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SunniEarly History, Principal Doctrines And Ritual Practice, Practice, Law, And Authority, Bibliography

The term Sunni is an adjective formed from the noun sunna (plural sunan), an ancient Arabic word meaning "customary practice." Although in the pre-Islamic world of tribal Arabia the word sunna referred generally to the time-tested and widely accepted customs of a tribe, in the Islamic period the term came to refer specifically to the customary practices or "way" of the prophet Muhammad and the first generation of pious Muslims. Eventually the adjective Sunni came to describe the largest of the three primary sectarian divisions among Muslims: Sunnis, Shiites, and Kharijites.

Accounting for nearly 90 percent of the world's Muslims, Sunnis emphasize their commitment to both the precedents established by the Prophet and the unity of the historic community (referred to in Arabic as either the umma or the jama'a). The term Sunni is actually an abbreviation of the fuller expression ahl al-sunna wa-l-jama'a, "the people of the [Prophet's] way and the community." Of course nothing in this self-description by the majority of Muslims should convey that either Shiites or Kharijites see themselves as any less committed or faithful to the Prophet's way.

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