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1 Sunni, form of Islam followed by the majority of Muslims (88%); the word is the most usual form of the name and may also be applied to an individual adherent of Sunni Islam. The other main tradition within Islam is that of Shiism (12%), which Sunnis have traditionally regarded as more or less heretical. The Sunnis are so called because they stress the importance of the Sunnah. In their understanding, the Sunnah, the model behaviour which the Muslim community should follow, consists of the words and deeds of the prophet Muhammad. Together with the Qur'an, the Sunnah is seen as the main source of Islamic law. In fact the Shiites also stress the importance of the Sunnah, although their concept of it includes also the words and deeds of the Shiite Imams. Since the importance of the Sunnah was established in Sunni Islam rather earlier than it was in Shiism it seems probable that the Sunnis had already began to refer to themselves as the people of the Sunnah in order to distinguish themselves from other groups of Muslims before the Shiites had fully developed their own legal theory. According to traditional Sunni theory, the idea already existed in Muhammad's own lifetime that one should consult and follow the Prophet when there was some doubt about a religious or legal matter. The admonitions in the Qur'an to obey Allah (God) and obey the Prophet are frequently cited in justification of this idea, as are those verses which refer to God's revelation of the Book (understood as the Qur'an) and the Wisdom (hikma; understood as a reference to the Sunnah). In the Prophet's lifetime, according to this theory, his companions took care to remember what the Prophet had said, done or tacitly approved, and after his death they handed on this information to the next generation which handed it to the next, and so on. The individual short reports in which the Prophet's words and deeds were transmitted are the hadiths. Each hadith is preceded by a chain (the isnad) of the names of those who have transmitted it in each generation, leading all the way back to the companion who reported it from the Prophet. For the traditional Sunnis these isnads guarantee the authenticity and verbal accuracy of the hadiths. For the first few generations the hadiths are believed to have been transmitted mainly orally rather than in writing.

2 It is believed, then, that when, in the generations following the death of the Prophet, a question arose regarding a matter of religion or law, the practice among the pious was to examine the Qur'an and the Sunnah (known from the hadiths) to find an answer. In this way, the authority of the Prophet would have continued to operate after his death. In the 3rd century of Islam (9th century AD) written collections of hadiths became more common. By this time so many hadiths were in circulation that some scholars thought it necessary to distinguish between those which were authentic and those which were possibly not. The criterion for this distinction was the isnad: if the chain of authorities went back all the way to the Prophet, if the people named in the chain were known to be honest, and if it was possible that each named transmitter had met the person to whom he had passed on the report, then the hadith could be accepted as sound or authentic. If the isnad failed any of these tests, then the report should be regarded with some suspicion. Eventually six collections of hadiths judged as authentic according to this criterion were widely accepted by Sunni Muslims as authoritative and as possessing a status higher than other collections. They are the collections made by al-bukhari, Muslim ibn Hajjaj, Ibn Maja, Abu Dawud, al-tirmidhi, and al-nasa'i. These are often referred to as the canonical collections and are generally accepted by Sunnis as next to the Qur'an in importance. Since the Sunnah of the Prophet which is believed to be recorded in these works is accepted as having been inspired by God, they are regarded as a form of divine revelation, and they are accordingly produced in especially beautiful manuscripts and printed editions and treated reverently. It took several centuries before they achieved that status, and some Muslim scholars have continued to rank the collection made by Ibn Maja somewhat below the others. The theory of the sources of Sunni law, which made it necessary to produce the hadith collections, had been elaborated around the end of the second century of Islam by Muhammad al-shafii. Before him Islamic legal scholars had not been so rigorous in their view of the sources from which the law may legitimately be derived, and many of them frequently had recourse to their own judgement (ra'y), which may or may not have been based on other sources, when faced with legal problems. It was probably because this was potentially divisive, leading to the possibility of different answers being given to the same problems, that al-shafii laid down the principle that, if there is a Qur'anic text or hadith which is relevant to a problem, it must be accepted as authoritative and no other source can

3 stand against it. It was the widespread acceptance of al-shafii's idea which really marked the emergence of the Sunni form of Islam. Apart from the Qur'an and the Sunnah, a third important theoretical source of Sunni law is the consensus of the Muslim community: ijmaa. If the community agrees on a practice or doctrine, even if there is no explicit justification for it in the Qur'an or a hadith, it is legitimate. The principle is, in fact, justified by reference to a hadith in which the Prophet is believed to have said that my community will never agree upon error. The importance and flexibility of this doctrine is obvious. Before and after al-shafii the scholars debated among themselves the precise nature, importance, and relationship to one another of the theoretical sources of the law. Although they came to accept the basic general principles elaborated by al-shafii, they continued to disagree on some important details. Eventually these disagreements led to the formation of a number of differents schools of thought ( mazhabs) among the Sunnis, of which four became important and have survived until the present day. Each takes its name from an important scholar of the 2nd or 3rd century of Islam (8th or 9th century AD): the Hanafis (from Abu Hanifa), the Malikis (from Malik ibn Anas), the Shafiis (from al-shafii), and the Hanbalis (from Ahmad ibn Hanbal). Other such schools had some importance at one time but eventually disappeared. At first these schools were in rivalry and competition with one another, but slowly they came to recognize each other as fully legitimate expressions of Sunni Islam. As a result of more or less chance historical developments, particular schools came to be dominant in particular regions of the Islamic world. The Malikis dominate in North and West Africa; the Shafiis in South East Asia and East Africa; the Hanafis in those regions which came under the rule of the Ottoman empire (Egypt, greater Syria, and Turkey) and in South Asia, and the Hanbalis in Saudi Arabia. A Muslim who follows one of these schools is discouraged from joining another unless he (or she) moves to a region where his own school is not represented. Some modernist reformers, however, have urged that the doctrines of different schools may be drawn upon and amalgamated if that leads to a desirable result. Sunni Islam itself became the dominant form of Islam as a result of historical developments. Its early centre was Iraq, which, from 750 onwards, was also the centre of the caliphate. At first, the caliphs regarded themselves as possessing authority in Islam, but they needed the support of those scholars who were elaborating the idea of the Sunnah. By the early 9th century the scholars had become confident enough to claim that religious

4 authority belonged to themselves, not to the caliphs. A struggle for power between the scholars and the caliphs ensued, centred around a theological doctrine which the caliphs wished to establish as orthodoxy but which the scholars opposed. This was the dispute known as the mihna, in which the caliphs tried to enforce the doctrine that the Qur'an had been created in time. The caliphs could not overcome the resistance of the scholars, and by about 850 the mihna was abandoned and the principle was established that religious authority in Sunni Islam was in the hands of the scholars. Although the caliphs continued to be recognized as the symbolic leaders of Sunni Islam, they did not again try to control the ideas or practices of the Muslims. Since most of the Muslim world was under the authority of the caliphs of Baghdâd, it followed that the Sunni form of Islam dominated while other forms were confined to remote areas, or to communities which had no political structure of their own. Since religious authority was dispersed locally among numerous scholars and other religious officials, Sunni Islam was able to survive the disintegration and collapse of the caliphate, and it has been the most essential element of continuity in Muslim countries which suffered from frequent changes of rulers and regimes. Shiite Muslims frequently make a pilgrimage to the 15th-century mosque at Mazâr-e-Sharîf in northern Afghanistan. The religious significance of the site derives from the belief that the tomb of Ali, fourth caliph of Islam, son-in-law of Muhammad, and the chief saint of Shiism, lies within the mosque. Support for Ali as the perpetuator of true Islam is the binding element of the Shiite faith.

5 Shi'ite or Shiah Member of a sect of Islam that believes that Ali was Muhammad's first true successor. The Shi'ites are doctrinally opposed to the Sunni Muslims. They developed their own law differing only in minor directions, such as inheritance and the status of women. In Shi'ism, the clergy are empowered to intervene between God and humans, whereas among the Sunni, the relationship with God is direct and the clergy serve as advisers. The Shi'ites are prominent in Iran, the Lebanon, and Indo-Pakistan, and are also found in Iraq and Bahrain. Ali (c ) 4th caliph of Islam. He was born in Mecca, the son of Abu Talib, and was the cousin and close friend and supporter of the prophet Muhammad, who gave him his daughter Fatima in marriage. He was one of the first to believe in Islam. On Muhammad's death 632, Ali had a claim to succeed him, but this was not conceded until 656, following the murder of the third caliph, Uthman. After a brief and stormy reign, Ali was assassinated. Controversy has raged around Ali's name between the Sunni Muslims and the Shi'ites, the former denying his right to the caliphate and the latter supporting it. Member of the larger of the two main sects of Islam, with about 680 million adherents. Sunni Muslims believe that the first three caliphs were all legitimate successors of the prophet Muhammad, and that guidance on belief and life should come from the Koran and the Hadith, and from the Shari'a, not from a human authority or spiritual leader. Imams in Sunni Islam are educated lay teachers of the faith and prayer leaders. The name derives from the Sunna, Arabic 'code of behaviour', the body of traditional law evolved from the teaching and acts of Muhammad.

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