Difference Between Sunni and Sufi (With Table)

Islam believes in the concept of monotheism i.e.one god, which is all-powerful, unique, and merciful. It has guided humanity through multiple prophets, signs, and scriptures. Islam is the second-largest religion in the world which accounts for 24% of the total population. The most important text of Islam is the Quran which is considered the final word of God. Islam has various denominations. Sunni and Sufi are among them.

Sunni vs Sufi

The difference between Sunni and Sufi is that Sunni is considered as one of the largest denominations found in the world, which accounts for 80-90% of the total Muslim population. Whereas Sufi represents mysticism, i.e. to be one with God in Islam, and the followers are known as Sufis. Sufism can be traced back to Muhammad Ali ibn Abi Talib which dates back to the 6-7th century.

Sunni word is derived from ‘Sunnah’, which means behaviour of Muhammad. Discrimination between Sunni and Shia arose from the fact that which community will have its successor to Muhammad. According to Sunni, they believed that Abu Bakr is the first successor of the Caliph as Muhammed have guided them. There is a wide dispute about this. The practices and doctrines followed by Sunni are known as Sunnism. Sometimes, Sunni Islam is also called orthodox Islam.

Sufi in Arabic means Tasawwuf, which is defined by western authors as Mysticism in Islam. It is a sub-division of Islam. The term ‘Sufism’ originated in the 18th century when it was referred to by orientalist scholars. Sufi has existed in Islam from a very early period. It is individual inner practice. It has become a very important part of Islam. Sufis believe that they will meet Allah directly by establishing a spiritual connection with him.

Comparison Table Between Sunni and Sufi

Parameters of ComparisonSunniSufi
OriginIt comes from “Ahl-as-Sunnah”.It originated after the death of Mohammed in 632 BC.
BeliefsAngels, Monotheism, Day of Last Judgement, Quran and certain Books, Predestination and Prophets.It emphasizes devotion to God and compassion for humans.
TeachingsThey are fearful of Allah.It teaches eternal and divine love.
SchoolIt has five major legal schools. It has several orders.
PracticesDeclaration of Faith, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Charity, Fasting.Anasheedabah, Qawwali, Sama, Dhikr, Haḍra, Muraq, Whirling Ziyarat.

What is Sunni?

Sunni is one of the largest branches of Islam, covering 80-90% of Muslims. Sunni emerged after clashing with several ideologies. It becomes famous after the death of Muhammed when there was a disagreement between Sunni and Shia because of its successors. Abu Bakr is considered the first caliph of Sunni. Caliphate System was followed, and the First four heads were called as “Rightly guided one.” It was bought to an end when there was the fall of the Ottoman empire after the end of World War 1.

Sunnis believe that the companions of Muhammed are the real propagators of Islam. Sunni doesn’t follow a hierarchy system. Leaders of Sunni are informal who became influence by the school of theology, i.e. Kalām and school of law, i.e. sharia. According to the Islamic centre, anyone can become an Islamic scholar. On Friday, during midday congregation chooses a person who is well educated to lead the service, also called Khateeb. ,The Holy Quran, with hadith, are followed, which are binding juristic consensus, forms the basis of Sunni Islam. It is very orthodox and traditional in its jurisprudence.

There are six pillars of Sunni which they follow. They are as follows, Belief in Monotheism, Belief in the Holy Quran, Belief in the Prophets, Belief in Preordainment (also called Qadar), Belief in the Angels of God, and Belief in after Death, and the Last Day of Judgment. Followers of Sunni are referred to as ahl as-sunnah wa l-jamāʻah, in Arabic, which means “the people of the Sunnah and the community”. Currently, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, India are some of the countries where the largest Sunni population can be seen.

What is Sufi?

The meaning of Sufi is “one who wears wool”. Because woollen clothes were earlier worn by ascetics and mystics. Sufi existed in Islam from very ancient times as individual inner faith. Sufis believes in pledging the allegiance as given by Muhammed as it establishes a spiritual connection between seeker and God. Ali Hujwiri is regarded as one of the Sufi who first gave his Pledge of allegiance to Muhammed.

Sufi is not a different sect as every time it is assumed. It is an extension or offshoot of Islam. A Sufi can both be Sunni or Shia. Sufi’s way of approaching religion and their methods is very different. Sufi deals with the purification of one’s soul and inner mind. It tries to establish the connection with God directly. Around the 11th century, Sufism began to be codified in proper orders. There are several orders which exist in Sufism. These orders were founded by some Islamic scholars who were very popular, like Suhrawardiyya, Qadiriyya, the Rifa’iyya, the Chishtiyya, the Shadiliyya, the Hamadaniyyah etc.

Sufism became one of the most widespread omnipresent aspects of Islam. It began to stretch across various regions from India to Iraq to Senegal. Especially in Africa and Asia, its philosophy has become one of the strongest adherents. Sufi believes that it is possible to draw closer to God and to embrace the divine presence in life by becoming one with God. Sufis are characterised according to dhikr, i.e. practice of remembering God after prayers.

Main Differences Between Sunni and Sufi

  1. The word Sunni comes from “Ahl-as-Sunnah”, meaning people of the tradition. Sufi is believed to be originated after the death of Mohammed in 632 BC.
  2. Sunni beliefs include Angels, Monotheism, Day of Last Judgement, Quran and certain Books, Predestination and Prophets. Sufi is believed to be a mystic who emphasises love and devotion to God and compassion towards human beings.
  3. Sunni teachings incorporate fear of hell in them. Sufi advocates for divine and eternal love.
  4. Sunni has five major schools related to theology and law. Sufi has many orders for them.
  5. Sunni practices following things like Declaration of Faith, Charity, Fasting, Prayer, and Pilgrimage. Sufi has the following practices Anasheed, Muraqabah, Qawwali, Sama, Dhikr, Whirling Ziyarat etc.

Conclusion

Both Sunni and Sufi belong to the same religion, Islam. Sunni is the largest denomination, whereas Sufi is a sub-division. Sufi can be both Sunni as well as Shia. Sunni believes in the concept of an afterlife, the final judgement, and they can meet God through indirect ways. While Sufi believes in direct connection to God by adopting the state of ‘Fana’. Both belong to a different school of thought. Sufi believes in spiritualism and mysticism. Sunni believes in following the right path of Islam, i.e. conventional one. Sunni doesn’t believe in Sufi, and they are often misinterpreted.

References

  1. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies/article/sufi-response-to-political-islamism-alahbash-of-lebanon/1F2B854DD7B22FCEFF7F498E304CBB5E
  2. https://scholarlypublications.universiteitleiden.nl/handle/1887/17326
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