Branches of Islam

1.  The Sunnis ("traditionalists")
  • 85% of Muslims are Sunnis
  • Sunnis consider themselves the guardians of Islamic orthodoxy and tradition as established by Muhammad and the four "rightly guided caliphs"
  • Sources of Religious and Legal authority are the Qur'an and hadith
  • Analogy (qiyas) and Consensus (ijma') used to resolve problems not explicitly mentioned in Qur'an and hadith -- also led to the important role pllayed by legal scholars in order to determine consensus and draw analogies
  • Sharia:  believe that both individual and communal life should be guided by the Sharia
  • Four Schools of Interpretation:
    1. Hanifite -- favors use of rational judgment in determining what is best for the common good  (most influential in Iraq, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia)
    2. Malikite -- turns first to consensus and then to analogy in order to determine right path (most influential in North Africa, Egypt and eastern Arabia)
    3. Shafi'ite -- accepts the authority of the Hadith and de-emphasizes the role of reason (most influential in Indonesia)
    4. Hanbalite -- reaction against the reliance on 'opinion' in other schools; maintains that the Qur'an  is the supreme authority and only the Hadith is accepted as also authoritative (dominant school in Saudi Arabia)
    2.  The Shi'ites ("partisans")
  • Shi'ites began as a political dispute over the leadership of Islam; considered Ali (cousin of Muhammad) as the first legitimate successor to Muhammad -- "Shia Ali"  (the party of Ali)
  • Shi'ites believe revelation ended with Muhammad and the Qur'an, however, also consider there to be a tradition of imams who were endowed with supernatural powers to interpret the Sharia; teachings of the imams are considered infallible
  • Shi'ites called "Seveners" because they believe that there was a series of seven imams that succeeded the martyrdom of Husayn (Ali's youngest son)
  • Shi'ites have traditionally believed in the existence of a Mahdi--a messiah figure who will one day appear and restore the purity of the faith
  • Month of Muharran, the martyrdom of Husayn is reenacted by Shi'ite Muslims
  • Shi'ites distrust the traditional Sunni reading and interpretation of the Qur'an.  (It is thought that b/c the current version does not mention Ali as Muhammad's successor, it must have been tampered with by his enemies.  The Qur'an, therefore, must have hidden meanings that can be known only through allegorical interpretations)
  • Ayatollah ("sign of Allah"): considered to be one so righteous and steeped in the true faith that he can make independent judgments that carry the authority of the imam.
  • Shi'ites are the ruling majority in modern Iran; influential minority in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, and Iraq.

  • 3.  The Sufis (mystics)

  • The word sufi means "woolen", and refers to the coarse wool garments worn by early Muslim mystics as a symbol of poverty and the rejection of worldly pleasures.
  • Sufis trace their origins back to the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur'an.
  • They teach that earlier Islam was more concerned with true spiritual matters as opposed to the more materialistic concerns of Islam once it had expanded into a world power
  • al-Hallaj:  proclaimed "I am the truth"; he was considered a heretic and executed in 922
  • al-Ghazali:  professor of theology that sought to synthesize the legalistic and mystical schools of Islam; prescribed Sufism as a remedy for spiritual ills, but still considered mystics to be bound by the ritual duties of the orthodox faith

  • 4. The Nation of Islam  ("Black Muslims")

  • Founded in Detroit in 1930 by Wallace Fard, who proclaimed a revelation for African Americans that their salvation would come through self-knowledge by which they would recover a sense of their own history
  • Elijah Muhammad was Fard's successor after Fard's mysterious disappearance in 1934
  • Elijah Muhammad taught that Fard was an incarnation of Allah; urged his fellow blacks to withdraw from white society and to create their own institutions
  • Traditional teachings include distrust of Western materialistic culture, the belief that humanity was originally black, and that the white race was created by a black scientist named Yakub who had rebelled against Allah, Christianity is considered a danger as the religion of Western culture.
  • Followers maintain strict lifestyle of prayer five times a day, no intoxicants or tobacco, pure diet, and no illicit sex.
  • Malxolm X and Elijah's son and successor, Wallace D. Muhammad, made attempts to bring the Nation of Islam more into line with traditional Islam  (e.g., "The World Community of al-Islam in the West")
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