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Emergence of term ‘Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jamaa‘ah’

 
Question:

Assalaamu alaykum. When did the term ‘Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jamaa‘ah’ emerge? In which century did it emerge?

Answer:

All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is His slave and Messenger.

The term Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jamaa‘ah and the terms synonymous to it are connected to the emergence of religious innovations and deviant sects such as the Khawaarij (Kharijites), the Shee‘ah (Shiites), and the Qadariyyah (Anti-fatalists), which all first emerged at the end of the era of the Companions. The term was coined to distinguish the rightly-guided Muslims from those who followed religious innovations and sinful whims.

Dr. ‘Abd Ar-Rahmaan Al-Mahmood wrote in his dissertation (about Ibn Taymiyyah‘s opinion on the Ashaa‘irah), “Discussing the emergence of Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jamaa‘ah should focus on the mergence of this term. As for the emergence of the concept itself, it is clear because it emerged with the advent of Islam, which was perfected during the lifetime of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. So if one who came after him is called the Imaam of Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jamaa‘ah of his time, then it is because he called to the methodology of Ahlus-Sunnah and revived what has been forgotten thereof.

The emergence of the term Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jamaa‘ah is connected to the emergence of the deviant sects, because it was normal to distinguish Ahlus-Sunnah (the followers of the Sunnah) from the rest, who followed their sinful whims and deviated from the Straight Path and introduced innovated statements and opinions that went against those of the early Muslim generations.

Dr. Al-Mahmood discussed this topic at length and then summarized his deductions as follows:

These were broad lines that have perhaps clarified how the term was coined and why these Muslims were known as Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jamaa‘ah or Ahlul-Hadeeth, and that it was connected to the emergence of religious innovations and sects and what accompanied this of taking the ahaadeeth of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and their narrators from among the Companions lightly. Therefore, the faithful adherents to the Sunnah started to announce their distinction through the following:

1) Assigning great care and attention to the Hadeeth of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, in terms of studying the Riwaayah (chains of transmission), the Diraayah (the contents of the Hadeeth), and the Hadeeth narrators. The reason behind this great attention and care was due to the emergence of fabrication and the abundance of the followers of whims.

2) Adherence to the Sunnah and following the example of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and his Companions without practicing any religious innovations or following the opinions of those who adhere to sinful whims and desires or the blameworthy statements from the different sects and schools of thought.

3) Keenness on adhering to the Muslim community, which means following the Sunnah and adhering to the Straight Path, and which also means fostering the unity of the Muslim nation and refraining from rebelling against the community that has a legitimate ruler.

As for identifying when exactly the term first emerged and connecting it to an exact time or to a particular leading Sunni scholar or to the emergence of a specific sect, I do not believe that this is possible except in broad lines, as we said above.

Allah knows best.

 

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