The Belief (I'tiqad) and Essentials of the Ahl Al-Sunnah
No school of thought (madhhab) was needed during the Age of Happiness and the time of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs, because people learned the faith directly from Prophet Muhammad (saas) and his Companions.
As heretical movements and divisions based on un-Islamic ideas and practices (bid`ah) gradually emerged, devout scholars still following the path of the Prophet (saas) and his companions began to identify various measures in his beliefs and deeds. They presented people with a purified form of Islam by distinguishing between truth and error. One outgrowth of this effort was the Ahl al-Sunnah madhhab.
Several elements separate the Ahl al-Sunnah from heretical movements, some of which attracted gullible persons by opposing the Ahl al-Sunnah's criteria. Therefore, those who follow our Prophet's (saas) path must always be on our guard against such types of corruption. The first thing we need to do is to learn about and bear in mind the essence of the Ahl al-Sunnah's belief (i`tiqad).
Matters upon Which the Ahl al-Sunnah Agree
1) Belief in Allah (swt)
Believing in Allah's (swt) names, as referred to in the Qur'an and the Sunnah, is Islam's basic tenet. It is impossible to bestow titles befitting human beings on Allah (swt), for He cannot be compared with His own creation. Each of His names has been mentioned in the Qur'an. Great care must be taken here, and no credence should be given to heretical views.
So long as people consider themselves Muslim, they must harbor no doubts about Islam and must not regard themselves as unbelievers due to any deficiencies they may have, so long as they have faith in their hearts. Having such a misguided perspective as regards their own faith is very harmful in terms of our belief. Indeed, our Lord reveals the following in the Qur'an:
Who could say anything better than someone who calls to Allah, acts rightly, and says: éI am a Muslim"? (Surah Fussilat: 33)
2) The Ahl al-Sunnah's Belief in the Qur'an
The Qur'an is the word of Allah (swt). It came from Allah's (swt) presence and will return to Him. It is the last and final Divine book, and the only book of truth that will remain valid until the Day of Judgment. Certain heretical movements have other ideas on this subject.
You receive the Qur'an directly from One who is All-Wise, All-Knowing. (Surat al-Naml: 6)
3) Allah Cannot Be Seen in This World
Nowhere does Prophet Muhammad (saas) say that he actually saw Allah (swt). One hadith, which some people claim implies this, has been unanimously rejected by Islamic scholars. According to the Ahl al-Sunnah, anyone claiming to have seen Allah (swt) before they die is a liar. In one hadith, our Prophet (saas) states: éNone of you will see our Lord before he dies" (Muslim).
4) Believers Will See Our Lord in Paradise
Books of trustworthy hadiths refer to people seeing Allah (swt) after Day of Judgment with the eye of the Hereafter. However, the Jahmiyya, Mu'tazila, and Rafida schools maintained the opposite.
Allah (swt) is not in any one space or on the Throne. Rather, He (swt) is exalted far above all space. The Karramiyya school holds some views on this matter that are incompatible with those of the Ahl al-Sunnah.
5) What Happens after Death?
The Ahl al-Sunnah believe in the Prophet's (saas) literal words concerning the Hereafter and that punishment that will be meted out in the grave. The Mu'tazila, on the other hand, do not believe this. According to the Ahl al-Sunnah, the grave is the garden of Paradise for the believers and one of the deepest pits of Hell for the unbelievers.
Questioning by Munkir and Nakir, the two angels who will question each Muslim in the grave, is also a fact. Members of the Qadariyya school deny this questioning. Anyone who does not turn to Allah (swt), recognize the Prophet (saas), abide by his Sunnah, or act according to the Qur'an will experience great difficulties when called to account in the grave.
The soul is restored to the body on the Day of Judgment, at which time the unbelievers will not be asked about their good and evil deeds. Rather, their actions will be counted and calculated. Once they admit their sins, they will be punished.
Whoever safely crosses al-Sirat, a bridge that has been built over Hell, will enter Paradise. After doing this, they will stop on a bridge between Paradise and Hell. Here, their mutual rights in this world will be considered and the rights will be returned to their owners. If they are saved from here and forgiven, they will be allowed to enter Paradise.
6) The Intercession (Shafaat) of the Prophet (saas)
On the Day of Judgment, the Messenger of Allah (saas) will have three separate intercession (shafaat). He will perform the first one for all the people gathered on the Day of Judgment, the second one so that the people of Paradise may enter it, and the third for those who have earned Hellfire. He will also perform shafaat so that some people who have entered Hell may leave it due to some of the deeds that did while alive. The prayers and alms of the living will also benefit deceased believers.
Members of the Wahabbi school in particular have produced various ideas concerning the Prophet's (saas) shafaat that are incompatible with those of the Ahl al-Sunnah.
7) Belief in Destiny
The Ahl al-Sunnah believe in the good and evil of destiny. There are two degrees of belief in destiny:
The first degree is that Allah (swt) is fully aware of what every member of creation has done and will do. He knows their obedience and their rebellion before they ever take place. Almighty Allah (swt) has written the destiny of all that exists on al-Lawh al-Mahfuz (the Preserved Tablet). A person's destiny is brought to him by an angel while he is still in an embryonic form, before his soul has been breathed into him. Some members of the Qadarriya school have adopted several mistaken suppositions here. Muslims must be on their guard on this highly sensitive issue.
The second one is that Allah's (swt) will is superior to that of human beings. No one can be a believer or an unbeliever unless Allah (swt) wills it to be so. The Qadariyya school rejects this aspect of destiny.
8) Faith Consists of Words and Deeds; Therefore, It Increases and Decreases
This is a basic tenet of the Ahl al-Sunnah. Faith rises according to the level of one's obedience and declines according to one's sins. All good works fall under the scope of religion and faith.
9) The People of the Qibla Cannot Be Excommunicated (Takfir) Due to Sinning
Someone adhering to the Ahl al-Sunnah's convictions does not excommunicate another believer who prays in the same direction (qibla) as he does or claim that such a person is an unbeliever. His faith may not, perhaps, be absolute. Kharijism, Islam's first heretical movement, produced its first corruption (fitna) on this very subject.
No matter how many good works someone who has lapsed into denial may perform, he will not benefit from them. Similarly, no matter how many sins a Muslim may commit, he cannot be considered a denier until he says that what is allowed is actually prohibited and that what is prohibited is actually allowed.
10) The Miracles of the Awliya of Allah (swt) Are Accurate
Belief in the miracles (karamah) of the Awliya of Allah (swt), the extraordinary states to which Allah (swt) gives rise by their hand, and the discoveries they make in various spheres of knowledge are among the essence of the Ahl al-Sunnah's convictions.
11) The Prophet's (saas) Miraculous Journey
According to the Qur'an and the hadiths, our Prophet (saas) ascended to a world beyond the heavens in both body and soul. Anyone who rejects this miraculous journey is considered to have fallen into denial. The Qur'an reveals that our Prophet's (saas) going to Bayt al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) is an absolute truth, and reliable hadiths confirm that he rose to the skies.
Glory be to Him Who took His servant on a night journey from the Masjid al-Haram [in Makkah] to the Masjid al-Aqsa [in Jerusalem], whose surroundings We have blessed, in order to show him some of Our signs. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. (Surat al-Isra', 1)
In order to create corruption, the deniers and hypocrites, who did not believe in this miracle, dared to mock it. This corruption soon spread all over Makkah, for they told everyone that they met about it. One of them asked Abu Bakr (ra): éMuhammad (saas) claims to have gone from Makkah to Jerusalem in a single night. What do you say?" With his usual exemplary trust and submission, Abu Bakr (ra) ended this spreading corruption by replying: éIf he says so, then it is true."
12) Acknowledging Allah (swt)
Those who refuse to accept Allah (swt) in their words, despite knowing Him in their hearts, are unbelievers. Those who refuse to recognize Allah (swt) in their hearts, despite accepting Him in their words, are hypocrites. However, it is not appropriate to accuse anyone of hypocrisy in the absence of outright denial or any solid evidence of hypocrisy.
13) The Day of Judgment
The Day of Judgment is the final day of life for the universe, as predetermined by Allah (swt). Everyone will be called to account on the Day of Judgment. No one will return to Earth in a second body, for all of the bodies of everyone who has ever lived, from the time of Prophet Adam (as) right up until the Day of Judgment, were created beforehand. No soul will return to Earth with a different body.
14) Appreciating Those Given the Glad Tidings of Paradise
Any inappropriate word spoken against a Companion of the Prophet (saas) who received the glad tidings of Paradise is not in line with the respect due to them and is a great sin toward those great individuals. These Companions are:
Abu Bakr (ra)
Zubayr ibn Awwam (ra)
Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas (ra)
Said ibn Zayd (ra)
Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf (ra), and
Abu Ubaydah ibn Jarrah (ra).
The history of Islam's early days is full of these superior individuals' heroism. Rasulullah (saas) praised them in his hadiths and even stated that, after himself, some of them were worthy of the rank of prophethood. For that reason, any slander uttered against them is regarded as being uttered against the Prophet (saas) himself.
A common feature of heretical movements is the way they adopt a tone of opposition to some of the Companions whom have been given the glad tidings of Paradise. There is absolutely no room for such views among the Ahl al-Sunnah.
15) None Other than the Messengers Is Protected from Imperfection
Allah (swt) protects all of His messengers' words. The importance of complying with the words spoken and/or written by the great Islamic scholars who follow the line of the Ahl al-Sunnah is also critical for believers. However, contrary to what some extremist movements claim, no one is obliged to abide by these.
16) The Sources of Reference in Islam
Anything that is incompatible with the Qur'an and the sunnah is unacceptable. This is the most important distinguishing feature between the Ahl al-Sunnah wa'l-Jama'ah and other groups. Indeed, Rasulullah (saas) tells us that when we cannot agree on a particular matter, we must first look to the Qur'an and then to the sunnah. The Ahl al-Sunnah believe that seeking to depict something that is not part of the Qur'an and the sunnah as part of Islam is to be avoided at all costs.
17) To Make No Interpretation of the Qur'an and the Sunnah
Reason and analogy are not to be used to interpret the Qur'an and the sunnah, because the Companions and the scholars of our school learned their knowledge directly from the Qur'an and the sunnah. Believers accept everything that is compatible with the Qur'an and the sunnah and reject everything that violates them. The main feature distinguishing the Ahl al-Sunnah wa'l-Jama'ah from other groups is how they regard these two sources as the essential sources of all knowledge. They interpret all matters in light of them, instead of following their presumption, whims, and desires. Nobody has the right to cast any doubt on the Qur'an and the sunnah.