Will you explain the concepts of Ahl as-Sunnah and Ahl al-Bayt?

The Details of the Question

- Are the grandchildren of the Prophet from Ahl as-Sunnah?
- Did Ahl al-Bayt not follow the way of Ahl as-Sunnah?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

When it is viewed from the point of view of the groups that are affiliated with Islam but have very different aspects, there are generally two different mentalities. The first one of them is Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah and the second one is Ahl al-Bid’ah.

Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah is defined in the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as “those who follow the way that I and my Companions follow”. (Majmauz-Zawaid,1/189) Therefore, those who do not adhere to that creed are regarded as people of bid’ah. They consist of seventy-two sects. Mutazila, Jahmiya, Qadariyya, Shi’a and similar ones are among them.

Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah have two different madhhabs (sects) of creed: Ash’ari and Maturidi. There is no difference between them in terms of basic principles. There are some small differences in details. Therefore, both represent the same group.    

The evidence that we are on the way of the Quran and the Sunnah is the path followed by the madhhab scholars called Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah. As it is known, this great congregation, containing scholars each of which shines like a bright star, previously consisted of twelve sects. Then, four of them remained. It is very unlikely that a school composed of such great scholars - as a community - will make mistakes. As a matter of fact, the Prophet states the following in a hadith:

“My ummah will not agree on misguidance.” (Majmauz-Zawaid, 5/208)

Islamic scholars mention the hadith above as evidence that Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah are on the right path. (For more information, see Abu Dawud, Sunnah, 1; Tirmidhi, Iman, 18; Ibn Majah, Fitan, 17; Ibn Hanbal, 2/332)

We should not forget that following the line of Ahl as-Sunnah, which forms the vast majority of the ummah, includes the greatest, genius scholars, and adopts the line of the Quran and the Sunnah as a road map, is a much more logical way than putting yourself at risk by following marginal groups. There is no point in deviating into byways when the vast street awaits you.

Ahl al-Bayt is the name of the descendants of the Prophet born of his daughter Fatima.

It is sheer ignorance to think that Ahl al-Bayt is outside Ahl as-Sunnah.

Hz. Ali and Hz. Fatima are among the most important personalities of the Ahl al-Bayt. Since Ahl as-Sunnah means to follow the path of the Prophet (pbuh), who else can be from Ahl as-Sunnah if those two blessed people, who are the closest to and most beloved people of the Prophet (pbuh), are not from Ahl as-Sunnah?

Each of the twelve imams from Ahl al-Bayt was a famous scholar who was highly respected when they lived.

After Hz. Ali, the imams of the Ahl al-Bayt were Hz. Hasan and Hz. Husayn. It is not possible to say that those two people, who are the masters of Paradise and two roses that the Messenger of Allah smelled, were not from Ahl as-Sunnah, that is, they were outside the way on which the Prophet and his Companions followed; no Muslim would make such a claim.

- After Hz. Hasan and Hz. Husayn, the chief imam of Ahl al-Bayt was Zayn al-Abidin. The real name of this person, who was the son of Husayn, was Ali, the name of his grandfather. Along with his knowledge and wisdom, he was at the peak in terms of worshipping and sainthood; therefore, the scholars of the period gave him the nickname Zayn al-Abidin (the adornment/rose of the worshippers). That he became famous for praying one thousand rak’ahs of nafilah prayers every day - day and night - (see Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib, 7/304) is an indication that he deserves that nickname. It will be sufficient to look at the sources to see how the scholars of Ahl as-Sunnah, especially Imam Zuhri, the teacher of the hadith scholars, narrated hadiths from Zayn al-Abidin and how they praised him. (see Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib, 7/304)

- Imam Muhammad Baqir is Zayn al-Abidin’s son. He is an Ahl al-Bayt imam famous for his knowledge, wisdom and taqwa. Ishaq as-Sabui, Zuhri, Ibn Ata, Awzai, Ibn Jurayj and Makhul, who are among the stars of Ahl as-Sunnah scholars, narrated hadiths from him; hadith scholars such as Ibn Sad, Nasai and Ijli praised him (Ibn Hajar, ibid, 9/350-352), which nullifies the words of others.

- Imam Jafar Sadiq, who is Imam Muhammad Baqir’s son, is famous for his loyalty. Abu Hanifa, one of the Imams of Ahl as-Sunnah, was his student and narrated hadiths from him; Imam Malik said,

“I visited him from time to time; whenever I saw him, he was praying, fasting or reading the Quran. I have never seen him narrate a hadith without wudu.”

Thus, he witnessed Imam Jafar’s loyalty and taqwa. Do they not show that this blessing person is from Ahl as-Sunnah? (For scholar’s praises for him, see Ibn Hajar, ibid, 2/103-105)

Should it not be regarded insanity to accuse that honorable person, who is respected by the scholars and saints of that period, of not following the way of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), his grandfather?

The imams of the four madhhabs, especially Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Shafii, and many other Ahl as-Sunnah scholars were accused of being Shia because of their respect and love for Ahl al-Bayt and were tortured by some state authorities of the period. In fact, Imam Shafii opposed those cruelties and declared his love for Ahl al-Bayt by saying, “If loving Ahl al-Bayt is regarded as Rafidite (an extreme branch of Shia), let all humans and jinn know that I am a Rafidi”. Is it possible for us take into account the fallacies of Ahl al-bid’ah - based on Kharijites and Wahhabis - related to Ahl al-Bayt by ignoring the testimony of the four madhhab imams, who represented Ahl as-Sunnah throughout history?

To sum up, the imams of Ahl al-Bayt are from Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah. The title of “Ahl al-Bayt” is not a deficiency for them; on the contrary, it is a degree that will elevate them to the sky. They may have different ijtihads on some issues. As a matter of fact, the imams of the four madhhabs have different ijtihads too.

We should regretfully state that since some Shia groups who supported Ahl al-Bayt slandered them and wrote wrong things in their narrations from Ahl al-Bayt, Ahl as-Sunnah scholars (not because of those imams) evaluated the hadiths and news they narrated from Ahl al-Bayt with caution. Some other groups made efforts for the treacherous goal of eliminating Ahl al-Bayt imams by making false interpretations and judgments about them because they acted with the Umayyad and Kharijite mentality.

Unfortunately, some bad people today still have that mentality. In fact, the attitude of some Shiites who display their hatred against Hz. Umar in the form of love of Hz. Ali is wrong; similarly, those who display their hatred against Shiites who love Hz. Ali and Ahl al-Bayt in the form of loyalty to Ahl as-Sunnah are also on the wrong path.  

May our Lord not make us deviate from the true direction. Amin!

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