The Early Ahlul-Hadīth and their Books in Defence of the Salafi Creed: Imām Ahmad bin Hanbal (Part 1)
All thanks and praise is due to Allah, we seek His help and forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allah from the evil within ourselves and the consequences of our evil deeds. Whoever Allah guides will never be led astray, and whomever Allah leads astray will never find guidance. I bear witness that there is no one worthy of worship except Allah, alone without any partners, and I bear witness that Muhammad (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) is His servant and Messenger.
Verily, the most truthful speech is the Book of Allah, the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad (salallāhu’ alaihi wasallam) and the worst affairs are the newly invented matters. Every newly invented matter is a religious innovation, and every religious innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire.
We begin today a book that has several explanations from the major scholars, and its importance is as great today, or even greater now in our time, as it was when it was first penned down by the great imāms of the Salaf, as they took it from their sheikh, the Imam of Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jamā’ah, Abu Abdillah Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Hanbal (rahimahullah)
Before we embark upon the explanation of this great work, we will mention some aspects of the biography of this great scholar of Islam, the great Imām of Ahlus Sunnah, Imām Ahmad bin Hanbal, and his efforts in knowledge and teaching, his students and those he studied under inshā Allah.
The explanation that we will be taking from primarily is the Explanation of Usool us-Sunnah by Sheikh Ahmad bin Yahya an-Najmee rahimahullah who is from the great scholars of Islām of our era.
For further benefit, I will also take from the works of other scholars from the Imāms of our era, namely ‘Allāmah Zaid bin Muhammad al-Madkhali rahimahullah and ‘Allāmah Rabee’ bin Hādi bin Umayr al-Madkhali, the carrier of the flag of al-Jarh wat-Ta’deel in our era may Allah preserve him). I will also take from the sayings of the people of knowledge to give extra explanation and clarity to this tremendous work.
As mentioned earlier, the need for this work is even greater today, because when it was written, the great scholars of Islām from the early Salaf were present, who defended the borders that were encroached upon the Sunnah by Ahlul Bid’ah who tried to dilute and challenge the ‘Aqeedah of Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jamā’ah; and from the Imāms who stood for the truth was Imām Ahmad bin Hanbal.
No doubt we have scholars and Imāms in our time such as Sheikh al-Fawzān, Sheikh Rabee’, Sheikh Abdul Muhsin and Sheikh ‘Ubayd and other than them (may Allah preserve them) yet alongside their great virtue and knowledge, they are not of the calibre of the early Salaf. And deviations in our times have increased, and there is more ignorance today compared to the time of the early Salaf. Therefore the scholars of today, the carriers of this blessed da’wah, rely upon the works of the early Salaf and explain them in order to clarify the true ‘Aqeedah.
Imām Ahmad bin Hanbal said in the opening of another of his works on ’Aqeedah titled Ar-radd ‘alal Jahmeeyah waz-Zanādiqah (a refutation of the Jahmiyah and the Zanādiqah): All praise is due to Allah, who in every age between the messengers raises a group from the People of Knowledge. Those who call the misguided ones to guidance, and they bear patiently the harm that they receive. These scholars give life by the Book of Allah the Most High, to those who have died, and by the light of Allah they give sight to the blind – so how many who were killed by Iblees have they given life to, and how many who were led astray have they guided, and how fine has been their effect upon the people, and how vile have the people (those in opposition to the Sunnah) been towards them. It is these scholars who expel from the Book of Allah the tahreef of the ghaaleen (the distortions of those who go beyond bounds), and the assertions of the mubtileen (the liars) and the ta’weel of the jāhileen (the false interpretations of the ignorant). Those who uphold the banner of innovation, they let loose the reigns of discord and trial and they differ concerning the Book of Allah. They oppose it, and they are in agreement in their departing from the Book, and they speak about Allah and concerning the Book of Allah without knowledge. They discuss and debate using unclear and ambiguous speech. They deceive the ignorant people using that which is unclear and ambiguous to them. So we seek refuge with Allah the Most High from the fitnah of the misguided. (End)
This introduction explains the role of the ‘ālim, the scholar, and the ‘ulemah in every age from the time of the messengers. And after our Prophet salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam), it is no different; it is the scholars who are raised in every generation who call the misguided to guidance––those who by the light of Allah the Most High, give sight to the blind––because the ignorant ones are blind, they have no ‘ilm, no insight, no baseerah. So the scholars open their eyes and their hearts. How many have been killed by Iblees? How many are there whose hearts have been killed and corrupted by him? Then Allah guides these individuals to an ‘ālim, an Imām of the Sunnah––this is shown by the statements of the scholars of the Salaf such as Yusuf ibn Asbāt, whose father and paternal uncles were from the Rāfidah and Qadariyyah, but then Allah guided him by way of Sufyan (rahimahullāh).
So Allah raises these lighthouses and illuminaries of ‘ilm, who are landmarks and milestones, who give so much of their time and effort for the people––guiding those who are astray by the permission of Allah, those who were wandering and following the Shayateen from amongst the mankind and the Jinn––yet the ignorant people and the innovators are vile towards the scholars with their speech. These scholars are the ones who resemble the Prophets, as the Prophet salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said: “Those who are tried the most are the Prophets, then those who resemble them, then those who resemble them.”
So the scholars are tried just as the Prophets were tried. These scholars of the early Salaf from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd century, entering into the 4th century, the golden era of Islām, where the books of Hadeeth, ‘Aqeedah and Fiqh were written and the religion was codified. The era of Imām Bukhāri, Muslim, Abu Dāwud, Tirmidhi and Ibn Mājah. Before them was Ahmad bin Hanbal in his compilation of the Musnad and Imām Mālik before him in his compilation of the Muwatta––these ‘ulema gathered the narrations of the early Salaf. And it is the early Salaf we are concerned with as the Prophet (salalāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said: “The best of mankind are my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them.”
Many of these scholars wrote books in ‘Aqeedah in order to keep the religion pure and pristine, and to clarify the ‘Aqeedah of the muslims according to the Kitāb and the Sunnah and the way of the Sahābah (may Allah be pleased with them) and to refute Ahlul Bid’ah.
This book which we will be studying inshā Allah, by Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 241H) is an example of these books. Usool us Sunnah, or the Foundations of the Sunnah. The term Sunnah here refers to the ‘Aqeedah and Manhaj, the usool of the deen, that which the religion is built upon, without which there is no Islam.The following is a list of just some of the books of ‘Aqeedah written by the scholars of the Salaf, illustrating the importance they gave to clarifying the ‘Aqeedah and refuting Ahlul Bid’ah:
As-Sunnah of al-Athram (d. 273H), a student of Imām Ahmad, Kitāb us-Sunnah of Abu Dawud As-Sijistāni (d. 275H), the compiler of the Sunan, Kitāb us-Sunnah of Ibn Abee ‘Aasim (d287H), Aslus-Sunnah wa I’tiqaad ud-Deen of the Rāziyayn by Abu Zur’ah ar-Rāzi (d. 277H) and Abu Hātim ar-Rāzi (d264H), As-Sunnah of al-Marwazi (d. 292H), Kitāb us-Sunnah of Ibn Mājah (d. 273H), Sareehus-Sunnah of Ibn Jarir at-Tabari (d.310H), As-Sunnah of al-Khallāl (d. 311H), Sharhus-Sunnah of Imām al-Barbahāri (d. 329H), As-Sunnah of Al-Assāl (d. 349H), As-Sunnah of At-Tabarāni (d. 360H) and many others.
Some books of ‘Aqeedah did not have the word ‘Sunnah’ in their title but were still books on Creed. Examples of these are Kitāb ut-Tawheed of Ibn Khuzaymah (d. 311H), Kitābul-Imān of Ibn Mandah (d. 395H), Ash-Sharī’ah of Imām al-Aajurri (d. 360H), Al-Hā’iyyah of Ibn Abee Dāwud As-Sijistāni (d. 316H), ‘Aqeedatus-Salaf Ashābul-Hadeeth of Imām As-Sābooni (d. 449H), Sharh Usool ‘Itiqād Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah of Imām Al-Lālakā’ee (d. 418H), Al-Ibānatus-Sughra and al-Kubrah of Ibn Battah (d. 387H).
There were other books on ‘Aqeedah written to refute specific false ideologies, clearly showing that the way of the Salaf was to clarify the true ‘Aqeedah and refute and criticise Ahlul-Bid’ah and the innovators. Examples of such books are: Imām Ahmad’s Ar-Radd ‘alal Jahmiyyah waz-Zanādiqah (a refutation of the Jahmeeyah and the Zanādiqah), Naqdu ‘Uthmān bin Sa’eed ‘alal-Mareesi al-Jahmee al-‘Aneed fee maftara ‘alallahi min at-Tawheed of Imām ad-Dārimee (d. 280H) which means: A rebuttal from ‘Uthmān bin Sa’eed ad-Dārimee of Al-Mareesi, the stubbornly obstinate Jahmee, in his lies and fabrications upon the Tawheed of Allah!
It is the likes of these scholars who are truly Ahlul Hadeeth (the People of Hadeeth), just as Imām Ahmad said when he was asked who the saved sect are, he replied, “If they are not Ahlul Hadeeth, then I do not know who they are.”
They are the Tā’ifatul Mansoorah (The Aided Group), those Manifest upon the Truth, as mentioned in the hadeeth of the Prophet salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam):
“لا تزال طائفة من أمتي على الحق ظاهرين لا يضرهم من يخذلهم حتى يأتي أمر الله”
“There will not cease to be a group from my Ummah, manifest upon the truth, they are not harmed by those who forsake (and nor those who oppose them) them until the command of Allah comes.” (reported by At-Tirmidhi)
Ali al-Madini (rahimahullāh), who was from the companions of Imam Ahmad, said that the Tā’iafatul Mansoorah are the people of knowledge and narrations (Ahlul-‘ilm wal-Athar). They are the ones who passed down the correct, pure ‘Aqeedah which the Sahabah, 114,000 of them at the time of the death of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) were upon.
THE POSITION OF THE SALAF REGARDING AHLUL BID’AH:
Regarding the verse in surah Aal-’Imrān:
“On the Day when some faces will become white and some faces will become black..” (3:106)
‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Abbās and ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) said that the faces that will be blackened are the people of innovation, misguidance and splitting. And Abu Hātim ar-Rāzi said, “The distinguishing sign of Ahlul Bid’ah is that they revile Ahlul Athar.”
Ahmad bin Sinān al-Qatān said, “There is not an innovator in the dunyah,except that he hates the People of Hadeeth, so when a man innovates in the religion, the sweetness of hadeeth is stripped from his heart.”
Qutaybah bin Sa’eed said, “Whosoever opposes Ahlul Hadeeth, then know that he is an innovator.”
Abu ‘Uthmān Isma’eel as-Sābooni said, “From the clear signs of Ahlul Bid’ah, and the most apparent of their features is the severity of their enmity towards those who carry the narrations of Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and their hatred for them and their belittlement of them.”
Ayoub as-Sakhtiyāni said, “I do not know today anyone from Ahlul Ahwā (the People of Desires) except that he will argue with that which is ambiguous from the revelation.”
In our era, Sheikh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen rahimahullah) said that the clearest signs of Ahlul Bid’ah are:
- They ascribe to Islām and the Sunnah that which they themselves have innovated, whether in speech or action or belief.
- They are fanatical blind followers of their opinions, and they do not return to the truth even if it is made clear to them.
- They hate the scholars of Islām and the religion.”
Waqee’, who was from the sheikhs of Imam Ahmad rahimahullah) said, “Whosoever seeks the hadeeth only to strengthen his deviated opinion, then he is a person of Bid’ah.”
This article was transcribed by Umm Maryam (may Allah reward her) from a class of Abu Khadeejah.