In the language: "a path/way or a course".
Its usage in the Shari'ah: "the guidance which the Messenger and his companions were upon in terms of knowledge, belief, speech and action. This is the Sunnah, the following of which is obligatory, whose adherents have been praised, and whose abandoners have been rebuked. The term 'Sunnah' is also used for the various acts of worship and beliefs, just as everything which is contrary to it is termed 'bid'ah' (innovation)."
In the language: "[it] is from Ijtima' (a gathering, where people come together, i.e. a unification) and this is the opposite of separation, dispersal. The Jama'ah are a people who have united together on a certain matter/affair."
Its usage in the Shari'ah: "They are the salaf of this Ummah, from among the Companions and the tabi'in (successors of the Companions) and whoever follows them in goodness until the Day of Judgement. They are those who unite themselves upon the Book and the Sunnah and upon their leaders (i.e. their scholars) and those who travel upon that which the Messenger, His Companions and those who followed them in goodness were upon."
"They are those who hold on to the Sunnah of the Messenger, the ones who unite themselves upon that and they are the Companions of the Messenger, the Scholars of Guidance, who follow the Companions and whoever travels upon their path in terms of belief, speech and action until the Day of Judgement, while remaining steadfast upon this adherence. They avoid innovating and innovations in whatever place or age/era they may be. They are the ones who will remain uppermost, aided (by Allah) until the Day of Judgement."
So Ahlus-Sunnah wa'l-Jama'ah have been described with sticking to the Sunnah and [in all circumstances] avoiding / disregarding the invented matters and innovations in the Din (religion).
By the word Jama'ah the totality of Muslims is not meant, nor those who are largest in number or the great majority. This is because the Messenger mentioned that the Ta'ifat ul-Mansurah is a single group from among the seventy three groups.
Other Terms for Ahlus-Sunnah
Ahlus-Sunnah have also been named with other terms and descriptions which have been reported from the Messenger or from the scholars who guide themselves by the Ahlus-Sunnah. So they have been called Ahlus-Sunnah without the annexation of Jama'ah. They have also been called Al-Jama'ah alone which has been reported from the Prophet (by Mu'awiyyah) who said, "Indeed this Ummah will split into seventy three sects and all of them are in the Fire except for one and that is the Jama'ah."
As-Salaf as-Salih and Ahl ul-Athar
The phrase 'as-Salaf as-Salih' (The Righteous Predecessors) is synonymous with Ahl us-Sunnah. Ahl us-Sunnah has also been named 'Ahl ul-Athar' (The People of Narration) meaning: Followers of the Sunnah transmitted from the Messenger and his companions.
They have also been named Ahlul-Hadith (the People of Hadith) as they take from the Sunnah of the Messenger that which has been reported, and what is contained therein of knowledge / cognizance, and are the followers of his guidance outwardly and inwardly. The Ahlus-Sunnah, therefore are the Ahlul-Hadith with respect to this meaning.
The naming of the Ahlus-Sunnah, At-Ta'ifat ul-Mansurah, and Al-Firqat un-Najiyyah with Ahlul-Hadith is a matter which is elaborate and extensive in the view of the Salaf of this Ummah because it is a requirement of the various texts, of the description of the actual state of affairs and of factual evidence. This has been established from Ibn Al-Mubarak, Ibn Madini, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Imam Al-Bukhari, Ahmad ibn Sinan and others besides them, may Allah be pleased with them all.
Many of the scholars have named them (Ahlus-Sunnah) in a similar manner and have introduced their books, compositions and compilations with this name. For example the book, 'Aqidat us-Salaf Ashab ul-Hadith (The 'Aqidah of the Salaf, the Companions of Hadith) of Imam Isma'il Sabuni (d. 449H).
Also see Majmu' al-Fatawa of Shaykh ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah 4/9, 95 where he has named Ahlus-Sunnah with Ahlul-Hadith.
And also the 'Firqat un-Najiyyah' (The Saved Sect): this is the one which is rescued from the Fire due to its adherence to the Sunnah of the Messenger. This (term) has been taken from the hadith, "And this Ummah will split into seventy-three sects, seventy-two will be in the Fire and one in Paradise and that is the Jama'ah."
And this is why many amongst the Salaf and the Scholars of the Din name the Ahlus-Sunnah with 'Al-Firqat un-Najiyyah' and those who are clearly upon the Truth with 'At-Ta'ifat ul-Mansurah' (the Aided Group). These are the ones whom the Messenger himself has named due to his saying, "There will never cease to be a small group (tai'fah) from my Ummah clearly upon the Truth until the Hour is established."
They are also called the 'Jama'ah' and sometimes 'Ahlul-Jama'ah' as has preceded.
The (word) Jama'ah, which is the Jama'ah of the Ahl us-Sunnah, those who come together and unite themselves upon the Truth, is taken from the word Ijtima' (an assembly, gathering) and that is the opposite of Furqa (separatedness, disunity). The word Jama'ah contains the meaning of ijma' which is ittifaq (unanimous agreement) the opposite of which is ikhtilaf (disagreement). The Ahlus-Sunnah have been described as those who have united themselves upon the Usul ud-Din, have agreed upon them and have united upon the scholars of the Din.
They have also been described with Ahlul-Ittiba' (The People of Adherence and Imitation) because it is from their way to follow the athar (tracks) of the Messenger, outwardly and inwardly, to follow the path of the first and foremost of this Ummah from among the Muhajirin and the Ansar and to follow the advice of the Messenger, peace be upon him, when he said, "You must follow my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the Rightly Guided Caliphs after me. Hold onto it (my Sunnah) and bite onto it with your molars. Beware of the newly invented matters for every bid'ah is misguidance ... "
- See Mukhtar us-Suhhah, p. 317 and Ibn Mandhur's Lisan ul-Arab 13/220-228 ^back
- See Al-Wasiyyat ul-Kubra fi 'Aqidatu Ahlus-Sunnah wa'l-Jama'ah, p. 23, Sharh 'Aqidat ul-Wasitiyyah by Muhammad Khalil Kharras, p. 16, and Sharh 'Aqidat ut-Tahawiyyah, p.33 ^back
- See Al-Amr bi'l-Ma'ruf wa'n-Nahi an'il-Munkar by Ibn Taymiyyah, p.77 ^back
- See Lisan ul-Arab, 8/53-60 ^back
- Salaf : Its meaning in the Arabic language is 'those who precede, have gone before'. Its usage: a word used by the earliest scholars for the first three generations of Muslims and those who are upon their way in accordance with the hadith of the Messenger which was recorded by al-Bukhari, "The best of generations is my generation, then those that follow them, then those that follow them." Imam Abu Hanifah (d. 150H), may Allah have mercy upon him, said, "Adhere to the athar (narration) and the tariqah (way) of the Salaf (Pious Predecessors) and beware of newly invented matters for all of it is innovation." [Reported by as-Suyuti in Sawn al Mantaq wal-Kalam, p.32] By clinging to their way, holding on to their beliefs and understanding them as they did, worshipping Allah in His Oneness, upon the Authentic Sunnah of the Messenger in the manner of the Companions one is guaranteed success in this life and security from the Fire in the next life. When questioned by his companions about those who will be saved from the Fire, the Messenger replied, "They are those who are upon what I and my companions are upon." [Reported by Tirmidhi from Amr ibn al-'As - Hadith Hasan] All the great scholars from the earliest to the later times have advised clinging to the way and methodology (manhaj) of the Salaf and adherence to it as it is the only means of deliverance. Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah have mercy upon him, said, "There is no criticism upon the one who manifests the way (madhdhab) of the Salaf, who attaches himself to it and refers to it. Rather, it is obligatory to accept that from him by unanimous agreement (ittifaq) because the way (madhdhab) of the Salaf is nothing but the Truth (haqq)." [Majmu' al-Fatawa, 4:149] ^back
- See Al-I'tisam by Ash-Shatibi, 1/23 and Sharh 'Aqidat ul-Wasitiyyah] by Kharras, p.16-17 and Sharh 'Aqidat ut-Tahawiyyah, p.33 ^back
- See Sharh 'Aqidat ut-Tahawiyyah by Abi Izz al-Hanafi, p.330 and Risa'il fi'l-'Aqidah, p.53 ^back
- The term bid'ah is meant for every belief, speech, action, which is not from the Messenger and His Companions and has no precedence from them. This term is relevant in every age and era and will remain so until the Day of Judgement. Allah has provided every generation with trustworthy ones who will preserve His Din ^back
- Abu Umamah reports that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said, "My Ummah will split up into seventy-three sects, seventy-two in the Fire and one in Paradise." We said, "Describe them to us O Messenger of Allah." He said, "As-Suwad al-A'dham (the Great Majority)." Reported by al-Lalika'i in Sharh Usul il-I'tiqad and Ibn Abi 'Asim in As-Sunnah. The Great Majority here does not refer to the great majority of people in every age and era. Rather this is specific for the era of the Companions and the tabi'in. Abdullah ibn Mas'ud said, "The Jama'ah is whatever (agrees) with the Truth. Even if it is only one person." Ishaq ibn Rahawayah (d. 238H) said, "If you were to ask the ignorant people about the Great Majority they would say: The majority of people. They do not know that al-Jama'ah is the Scholar who clings to the narrations from the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and his way. So whoever is with him (the scholar) and follows him, then he is al-Jama'ah." Reported by Abu Nu'aym in Hilyat ul-Awliyah. In the era of the Companions and their Followers the tabi'in the Great Majority in that time were upon the Truth. This was due to the fact that people were in nearness to the time of the Messenger, peace be upon him, and the Messenger attested to the credibility of the best of generations. As for those who came after them then the fact that they are many is not to be considered due to the generality of the texts which give evidence that evil will increase and spread amongst the people, the Ummah will split into seventy-three sects and that Islam will return as something strange ^back
- The Aided Group: a synonymous term for Ahlus-Sunnah wa'l-Jama'ah ^back
- Reported by Ibn Abi 'Asim in Al-Kitab wa's-Sunnah, (1/33). Shaykh Al-Albani said this hadith was sahih ^back
- The addition 'As-Salih' means 'righteous'. See footnote 5 above ^back
- Ibn Al-Mubarak, may Allah have mercy upon him, said, "According to me, they are the Ashab ul-Hadith." Imam Al-Bukhari reported that Ibn Al-Madini said, "They are the Ashab ul-Hadith (People of Hadith)." Ahmad ibn Hanbal said, "If the Aided Group is not the Ashab ul-Hadith then I have no idea who is!" Shaykh 'Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani said, "As for the Saved Sect it is the Ahlus-Sunnah wa'l-Jama'ah and there is no name for the Ahlus-Sunnah except one and that is the Ashab ul-Hadith."^back
- Reported by Abu Dawud in his Sunan in the Book of Sunnah, no. 4597^back
- Reported by Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Al-Hakim - Sahih^back
- Usul ud-Din (The Fundamentals of the Religion). This refers to the matters of belief ('Aqidah), including the manner of belief in Allah, the Most High, and all that is due to him from the meanings of tawhid regarding His Essence, His Names and His Attributes^back
- The Muhajirin are those who emigrated from Makkah to Madinah with the Messenger, peace be upon him. The Ansar are those who received the emigrants in Madinah and aided them^back
- Reported by Ibn Abi 'Asim in his Book of Sunnah. Shaykh Al-Albani said that its isnad is sahih and its narrators, all of them, are trustworthy^back