Beliefnet

Shia: shee'uh; Arab., "a separate or distinct party of men who follow or conform with one another, [though] not all of them agreeing together"; applied to one or many, male or female, without variation

A large group of different Muslim schools of thought that believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, through a specific designation by Muhammad, inherited political and religious authority immediately following the Prophet's death in 632. Shia refused to acknowledge and regard as legitimate the first three caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman, whom the Shia considered usurpers of the leadership that rightfully belonged to Ali and his descendants. More...

Sufism: Term generally applied to mystical currents in Islam. The word is derived from suf (Arab., "wool"), pointing to the woolen frocks of Middle Eastern ascetics; an etymologically incorrect derivation is from either safa ("purity") or from the Greek sophos ("wise"). There are numberless definitions of Sufism, which is like a mighty tree in which sometimes strange birds have built their nests; perhaps Rumi expresses it best: What is Sufism? To feel joy in the heart at the time of grief. More...

Sunni: soon'nee; Arab., "custom [of the Prophet Muhammad]"One of two major branches of Islam, a Sunni majority (approximately 85 percent) and a Shii minority (15 percent). This division occurred over the question of succession: Who was to lead the community after the death of Muhammad? The result was the institutions of the Sunni caliphate and the Shii Imamate. More...

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