Published on
J. Kashi

Discovering the Quran

The Quran Archive intend to help the general reader, and also the scholar, to explore and research the Quran. It is our mission that the Quran should be left to speak for itself, albeit in translation.

The online Quran project resolutely adheres to scholarly principles, but it is not directed to the academicians or specialists. It had been made in the service of the much broader audience comprising all English speakers (initially, while translations in other languages will also be added in the future) that have an interest in the Quran. Our vision is to make the Quran in translation available for the world and make it easily accessible and useful.

The Making of an Image

Sunnism and Shi’ism

The initial centuries after the Prophet Muhammad’s death (632 CE) witnessed the proliferation of diverse ideas and beliefs. It was during this period of roughly three centuries that two dominant intellectual traditions emerged, Sunnism and Shi’ism.

Sunni Muslims endorsed the historical caliphate, whereas Shi’i Muslims lent their support to Imam Ali, cousin of the Prophet and the fourth historical caliph. The Shi’a also articulated a distinctive set of theological doctrines concerning the nature of God and legitimate political and religious authority. Meanwhile, the Sunni were also refining their perspectives, holding distinctive beliefs and practising unique rituals. There are periods when the two communities cooperate and others when they collide, however, there is nothing intrinsic that necessitates conflicts between the two communities.

The theological framework we now recognize as the basic tenet of Islam developed centuries after the death of the Prophet and then influenced historical memory. It is important to understand that this perspective is (to a degree) anachronistic and reflects the core beliefs of later communities. No claims are to be made about the authenticity or provenance but rather recounting each creeds self-understanding.

This has since had a profound impact on the unique interpretation of the Quran and other sources of religious knowledge. Despite sharing a core set of principles, each creed represented and articulated different views and theories. Later on, all the beliefs and theories coalesced around a few intellectual poles centred around what we now recognize as Sunnism and Shi’ism, each with its own theological and legal school, grounded in a unique theological interpretation of the Quran.

Alongside Sunnism and Shi’ism other small creeds manage to survive to this date, among others extremist in both camps and a seperastic movement like the Ahmadiyya. The Ahmadiyya movement have generally been regarded by all muslims as deviators from the norm, representing a heterodoxy as opposed to the more orthodoxy views af Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. Many later Eastern and Western scholars of Islam, too, have adopted the same dichotomy and have treated the Ahmadiyya movement as a heresy. The orthodoxy-heterodoxy dichotomy, either between the large Muslim community versus the Ahmadiyya movement or within each intellectual tradition of Sunnism and Shi’ism, gives a very simplistic view of an development which evolved over several centuries. In addition, this dichotomy, when understood from a Christian context, is inappropriate because of the absence of any central ecclesiastical authority in Islam; Muslim society is, and always has been, pluralistic.