What is in the name ‘kalam’? How the word kalam came to be the name of the science of Islamic theology reveals interesting findings regarding both the unique function and scope of the science itself, on the one hand, and its wider relation to other Islamic sciences, on the other. The word kalam literally means speech, discourse or conversations. Its meanings also include discourse, discursiveness, argumentation, or disputation. As a name of a religious science kalam covers the theological productions and discourses of different Islamic denominations, including Sunnism, Shi`aism, and Mu`tazlim, and Zaydism. Although there are numerous names designated to this science, the word kalam came to be most commonly used among experts and practitioners over other names, as will be further explained below.
One of the most interesting—and sometimes confusing, for some—is that, unlike other Islamic sciences which have had one consistent name since their formulation, the science of kalam has had several names. Understanding the conceptual and historical reasons of what’s in the name of science of kalam is relevant to the study of kalam whether in traditional or academic settings. Traditionally, acquiring knowledge of the different aspects of a science, including its name, subject-matter, founders, among other aspects, has always been part of traditional pedagogical methodology[i]. Historically there were numerous names of kalam, including: (1) al-fiqh al-akbar (lit. the grand understanding), which is chronologically the oldest known name, as it was used as a title for a theological manual by Imam Abu Hanifa al-Nu`man (d. 80/699); (2) `ilm al-kalam, the most common especially among experts; (3) `ilm usul al-din (lit. the foundations of religion), in contrast to the science of Legal Methodology (usul al-fiqh), and together, these two sciences constitute the core of Islamic intellectualism; (4) `ilm al-`aqa’id (doctrines, or `ilm al-`aqida, using the singular); (5) `ilm al-tawhid or`ilm al-tawhid wa al-sifat (the science divine unity and attributes), and this name refers to its cardinal and focal subject matters; and finally (6) `ilm al-nazar wa al-istidlal (the science of theory and inference)[ii]. Whether by signifying the importance of the science (like in previous names 1 and 3), its scope (names 4 and 5), or methodological and logical modes (2 and 6), the previous names surely reflect the core aspects and mode Islamic theology.
As a science, kalam is traditionally defined as “A science which enables the affirmation of religious doctrines by presenting arguments and getting rid of misconceptions”, to use one of the most cited definitions.[iii] As a word, however, kalam, connotes the fluidity and circularity of dialects and debates. Applying such a word to what should naturally be as fixed and anchored as tents and doctrines of faith, makes this combinatory relation worthy of engaging with and attempting to unfold.
The most extensive account of why this science came to be called `ilm al-kalam can be found in Imam al-Taftazani’s seminal commentary on the famous theological manual of Al-`aqaid al-Nasafiyya, in which he starts by listing the eight common reasons why kalam can be so called:
Imam al-Taftazani also mentions five additional and original reasons about the naming of kalam in the same work, arguing,
If thought about inversely, it is probably this very expansive nature of the mode and scope of Islamic theology that have caused the emergence of so many names for it. This echoes the famous mystical aphorism of Imam al-Nifarri; ‘the more the scope of the vision is expanded, the more confined the utterance of expression becomes’ (idha itas`a al-ma`na ḍaqat al-`ibara).
No wonder then that in the English academic literature the science of kalam enjoys a wide gamut of translations: from ‘the science of dialectics’[v], to ‘dogmatic theology’[vi], or a speculative system of philosophical thought[vii], to ‘Islamic speculative theology’[viii], and to natural theology or philosophical theism[ix]. It was even argued to be equivalent to the Greek meaning of “logos” in the various senses of this word, despite the limitations this imposes on the expansive nature of the science.[x] Surely the above wide range of translations affects perceptions with the regard to the contents and the dynamics of the science.
Practitioners and experts of kalam operated within a complex and multifaceted scope of functions. To shed light on the wider epistemological context related to this scope, and in ways that correspond to the justifications previously listed by Imam al-Taftazani, the scope of kalam is best understood in the following light:
Since the subject-matter of `ilm al-tawhid is what is ‘known’ (al-ma`lum) by virtue of its connection to affirming doctrines, no one then should object when they see the scholars of tawhid engaging in natural science, mathematics, medicine, even philosophy, as well as other sciences, since this falls within the core of their mandated mission… The upshot is that this science investigates the fixed judgments for divine essence, His attributes, the states of the contingent beings (mumkinat) in the ‘here-now’ and hereafter according to the ‘law of Islam’ (qanun al-Islam). What is meant by the ‘laws of Islam’ is the means to knowledge in Islam, in the same way it is well known that every comprehensive overarching principle and comprehensive [epistemological] system has its own criteria and measurements with which it weighs and assesses matters. These measurements are the epistemological tools. Known subjects must then be in-line with Islamic epistemological theory. Every epistemological means whose validity has been definitely established is an Islamic epistemological means”[xi]
Certainly, however, the adoption of the name kalam and the association of the discipline and engagement with philosophical argumentation did not come without a price[xii]. This very naming became a tool used by scholars who criticized Islamic theology’s deployment of and engagement with the philosophical method. The word was used as a pun in both statements and book titles criticizing these aspects of the science, by dismissing kalam scholarship as mere hollow talk or speculation.[xiii] Modern anti-kalam Sunni movements use the science of tawhid and `aqida instead for Islamic theology. On the other end of the spectrum, interestingly enough, many reformist theological movements, both Sunni and Shi`a, cling to the word and instead call for a ‘new kalam’ (`ilm al-kalam al-jadid).[xiv]
Finally, one of the most interesting aspects of Islamic sciences is that if one juxtaposes their names in one cluster, one can find that there is a shared link between the linguistic and intellectual[xv]. The names of the core Islamic sciences starting from the Quran (a word whose literal meaning denotes reading, reciting as well as differentiation), Prophetic tradition or hadith (denotes telling, narrating, tradition, and reporting), scriptural exegesis or tafsir (lit. explaining, interpreting, or unveiling a meaning), jurisprudence or fiqh (a word means to acquire a subtle understanding), and logic or mantiq (lit. utterance) as well as the previous explication of the meaning of kalam, suggest an epistemic relation. Although the context here does not allow for adequate expanding, but this epistemic relation can be best understood in the light of the centrality of knowledge in Islam[xvi] and the sciences of Shari`ah, chief among which is theology, and that such a knowledge is to be lived, breathed, embodied and certainly practiced rationally, physically, and spiritually; in the same way ideas are spoken and conversed.
As expressed by Wael Hallaq, Shari`ah, within which kalam, with its wide scope, operates, is essentially a discursive practice.
Shari`ah represented a complex set of social, economic, moral and cultural relations that permeated the epistemic structures of the social and political order. It was a discursive practice in which these relations intersected with each other, acted upon each other and affected one another in a multiple ways…Indeed, the theological substrate encompassed the muddily mystical, the esoterically pantheistic and rationally philosophical. thereby creating complex relations between the Shari`ah and the larger spiritual and intellectual orders in which, and alongside which, it lived and functioned…[A] discursive practice that structurally and organically tied itself to the world around it in ways that were vertical and horizontal, structural and linear, economic and social, moral and ethical, intellectual and spiritual epistemic and cultural and textual and poetic, among much more.[xvii]
The naming of the science of kalam has a particular significance; from the uniqueness of having numerous different names, the particularity and the different denotations and connotations of the term kalam, and the linguistic and historical reasons for how the discipline of Islamic theology came to be known as such, and the linguistic relation with the names of other Islamic disciplines. As erudite scholar of kalam Hasan al-Shafi`i argues, studying the importance of this special name “sheds light on the development of the history of the science [of kalam] and its developments, increases one’s readiness and preparedness to study it, and makes the initial study of it an insightful one.”[xviii]
[i] This is embodied in what is known as the ‘ten principles’ (al-mabadi’ al-`ashra) which are conventionally taught as an introduction at the outset of learning any of the Islamic sciences in traditional circles. These ten principles are combined in famous verses of poetry by Imam al-Sabban on his supra-commentary the famous logical text of Al-sullam. These ten principles compromise: (1) The definition of the science, (2) its subject-matters, (3) the outcome of studying it, (4) the virtues of significance of studying it, (5) its relation to other sciences, (6) its founder(s), (7) its name, (8) its foundational resources, (9) the religious ruling of studying it, and finally (10) its main questions. Al-Sabban, Hashiyya `ala Sharh al-Sullam lil-Mallawi. Cairo; Maṭabi` al-Halabi al-Babi, 2nd edition, 1938, p. 35.
[ii] In his commentary on Al-sanusiyya, Imam al-Bajuri states that some scholars mentions that there are as many as eight different names for this science. However, he only mentions two; `ilm al-tawhid and `ilm al-kalam. Al-Bajuri, Hashiyya `ala matn al-sanusiyya. Al-Matba`a al-Milijiyya, Cairo; 1907; p. 8.
[iii] This is the definition used by Imam al-Iji, from the commentary of Al-Jurjani on his famous book Al-mawaqif, Beirut; Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyya, v. 1, p. 40.
[iv] Al-Taftazani, Sharh al-Nasafiyya. Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Arabiyya, p. 10-11.
[v]Fakhry, Majid. “Philosophy and Theology: From the Eighth Century C.E. to the Present.” In The Oxford History of Islam, edited by John L. Esposito. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 277.
[vi] Chittick, William. Faith and Practice of Islam: Three Thirteenth Century Sufi Texts. New York: SUNY Press, 1992, p. 1.
[vii] Goldziher, Ignac, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, trans. Andras Hamori and Ruth Hamori, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.
[viii] Marmara, Michael. “God and His creation: Two Medieval Islamic Views. In Introduction to Islamic Civilization edited by R. M. Savory. Cambridge University Press,1976, p. 47.
[ix] Craig, William Lane, The Kalam Cosmological Argument. London: Macmillan Press, 1979, p. 4.
[x] Wolfson, Harry Austryn. The Philosophy of Kalam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976, p. 1.
[xi] Fouda, Said. Buhuth fi `ilm al-kalam. Amman, Dar al-Razi, 2004; p. 24, 27.
[xii] For more on the interaction between Islamic theology and philosophy, see “Islamic Philosophy (falsafa)” by Hossein Ziai, in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology edited by Tim Winter. Cambridge, 2008.
[xiii] Books from the genre include Dhamm al-kalam wa ahluh by al-Harawi, and Sawn al-mantiq wa al-kalam `an fan al-mantiq wa al-kalam. The latter work, however, is mainly dedicated to criticizing the use of mantiq or Islamic logic, due to it is adoption of Aristotelian concepts, and it serving as an auxiliary science to the field of Islamic theological investigations.
[xiv] From Sunni theology, see the work of the famous later Indian scholar al-Shibli al-Nu`mani in this, and the important book Fi usul al-hiwar wa tajdid `ilm al-kalam (On the Foundations of Dialogue and the Revival of the Science of Kalam). In Shi`a tradition, the reformist contributions of Haydar Huballah under the very title `Ilm al-kalm al-jadid and works of Abd al-Jabar al-Rifa`I on this subject.
[xv] For more on tradition-guided rationality read Alasdair MacIntyre’s work, especially Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry. In relation to the inherent philosophical dimension of Islamic theology and its relationship to linguistic, as naturally embodied in the name kalam, this following argument can be read from Whose Justice? Which Rationality? “tradition-constituted and tradition-constitutive enquiry, what a particular doctrine claims, is always a matter of how precisely advanced, of the linguistic particularities of its formulation, of what in that time and place had to be denied, if it was to be asserted, of what was at the time presupposed by its assertions, and so on.” (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988, p. 10).
[xvi] The first chapter of Imam al-Ghazali’s Ihya `ulum al-din certainly important in this regard. An important work in the English language that investigates this relation is Rosenthal, Franz. Knowledge Triumphant. The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam. Leiden: Brill, 1970.
[xvii] Hallaq, Wael. Shari`ah, Theory, Practice and Transformations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 543-544.
[xviii] Al-Shafi`i, Hasan. Al-madkhal ila dirasat `ilm al-kalam. Cairo: Maktabat Wahba, 1991, p. 25.
Feature image courtesy of Sohail Nakhooda https://snakhooda.smugmug.com/
‘Ali ibn Isma‘il ibn Abi Bishr Ishaq ibn Salim, Abu al-Hasan al-Ash‘ari al-Yamani al-Basri al-Baghdadi (260-324), a descendent of the Yemeni Companion Abu Musa al-Ash`ari, was in the first half of his scholarly career a disciple of the Mu`tazili teacher Abu `Ali al-Jubba’i, whose doctrines he abandoned in his fortieth year after asking him a question al-Jubba’i failed to resolve over the issue of the supposed divine obligation to abandon the good for the sake of the better (al-sâlih wa al-aslah). At that time he adopted the doctrines of the sifatiyya, those of Ahl al-Sunna who assert that the divine Attributes are obligatorily characterized by perfection, unchanging, and without beginning, but He is under no obligation whatsoever to abandon the good for the sake of the better. He left Basra and came to Baghdad, and took fiqh from the Shafi`i jurist Abu Ishaq al-Marwazi (d. 340). He devoted the next twenty-four years to the refutation of “the Mu`tazila, the Rafida, the Jahmiyya, the Khawarij, and the rest of the various kinds of innovators” in the words of al-Khatib. His student Bundar related that his yearly expenditure was a meager seventeen dirhams.
Among al-Ash`ari’s books up to the year 320 as listed by himself in al-`Umad (“The Supports”)
Adab al-Jadal (“The Etiquette of Disputation”).
Al-Asma’ wa al-Ahkam (“The Names and the Rulings”), which describes the divergences in the terminology of the scholars and their understanding of the general and the particular.
Al-Dafi` li al-Muhadhdhab (“The Repelling of `The Emendation’”), a refutation of al-Khalidi’s book by that title.
Al-Funun (“The Disciplines”), a refutation of atheists. A second book bearing that title was also written, on the disciplines of kalâm.
Al-Fusul (“The Sub-Headings”) in twelve volumes, a refutation of the philosophers, perennialists, and members of various religions such as Brahmans, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. It contains a refutation of Ibn al-Rawandi’s claim that the world exists without beginning.
Idah al-Burhan fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Tughyan (“The Clarification of the Proof in the Refutation of Heretics”), a preliminary to al-Mujaz.
Al-Idrak (“The Awareness”), on the disciplines that address the subtleties of dialectic theology.
Al-Istita`a (“Potency”), a refutation of the Mu`tazila.
Al-Jawabat fi al-Sifat `an Masa’il Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Shubuhat (“The Replies Pertaining to the Attributes On the Questions and Sophistries of Heretics”), al-Ash`ari’s largest work, a refutation of all the Mu`tazili doctrines he had upheld previously.
Al-Jawhar fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Munkar (“The Essence: Refutation of the People of Heresy and Transgression”).
Al-Jism (“The Body”), a proof of the Mu`tazila’s inability to answer essential questions that pertain to corporeality, contrary to Ahl al-Sunna.
Jumal al-Maqalat (“The Sum of Sayings”), which lists the positions of atheists and the positions of monotheists.
Khalq al-A`mal (“The Creation of Deeds”), a refutation of the doctrine of the Mu`tazila and Qadariyya whereby man creates his own deeds.
Al-Luma` fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Bida` (“The Sparks: A Refutation of Heretics and Innovators”), a slim volume.
Al-Luma` al-Kabir (“The Major Book of Sparks”), a preliminary to Idah al-Burhan and, together with the Luma` al-Saghir, the last work composed by al-Ash`ari according to our Shaykh `Isa al-Humyari.
Al-Luma` al-Saghir (“The Minor Book of Sparks”), a preliminary to al-Luma` al-Kabir.
Maqalat al-Falasifa (“The Sayings of Philosophers”).
Maqalat al-Islamiyyin wa Ikhtilfa al-Musallin (“The Discourses of the Proponents of Islam and the Differences Among the Worshippers”), an encyclopedia of Islamic sects.
Al-Masa’il `ala Ahl al-Tathniya (“The Questions in Refutation of the Dualists”).
al-Mujaz (“The Concise”) in twelve volumes, which identifies and describes the various Islamic sects. It contains a refutation of the Shi`i doctrines of the questioning of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq’s imamate and of the infallibility of the Imam in every era.
Al-Mukhtasar fi al-Tawhid wa al-Qadar (“The Abridgment: On the Doctrine of Oneness and Foreordained Destiny”), a review of the different doctrinal issues which the opponents of Ahl al-Sunna are unable to address.
Al-Mukhtazan (“The Safekeeping”), on the questions which opponents did not bring up but which pertain to their doctrines.
Al-Muntakhal (“The Sifted”), a response to questions from the scholars of Basra.
Naqd al-Balkhi fi Usul al-Mu`tazila (“Critique of al-Balkhi and the Principles of the Mu`tazila“), a refutation of the book of the Mu`tazili scholar al-Balkhi entitled Naqd Ta’wil al-Adilla (“Critique of the Interpretation of the Textual Proofs”).
Al-Nawadir fi Daqa’iq al-Kalam (“The Rarities Concerning the Minutiae of Dialectic Theology”).
Al-Qami` li Kitab al-Khalidi fi al-Irada (“The Subduer: A Refutation of al-Khalidi’s Book on the Will”), a refutation of a-Khalidi’s doctrine whereby Allah creates His own will.
Al-Radd `ala Ibn al-Rawandi (“Refutation of Ibn al-Rawandi”) concerning the Divine Attributes and the Qur’an.
Al-Radd `ala Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab al-Jubba’i, an extensive refutation of a Mu`tazili scholar and of his book al-Usul (“The Principles”).
Al-Radd `ala al-Mujassima (“Refutation of the Anthropomorphists”).
A refutation of `Abbad ibn Sulayman in the minutiae of kalâm.
A refutation of a book by `Ali ibn `Isa.
A refutation of al-Balkhi’s book in which the latter claimed he had rectified Ibn al-Rawandi’s error in his disputation.
A refutation of al-Iskafi’s book entitled al-Latif (“The Subtle”).
A refutation of al-Jubba’i on the principles and conditions of scholarly investigation and the derivation of rulings.
A Refutation of al-Jubba’i’s objections to al-Ash`ari on the vision of Allah in the hereafter as reported by Muhammad ibn `Umar al-Saymari.
A refutation of al-Khalidi’s book on the denial of the vision of Allah in the hereafter.
A refutation of al-Khalidi’s book on the denial of the creation of the deeds of human beings by Allah Almighty and Exalted according to His decision.
The refutation of the philosophers, especially the Perennialist Ibn Qays al-Dahri and Aristotle’s books “On the Heavens” and “On the World.”
Al-Ru’ya (“The Vision”), which affirms the vision of Allah by the believers in the hereafter, contrary to the Mu`tazili doctrine which denies the possibility of such a vision.
Al-Sharh wa al-Tafsil fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Ifk wa al-Tadlil (“The Detailed Explanation in Refutation of the People of Perdition”), a manual for beginners and students to read before al-Luma`.
Al-Sifat (“The Attributes”), a description of the doctrines of the Mu`tazila, Jahmiyya, and other sects that differ from Ahl al-Sunna on the topic of the Divine Attributes. It contains a refutation of Abu al-Hudhayl, Ma`mar, al-Nazzam, al-Futi, and al-Nashi, and an affirmation that the Creator possesses a face and hands.
Tafsir al-Qur’an wa al-Radd `ala man Khalafa al-Bayan min Ahl al-Ifki wa al-Buhtan (“A Commentary on the Qur’an and Refutation of Those Who Contradicted it Among the People of Perdition and Calumny”) which Ibn al-`Arabi al-Maliki says numbered 500 volumes. Ibn al-Subki reports from al-Dhahabi that this Tafsir was written at a time al-Ash`ari was still a Mu`tazili.
Various epistles in response to questions from the scholars of Tabaristan, Khurasan, Arrujan, Sayraf, Amman, Jurjan, Damascus, Wasit, Ramahramuz, Baghdad, Egypt, and Persia.
Ziyadat al-Nawadir (“Addenda to `The Rarities’”).
Among al-Ash`ari’s books between the year 320 and his death in 324 as listed by Ibn Furak:
Af`al al-Nabi Sallallahu `Alayhi wa Sallam (“The Acts of the Prophet – Allah bless and greet him”).
Al-Akhbar (“The Reports”).
Bayan Madhhab al-Nasara (“Exposition of the Doctrine of Christians”)
Hikayat Madhahib al-Mujassima (“The Tales of the Schools of the Anthropomorphists”), a refutation of the proofs they adduce.
Al-Ihtijaj (“The Adducing of the Proofs”).
Al-Imama (“The Doctrine of the Imam”).
Ithbat al-Qiyas (“The Upholding of the Principle of Analogy”).
Sessions around the lone-narrator report (al-khabar al-wâhid).
Mutashabih al-Qur’an (“The Ambiguities in the Qur’an”), in which he brought together the stands of the Mu`tazila and the atheists in their invalidations of the ambiguities in the hadith.
Naqd Ibn al-Rawandi `ala Ibtal al-Tawatur (“The Critique of Ibn al-Rawandi’s Denial of Mass-Narrated Hadiths”), which contains an affirmation of the principle of Consensus (ijmâ`).
Naqd al-Mudahat (“Critique of `The Similarity’”), a refutation of al-Iskafi on the term qadar.
Naqd al-Taj `ala al-Rawandi (“The Diadem: Critique of Ibn al-Rawandi”).
On questions put to al-Jubba’i concerning names and rulings.
A refutation of Abu al-Hudhayl on the limitlessness of the foreknowledge and decisions of Allah Almighty and Exalted and another on motions.
A refutation of Harith al-Warraq on the Attributes.
A refutation of the logicians.
A refutation of the proponents of metempsychosis and reincarnation.
al-`Umad (“The Supports”) on the vision of Allah in the hereafter.
Al-Wuquf wa al-`Umum (“The Abeyance of Rights and the Public at Large”).
After listing the above titles, Ibn `Asakir says: “I have seen other works not mentioned by Ibn Furak in his list.” He then proceeds to list the following:
Al-Hathth `ala al-Bahth (“The Encouragement to Research”).
Risala al-Iman, an epistle on Belief which discusses whether it is permissible to say that belief is created. Ibn Hajar heard it from Abu Ishaq al-Tannukhi with the latter’s chain of transmission back to al-Ash`ari, through the latter’s student Abu al-Hasan Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Miqsam al-Muqri’ al-Baghdadi.
Risala ila Ahl al-Thughar (“Epistle to the People of al-Thughar”), a definition on the doctrines of Ahl al-Sunna.
Ibn `Asakir then mentions that al-Ash`ari’s works number over two or three hundred books. As for the epistle entitled Istihsan al-Khawd fi `Ilm al-Kalam, al-Ash`ari most likely wrote it – provided he actually authored it – before his conversion, since it is ostensibly directed against the Hanbalis and uses markedly Mu`tazili terminology such as “divine Oneness and Justice” (al-tawhîd wa al-`adl) in reference to the fundamentals of belief.
The Corrupt Text of al-Ash`ari’s al-Ibana
The above lists exclude al-Ash`ari’s al-Ibana `an Usul al-Diyana but Ibn `Asakir explicitly attributes it to him in the first few pages of Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari, an attribution confirmed by al-Bayhaqi, Abu al-`Abbas al-`Iraqi, Abu `Uthman al-Sabuni, and other hadith masters. The book dates from the beginnings of al-Ash`ari’s Sunni career according to a report narrated by Ibn Abi Ya`la in Tabaqat al-Hanabila and adduced by al-Dhahabi in the Siyar. The report is phrased rather oddly since it depicts a fawning Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari visiting the Hanbali Abu Muhammad al-Barbahari upon entering Baghdad and enumerating before him his refutations of the Mu`tazila and defense of Ahl al-Sunna in order to win his approval, to which al-Barbahari coolly responds: “We only know what Ahmad ibn Hanbal said.” “Whereupon,” the report continues, “al-Ash`ari went out and wrote al-Ibana but they [the Hanbalis] did not accept it from him.” Al-Dhahabi cites this report at the opening of his biographical notice on al-Barbahari in the Siyar directly following the extremely brief notice on Imam al-Ash`ari. Apart from its obviously Hanbali-biased terms, the report clearly shows that al-Ash`ari composed the Ibana upon first coming to Baghdad or shortly thereafter. Shaykh Wahbi Ghawiji cites a statement explicitly confirming this date from Imam Abu al-Hasan `Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Muqri (Ibn Matar) who died in the year 306: “Imam al-Ash`ari composed it in Baghdad upon entering it.”
However, despite the authenticity of al-Ash`ari’s authorship, the text of the Ibana itself has undoubtedly not reached us in its original authentic form but in a corrupted version which comprises interpolations along two main ideological slants:
(1) the anthropomorphist interpretation of the divine Attributes and
(2) the apostatizing of Imam Abu Hanifa for supposedly holding, with the Jahmiyya, that the Qur’an was created.
Shaykh Wahbi Sulayman Ghawiji has shown in his analysis of the work entitled Nazra `Ilmiyya fi Nisba Kitab al-Ibana Jami`ihi ila al-Imam al-Ash`ari(“A Scientific Look at the Attribution of al-Ibana in Its Entirety to Imam al-Ash`ari”) that these two stances are contradicted by what is known of al-Ash`ari’s authentic positions in his and his students’ works.
The anthropomorphist interpretation of the divine Attributes is illustrated by the following examples:
The passage: “[Our position is] that He has two eyes (`aynayn) without saying how; just as He stated: That ran under Our eyes (a`yuninâ) (54:14).” Ibn `Asakir’s citation of the same passage in the Tabyin states: “[Our position is] that He has an eye (`aynan) without saying how.” A recent edition of theIbana consequently amended its own tradition to follow the text cited by Ibn `Asakir since the evidence of the Qur’an and the Sunna mentions My Eye(`aynî) (20:39) in the singular and Our Eyes (52:48, 54:14) in the plural but never two eyes in the dual. Further down in all versions of the Ibana the text states: “Allah Almighty and Exalted has said that He possesses a face and an eye which is neither given modality nor defined.”
The passage: “When supplicating, the Muslims raise their hands toward the sky, because Allah Almighty and Exalted is established (mustawin) over the Throne which is above the heavens… The Muslims all say: `O Dweller of the Throne’ (yâ sâkin al-`arsh)!” This kind of faulty reasoning can hardly come from al-Ash`ari for the following reasons:
The Attributes are divinely ordained (tawqîfiyya) and al-Ash`ari considers it impermissible to make up or derive new terms such as mustawin and sâkin al-`arsh if there is no verse or authentic hadith transmitting them verbatim: “My method in the acceptance of the Names of Allah is Law-based authorization without regard to lexical analogy.”
The argument of supplication on the basis of location leads to placing Allah Almighty and Exalted inside the Ka`ba according to the same logic, an absurd impossibility.
The claim that “the Muslims all say: `O Dweller of the Throne’” is unheard of. Yet Ibn Taymiyya cites it and attempts to justify it with the narration: “Allah created seven heavens then chose the uppermost and dwelt in it,” adducing a condemned report to support an invented phrase!
Three editions of the Ibana have, “O Dweller of the heaven (yâ sâkin al-`samâ’)” which further casts doubt on the integrity of the text in addition to being equally anthropomorphist.
The passage: “If we are asked: `Do you say that Allah has two hands?’ The answer is: We do say that, without saying `how.’ It is indicated by the saying of Allah Almighty and Exalted The Hand of Allah is above their hands (48:10) and His saying that which I have created with both My hands(38:75). It was also narrated from the Prophet – Allah bless and greet him – that he said: `Allah created Adam with His hand then He wiped his back with His hand and brought out of it his offspring.’ So it is established that He has two hands without saying how. And the transmitted report reached us from the Prophet – Allah bless and greet him – that `Allah created Adam with Hand, created the Garden of `Adn with His hand, wrote the Torah with His hand, and planted the tree of Tuba with His hand,’ that is: with the hand of His power (ay biyadi qudratih).” The last clause contradicts the entire reasoning that precedes and follows, and is actually suppressed from the latest edition of the Ibana! The text further states: “They say: `the hands’ (al-ayd) are the strength (al-quwwa), so the meaning of with both My hands has to be `with My power’ (bi qudratî). The answer to them is: That interpretation is wrong.” Al-Ash`ari’s actual position on the Attribute of hand according to Ibn `Asakir is: “Al-Ash`ari took the middle road [between the Mu`tazila and the anthropomorphists] and said: His hand is an Attribute and His face is an Attribute, just like His hearing and His sight.”
The following passage is missing from two of the editions of al-Ibana but is found in two others: “And [we believe] that He established Himself over the Throne in the sense that He said and the meaning that He wills in a way that transcends touch, settlement, fixity, immanence, and displacement. The Throne does not carry him, rather the Throne and its carriers are carried by the subtleness of His power, subdued under His grip. He is above the Throne and the Heavens and above everything to the limits of the earth with an aboveness which does not bring Him nearer to the Throne and the Heavens, just as it does not make Him further from the earth. Rather, He is Highly Exalted above the Throne and the Heavens, just as He is Highly Exalted above the earth. Nevertheless, He is near to every entity and is (nearer to [the worshipper] than his jugular vein) and He witnesses everything.”
2. The apostatizing of Imam Abu Hanifa for supposedly holding, with the Jahmiyya, that the Qur’an was created. Imam al-Tahawi stated that Abu Hanifa held the opposite position in his Mu`taqad Abi Hanifa or “Abu Hanifa’s Creed,” also known as the `Aqida Tahawiyya. Nor did al-Ash`ari mention Abu Hanifa in the chapter on those who held the Qur’an was created in his Maqalat al-Islamiyyin. Al-Ash`ari lived in Baghdad – the seat of the Caliphate and home of the Hanafi school – at a time the Hanafi school had long been the state creed and would probably have been executed or exiled for making such a charge. Furthermore, al-Bayhaqi stated that “al-Ash`ari used to defend the positions of the past Imams such as Abu Hanifa and Sufyan al-Thawri among the Kufans.” The charge of the Ibana is therefore almost certainly a later interpolation, as enmity against the Imam al-A`zam and his school and followers typifies fanatic Hanbalis and their “Salafi” successors.
There are also blatant errors which al-Ash`ari the heresiographer and former Mu`tazili would never commit, such as the attribution to the Mu`tazila as a whole of the belief that Allah Almighty and Exalted is everywhere, when he himself reports in his Maqalat that the vast majority of the Mu`tazila said, likeAhl al-Sunna, that it was the controlling disposal (tadbîr) of Allah Almighty and Exalted that was everywhere. Furthermore, there is apparently no known chain of transmission for the Ibana from the Imam despite its ostensible fame and the abundance of his students, nor do any of his first or second-generation students – such as Ibn Furak – make any mention of it. Finally, Imam al-Qushayri’s Shikaya Ahl al-Sunna bi Hikaya Ma Nalahum Min al-Mihna provides an additional external sign that the tampering of al-Ash`ari’s Ibana took place possibly as early as the fifth century:
They have attributed despicable positions to al-Ash`ari and claimed he had said certain things of which there is not one iota in his books. Nor can such sayings be found reported in any of the books of the scholars of kalâm who either supported him or opposed him, from the earliest times to our own – whether directly quoted or paraphrased. All of that is misrepresentation, forgery, and unmitigated calumny!
In conclusion it is possible to say with a fair degree of certainty that the Ibana attributed to al-Ash`ari today is actually the anonymous, chainless rewriting of an anti-Ash`ari, anti-Hanafi literalist with clear anthropomorphist leanings and a willingness to adduce Israelite reports typical of the works of anthropomorphist doctrine while the unaltered version known to Ibn `Asakir, Abu `Uthman al-Sabuni, and other Ash`aris did not reach us. It is a telling confirmation of this conclusion that the early anthropomorphists used to reject the Ibana while those of later centuries quote it without reservation. And Allah knows best.
Many people today like to classify themselves as belonging to the Saved Sect (Firqatun-Najiyyah) – Ahl as-Sunnah Wa’l Jama’ah; but do these people really know which is the Saved Sect, from the many sects we have today? The following is an attempt to clarify some misconceptions by way of definitive proofs from the Qur’an and Sunnah, as well as quotes from the profoundly learned Classical Scholars of Islam. Know that there is only one Saved Sect in Islam, and this is the original pristine form of Islam that has been transmitted to us by Allah Subhana Wa Ta’ala in his Qur’an, his Rasul (Peace and blessings be upon him), the blessed Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) and the great scholars of Islam (Allah’s mercy be upon them all) who have been following their Straight Path for more than one thousand years of Islam’s history. The first question that should be raised is: “What differentiates one sect from another sect?” The answer to this is simple and definitive! Know that the chief characteristic that distinguishes one sect from another, lies not in the differences of opinion that its scholars have attained by making ijtihad from the sources of the Shari’ah (this leads to the formation of the Madhhabs), but rather the actual belief (aqid’ah or i’tiqad in Arabic) that the scholars and laity of the sect in question are clinging onto – since the founding of their respective sect.
According to the unknown author of the book Belief and Islam (pp. 78-9), the faith of the People of the Sunnah and Jama’ah was spread as follows:
“Nowadays, some mouths frequently use the name of ‘Salafiyya’. Every Muslim should know very well that in Islam there is nothing in the name of the Madhhab of Salafiyya but there is the Madhhab of the Salaf as-salihin who were the Muslims of the first two Islamic centuries (i.e; the Companions, their successors and the followers of the successors) which were lauded in a Hadith sharif. The ulama of Islam who came in the third and fourth centuries are called Khalaf as-sadiqin. The i’tiqad (belief) of these honourable people is called the Madhhab of Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l Jama’ah. This is the Madhhab of Iman, tenets of faith. The Iman held by the Sahaba al-Kiram (may Allah be pleased with them all) and by theTabi’un (Allah’s mercy be upon them all) was the same. There was no difference between their beliefs. Today most Muslims in the world are in the Madhhab of Ahl as-Sunnah (i.e; most Muslim’s claim to be Sunni’s). All the seventy-two heretical groups (see later for the actual Hadith and its commentary) of bid’ah appeared (mainly) after the second century of Islam. Founders of some of them lived earlier, but it was after the Tabi’unthat their books were written, and that they appeared in groups and defied the Ahl as-Sunnah.
Rasulullah (Peace and blessings be upon him) brought the beliefs of Ahl as-Sunnah. The Sahaba al-kiram (may Allah be pleased with them all) derived these teachings of Iman from the source (the Qur’an and Sunnah). And the Tabi’un (successors), in their turn, learned these teachings from the Sahaba al-kiram. And from them their successors learned, thus the teachings of Ahl as-Sunnah reached us by way of transmission and tawatur (through many undeniable chains of transmission). These teachings cannot be explored by way of reasoning. Intellect cannot change them and will only help understand them. That is, intellect is necessary for understanding them, for realizing that they are right and for knowing their value. All the scholars of Hadith held the beliefs of the Ahl as-Sunnah. The Imams of the four Madhhabs in deeds, too, were in this Madhhab. Also, al-Maturidi and al-Ashari (Allah’s mercy be upon them), the two Imam’s of our Madhhab in beliefs, were in the Madhhab of the Ahl as-Sunnah. Both of these Imams promulgated this Madhhab. They always defended this Madhhab against heretics and materialists, who had been stuck in the bogs of ancient Greek philosophy. Though they were contemporaries, they lived in different places and the ways of thinking and behaving of the offenders they had met were different, so the methods of defence used and the answers given by these two great scholars of Ahl as-Sunnah were different. But this does not mean that they belonged to different Madhhabs (rather they were both from the Ahl as-Sunnah). Hundreds of thousands of profoundly learned ulama and awliya (friends of Allah) coming after these two exalted Imams studied their books and stated in consensus that they both belonged to the Madhhab of the Ahl as-Sunnah. The scholars of the Ahl as-Sunnah took the nass (Qur’an and Sunnah) with their outward meanings. That is, they gave the ayats and Hadiths their outward meanings, and did not explain away (ta’wil) thenass or change these meanings unless there was a darura (necessity) to do so. And they never made any changes with their personal knowledge or opinions. But those who belonged to heretical groups and the la-Madhhabi (those who do not belong to one of the four Madhhabs) did not hesitate to change the teachings of Iman and Ibadat (worship) as they had learned from (the books of) Greek philosophers and from sham scientists, who were Islam’s adversaries.”
Let us now see what the definition of Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l Jama’ah was according to the classical scholars of this aided, Victorious sect (Tai’fatul-Mansoorah) of Islam.
(1) Shaykh al-Islam Ahmad ibn Hajar al-Haytami (d. 974/1567; R.A.)
Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Haytami defined the Sunni Muslims as follows in his book Fath al-jawad:
“A mubtadi (innovator) is the person who does not have the faith (aqid’ah) conveyed unanimously by the Ahl as-Sunnah. This unanimity was transmitted by the two great Imam’s Abu’l Hasan al-Ashari (d.324/936; Rahimahullah) and Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d.333/944; Rahimahullah) and the scholars who followed their path.” Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Haytami also said in his book al-Fatawa al-Hadithiyya (pg. 205): “Man of bid’ah means one whose beliefs are different from the Ahl as-Sunnah faith. The Ahl as-Sunnah faith, is the faith of Abu’l Hasan al-Ashari, Abu Mansur al-Maturidi and those who followed them. One who brings forth something which is not approved by Islam becomes a man of bid’ah.”
(2) Imam Ahmad Shihab ad-Din al Qalyubi (d.1069/1659; R.A.)
Imam al-Qalyubi wrote on the fourth volume of his marginalia to the book Kanz ar-raghibin:
“One who departs from what Abu’l Hasan al-Ashari and Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (Allah’s mercy be upon them) reported is not a Sunni. These two Imam’s followed the footprints of Rasulullah (Peace be upon him) and his Sahaba (may Allah be pleased with them all).”
(3) Imam Abdullah ibn Alawi al-Haddad (d. 1132 AH; Rahimahullah)
Imam al-Haddad stated in The Book of Assistance (pg. 40):
“You must correct and protect your beliefs and conform to the pattern of the party of salvation, who are those known from among the other Islamic factions as the “People of the Sunnah and Jama’ah” (Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l Jama’ah). They are those who firmly adhere to the way of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), and of his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all).
If you look with a sound understanding into those passages relating to the sciences of faith in the Book (Qur’an), the Sunnah, and the saying of the virtuous predecessors, whether they be Companions or followers, you will know for certain that the truth is with the party called the Ashari (NB-the Maturidi’s are also upon the truth), named after the Shaykh Abu’l Hasan al-Ashari, may Allah have mercy on him, who systematized the foundations of the creed of the people of the truth, and recorded its earliest versions, these being the beliefs with the Companions and the best among the followers agreed upon.”
(4) Imam Abdal Ghani an-Nablusi (d. 1143/1733; Rahimahullah)
Imam an-Nablusi stated in his book al-Hadiqat an-Nadiyya (vol. 2, pg. 103):
“Jama’ah is rahma, that is, the union of Muslims on truth brings Allahu ta’ala’s Compassion. Tafriqa is adhab, that is, separation from the Community of Muslims brings about punishment from Allahu ta’ala. Hence, it is necessary for every Muslim to unite with those who are on the right path. He must join and believe like them even if they are only a small group. The right path is the path of as-Sahaba al-Kiram. Those who follow this path are called Ahl as-Sunnah Wa’l Jama’ah. It should not confuse us that many heretical groups appeared after the time of as-Sahaba al-Kiram. Al-Imam al-Bayhaqi (d. 458/1066; Rahimahullah) said, ‘When Muslims go astray, you should follow the right path of those who came before them! You should not give up that path even if you are left alone on the path!‘ Najm ad-Din al-Ghazzi (d. 1061/1651; Rahimahullah) wrote: ‘Ahl as-Sunnah Wa’l Jama’ah are those ulama who keep on the right path of Rasullullah (Peace and blessings be upon him) and as-Sahaba al-Kiram. As-Sawad al-Azam, that is, the majority of Islamic scholars, have followed this right path. The Firqatun-Naajiyyah which was defined to be the group of salvation among the seventy three groups is this true Jama’ah.‘ The Qur’an al-Karim declares, ‘Do not disunite!‘ This ayat means ‘Do not disunite in i’tiqad, in the teachings of beliefs!‘ Most ulama, for example, Abdullah ibn Masood (may Allah be pleased with him), interpreted this ayat as above and said that it meant, ‘Do not deviate from the right path by following your desires and corrupt ideas.‘ This ayat does not mean that there should be no disagreement in the knowledge of fiqh. It forbids separation which causes discord and dissension in the knowledge of i’tiqad (see Imam al-Qurtubi’s opinion later). The disagreement in the knowledge (of fiqh) derived through ijtihad in the field of practices (amal) is not a discord, because such disagreement has brought to sight the rights, the fards and the subtle teachings in amal andIbadah (worship). As-Sahaba al-kiram (Allah be pleased with them all), too, differed from one another in those teachings that explained the daily life, but there was no disagreement among them in the knowledge of i’tiqad.”
(5) Allamah Sayyid Ahmad at-Tahtawi (d. 1231/1816; Rahimahullah)
Allamah Sayyid Ahmad at-Tahtawi, a great Hanafi fiqh scholar of Egypt, wrote on the subject of ‘Zabayih‘ in his Hashiya al-Durr al-Mukhtar:
“According to the majority of scholars of tafsir, the ayat, ‘They parted into groups in the religion,‘ referred to the people of bid’ah who would arise in this Ummah. In a Hadith reported by Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), Rasulullah (Peace and blessings be upon him) said to Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), ‘The ayat about the partitions into groups in the religion refers to the people of bid’ah and to the followers of their nafs who would arise in this Ummah.’ Allah declared in the 153rd ayat of Surah Al-An’am, ‘This is My Straight path, so follow it! Follow not other ways, lest you be parted from His way!‘ (that is, Jews, Christians, and other heretics departed from the right path; you should not part like them!). In the 103rd ayat of Surah Al-Imran, Allah declares, ‘And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah, and do not separate!‘ (see later for a brief commentary). Some scholars of tafsir said that Allah’s rope meant Jama’ah, unity. The command, ‘Do not separate‘, shows that it is so and the Jama’ah are the possessors of fiqh and ilm (knowledge). One who descents from fuqaha (scholars of fiqh) as much as a span falls into heresy, becomes deprived of Allah’s help and deserves Hell, because the fuqaha have been on the right path and have held on to the Sunnah of Rasulullah (Peace and blessings be upon him) and on to the path of al-Khulafa ar-Rashideen, the Four Khaliphs (may Allah be pleased with them). As-Sawad al-Azam, that is, the majority of the Muslims, are on the path of fuqaha. Those who depart from their path will burn in the fire of Hell. O believers! Follow the unique group which is protected against Hell! And this group is the one that is called Ahl as-Sunnah Wa’l Jama’ah. For, Allah’s help, protection and guidance are for the followers of this group, and His wrath and punishment are for those who dissent from this group. Today, this group of salvation comes together in the Four Madhhabs, namely the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali.”
It is very important to have unity in the Ummah, and to achieve this goal of unity it is incumbent that the whole Ummah has the correct and preservedaqidah of the Salaf as-salihin (may Allah be pleased with them all); since Allah will no doubt ask us about our aqidah if it is not in conformity with the divine revelation and what his Messenger (Peace and blessings be upon him) transmitted to us. The way of the Salaf as-salihin is the way of the saved sect of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l Jama’ah. And we should all know that the Jama’ah is the sect which has the most correct and united aqid’ah out of all other Jama’ahs. To know what is the real Jama’ah, one must look into the Qur’an and Hadith for evidence. If one was to look deeply in to this matter with an open and scholarly mind, one will come to the conclusion that this great Jama’ah is the one which is composed of the foremost scholars of Qur’anic commentary, Hadith, fiqh and other Islamic sciences; it is no doubt the Jama’ah which has had the greatest following throughout Islamic history in terms of scholars and laity, and this alone is the main body of Islam which represents the views of the great mass of believers (as-Sawad al-Azam) as we shall see from the Hadith evidence below. Let us now see what Allah ta’ala has said about unity and schism in the Holy Qur’an.
(1) Surah al-Imran (3:103):
“And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah and be not divided.”
Imam Sayf ad-Din al-Amidi (d. 631/1233; Rahimahullah) said in his al-Ihkam fi usul al-ahkam (The proficiency: on the fundamentals of legal rulings, pg. 295) with regard to the above Qur’anic verse:
“Allah has forbidden separation, and disagreement with consensus (ijma) is separation.”
Hence, if Allah has forbidden separation then surely we must all unite on the unanimously accepted aqid’ah of our pious predecessors. And I have already quoted Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (Rahimahullah) as saying: “This unanimity (in aqidah) was transmitted by the two great Imam’s Abu’l Hasan al-Ashari and Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (Allah’s mercy be upon them) and the scholars who followed their path.”
Mahmoud Ayoub wrote in The Qur’an and Its Interpreters (vol. II, 275-6):
“Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1373; Rahimahullah) interprets the ‘rope of God‘ in verse 103 as ‘The covenant of God,‘ citing in support of this interpretation verse 112 below (in Surah al-Imran). Another view, he adds, is that ‘The rope of God‘ here refers to the Qur’an, as reported on the authority of Ali (Allah be pleased with him) who said that ‘The Qur’an is God’s strong rope and the straight way.‘ He cites another Hadith, on the authority of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (Allah be pleased with him), where the Prophet (Peace be upon him) declared, ‘The book of God is God’s rope stretched from heaven to earth.‘ Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) reported -that the Messenger of God (Peace be upon him) said, ‘Surely this Qur’an is God’s strong rope, manifest light, and beneficial source of healing. It is protection for those who hold fast to it, and a means of salvation for those who abide by it.‘
Ibn Kathir interprets the injunction, ‘and do not be divided‘ to mean strict adherence to unity among Muslims. He reports on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, ‘God will be pleased with three acts from you, and wrathful with three others. He wishes that you worship Him alone without associating any thing with Him; that you hold fast all together to the rope of God and be not divided; and that you show loyalty to those whom God has set in authority.‘ (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, II, pp. 83-4)
Qurtubi (d. 671/1273; Rahimahullah) agrees with Tabari (d. 923 CE; Rahimahullah) and Ibn Kathir regarding the meaning of ‘the rope of God‘ in verse 103. He cites with approval the famous traditionist Ibn al-Mubarak (d. 181/797; Rahimahullah) who said, ‘Surely unity is God’s rope; therefore hold fast all together to ‘its firm handle‘ (see Qur’an 2:256).’ Qurtubi adds that ‘God enjoins concord and forbids dissension, for in disunity is perdition, and in unity salvation.‘
Qurtubi offers two possible interpretations of the phrase ‘And be not divided‘:
‘Be not divided in your religion as were the Jews and Christians divided in their religions‘ and ‘Be not divided in following different false opinions and purposes. Rather, be brothers in God’s religion.‘
As a jurist, Qurtubi observes that, ‘There is no indication in this verse of the prohibition of disagreement in the branches (furu’) [of fiqh] as this in reality is not dissension. This is because true dissention is one wherein concord and unity become virtually impossible. As for disagreement in judgements based on personal effort (ijtihad), it is due to differences in deducing obligations (fara’id) and the minutiae of law.‘ On page 279, Imam al-Razi (d. 606/1210; Rahimahullah) was quoted as saying in conclusion to his commentary on the above ayat:
‘If a person going down into a well must hold fast to a rope in order that he may not fall in, so also the Book of God, His covenant, religion and obedience to Him, as well as unity and harmony among the people of faith are means of security for anyone who holds fast to them from falling into the bottom of Hell.'”
(2) Surah al-Imran (3:105):
“And be not like those who separated and disputed after the clear proofs had come unto them: For such there is an awful doom.”
(3) Surah al-Imran (3:110):
“Ye are the best community that has been raised up for mankind. Ye enjoin the good and forbid the evil; and ye believe in Allah”
(4) Surah Al-An’am (6:159):
“As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou has no part in them in the least: Their affair is with Allah: He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did.”
(5) Surah Al-Mu’minun (23:52-53):
“And verily this Ummah of yours is a single Ummah and I am your Lord, so keep your duty unto Me. But they have broken their religion among them into sects, each sect rejoicing in its tenets.”
(6) Surah Al-Rum (30:32):
“Those who split up their Religion, and become Sects, each sect exulting in its tenets.”
(7) Surah Al-Nisa (4:115):
“He that disobeys the Apostle (Muhammad) after guidance has been made clear to him and follows a way other than that of the believers, We appoint for him that unto which he himself hath turned, and expose him unto Hell – a hapless journey’s end!”
(8) Surah Al-An’am (6:153):
“This is My Straight path, so follow it. Follow not other ways, lest ye be parted from His way. This has he ordained for you, that ye may ward off (evil).“
(1) Imam Abu Dawood (Rahimahullah) has quoted the well known Hadith concerning the division of the Muslim Ummah into seventy-three sects in his Sunan (3/4580, English edn):
Abu Amir al-Hawdhani said, “Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan (may Allah be pleased with him) stood among us and said, ‘Beware! The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) stood among us and said’: ‘Beware! The People of the Book before (you) were split up into 72 sects, and this community will be split up into 73, seventy-two of them will go to Hell and one of them will go to Paradise, and it is the majority group (Jama’ah).’
Another version of the above Hadith has been reported by Hafiz Ibn Kathir (Rahimahullah) in The signs before the day of Judgement (pg. 14):
“Awf ibn Malik reported that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, ‘The Jews split into 71 sects: one will enter Paradise and 70 will enter Hell. The Christians split into 72 sects: 71 will enter Hell and one will enter Paradise. By Him in Whose hand is my soul, my Ummah will split into 73 sects: one will enter Paradise and 72 will enter Hell.’ Someone asked, ‘O Messenger ofAllah (Peace be upon him), who will they be?’ He replied, ‘The main body of the Muslims (al-Jama’ah).’ Awf ibn Malik is the only one who reported this Hadith, and its isnad is acceptable.” And in another version of this Hadith the Prophet (Peace be upon him) goes onto say that the saved sect, “…Are those who follow my and my Sahaba’s path” (Tirmidhi, vol. 2, pg. 89)
Shaykh al-Islam Ahmad al-Sirhindi (d. 1034/1624; Rahimahullah) who is regarded by many people in the Indian sub-continent as a great renovator of the Tenth Islamic Century (Mujaddid alf Thani) wrote in his Maktubat (Vol. 3, Letter 38):
“It was declared in a Hadith that this Ummah would part into 73 groups, 72 of which would go to Hell. This Hadith informs us that the 72 groups will be tormented in the Fire of Hell. It does not inform us that they will remain in torment eternally. Remaining in the torment of Hell Fire eternally is for those who do not have Iman. That is, it is for disbelievers. The 72 groups, on account of their corrupt beliefs, will go to Hell and will burn as much as the corruptness of their beliefs. One group, the 73rd, will be saved from Hell Fire because their belief is not corrupt. If among the members of this one group there are those who committed evil deeds and if these evil deeds of theirs have not been forgiven through repentance or intercession, it is possible that these, too, will burn in Hell as much as their sins. All of those who are in the 72 groups will go to Hell. But none of them will remain in Hell eternally. Not all of those who are in this one group will go to Hell. Of these only those who have committed evil deeds will go to Hell. The 72 reported groups of bid’ah, which will go to Hell, should not be called disbelievers, because they are Ahl al-Qibla (people of the Qibla in prayer). But, of these, the ones who disbelieve those facts in the Deen that are indispensably required to be believed, as well as those who deny the rules of the Shari’ah which every Muslim has heard and knows, become disbelievers.”
In another letter (vol. 1, letter 80) he said:
“There is no doubt whatsoever that the sect that made conforming to the conduct of the Prophet’s Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) necessary, that alone is the Ahl as Sunnah wa’l Jama’ah.”
Shaykh Abdal Qadir al-Jilani (d. 561/1166; Rahimahullah) stated in his commentary to the above Hadith in Ghunyat at-Talibin (pg. 90),
“The Believer should adapt himself to the Sunnah and to the Jama’ah. The Sunnah is the way shown by Rasulullah (Peace be upon him). The Jama’ah is composed of the things done unanimously by the Sahaba al-Kiram who lived in the time of the four caliphs called Khulafa’ ar-Rashidin (and others in their path). A Muslim must prevent the multiplication of the men of bid’ah and keep away from them, and should not greet them (as given in many Hadith on this issue). Ahmad ibn Hanbal (rahimahullah), the Imam of our Madhhab, said that greeting a man ofbid’ah meant loving him since it had been declared in a Hadith, ‘Disseminate (your) greeting (salaam)! Love one another in this way!” He also said (pg. 143): “The title, Ahl as-Sunnah, which the innovators have expressed for themselves is not appropriate for them.“
Although Ibn Taymiyya was accused of holding certain corrupt points in his aqid’ah, which led so many scholars to denounce him for his heresy, he never the less hit the right point when he described those who are the real Sunni’s in his Aqeedat-il-Wasitiyyah (pg. 154):
” Their creed is the religion of Islam which was sent to the world by Allah through the Prophet (Peace be upon him). But the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, ‘My Ummah will get divided into 73 sects and each one will go to Hell save one and that one is the Jama’at.’ Also in one Hadith he said, ‘They are those people who will follow this path which I and my Sahaba follow today.’ Therefore they have caught hold of Islam unalloyed from every adulteration and these are the people of Ahl as-Sunnah Wa’l Jama’ah. This group includes the truthful, the martyrs and the virtuous; it includes the minarets of guidance, lamps in the darkness and owners of such superiorities and virtues who have been already mentioned. It includes the saints and also those Imams on whose guidance Muslims are unanimous. It is this successful group about which the Prophet (Peace be upon him) has said: ‘One group from my Ummah will always remain dominant with truth; the opponents will never be able to harm its members or afflict them upto the Doomsday.'”
(2) Imam Muslim (Rahimahullah) has collected a number of variant Hadith on the saved sect. He has related a longer version of the last Hadith quoted above:
“Abdal Rahman ibn Shamasa al-Mahri said: ‘I was in the company of Maslama bin Mukhallad and Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas (may Allah be pleased with them).’ Abdullah said, ‘The Hour shall come only when the worst type of people are left on the earth. They will be worse than the people of pre-Islamic days. They will get what ever they ask of Allah.‘ While we were sitting Uqba ibn Amir came, and Maslama said to him, ‘Uqba, listen to what Abdullah says.‘ Uqba said, ‘He knows, so far as I am concerned, I heard the Prophet (Peace be upon him) say: A group of people from my Ummah will continue to fight in obedience to the Command of Allah, remaining dominant over their enemies. Those who will opose them shall not do them any harm. They will remain in this condition until the Hour over takes them.‘ (At this) Abdullah said, ‘Yes. Then Allah will raise a wind which will be fragrant like musk and whose touch will be like the touch of silk; (but) it will cause the death of all (faithful) persons, not leaving behind a single person with an iota of faith in his heart. Then only the worst of men will remain to be overwhelmed by the Hour.’” (Sahih Muslim, 3/4721, English ed’n, see also Sahih al-Bukhari, 9/414, English ed’n)
Imam Nawawi (d. 676/1277, Rahimahullah) said in his Sharh Muslim (vol. 2, pg. 143):
“The group of people (mentioned in the above Hadith) consists of scholars, jurisprudents, authorities on Hadith, those who enjoin Good (Maroof) and forbid Evil (Munkar) and all such persons who do good deeds. Such righteous persons may be found spread all over the world.”
Imam al-Tirmidhi (Rahimahullah) said:
“The explanation of al-Jama’ah according to the people of knowledge: They are the people of fiqh, knowledge and Hadith.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi, 4/2167; Ahmad Shakir ed’n)
Imam Bukhari (Rahimahullah) stated in his Sahih (vol. 9, chapter. 10, English ed’n),
“The statement of the Prophet (Peace be upon him): ‘A group of my followers will remain victorious in their struggle in the cause of the Truth.’ Those are the religious(ly) learned men (Ahl ul-Ilm).”
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (Rahimahullah) said about this group:
“If it is not the people of Hadith, then I do not know who they may be.” (Sahih Muslim Sharif-Mukhtasar Sharh Nawawi, vol. 5, pg. 183, W. Zaman)
Qadi Iyad (Rahimahullah) said in ash-Shifa (pg. 188):
“In a Hadith from Abu Umama (Allah be pleased with him), the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, `A group of my community will remain constant to the truth, conquering their enemy until the command of Allah comes to them while they are still in that condition.‘ He was asked, ‘Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him), where are they?‘ He replied, `In Jerusalem.‘”
(3) Imam Muslim (Rahimahullah) has related in his Sahih (3/4553) under the chapter heading ‘Instruction to stick to the main body of the Muslims in the time of the trials and warning against those inviting people to disbelief‘, a Hadith on the authority of Hudhaifa ibn al-Yaman (Allah be pleased with him), who said:
“People used to ask the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) about the good times, but I used to ask him about (the) bad times fearing lest they overtake me. I said, ‘Messenger of Allah, we were in the midst of ignorance and evil, and then God brought us this good (time through Islam). Is there any bad time after this good one?’ He said, ‘Yes’. I asked, ‘Will there be a good time again after that bad time?’ He said, ‘Yes, but therein will be a hidden evil.’ I asked, ‘What will be the evil hidden therein?’ He said, ‘(That time will witness the rise of) the people who will adopt ways other than mine and seek guidance other than mine. You will know good points as well as bad points.’ I asked, ‘Will there be a bad time after this good one?’ He said, ‘Yes. (A time will come) when there will be people standing and inviting at the gates of Hell. Whoso responds to their call, they will throw them into the fire.’ I said, ‘Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him), describe them for us.’ He said, ‘All right. They will be a people having the same complexion as ours and speaking our language.’ I said, `Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him), what do you suggest if I happen to live in their time?’ He said, ‘You should stick to the main body of the Muslims and their leader’ I said, ‘If they have no (such thing as the) main body of the Muslims and have no leader?’ He said, ‘Separate yourself from all these factions, though you may have to eat the roots of trees until death comes to you and you are in this state.'”
(NB-It is not likely that there will be an absence of a Jama’ah, since I have already quoted the Prophet, peace be upon him, as saying: ‘A group of people from my Ummah will continue to fight in obedience to the command of Allah, remaining dominant over their enemies. Those who will oppose them shall not do them any harm. They will remain in this condition until the Hour overtakes them.‘)
(4) Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reported the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) as saying:
“Who (ever) defected from the obedience (to the Amir) and separated from the main body of the Muslims – then he died in that state – would die the death of one belonging to the days of Jahiliyya (pre-Islamic ignorance). And he who is killed under the banner of a man who is blind (to the cause for which he is fighting), who gets flared up with family pride and fights for his tribe – is not from my Ummah, and whoso from my followers attacks my followers (indiscriminately) killing the righteous and the wicked of them, sparing not (even) those staunch in faith and fulfilling not his obligation towards them who have been given a pledge (of security), is not from me.” (Sahih Muslim, 3/4557 & 4555; English ed’n)
Imam al-Bayhaqi (d. 458/1066; Rahimahullah) stated in his: The Seventy-Seven Branches of Faith (pg. 42-3), under the fiftieth branch of faith (50 – Holding firmly to the position of the majority): “God Most High has said: Hold fast, all together, to the rope of God, and do not be disunited. [3:103]. Muslim (Rahimahullah) relates on the authority of Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, ‘Whoever is disobedient, and departs from the majority, and then dies, has died in a state of Jahiliyya.‘ He also relates the following Hadith on the authority of Ibn Shurayh (Allah be pleased with him): ‘After I am gone, there will come days of corruption and turmoil. When you see people damaging the unity of the Community of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), you must fight them, whoever they may happen to be.‘
Abdal Hakim Murad (the translator of the above book) said in the footnote to the fiftieth branch of faith: ‘Orthodoxy in Islam is defined as the doctrine of ahl al-sunna wa’l jama’a, the People of the Sunna and the Community. To know whether a doctrine or practise is orthodox or heretical, the Muslim is required to find out whether it is recognised by the majority of Muslim scholars (see later for Imam al-Munawi’s commentary). Thus even without looking into their theology, he will know that sects such as the Isma’ilis, the Khariji’s, the Wahhabi’s, the Twelver Shi’a and others (not to mention anti-Islamic groupings such as the Ahmadiya and the Bahais) are to be repudiated.'”
(5) Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as saying:
“One who found in his Amir (the ruler of the true Islamic state; which is absent today) something which he disliked should hold his patience, for one who separated from the main body of the Muslims even to the extent of a handspan and then he died, would die the death of one belonging to the days of Jahiliyya.” (Sahih Muslim, 3/4559; English ed’n & Sahih al-Bukhari, 9/257; English ed’n)
(6) Imam’s Ahmad and Abu Dawood (Allah’s mercy be upon them) said that Abu Dharr (Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as saying:
“He who separates from the main body (of the Ummah) by even a hand’s breadth from the Community he throws off Islam from his neck.” (Mishkat-ul-Masabih, 1/185 & Sunan Abu Dawood, 3/4740)
NB-The following five Hadith have been mentioned by the great scholar of Hadith, Hafiz Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1201; Rahimahullah) in hisTalbis Iblis (section entitled: Adherence to the Sunnah and Jama’ah). A section of the above work has been translated by Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips in to English, under the title: The Devil’s Deception of the Shee’ah (pp. 4-5). Bilal Philips has put footnotes to the five Hadith that I will be quoting below (to declare some of the Hadith to be Da’eef), but one thing that should be mentioned is that he has mainly relied upon al-Albani’s classification of the Hadiths in question; hence these ‘classifications’ of al-Albani need re-verifying! I say this because it is a well known fact that Hafiz Ibn al-Jawzi was noted for his exceptional stringency in accepting Hadith, and he has been known to have declared some of the Hadith in Bukhari/Muslim to be Da’eef, as well as declaring some sound Hadith to be fabricated! Nevertheless, I would like to make it clear to those readers who are unaware of the status of Bilal Philips, that he has heavily depended on the classifications of al-Albani in most of his books! If the esteemed reader is convinced that the errors of al-Albani are most apparent, then one should beware of the status of those Hadiths that have been used by Bilal Philips (on account of his accepting al-Albani’s classifications). Bilal Philips seems to be a leading critic of Taqleed who has been swept away by the tide of modern day “Salafiyyism”; and it seems that he has ‘blindly’ accepted the classifications of al-Albani without himself reverifying al-Albani’s classifications! I ask you, is this not a clear cut example of Taqleed? If it has been proven that al-Albani’s classifications are unreliable, would it not be just for Bilal Philips to re-verify all the Hadiths that have been authenticated by al-Albani and correct any misclassifications in his books? Allah know’s best.
(7) ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) reported that on one occasion Allah’s Messenger (Peace and blessings be upon him) stood up among them and said, “Whoever among you desires the centre of paradise should keep close to the Jama’ah for the Devil closely accompanies the solitary individual and is more distant from two.” (Collected by Imam Tirmidhi)
(8) And ‘Arfajah (Allah be pleased with him) reported (Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, as saying): “that Allah’s hand is over the Jama’ah and the Devil is with whoever deviates from the Jama’ah.” (Collected by Imam al-Tabarani)
(9) ‘Abdullah ibn Masood (Allah be pleased with him) reported that once Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) drew a line in the dust with his hand and said, “This is the straight path of Allah.” Then he drew a series of lines to the right of it and to the left and said, “Each of these paths has a devil at its head inviting people to it.” He then recited (Qur’an 6:153), “Verily this is my straight path so follow it and do not follow the (twisted) paths.” (Collected by Ahmad, Nisai and Darimi; see Mishkat ul-Masabih, 1/166)
(10) Mu’adh ibn Jabal (Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) said, “The Devil is like a wolf among humans as a wolf is among sheep; it snatches the stray sheep. So beware of the paths which branch off and adhere to the Jama’ah, the masses and the masjid.” (Collected by Imam Ahmad; NB- The version given in Mishkat, 1/184, also on the authority of Imam Ahmad does not have the addition ‘the masses and the masjid.’)
(11) And Abu Dharr (Allah be pleased with him) reported from the Prophet (Peace be upon him) that, “Two are better than one, and three better than two; so stick to the Jama’ah for verily Allah, Most Great and Glorious, will only unite my nation on guidance.” (Collected by Ahmad)
(12) Al-Harith al-Ashari (Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:
“I bid you to do five things: to remain attached to the main body (Jama’ah of Muslims), listen to your ruler (the Khalif of the Islamic state) and obey him, and migrate, and fight in the way of Allah. And he who detaches himself from the main body of the Muslims (Jama’ah) to the extent of one span of hand, he in fact, throws off the yoke of Islam from his neck, and he who calls with the call of ignorance, he is one from the denizens of Hell beyond doubt, even if he observes fast and says prayers and considers himself as a Muslim.” (Musnad Ahmad, vide: Selection from Hadith, no. 288; by A.H. Siddique)
(13) Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) reported Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) as saying:
“Follow the great mass (as-Sawad al-Azam) for he who kept himself away from it, in fact would be thrown in Hell Fire.” (Ibn Majah; vide: Mishkat, 1/174, by A.H. Siddiqui).
The translator of Mishkat-ul-Masabih (A.H. Siddiqui, pg. 113) said in the footnote to the last Hadith:
“There is a good deal of difference of opinion as to what the term Sawad al-Azam implies. The overwhelming majority of the scholars are of the view that As-Sawad al-Azam means the largest group of the learned scholars and pious persons whose opinions are held in high esteem in Islam.”
(14) Imam al-Shafi’i (Rahimahullah) said in his Risala (pg. 252-3):
“Sufyan (ibn Uyayna) told us from Abd al-Malik ibn Umayr from Abd al-Rahman ibn Abd Allah ibn Masood from his father, that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, `God will grant prosperity to His servant who hears my words, remembers them, guards them, and hands them on. Many a transmitter of law is no lawyer (faqih) himself, and many may transmit law to others who are more versed in the law than they. The heart of a Muslim shall never harbour vindictive feelings against three: sincerity in working for God; faithfulness to Muslims; and conformity to the community of believers (Jama’ah) – their call shall protect (the believers) and guard them from (the Devil’s) delusion.‘” (vide: Sunan al-Darimi, vol. 1, pp. 74-6; Ibn Hanbal, vol. 6, pg. 96; Musnad al-Shafi’i, vol. 1, pg. 16; Mishkat-ul-Masabih, 1/228; and al-Bayhaqi in his al-Madkhal). Imam al-Shafi’i said (pg. 253): “The Apostle’s (Peace be upon him) order that men should follow the Muslim community is a proof that the ijma (consensus) of the Muslims is binding.”
(15) Imam al-Shafi’i (Rahimahullah) stated in al-Risala (pg. 286-7):
“And Sufyan (also) told us from `Abd Allah ibn Abi Labid from `Abd Allah ibn Sulayman ibn Yasar from his father, who said: `Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) made a speech at al-Jabiya in which he said: The Apostle of God (Peace be upon him) stood among us by an order from God, as I am now standing among you, and said: Believe my Companions, then those who succeed them (the Successors), and after that those who succeed the Successors; but after them untruthfulness will prevail when people will swear (in support of their saying) without having been asked to swear, and will testify without having been asked to testify. Only those who seek the pleasure of Paradise will follow the community, for the devil can pursue one person, but stands far away from two. Let no man be alone with a woman, for the devil will be third among them. He who is happy with his right (behaviour), or unhappy with his wrong behaviour, is a (true) believer.'” (see also Musnad al-Shafi’i, vol. 2, pg. 187; and Ibn Hanbal, vol. 1, pg. 112-13, 176-81).
Imam al-Shafi’i said in conclusion to this Hadith:
“He who holds what the Muslim community (Jama’ah) holds shall be regarded as following the community, and he who holds differently shall be regarded as opposing the community he was ordered to follow. So the error comes from separation; but in the community as a whole there is no error concerning the meaning of the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and analogy (qiyas).”
(16) Imam Hakim (1/116) has related a Sahih Hadith from the Prophet (Peace be upon him) in the following words: “My Ummah shall not agree upon error.”
(17) Imam al-Tirmidhi (4/2167) reported on the authority of Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), who said: “Verily my Ummah would not agree (or he said the Ummah of Muhammad) would not agree upon error and Allah’s hand is over the group and whoever dissents from them departs to Hell.” (see also Mishkat, 1/173)
Imam al-Azizi (d. 1070/1660; Rahimahullah) quoted Imam al-Munawi’s (d. 1031/1622; Rahimahullah) commentary to the last Hadith in his al-Siraj al-munir sharh al-Jami al-saghir (3.449), as follows:- Allah’s hand is over the group
(al-Azizi): Munawi says, “Meaning his protection and preservation of them, signifying that the collectivity of the people of Islam are in Allah’s fold, so be also in Allah’s shelter, in the midst of them, and do not separate yourselves from them.” The rest of the Hadith, according to the one who first recorded it (Tirmidhi), is:-
and whoever descents from them departs to hell.
Meaning that whoever diverges from the overwhelming majority concerning what is lawful or unlawful and on which the Community does not differ has slipped off the path of guidance and this will lead him to hell.” (vide: The Reliance of the Traveller, pg. 25)
From Al-Albani Unvelied by Ahmed ibn Muhammad