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Sunni (denominations of Islam)

Map of predominantly Sunni or Shi'a regions in...

Map of predominantly Sunni or Shi’a regions in the world (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sunni represent a major denomination of Islam, along with the Shi’ite (or Shia). The Sunni branch is comprised of about 85-90% of contemporary Muslims and is often taken as the orthodox form of this religion.

The Shi’ite branch, mostly in Iran, Persia and partly in Iraq, represent about 10-15% of today’s Muslims.¹

Historically speaking, the Shi’ites and Sunnis split over a disagreement about the legitimacy of Mohammad’s successors (Caliphs)—not entirely unlike the Protestant refusal to recognize the authority of the Catholic Papacy.

¹ I was never a huge fan of demographics and religion, preferring the experiential and doctrinal aspects of faith. So rather than rewrite what Wikipedia presents so well, I’ll simply copy and paste:

The demographic breakdown between the two denominations is difficult to assess and varies by source, but a good approximation is that 85-90% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni[1] and 10-15% are Shia,[2][3] with most Shias belonging to the Twelver tradition and the rest divided between many other groups.[2] Sunnis are a majority in most Muslim communities: in Southeast Asia, China, South Asia, Africa, and most of the Arab world. Shia make up the majority of the citizen population in Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain, as well as being a politically significant minority in Lebanon. Azerbaijan is predominantly Shia; however, practicing adherents are much fewer.[4] Indonesia has the largest number of Sunni Muslims, while Iran has the largest number of Shia Muslims (Twelver) in the world. Pakistan has the second-largest Sunni as well as the second-largest Shia Muslim (Twelver) population in the world. »

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Sufi Festival: Haseeb ANSAR

Sufi Festival: Haseeb ANSAR via Flickr

The term sufi (Arabic: mystic) is likely based on the root suf (wool), recalling the simple woolen garments worn by ascetics. Sufism is often seen as an unorthodox type of Islamic mysticism.

Some might idealize Sufis as itinerant holy men wandering through remote deserts, in actual fact Sufism became an organized movement around the 7th and 8th centuries. Their organization was mostly a reaction to the Middle-Eastern Umayyad dynasty, known for its worldliness.

The well-known Dervish orders arose in India around the 12th and 13th centuries. These emphasized ecstatic states and remained influential until recently.

The prominent Sufi Al-Hallaj (CE 858-922) advocated a mystical union of the individual soul with God. Like many who threaten the worldly minded, he was branded a heretic, imprisoned and later executed.

The essence of Sufism might best be expressed by the 13th-century and still popular poet Jala ud-Din Rumi. Rumi’s verse can be found in New Age bookstores and his message prefigures Joseph Campbell‘s dictum of follow your bliss.

Related Posts » Islam, Prayer, Sikhism


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Islam (Photo credit: rogiro)

The religion of Islam contains 5 pillars of fundamental belief and practice. Zakat (see below) is mentioned in the Koran and in Hadith literature. The practice was initiated by the prophet of Islam, Mohammed.

  1. Ash-Shahada – the belief in only one God.
  2. Salat – daily prayer, with body facing Mecca, taking place at sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nighttime.
  3. Sawm – fasting that is obligatory at puberty and also during the 9th month of the Islamic year (Ramadan), believed to be the period when the Koran was written. Eating and drinking is prohibited from dawn to sunset during Ramadan.
  4. Zakat –  giving alms to the less fortunate, the amount being 2.5% of one’s total income.
  5. Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Moslems are obliged to take at least once in a lifetime. Hajj ideally is taken on the eighth day of the twelfth month of the Islamic year.

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Ash-Shahada – In Islam, most Muslims see this is as the first of the 5 Pillars of fundamental belief and practice.

From Wikipedia:

The Five Pillars of Islam (arkān al-Islām أركان الإسلام; also arkān al-dīn أركان الدين “pillars of the religion“) are five basic acts in Islam, considered mandatory by believers and are the foundation of Muslim life. They are summarized in the famous hadith of Gabriel.[1][2][3][4]

They make up Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self purification and the pilgrimage. They are:

  1. Shahadah: declaring there is no god except God, and Muhammad is God’s Messenger
  2. Salat: ritual prayer five times a day
  3. Sawm: fasting and self-control during the blessed month of Ramadan
  4. Zakat: giving 2.5% of one’s savings to the poor and needy
  5. Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime[5][6] if he/she is able to do[7]

The Shia and Sunni both agree on the essential details for the performance and practice of these acts,[8][9] but the Shia do not refer to them by the same name (see Ancillaries of the Faith, for the Twelvers, and Seven pillars of Ismailism).

The word Shahada has other meanings. From Wikipedia:

The word shahādah (شَهادة) is a noun stemming from the verb shahida (شَهِدَ), meaning “he observed, witnessed, or testified”; when used in legal terms, shahādah is a testimony to the occurrence of events, such as debt, adultery, or divorce.[2] The shahādah can also be expressed in the dual form shahādatān (شَهادَتانْ, lit. “two testimonials”), which refers to the dual act of observing or seeing and then the declaration of the observation. The person giving the testimony is called a shāhid (شاهِد), with the stress on the first syllable. The two acts in Islam are observing or perceiving that there is no god but God and testifying or witnessing that Muhammad is the messenger of God. In a third meaning, shahādah or more commonly istishhād (إسْتِشْهادْ), means “martyrdom”, the shahīd (شَهيد) pronounced with stress on the last syllable (“martyr”) demonstrating the ultimate expression of faith.[3] Shahīd can also be used in a non-Islamic religious context. Long before the advent of Islam, Christian Arabs of the Middle East used the word shahīd referencing to someone that was wrongly killed or someone that died for his family, his Christian faith or his country. The two words shāhid (شاهِد, “witness”) and shahīd (شَهيد, “martyr”) are pre-Islamic. Both are paradigms of the root verb (شَهَدَ, shahada, “he observed”).

This declaration, or statement of faith, is called the kalimah (كَلِمة, lit. “word”). Recitation of the shahādah, the “oath” or “testimony”, is the most important article of faith for Muslims. Non-Muslims wishing to convert to Islam do so by a public recitation of this creed.[4] Most Muslims count it as the first of the Five Pillars of Islam, while the Twelver and Ismaili Shi’a connect it to their respective lists of pillars of the faith.[5] The complete shahādah cannot be found in the Quran, but comes from hadiths.[6]



Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque by Mandana Fard via Flickr

Allah is the Arabic word for God.

After a revelation given to the prophet Mohammed on Mount Hira, the name Allah referred to a single God. Previously the Arabic term Allah designated a supreme God among other gods.

Wikipedia suggests:¹

The name was previously used by pagan Meccans as a reference to a creator deity, possibly the supreme deity in pre-Islamic Arabia.[12][13] The concepts associated with the term Allah (as a deity) differ among religious traditions. In pre-Islamic Arabia amongst pagan Arabs, Allah was not considered the sole divinity, having associates and companions, sons and daughters–a concept that was deleted under the process of Islamization. In Islam, the name Allah is the supreme and all-comprehensive divine name, and all other divine names are believed to refer back to Allah.[14] Allah is unique, the only Deity, creator of the universe and omnipotent.[5][6]

Muslims believe that Mohammed is the greatest among many prophets to have walked the earth. As a prophet, Muslims believe that Mohammed is not equal to God, but is Allah’s great messenger. Muslims also believe that the word Allah is not the same as the ninety-nine beautiful names of God mentioned in the Koran.² On this point ABU ABDILLAH comments:

the word ALLAH is a word or name of God that encompasses all the ninety-nine other names that he the beneficent has. all the names of god are unique ans signify his majestic being and existence and all of these attributes belong to one “ALLAH”³

Arabic Christians use the term Allah to refer to ‘God, the Father’ (Allah al-ab).


² See

³ From this entry’s comments.

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Baul playing “air guitar” in W. Bengal by earthpages via Flickr

The Bauls are the wandering devotional minstrels of West Bengal, India. They belong to a longstanding bardic tradition that poetically glorifies God while rebuking worldly hypocrisy. Many practice left hand tantra. And living off alms, they are the peace, love and freedom “hippies” of West Bengal.

Today their timeless songs may be heard on trains and at public fairs called melas. The Bauls’ poetry had a tremendous influence on the Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, the outstanding Bengali figure who founded the open air, asram-style Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan.

But perhaps most important about the Bauls, they manage to accept people from both Islam (Sufism) and Hinduism (Vaishnavas) in a country where the tension between these two religious groups is usually so thick you could cut with a knife.



Portugal Fatima

Portugal Fatima by Fr Antunes via Flickr

  1.  Fatimah is the daughter of Mohammed who, among certain Shi’ite Muslim groups, has become an object of veneration, arguably with some similarities to the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) in Catholicism.
  2. In Portugal Fatima is a town with a shrine of the BVM where it’s believed that Mary appeared to three young children in 1917, a claim apparently supported by countless miracle stories.

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