Honors 330

Document Type

Student Paper

Publication Date



Comparative Methodologies and Theories | History of Religion | Islamic Studies | Islamic World and Near East History | Legal | Legal History | Near Eastern Languages and Societies | Other Religion | Political History | Religion Law

Description, Abstract, or Artist's Statement

My capstone deals with the historical definition of Sunni Islam, and how it has changed in approximately the past 200 years. Around 1800, Sunni Islam was pretty clearly defined by an adherence to one of four maddhabs, or schools of law: the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali schools and are all based in nearly a millennium of legal scholarship. Since 1800, however, numerous reform movements have sprung up which disavow previous scholarship and interpret Islamic law their own way. However, certain reformist groups, such as Traditionalist Salafis and Wahhabis, claim that their version of Islam is the only “pure” form of Islam. Since Sunni Muslims lack consensus on what it means to be Sunni, Europeans are unable to receive a definition from Muslims themselves, leading Europeans to create stereotypes to fill in the blanks. I am making the claim that Salafis and Wahhabis owe their prominence to favorable geopolitical and historical circumstance, as opposed to being “true Sunni Islam”. This matters because some of the more intolerant impulses of these reform groups feed Western stereotypes about Islam. I refute both Salafi-Wahhabi claims to Islamic “purity” as well as Orientalist ideas of Islam present in the West.