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How do Classical Scholars Define “Ahlu-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah”

Dr. Abdur-Rahman al-Luwaihiq mentions in his book “al-Ghuloo fi deen” the following analitical deductions about the concept of al-Jama’ah.

he first brings various narrations regarding the term “jama’ah” used in the textual sources.

thn he breaks down that there are five various scholastic views of this term which in reality can be boiled down into two, but before we mention what these two boiled down realities are, I will mention these five opinions

1. that the meaning of “al-Jama’ah” refer to the “vast majority of the people of Islam”. This was the opinion of the companion Abu Mas’ood al-Ansari. Ibn Sireen would narrate that Abu Mas’ud would state whenever anyone asked for his advice after the killing of Uthman, “Stick to the community (jama’ah) for Allah will not gather together the nation of Muhammad salallahu alaihi wa sallam upon misguidance”

Imam ash-Shaatibee stated
“Based on that statement, the jama’ah includes all the mujtahideen and scholars of this nation and the people of shariah who act upon it. The masses are included in that group because they are the followers of the scholars. Anyone who finds themselves at odds with this group are those who have seperated from the jama’ah. They are the spoils of shaytan. this later group includes all the people of heresies as they are in opposition to those people of the nation and they cannot be considered part of their masses under any circumstances” [end quote]

2. the meaning of jama’ah refers to the leaders of the scholars who are the mujtahideen. Whoever goes against what they follow dies a death of jaahiliyyah. This is because Allah has made the scholars a proof against the creation and the people have to follow them in the matters of the religion.

the proof used for this view is the hadeeth whcih states
“Verily Allah does not gather this nation (in some narrations it says the nation of Muhammad) upon misguidance. The Hand of Allah is with the congregation. Whoever seperates from it seperates to the hellfire.”

the meaning of this hadeeth is that the scholars of this nation will never all concur on something which is misguidance. This was the opinion of Abdullah ibn Mubarak, Ishaq ibn Rahaweih, and a number of the early scholars. This is also the opinion of the scholars of legal theory .

This was also the conclusion of Imaam al-Bukharee who wrote “Chapter: Thus W have made you s nstyion justly balanced” and the order of the prophet to adhere to the jama’ah and they are the people of knowledge.”

This is also the opinion of Tirmidhee who stated “the explanation of the meaning of jama’ah according to the people of knowledge are the people of fiqh, knowledge, and hadeeth.”

Haafidh al-Kirmaani also states in this view that “the implication of the order to adhere to the jama’ah is that the responsible person is required to follow what the mujtahideen have agreed upon.”

3. that the meaning of jama’ah refers to only the companions and not the people who came afterwards. They are the ones who established the deen and it is they who will not gather upon misguidance”

4. the jama’ah is in reference to the Muslim community whn they all gather under one ruler. The prophet alaihi salatu salam ordered that one adhere to them and forbade dividing the nation when they are agreed upon having a particular person lead them. The one who violates his pledge goes out of the jama’ah. This is the conclusion of Haafidh al-Imaam at-Tabari

5. The meaning of jama’ah in this view is the community of the people of Islam when they all come together on an issue. It is obligatory on all others then to follow them.

ash-Shatibee stated
“this opinion actually goes back to the second opinion which in turn implies or goes back to the first opinion which is the most apparent opinion” [al-‘Itisaam V2 P263-264]

These are the five legal opinions that are upheld by the orthodo sunni scholars concerning the meaning of jama’ah.

al-Luwaihiq now deduces from these evidences the folowing

“What seems clear from the preceeding texts- inclusive of the scholars uncovering of their meanings-is that the word jama’ah is used in two different contexts.

First-the word jama’ah is used in reference to a structure, form, or make-up (like political entity, rulership)

Second- The word is used in reference to a methodology and way of following Islam i.e. manhaj.”

so for example, a clear hadeeth that is linked with the first meaning is the example of the hadeeth when Hudhayfa was always asking the bad in order to stay away from it. I will not cite the whole hadeeth as it is long, but I will cite the relevant part which is
“Stick to the community of Muslims and their Imaam”

In commenting on this hadeeth at-Tabari stated
“The correct opinion is that the meaning of the report is to adhere to the congregation in obeying the command that the people are agreed upon. The one who discards his alligience (to the imam) has left the jama;ah.”[Fath al-Bari, Jami al-Usool of Ibnul-Atheer]

as for a clear hadeeth that implies the meaning of the second usage stated above, then it is the hadeeth of the saved sect, and Im sure everyone here has is aquainted and knows this hadeeth like they know their own hand. the pinnicle part of that hadith is
“they are those who follow my sunnah and the sunnah of the khulafa ar-rashideen al-mahdiyeen”

with regards to narrations such as the hadeeth of the 73 sects, then the statements of the early scholars show that the jama’ah refers to set of characteristic, a manha, and not simply a form, or structure in the political sense. A single person alone can be the jama’ah if he were the only one abiding by those characteristics. This is the opinion of Ibn Mas’ud who states
“The jama’ah is only what is in accordance with the obedience to Allah, even if you are alone in doing so.”
Abu Shamah states in his “al-Baath ala Inkar al-Bida wal Hawaadith” the following
“Since the order has come to adhere to the jama’ah, its meaning is to adhere to the truth and follow it, even if the numbers who adhere to it are small and the opposing numbers are large. This is because it was the truth which the first jama’ah of the prophet alaihi salatu salam, and his companions were upon. One does not look at the number of the people of falsehood after their time.

Imaam al-Aujooree mentions that this was the understanding of the early scholars.

this is because sticking to the jama’ah is the anti-thesis of bidA. That is, what unites Muslims is the sunnah, and nationalism does not unite muslims, territory does not unite muslims, family does not unite muslims. What principled Muslims are united upon is the sunnah. Likewise what divides Muslims is bida and new and various concepts that were not established when Islam was established. This is why it is stated that tawheed and sunnah is unity and bida and hawaa is iftiraaq (seperations).

Regarding the hadeeth

“A group of my nation shall continue to be established upon the commands of Allah. They will not be harmed by those who abandon them or those who differ from them, until the command of Allah comes and they are victorious over the people.”

an-Nawawee said
“as for who that group is, al-Bukharee sai it is the people of knowledge. Ahmad bin Hanbal said ‘If it is not the people of Hadeeth, then I don;t know who they could be’. Qaadhi Iyaadh said in commenting on Ahmad’s words ‘Ahmad meant the ahlu-sunnah wal jama’ah and all who believe in the in the beleifs of the people of hadeeth’. I (an-Nawawee say, it is possible that this group is spread out among the believers; some are courageous mujahideen, some are jurists, some are scholars of hadeeth, some are pious and austure people, some are orderers of good and eradicators of evil, and others are from different areas of good. It is not necessary that they are all together in one place. [My comment. this is profound coming from an-Nawawee because he mentions the pure creed that in this world, good and evil are intermingled, and the seperation will occur upon the establishment of the hour] Instead they could all be spread throughout the lands of the earth.”

thus with all of the above evidences, it becomes clear that with regards to the jama;ah in a methodological sense, then the meaning of jama;ah in this case is a collection of signs or sign posts or characteristics.

al-Luwaihiq continues on this saying that
“it is clear that the jama’ah is a sign for those who combine a number of characteristics, the first and most prominent of them being that they follow the Messenger of Allah alaihi salatu salam and what he came with. This jama’ah does not complete its actual form and structure unless there is a sanctioned ruler leading them. However, the absence of that structure does not mean that the jama’ah-which refers to the way and methodology-does not exist. In this meaning, the jama’ah will remain until the Hour of Judgment”

as for the term ahlu-sunnah, then it has two meanings two it. I cannot find my information from Ibn Taymiyyah so I can only narrate it by memory.

He basically divides ahlu-sunnah in two categories

1. amm- it is meant in a general sense that include all of those who profess the sunnah as the basis for the establishment of Islam. This includes the various heresiological sects like the ash’aris, maturidis, the sufis, khawaarij, etc as they all agree to the authority of the sunnah.
2. khass- specific to only those who strictly adhere to the sunnah of the Messenger which in reality is through the way of the companions. In this particular sense, then those included in the general meaning are excluded from this specific meaning because they do not enter the clear sareeh as-sunnah. That is because to the real people of the sunnah, the sunnah is only attained through the methodology of the salaf, and these people in fall under the first category do not restrict the sunnah upon the understanding of the salaf but as well consider it valid to incorperate invalid and akward opinions that the sala of this nation did not agree or speak about.

So the Ahlu-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah are those who are considered the people of the sunnah and come together and form the jama’ah, and the jama’ah is the unification upon the sunnah, and not upon political organizations or mystic orders, or ones own intellectual deductions