Originally political, the differences between Sunni and Shia
interpretations rapidly took on theological and metaphysical overtones.
In principle a Sunni approaches God directly; there is no clerical
hierarchy. Some duly appointed religious figures, however, exert
considerable social and political power. Imams usually are men
of importance in their communities but they need not have any
formal training; among the beduins, for example, any tribal member
may lead communal prayers. Committees of socially prominent worshipers
usually run the major mosque-owned land and gifts. In Iraq, as
in many other Arab countries, the administration of waqfs
(religious endowments) has come under the influence of the state.
Qadis (judges) and imams are appointed by the government.
The Muslim year has two religious festivals--Id al Adha, a sacrificial
festival on the tenth of Dhu al Hijjah, the twelfth month; and
Id al Fitr, the festival of breaking the fast, which celebrates
the end of Ramadan on the first of Shawwal, the tenth month. To
Sunnis these are the most important festivals of the year. Each
lasts three or four days, during which people put on their best
clothes, visit, congratulate, and bestow gifts on each other.
In addition, cemeteries are visited. Id al Fitr is celebrated
more joyfully, as it marks the end of the hardships of Ramadan.
Celebrations also take place, though less extensively, on the
Prophet's birthday, which falls on the twelfth of Rabi al Awwal,
the third month, and on the first of Muharram, the beginning of
the new year.
With regard to legal matters, Sunni Islam has four orthodox schools
that give different weight in legal opinions to prescriptions
in the Quran, the hadith or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, the
consensus of legal scholars, analogy (to similar situations at
the time of the Prophet), and reason or opinion. Named for their
founders, the Hanafi school of Imam Abu Hanifa, born in Kufa,
Iraq about A.D.700, is the major school of Iraqi Sunni Arabs.
It makes considerable use of reason or opinion in legal decisions.
The dominant school for Iraqi Sunni Kurds is that of Imam Abu
Abd Allah Muhammad Shafii of the Quraysh tribe of the Prophet,
born in A.D.767 and brought up in Mecca. He later taught in both
Baghdad and Cairo and followed a somewhat eclectic legal path,
laying down the rules for analogy that were later adopted by other
legal schools. The other two legal schools in Islam, the Maliki
and the Hanbali, lack a significant number of adherents in Iraq.
Data as of May 1988