Sunni Islam is the largest branch of Islam, comprising up to 90% of the total Muslim population of the world. Sunni Muslims are referred to as Ahlus Sunnah wa Al-Jamĝ‘ah (Arabic: أهل السنة والجماعة "people of the tradition [of Muhammad] and the community") or Ahlus Sunnah (Arabic: أهل السنة) for short.
Sunni Islam may be referred to as Orthodox Islam. Sunni is a broad term derived from Sunnah (سنة [ˈsunna], plural سنن sunan [ˈsunæn]), which is an Arabic word that means "habit" or "usual practice".
The Muslim usage of this term refers to the sayings and living habits of Muhammad. In its full form, this branch of Islam is referred to as "Ahlus-Sunnah Wa Al-Jama'ah" (literally, "People of the Sunnah and the congregation"). Anyone claiming to follow the Sunnah and can show that they have no action or belief against the Prophetic Sunnah can consider him or herself to be a Sunni Muslim.
The Sunni branch of Islam has four legal schools of thought or madh'hab, which are all accepted among one another. The Sunni branch accepts the first four caliphs as rightful successors of Muhammad and accepts hadiths narrated by the companions.
- Hanafi School
- Maliki School
- Shafi'i school
- Hanbali School
The followers of these four schools follow the same basic belief system but differ from one another in terms of practice and execution of rituals, and in juristic interpretation of "divine principles" (or Shariah) as envisaged in Quran and Hadith. However Sunni Muslims consider them all equally valid.
There are other Sunni schools of law. However, many are followed by only small numbers of people and are relatively unknown due to the popularity of the four major schools; also, many have died out or were not sufficiently recorded by their followers to survive.
- See Wikipedia article on Sunni for more information