In the last lesson we studied the origin of the Sunni – Shia split. In this lesson we will discuss the differences between the two major sects of Islam, plus the mystical tradition known as Sufiism.
I. The Sunni
A. The term sunni comes from the word sunnah, which literally means “the trodden path.”
1. Sunni see themselves as traditionalists, following in the footsteps of Muhammad. They believe other sects of Islam have introduced bida, departures from traditional Islam.
2. The majority of the world’s Muslims (85%) are Sunni, although there are many differences among Sunni.
B. Sources of authority.
1. In addition to the Quran, Sunni Muslims also look to the sunnah, stories of Muhammad’s life and teaching, recording in the hadith.
a) The reliability of these stories is based on the isnad, the “chain of transmission.”
b) Two collections most respected were compiled by Muhammad al-Bukhari (d. 870) and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (d. 875).
2. Sunnis also rely on ijma (the consensus, or agreement, of legal and religious scholars). Sunni Islam emphasizes the collective wisdom of the community.
3. Sunni Muslims have thus referred to themselves as ahl al-sunnah wa al-jamaah (people of the sunnah and the community).
C. Developments in Sunnism.
1. Sunni scholars developed a legal code based on the various sources of Muslim authority, called Shariah. There are four basic schools of Sunni law:
a) Shafii, southeast Asia.
b) Maliki, west Africa.
c) Hanafi, central Asia and Indian subcontinent.
d) Hanbali, ultra conservative as in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
2. Many Sunni scholars have argued that the Quran does not specify a particular form of government, and have argued for a separation of religious power and political power.
a. In 1744 an Arab Shaykh named Muhammad ibn Saud joined forces with a preacher named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and committed to purifying Islam from corruption, a movement later known as Wahhabism.
b. Other radical movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood (founded in Egypt in 1928) advocated violent opposition to European colonialism. Hamas is the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
II. The Shia
1. The Sunnis accepted leaders from the sahabah (companions) of the Prophet, the Shiah restrict it to the members of the ahl al-bayt (“the people of the house”, Muahammad’s family).
2. The Shia get their name from Shia Ali, the “party of Ali.”
3. Shia represent 15% of the world’s Muslims, and Iran is the largest Shiite country.
B. The lineage of Shiite leadership.
1. Instead of accepting the caliphate of the Rashidun as legitimate, Shiites believe Ali was the first legitimate leader, imam, followed by his sons, Hasan and Husayn. Sunnis use imam to refer to religious workers like a prayer leader, but Shia use it to specifically describe the lineage from Muhammad.
2. The 7th Imam was Ismail, who died relatively young. Some Shia, called Seveners, believe that Ismail did not die but went into occulation, or hiding, protected by God.
3. Other believed the twelfth imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who disappeared as a child in 874, was the Hidden Imam. They are called “Twelvers.”
4. Shiites believe the The Hidden Imam will return as the Mahdi (“divinely guided one”) and slay the antichrist with Jesus and establish a reign of justice.
C. Developments in Shiism.
1. The Shia developed their own collections of Hadith and interpretations of Shariah.
2. Typically, the Shia have been minorities, ruled by Sunni majorities, and see themselves as oppressed, awaiting liberation.
a. The Revolution in Iran (1979) swept into power the Ayatollah Khomeini, a cleric who declared rule by the ulama, the religious clerics.
b. Hizb Allah declared a jihad against the Western and Israeli presence in Lebanon in 1985.
III. The Sufis
A. The mystical movement in Islam.
1. The name “Sufi” is derived from the Arabic word suf (wool), in honor of the coarse woolen garments worn by the first Sufis, resembling the garb of Christian monks and mystics in other faiths.
2. Like other mystical movements in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, the Sufi path seeks to discipline the mind and body in order to experience directly the presence of God.
3. The most characteristic emphasis of the Sufi teachers is on the need to love God. One of their favorite passages is Surah 5:54: “He loves them, and they love Him.”
B. The development of Sufism.
1. Sufism began as a reform movement in response to the growing materialism and wealth of Muslim society that accompanied the expansion and growing power of the Islamic empire.
2. The Sufi schools are called “orders.”
3. Sufis can be Sunni or Shia, and see themselves as the invisible, life-giving force of the Muslim community.
4. Their tendency to adopt and adapt to local non-Islamic customs and practices in new places and their strong devotional and emotional practices helped them to become a popular mass movement and a threat to the more orthodox religious establishment.