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Sunni are the mainstream Muslim religious sect. They are also referred to as Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jamāh (Arabic: أهل السنة والجماعة) (people of the example (of Muhammad) and the community) which implies that they are the majority, or Ahl as-Sunnah (Arabic: أهل السنة ) for short. The word Sunni comes from the word Sunnah (Arabic : سنة ), which means the words and actions or example of Muhammad. They represent the branch of Islam that accepted the caliphate of Abu-Bakr and his successors, all chosen by the Shurah council.

Sunni accept four schools (madhab) of fiqh (jurisprudence) 

The Hanafi, or Hanafite school was founded by Abu Hanifa (d. 767). His school is considered to have more reason and logic than the other schools. Muslims of Pakistan, India and Turkey follow this school.

The Maliki, or Malikite school was Malik ibn Abbas(d. 795) preached in Mecca, where he supposedly knew one of the last surviving companions of the Prophet, though this is improbable considering when he lived. His doctrine is recorded in the Muwatta. That has been adopted by most Muslims of Africa except in Lower Egypt, Zanzibar and South Africa. The Maliki legal school dominates in nearly all of Africa, except Egypt, the 'Horn' area and the East Coast countries.

The Shafi'i School or Shafi'ites was founded by Al-Shafi'i (d. 820). He was considered a moderate. He taught in Iraq and later in Egypt. Muslims in Indonesia, Lower Egypt, Malaysia, and Yemen follow this school. He emphasized  the Sunnah of the Prophet, as embodied in the Hadith, as a source of the Sha'aria jurisprudence.

The Hanbali or Hanbalites were founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855). Hanbal lived in Baghdad and wasa student of al-Shafi'i. Despite persecution, he persisted in claiming that the Quran (Koran) was uncreated. This school of law is followed primarily in the Arabian Peninsula.

Hanbali are the most conservative school, rejecting innovation and exegesis and preferring the Sunnah and Quran in all cases of judgment. The Wahhabi of Saudi Arabia follow Hanbali law.

Synonyms and alternate spellings: Shi'a or Shi'ite, Shiite

Further Information: See History of Islam and the Arabs

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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