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:

[email protected]



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Dr. Kevin Barrett, a Ph.D. Arabist-Islamologist is one of America’s best-known critics of the War on Terror. He is the host of TRUTH JIHAD RADIO; a hard driving weekly radio show funded by listener donations at and FALSE FLAG WEEKLY NEWS (FFWN); an audio-video show produced by Tony Hall, Allan Reese, and Kevin himself. FFWN is funded through FundRazr. He also has appeared many times on Fox, CNN, PBS, and other broadcast outlets, and has inspired feature stories and op-eds in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune, and other leading publications. Dr. Barrett has taught at colleges and universities in San Francisco, Paris, and Wisconsin; where he ran for Congress in 2008. He currently works as a nonprofit organizer, author, and talk radio host.