What does the term "Sunni Hanafi" mean and what are these divisions?
Initially, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) gave us gift of Quran and his Sunnah (in the form of Hadith). Now after him the issue of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) rose. To resolve this, great Scholars of Islam took the initiative to define Islam, based on how Islam can be applied in the ever changing day to day life and different matters that come up, where clear cut answer cannot be found from Sunnah and Quran. For this purpose, different Schools of Thought were formed by the Great Imams. There are 4 imams, named
Imam Abu Hanifa (people who follow his school of thought are called hanafi, or sunni hanafi)
Imam Shafi (Followers called shafi)
Imam Malik ( Followers called maliki)
Imam Ibn Hanbal (Followers called hanbali)
All of these 4 great imams were greatest scholars of their time, and all of them greatly helped Muslims in understanding and resolving issue of Fiqh. But in many issues, the rulings of 4 great imams differed, for example on how to pray. In that case, all of the Imams explicitly said that if their wording/ruling/saying goes against Quran or hadith, you should then prefer Quran/Hadith and reject what they say.
In case of a difference of opinion, we must keep in mind that only the ruling of Allah is perfect (Quran and Hadith), after that, there will surely be difference of opinion among the scholars.
And Allah knows the best
Muslims (not Islam) are categorized based on beliefs and Fiqh and each category claims to have the correct understanding of Islam. The cause of these differences is that each group relay of a collection of hadith and narrators and interpretation of Quran and consider other hadith and narrators and interpretations of Quran unreliable.
About beliefs there is a main disagreement between Muslims about Imamat. Imamat means only God has the right to choose the successor of the Prophet SAWW for political leadership of Ummah. So those who believe Imamat is one of the five pillars of Islam are called Shia Muslims and those who do not believe Imamat is one of the five pillars of Islam are called Sunni Muslims.
About Fiqh (school of Islamic jurisprudence) there have been different schools but only five main schools survived during history. The current main five schools of Fiqh of Muslims are:
- Hanafi (therefore Sunni Hanafi)