Religious terms

Sunni: Also known as ‘ahl as-sunnah wa al-jama’a‘ (people of the tradition of Mohammed and the consensus of the ummah). The word Sunni derives from the sunnah, referring to a collection of sayings and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed collected from his followers after his death in a work called the hadeeth (sayings). Along with the Quran, the sunnah is the guiding scripture of the majority of Muslims. Sunnis form the large majority of the Muslim world.

Sunni belief began with those Muslims who favored an elite consensus on the topic of succession to the prophet Mohammed as leader of the Muslims. This differed from those who favored direct descent from the prophet as designating leadership. The latter became known as the Shi’a.

Shi’a: or Shi’at ‘Ali (partisans of ‘Ali) comprise a minority of Muslims worldwide (around 10-15%). Their divergence from the Sunni orthodoxy comes primarily from the disagreement over the Sucession to the Prophet Mohammed. Some believed that ‘Ali , Mohammed’s closest male relative (son in law) should have become the first Caliph, establishing rule passed down via descent from the prophets bloodline. Thus Shi’a do not openly accept the legitimacy of the first three Caliphs.

Shi’a are found in major concentrations in Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain.

Salafism, Salafists and Salafi are terms used to describe followers of the austere form of Islam which desires a return to the practices and society of the time of the prophet Mohammed and his contemporaries (known as the Salaf or ancestors/for-bearers). Building on works by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyya, Egyptian scholar Mohammed Abduh revived some interpretations of Salafism in the 19th century.  Followers (salaffiyeen) idealise the period following the death of the prophet Mohammed, the period of the salaf (literally bygone, predecessors, forefathers).

They see the decline of Islam as due to unrestricted religious innovation. They see a return to the practices of those times as being essential to the revival of global Islamic power, hence the insistence on a pan-Islamic caliphate. The Quran, Hadeeth and approved Islamic scholarship (i.e one of the four schools of jurisprudence) as being sufficient to guide society. Hence their often literal interpretation of these works.

Wahhabi ideology is derived from the 18th century Saudi religious scholar Mohammed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab. It is a specific tribal version of Salafism derived from the Najd region of Saudi Arabia. Ibn abd al-Wahhab formed an alliance with the al-Saud family of the eastern Arabian Peninsula, and his authority and religious militia were crucial in helping them conquer all of modern day Saudi Arabia. Modern Saudi religious and social ideology is derived from Wahhabism.

The four main schools of Sunni Jurisprudence: These schools represent human understandings of Sharia (divine law), interpreted by religious scholars. They are named after the scholars who established them. They are Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali.

The main schools of Shi’a Jurisprudence: These schools reflect larger differences within Shi’ism than the different schools of Sunni Jurisprudence. Ja’afari, Islmaili, Zaydi and Ibadi all refer to different historical figures whose views about Shi’ism were divergent enough to spawn their own separate followings.

 

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