Aqeedah [Creed] of the Ahle Sunnat wa Jamaat
Imam Ahle Sunat Shah Ahmad Raza’s (may Allah be pleased with him) writings convey a sense of pessimism about the condition of Islam during his time, while urgently calling upon Muslims to reform their ways. Like most of the 19th century reformers in British India, he blamed his fellow Muslims, rather than others, for their current situation. He denounced the views of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and his ‘modernist’ Aligarh school, and ulema such as the Ahle Hadis, the Deobandis, the Nadwat al-Ulema, and the Ahmadis. In addition the Sh’is came under attack and the Hindu reform movement of the Arya Samaj was also a concern.
[Sir Sayyid and his school are referred to as nechari (nature lovers); the Ahle Hadis are ghair-muqallid (followers of none of the 4 Sunni Mazhabs, or schools of law) or Wahhabi, a term also used to describe Deobandis; all Ahmadis, without distinction, are Qadianis (after the town Qadian, where the movement first began); Shi’is are referred to as Rafizis, the name of a Shi’i group in early Muslim history.]
It is vital to examine the Ahle Sunnat’s opposition to the Muslim movements mentioned above in order to understand what they meant by ‘Sunna’ and the way in which they wanted to apply it in their lives. In a broad sense, their opposition stemmed from the argument that there is a constellation of beliefs, the zaruriyat-e din (essentials of the faith), which includes the main creed of Islam but is wider than it in scope, and which must be embraced if one is to ‘be’ a Muslim. Failure to believe in even a single one of these ‘zaruriyat’ made one a kafir. Thus, whoever denies any of the zururiyat-e din is a kafir, and whoever doubts his kufr and punishment is a kafir. Does a man become a Muslim merely by saying the ‘kalima’ and bowing before the Qibla? Until he believes in the zururiyat-e din, he is not entitled to call himself a Muslim, nor will he be saved from the eternity of the fire.
The Zururiyat-e Din and Categories of ‘False Belief’
In 1896 (Shawwal 1313), Imam Ahle Sunnat Shah Ahmad Raza Khan Qadiri (may Allah be pleased with him) wrote a series of fatawa in response to several (self-generated) questions about contemporary Muslim groups such as Sir Sayyid Ahmad of Aligarh and his followers, the Shi’is, the Ahle Haddis or Wahhabis, the Deobandis, and the Nadwat al-Ulema. Four years later, in 1900 these fatawa received the approval of the ‘leading’ ulema of the Haramain, and were published in a risala entitled Fatawa al-Haramain bi-Rajf Nadwat al-Main (fatawa from the Haramain [causing] the Falsehood of the Nadwa to Shudder).
20 of the 28 questions in the risala dealt with the Nadwat al-Ulema, one of the most recent Sunni movements to have arisen. Taking the groups in turn, the Imam concluded that each, in one way or other, was guilty of ‘false’ belief, thereby becoming bad-mazhabs (people with ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ beliefs) and gumrah (‘those who lost their way’), or kafirs and murtadds (apostates). The term occurs in pairs, a group was described either as ‘bad-mazhabs’ and ‘gumrah’, or as ‘kafir’ and ‘murtadd’. Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and his group were said, in the first question, to deny the corporeal existence of the angel Gabriel, the other angels, the jinn, Satan, heaven and hell, as well as the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, and the occurrence of miracles. In their view, all those stood for moral states such as good and evil, and did not ‘actually’ exist.
Moreover, the question said, they believed that all ” books of Hadis and Tafsir are false; they have been created by ulema from their own heads…only the Holy Quran is true”
[Fatawa al-Haramain bi-Rajf Nadwat al-Main, pages 27-8]
In view of such beliefs, were they to be considered Muslims, as they claimed to be? In response, Imam Ahle Sunnat Ahmad Raza Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) wrote:
…. The nechariyya [Sir Sayyid Ahmad and his group] have no relation to Islam. They are kafirs and murtadds, as they deny the zaruriyat-e din. Although they read the kalima, and accept the Qibla of the Muslims, this is not sufficient to make them ahle-e qibla and Muslims. There is no room for alternate interpretation (ta’wil) of the zaruriyat-e din. This has been the judgment of the ulema in their books of aqa’id (faith, creed) and fiqh, as stated in clear expositions (tasrih). [fiqh – Islamic Jurisprudence, based on the Holy Quran and prophetic traditions (sunna), as well as qiyas and ijma (consensus of scholars). Different elaborations on matters of detail distinguish the 4 main Sunni law schools.]
In that case, the next question asked, what was the Imam’s judgment on those who, being acquainted with their views, nevertheless called themselves Muslims and considered them to be celebrated leaders of Muslim opinion (namwar ahl-e ra’e)? To this, Imam Ahmad Raza (may Allah be pleased with him) replied, “Approval of kufr is kufr…if one advances and promotes that kufr [by publishing the views of persons holding beliefs that qualify as such, for instance], then the kufr is even greater.”
About the Ahle Hadis Imam Ahmad Raza further said that they were bid’ati (that is, they had introduced reprehensible innovations), and jahannami (deserving hell) on account of their rejection of taqlid (literally, imitation) and their exclusive reliance on the Holy Quran and hadis:
Sayyid Allama Tahtawi (may Allah be pleased with him)…writes, “Those who separate themselves from the collectively of people of fiqh and ilm (knowledge), and from the great majority, separate themselves in that which will take them to Hell. O, you Muslims! It is imperative (lazim) on you, the group that will receive salvation, that you follow the Ahle Sunnat wa Jamaat, because Almighty Allah’s help, guidance, and favor are with those that agree with the ahl-e sunnat, while those who oppose the ahl-e sunnat, leave Almighty Allah and make Him angry. This salvation-at-training group is today divided into 4 mazhabs: Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki and Hanbali. Whoever is outside these 4, is bid’ati, jahannami.
[Al-Tahtawi was (apparently) a 19th century Egyptian who wrote one of the earliest biographies of the beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in Egypt. See Schimmel, “And Muhammad is His Messenger, page 234]
Being ‘bidati’ they could not be among the Ahle Sunnat, the terms ‘bida’ and ‘sunna’ being mutually contradictory and opposed. In another fatawa, the Imam said clearly that, “It is farz qati (a definitive obligation) to recognize all groups other the Ahle Sunnat as bidati. [Fatawa al-Qudwa li Kash Dafin al-Nadwa (exemplary fatawa to reveal the Nadwa’s Secret, 1313/1895-96, page 6]
It did not follow, however, that all ‘bidatis’ had denied the zururiyat-e din (and were therefore kafirs). The Ahle Hadis group was among those who “are not kafirs, but have been declared gumrah on account of their opposition to the Ahle Sunnat.” They were ‘bad-mazhab’ and ‘gumrah’, and it was ‘necessary by the mazhab of the Ahle Sunnat to “show contempt for them and to oppose them…it is forbidden to show love for them or to unite with them.”
In the Fatawa al-Haramain he wrote: “How can it be permitted (ja’iz) to honor bad-mazhabs? …The beloved Prophet said, “Whoever attempts to honor a bad-mazhabs, is helping in the destruction of Islam.”
The company of the Ahle Hadis followers, and of bad-mazhabs generally, was to be shunned lest they mislead ignorant Muslims, and cause wrong belief to spread further.
Continually, hadis and the words of the Imams [here, the founders of the 4 Sunni law schools] have indicated, saying that it is forbidden to mingle with bad-mazhabs and that it is imperative to stay away from them…The beloved Prophet said, “Stay away from them, lest they lead you astray, and cause turmoil (fitna) [among you]”…[The beloved Prophet also said,] “If they fall ill, don’t ask about them, if they die, don’t join their funerals.” [And,] “When you meet them, don’t marry them.” “Don’t read the namaaz (prayers) with them.”
More positively, they were to be openly denounced and rebutted, and their wrongdoing and false belief made known, particularly by the ulema.
When bad-mazhab things are being published, by the ijma (consensus of the Scholars which, with Quran, sunna, and qiyas constitutes one of the 4 basis of the Law) of the ummat-e din (the religious community), it is one of the important duties [of the ulema] to rebut them, and to make their bareness apparent.
If the ulema did not do so, people would begin to respect them, they would listen to what they had to say, and soon they would be misled. “Then the work of din would fall into the hands of those who have broken their faith into many pieces…and become a separate group.”
In Imam Ahle Sunnat Ahmad Raza Khan’s (may Allah be pleased with him) interpretation ‘bad-mazhab’ and ‘gumrahi’ differed from kufr and irtidad (apostate) in terms of degree, the latter being the worst category of Muslims. For instance, he said if the Shi’is (Rafizis) elevate Hazrat Imam Ali (may Allah ennoble his face), the Prophet’s son-in-law and fourth Caliph in the Sunni view, above Hazrat Abu Baqr (Radhiya Allah ta’ala anhu) and Hazrat Uthman (Radhiya Allah ta’ala anhu), the first and second Caliphs respectively, this is merely ‘bad-mazhab’ according to the jurists. Categorical denial of the Caliphate of either or both of the latter however is kufr, at least in the eyes of the jurists. Theologians (mutakallimin) are more cautious, preferring to call this too ‘bad-mazhab’ rather than ‘kufr’. Imam Ahle Sunnat who saw himself as a jurist, based his contention that a Muslim became a kafir murtadd if he denied any of the ‘essentials’ of faith, the zaruriyat-e din, on an array of Sunni juridical sources.
In practical terms, a Muslim may offer the prayers (namaaz) behind a bad-mazhab, even though this is undesirable, but is if he does so behind a kafir, his prayer will be rendered invalid.
Imam Ahmad Raza Khan Qadiri (Radhiya Allah ta’ala anhu) defined these ‘essentials’, by devoting a brief chapter written in 1880-81 to the zaruriyat-e din, describing them as beliefs which are based on clear the verses (nusus) of the Holy Quran, on accept and unbroken (mashhur wa mutawatir) hadis, and the consensus (ijma) of the community. He then listed a number of beliefs founded on these sources, which the Ahle Sunnat wa Jamaat therefore uphold.
Starting with the Unity of Almighty Allah and the Prophethood of the beloved Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), the list included belief in heaven and hell, the delights and punishments of the grave, the questioning of the dead, the reckoning of on the Day of Resurrection, and the heavenly river (Kausar) and bridge. The other chapters in the book describe in some detail the qualities of Almighty Allah, the Prophet, the angels, the Prophet’s Companions, his family, and the relative ranking of the first 4 Caliphs. This organization suggests that the topics treated in the rest of the book fall outside the class or category of the zururiyat-e din, which in this case seem to relate more to Ahle Sunnat cosmology than it’s belief system as a whole. [Authors own opinion: Usha Sanyal]
In later writings, however, the Imam clearly indicated that the term zururiyat-e din had the widest application, based on the 3 sources of clear Quranic verses, unbroken and accepted Hadis, and the consensus of the community, they included everything that falls under the term Aqa’id (articles of faith), which were central to the identity of a Muslim. The Ahle Sunnat wa Jamaat were identified as those Muslims who faithfully followed and believed in the zururiyat-e din, and as long as one did not deny these, one was a true Muslim.
Not all Muslims, however, belonged to the Ahle Sunnat wa Jamaat group, some groups perceived to be the opponents of the Ahle Sunnat wa Jamaat, were described at ‘bidati’, ‘gumrah’, and ‘bad-mazhab’, though not kafir
Posted on June 3, 2018, in Aqeedah and Fiqh, Articles, Islam and tagged Ahle Hadis, ahle hadith, ahle sunnah wal jamah, Ahle Sunnat’s opposition, Ahmadis, are shia muslims, Deobandis, Qadianis, series of fatawa in response to several (self-generated) questions, Shia sect, Shi’is are referred to as Rafizis, sunni creed, sunni muslims, the name of a Shi’i group in early Muslim history, wahabi and salafi. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.