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Understanding the branches of Islam: Sunni Islam

15-02-2016

All Muslims share certain fundamental beliefs and practices. Nonetheless, over time, leadership disputes within the Muslim community have resulted in the formation of different branches, leading to the development of distinct religious identities within Islam. Sunni Islam is by far the largest branch of Islam: its followers make up 87 to 90% of the global Muslim population. The name 'Sunni Islam' derives from the term ahl al-sunna wa-l-jama'a ('people of the prophetic tradition and the community ...

All Muslims share certain fundamental beliefs and practices. Nonetheless, over time, leadership disputes within the Muslim community have resulted in the formation of different branches, leading to the development of distinct religious identities within Islam. Sunni Islam is by far the largest branch of Islam: its followers make up 87 to 90% of the global Muslim population. The name 'Sunni Islam' derives from the term ahl al-sunna wa-l-jama'a ('people of the prophetic tradition and the community'). Sunni Islam claims to represent the Muslim consensus concerning the teachings and habits of the Prophet. It originated among those Muslims who, contrary to Shiites and Khawarij, denied that Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, had been chosen as Muhammad's only legitimate successor. In contrast to Shiite Islam, where disagreement over the legitimate leader led to further splits into several sub-branches, Sunni Islam avoided fundamental divisions, allowing, instead, for 'pluralism within a unitary system'. This briefing offers a short overview over the distinctive features of Sunni Islam, its main institutions and holy places and the main trends in Sunni Islam today. This paper may be read together with other EPRS publications entitled Understanding the branches of Islam (September 2015) and Understanding the branches of Islam: Shia Islam (January 2016), as well as Understanding Sharia (May 2015) and Relations between Islam and the State (June 2015).

Understanding the branches of Islam: Shia Islam

11-01-2016

Islam is based on a number of shared fundamental beliefs and practices. Nonetheless, over time leadership disputes within the Muslim community have resulted in the formation of different branches of the Islamic faith, which have ultimately resulted in the development of distinct religious identities within Islam. Despite many shared religious and cultural connections, these branches differ from each other in their interpretations of certain aspects of the faith, in their view on Islamic history, ...

Islam is based on a number of shared fundamental beliefs and practices. Nonetheless, over time leadership disputes within the Muslim community have resulted in the formation of different branches of the Islamic faith, which have ultimately resulted in the development of distinct religious identities within Islam. Despite many shared religious and cultural connections, these branches differ from each other in their interpretations of certain aspects of the faith, in their view on Islamic history, or their conceptions of leadership. Followers of Shia Islam – a minority in the world's total Muslim population – believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib and his descendants are the only legitimate successors to the Prophet Muhammad. This view, however, has not spared Shiite Muslims from disagreements over the leadership, which eventually led to the emergence of numerous communities. Understanding their origins and religious foundations – in particular in relation to the much larger Sunni branch – may prove essential for a better comprehension of developments in Syria, or regional rivalries between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Understanding the branches of Islam

23-09-2015

Islam is based on a number of shared fundamental beliefs and practices. Nonetheless, over time, leadership disputes within the Muslim community have resulted in the formation of different branches, leading to the development of distinct religious identities within Islam. A better understanding of commonalities and differences between these communities is particularly relevant today, when a large number of conflicts in the Muslim world are depicted in sectarian terms, either by reference to the ...

Islam is based on a number of shared fundamental beliefs and practices. Nonetheless, over time, leadership disputes within the Muslim community have resulted in the formation of different branches, leading to the development of distinct religious identities within Islam. A better understanding of commonalities and differences between these communities is particularly relevant today, when a large number of conflicts in the Muslim world are depicted in sectarian terms, either by reference to the 'Sunni-Shia divide' or the potential development of a 'Shiite crescent'. Regardless of the accuracy of such observations, it is clear that, since its inception, Islam has seen the emergence of a large number of different communities which are now spread around the globe. Despite the many religious and cultural connections they share, they differ from each other in their interpretations of aspects of the faith, views on Islamic history, and conceptions of leadership. This briefing offers a short introduction to some of these groups, including the estimated number and geographical distribution of adherents (if available); connections to and differences with other groups; and, in most cases, their distinctive views on leadership of the community. Attention devoted to the branches and subdivisions is not based on the respective community's size or perceived relevance; rather, the history and beliefs of some lesser-known communities were assumed to require explanation in more detail.

Understanding Sharia

18-05-2015

The Sharia – literally meaning 'path' – is the normative value system of Islam which guides the individual in their interaction with Allah (God) and society. Although the Sharia includes a number of clear precepts, it is not a set of deterministic rules and therefore requires interpretation. This is the subject of Islamic legal studies (fiqh). Recently, reference to the Sharia has become an important component of identity politics both within and outside the Muslim world. It is therefore necessary ...

The Sharia – literally meaning 'path' – is the normative value system of Islam which guides the individual in their interaction with Allah (God) and society. Although the Sharia includes a number of clear precepts, it is not a set of deterministic rules and therefore requires interpretation. This is the subject of Islamic legal studies (fiqh). Recently, reference to the Sharia has become an important component of identity politics both within and outside the Muslim world. It is therefore necessary to understand who interprets the Sharia and on what basis.

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