The Importance of the Ahl Al-Sunnah
[The believers are] those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find written down with them in the Torah and the Gospel, commanding them to do right and forbidding them to do wrong, making good things lawful for them and bad things forbidden for them, relieving them of their heavy loads and the chains that were around them. Those who believe in him, honor and help him, and follow the Light that has been sent down with him are successful. (Surat al-A‘raf, 157)
Who Are The Ahl Al-Sunnah?
The Ahl al-Sunnah are those Muslims who believe and live according to the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Only possessing the faith of the Ahl al-Sunnah enables one to gain the knowledge of faith that will lead one to eternal salvation and knowledge of Allah (swt). In order to abide by the Sunnah, it is necessary to recognize and follow our Prophet’s (saas) application of the Qur’an and that of his Companions, who act as a bridge between us and the Sunnah. Our Prophet (saas) has stated the status of and need for his Companions:
“My ummah will divide into seventy-three sects. And all of them will belong to Hell except for one (which will belong to Paradise).” The Companions asked him to identify the sect and he said, “The one that will follow the path on which I walk and my Companions walk.” (al-Tirmidhi)
This sect that attains salvation is known as “al-Firqah al-Najiyyah” (the Saved Sect). Another name for it is “Ahl al-Sunnah wal Jama‘ah” (those on the path of the Prophet [saas] and his companions).
All schools agree, in terms of theology and jurisprudence, on the line drawn by the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. These schools strive to understand, explain, and live by the will of Allah (swt) and His Prophet (saas).
When describing the Ahl al-Sunnah, it is also necessary to describe Salafism, a term derived from the word “salaf.” “Salaf” is the general name given to the Prophet’s (saas) Companions, who followed him in the finest possible manner, and to those who followed them. Al-`aqidah al-Salaf was the belief of all Muslims before the different schools of theology (i`tiqad) emerged. In other words, it is the aqidah of the generations of the Ashab al-Kiram and Tabi'un. Its fundamental doctrine is that the Qur’an’s verses and the hadiths are to be accepted literally. Over time, two schools of theology appeared: the Maturidiyyah and Ash`ariyyah.
Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi, the founder of the Maturidiyyah school, was born in the village of Maturid, Samarkand, in 238 AH (852 CE) and died in Samarkand in 333 AH (944 CE). His general approach was to employ reason together with revelation and to interpret verses and hadiths, when necessary, by using reason. Most Hanafis and Turks follow this school.
Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari, the imam of the Ash`ariyyah school, was born in Basra in 260 AH (873 CE) and died in Baghdad in 324 AH (936 CE). Since his lineage includes the Companion Abu al-Musa al-Ash`ari, he is referred to as al-Ash`ari. Since he was affiliated to the Shafi`i school in deeds, his views were more taken up and disseminated among the Shafi`is. The Malikis also followed his views. Members of the Maturidiyyah and Ash`ariyyah schools differ on very few matters.
The Maturidiyyah and Ash`ariyyah schools represent the Ahl al-Sunnah’s belief. Many other views and schools emerged, such as the Kharijites, Mu’tazilah, Murjiah, Jabriyyah, Mushabbihah, and others. These, in turn, have other subdivisions. These groups are not considered part of the Ahl al-Sunnah.
All of the schools within the Ahl al-Sunnah are in the circle of truth (haqq) and on the true path. The differences among them do not cause corruption (fitnah); rather, they bring mercy. Therefore, those who belong to one of these schools must also appreciate the other schools of truth.
The schools of truth that have emerged in the sphere of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and theology (i`tiqad) do not deviate from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Thus, they do not represent a new religion, but rather are branches that serve Islam in the fields of belief, religious observances, ethics and instruction. They are the expressions of Islam as it actually is. All emerged as the result of a serious need, and all are based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Believers must reflect on Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and ethics just as they do on belief, because each one is a component and complement of the others. Fiqh enables people to know what will (and will not) benefit them in all areas of life. Religion is made up of faith, religious observance, and good manners.