What is a Sunni is something which has plagued us all at some time, from those who have faced the inquisition at the local masjid about their “Aqidah”, or on the other hand have had to trawl through all the different groups vying for a young Muslims mind and soul, some clarity on the subject is greatly needed. Presented below are some extracts and summaries of points from Sheikh Wahbi Suleiman al-Albani (a pillar of orthodoxy in this age) work on the issue of orthodox belief.
Development of the Science of Tawhid
The scholars of Islam did not invent anything new when they compiled and wrote books on Islamic belief, the need arose to write down and teach the correct muslim belief in a systematic way due to various deviant groups arising such as the Shiah, Khawarij, Mutazilah etc. In order to preserve the correct Islamic belief the scholars of the religion came forward to preserve and protect the aqidah, they wrote books and compiled works to preserve the belief as it was originally revealed. The earliest of them to write about aqidah was Imam Abu Hanifah rh who wrote Fiqh al-Akbar, after him of note was Imam Abul Hasan al-Ashari rh who destroyed the people of innovation in his age and so on down the centuries.
Definition of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaah
Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaah are those who cling/stick to the way/path of the sunnah that the Messenger of Allah (s) gave us, and that which the sahabah followed.
The 2 main head scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah are:
1- Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi d.333
2- Imam Abul Hasan al-Ashari d.330
Qadi al-Baydawi said: “If we use the term Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamah what is meant are the Ashari’s and Maturidi’s.
Sheikh Muhammad al-Saffarini al-Hanbali al-Athari said:
“The Ahl al-Sunnah consists of three groups: al-Athariyyah whose Imam is Ahmad bin Hanbal (Allah have mercy on him), al-Ashariyyah whose Imam is Abul Hasan al-Ashari (Allah have mercy on him), and the Maturidi’s whose Imam is Abu Mansur al-Maturidi”
Allamah Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi in his book al-Farq bain al-Firaq said:
“Know may Allah be pleased with you – that the Ahl al-Sunnah wal Jamaah is composed of 8 categories (of people)” he then went on to mention them as being:
1) Scholars of the 4 madhabs and their followers
2) Scholars of hadith
3) Scholars of Arabic Grammar
4) Scholars of Tafsir
5) The Sufi’s
6) The People making Jihad
7) The general masses of the muslims
Imams Abul Hasan and Abu Mansur were the major figures in defining /clarifying the belief of ahl al-sunnah wal-jamaah, they did not innovate anything but rather they clarified and gave examples and laid down principles, and their teaching was passed on by the brilliant scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah until today.
Differences Between the Maturidis and Ashari’s
The differences between the Maturidi’s and the Ashari’s are not in the matters of the fundamentals of belief and its principles, their differences do not occur in the matters of the attributes of Allah.
One of the scholars has said the differences between the Ashari’s and Maturidi’s is a difference in understanding the meaning intended in some texts (nusus) or what can be derived from some of the evidences.
Definitions of terms Salaf and Khalaf
Al-Salaf: They are the predecessors, the salaf of a person are his: forefathers, meaning your ancestors that passed before you.
Al-Kashani said: al-salaf al-salih is the first generation, those who strive in knowledge, guided by the guidance of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) preserving his sunnah, whom Allah chose to accompnay the Prophet, and chose them to be the Imams of his deen…
Abul Hasan said: They are the sahaba in their actions and speech and that which they deduce in ijtihad.
Al-Ghazali said: al-salaf: meaning the madhab of the sahabah and tabieen.
Al-Bajuri said: what is meant by salaf are those who have preceded from the anbiyah, sahabah, Tabieen, Tabi tabieen and especially the four mujtahid Imams.
Sheikh al-Buti said: The technical meaning for this word is/are the first 3 generations in age of this Islamic/Muslim ummah, the ummah of Sayyidina Muhammad (Allah bless him and give peace), for its source are the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim from Ibn Masud (Allah be pleased with him): “The best generation is my generation, then those that follow them, then those that follow them….”
Al-Khalaf: They are a large and numerous group from the Imams and trustworthy scholars from the fuqaha and mijtahidin, and scholars of usul al-din, tafsir, hadith and Arabic language that came after the third century.