Sunni Islam

Religious or Ethnic Group

Sunni Islam

Sunni Islam is the largest denomination of Islam in terms of population. Followers of Sunni Islam are known as Sunnis or Sunnites.

The word Sunni comes from the Arabic term ahl-sunna wal-jama'a, meaning 'people of the practice (sunna) of the Prophet Mohammed and the community of believers'. Sunnis make up 85-90 per cent of Muslims worldwide.

Sunni Islam emphasises the primacy of the companions of Mohammed, those that saw and believed in him during his lifetime. Sunni Muslims believe that Mohammed did not directly appoint a successor, but that his father-in-law Abu Bakr, having led prayers during Mohammed's last days, was rightfully elected as his successor by the community, becoming the first Caliph of Islam. In contrast, Shia Muslims believe that Mohammed named his son-in-law and cousin Ali as his successor in a sermon at Ghadir al-Khumm, and that Ali's descendants are the rightful successors to the Caliphate.

Within Sunni Islam, different madhhabs, or schools, represent particular views on the interpretation of Islamic law and jurisprudence. There are four commonly recognised schools: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali. Each school was founded around an early jurisprudence based on the Qur'an and hadith.

In some countries, such as Egypt or Indonesia, almost all Muslims are Sunnis; in others, such as Lebanon, Iraq and Pakistan, there are both Sunni and Shia communities present, which has sometimes led to sectarian conflict.