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Sunni, Shia, and Sufi Islam

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Muhammad's successors were call caliphs. From the beginning, there was disagreement about what characteristics would qualify someone to be a caliph. The four "Rightly Guided Caliphs" were in power in successive years from 632 to 661. The two major divisions in Islam are the Shia and Sunni Muslims. One of the major differences between these two movements was over how the successors to Muhammad would be determined. A third movement in Islam is known as Sufi.


Sunni, Shia, and Sufi Islam


I. Historical Development

A. Historical Re-cap to 632 - Key Historical Events

1. 570 A.D. - Birth

2. 610 A.D. - Night of Power and Excellence

3. 622 A.D. - Hegira

4. 630 A.D. - Triumphant Return to Mecca

5. 632 A.D. - Death

B. The Four "Rightly Guided Caliphs"

1. Muhammad's Successors

2. Survey of Four "Rightly Guided Caliphs" and the Caliphate

a. Abu Bakr (632-634)

b. Umar ibn al-khattab (634-644)

c. Uthman ibn Affan (644-656)

d. Ali (657-661)


II. Differences Between the Groups

A. Shia

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

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

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

4. Emphasis on human freedom.

5. Found in vast majority in Iran and S. Iraq.

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

B. Sunni (Normative party)

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

2. Believe the "imam" is simply the leader of the Islamic assembly on Fridays (preacher).

3. Reject any notion of a final mahdi.

4. Emphasize Divine sovereignty - predestination.

5. Easily the majority world-wide, with five times the adherents of Shi'a.

6. Reject any changes or additions to the Shahadah.

C. Sufi


III. Schools of Law in Sunni and Shia Islam

A. Sunni Tradition

1. Hanifi

2. Shafites

3. Malakites

4. Hanbalites

B. Shi'a Tradition

1. Imamites

2. Ismailis

3. Zaydis

4. Alawites


IV. Sufism

A. Contemplative and Mystical

B. Non-legalistic

C. Individualistic

D. Syncretistic

E. Esotericisms in Qur'an and Hadith

F. Role of the Pir


For more on Sunni, Shia, and Sufi Islam, go to "Introduction to Islam" in the Leadership Education section of this site:

Lecture #7 - Historical Development, Part 1 and Part 2

Lecture #10 - Schools of Law

Lecture #11 - Sufism and Sufi Orders

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