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A Guide to Sunni Trends

Qa'im

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The Sunni Muslim world, as I see it, is divided up into the following social categories. Below are the major trends that run through this segment of the Umma.

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Madhhabi Sunnis: Anyone belonging to the traditional Hanafi, Shafi`i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools, including both conservative and nominal Muslims. Madhhabi Sunnis usually express their religion through devoted worship, spirituality, and traditional law-abidance. Many sub-movements fit in this category, including most Sufis, the mystical Barelvi movement, the Deobandi movement, and those who are simply culturally Muslim. Madhhabi Sunnis are usually suspicious of Salafi, Shia, and modernist ideas and traditions, but still advocate for Muslim unity; agreeing to disagree with competing trends. Some nominal Madhhabis are influenced by Salafi revivalism and conservatism. Sufis in particular are often politically quietist and pacifistic, and have a balanced but positive view of classical Islamic civilizations.

Popular examples: Hamza Yusuf, Yahya Rhodus, Timothy Winters, Zaid Shakir, Umar Abd-Allah, Shabir Ally, Usama Canon, Suhaib Webb, Faraz Rabbani, Amjad Tarsin.

Salafis: Those who try to pursue a literal interpretation of Sunni Islam based on its most established primary hadith sources. Salafis are suspicious of secondary sources, philosophy, mysticism, traditional Sunni schools, saint-reverence, forms of religious expressions that are not explicitly supported by "sahih" Sunni hadiths, and other sects and religions. Salafis usually express their religion through theological discourse, worship, strict adherence to early practices (including having a "Muslim appearance"), and clamping down on "innovations" in Islamic practice (i.e. anything in a hadith they consider "weak", or not found in their most literal interpretations). Salafis have three noticeable sub-movements: (1) the Wahabis, who follow the Najdi Saudi theologians; (2) apolitical non-Wahabi Salafis, who follow non-Najdi figures, are focused mostly on theology and law, and are critical of Saudi Arabia's royal family and state-sponsored scholars, and (3) Militant Salafis, who seek to revive the Caliphate, establish puritan Islamic states, resist Western imperialism, and punish deviant and nominal Muslims. Salafis are very critical of Sufis and Shias, and often push for the destruction of their relics.

Popular examples: Bilal Philips, Abu Khadeejah, Yasir Qadhi, Abdur Raheem Green, Zakir Naik, Feiz Mohammed, Abu Musab Wajdi Akkari, Abu Isa Niamatullah.

Liberal Reformists: This includes Quranists and other reformists, who have a modernist humanist worldview, and see many Islamic laws and practices as outdated or obsolete. Liberal Reformists are focused on social justice and ethical principles inspired by the Quran. They are skeptical of hadith literature, Islamic scholarship, mysticism, sectarianism, and some jurisprudence. Liberal Reformists are especially critical of traditional penalties (hudud), extremism, radicalization, and laws related to gender and sexuality. The Quran is viewed as a flexible, progressive document that mostly lacks the rigidity of Islamic laws.

Popular examples: Mona Eltahawy, Irshad Manji, Maajid Nawaz, Tarek Fatah, Amina Wadud, Asra Nomani, Michael Muhammad Knight, Khalid Abou El Fadl

Muslim Brotherhood Types: They are often unaffiliated with the actual MB, but hold the same pragmatist and anti-imperialist sentiments. They are a middle-upper class educated movement that focuses on social conservatism, harmonizing modernism and traditionalism, international politics, and social justice. The MB types believe in family values, scientific/technological progress and development, and quasi-Marxist-Leninist domestic and international policies (big welfare governments and anti-Western imperialism). They are critical of Salafi puritanism, Sufi mysticism, and Shia Iran's encroachment of the Arab world. The MB types often admire the Turkish, Tunisian, and Malaysian Islamic models, which are pluralistic yet respect Islamic tradition. They are often nostalgic of Islamic civilization's golden age.

Popular examples: Tariq Ramadan, Jamal Badawi, Dalia Mogahed, Anas al-Tikriti, Jonathan Brown

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Most Sunni Muslims are not very conscious of these divisions. They usually don't identify themselves with one of these labels, and all 4 trends coexist in most Sunni nations and communities. The trends also have some overlaps, and there are people that are a blend of multiple trends. Sunni scholars are more aware of the red lines due to their epistemological significance. But many Sunnis are subject to the influence of Gulf petrodollars, and therefore will take on some Salafi cliches without noticing it (or just seeing it as becoming "more religious"). I call this "Casual Salafism" - speakers like Nouman Ali Khan, Yusuf Estes, Ismail Menk, or Omar Suleiman, who are more laid-back and popular with the youth, but still have a Salafi epistemology and Salafi influences in their material.

Being conscious of these trends will allow us to better understand whom we can work with and whom we should best avoid.



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The importance of what brother Q'aim has posted can not be understated. This kind of research in understanding trends and divisions sunni's may not be cognizant of. To think of sunni's as one homogenous society with only minor fiqh differences is grossly incorrect.

The above article needs more exposure than a shia-chat blog itself.

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amazing post.

I know many Muslims and families in the west, here in Canada that are not very religious. They barely care about Islam and are engulfed in the western world, yet still identify is Muslims (though they like to keep that a secret most of the time). They know that the quran is good to read, they know about hajj (but really count care less about actually doing it), they don't pray, they know about Ramadhan and like to celebrate eid. They have memorized many of the popular hadith (like the one about quran and Sunna, the one about backbiting,) and don't really care about learning more. Lastly they know the stories of the prophets and know which religion sprouted from each. And that's about it when it comes to religion.

What would this category be? The wont be liberal reformists, they don't care enough about what they call "religion" to want to reform anything. All thoughts are appreciated.

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cool, but that should also be on your list, tend or not because it seems to be the most common type of Muslim, especially in the west, trend or not. I hope this post will have a sequel where we can discuss how to deal with all these types. Thanks, and God Bless

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I did not include them, because the characteristics of these people are fluid, random, varied, and not based on any epistemological framework. They are like foam in the ocean - there is much of it, but it has no shape, no weight, no affect, and it is taken anywhere the current goes. The dominant social trend in the Western world is secular humanism, which is the foundation of our media, economy, policies, and culture. Nominal Muslims who do not care about religion are subject to any influence and are apathetic to having a consistent methodology. They'll take whatever bits of existing trends they want and put it together, even if it makes little sense.

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I find non religious Sunnis a harder case than atheists.

Because they have already made the logical choice (tawhid and nabuwah), which makes it near impossible to help them be more religious (pray 5 times a day, sin les, break less major rules) in a non extremist way.

Edited by Shabbar_Abidi

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2 hours ago, Shabbar_Abidi said:

but even sheep need a proper Shepard, without one they are left to the wolves. What do you think this Shepard should be? How should we guide nominal Sunnis away from the wolves?

The shepherd of course is Imam Ibn al-Hasan (as), but the people are distracted by wolves in sheep's clothing. To win them over, they must either be initiated (made to care about their fate, pushed to actively seek knowledge, experience a traumatic event), or re-educated (through schooling, movies, books, art, poetry, speeches, journalism, da`wa, family, and jobs). At the moment, the dominant system has control over most modes of education, and so even getting the attention of a nominal Muslim is difficult. But, everyone has an interest, a problem they are seeking answers for, or an issue they care deeply about, and you must be able to assess the situation of each individual, see what it is they need, and provide a solution that they will accept.

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11 hours ago, Bint Abbas said:

Tariq Ramadan a brotherhood type? Yeah ok

Well yeah. His grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood, and while he does not fully endorse the party, he routinely criticizes Sisi and other Arab military dictators and secularists. He has boycotted conferences that were not tough on U.S foreign policy ("imperialism"), Israel, and Arab dictators. He's a prof, a modernist, sports a light beard and a suit, and yet he is a conservative and does not call for gross Islamic reform. He defends traditional Islam, believes in revolution, and is against literalist or archaic interpretations. He is basically your textbook MB type.

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7 minutes ago, Qa'im said:

Well yeah. His grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood, and while he does not fully endorse the party, he routinely criticizes Sisi and other Arab military dictators and secularists. He has boycotted conferences that were not tough on U.S foreign policy ("imperialism"), Israel, and Arab dictators. He's a prof, a modernist, sports a light beard and a suit, and yet he is a conservative and does not call for gross Islamic reform. He defends traditional Islam, believes in revolution, and is against literalist or archaic interpretations. He is basically your textbook MB type.

Tariq Ramadan has written a dozen books calling for gross Islamic reform, one of them is even entitled 'Radical Reform'. The reason he opposes Sisi is because he is pro-democracy and Sisi took over via a military coup. In short, opposing Sisi does not equate to being an Ikhwani.

Edited by Pro-Alid

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5 minutes ago, Qa'im said:

Well yeah. His grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood, and while he does not fully endorse the party, he routinely criticizes Sisi and other Arab military dictators and secularists. He has boycotted conferences that were not tough on U.S foreign policy ("imperialism"), Israel, and Arab dictators. He's a prof, a modernist, sports a light beard and a suit, and yet he is a conservative and does not call for gross Islamic reform. He defends traditional Islam, believes in revolution, and is against literalist or archaic interpretations. He is basically your textbook MB type.

Lol. So he is a ikhwani because his grandfather is Hasan al banna? He critizes Sisi because he threw away democracy nothing to do with ikhwan. Being Pro-Palestine, a modernist and a beard makes you a ikhwani? Really?? Tariq calls for reform constantly. As for Jonathan Brown being an ikhwani i dont even want to start on that.

Edited by Bint Abbas

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1 minute ago, Bint Abbas said:

Lol. So he is a ikhwani because his grandfather is Hasan al banna? He critizes Sisi because he threw away democracy nothing to do with ikhwan. Being Pro-Palestine, a modernist and a beard makes you a ikhwani? Really?? Tariq calls for reform constantly. As for Jonathan Brown being an ikhwani i dont even want to start on that.

I'm not sure what you define as ikhwani, but as someone who grew up surrounded by MB-types and members of the party, I wouldn't put Tariq Ramadan in the same category as people like Maajid Nawaz or Irshad Manji. He does not call for gross reform of Islam, he calls for what he says is "renovation" and modernization. That's typical of this trend. He defends conservatism and traditionalism from radical reformists ilk, but is not a strict traditionalist himself. Yes, he is not a Salafi or a Madhhabi. He had spoken up about citizenship and hudud in Islam - you can see his lecture here on "Rethinking Islamic Reform".


As for Jonathan Brown, he too fits in this category. If it's the name of this "category" that bothers you, then you can rename it to "conservative modernist anti-imperialist upper middle class university-educated Islamist who is not Salafist or Sufi, who is critical of militant secularism on one hand, but also literalist jihadism and Saudi on the other hand". But that's redundant. There are many Sunnis in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and elsewhere who fall under this category, who revile sell-outs and liberals like Nawaz and Knight, but also dislike Saudi and Iran. They're pro-AKP, pro-MB (but sometimes critical of it), pro-Nahda, pro-Qatar ($$$), and can appreciate the Malaysian model, and hold negativity towards the U.S, Israel, Saudi, and Russia.

Like all of the trends above, there are some parallels and some mixes. However, the "liberal reformists" I had in mind are those who hold unorthodox views on hijab, gender, gay marriage, and culture. Yes Ramadan called to uplift all forms of capital punishment, but in his own words, he does not see capital punishment as intrinsically inhumane, and he would support its return in his ideal Islamic state.

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30 minutes ago, Qa'im said:

I'm not sure what you define as ikhwani, but as someone who grew up surrounded by MB-types and members of the party, I wouldn't put Tariq Ramadan in the same category as people like Maajid Nawaz or Irshad Manji. He does not call for gross reform of Islam, he calls for what he says is "renovation" and modernization. That's typical of this trend. He defends conservatism and traditionalism from radical reformists ilk, but is not a strict traditionalist himself. Yes, he is not a Salafi or a Madhhabi. He had spoken up about citizenship and hudud in Islam - you can see his lecture here on "Rethinking Islamic Reform".


As for Jonathan Brown, he too fits in this category. If it's the name of this "category" that bothers you, then you can rename it to "conservative modernist anti-imperialist upper middle class university-educated Islamist who is not Salafist or Sufi, who is critical of militant secularism on one hand, but also literalist jihadism and Saudi on the other hand". But that's redundant. There are many Sunnis in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and elsewhere who fall under this category, who revile sell-outs and liberals like Nawaz and Knight, but also dislike Saudi and Iran. They're pro-AKP, pro-MB (but sometimes critical of it), pro-Nahda, pro-Qatar ($$$), and can appreciate the Malaysian model, and hold negativity towards the U.S, Israel, Saudi, and Russia.

Like all of the trends above, there are some parallels and some mixes. However, the "liberal reformists" I had in mind are those who hold unorthodox views on hijab, gender, gay marriage, and culture. Yes Ramadan called to uplift all forms of capital punishment, but in his own words, he does not see capital punishment as intrinsically inhumane, and he would support its return in his ideal Islamic state.

Defending traditionalism and speaking about Hudud does not make you an ikhwani lol. As for reform, have you ever read any of his books?  As for Brown he is not an ikhwani and far from being an islamist.

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1 hour ago, Bint Abbas said:

Defending traditionalism and speaking about Hudud does not make you an ikhwani lol. As for reform, have you ever read any of his books?  As for Brown he is not an ikhwani and far from being an islamist.

Did you read my whole post or watch the video?

I've read Radical Reform and I've met Tariq Ramadan several times. He says in his book and in his talks that his idea of "reform" is moreso "renovation" and "adaptation" - reforming seminaries, education, civil society, media, and a temporary ban on hudud. Again, he is a modernist, so is the MB, and having these views is very typical of MB-types, who are not totally reactionary. They often embrace democracy and modern nation-states, but are still conservative (family values, traditional fiqh, anti-alcohol/drugs/prostitution) and critical of U.S society and policy. The MB didn't revive hudud in Egypt, and the MB-types did not revive hudud in Turkey or Tunisia either. But the MB/AKP/Nahda are still categorized as "political Islam". The "Liberal Reformist" category hates people like Tariq Ramadan and sees him as an extremist sympathizer.

Watch this video too:

 

As for Jonathan Brown, the guy's profile pic on Facebook is of Morsi and Erdogan together. I'm not saying that is a good or bad thing, I am saying that this is typical of the MB-type category.

 

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I disagree with the label. I wouldnt place Majid or Mona as sunni at all. I am sure if you asked them they would not even see themselves as sunnis. I would put Tariq Ramadan with the likes of Hasan Farhan, Adnan Ibrahim and their likes as Modernist Reformer and not Ikhwanis.

As for Brown, just because someone has a picture of Erdogan and Morsi that does not mean he is an ikhwani. 

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On 08/08/2016 at 5:07 PM, Shabbar_Abidi said:

amazing post.

I know many Muslims and families in the west, here in Canada that are not very religious. They barely care about Islam and are engulfed in the western world, yet still identify is Muslims (though they like to keep that a secret most of the time). They know that the quran is good to read, they know about hajj (but really count care less about actually doing it), they don't pray, they know about Ramadhan and like to celebrate eid. They have memorized many of the popular hadith (like the one about quran and Sunna, the one about backbiting,) and don't really care about learning more. Lastly they know the stories of the prophets and know which religion sprouted from each. And that's about it when it comes to religion.

What would this category be? The wont be liberal reformists, they don't care enough about what they call "religion" to want to reform anything. All thoughts are appreciated.

@Qa'im @Tawheed313 and as well as Shabbir brother, what about the shias, where do they stand, are they also divided, is it few division not applying to all of ummah?and when speaking of sunnnis, where do the shias stand, are the shias( not the scholars or speakers mentioned above) but lay people themselves religious? this makes me think i did come across a similar type of argument nouman ali khan against yasi qadhi over one issue and the comments made me think. i felt i had glossed over being so impressed by traditional things such as spirtuality love and salat and their motivational speeches i could have avoided the trap of falling into such petty things.i  also remember when i used to largely follow sunni scholars no matter how much motivation i had there would be one thing i would come across and my mind wouldnt let it go and i would think about it over and over again. if i ad reached the same conclusions of realsing different areas of of sunni trends it would have confuzed me making me think which one is correct to follow. there are quite a number of sunni motivational pages.who do all of these sunni trendsetter appaarently think is right, all of them cant be, or what does sunni islam imply. how do we following the imams a.s. avoid getting into these trends? i have certain ideas, but if anymore can be shared thatd be great. i do agree reading that above has made me want to become shia all over again why because people are trying to speak what is correct position of where sunni islam should go and there are literally divided whos the correct one to follow, the Imams have more wisdom literally the Ahlulbayt pbut are one of the rope of Allah SWT.

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Bismihi Ta'ala

This is quite an interesting breakdown. There is no single or 'correct' way to define trends, because there will always be overlaps and exceptions. However, I do think that Tariq Ramadan has Ikhwani tendencies (not necessarily contemporary Ikhwani, but more the 70s Ikhwanism from which some actually became Khomeinists, and in the process, Shi'a). 

It is true that opposing Sisi in itself does not make one an MB supporter, but if I recall correctly he has actually gone as far as suggesting that Sisi's regime is worse than Morsi's. His explanation behind Morsi's failures also seem to gloss over the treatment of minorities. Knowing how Tariq Ramadan would not usually overlook such a point, this showed some bias and was somewhat a red flag.

Either way, he has made considerable efforts in the French-speaking world to reconciliate Muslim and Western identities without compromising one or the other.

Regarding the third group 'liberal reformists' I wouldn't necessarily categorize them when discussing Sunni trends because I don't really see most of the individuals in that group as being associated to a particular sect. Indeed, some of them are from non-Sunni backgrounds.

Wallahu A'lam

 

 

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as i have asked earlier ,if someone can answer, what about the shias, where do they stand, are they also divided, is it few division not applying to all of ummah?and when speaking of sunnnis, where do the shias stand, are the shias( not the scholars or speakers mentioned above) but lay people themselves religious?  how do we following the imams a.s. avoid getting into these trends?

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Assalamu alaykum, 

Dear brother Qa'im, I must really congratulate you on that information-rich, epistemologically sound masterpiece ! We hardly have such insightful works done nowadays. Keep up the good work !

I suggest (if it's not too much of a trouble) that you make a similar classificatory study on the contemporary trends within our own Twelver Shi'i (imami) school. Whilst I am aware of the risks involved in this undertaking, such a study would nevertheless be immensely useful.

Best wishes !!

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Salam . 

I grew up in a Sunni Barelvi household in Pakistan. Having said that, I foubd this post to be very interesting, especially this being based on a Shia's observation. Overall, a decent summary. Kudos. 

 

Edited by saberrider

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      That's why, even revolutions, that are supposed to be the fight for ideas, end up in some sort of fascism and/or dictatorship. Even when the people that lead them truly wanted free elections (modern history is full of examples of this, it is something we can't avoid). They are still necessary, though, for the progress of ideas.
      What happens, however, in our societies? In the West, tolerance has been imposed as something useful, but racism, mysogyny, LGBTphobia, etc. are still realities that many people even hate to discuss (many people attack feminism, for instance). In the Muslim world, tolerance died centuries ago, and an enormous amount of groups appeared. We are still reinforcing through our culture this intolerance, based on unreasonable discrimination: country of origin, skin color, studies, amount of money, gender, sexuality, beliefs, family/tribe name, etc. You can realize this inability to accept the different for instance in the topic of marriage, at what type of characteristic will people, parents, or ourselves if we have sons or daughters to marry, will look at. And it's not always the obvious (like don’t be racist). It is usually ideological. We can't accept other mentalities because we weren't taught about that, because the group we belong to doesn't want that.
      Tolerance isn't only about accepting black people, or trans people, or seeing women as equals. People will probably try to appear as tolerant in that sense, because it is useful for them. However, as a moral trait, these people are not genuinely tolerant, but conveniently civilized. Real tolerance is being able to respect others by their opinion, beliefs, lifestyle, and of course, biological circumstances. Accept them as long as you are not tolerating the intolerant.
      This conflict is paradoxical, and it is a well known paradox in social sciences (originally proposed by Karl Popper). The problem with tolerating the intolerant, as I said at the start of this entry, is precisely how fast and easily their intolerance spreads (because it is natural). As individuals and iA as free thinkers, we should fight to develop tolerance within ourselves and condemn intolerance even when it is present in those people who are part of "our" group (be it our racial "group", ideological, whatever). Intolerance isn't a joke, it's a social human and moral issue of high importance, and has always shaped our destiny.
      Thus, I can only advise my readers to dedicate some time to observe that aspect of their hearts, if they behaved in a tolerant manner, identify our errors, ask for forgiveness to the Most Merciful, and ask him to guide us and make us more aware of being tolerant when we are, again, tested in life. Remember to ask Him to guide me as well, iA.
    • By 3wliya_maryam in deep poetry
         1
      Please let me help you 
      Let me help you get this through 
      We share the same blood
      And I want you to be loved
       
      Look I know that you're depressed
      And I know that you're in distress
       
      But I wish you could open up
      Instead of always shutting up
      You choose to conceal yourself 
      And I still don't know why 
      sometimes I hate myself 
      For even having to try 
      To make you fess up 
       
      I know you don't want my help 
      Maybe I do suck at giving advice 
      But why should I leave you to silently yelp
      When I'm here for you, but you're just like ice
       
      I am always contemplating
      And always wondering
      Whether I've done more than enough 
       
      I want to be there for you
      But you keep pushing me away
      So I chose to do the same
       
      Please let me help you 
      Let me help you get this through
      We share the same blood
      And I want you to be loved.
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