from alleged alterings, some of which are believed to be intentional corruptions brought into Islam to undermine and corrupt its message.[72]


Countries with more than 95% Muslim population.[74]

Sunnis believe the companions of Muhammad to be reliable transmitters of Islam, since God and Muhammad accepted their integrity. Medieval sources even prohibit cursing or vilifying them.[75] This belief is based upon prophetic traditions such as one narrated by Abdullah, son of Masud, in which Muhammad said: "The best of the people are my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them." Support for this view is also found in the Qur'an, according to Sunnis.[76] Therefore, narratives of companions are also reliably taken into account for knowledge of the Islamic faith. Sunnis also believe that the companions were true believers since it was the companions who were given the task of compiling the Qur'an.

Sunni Islam does not have a formal hierarchy. Leaders are informal, and gain influence through study to become a scholar of Islamic law (sharia) or Islamic theology (Kal?m). Both religious and political leadership are in principle open to all Muslims.[77] According to the Islamic Center of Columbia, South Carolina, anyone with the intelligence and the will can become an Islamic scholar. During Midday Mosque services on Fridays, the congregation will choose a well-educated person to lead the service, known as a Khateeb (one who speaks).[78]

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2010 and released January 2011[79] found that there are 1.62 billion Muslims around the world, and it is estimated over 85-90% are Sunni.[80]

The doctrine of the three groups

Regarding the question which dogmatic tendencies are to be assigned to Sunnism, there is no agreement among Muslim scholars. Since the early modern period, is the idea that a total of three groups belong to the Sunnis: 1. those named after Abu l-Hasan al-Asch?ari (d. 935) Ash?arites, 2. those named after Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 941) named Maturidites and 3. a differently named third group, which is traditionalistic-oriented and rejects the rational discourse of Kal?m advocated by the Maturidites and Ash?arites. The Syrian scholar ?Abd al-Baqi Ibn Faqih Fussa (d. 1661) calls this third traditionalist group the Hanbalites.[81] The late Ottoman thinker ?smail Hakk? ?zmirli (d. 1946), who agreed to dividing Sunnis into these three groups, called the traditionalist group Salafiyya, but also used Athariyya as an alternative term. For the Maturidiyya he gives Nasaf?ya as a possible alternative name.[82] Another used for the traditionalist-oriented group is "people of Hadith" (ahl al-?ad). It is used, for example, in the final document of the Grozny Conference. However, only those "people of the Hadith" are assigned to Sunnism who practice "tafw", i.e. who refrain from interpreting the ambiguous statements of the Quran.[83]


Founded by Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (873-935). This theological school of Aqeedah was embraced by many Muslim scholars and developed in parts of the Islamic world throughout history; al-Ghazali wrote on the creed discussing it and agreeing upon some of its principles.[84]

Ash'ari theology stresses divine revelation over human reason. Contrary to the Mu'tazilites, they say that ethics cannot be derived from human reason, but that God's commands, as revealed in the Quran and the Sunnah (the practices of Muhammad and his companions as recorded in the traditions, or hadith), are the sole source of all morality and ethics.

Regarding the nature of God and the divine attributes, the Ash'ari rejected the Mu'tazili position that all Quranic references to God as having real attributes were metaphorical. The Ash'aris insisted that these attributes were as they "best befit His Majesty". The Arabic language is a wide language in which one word can have 15 different meanings, so the Ash'aris endeavor to find the meaning that best befits God and is not contradicted by the Quran. Therefore, when God states in the Quran, "He who does not resemble any of His creation", this clearly means that God cannot be attributed with body parts because He created body parts. Ash'aris tend to stress divine omnipotence over human free will and they believe that the Quran is eternal and uncreated.


Founded by Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 944), the Maturidiyyah was the major tradition in Central Asia[85] based on Hanafi-law. It is more influenced by Persian interpretations of Islam and less on the traditions established within Arabian culture.[86] In contrast to the traditionalistic approach, Maturidism allows to reject hadiths based on reason alone.[87] Nevertheless, revelation remains important to inform humans about that is beyond their intellectual limits, such as the concept of an afterlife. Ethics on the other hand, do not need prophecy or revelation, but can be understood by reason alone. One of the tribes, the Seljuk Turks, migrated to Turkey, where later the Ottoman Empire was established.[88] 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 and Maliki schools within the empire followed the Ash'ari and Athari schools of thought. Thus, wherever can be found Hanafi followers, there can be found the Maturidi creed.[89][90]


Traditionalist theology is a movement of Islamic scholars who reject rationalistic Islamic theology (kalam) in favor of strict textualism in interpreting the Quran and sunnah.[91] The name derives from "tradition" in its technical sense as translation of the Arabic word hadith. It is also sometimes referred to as athari as by several other names.

Adherents of traditionalist theology believe that the zahir (literal, apparent) meaning of the Qur'an and the hadith have sole authority in matters of belief and law; and that the use of rational disputation is forbidden even if it verifies the truth.[92] They engage in a literal reading of the Qur'an, as opposed to one engaged in ta'wil (metaphorical interpretation). They do not attempt to conceptualize the meanings of the Qur'an rationally, and believe that their realities should be consigned to God alone (tafwid).[93] In essence, the text of the Qur'an and Hadith is accepted without asking "how" or "Bi-la kaifa".

Traditionalist theology emerged among scholars of hadith who eventually coalesced into a movement called ahl al-hadith under the leadership of Ahmad ibn Hanbal.[94] In matters of faith, they were pitted against Mu'tazilites and other theological currents, condemning many points of their doctrine as well as the rationalistic methods they used in defending them.[94] In the tenth century al-Ash'ari and al-Maturidi found a middle ground between Mu'tazilite rationalism and Hanbalite literalism, using the rationalistic methods championed by Mu'tazilites to defend most tenets of the traditionalist doctrine.[95][96] Although the mainly Hanbali scholars who rejected this synthesis were in the minority, their emotive, narrative-based approach to faith remained influential among the urban masses in some areas, particularly in Abbasid Baghdad.[97]

While Ash'arism and Maturidism are often called the Sunni "orthodoxy", traditionalist theology has thrived alongside it, laying rival claims to be the orthodox Sunni faith.[98] In the modern era it has had a disproportionate impact on Islamic theology, having been appropriated by Wahhabi and other traditionalist Salafi currents and spread well beyond the confines of the Hanbali school of law.[99]

Narrow definition

There were also Muslim scholars who wanted to limit the Sunni term to the Ash Aarites and M?tur?dites alone. For example, Murtad? az-Zab?d? (d. 1790) wrote in his commentary on al-Ghazalis "I?y ?ul?m ad-d?n": "When (sc. The term)" ahl as-sunna wal jama?a is used, the Ash?arites and M?tur?dites are meant.[48] This position was also taken over by the Egyptian Fatwa Office in July 2013.[100] In Ottoman times, many efforts were made to establish a good harmony between the teachings of the Ash?ar?ya and the M?tur?d?ya.[100] Finally, there were also scholars who regarded the Ash?arites alone as Sunnis. For example, the Moroccan Sufi Ahmad ibn ?Adschiba (d. 1809) stated in his commentary on Fatiha: "As far as the Sunnis are concerned, it is the Ash?arites and those who follow in their correct belief."[101]

Conversely, there were also scholars who excluded the Ash?arites from Sunnism. The Andalusian scholar Ibn Hazm (d. 1064) said that Abu l-Hasan al-Ash?ar? belonged to the Murji'a, namely those who were particularly far removed from the Sunnis in terms of faith.[102]

Sunnism in general and in a specific sense

The Hanbali scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328) distinguished in his work Minh?j as-sunna between Sunnis in the general sense (ahl as-unna al-mma) and Sunnis in the special sense (ahl as-sunna al-?a). Sunnis in the general sense are all Muslims who recognize the caliphate of the three caliphs (Ab? Bakr, ?Omar ibn al-Khattab and ?Uthm?n ibn ?Aff?n). In his opinion, this includes all Islamic groups except the Shiite Rafidites. Sunnis in the special sense are only the "people of the hadith" (ahl al-?ad).[103]

?smail Hakk? ?zmirli, who took over the distinction between a broader and narrower circle of Sunnis from Ibn Taimiya, said that Kullabiyya and the Ash?ar?yya are Sunnis in the general sense, while the Salafiyya represent Sunnis in the specific sense. About the Maturidiyya he only says that they are closer to the Salafiyya than the Ash?ariyya because they excel more in Fiqh than in Kal?m.[82] The Saudi scholar Muhammad Ibn al-?Uthaimin (d. 2001), who like Ibn Taimiya differentiated between Sunnis in general and special senses, also excluded the Asharites from the circle of Sunnis in the special sense and took the view that only the pious ancestors (as-salaf a?-li?) who have agreed on the Sunnah belonged to this circle.[104]

Classification of the Mu?tazila

The Mu?tazilites are usually not regarded as Sunnis. Ibn Hazm, for example, contrasted them with the Sunnis as a separate group in his heresiographic work al-Fa?l fi-l-milal wa-l-ahw wa-n-ni?al.[102] In many medieval texts from the Islamic East, the Ahl as-Sunna are also differentiated to the Mu?tazilites.[105] In 2010 the Jordanian fatwa office ruled out in a fatwa that the Mu?tazilites, like the Kharijites, represent a doctrine that is contrary to Sunnism.[106] Ibn Taimiyya, however, had a different opinion in this regard. He said that the Mu?tazilites belong to the Sunnis in the general sense because they recognize the caliphate of the first three caliphs.[107]


There is broad agreement that the Sufis are also part of Sunnism. This view can already be found in the Shafiite scholar Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi (d. 1037). In his heresiographical work al-Farq baina l-firaq he divided the Sunnis into eight different categories ( a?n?f ) of people: 1. the theologians and Kalam Scholars, 2. the Fiqh scholars, 3. the traditional and Hadith scholars, 4. the Adab and language scholars, 5. the Koran - Scholars, 6. the Sufi ascetics ( az-zuhh?d a?-f?ya ), 7. those who perform the ribat and jihad against the enemies of Islam, 8. the general crowd.[108] According to this classification, the Sufis are one of a total of eight groups within Sunnism, defined according to their religious specialization.

The Tunisian scholar Muhammad ibn al-Q?sim al-Bakk? (d. 1510) also included the Sufis in Sunnism. He divided the Sunnis into the following three groups according to their knowledge ( istiqr ):

  1. the people of Hadith ( ahl al-?ad ): Their principles are based on the hearing-based evidence, namely the Book, the Sunna and the Idjm.
  2. The people of theory and the intellectual trade ( ahl an-na?ar wa-?-?ina al-fikr?ya ): They include the Ash?arites and the Hanafis, the latter of whom consider Ab? Mans?r al-M?tur?d? as their master. They agree in the rational principles on all questions where there is no hearing-based evidence, in the hearing-based principles in everything that reason conceives as possible, and in the rational as well as the hearing-based principles in all other questions. They also agree on all dogmatic questions, except for the question of creation ( takw?n ) and the question of Taql?d.
  3. the people of feeling and revelation ( ahl al-wi?d?n wa-l-ka?f ): These are the Sufis. Its principles correspond in the initial stage to the principles of the other two groups, but in the final stage they rely on revelation (ka?f) and inspiration (ilh?m).[109]

Similarly, Murtad? az-Zab?d? stated elsewhere in his commentary on `` I?y ?ul?m ad-d?n that the Sunnis consisted of four groups (`` firaq ), namely the hadith scholars (`` mu?addin ), the Sufis, the Ash?arites and the M?tur?dites.[110]

However, there were also Muslim scholars who wanted to exclude the Sufis from Sunnism. The Yemeni scholar ?Abb?s ibn Mans?r as-Saksak? (d. 1284) explained in his doxographic work al-Burh?n f? ma?rifat ?aqid ahl al-ady?n ("The evidence of knowledge of the beliefs of followers of different religions") about the Sufis: "They associate themselves with the Sunnis, but they do not belong to them, because they contradict them in their beliefs, actions and teachings." That is what distinguishes the Sufis from Sunnis according to as-Saksak? their orientation to the hidden inner meaning of the Koran and Sunna. In this, in his opinion, they resemble the B?tinites.[111] According to the final document of the Grozny Conference, only those Sufis are to be regarded as Sunnis who are "people of pure Sufism" ( ahl at-ta?auwuf a?-f? ) in the knowledge, ethics and purification of the interior, according to Method as practiced by al-Junaid and the "Imams of Guidance" ( a?imma al-hud? ) who followed his path.[83]

In the eleventh-century, Sufism, which had previously been a less "codified" trend in Islamic piety, began to be "ordered and crystallized"[112] into orders which have continued until the present day.[112] All these orders were founded by a major Sunni Islamic saint, and some of the largest and most widespread included the Qadiriyya (after Abdul-Qadir Gilani [d. 1166]), the Rifa'iyya (after Ahmed al-Rifa'i [d. 1182]), the Chishtiyya (after Moinuddin Chishti [d. 1236]), the Shadiliyya (after Abul Hasan ash-Shadhili [d. 1258]), and the Naqshbandiyya (after Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari [d. 1389]).[112] Contrary to popular perception in the West,[113] however, neither the founders of these orders nor their followers ever considered themselves to be anything other than orthodox Sunni Muslims,[113] Many of the most eminent defenders of Islamic orthodoxy, such as Abdul-Qadir Gilani, Ghazali, and the Sultan ?al ad-D?n (Saladin) were connected with Sufism."[114]

The contemporary Salafi and Wahhabi strands of Sunnis, however, do not accept the traditional stance on mystical practices.[115]


Schools of law

The Great Mosque of Kairouan (also known as the Mosque of Uqba) in the city of Kairouan, Tunisia, was, particularly from the 9th--11th century, an important center of Islamic learning with an emphasis on the Maliki Madh'hab.[116]

There are many intellectual traditions within the field of Islamic law, often referred to as legal schools. These varied traditions reflect differing viewpoints on some laws and obligations within Islamic law. While one school may see a certain act as a religious obligation, another may see the same act as optional. These schools aren't regarded as sects; rather, they represent differing viewpoints on issues that are not considered the core of Islamic belief. Historians have differed regarding the exact delineation of the schools based on the underlying principles they follow.

Many traditional scholars saw Sunni Islam in two groups: Ahl al-Ra'i, or "people of reason", due to their emphasis on scholarly judgment and discourse; and Ahl al-Hadith, or "people of traditions", due to their emphasis on restricting juristic thought to only what is found in scripture.[117]Ibn Khaldun defined the Sunni schools as three: the Hanafi school representing reason, the hir?te school representing tradition, and a broader, middle school encompassing the Shafi'ite, Malikite and Hanbalite schools.[118][119]

During the Middle Ages, the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt delineated the acceptable Sunni schools as only Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali, excluding the hir? school.[120] The Ottoman Empire later reaffirmed the official status of four schools as a reaction to the Shiite character of their ideological and political archrival, the Persian Safavids,[121] though former Prime Minister of Sudan Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, as well as the Amman Message issued by King Abdullah II of Jordan, recognize the hir? and keep the number of Sunni schools at five.[122][123]

Differences in the schools

Interpreting Islamic law by deriving specific rulings - such as how to pray - is commonly known as Islamic jurisprudence. The schools of law all have their own particular tradition of interpreting this jurisprudence. As these schools represent clearly spelled out methodologies for interpreting Islamic law, there has been little change in the methodology with regard to each school. While conflict between the schools was often violent in the past,[121] the four Sunni schools recognize each other's validity and they have interacted in legal debate over the centuries.[124][125]

Pillars of iman

The doctrines of the Sunnis are recorded in various creeds, which summarize the most important points in the form of a list in the manner of a Catechism. The individual teaching points differ depending on the author's affiliation to a certain teaching tradition. The most important creeds that explicitly claim to represent the teachings of the Sunnis (ahl as-sunna wal-jama or similar) include:

  • the text traced back to Ahmad ibn Hanbal, in which he defined "the characteristics of the believer of the Sunnis" (sifat al-Mu'min min ahl as-Sunna wa-l-jama). The text is handed down in two works in the work ?abaq?t al-?an?bila of the Hanbali Qadi Ibn Abi Ya?la (d. 1131). The first version comes from a treatise on the Sunnah by Ahmad ibn Hanbal's disciple Muhammad ibn Habib al-Andarani, the second is based on Ahmad's disciple Muhammad ibn Yunus al-Sarachhi.[126]
  • the two creeds of Abu l-Hasan al-Ash?ar? in his works Maq?l?t al-isl?m?y?n [127] and Kit?b al-Ib?na ?an ul ad-diy?na .[31] The former is called the teaching of ahl al-?ad wa-s-sunna, the latter as the teachings of the ahl al-?aqq wa-s-sunna.
  • the confession of the Egyptian Hanafi at-Tah?w? (d. 933), also known under the title Bay?n as-sunna wa-l-?ama ("Presentation of Sunna and Community"). It has received frequent comments from the 13th century onwards.[128]
  • the "Qadiritic Creed" ( al-i?tiq?d al-Q?dir? ) mentioned in the world chronicle al-Munta?am by Ibn al-Jschauz? and referring to the Abbasid caliph al-Q?dir (d. 1031) is returned. The caliph al-Q?'im is supposed to read this text, which is shown at the end as the "Doctrine of the Sunnis" (qaul ahl as-sunna wal-jama), in the year 433 who read Hijra (= 1041/42 AD) in front of a meeting of ascetics and scholars in the caliph's palace.[129]
  • the creed al-Ghaz?l? (d. 1111) in his second book of his religious encyclopedia I?y ?ul?m ad-d?n. It is headed "The Sunni Creed in the Two Phrases of the Shah?da" (?Aq?dat ahl as-sunna f? kalimatai a?-?ah?da) and deals first with the doctrine of God and then the other doctrinal points.[130]
  • the confession al-?Aq?da al-W?siya by Ibn Taim?ya (1263-1328),[131] which later received importance especially among the Wahhabis and the Ahl-i Had?th. It was translated into French by Henri Laoust,[132] by Merlin Swartz into English[133] and by Clemens Wein into German[134]

Most of the mentioned branches testify to six principal articles of faith known as the six pillars of im?n (Arabic for "faith"),[135] which are believed to be essential. These are [136] These six articles are common that present-day Sunnis agree on, from those who adhere to traditional Sunnism to those who adhere to latter-day movements. Additionally, classical Sunni Islam also outlined numerous other cardinal doctrines from the eighth-century onwards, such as the Creed of Tah?wi. However, none of these creeds gained the importance attributed to the Nicene Creed in Christianity. Traditionally, these Sunni articles of faith have included the following:

  1. Belief in the Oneness of God
  2. Belief in the Angels of God
  3. Belief in Holy Books
  4. Belief in the Prophets of God
  5. Belief in Resurrection after Death and the Day of Judgment and
  6. Belief in Preordainment (Qadar)



At the center of the Sunni creed is Tawhid, the belief in the oneness of God. God is a single (fard) God, besides whom there is no other deity.[137] He is single (munfarid), has no partner (?ar?k), no opposite (nidd), no counterpart (mal) and no adversary (?idd).[138] He has neither taken a companion nor children,[137] neither conceived nor is he conceived.[129]

God created everything, the years and times, day and night, light and darkness, the heavens and the earth, all kinds of creatures that are on it, the land and the sea, and everything living, dead and solid. Before he created all of this, he was completely alone, with nothing with him.[129] In contrast to his creation, God has a timeless nature. He is beginningless (azal?) because he has existed for all eternity and nothing precedes him, and he is endless (abad?) because he continues to exist without interruption for all eternity. He is the first and the last, as it says in the Quran (Sura 57: 3).[139] God brought forth creation not because he needed it, but to demonstrate his power and as the implement his previous will and his primordial speech.[140] God is creator, but has no needs. He does not need food,[141] does not feel lonely and does not keep company with anyone.[129]


To absolve God of all anthropomorphism, the Qur'anic statements that "God sat on the throne" (istaw? ?al? l-?ar?; Surah 7:54; 20: 5) receive a lot of the Sunni creeds attention. The creed of al-Q?dir emphasizes that God did not set himself up on the throne (?ar?) "in the manner of the rest of the creatures" and that he created this throne, although he did not need it.[129] Al-Ghazali's knowledge of the faith states that the "sitting down" is free from contact (mum?ssa) with the throne. It is not the throne that carries God, but the throne and its bearers are carried through the grace of his power.[142] According to al-Ash?ari, the Sunnis confess that God is on his throne, but without asking how.[143] Even if God does not need the throne and what is below, because he spatially occupies everything, including what is above him, the throne and stool ( kurs? ) are a reality.[144]

His names and attributes

The Sunnis confess that the names of God cannot be said to be anything other than God, as Mu?tazilites and Kharijites claim.[145] Rather, they teach that there are correlating attributes ( ?if?t ) which exist in each of the names of God mentioned in the Quran: God is alive through life ( ?ay?h ), knowing through knowledge (?ilm), mighty through power (?qudra), wanting through will (ir?da), hearing through hearing (sam?), seeing through sight (ba?ar) and speaking through Speech (kal?m).[146] The attributes are not identical to God, nor are they anything different from him.[147] Only those attributes are ascribed to God which he ascribed to himself (in the Quran) or which his prophet ascribed to him. And every attribute that he or his prophet has ascribed to him is a real attribute, not an attribute figuratively.[148]

Angels and other spirits

Muhammed accompanied by the archangels Gabriel, Michael, Israfil und Azrael. Turkish Siyer-i-Nebi-work, 1595

Furthermore Sunnis believe in angels[137] God hid the angels from the vision of humans, thus they can usually not see them. Just in some special occusations God unveils them for individual humans. Like when the archangel Gabrel appeared to the prophet Muhammad one time in his true form with 600 wings, filling the entire horizon and another time when he was among the circles of the Sahaba, in the form of a white clothed traveller.[149]

Angels fullfill duties assigned by God. The angel Gabriel has the mission to transmit God's revealations to choosen Prophets. The angel Michael is assigned over rain and plants. The angel Israfil must blow into the trumpet during thunder and the day of resurrection.[150] Furthermore to the angels belong the recording angels, who supervise humans and the angel of deathm, who takes the souls (lit. spirits) of the inhabitants of the world.[151]

Unlike the Mutazilites and the Jahmites,[152] the Sunnis believe that Satan whispers doubts to humans and hits them, as the Quran states.[153] But humans, jinn, angels and devils are all created by the power of God and bound to his will. Even when humans, jinn, angels and devils allign to move or stop one atom, they would not succeed without God's will.[154]

The books of God, the Quran

The Sunnis further believe in the books of God, sent to the envoys of God.[155][137] To them belong the Quran, the Torah, the Gospel and the Psalms[146]

The Quran is according to Sunni views the speech of God. Who listens to it and regards it as human speech is according to Sunni Creed by at-Tah?w? an infidel.[156] The Quran as the speech of God is sent down by the ,,trustworthy Spirit" (ar-r al-am?n; surah 26:193) and taught by Muhammad.[155] God sent him down as inspiration (wahy) on his Messenger.[156] The path of God's speech to the community of Muslims is a multi-stage process: God pronounced it, the angel Gabriel heard it and Mohammed repeated it, Mohammed repeated it to his companions, and the Ummah repeated them.[148]

As the speech of God, the Quran is according to Sunnism uncreated. The techings of the creation of the Quran is rejected by Sunnis.[155] Anyone who takes this teaching is an regarded as an unbeliever.[157] The Quran is recited witht he tongue, written into books and memorized by the heart, but remains the uncreated speech of God, because it is individable and can not be split by the transmition from heart to paper.[146] At-Tah?w? specifies that the Quran is not created like human speech. Rather, it came from God in an unexplained way as a word ( qaul ).[156] Ibn Taim?ya explains that the Koran originated from God and will return (sc. At the end of times) too.[158]


Prophets and their messages

Confessing to the Prophets of God is also part of the Sunni faith.[137] The first of the prophets is Adam.[159] The original contract ( mq ) that God concluded with him and his descendants according to sura 7:172-3 is a reality according to Sunni belief.[160] God has taken Abraham as a friend ( ?al?l ) and talked to Moses directly.[161] The last of the prophets is Mohammed from the tribe of the Quraish.[162] The Sunnis do not differentiate between the messengers of God, (By rejecting some of them), but consider everything they have brought to be true.[163]

God called the prophets and presented their truthfulness through obvious miracles. The prophets conveyed God's command and prohibition, his promise and threat, and it is incumbent on people to believe what they have brought to be true.[162] God has given people the act of obedience ( a ) and opposition ( maiya ) forbidden.[164] God's right to the acts of obedience is not only an obligation for people through the intellect ( bi-mu?arrad al-?aql ), but also through it for making it a duty through the oral transmission of his prophets.[162]

Significance of Muhammad

Muhammed from the tribe of the Quraish is not only the seal of the prophets (tam al-anbiy),[156] rather, God placed him above all other prophets and made him Lord of men (saiyid al-ba?ar).[162] He is God's chosen servant (?abd), Messenger, the Imam of the godly ( im?m al-atqiy ) and the beloved of the Lord of the Worlds (?ab?b rabb al-lam?n). He is sent with truth (?aqq), guidance (hud?) and light (n?r). God has him with his message to Arabs and Non-Arabs as well as sent to the general public of the jinn and humans and with his Sharia, the earlier religious laws abrogated, except that which he has confirmed.[162] Part of the Sunnis path is to follow the traditions (r) of Muhammad internally and externally. They prefer his guidance to the guidance of anyone else.[165]

Muhammad's prophethood is proven by miracles (muiz?t) such as the splitting of the moon. The most obvious miracle, however, is the Quran with its inimitability.[166] Every claim to prophethood after him is an error or imagination, since Muhammad is the last prophet.[156] Another important point of teaching is the belief in Muhammad's Ascension (mi?r).[153] Accordingly the Prophet went on a nocturnal journey during which his person was transported to heaven while awake and from there to heights, "which God has chosen". God gave him what he had chosen for him and gave him his revelation. God has also blessed him in his life beyond and in this world.[156]


In the grave

According to Sunni doctrine, people are questioned in their graves by Munkar and Nakir after death.[151] Munkar and Nak?r are two terrifying, huge figures who let the person sit upright in his grave with mind and body and then tell him about the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad. They ask him: "Who is your master? What is your religion? Who is your prophet?" They are the two inspectors of the grave and the their questioning is the first test ( fitna ) of humans after death.[162] The believer will answer to this test: "God is my Lord, Islam is my religion and Mohammed is my prophet." The doubter, on the other hand, will answer: "Oh dear, I don't know. I heard people say something, and that's how I said it." He is then hit with an iron club so that he utters a loud scream that can be heard by everyone except people and jinn. If people heard him, they would lose consciousness.[167] Children are also interviewed by Munkar and Nak?r as well as people who have disappeared, drowned or were eaten by predatory animals.[168] Deceased Muslims receive the supplication said for them, and the Sadaqa spoken in their name are a favor for them.[153]

Sign of the hour

Another point of belief are the "signs of the hour" (a?r as-sa) that precede the day of resurrection. This includes the emergence of the Dajjal, the rising of the sun in the west, the emergence of the Dabba from the earth[169] and the excerpt from Gog and Magog. Jesus, the son of Mary, will descend from heaven[170] and kill the Dajjal.[171]

Day of resurrection

On Day of the Resurrection the resurrection ( ba ) and the retribution of the deeds take place.[172] First the bodies of all people, animals and jinn are put back together and revived.[173] The souls are brought back into the body, the people rise from their graves, barefoot, naked and uncircumcised. The sun is approaching them and they are sweating.[174]

A scales are set up to weigh people's deeds. The scales have two scales and one tongue and are as big as several layers of heaven and earth. The weights will have the weight of atoms and mustard seeds in order to realize the accuracy of God's righteousness. The leaves with good deeds (?asan?t) are thrown in a beautiful shape into the scales of light and weigh down the scales by the grace (fa?l) of God, the leaves with bad deeds ( saiyit ) are thrown into the scales of darkness in an ugly form and reduce the weight of the scales through the justice (?adl) of God.[175]

The vision of God in the hereafter

The teachings of the Sunnis also include the vision of God (ru?yat All?h) in the hereafter, which has similarities with the visio beatifica in the Christian tradition.[176] With this teaching the Sunnis set themselves apart from the Mu?tazilites, the Zaidiyyah and the philosophers who consider the vision of God intellectually impossible.[177]

There are, however, differing views among Sunni scholars about the timing and type of the divine vision. Al-Ashari states that God is seen on the day of resurrection, whereby only the believers see him, the unbelievers not because they are kept away from God.[178] At-Tah?w?, on the other hand, was of the opinion that the vision of God was a reality for the inmates of Paradise.[179] Ibn Taim?ya doubles the vision of God: people see God while they are still in the places of the resurrection, and then after entering paradise.[180]

As for the way of seeing God, al-Ash Aari and Ibn Taimiyah emphasized its visual characteristics. Al-Ashari meant that God can be seen with the eyes, just as one sees the moon on the night of the full moon.[178] Ibn Taim?ya adds that the vision of God is as one sees the sun on a cloudless day.[180] In the ?Aq?da at-Tah?w?s, however, the transcendence of God is emphasized: the vision can neither be understood nor described, because none of the creatures are like God.[181] According to al-Ghaz?l?'s creed the pious in the hereafter see the essence of God without substance and accidents.[146] According to the creed of an-Nasaf?, God is seen neither in one place nor in any direction or distance. There is also no connection to rays.[182]

Release of the monotheists from hell and intercession

According to the Ibn Taim?ya's creed, the Umma of Muhammad is the first religious community to enter Paradise,[183] Other religious communities also have the opportunity to get to paradise, because God leads whole peoples through the grace of his mercy (aqw?m) out of hellfire.[184]Ahmad ibn Hanbal and al-Ghaz?l? declare in their creeds that the monotheist en (al-muwaid?n) after being punished.[185] Al-Ghaz?l? adds that through the grace (fa?l) of God no monotheist remains in hell for all eternity.[186]

According to at-Tah?w?'s creed, however, this only applies to the serious sinners from Muhammad's Ummah: They are in hell, but not forever if they were monotheists at the time of death. What happens to them lies within God: if he wants, he forgives them through his grace (fa?l), and if he wants, he punishes them in his justice (?adl) and then brings them through His mercy (ra?ma) and through the intercession of those who obey him out of hell and make them enter the Paradise Garden.[187]

The intercession (?afa) of the Messenger of God and its effect on those of his ummah who have committed serious sins is a fixed teaching point of the Sunni faith.[188] The Prophet reserved the intercession especially for them.[189] According to al-Ghaz?l?, the Sunni believer has a total of the intercession of the prophets, then the scholars, then the martyrs, then to believe the other believers in accordance with their dignity and their rank in God. Those of the believers who have no advocate will be brought out of hell by the grace of God.[186]

The predestination

According to Sunni doctrine, everything that happens happens through God's decission (qad) and predestination (Qadar) or his determination (taqd?r).[190] Predestination includes the predestination of good and bad, sweet and bitter.[163] God has that The measured (qadar) of creatures and determined their time of time.[191] He makes his creatures sick and heals them, lets them die and makes them alive, while the creatures themselves have no power over it.[129] God lets die without fear and brings to life without exertion.[192] The one who dies dies on the appointed date, even if he is killed.[153]

God has written the things predestined for the creatures on the well-kept tablet (al-lau? al-ma?f). The pen she wrote is the first thing God created. God commanded him to write down what will be until the day of resurrection. The pen has already dried out and the scrolls are rolled up.[193] Everything that was written on it in ancient times is immutable.[194]

God is righteous in his judgments (aq?iya), but his righteousness cannot be decided by analogy with the righteousness of people, because unjust actions for people are only conceivable with regard to someone else's property, but God does not encounter someone else's property anywhere so that he could behave unfairly towards him.[195] The principle of predestination is God's mystery with regard to his creatures. No Archangel and no prophet is informed of this. Reflecting on predestination leads to destruction and is a step towards rebellion against God because He has hidden the knowledge about it from people.[196]

The Blessed and the Damned

It is made easy for everyone for what they were created for. Blessed are whose who are saved by God's judgment (qa All?h), condemned are whose who are condemned by the judgment of God.[197] God created paradise and hell above all else; then he created the people who are worthy of them. He has designated some out of generosity (fa?lan) for paradise, the others out of justice (?adlan) for hell.[198] God has always known the number of those who go to paradise and the number of those who go to hell. This number is neither increased nor decreased.[197] When God creates the body of the embryo, he sends an angel to him who writes down his livelihood (rizq), the hour he dies, his deeds and whether he is a damned (?aq?) or a blessed (sad).[199]

The Sunni believer does not doubt his belief.[200] However, humans neither know how they are registered by God (whether as believers or unbelievers), nor how it ends with them.[201] God is also the converter of hearts (muqallib al-qul?b).[202] Therefore it is recommanded to say: "A believer, if God is willing]]" or "I hope that I am a Believer". Such a way of expression does not make people into doubters, because by that, they only mean that their otherworldly fate and their end are hidden from them.[201] The Sunnis do not speak to any of the people who pray to the Kaaba, to paradise or hell,[203] because of a good deed or a sin he has committed.[204]

Sunni view of hadith

The Quran as it exists today in book form was compiled by Muhammad's companions (Sahabah) within a handful of months of his death, and is accepted by all sects of Islam.[205] However, there were many matters of belief and daily life that were not directly prescribed in the Quran, but were actions that were observed by Muhammad and the early Muslim community. Later generations sought out oral traditions regarding the early history of Islam, and the practices of Muhammad and his first followers, and wrote them down so that they might be preserved. These recorded oral traditions are called hadith.[206] Muslim scholars have through the ages sifted through the hadith and evaluated the chain of narrations of each tradition, scrutinizing the trustworthiness of the narrators and judging the strength of each hadith accordingly.[207]

Kutub al-Sittah

Kutub al-Sittah are six books containing collections of hadiths. Sunni Muslims accept the hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim as the most authentic (sahih), and while accepting all hadiths verified as authentic, grant a slightly lesser status to the collections of other recorders. There are, however, four other collections of hadith that are also held in particular reverence by Sunni Muslims, making a total of six:

There are also other collections of hadith which also contain many authentic hadith and are frequently used by scholars and specialists. Examples of these collections include:

Sunni State institutions

TRT Diyanet kurumsal logo

One of the most important teaching institutions of Sunni Islam worldwide is the Azhar in Egypt. Article 32b, paragraph 7 of the Egyptian Azhar Law of 1961 stipulates that the Azhar "follows the path of the Sunnis" (manha? ahl as-sunna wa-l-jama), Umma has agreed to the foundations of the religion and applications of fiqh, with its four disciplines. Only those who stick to the paths of their science and behavior can become a "Member of the Council of Great Scholars" (hai?at kib?r al-?ulam), among whom the Grand Imam of al-Azhar is elected.[208] Zitouna University in Tunisia and University of al-Qarawiyyin in Morocco are recognized. They are also mentioned, along with the Azhar, in the final document of the Sunni Conference in Grozny.[209]

Another body that claims to speak on behalf of Sunnism is the Council of Senior Religious Scholars founded in Saudi Arabia in 1971. In the past, the committee has expressed several times on fatwas about the Sunni-membership of certain Islamic groups within. In 1986 it published a fatwa excluding the Ahb?sh community from Sunnism.[210] The Islamic World League in Mecca, also funded by Saudi Arabia, made a resolution from 1987 that it regards Sunnism as the pure teachings at the time of the Messenger and the rightful existence of the Caliphate is and the Islamic community must together.[211]

The Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet leri Ba?kanl), follows the religious policy of the Ottoman Empire, providing a Sunni interpretation of Islam.[212] Plans by the Committee of National Unity in the 1960s to convert the Diyanet authority into a non-denominational institution that also integrated the Alevis, failed because of resistance from conservative Sunni clergy inside and outside the Diyanet authority.[213] Since the 1990s, the Diyanet authority has presented itself as an institution that stands above the denominations (mezhepler üstü)[212] However, the religious education organized by the authority at the Turkish schools is based exclusively on the Sunni understanding of Islam.[214]

Self-image of the Sunnis

As the "saved sect"

A well-known Hadith, which is to be interpreted as Vaticinium ex eventu, says that the Muslim Umma will split into 73 sects, only one of which will be saved.[215] The Sunnis have the idea that they are this "saved sect" ("firqa n? niya"). For example, Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi (d. 1037) explains at the beginning of his heresiographical work al-Farq baina l-firaq ("The difference between the sects" ) that there are 20 Rafiditic, 20 Kharijite, 20 Qadaritic, 3 Murjiite, 3 Nadj?ritic, 3 karramitic and furthermore Bakriyya, Dirariyyya and Jahm?ya. These are the 72 erring sects. The 73rd sect that is the "saved sect" are the Sunnis (ahl as-sunna wa-l-jama?a). According to al-Baghdadi, they are composed of two groups, namely the followers of the Ra'y and the followers of the hadith. However, they both agreed in the fundamentals of religion (ul ad-d?n). There were only differences in the derivations (fur) from the norms regarding the question of what permitted and what forbidden is. However, these differences are not so great that they consider each other to have strayed from the right path.[216]

As center of Muslims

Later Sunni scholars also present the Sunnis as the center of Muslim community. The idea already appears to some extent in the Ash?arite ?Abd al-Q?hir al-Baghd?d?, who emphasizes on several dogmatic questions that the Sunnis hold a position that lies in the middle between the positions of the other Islamic groups.[217] An example is the question of predestination (Qadar), in which, according to the Kasb theory, you hold exactly the middle between the two extreme positions of the Jabriyya and the Qadariyya.

The Hanbali scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328), who was otherwise known for his uncompromising attitude, also adhered to this view. He said that the Sunnis represented "the middle among the sects of the Umma" ( al-wasa? f? firaq al-umma ), just as the Islamic Umma is the middle between the other religious communities. He illustrates this with the following examples:

  • When it comes to the attributes of God, the Sunnis stand in the middle between the Jahmiyya, who completely drains God of attributes, and the Muschabbiha, who make God similar to creation,
  • in the works of God they stand in the middle between the Qadariyya and the Jabriyya,
  • on the question of the threat from God (wa?id Allah) they stand in the middle between the Murdschi'a and the Wadiyya, a subgroup of the Qadariyya,
  • When it comes to the question of faith and religion, they stand in the middle between Haruiyya (= Kharijites) and Mu?tazila on the one hand and Murji'a and Jahmiyya on the other,
  • and with regard to the Companions of the Prophets they are in the middle between Rafidites and Kharijites.[218]

The Hanafi scholar ?Al? al-Q?r? (d. 1606) continued this idea later. In his anti-Shiite pamphlet ?amm al-alaw?ri? f? ?amm ar-raw?fi? he quotes a tradition according to which ?Al? ibn Ab? T?lib said: "Two kinds of people perish on me: the exaggerated lover and the exaggerated hater." He notes that the exaggerated lover is the Rafidites and the exaggerated hater is the Kharijit. The Sunni, on the other hand, loves ?Al? in high esteem and is thus in the balanced middle ( al-wasa? alla huwa al-qis? ). This relates al-Qari to the Qur'anic sura 2: 143, in which it is said that God made the Muslims a community standing in the middle ( umma wasa? ). Since the Sunnis stay away from the exaggeration described in the traditional ?Al? saying, al-Q?r? believes that they are also the actual "Party of ?Al?s" ( at ?Al? ).[219]

As the essential bearers of Islamic science and culture

?Abd al-Q?hir al-Baghd?d? portrays the Sunnis in his work al-Farq baina l-firaq as the actual bearers of Islamic science and culture. Of all the sciences, knowledge and efforts of which Muslims are proud, al-Baghd?d? explains that the Sunnis have amajor share.[220] In the last chapter of his book, al-Baghdadi also relates this to building activity in Islamic countries. He believes that the Sunnis with their mosques, madrasas, palaces, factories and hospitals have achieved an unattainable position because none of the non-Sunnis have performed such services.[221]

Rivalry between Ash?ar?ya and Salaf?ya and the 2016 Sunni conferences

Ahmed el-Tayeb, Great-Imam of Azhar, was one of the most important participants of the Sunni-conference in Grosny, distanced himself however from the declaration

Since the second half of the 20th century, there have been fierce clashes within the Sunni camps between Ash?arites on the one hand and Salafis/Wahhabis on the other, who exclude each other from Sunnism. In Indonesia, the Ash?arite scholar Sirajuddin Abbas (d. 1980) wrote several books in the 1960s in which he explicitly excluded the Ahl as-salaf from Sunnism. Among other things, he argued that there was no Salafi madhhab in the first 300 years of Islam. From this he deduced that those who called other Muslims to obey the Salafi madhhab, were promoting a madhhab which did not even exist.[222] In his view, only the Ash?arites were real Sunnis. Abbas' books served as the theological basis for anti-Salafist campaigns in Aceh in 2014.[223] During these campaigns, various Salafist schools in Aceh were closed by the provincial government.[224]

Apparently because of doubts about the Salaf?ya affiliation with Sunniism, the "Standing Committee on Scientific Investigation and Fatwa Issuing" in Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa stating that they consider the Salafis as Sunnis.[225] Like many Ash?arites, the Salafis believe that their teachings are the only true form of Sunnism. That is why they reject the Asharites and Maturidites as part of Sunnism.[226] An example is the Saudi scholar Muhammad Ibn al-?Uthaim?n, who in his 2001 published commentary on Aq?da W?siya by Ibn Taimiyya expressed the opinion that Ash Aarites and M?tur?dites would not count among the Sunnis, because their doctrine of attributes would be in contrast to the doctrine of the Prophet and his companions. For this reason, the view that three groups belong to Sunnism should also be rejected. Sunnis are only those who are salaf in terms of belief.[227]

The accusation by some Wahhabis that the Ash?arites were not Sunnis was subject of a fatwa by the "Egyptian Fatwa Office" in July 2013. In its fatwa, the office rejected this accusation, affirming that the Ash?arites still represented the "multitude of scholars" (jumh?r al-?ulam), and stressed out that it they were the ones who in the past rejected the arguments of the Atheists (?ubuh?t al-malida). Anyone who declares them to be unbelieving or who doubts their orthodoxy should fear for their religion.[228] On the same day, the fatwa office made clear in a fatwa that, according to their understanding, the Ahl as-Sunna wa-l-jama only refer to those Muslims who are Ash?arites or Maturidites.[100]

The rivalry between Ash?ar?yya and Salafiyya became visible again at the two Sunni conferences in 2016, which were directed against the terror of the IS organization. The first conference with the title "Who are the Ahl al-Sunna wa al-jama?" Took place in the Chechen capital Grozny in August 2016 under the patronage of Ramzan Kadyrov. Numerous religious figures from Egypt, India, Syria, Yemen and the Russian Federation took part, including Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam the Azhar, and Sheikh Aboobacker Ahmed, the Grand Mufti of India who is a member of the Barelvi movement. According to its organizers, the conference should "mark a blessed turning point in efforts to correct the serious and dangerous distortion of religion by those extremists trying to usurp the venerable name of Ahl al-Sunna wa-al-Jama, him to coin exclusively on itself and to exclude its true representatives from it."[209] In the final declaration the takfir operating Salafis and the IS organization were excluded from Sunni Islam. In response to this, various prominent Salafiyya figures held a counter-conference in Kuwait in November 2016 under the title "The Correct Meaning of Sunnism" (al-Mafh?m a?-?a li-ahl as-sunna wa-l-jama), in which they also distanced themselves from extremist groups, but at the same time insisted that Salafism was not only part of Sunnism, but represented Sunnism itself. The conference was chaired by Ahmad ibn Murabit, Grand Mufti of Mauritania.[229][230] A few days later, Ahmed el-Tayeb publicly distanced himself from the final declaration of the Grozny conference, reiterating that he had not participated in it and stressed that he naturally viewed the Salafists as Sunnis.[231]

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Further reading

  • Ahmed, Khaled. Sectarian war: Pakistan's Sunni-Shia violence and its links to the Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2011).
  • Charles River Editors. The History of the Sunni and Shia Split: Understanding the Divisions within Islam (2010) 44pp excerpt; brief introduction.
  • Farooqi, Mudassir, Sarwar Mehmood Azhar, and Rubeena Tashfeen. "Jihadist Organizations History and Analysis." Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies 43.1/2 (2018): 142-151. online
  • Gesink, Indira Falk. Islamic reform and conservatism: Al-Azhar and the evolution of modern Sunni Islam (Tauris Academic Studies, 2010)
  • Haddad, Fanar. Understanding 'Sectarianism': Sunni-Shi'a Relations in the Modern Arab World (Oxford UP, 2020).
  • Haddad, Fanar. "Anti-Sunnism and anti-Shiism: Minorities, majorities and the question of equivalence." Mediterranean Politics (2020): 1-7 online.
  • Halverson, Jeffry. Theology and creed in Sunni Islam: the Muslim Brotherhood, Ash'arism, and political Sunnism (Springer, 2010).
  • Hazleton, Lesley. After the prophet: the epic story of the Shia-Sunni split in Islam (Anchor, 2010).
  • Kamolnick, Paul. The Al-Qaeda Organization and the Islamic State Organization: History, Doctrine, Modus, Operandi, and US Policy to Degrade and Defeat Terrorism Conducted in the Name of Sunni Islam (Strategic Studies Institute, United States Army War College, 2017) online.
  • Khaddour, Kheder. Localism, War, and the Fragmentation of Sunni Islam in Syria (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace., 2019) online.
  • McHugo, John. A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi'is (2018) excerpt
  • Nuruzzaman, Mohammed. "Conflicts in Sunni Political Islam and Their Implications." Strategic Analysis 41.3 (2017): 285-296 online.
  • Nydell, Margaret K. Understanding Arabs: A guide for modern times (3rd ed. Hachette UK, 2018).
  • Patler, Nicholas (2017). From Mecca to Selma: Malcolm X, Islam, and the Journey Into the American Civil Rights Movement. The Islamic Monthly.
  • Tezcan, Baki. "The Disenchantment of Sufism, the Rationalization of Sunni Islam, and Early Modernity." Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association 7.1 (2020): 67-69 online.
  • Wheeler, Branon. Applying the Canon in Islam: The Authorization and Maintenance of Interpretive Reasoning in ?anaf? Scholarship, SUNY Press, 1996.
  • "Sunnites" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.

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