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Uṣūl al-Sunnah

Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal al-Shaybānī

Abū Yaʿlá al-Ḥanbalī said: If one were to travel to China in search of it [i.e. this treatise] the journey would be considered insignificant.

If one were to travel to China in search of it [i.e. this treatise] the journey would be considered insignificant.

Abū Yaʿlá al-Ḥanbalī

I heard Abū ʿAbdillāh Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal saying: The fundamental principles of the Sunnah with us are: Holding fast to what the companions of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) were upon. Taking them [and their way] as a model to be followed. The abandonment of innovations, and every innovation is misguidance. The abandonment of controversies. The abandonment of sitting with the people of Ahwāʾ (desires). And the abandonment of quarreling, argumentation and controversy in the religion.

And the Sunnah with us are the āthār (narrations) of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ). And the Sunnah explains and clarifies the Qurʾān. It is the guide to the Qurʾān [containing evidences and indications as to its meanings and correct interpretations]. There is no Qiyās (analogical reasoning) in the Sunnah and examples or likenesses are not to be made for it. Nor is it grasped and comprehended by the intellects or the desires. Rather it [consists] following it, and abandoning the hawá (desires).

And it is from the binding and necessary Sunnah — which whoever leaves a single matter from it, has not accepted it [in its totality], nor believed in it and is not from its people [i.e Ahl al-Sunnah] — to have faith in Qadar (the Divine Pre-decree), both its good and its evil. To affirm the aḥādīth related to it and to have faith in them. It is not to be said, ‘Why?’ or ‘How?’. It is [but] attestation [to the truthfulness of such aḥādīth] and having faith in them.

And whoever does not know the explanation of a ḥadīth and [whose] intellect [does not have the capacity] to make him understand it, then that would be sufficient [i.e. to just merely affirm the aḥādīth and have faith in them] since (everything from the religion) has been perfected for him. And it is necessary for him to have faith in it and to submit to it, such as the ḥadīth of ‘the truthful one, the one who was believed’ and whatever is similar to it in the matter of al-Qadar. And also like the aḥādīth regarding the Ruʾyah (the believer’s seeing of Allāh in the Hereafter), all of them, even if they disagree with people’s hearing and [even] if the one who is listening to them feels repelled by and is averse to them.

And that he does not argue with anyone, nor dispute, nor should he learn argumentation [in such matters]. For indeed, (indulging in) theological rhetoric [i.e. kalām] in the matter of Qadar, the Ruʾyah, the Qurʾān and other such issues are among the detestable and forbidden methodologies. The one who does so, even if he reaches the truth with his words, is not from Ahl al-Sunnah, until he abandons [using] this method of argumentation, [and until he] submits and believes in the āthār (the prophetic narrations and those of the Companions).

And the Qurʾān is the speech of Allāh. It is not created. And he should not be weak, so much so, he declares it is not created and that the speech of Allāh is not [something] distinct and separate from Him [i.e., an entity in itself] and that not a single thing from it is created. And beware of argumentation with one who innovates in this matter and says that his recitation of the Qurʾān is created and other such claims. And whoever hesitates in this matter and says, ‘I do not know whether it is created or not created, it is but the speech of Allāh.’ Then he is a person of innovation and he is just like the one who says, ‘It is created’.

To have faith in the Ruʾyah (that Allāh will be seen) on the day of judgment as has been reported from the Prophet (ﷺ) in the authentic aḥādīth. And that the Prophet (ﷺ) saw his Lord since this has been transmitted from the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) and is correct and authentic. It has been reported by Qatādah from ʿIkrimah from Ibn ʿAbbās. And al-Ḥakam ibn Abān reported it from ʿIkrimah from Ibn ʿAbbās. Also, ʿAlī ibn Zayd reported it from Yūsuf ibn Mahrān from Ibn ʿAbbās.

And the Ḥadīth, in our estimation, is to be taken by its apparent meaning, as it has come from the Prophet (ﷺ). And indulging in theological rhetoric with respect to it is an innovation. But we have faith in it as it came, upon its apparent meaning and we do not dispute with anyone regarding it.

And having faith in the Balance [the weighing] on the Day of Judgment just as it has come [to us in the ḥadīth], “A servant will be weighed on the Day of Judgment and he will not be equal to the wing of a fly”. And the actions of the servants will be weighed just as has been reported in the narration. To have faith in it and to attest to its truthfulness and to turn away from whoever rejects that and to abandon argumentation with him. And that Allāh — the Blessed and Exalted — will speak to the servants on the Day of Judgment, without there being a translator between Him and them, to have faith in this and to attest to its truthfulness.

To have faith in the Ḥawḍ (the pool) and that there is a pool for the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) on the Day of Judgment. His ummah will come to it [to drink] and its width is equal to the distance traveled in a month. Its drinking vessels equalling the number of stars in the sky [and this is] in accordance with the narrations that are authentic in this regard, from more than one aspect.

To have faith in the Punishment of the Grave and that this ummah will be put to trial in their graves and will be questioned about Imān and Islām, Who their Lord is? And who their Prophet is? And that Munkar and Nakīr will come to them, [all of that will take place] in whatever way Allāh wills and in whatever way He desires. To have faith in that and to attest to its truthfulness.

To have faith in the Intercession of the Prophet (ﷺ) and [to have faith] that some people will be brought out of the Fire after they have been burnt therein and reduced to charcoal. [That] it will be ordered for them to be placed in a river by the door of Paradise, as has been reported in the narration, [all of that will take place] however Allāh wills and in whatever way Allāh wills. Indeed, it is to have faith in it and to attest to its truthfulness.

To have faith that the Masīḥ al-Dajjāl is to come, there being written between his eyes, ‘Kāfir’. And [to have faith] in the aḥadīth which have come [to us] regarding him. And to have faith that this will happen. And [to have faith] that ʿIsá ibn Maryam will descend and will kill him at the gate of Ludd.

And whoever abandons the prayer then he has disbelieved. There is nothing from among the actions, the abandonment of which constitutes disbelief except for the prayer. Whoever abandons it is a disbeliever and Allāh has made killing him permissible.

And the best of this ummah after its Prophet (ﷺ) is Abū Bakr al-Ṣidīq, then ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, then ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān. We give precedence to them. They [the Companions] never differed in that.

Then after those three, the five Companions of the Shūrā: ʿAlī ibn Abī Tālib, al-Zubayr, Talhah, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn ʿAwf and Saʿd ibn Abī Waqqāṣ, each of them was fitting and appropriate for khilāfah and each of them was an Imām (leader).

In this regard we take the ḥadīth of Ibn ʿUmar, “We used to consider, while the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) was alive and his Companions widespread: Abū Bakr [to be first], then ʿUmar, then ʿUthmān — and then we remained quiet”.

Then after the five companions of the Shūrā are the people who fought in Badr from among the Muhājirūn. And then those who fought in Badr from among the Anṣār, from among the Companions of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) [each one’s rank is] according to his migration and precedence [in the religion].

Then the most superior of mankind after these: the Companions of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ), the generation in which he was sent. Everyone who accompanied him, whether for a year, a month, a day, an hour or [just merely] saw him, then he is from among his Companions. His companionship is according to the extent to which he accompanied him, [and to the extent to which] he had precedence in being with him, heard from him and looked at him. So the closest of them in companionship to him are more excellent than the generation which did not see him, even if they met Allāh with all the [good] actions. Despite that, those who accompanied the Prophet (ﷺ), saw him and heard from him [are superior]. And whoever saw him with his eyes, and believed in him, even if for an hour, is more excellent, on account of this companionship [with the Prophet (ﷺ)], than the Tābʿīn, even if they [the Tābʿīn] did every action of goodness.

And hearing and obeying the leaders and the Amīr al-Muʾminīn, whether righteous or sinful, from among those who come into power with the khilāfah and with respect to whom the people have agreed and united themselves and are pleased with him. And also [hearing and obeying] the one who fought against the people with the sword [i.e. conquered them] until he became the khalīfah and was named the Amīr al-Muʾminīn.

Participation in battles along with the leaders, be they righteous or sinful, is an everlasting affair [i.e. always operative] up until the Day of Judgment. It is never to be abandoned. [Likewise] the division of the spoils of war and appointing the rulers to establish the prescribed punishments (ḥudūd) are [both] everlasting. It is not permissible for anyone to rebuke them or to contend with them [i.e. the rulers]. Also, handing over the charity to them [the Rulers] is permissible and always operative [in effect]. Whoever gives the charity to them then that will suffice him [i.e. his obligation will have been fulfilled], whether righteous or sinful.

And performing the Jumʿah prayer behind him [the Ruler] and behind whomever he appoints is [a] permissible and perfect [act] and [consists of] two rakʿahs. Whoever repeats them [after praying behind him] is an innovator, one who abandons the narrations and an opposer of the Sunnah. He receives nothing [of reward] from the excellence of his [attendance of] the Jumʿah prayer, if he does not accept and hold that prayer is to be observed behind the leaders, whomever they may be, the righteous amongst them and the sinful amongst them. So the Sunnah is that he prays two rakʿahs with them. [Whoever repeats them is an innovator], and that he acknowledges that they are perfect and complete, not having any doubt in his heart regarding that.

Whoever revolts against a leader from amongst the leaders of the Muslims, after the people had agreed upon him and united themselves behind him, after they had affirmed the khilāfah for him, in whatever way this khilāfah may have been, whether it came about by their pleasure and in acceptance or by [his] force and domination [over them], then this revolter has disobeyed the Muslims, and has contradicted the narrations of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ). And if the one who revolted against the ruler died he would have died the death of ignorance. The killing of the one in power is not lawful and it is not permissible for anyone amongst the people to revolt against him. Whoever does that is an innovator who is upon other than the sunnah and the [correct] path.

Fighting against the thieves and the khawārij is permissible. That is, when they set upon a man with respect to his life and his wealth. It is then permissible for him to fight [and defend] himself and his property and to repel [the thieves and the khawārij] from them both [i.e. himself and his property] with everything that is within his capacity. But it is not permissible for him, when they depart from him or abandon him, that he seeks them out. Nor should he follow their tracks and this is not [permissible] for anyone other than the leader or those charged with authority over the Muslims. It is only for him to defend himself in his own place and he should intend, by striving against them, that he will not kill anyone. But if he kills him whilst defending himself in the battle then Allāh will make the one killed far removed [from himself and from any goodness]. And if he [himself] is killed in that state, whilst he is defending himself and his property, then I hope that it is martyrdom for him, as has occurred in the ḥadīth. And all of the narrations in this regard have ordered for fighting him but did not order to kill him, nor to pursue him and finish him off should he fall to the ground or become wounded. If he took him as a captive he should not kill him nor carry out the prescribed punishment against him, but rather he should raise his matter to whomever Allāh has appointed and given authority so that he may judge in the matter.

And we do not testify for anyone from among the people of the qiblah, on account of an action that has been done, that he is in Paradise or in Hell-Fire. We have hope for the righteous one and we fear for him. Likewise, we fear for the evil and sinful person and we have hope in the mercy of Allāh for him.

Whoever meets Allāh with a sin which would necessitate the Fire for him, having repented, not returning back to it and [not] being insistent upon it, then Allāh [the Mighty and Magnificent] will turn to him (in forgiveness). And Allāh accepts repentance from His servants and forgives the evil actions. Whoever meets Him after having had the prescribed punishment meted out to him for that [particular] sin in this world, then that would be its expiation as occurs in the narration from the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ). Whoever meets him having persisted upon, and not repented from the sins which necessitate punishment, then his affair is with Allāh [the Mighty and Magnificent] if He wills, He will punish him and if He wills He will forgive him. Whoever meets Him as a disbeliever, He will punish him and will not forgive him.

Stoning to death [which is true and correct] is the rightful due of the one who has fortified [himself/herself with marriage] but fornicates, either when he/she admits [to this act] or when the evidence is established against him/her. The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) stoned to death and the rightly guided leaders too, stoned to death.

Whoever disparages and degrades a single one of the Companions of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) or dislikes him on account of something that occurred from him, or mentions his shortcomings, then he is an innovator.

Hypocrisy is disbelief: that a person disbelieves in Allāh and worships other than Him [inwardly], whilst manifesting Islām outwardly such as the hypocrites in the time of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ). And his (ﷺ) saying , “In whomsoever there are three [characteristics] he is a hypocrite…” is an intensification [in expression] we report it as it has come and we do not explain it.

Likewise, his (ﷺ) saying, “Do not become disbelievers after me, [astray], striking the necks of each other”. And, “When two Muslims meet with their swords then [both] the killer and the killed are in the Fire.” And, “Cursing a Muslim is wickedness and fighting against him is disbelief”. And “Whoever says to his brother, ‘O disbeliever’, then it returns back to one of them”. And, “It is disbelief in Allāh, the one who denies his kinship, even if it is insignificant [i.e. remote]”. And other aḥādīth such as these, among those which have been authenticated and preserved. We submit to it, even if we do not know its explanation. We do not talk about it. We do not argue about it. And we do not explain these aḥādīth except with the like of what they have come with. We do not reject them except for that which has more right to be accepted than them.

Paradise and Hellfire are two created things. They have [already] been created as has come from the Messenger (ﷺ) [in the ḥadīth], “I entered Paradise and I saw a castle…”. And, “I saw the pool (kawthar)…”. And, “I looked into Hellfire and I saw that most of its inhabitants were women”. And, “I looked into the fire and I saw such and such…”. So whoever claims that they [Paradise and Hellfire] are not created then he is a denier of the Qurʾān and the aḥādīth of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) and I do not consider that he believes in Paradise and Hellfire.

Whoever dies from among the people of the qiblah as a Muwaḥid, then prayer is performed over him and forgiveness is sought for him. Seeking forgiveness is not to be withheld from him [i.e. it should not be abandoned for him] and we do not abandon praying over him on account of a sin which he commited, regardless of whether it is a small or big sin. His affair is with Allāh, the Mighty, the Sublime.

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Published: March 4, 2015
Edited: July 28, 2022

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