Lit. – “One of the path.” A Traditionist. A term generally applied to the large sect of Muslims who acknowledge the first four Khalifahs to have been the rightful successors of Muhammad, and who receive the Kutubu ‘s-Sittah, or “six authentic” books of tradition, and who belong to one of the four schools of jurisprudence founded by Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam ash-Shafi’i, Imam Malik, or Imam Ahmad ibn Hambal.
The word Sunni is really a Persian form, with its plural Sunniyan, and stands for that which is expressed by the Arabic Ahlu ‘s-Sunnah, “the People of the Path.” The word sunnah meaning a “path,” but being applied to the example of Muhammad.
A Sunni is held to be a traditionist, not that any section of Islam rejects the traditions, but merely that the Sunnis have arrogated to themselves this title, and the rest of the Muslim world has acquiesced in the assumption; hence it comes to pass that although the Shi’ahs, even to a greater degree than the Sunnis rest their claims upon traditional evidence, they have allowed their opponents to claim the title of traditionists, and consequently Mr. Sale and many European writers have stated that the Shi’ahs reject the traditions.
The Sunnis embrace by far the greater portion of the Muslim world. According to Mr. Wilfrid Blunt’s census, they are 145 millions, whilst the Sh’iahs are but some 15 millions.. The principal difference between the Sunni and the Shi’ahs are treated of in the article SHI’AH.
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam