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What does the term “Ahl al Sunna wa al Jama’ah" mean, and what is the difference between the two terms?

Sh. Muhammad al-Hasan al-Walid al-Dido al-Shanqītī | Translated by Osman Umarji

The Question

What does the term “Ahl al Sunna wa al Jama’ah̄” (“People of the Sunna and Community”) mean, and what is the difference between the two terms?1

The Answer

This term (used in the question above) does not appear in the Qur’an or the Sunna.  Undoubtedly, many hadith have commanded following the Sunna and other hadith have commanded sticking to the community [of Muslims].

It has been established on the authority of the companion Arbād ibn Sāriyah that the Prophet advised, “Whoever lives from amongst you [in the near future] will see a lot of discord and disagreement. So (you must) adhere to my and the Sunna of the rightly guided Caliphs. Bite down upon it with your molars (meaning hold on to it tightly).”2 This is a command to follow the sunna, and similarly in many other hadith he commanded us to stick firmly to his sunna.

The hadith of Miqd̄am ibn Ma’dy Karb where the Prophet said, “A man will be lying down on this couch when a command from what I have commanded will come to him or a prohibition from what I have prohibited and he will say, “Between us and between you is the Book of Allah, What we find in it to be halāl, we permit it, and what we find in it to be forbidden, we forbid it. Undoubtedly, whatever the Prophet has forbidden is equal to what Allah has forbidden.” The Prophet then said, “Indeed, I have been given the Quran and something similar with it.”3

Sticking with the Community

Similarly, the Prophet urged upon sticking with the community of Muslims in many hadith like when he said to Hudhayfa ibn al-Yamān.  “Stick to the community of believers and their imam.” And, “The blood of any Muslim is not permissible except in one of three circumstances:  An adulterer (who is not a virgin), a soul for a soul, and the one who has separated from the community of Muslims and left his religion.”4 The Prophet said, “Whoever separates a hand span from the community of Muslims and passes away, then he has died a death of jāhiliyah (ignorance).”5 He said, “Whoever separates from the community of believers, then he has indeed removed the noose of Islam from his neck.”6 The Prophet also said, “Allah’s hand is with the community of believers, and whoever isolates himself (by abandoning the believers) will be isolated in the fire.”7 And in another hadith he said, “Whoever desires the prosperous life of ease and comfort8 of paradise then let him stick tightly to the community of believers.” In another hadith he said, “The hand of Allah is with the community and indeed the wolf eats from the lone and distant sheep.” Likewise the prophet [sa] prohibited his companions to return the desert9 after the migration to Medina.

The Ruling

There are many hadith regarding the Sunna and these hadith collectively are a proof for the obligation of adhering to it. Similarly, the hadith about the community of believers are a proof for the obligation of sticking closely to it as well.

A Brief Epistemology of Sunna and Community

The scholars pieced together these two terms and coined what that the Prophet and his companions were upon “the sunna and community of the believers.” However, the meaning of the term sunna in this context is not the meaning of the term known amongst the scholars of Islamic law. The legal definition of sunna is a commanded legislative action that is not mandatory where one is rewarded for performing it and is not punished for leaving it. This is the meaning according to the scholars of Islamic law and the principles of Islamic law, but this is not the intended meaning. Also, the intended meaning of the community of believers is not a large number of individuals or a righteous group only. On the contrary, Allah says in the six chapter of the Qur’an, “And if you were to obey most of the people, they would misguide you from the path of Allah. “ The intended meaning of the Sunna is the way that the Prophet and his companions were upon. So this is what we call “Sunna” and “community” regarding their terminology, and there should be no arguing over terminology.10 terminology” is a famous axiom of Usōl al-Fiqh.]

  1. Translated from http://www.dedew.net/index.php?A__=5&type=4&h=1&linkid=700
  2. Related by Ahmed (4, 126-127), Abū Dawūd (4607), al-Tirmidhī (2687), Ibn Mājah (43) and al-Hākim in his Mustadrāk (1/95) who declared it sound and al-Dahabī agreed
  3. Related by Ahmed (3/130) and Abū Dawūd 3804 and it is sound
  4. Agreed upon
  5. Related by Ahmed (3/445) and Muslim with a similar wording
  6. Related by Ahmed (5/180), Abū Dawūd (4758) , Hākim (1/117) and al-Tirmidhī with a similar wording and he declared it Hasan Sahīh see Sunan al-Tirmidhī (2863).
  7. Related by al-Hākim from Ibn Abbās (391) and Ibn ̔Umar (398) with Ibn Hajar declaring “Its narrators are sound, but the hadith has errors.” Al-Hakīm stated that the hadīth’s narrations are confused thus, “It is weak.” Fayd al-Qad̄ir vol. 2 pg. 344
  8. Ibn Jawzi says that “Hububah” means the “middle of Paradise.” See Gharīb al-Hadīth of Ibn Jawzī
  9. Al-t’arub mentioned in the statement of the sheikh is in reference to the Prophet’s prohibiting the Muhājirōn to return to the Bedouin life after migrating to Medina. In fact as noted by Ibn Mundhir, it was from the major sins. See Lisān al-Arab vol.1 pg. 587
  10. La Mushaha fi al-Istilah” Lit. ”There are no disputes in [usages of

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  • Asalaam Alaikum,

    Jazak'Allah Khair for sharing Sheikh.

    Sheikh Hamza Yusuf in his translation of Imam at-Tahawi's Aqeedah also mentions the term came into existence as a result of the numerous heretical ideologies present during the early period of the Abbasite Caliphate. (Mu'tazila, Shia, Jahmiyya etc.) So scholars started referring to orthodox Islam as Ahl Sunnah wa'al Jama'ah to distinguish themselves from the other groups who were all calling themselves 'Muslim'.

  • I thought ibn ‘Abbas first used the term.

    On the tafseer of the ayah [EMQ 3: 106], “On the Day (Day of Judgement) when some faces will become white and some faces will become black…” Ibn Abbas (ra) said as recorded in Ibn Kathir and Tafseer Tabari, “Those whose faces will be bright will be Ahl us-Sunnah Wal Jama’ah and those whose faces will be dark will be Ahl ul-Bida’ah Wal Firqah.”

    • Ibn Abbas is known to be the one who has used the phrase “Ahl al-Sunna wa’al Jam’ah” in the tafseer of the verse you state.

      I take issue with Shaykh al-Dido on his statements below:

      “Also, the intended meaning of the community of believers is not a large number of individuals or a righteous group only. On the contrary, Allah says in the six chapter of the Qur’an, “And if you were to obey most of the people, they would misguide you from the path of Allah. “

      Shaykh al-Dido is quoting a verse of the Qur’an that famous mufasireen say refer to non-Muslims — not Muslims. Therefore, it is incorrect for Shaykh al-Dido to use that verse to prove his point.

      It is well know among Sunnis that “Sunni orthodoxy” is represented by the Ash’ari, Maturidi, and correct Athari creeds. It is a fact that most followers of the Shafi’i and Maliki schools are Ash’ari, and most followers of the Hanafi school are Maturidi. And they collectively make up the ‘majority’ of Muslims. Therefore, the great mass of Muslims, or the majority, do count for something.


      • @Muhammad, what ‘counts for something’ in reality is what the first three generations of Mulims, the righteous forefathers, were upon in terms of creed and deed. And what the so-called ‘great mass of Muslims’ or majority are upon in later times, the خَلَف, doesn’t amount to anything. It is by *no means* whatsoever the criteria for truth, correctness and orthodoxy! Sure, our beloved (peace be on him) told us, that this Ummah will never, ever, *unite* (i.e. collectively agree) upon falsehood, but that only means that if the entire Ummah has unanimously agreed on something, that thing will not be Baatil, but truth. But there has always been, among later generations, people/scholars upon the true, orthodox beliefs of Islam (that the Early Community were upon). So in spite of the majority of Ash’arites and so on, there has always been a taa’ifah (group) among the Ummah clinging to the sound creed.

        The verse (6:116) about how the majority will lead you astray if you follow them, although originally it was referring to disbelievers, it can also refer to the Muslim Ummah of later times, because the Prophet, peace be on him, informed that in the later generations of this Nation corruption, treachery, lies (etc) would become prevalent! Only the Sahabah, Tabi’un, and their successors (i.e. and this includes the likes of the Four Imams) were rightly-guided, and THEY are the criteria of truth, not later peoples.

        • Assalamaulaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

          Abdullah I somewhat agree with you but two points:
          1. Don’t use the term “orthodoxy”, otherwise we are following the ways of Jews and Christians. Simply say Islam and when mentioning deviant ideas, cal them for what they are.
          2. They can’t actually claim majority status. Most Muslims who they claim are Ashari or Maturidi probably don’t know anything distinct about their strange creeds let alone any of the Quran. That’s because ignorance and poverty is widespread. Also, what appears to be the case is that the fitrah inclines us to believe Allah is above us. Why do you think, in desperate situations people raise their hands to the sky and beg? There is no need for the term Athari because that puts in on the same level of Ashari/Maturidi. Islam is Islam, and it is the deviants who are distinguished with different names, not Muslims!

      • Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

        You can’t claim majority status for Asharites and Maturidites. Also, didn’t Ashari eventually correct his creed in the last 5 years of his life?

        Most Muslims know very little about their religion from what I can see, due to poverty, illiteracy,and lack of education. That is why we follow in the footsteps of the Christians and follow many innovations and there is even excessive saint veneration.

  • It is excellent that we at least have a forum for truth here on Suhaibwebb. Just imagine the present day or even since the time of the prophet,peace be upon him, in the town of Timbuktu in sub-Saharan Mali I believe there are many manuscrits there that have been preserved for centuries & passed thru sucessive hands of scholars and concientious caretakers.It seems to me that Allah foresaw there would be differences of opinion so He gave to the Ummah the practise of meeting and discussion alongside prayer & even here in Northern England living on my own,and from time to time visited by my daughter we have other believers to help us fathom the difficult issues that arise from a situation such as in Timbuktu or a case of definition of terms on the web.Inshall’ah.One sometimes must admit to not knowing therefore we say from the Qur’an’s Opening verses.’Show us the true path, the path of those on whom thy favour rests’ Brian Cokayne

  • Ignoring complaints and suggestions could compromise your brand’s integrity in the eyes of your customers.

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