Sunni, Shi’a, Salafi, Sufi, Shariah: A guide for the perplexed


Back to basics with some good old fashioned dictionary work


… by  Kevin Barrett, VT Editor


Using the "S - words"

Using the “S – words”

What’s with all these Islamic S-words? Who are the Sunni, Shi’a, Salafi and Sufi Muslims? And what is this “Shariah” they follow?

I used to get paid to explain this stuff to students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But when I tried to devote one week of a sixteen-week course to a discussion of the “war on terror” – and proposed that the Muslim-majority opinion that 9/11 was an inside job should at least be mentioned – I got run out of town by Karl Rove, Lynn Cheney, Fox News, and sixty Republican state legislators.

Apparently it would corrupt young minds, and undermine national security, to even mention the poll data showing that three-quarters of the world’s Muslims are convinced that 9/11 was an inside job.

After all, if the students heard THAT, they might wonder “Why do Muslims believe this?” Then they might do some research and discover Building 7. Next thing you know, they’d be taking shahada, wrapping towels around their heads, and cutting off the hands of thieves.

How could Washington, DC function if nobody there had hands? Legislators couldn’t draft bills, the President couldn’t sign them, and cops couldn’t enforce them. The whole government would fall apart.

Worse, locker rooms everywhere would suffer towel shortages, and female reporters would have unobstructed views of athletes’ private parts. American manners and morals would be terminally degraded – even worse than now, if that’s possible.

All because I told my students what Muslims think about 9/11.

Fortunately for our precious national security and the innocence of our nation’s youth, I am now reduced to giving away my knowledge of Islam for free. So here it is: A brief taxonomy of Muslim S-words.

Sunni:  Almost 90% of the world’s Muslims are considered Sunni. Traditionally each Sunni would adhere to one of four law schools. I know what you’re thinking: How could they possibly educate enough lawyers if they only had four law schools? Please note that (a) Muslims don’t immediately think of suing someone if they spill hot coffee on their own damn crotch, and (b) we are using the term “law schools” to signify a legal school of thought, not a brick-and-mortar institution.

Shi’a: A little over 10% of the world’s Muslims are Shi’a. Almost all adhere to Islam’s fifth major law school, the Ja’fari (twelver Shi’a) school. Shi’a tradition holds that the early (proto-Sunni) Muslims screwed up royally by failing to recognize the Prophet Muhammad’s designated successor, Ali, and later his son Husayn. According to the Shi’a, this allowed corruption to creep into the leadership of the Muslim community. The Shi’a have a long history of both active and passive resistance against corrupt leadership…which may be one reason Shi’a-majority Iran succeeded in overthrowing its corrupt Western-puppet dictator, the Shah, while none of the Sunni-majority countries have yet managed a similar feat.

Salafi: The Salafis are Sunnis who have tried to modernize Islam by dropping the traditional law schools, and reading scripture directly instead. In this sense they are the Muslim equivalent of Protestants. Like some Protestants, some Salafis derive an obscurantist, hyper-literalist, sectarian, fanatical orientation from their non-traditional readings of scripture. (The term “Wahabi” denotes this kind of extremist tendency among Salafist followers of the Arabian reformer Ibn Abdul-Wahhab.)

Sufi: Sufis are Islamic mystics. They intensify Islamic ritual practices in order to gain direct experience of the Divine, and favor allegorical as well as literal readings of scripture. Many Salafis view Sufis as backward, superstitious, heretical, apolitical hicks, whereas many Sufis view Salafis as hyper-literalist boneheads who wouldn’t recognize the Divine if it snuck up and bit them on the butt.

Shariah: Often translated as “Islamic law,” this is the most misunderstood Islamic word in the Western lexicon after jihad. The word Shariah literally means “the broad path to the water hole.” It is a set of guidelines for living well, achieving lasting inner peace, successfully traversing life’s journey, and arriving at the promised oasis-garden of paradise.


Breathtaking Muslim Architecture

Breathtaking Muslim Architecture

At least 99% of Shariah is not “law” in the Western sense, because it is not meant to be enforced by anyone but God.

For example, Muslims follow Shariah by praying five times per day and fasting during the month of Ramadan. There are no police, courts, or prisons forcing you to pray and fast. You’ll get your reward, or your punishment, when you meet your maker.

Islamic civilization, with the Islamic societies and cultures that comprise it, is held together not by police, courts, and prisons, but by a broad popular consensus that following Shariah is the right way to live.

People who sink into a deep God-loving trance while performing the salaat prayer five times each day generally do not need the threat of police, courts and prisons to live modestly and morally.

Unfortunately, the cancer of Western selfishness/materialism, and perhaps some internal dry rot as well,  has afflicted Muslim-majority countries. Western-style legal systems imposed by the colonialists, and enforced by postcolonial police states, have replaced Shariah as the glue holding these societies together.

Morocco, for example, is a bureaucratic living hell thanks to the Napoleonic Code imposed by the French conquerors and retained after nominal “independence.” The best thing that could happen to Morocco, and the rest of the Muslim-majority countries, would be Iran-style Islamic revolutions and a return to Shariah.

And the more Shariah in the USA – meaning the more people praying, fasting, and exhibiting god-fearing piousness, modesty, and charity – the better.

I think I’ll contact my friends in the Wisconsin State Legislature and suggest they pass a bill establishing Shariah as the official state path to the water hole…sort of like the cardinal is the state bird, and the badger is the state weasel. And while I’m at it, I’ll ask them to give the lowly badger a break, and name witch-hunting Rep. Steve Nass as the new state weasel.

But wait a minute, you say -  sure, Nass is a weasel – but Shariah in Wisconsin, land of beer-guzzlers and the ubiquitous beer-gut?! And what about the stuff about whacking off people’s hands…maybe even their heads?

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

First of all, you non-Muslim beer guzzlers needn’t worry: Shariah gives non-Muslim communities the right to run their own affairs, including the right to make their own rules about which drugs are acceptable and which drugs are not – no matter how stupid those rules may be.

If you kaffir morons want to make the world’s most destructive drug, alcohol, legal – while banning such relatively harmless and sometimes helpful plants as marijuana, mushrooms, cactus, and ayahuasca – that’s your problem, not ours.

Second of all, there are a whole lot of hands and heads in DC and elsewhere that really do need to be whacked.

But since less than 1% of Shariah is humanly enforceable, and the Qur’an enjoins us to privilege mercy over justice, the amount of suffering dished out in 1,430-plus years of Islamic history through these extremely rare hudud punishments is probably less than is experienced by the roughly ten million Americans under penal supervision during the time it took you to read this sentence.

American “justice” is brutal and almost completely merciless. Islamic justice – even the distorted hard-line tribal variety of, say, the Taliban – is replete with kindness and mercy by comparison.

Ahmed Rashid’s anti-Taliban book describes the way the Taliban dealt with condemned murderers: A family member of the victim would be given the choice of either showing mercy and accepting a “blood fine” from the murderer, or executing the murderer himself.

The Taliban would spend a lot of time and energy repeatedly exhorting the victim’s family to show mercy and refrain from carrying out the execution. The exhortations were often successful.

So even the 1% of Shariah that is humanly enforceable, and the .001% of that involving “cruel” punishments, winds up looking extremely merciful when judged with a fair yardstick in comparison to other justice systems. Wherever Shariah is broadly accepted, crime rates typically drop to extremely low levels, and the net amount of suffering dished out by criminals AND those who punish them shrinks dramatically.

And isn’t that the fair measure of a justice system? Isn’t minimizing sufferering – first the suffering of victims, and secondly the suffering of criminals – the whole point? By that standard – the only sane standard of judging justice systems – Shariah looks like one of the world’s best-ever justice systems, while the American system looks like the absolute worst.

Additionally, Shariah bans usury – any form of lending at interest. The nearly two billion Muslims committed (with various levels of intensity) to ending usury are by far the most potent enemies of the usury-based New World Order bankster dictatorship.

No wonder the NWO orchestrated the 9/11 false-flag to launch a war on Islam.

So please email your State Legislator and ask them to introduce a bill making Shariah the official path to YOUR state’s water hole. And be sure to cc it to Pam Geller, so she’ll have something exciting to bitch and moan about:


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Posted by on Dec 3 2013, With 0 Reads, Filed under Editor, Humor, Living. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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25 Comments for “Sunni, Shi’a, Salafi, Sufi, Shariah: A guide for the perplexed”

  1. Kevin,
    It’s disappointing that you chose to write about a subject which you have very limited knowledge of. This is noticeable in your not answering the question about Al-Hasan put forth by john ccarleton and while some of the other Christian brothers here noticing the disconnect with the other Abrahamic religions, you have failed to. You seem to view Islam as a political accomplishment and nothing divine.
    From a divine perspective, God appointed prophet-hood and succession within the pure descendants of Abraham. He appointed Issac and Ishmael as his successors. He gave Issac, Jacob and Jacob was given Joseph as a successor. He gave Arron to Moses. He appointed Solomon as the successor of David and so on and so forth (peace be upon them all). These were not individuals chosen by the people to lead them but were appointed by God. And this has been God’s way throughout history. The final Messenger of God – Mohammed (peace be upon him and his progeny) got Ali (who was born in the Ka’ba) as a helper and also as a successor – there is ample evidence of this in the Quran and the hadith. The Prophet would never leave his city without appointing someone in his stead so how could it be that he didn’t appoint anyone before leaving this world? And the divine knowledge and guidance remained within the family of the Prophet. Those who established the 4 schools you mentioned were either students or were taught by students of Al-Jafar a descendant of the Prophet who established the Jafari school.

    • Kevin,

      sorry, you are still my hero, but I´ve got to agree with Capricornus. A man who knows who God appointed throughout history is surely wiser than mere mortals like you and me. Perhaps someone alerts our Tyron and informs him of this learned man here and potential competitor. Tyron will have no problem to run your comment section above the hundred mark in no time. God bless them all.

    • Capricornus,
      If those who have different interpretations from yours are ignorant, count me among them. I think your notion of God “appointing” leaders is problematic – not least of all because you, a fallible human, claim to know exactly which leaders God appointed. Your position, not mine, imposes politics on religion. I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong, just that it is hubristic of you to say that because I don’t share your dogma my knowledge must be “very limited.” But since I’m willing to entertain other perspectives without dismissing them as “ignorant” how about if you write up your own article briefly clarifying the S-words for a non-Muslim audience? If it’s any good I’ll publish it. If you can’t or won’t do that, we’ll agree that you are even more ignorant than me ; – )

      • … as I said, you´re still my hero.

      • Kevin,
        First of all I used the term “limited knowledge” and not “ignorant”. I also did comment specifically on this subject and I am sure you are very knowledgeable about many other things. I have always found your past articles witty and fun to read. However my comments above don’t reflect my personal opinion but are based on what’s in the Quran. I don’t think any muslim (or non muslim) who has read the Quran would deny that or call them my personal notion. I would highly recommend you read it. It’s not even a question of dogma but basic fundamentals of the religion.

        You’ve come a long way and you should be proud. But we should all continue in our spiritual quest and not stop learning. Although your effort here is appreciated but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

        • Capricornus, I have read Qur’an more than once if you count translations, probably more than once (though not in order) in Arabic, and am currently about halfway through a cover-to-cover reading in Arabic. I have a Ph.D. with a focus on Islam and have taught Islam classes at colleges and universities. Yes, I started late (age 35) and will never have the knowledge base of people who have devoted their lives to the subject, but this isn’t an issue of “who’s better informed.” As I’m sure you know, your interpretation of the “leadership” issue is accepted by only about 1/10th of the global Islamic community and its scholars. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong; but it does mean that those who disagree with you may actually be well-informed.

  2. Thanks Dr. Barrett:
    Q: do non-Muslims believe 9/11 was not an inside job?

    I don’t know of anyone who believes 9/11 was not inside job!

    Essence of American law as I have understand it is basically that every individual is a “tradeable commodity” until he/she is terminated & dumped in some by Zio-Satanists who had traded him as a commodity!!!


  4. Dr. Barrett, sometimes it’s hard to believe we live in a “Free Country”

    ___As a university professor you should be able to lecture on any subject matters.

    —–The dummies have no problem sending your students to a war zone.

    —–Those university students some of them might end up in the war zone, therefore, they have to know everything about the other side.

    ___If you ask these dummies to describe the Sunni, Shi’a, Salafi, etc., they won’t be able to tell you.

    —–In 2006, 3-years after the Iraq war started, the dummy John McCain while proposing the troop surge, he was unable to list the groups (Sunni, Shi’a & Kurds), who are fighting in Iraq.

  5. I enjoyed the article. Couple of observations and questions. You said Islam is not held together by police and courts, yet I saw the religious police, evil looking, (to me anyway), old gray haired men driving around in white Mercedes cars looking for people to jack up. Now this was Saudi Arabia and I conceder the leadership there to be corrupt, you thoughts as a Muslim. Second thing a bit of history. Al-Hasan, Born 622, died 670, Iman of Shi’ites. He was poisoned by his wife. Was this part of a power struggle or did she just really not like him?

    • Actually all traditional societies are held together by tradition (with religion generally playing the major role). They have nothing remotely comparable to today’s police and courts. During the past few centuries, traditions have been falling by the wayside, with state-administered “justice” stepping in to fill the vacuum. This is happening everywhere from the Amazon jungles to the deserts of Arabia. I would like to see the process reversed. And I think Islam holds the most promise for reversing it. Islamic justice is designed to be self-administering from the bottom up. It starts with the individual submitting to God’s guidance, then the family and community exerting pressure if necessary, then the local religious scholar or holy man being brought in if there is a serious problem or dispute, then inter-family or tribal pressure or force…with enough people dedicated to establishing Islam, there is very little need for a state apparatus. Hodgson pointed out in the second book of his “Venture of Islam” trilogy that the highest points of Islamic civilization were reached during the “Middle Periods” when the state was very weak and sometimes practically nonexistent. Today’s Saudi Arabia, like other Muslim countries, is a product of modernity more than traditional Islam.

      • Thank you for your answer. About Al-Hasan, was this part of the power struggle for leadership. Not trying to paint Islam a bad light. I truly would like to know the answer and I thought you would probably know. I will personally defend anyone’s right to practice their religion to the point that it harms someone else. Everyone must respect everyone else as an individual even if they believe differently than you. At the point that a persons religion harms someone else or they try to force it or the ramifications of it on someone else, them a person has crossed the line and needs to beat about the head with a big stick.

  6. Greetings Doc,

    Thanks for the info.

    I’m the village kaffir and I love my beer.
    Don’t need no sharia, cuz I got my beeah.

    Happy holidaze,
    Your friendly neighborhood Kaffir

  7. Yes, this is a great article. As usual. And many thanks for your free lesson.
    “…I got run out of town by Carl Rove… “
    I am very sorry about this, Kevin. They just sort of ruined you, just like that. To me, this sentence alone should make every American as mad as a rattle snake. But it does not. Subsequently, this shows me, that America has been taken over by Israel. And I mean entirely. America + Israel = same.

    I was for some years representing an oil conglomerate in some (sunni) Arab country. I had to do with their courts because of various minor crimes committed by some of our employees. I went to their sharia courts. At first very sceptical about what to expect (in view of my own basic law training), I began to respect their judges and judgement from day one. I ended up attending court sessions not related to my company in my free time. A death sentence included. Not once, could I fault the judgement. I was most impressed by the judges, their impeccable character. Even only THINKING of the word bribe in their presence was impossible. And I never saw a convicted feeling wrongly judged. In fact, when time cometh to confront my maker, I hope he is as good as a sharia judge.
    Now back to USrahell …

  8. Great article full of humor. Fun reading with lots of information. Thank you Kevin.

  9. Kevin… salam once again a great work… As a Muslim, a practicing Muslim I do not see my self as a Sunni or a Shiite or Salafi or Jihadists… I only see myself as Muslim plain and simple… I read the Holy Quran every day, do my daily prayers fast Ramadan, give Zakat, been to Mecca and no where did I see in the Holy Quran any reference to a Sunni or a Shiite… However I do not believe that the descendants of the Prophet ( Peace be upon him) are automatically entitled to rule and the Caliphate system of governance may have worked in early Islam ( 3 out of 4 were assassinated… not a good precedent) and whatever was of the Caliphate system in Syria or Iraq or Egypt, or Turkey or Spain was nothing but monarchy pure and simple with the head of state taking the title as leader of the Muslim community… I believe in a civil state where freedom of religion is guaranteed… do not buy the idea of a Muslim state in the same way I do not buy the idea of a Jewish or Christian or Hindu state.. States and governments are not people to have a designated faith or religion. The Holy Quran should be the inspiration for a government by the people for the people… all the best… Sami

  10. Mr. Barrett, you have our respect and we honor you to much. But there are some issues which in reality are completely different.
    We have not put salt on the wounds of people suffered in the hands of Taliban. In the entire 1000s years of Khurasan ( Afghanistan, corrupt name)history, people not seen such brutal savages as Taliban. Their chief Mullah Ommar, the one eyed Dajal is an imposter and a vicar of devil. I can go with a long list of Talibans crimes against innocent people. They are Pushtoon tribes terrorizing the entire nation.
    Islam as a pure or semi-pure ideological system lasted only about 300-400 years after prophets death.
    This correspond to the islamic golden age. soon it was infested with man made ideas and todays Islam is more Biblical then Quranic( stoning to death is not Quranic but more then dozens times mentioned in Bible)
    The state of todays Muslim Ummah reflect the corruption of Islam (only unchanged Book is Quran, but no boday read in anymore).A simple examining of todays Islam in the light of Quran will prove this claim.

  11. Thanks for this. Beautiful.

  12. I’m not Muslim, but reading about their religions I think Shia are closer to being the theoretically correct branch, because their sect comes from Mohammed’s close relative, while the Sunni line revolves around who the Muslim community elected. While of course you should care who gets elected, it is the relative who inherits.

    • Me, I think the Sunni are correct in arguing that leadership shouldn’t be automatically inherited. The weak point of Shi’a theology, for me, is their accepting the tribal custom of passing leadership or spiritual status down automatically from father to son. Many Sufis make the same mistake, with the result that a mediocre son takes over the Zawiya from a much more spiritually-advanced non-relative. On the other hand, I think the Shi’a have a good case that Ali was the designated successor AND the best candidate, and that what really happened was that the same old corrupt Qureishi oligarchs Muhammad overthrew ended up taking over the show – which was a tragedy for Islam. So I agree with the Shi’a that Karbala was a decisive and tragic moment – sort of like the JFK assassination for Americans.

      • Good points there; and although Ali was a good candidate to rule what would have essentially happened if that had transpired would have been a revolt by all of the Arabs thinking that Muhammad S.A.W. who had just united the entire peninsula, had just swindled power from all the tribes and delivered it to his own family. Things worked out how they were destined to, that is a basic tenet of faith (destiny/qadr). Hey Dr. Barrett, it is almost impossible to listen to your radio shows now because unlike AMF where archives are downloadable on smartphones, your new program won’t play on iPhone or samsung mobiles. Can you tell the station to convert your shows to mp3 downloads please? Many of us are missing your shows now in my circle of friends and family because of this.

        • Good point, it’s all working out according to the qadr of Allah and we’re like the blind men trying to figure out the elephant. As for access to downloads of my radio shows, they are available to members at . If you join and login and look around, you’ll find the download instructions. My shows are now member-supported and commercial-free.

      • Kevin,
        It’s interesting.
        We can ask- who should inherit the spiritual status- the relative or the elected official? As you said, there is a tribal custom it would go to the relative. You added that a nonrelative could be more spiritual. However in the case of the dispute at hand, this was not alleged that the nonrelative was more spiritual. The claim about being made designated successor at various times is kind of a help to pointing in the right direction.

        Islam claimed it took on its ideas from Christianity and Judaism, right? Well in Judaism it is the relative that inherits. In Christianity, the bishop designates, lays hands on, his successor. Even in Christian kingdoms it was the relative who became king/leader. In Christianity, they did not elect prophets, but rather it was proven by saintliness. I am just hypothesizing as an outsider.

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