Santa Clara University


Sunni Islam

See also Islam, Arab States.

Since the majority of Muslims are Sunni, and many are Arabs this entry uses some of the same material as the two above entries. However, there have been some additions and deletions to reflect more fully the Sunni experience.

1. Brief Introduction
2. Religion and Politics Sections
3. A Short Introductory Course
4. Other Resource Materials
5. Recent Articles

1. Brief Introduction:

While the Qur’an sets certain parameters for public life, it offers no definitive political model. For the majority Sunnis, after the first four Rightly Guided Caliphs, their successors carried the general obligation to foster the spread of Islam, but no specifically religious vocation. The interpretation of scripture is exercised by the ulama, religious scholars like Judaism’s rabbis, who offer informed opinions on the ethical implications of the Qur’an, the collected sayings and deeds of Mohammed (hadith), the body of Islamic social and legislative customs (sunna), the biographies of the Prophet (sira), and Qur’anic commentary and exposition (tafsir). The exact nature of the sources and the interpretive methodology remained in dispute. In Sunni Islam, these legal interpretations eventually formed four major schools: the Shafii, principally in Southeast Asia; the Maliki, in West Africa, the largest and most diverse Hanafi, in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent; and the most conservative Hanbali, in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Cairo’s Al-Azhar university has traditionally been the most prestigious location to study interpretation of the shari‘a, Islamic law.

Since the Ottomans dissolved the caliphate in 1924, there has been no center for global Islamic politics. In the contemporary situation, various foci have been suggested, for example, the Organization of the Islamic Conference or the Arab League. Others have suggested nation states like Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Indonesia, the nation with the largest population of Muslims in the world. It is easy to see the strengths and weaknesses of, for example, Arabic nations, but difficult to imagine any of the above becoming as important as the ‘Abbasid or the Ottoman Empires were in previous eras. Analysts such as Esposito and Voll focus on activist Muslim intellectuals and their contribution to global discussions. Some Islamists, of course, call for the creation of a global umma that is both political and religious in nature, or at least a regional one, for example, in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the southern Philippines. The political opening for radical Islam benefits from the absence of a definitive Islamic political or religious interpretation after the Prophet.

2. Religion and Politics Sections:

“Religions of the Book: Historical Revelation, Scripture, Law, and Worldview” (pp. 92-95)

“The Expansion of Islam” (pp. 101-05)

“India and Pakistan: Religious and Secular Nationalism After Fifty Years” (pp. 203-08)

“The Bomb and South Asia” (pp. 208-11)

“Afghanistan: Through the Passes Into Central Asia” (pp. 211-15)

“VII. The Middle East and North Africa: Jewish and Islamic Politics” (pp. 228-59)

“Global Religious Dialogue and Political-Religious Alliances” (pp. 307-15)

3. A Short Introductory Course:

Since the Sunni are the majority of Islam, this entry uses many of the same materials as the one on “Islam” in general.

Nasr, an eminent theologian, presents the religious and spiritual perspectives of Islam in their historical contexts. The legal scholar El Fadl is particularly strong in contrasting the theological and legal thinking in contemporary "moderate" and "puritan" interpretations of Islam. Armstrong offers a short historical introduction to Islam. Diamond, et al., treat the prospects for Islam and Democracy in the Middle East. Hashimi has put together a fine collection of articles on Muslim ethics. The Other Resource Materials contain many excellent treatments of specific issues.

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002).

El Fadl, Khaled Abou. The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005)

Armstrong, Karen. Islam: A Short History. (New York: Random House, Inc., 2000).

Diamond, Larry, Plattner, Marc F., and Brumberg, Daniel. Islam and Democracy in the Middle East (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2003). This is a very interesting collection to read in the light of later events in Iraq.

Hashmi, Sohail H., ed. Islamic Political Ethics: Civil Society, Pluralism, and Conflict. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). Contributors: Dale F. Eickelman, Hasan Hanafi, Sohail H. Hashimi, Farhad Kazemi, John Kelsay, Muhammad Khalid Masud, Jack Miles, Sulayman, Nyang, Bassam Tibi, M. Raquibuz Zaman. Essays on principal ethical issues.

4. Other Resource Materials:

An-Na’im, Abdullahi Ahmed. Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990). Forward by John Voll. Neither secular nor fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law based on the prophet’s preaching in Mecca. Follows the teachings of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, founder of the Sudanese Republican Brotherhood.

Boroumand, Ladan, and Boroumand, Roya, “Terror, Islam, and Democracy,”World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 228-44.

Eickelman, Dale F., and Anderson, Jon W., eds. New Media in the Muslim World, 2nd ed. (Bloomington, IN.: Indiana University Press, 2003).

Eickelman, Dale F. and Piscatori, James. Muslim Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996). Concise and comprehensive introduction to the complicated relationships of doctrine and practice. Often provides the Arabic term. Best answer to “Who speaks for Islam?” from data to that time.

Eickelman, Dale F., “Islam and Ethical Pluralism,” Madsen, Richard, and Strong, Tracy B., eds. The Many and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 161-79.

Eickelman, Dale F., “Trans-state Islam and Security,” Rudolph, Susanne Hoeber, and Piscatori, James, Transnational Religion and Fading States. (Boulder, Co.: Westview Press, 1997), 27-46.

El-Affendi, Abdelwahab, “The Elusive Reformation,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 212-17.

Esposito, John L., and Voll, John O. Makers of Contemporary Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Etzioni, Amitai. “Mosque and State in Iraq,” Policy Review (October/November 2003): 65-73. 
Filali-Ansary, Abdou, “The Challenge of Secularism,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 192-96.

Filali-Ansary, Abdou, “Muslims and Democracy,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 153-67.

Filali-Ansary, Abdou, “The Sources of Enlightened Muslim Thought,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 197-211.

Fletcher, Richard. The Cross and the Crescent: Christianity and Islam from Muhammad to the Reformation (London: Penguin Press, 2003).

Fraser, Cary, “In Defense of Allah’s Realm: Religion and Statecraft in Saudi Foreign Policy Strategy,”Transnational Religion and Fading States (Boulder, Co.: Westview Press, 1997), 212-42.

Gilsenan, Michael. Recognizing Islam: Religion and Society in the Modern Middle East (London: I.B. Taurus, 1990). Anthropological introduction of Arab Islam, comparing “what Islam comes to mean in quite different economic, political, and social structures and relations.” Section on Egyptian Sufi brotherhood.

Goodson, Larry P. Afghanistan’s Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001).

Hourani, Albert. A History of the Arab Peoples (Cambridge: Belnap, 1991).

Huband, Mark. Warriors of the Prophet: The Struggle for Islam (Boulder: Westview Press, 1999).

Kane, Ousmane, “Muslim Missionaries and African States,”Transnational Religion and Fading States (Boulder, Co.: Westview Press, 1997), 47-62.

Kepel, Gilles. The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West (Cambridge: Belnap, 2004).

Kubba, Laith, “Faith and Modernity,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 223-7.

Kurzman, Charles, ed. Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

Lawrence, Bruce B. Shattering the Myth: Islam Beyond Violence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).

Lewis, Bernard. The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years (New York: Touchstone, 1995). From before Christianity to present.

Lewis, Bernard. What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

Lewis, Bernard, “A Historical Overview,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 168-79.

Mamdani, Mahmood., “Whither Political Islam?” Foreign Affairs (January/February 2005).

Maréchal, Brigitee, Allievi, Stefano, Dassetto, Felice, and Nielsen, Jørgen, ed. Muslims in the Enlarged Europe (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2003).

Marsden, Peter. The Taliban: War, Religion, and the New Order in Afghanistan. (London: Zed Books Ltd., 1998).

Masmoudi, Radwan A., “The Silenced Majority,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 218-22.

Masud, Muhammad Khalid, “The Scope of Pluralism in Islamic Moral Traditions,” Madsen, Richard, and Strong, Tracy B., eds. The Many and the One: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Ethical Pluralism in the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 180-94.

Mottahedeh, Roy P. “The Clash of Civilizations: An Islamicist’s Critique,” Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review 2 (1995), 1: 1-26.

Qutb, Sayyid. Milestones (Indianapolis: American Trust, 1990).

Sanneh, Lamin, “Muhammad in Muslim Tradition and Practice: The Crucible of Faith and the Spheres of Dominion,” in Max L. Stackhouse and Diane B. Obenchain, eds., God and Globalization: Christ and the Dominions of Civilization (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity International Press, 2002), 272-308.

Tamadonfar, Mehran, “Islamism in Contemporary Arab Politics: Lessons in Authoritarianism and Democratization,” in Jelen and Wilcox, Comparative Politics (2002).

Tibi, Bassam. The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder, updated edition. (Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 2002).

Watt, William Montgomery. Muslim-Christian Encounters: Perceptions and Misperceptions (London: Routledge, 1991). Focus on early nature of Christianity and Muslim historical perception thereof. Encounter with Greek philosophy, with medieval Europe, and under Muslim rule. The modern encounter.

Wright, Robin, “Two Visions of Reformation,” World Religions and Democracy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 2005), 180-91.

Zubaida, Sami. Islam, The People and the State: Essays on Political Ideas and Movements in the Middle East (London and New York: I.B. Tauris & Co., 1993).

The BBC’s site on Islam.

Official Website of the Khalifah Institute, with self-described orientation as “traditional, but moderate.” Described by Dr. Matthew Ciolek (ANU) as “a remarkable and splendidly managed site that is an essential academic resource” with links to many other Islamic websites.

5. Recent Articles:

See articles on Sunni Islam in various countries.

“Women Lead an Islamic Revival In Syria, Testing Its Secularism,” New York Times, August 29, 2006. Women, led by female scholars, sheikha, form vanguard in Islamic revival, especially among young women. Qubaisiate movement. Bashar al-Assad has allowed scarves in public schools and soldiers in mosques, but Alawite president fears too much power for Islamists. Arresting women, however, would raise public outcry.

"Sunnis and Shiites See an Omen for Reconciliation in Iraq," New York Times, August 23, 2009. For the first time in ten years, Ramadan begins the same day for both groups. Problems when it does not, e.g., one group celebrating Id al-Fitr while other group fasting.

List of other Religions

October 19, 2009.