List of Dune religions

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The Religions of Dune are a key aspect of the fictional setting of the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert. Many of the names of religions mentioned in the novels indicate they are blends of current belief systems, some syncretic.[citation needed]

According to Appendix II: The Religion of Dune in the 1965 novel Dune, after the Butlerian Jihad, the Bene Gesserit composed the Azhar Book, a "bibliographic marvel that preserves the great secrets of the most ancient faiths". Soon after, a group made up of the leaders of many religions (calling itself the Commission of Ecumenical Translators) created the Orange Catholic Bible, the key religious text of the Dune universe, which "contains elements of most ancient religions".[1]


The term for those religions derived from a syncretic fusion of denominations of Buddhism and Islam. The connection of the Zensunni with Buddislam suggests the latter arose during the Third Islamic Movement associated with the Maometh Saari (see below under Third Islam).


A hybrid of the religious principles of Zen (a school of Mahayana Buddhism) and Shia Islam. It does not occur in the original Dune series, appearing only in the later books by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson and mentioned to be defiant fanatics unlike the Zensunni pacifists; Zenshiite slaves are behind the uprising on Poritrin.[citation needed]


Zensufism is a hybrid of Zen and Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism which, based on epigrams in Chapterhouse: Dune, would have figured in Dune 7. There are only two Zensufi epigrams in Chapterhouse: Dune:

  • The person who takes the banal and ordinary and illuminates it in a new way can terrify. We do not want our ideas changed. We feel threatened by such demands. "I already know the important things!" we say. Then Changer comes and throws our old ideas away. ―The Zensufi Master
  • Uproot your questions from their ground and the dangling roots will be seen. More questions! ―Mentat Zensufi admonition

Heretics of Dune states that this was the religion of the Bene Tleilaxu, who had originally been part of the Zensunni Wanderers.


Zensunni is a syncretic religious belief combining principles of Zen Buddhism and Sunni Islam. In the fictional far future of human civilization portrayed in the series, various ethnic and political groups adhere to this worldview, including the Fremen, originally the "Zensunni Wanderers".[citation needed]

In Terminology of the Imperium (the glossary of the novel Dune), Frank Herbert provides the following definition:

ZENSUNNI: followers of a schismatic sect that broke away from the teachings of Maometh (the so-called "Third Muhammed") about 1381 B.G. The Zensunni religion is noted chiefly for its emphasis on the mystical and a reversion to "the ways of the fathers." Most scholars name Ali Ben Ohashi as leader of the original schism but there is some evidence that Ohashi may have been merely the male spokesman for his second wife, Nisai.

According to Terminology of the Imperium, the planet Poritrin is "considered by many Zensunni Wanderers as their planet of origin, although clues in their language and mythology show far more ancient planetary roots".[2] The former Imperial capital (and later prison world) Salusa Secundus was "the second stopping point in migrations of the Wandering Zensunni. Fremen tradition says they were slaves on S.S. for nine generations."[3] The "third stopping place" is noted as Bela Tegeuse,[4] and Harmonthep was the "sixth stop".[5]

The ascension of Paul Atreides as Emperor in Dune and the expansion of Fremen influence throughout the Imperium widely popularized the study of Zensunni beliefs. It is noted in Terminology of the Imperium that the Orange Catholic Bible "contains elements of most ancient religions, including ... Zensunni Catholicism".[1]

Herbert "sprinkled Zen ideas throughout Dune",[6] as when Reverend Mother Mohiam queries Paul:

"Ever sift sand through a screen?" she asked.

The tangential slash of her question shocked his mind into a higher awareness: Sand through a screen, he nodded.

"We Bene Gesserit sift people to find the humans."

The Reverend Mother's query is reminiscent of a Zen kōan, which generally contains aspects that are inaccessible to rational understanding, yet may be accessible to intuition. Zen masters "developed this trick to 'open up' the mind of their students without filling it with their own opinions".[6] Herbert himself noted in "Dune Genesis", his own analysis of the development of the novel, that:[7]

"As in an Escher lithograph, I involved myself with recurrent themes that turn into paradox. The central paradox concerns the human vision of time. What about Paul's gift of prescience—the Presbyterian fixation? For the Delphic Oracle to perform, it must tangle itself in a web of predestination. Yet predestination negates surprises and, in fact, sets up a mathematically enclosed universe whose limits are always inconsistent, always encountering the unprovable. It's like a kōan, a Zen mind breaker."

In the Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson Legends of Dune prequel trilogy, before and during the Butlerian Jihad the Zensunnis were brought as slaves from their homeworlds (like Harmonthep) to places like Poritrin. After the slave revolt on Poritrin, many Zensunnis escaped to Arrakis; these Zensunni wanderers would become the first Fremen.

Terminology of the Imperium also defines several Zensunni terms:

AULIYA: In the Zensunni Wanderers' religion, the female at the left hand of God; God's handmaiden.
FIQH: knowledge, religious law; one of the half-legendary origins of the Zensunni Wanderers' religion.
ILM: theology; science of religious tradition; one of the half-legendary origins of the Zensunni Wanderers' faith.
MISR: the historical Zensunni (Fremen) term for themselves: "The People."
SHAH-NAMA: the half-legendary First Book of the Zensunni Wanderers.
ULEMA: a Zensunni doctor of theology.

These concepts are all more or less identifiable with Islamic concepts:[citation needed]

  • Auliya (Arabic: أولياء) is the Arabic word for saints,
  • Fiqh (Arabic: فقه) is Islamic jurisprudence,
  • Ilm (Arabic:علم) is the Arabic word for theological knowledge, theology, Ilm
  • Miṣr (Arabic: مصر) the Arabic word for a settlement and also the Arabic name for the nation of Egypt (providing a play on the "gypsies" who were thought incorrectly by Europeans to have come from Egypt);
  • the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), is a Persian epic account of the Persian Shahs through the twelfth century,
  • Ulema (Arabic: علماء) are Muslim doctors of the science of religious law.


In Chapterhouse: Dune it is revealed that Jewish communities continue to exist, scattered across the galaxy. In sharp contrast to the drastic changes which have occurred in other religions in the 25,000 years between the 20th century and the time of the Honored Matres invasion, Judaism has undergone comparatively little change. Jewish characters also feature in Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's sequels, Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune.

These Jewish communities are led by rabbis, at least some of whom have working relationships with the Bene Gesserit. Heretics of Dune suggests that Jewish thought may have influenced the development of Bene Gesserit philosophy. The Jewish community described in the novels defines itself as part of "Secret Israel", which, in conjunction with the sparse historical information given in the novel, suggests that the Jewish people had decided to conceal themselves to follow their religion and avoid the recurrent atrocities of their past. Long ago, the Bene Gesserit and the hidden Jewish communities came to an understanding of sorts: the Bene Gesserit would provide aid to hidden Jews if they were ever threatened, and help hide the fact that the Jewish religion survives in secret; in return, if ever a Bene Gesserit acolyte is lost and threatened on an isolated planet, the local Jewish community give her aid and shelter. A simple arrangement, but one which endured between both groups for millennia. Moreover, the Torah and Talmudic Zabur are listed in Appendix II of Dune as having contributed to the Orange Catholic Bible; the appendix also notes that these books were preserved on Salusa Secundus.

Mahayana Christianity[edit]

A hybrid of Mahayana Buddhism and Christianity, which presumably interpreted Jesus Christ as a Buddha.

Mahayana Lankavatara[edit]

This is a minority religion in the Imperium, which is clearly based on the Lankavatara Sutra, a text of the Mahayana.


The Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson Legends of Dune prequel trilogy notes that "Muadru" is an ancient religion predating the Old Empire before the Time of the Titans. Its prophetic writings are used out of context by Iblis Ginjo during the Butlerian Jihad; there is also some indication that the Muadru and the Cogitors shared the same origin. In Paul of Dune, Paul Atreides shows Count Fenring an ancient Muadru room buried deep under his Arrakeen residence. He further explains to him that the Muadru are an ancient people who once settled through the entire galaxy but became suddenly extinct. They are believed to have settled on Arrakis while it was still a verdant planet and to have introduced the sandworms there long before the arrival of the Zensunni Wanderers.[citation needed]


According to the Legends of Dune trilogy, Navachristianity is the religion of the ruling class on Poritrin. However, according to Dune it is found on the planet Chusuk, but there is no explanation of its tenets. Three tenable etymologies have been suggested. One treats it as a portmanteau of Navajo with Christianity and assumes Herbert was alluding to a movement comparable with the Native American Church; another treats it as a worn down fusion of Nauvoo with Christianity in reference to the American religious movements begun there; the third derives "nava-" from 'new' in Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism, often being used in the same sense as 'neo'. Thus, Navachristianity may simply mean 'neo-Christianity', or represent a blend of Christianity with the religions of the Indian subcontinent; it should be noted, that in light of the syncretic forms of Buddhism listed, the Indian religion most likely is the little-mentioned faith of Hinduism.[citation needed]

Third Islam[edit]

According to Appendix II: The Religion of Dune, there had been three Islamic Movements in the time before the Corrino Imperium, and "Third Islam" is just a shorthand term for "The Third Islamic Movement". Clearly, the First Islamic Movement was that of the Muhammed. Herbert does not go into details about the Second Movement, though it can be inferred that it too had a prophet named Muhammed (it may be suggested too that the "Muadh Quran" of Caladan was the scripture of "Second Islam"). Third Islam's prophet was Maometh (a form of Muhammed) and it was from his teachings in the Maometh Saari that the Zensunni Wanderers schismed. As this happened in 1381 B.G., it follows that the Third Islamic Movement occurred before this date; the association of the syncretic Zensunni with Third Islam implies that the latter saw the fusing of Buddhism with Second Islam. The scripture of the Maometh Saari likely derives its name from the Arabic "saari", meaning "woven cloth", and alludes to the interweaving of koranic surah or ayat with Buddhist sutras (note that sutra itself means a thread).[citation needed]

Zen Hekiganshu[edit]

This is Herbert's rendering of the Hekiganroku, a Chinese collection of Zen (i.e., Chan) koans compiled in China during the Song dynasty in 1125, which formed the basis of an associated cult in the Dune cosmos (or so we may infer). Curiously, Herbert renders the roku ending as shu, which appears to be the character 書, meaning "document" and is notably used in the alternate title for the Classic of History, Shangshu. Thus, in traditional Chinese the phrase Zen Hekiganshu would be Chán Bìyánshū (禪 碧巖書). The connection between Buddislam and this sect is unexplained, but contextually, the inference is that the Zen Hekiganshu tradition rejected any fusion with Islam, thus retaining its purity and minority status.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Herbert, Frank. Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Orange Catholic Bible).
  2. ^ Herbert, Frank. Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Poritrin).
  3. ^ Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Salusa Secundus).
  4. ^ Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Bela Tegeuse).
  5. ^ Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Harmonthep).
  6. ^ a b Frank Herbert's inspirations for Dune: Zen Buddhism ~
  7. ^ Herbert, Frank (July 1980). "DuneGenesis". Omni. Archived from the original on 2012-01-07. Retrieved 2014-02-14.