Islam - Lesson 12

Shi'a, Sunni and Sufism

The split between the Sunni and Shi'a groups began when there was a disagreement over who should succeed Muhammad after he died. Sufi Islam is the mystical expression of Islam and could be compared to the monastic movement in Christianity.

Lesson 12
Watching Now
Shi'a, Sunni and Sufism

Historical Development

Part 2

III. The Four "Rightly Guided Caliphs" (part 2)

A. Muhammad’s Successor

B. Survey of Four “Rightly Guided” Caliphs and the Caliphate


C. Shi’a and Sunni Compared and Contrasted, Sufism

1. Shi'a (Ali’s party)

a. Believe that the Caliph should be a descendent of Ali.

b. Doctrine of Imamism, which looks to certain divinely appointed leaders who arise in the direct succession of Muhammad.

c. Emergence of a Mahdi figure in times of distress to restore the faithful and protect the Prophetic message.

d. Emphasis on human freedom.

e. Found in vast majority in Iran and Southern Iraq.

f. Added to the Shahadah: "There is no God, but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God, and Ali is the friend of God."

2. Sunni (Normative party)

a. Believe that the Caliph should be chosen in a rational way by the Council, regardless of his blood descent.

b. Believe the "Imam" is simply the leader of the Islamic assembly on Fridays (preacher).

c. Reject any notion of a final mahdi.

d. Emphasize Divine sovereignty - predestination.

e. Easily the majority world-wide, with 5 times the adherents of Shi`a.

f. Reject any changes or additions to the Shahadah.

3. Sufism

All Lessons
Class Resources
  • Islam is based on teachings in the Qur'an. Knowing the teachings of Islam helps us to understand the uniqueness of the teachings of Christianity and the perspective of Muslims.

  • Arabia in the 6th century was a land where traders and raiders lived. Mecca was a city in which many religions were practiced.

  • In his early life, Muhammad was influenced by Judaism, Christianity and the Hanifs.

  • As Muhammad began telling others about his revelations, he was forced to flee Mecca and went to Medina. After he consolidated his power and influence he returned to Mecca.

  • The text of the Qur'an was revealed directly to Muhammad.

  • The Qur'an has passages that teach about both practical and spiritual aspects of daily life. The world was created in six days and there will be a culmination of events at the end of the age.

  • The first two pillars of the Muslim faith are the confession of faith (Shahadah), and ritual prayer (Salat).

  • Almsgiving (Zakat) and fasting (Sawm) are the third and fourth pillars of the Islamic faith.

  • Pilgrimage (Hajj) is the fifth pillar of Islam.

  • Da'wah and jihad are two methods that the Qur'an describes for Muslims to approach infidels.

  • After Muhammad's death in 632 AD, he was succeeded by the four "rightly guided caliphs."

  • The split between the Sunni and Shi'a groups began when there was a disagreement over who should succeed Muhammad after he died. Sufi Islam is the mystical expression of Islam and could be compared to the monastic movement in Christianity.

  • Many Muslims consider the Hadith an important source of information for guidance in how to live their lives.

  • Sharia is Islamic religious law which regulates both public and private aspects of life.

  • Different groups within the Sunni and Shia traditions have various perspectives on how the teachings in the Qur'an and Hadith should be interpreted and applied.

  • Sufi Muslims are more contemplative, mystical, individualistic, syncretistic, and non-legalistic than someone who is an orthodox Muslim.

  • Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Two expressions of this in Nigeria are the Hausa and Tiv.

  • Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Two expressions of this in Nigeria are the Yoruba and Maguzawa.

  • The Qur'an contains a description of Jesus' life and ministry.

  • The description in the Qur'an of Jesus' death, resurrection and deity are different than that of the Bible.

  • Islam does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity.

  • Islam has clear teachings in cultural areas such as the significance of beards, acceptable types of clothing, behavior and acceptable clothing for females, and food and dietary restrictions.

  • In order to make it easier for Muslims to understand and accept the message of the gospel, Christians can approach them with the assumption that they probably misunderstand the Gospel, that the number one stumbling block for Muslims is Christianity, and that the most effective approach is Jesus plus nothing.

  • Comparison of teachings of Christianity and Islam.

This course is an introduction to the religion of Islam. There are 24 separate lectures totaling approximately 16 hours. These lectures were given at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

The purpose of this course is to provide an introductory study of the structure, beliefs and practices of Islam. Special emphasis will be placed on a study of the theology of the Koran. The student will read and study the entire Koran along with important selections from the Hadith, Shari`a material and Sufi writings. The actual historical manifestations of contemporary Islam will be explored with a special emphasis on Islam in the African context. Throughout the course there will be a concern to demonstrate how Islamic thought is different from Christian thought and how the gospel can be most effectively communicated to members of the Islamic faith, the second largest and fastest growing religion in the world today.

The class handouts that Dr. Tennent mentions in the lecture are not available. There is an outline for each lecture and when you login, you will see links on the class page for books that Dr. Tennent recommends for you to read along with this class.

<p>Course: <a href="https://www.biblicaltraining.org/introduction-islam/timothy-tennent&quot; target="_blank">Introduction to I slam</a></p>

<p>Lecture: <a href="https://www.biblicaltraining.org/lecture/27520&quot; target="_blank">Shi'a, Sunni and Sufism</a></p>



<h2>C. Shi’a and Sunni Compared and Contrasted, Sufism</h2>

<p>The split between the Sunni and Shi’a groups began when there was a disagreement over who should succeed Muhammed after he died. Sufi Islam is the mystical expression of Islam and could be compared to the monastic movement in Christianity.</p>

<p>To summarize the Shi’a and Sunni differences, I want to make a few brief comments here, though I think it will take us a lot more time to fully expound on<br>
some of these points because each of these develops in some ways, theological issues which we have yet to cover.</p>

<h3>Shi’a (Ali’s party)</h3>

<p>1. The belief that the caliph should be the descendent of Ali we have already discussed, as opposed to Sunni, who believe that the caliph should be chosen in a rational way by the council, regardless of his blood descent.</p>

<p>2.This is an issue we have not raised yet, the doctrine of Imamism, which looks to certain divinely appointed leaders to arise in direct succession to Muhammed. This is a doctrine within the Shi’a party that allows for certain leaders to arise as actually carrying the mantle of Muhammed’s prophethood. The Ismailis will say there are only seven of these figures. They are in division. There is a 12 version, that there are 12 of these figures in human history. There are all kinds of divisions within Shi’a about how many figures there are in this line. But the belief, the doctrine in Imamism is a very important doctrine in Shi’a.</p>

<p>Among Sunnis, they use the word “Imam” too. But rather than saying this is only seven people in the history of the world, or 12 divinely appointed people, they will refer to any Islamic leader of the assembly at Friday noon prayer as “Imam.” It is kind of like a general term. Therefore, you must be very, very careful when you use the word “imam” what context you are in, or if you are reading about it.</p>

<p>3. Thirdly, the emergence of the “Mahdi” figure in times of distress to protect the prophetic message. This is a very important doctrine in the Shi’a theology. It is less important to Sunnis. In fact, many Sunni reject any notion of a final Mahdi figure, a messianic figure at the end of time.</p>

<p>4. As a rule, the Shi’a tend to emphasize human freedom; whereas Sunni, divine sovereignty and predestination. The very thing we said last time that happens every year, has happened yet again. This year 35 people were trampled to death during the stoning of the devil. This of course plays into the Sunni doctrine of divine sovereignty and predestination because they believe that those 35 people would have died wherever they were in the world, at that instant they would have died. That is what the imam said at the grand opening of the mosque in Mecca. That is something you read about annually when this event occurs.</p>

<p>5. The Shi’a are found in vast majority only in Iran and Southern Iraq. The Sunni of course are the majority worldwide with five times the adherence of Shi’a. The Shi’a have added a phrase to the Shahadah: “There is no God but Allah. Muhammed is the prophet of Allah,” or God, “and Ali is the friend of God.” That is a sectarian addition to the Shahadah, which of course the Sunni find offensive and they reject any change or additions to the Shahadah. So that gives you a nice summary. We will be saying more about that as we develop the doctrine particularly of revelation. Particularly lecture 8 we will be spending a lot of time on the Hadith and you will see how the Sunni and Shi’a interpret it differently and also interject the role of the imam differently in their view of revelation. This will give you a kind of working feel for it.</p>

<p>6. Sunni (Normative party)</p>

<p>One other matter and then we will have the components in mind to move ahead in our discussion. We have now essentially and finally introduced the fact that there are two major divisions within the Islamic fabric, Sunni and Shi’a. What we are going to see is that the Sunni are further divided into various groups. Rather than denominations, the way we would maybe couch it, again because of the legalistic nature of Islam, are schools of law, interpretations of the Qur’an and the Hadith, etc. The Shi’a also have various groups into which they are divided within based on certain theological, mainly doctrines that are particular, mainly the imam doctrine. We will look at these later.</p>

<p>7. Sufism</p>

<p>We are seeing the divisions of Islam into these two groups. But there is a third factor that you need to have in your mind in order to get this picture complete, that is Sufism or the Sufi Muslims. It should not be pictured quite like this, that you have Sunni, you have Shi’a and you have Sufi as a third group. This is more like the charismatic movement or something. This is a spiritual, mystical movement that has invaded Shi’a and Sunni. This is a mystical movement that has come in and in some way dramatically changed how Sunni and Shi’a Muslims practice and believe in their particular doctrine.</p>

<p>When I was in Africa I asked many Muslims, “Are you Sunni or Shi’a?” They would say, “I belong to this particular tariqa. This is like a certain Sufi group which they call a “Sufi Brotherhood.” “I belong to the Sufi Brotherhood.” That was more important to them than this division. Though if you read in a textbook about Islam, all of the Muslims in Nigeria are classified, with only a few exceptions, as Sunni Muslims. In that sense, they are part of this huge statistic of 90% of Muslims are Sunni. But, in fact, many of them do not find the Sunni schools of law particularly helpful in their guidance. Even their interpretation of Shariah law, which you would think would be particularly guided by a school of law, is probably guided by the most liberal one, the large one we will look at. They have interpreted it with new, novel ideas; so you have Sufism which comes into it.</p>

<p>This gives you some general framework. We will be looking at the four schools of law, some sects of Shi’a and we will look at the Sufi movement as a whole, the whole Islam movement and how that has dramatically changed how Islam is practiced, especially in Indonesia, for example. You have a lot of even non-Muslim ideas, tribal religions, primal religions. This comes into Sufism and gets couched in some quasi Islamic language; but in fact, is quite different from traditional, and both of these seem quite orthodox when you compare to that.</p>

<p>My masters degree at Princeton on Islam was on this topic of Islam in Africa and I studied four different groups in Africa and how they actually practiced Islam. I went to these groups in Africa and I interviewed and I talked to them and I tried to do some study on, not what the textbook said they should believe, what they actually believed and practiced. I found that in fact they were guided dramatically by Sufi thought and that was more determinative in their minds than often traditional Sunni doctrine, which some of them were actually totally unaware of, even though they were Sunni Muslims. That is something that again, should be in your mind because as we develop the course, we will get more into some of the more divergent expressions of Islam as it actually plays out in the mission field.</p>