The Roots and Achievements of the Early Proto-Sunni Movement: A Profile and Interpretation



In recent years, the term “proto-Sunni” has become common in scholarship on the early centuries of Islam. Drawing on categories developed by Peter Berger, this study seeks to move toward a more inclusive portrait of the early proto-Sunni movement and a more organic understanding of the movement's success. It argues that owing to the erosion of several of the “plausibility structures” of earliest Islam, three tendencies emerged among the proto-Sunnis between the early 8th and mid-9th centuries C.E.: proto-Sunnis as traditionist ῾ulamā᾽, proto-Sunnis as pious ascetics, and proto-Sunnis as volunteer holy warriors. The prestige acquired through their activities in these areas enabled the early proto-Sunnis to “objectify” and “legitimize” new plausibility structures which would prove decisive to an eventual Sunni consensus.