SUNNITES, literally, “those of the path,” sunna, i.e. followers of the Prophet's directions, the name of one of the two main divisions of Islam, the other being the Shī‘ites (q.v.). The Sunnites, who accept the orthodox tradition (Sunna) as well as the Koran as a source of theologico-juristic doctrines, predominate in Arabia, the Turkish Empire, the north of Africa, Turkestan, Afghanistanand the Mahommedan parts of India and the east of Asia; the Shī‘ites have their main seat in Persia, where their confession is the state religion, but are also scattered over the whole sphere of Islam, especially in India and the regions bordering on Persia, except among the nomad Tatars, who are all nominally Sunnite. Even in Turkey there are many native Shī‘ites, generally men of the upper classes, and often men in high office (see generally Mahommedan Religion). Orthodox Islam preserves unchanged the form of doctrine established in the 10th century by Abū ‘l-Ḥasan al-Ash‘arī (see Ash‘arī). The attacks of rationalism, aided by Greek philosophy, were repelled and vanquished by the weapons of scholastic dialectic borrowed from the enemy; on most points of dispute discussion was forbidden altogether, and faith in what is written in Koran and tradition was enjoined without question as to how these things were true (bilā kaifa). Freer allegorical views, however, were admitted on some specially perplexing points, such as the doctrine of the eternity of the Koran, the crude anthropomorphisms of the sacred text, &c.; and, since Mo‘tazilite (Mu‘tazilite) views had never taken deep root among the masses, while the caliphs required the help of the clergy, and from the time of Motawakkil (A.D. 847) became ever more closely bound to orthodox views, the freethinking tendency was thoroughly put down, and to the present day no rationalizing movement has failed to be crushed in the bud. Philosophy still means no more than scholastic dialectic, and is the humble servant of orthodoxy, no man venturing on devious paths except in secret. In the years 1872-1878 the Afghan Jamāl ud-Dīn, a professor in the Azhar mosque at Cairo, attempted to read Avicenna with his scholars, and to exercise them in things that went beyond theology, bringing, for example, a globe into the mosque to explain the form of the earth. But the other professors rose in arms, forbade him to enter the mosque, and in 1879 procured his exile on the pretext that he entertained democratic and revolutionary ideas. Thus the later movements of thought in Islam never touch on the great questions that exercised Mahommedanism in its first centuries e.g. the being and attributes of God, the freedom of the will, sin, heaven and hell, &c. Religious earnestness, ceasing to touch the higher problems of speculative thought, has expressed itself in later times exclusively in protest against the extravagances of the dervishes, of the worship of saints, and so forth, and has thus given rise to movements analogous to Puritanism.
That even in early times the masses were never shaken in their attachment to the traditional faith, with all its crude and Ulemā. grotesque conceptions, is due to the zeal of the ulemā (clergy). Mahommedanism has no priesthood standing between God and the congregation, but Koran and Sunna are full of minute rules for the details of private and civil life, the knowledge of which is necessarily in the hands of a class of professed theologians. These are the ‘ulemā (q.v.), “knowers,” theology being briefly named “the knowledge” (‘ilm). Their influence is enormous and hardly has a parallel in the history of religions. For it is not supported by temporal agencies like the spiritual authority of the Christian priesthood in the middle ages, but is a pure power of knowledge over the ignorant masses, who do nothing without consulting their spiritual advisers. When the vigorous Spanish sultan Manṣūr b. Abī ‘Āmir proposed to confiscate a religious foundation and the assembled ulemā refused to approve the act, and were threatened by his vizier, one of them replied, “All the evil you say of us applies to yourself; you seek unjust gains and support your injustice by threats; you take bribes and practise ungodliness in the world. But we are guides on the path of righteousness, lights in the darkness, and bulwarks of Islam; we decide what is just or unjust and declare the right; through us the precepts of religion are maintained. We know that the sultan will soon think better of the matter; but, if he persists, every act of his government will be null, for every treaty of peace and war, every act of sale and purchase, is valid only through our testimony.” With this answer they left the assembly, and the sultan's apology overtook them before they had passed the palace gate. The same consciousness of independent authority and strength still survives among the ulemā. Thus the sheikh ul-Islām ‘Abbāsī (who was deposed by the professors of the Azhar in 1882) had in the first period of his presidency a sharp conflict with ‘Abbās Pasha, viceroy of Egypt, who asked of him an unjust legal opinion in matters of inheritance. When bribes and threats failed, the sheikh was thrown into chains and treated with great severity, but it was the pasha who finally yielded, and ‘Abbāsī was recalled to honours and rich rewards.
The way in which the ulemā are recruited and formed into a hierarchy with a vigorous esprit de corps throws an instructive light on the whole subject before us. The brilliant days are past when the universities of Damascus, Bagdād, Nīshāpūr, Cairo, Kairawān, Seville, Cordova, were thronged by thousands of students of theology, when a professor had often hundreds or even, like Bukhārī, thousands of hearers, and when vast estates in the hands of the clergy fed both masters and scholars. Of the great universities but one survives—the Azhar mosque at Cairo—where thousands of students still gather to follow a course of study which gives an accurate picture of the Mahommedan ideal of theological education.
The students of theology generally begin their course in early youth, but not seldom in riper years. Almost all come from the Theological Students. lowest orders, a few from the middle classes, and none from the highest ranks of society—a fact which in itself excludes all elements of freer and more refined education. These sons of poor peasants, artisans or tradesmen are already disposed to narrow fanaticism, and generally take up study as a means of livelihood rather than from genuine religious interest. The scholar appears before the president's secretary with his poor belongings tied up in a red handkerchief, and after a brief interrogatory is entered on the list of one of the four orthodox rites—Shāfi‘ite, Ḥanifite, Mālikite and Ḥanbalite (see Mahommedan Law). If he is lucky he gets a sleeping-place within the mosque, a chest to hold his things, and a daily ration of bread. The less fortunate make shift to live outside as best they can, but are all day in the mosque, and are seldom deserted by Moslem charity. Having kissed the hands of the Sheikh and teachers of his school, the pupil awaits the beginning of the lectures. For books a few compendiums suffice him. Professors and students gather every morning for the daily prayer; then the professors take their seats at the foot of the pillars of the great court and the students crouch on mats at their feet. The beginner takes first a course in the grammar of classical Arabic, for he has hitherto learned only to read, write and count. The rules of grammar are read out in the memorial verses of the Ajrūmīya, and the teacher adds an exposition, generally read from a printed commentary. The student's chief task is to know the rules by heart; this accomplished, he is dismissed at the end of the year with a certificate (ijāza), entered in his textbook, which permits him to teach it to others. The second year is devoted to dogmatic (kalām and tawḥīd), taught in the same mechanical way. The dogmas of Islam are not copious, and the attributes of God are the chief subject taken up. They are demonstrated by scholastic dialectic, and at the end of his second year the student, receiving his certificate, deems himself a pillar of the faith. The study of law (fiqh), which rests on Koran and tradition, is more difficult and complex, and begins, but is often not completed, in the third year. The student had learned the Koran by heart at school and has often repeated it since, but only now is the sense of its words explained to him. Of the traditions of the Prophet he has learned something incidentally in other lectures; he is now regularly introduced to their vast artificial system. From these two sources are derived all religious and civil laws, for Islam is a political as well as a religious institution. The five main points of religious law, “the pillars of Islam,” have been enumerated in the article Mahommedan Religion; the civil law, on the development of which Roman law had some influence, is treated under heads similar to those of Western jurisprudence. It is here that the differences between the four schools come most into notice: the Ḥanifite praxis is the least rigorous, then the Shāfi‘ite; the Ḥanbalites, whose system is the strictest, have practically disappeared in the Mālikites. The Ḥanifite rite is official in the Turkish Empire, and is followed in all government offices whenever a decision still depends on the sacred law, as well as by all Mahommedans of Turkish race. In this as in the previous studies a compendium is learned by heart, and explanations are given from commentaries and noted down by the students word for word. The professors are expressly forbidden to add anything of their own. The recognized books of jurisprudence, some of which run to over twenty folio volumes, are vastly learned, and occasionally show sound sense, but excel mainly in useless hair-splitting and feats of scholastic gymnastics, for which the Arabian race has a natural gift.
Besides the three main disciplines the student takes up according to his tastes other subjects, such as rhetoric (ma‘ānī wabayān), logic (manṭiq), prosody (‘arūḍ), and the doctrine of the correct pronunciation of the Koran (qirā’a watajwīd). After three or four years, fortified with the certificates of his various professors, he seeks a place in a law-court or as a teacher, preacher, cadi, or mufti of a village or minor town, or else one of the innumerable posts of confidence for which the complicated ceremonial of Mahommedanism demands a theologian, and which are generally paid out of pious foundations. A place is not hard to find, for the powerful corporation of the ulemā seeks to put its own members into all posts, and, though the remuneration is at first small, the young ‘ālim gradually accumulates the revenues of several offices. Gifts, too, fall in, and with his native avarice and economy he rises in wealth, position and reputation for piety. The commonalty revere him and kiss his hand; the rich show him at least outward respect; and even the government treats him as a person to whom consideration is due for his influence with the masses.
This sketch of his education is enough to explain the narrow-mindedness of the ‘ālim. He deems all non-theological science to be vain or hurtful, has no notion of progress, and regards true science—i.e. theology—as having reached finality, so that a new supercommentary or a new students' manual is the only thing that is perhaps still worth writing. How the mental faculties are blunted by scholasticism and mere memory work must be seen to be believed; such an education is enough to spoil the best head. All originality is crushed out and a blind and ludicrous dependence on written tradition—even in things profane—takes its place. Acuteness degenerates into hair-splitting and clever plays on words after the manner of the rabbins. The Azhar students not seldom enter government offices and even hold important administrative posts, but they never lose the stamp of their education—the narrow, unteachable spirit, incapable of progress, always lost in external details, and never able to grasp principles and get behind forms to the substance of a matter.
Yet it is but a small fraction of the ulemā of the Moslem world that enjoy even such an education as the Azhar affords. It draws Schools. few students from foreign parts, where the local schools are of the poorest kind, except in India (thanks to a British government) and perhaps in Constantinople. Bokhārā was once a chief seat of learning, but is now so sunk in narrow fanaticism that its eighty madrasas (medresses) with their 5000 students only turn out a bigoted and foolish clergy (Vambéry). But for this very reason Bokhārā is famed as a luminary of pure theology and spreads its influence over Turkestan, Siberia, China, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and even over India. Minor schools attached to mosques are found in other places, but teach still less than the great schools already mentioned.
Except in India, where it is controlled by the government, the organization of the priestly and judicial persons trained in the schools is a compromise between what theological Caliphate and Temporal Sovereignty. principles dictate and what the state demands. Neither Koran nor Sunna distinguishes between temporal and spiritual powers, and no such distinction was known as long as the caliphs acted in all things as successors of the prophets and heads of the community of the faithful. But, as the power of the ‘Abbāsids declined (see article Caliphate, ad fin.) and external authority fell in the provinces into the hands of the governors and in the capital into those of the amīr al-omarā, the distinction became more and more palpable, especially when the Būyids, who were disposed to Shī‘ite views, proclaimed themselves sultans, i.e. possessors of all real authority. The theologians tried to uphold the orthodox theory by declaring the sultanate to be subordinate to the imāmate or sovereignty of the caliphs, and dependent on the latter especially in all religious matters; but their artificial theories have never modified facts. The various dynasties of sultans (Būyids, Ghaznevids, Seljūḳs, and finally the Mongols) never paid heed to the caliphs, and at length abolished them; but the fall of the theocracy only increased the influence of the clergy, the expounders and practical administrators of that legislation of Koran and Sunna which had become part of the life of the Mahommedan world. The Mamelukes in Egypt tried to make their own government appear more legitimate by nominally recognizing a continuation of the spiritual dignity of the caliphate in a surviving branch of the ‘Abbāsid line which they protected, and in 923 A.H. (1517) the Ottoman Selim, who destroyed the Mameluke power, constrained the ‘Abbāsid Motawakkil III., who lived in Cairo, to make over to him his nominal caliphate. The Ottoman sultans still bear the title of “successors of the Prophet,” and still find it useful in foreign relations, since there is or may be some advantage in the right of the caliph to nominate the chief cadi (ḳāḍī) of Egypt and in the fact that the spiritual head of Khiva calls himself only the naḳīb (vicegerent) of the sultan. In India too the sultan owes something perhaps to his spiritual title. But among his own subjects he is compelled to defer to the ulemā and has no considerable influence on the composition of that body. He nominates the Sheikh ul-Islam or mufti (q.v.) of Constantinople (grand mufti), who is his representative in the imāmate and issues judgments in points of faith and law from which there is no appeal; but the nomination must fall on one of the mollahs, who form the upper stratum of the hierarchy of ulemā. And, though the various plates of religious dignity are conferred by the sultan, no one can hold office who has not been examined and certified by older ulemā, so that the corporation is self-propagating, and palace intrigues, though not without influence, can never break through its iron bonds. The deposition of ‘Abd ul-Azīz is an example of the tremendous power that can be wielded by the ulemā at the head of their thousands of pupils, when they choose to stir up the masses; nor would Maḥmūd II. in 1826 have ventured to enter on his struggle with the janissaries unless he had had the hierarchy with him.
The student who has passed his examinations at Constantinople or Cairo may take up the purely religious office of imām Judicial Offices. (president in worship) or khatīb (preacher) at a mosque. These offices, however, are purely ministerial, are not necessarily limited to students, and give no place in the hierarchy and no particular consideration or social status. On the other hand, he may become a judge or cadi. Every place of any importance has at least one cadi, who is nominated by the government but has no further dependence on it, and is answerable only to a member of the third class of the ulemā, viz. the mufti or pronouncer of fatwas. A fatwa is a decision according to Koran and Sunna, but without reasons, on an abstract case of law which is brought before the mufti by appeal from the cadi's judgment or by reference from the cadi himself. For example, a dispute between master and slave may be found by the cadi to turn on the general question, “Has Zaid, the master of ‘Amr, the absolute right to dispose of his slave's earnings?” When this is put to the mufti, the answer will be simply “Yes,” and from this decision there is no appeal, so that the mufti is supreme judge in his own district. The grand mufti of Constantinople is, as we have seen, nominated by the sultan, but his hold on the people makes him quite an independent power in the state; in Cairo he is not even nominated by the government, but each school of law chooses its own sheikh, who is also mufti, and the Ḥanifite is head mufti because his school is official in the Turkish Empire.
All this gives the judges great private and political influence. But the former is tainted by venality, which, aggravated by Modern Changes. the scantiness of judicial salaries or in some cases by the judge having no salary at all, is almost universal among the administrators of justice. Their political influence, again, which arises from the fusion of private and political law in Koran and Sunna, is highly inconvenient to the state, and often becomes intolerable now that relations with Western states are multiplied. And even in such distant parts as Central Asia the law founded on the conditions of the Prophet's lifetime proves so unsuited to modern life that cases are often referred to civil authorities rather than to canonical jurists. Thus a customary law (‘orf) has there sprung up side by side with the official sacred law (sharī‘a), much to the displeasure of the mollahs. In Turkey, and above all in Egypt, it has been found necessary greatly to limit the sphere and influence of the canonical jurists and to introduce institutions nearer to Western legal usage. We do not here speak of the paper constitutions (khait-i-sherīf) and the like, created to impose upon Western diplomatists, but of such things as consular and commercial courts, criminal codes, and so forth.
The official hierarchy, strong as it is, divides its power with the dervishes. A religion which subdues to itself a race with strongly marked individuality is always influenced in cultus and dogma by the previous views and tendencies of that race, to which it must in some measure accommodate itself. Mahomet himself made a concession to heathen traditions when he recognized the Ka‘ba and the black stone; and the worship of saints, which is now spread throughout Islam and supported by obviously forged traditions, is an example of the same thing. So too are the religious orders now found everywhere except in some parts of Arabia. Mystical tendencies in Mahommedanism arose mainly on Persian soil (see Ṣūfīism), and Von Kremer has shown that these Eastern tendencies fell in with a disposition to asceticism and flight from the world which had arisen among the Arabs Ṣūfīs and Dervishes. before Islam under Christian influence. Intercourse with India had given Persian mysticism the form of Buddhistic monkery, while the Arabs imitated the Christian anchorites; thus the two movements had an inner kinship and an outer form so nearly identical that they naturally coalesced, and that even the earliest organizations of orders of dervishes, whether in the East or the West, appeared to Mahommedan judgment to be of one type. Thus, though the name of Ṣūfī (see Ṣūfīism) is first applied to Abū Hāshim, who died in Syria in 150 A.H. (767), we find it transferred without question to the mystical brotherhood which appears in Khorāsān under Abū Sa‘īd about 200 A.H. (815/816). Yet these two schools of Ṣūfīs were never quite similar; on Sunnite soil Ṣūfīism could not openly impugn orthodox views, while in Persia it was saturated with Shī‘ite heresy and the pantheism of the extreme devotees of ‘Alī. Thus there have always been two kinds of Ṣūfīs, and, though the course of history and the wandering habits which various orders borrowed from Buddhism have tended to bring them closer to one another, we still find that of the thirty-six chief orders three claim an origin from the caliph Abūbekr, whom the Sunnites honour, and the rest from ‘Alī, the idol of the Shī‘ites. Mystic absorption in the being of God, with an increasing tendency to pantheism and ascetic practices, are the main scope of all Ṣūfīism, which is not necessarily confined to members of orders; indeed the secret practice of contemplation of the love of God and contempt of the world is sometimes viewed as specially meritorious. And so ultimately the word ṣūfī has come to denote all who have this religious direction, while those who follow the special rules of an order are known as dervishes (beggars, in Arabic fuqarā, sing. faqīr—names originally designating only the mendicant orders). In Persia at the present day a Ṣūfī is much the same as a freethinker.
Bibliography.—The work of Shahrastānī (q.v.) on the Moslem sects: A. von Kremer, Geschichte der herrschenden Ideen des Islams (Leipzig, 1868); I. Goldziher, Muhammedanische Studien, vol. ii. (Halle, 1890); D. B. Macdonald, Muslim Theology (London, 1903); the Hidaya (trans. C. Hamilton, 2nd ed., London, 1870); N. B. E. Baillie, A Digest of Muhammadan Law (London, 1865); E. Sachau, Muhammadanisches Recht nach Schafiitischer Lehre (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1897); El-Bokhari, les traditions islamiques (trans. by Houdas and Marçais, Paris, 1903); Lane, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (London, 1836). For the organization of the ‘ulemā in the Ottoman Empire during the middle ages see E. J. W. Gibb, A History of Ottoman Poetry, ii. 394 sqq. (London 1902).
- Von Kremer, Gesch. d. herrschenden Ideen d. Islams, p. 464 (Leipzig, 1868).
- In 1878 seventeen lecture-rooms of the Azhar had 3707 students, of whom only 64 came from Constantinople and the northern parts of the Ottoman Empire, 8 from North Arabia, I from the government of Bagdād, 12 from Kurdistan, and 7 from India with its thirty million Sunnites.
- In Kazan also the standard of learning seems to have been raised by Russian and Western scholars.
- The madrasa is here a college, generally attached to a mosque, with lands whose revenues provide the means of instruction and in part also food and residence for scholars and teachers.
- Till the Russians gained preponderating influence the khān of Khiva also acknowledged the sultan as his suzerain.
- Mollah is the Perso-Turkish pronunciation of the Arabic maulā, literally “patron,” a term applied to heads of orders and other religious dignitaries of various grades.
- Called in Constantinople softa, Persian sōkhia, burned up, scil., with zeal or love to God.
- In Egypt before the time of Sa‘īd Pasha (1854-1863) the local judges were appointed by the chief cadi of Cairo, who is sent from Constantinople. Since then they have been nominated by the Egyptian government.
- Zaid and ‘Amr are the Caius and Sempronius of Arabian law.
- Op. cit. p. 52 seq.
- These claims to early origin are mere fables, like the claim of the Oweisī order to spring from Oweis, one of the oldest traditionalists, and so forth.
- For the dervish orders see Dervish.