Characteristics of the People of Sunnah
Following is an attempted translation of a letter from Dr. Safar al-Hawali originally sent to the people of Sunnah in Yemen, and then later generalized to be addressed to the whole Muslim Ummah.
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
From Safar ibn Abdur-Rahman al-Hawali to his brothers in Allah among the adherents to Sunnah, may Allah protect them all.
As you know the greatest blessing of Allah towards His slaves –after granting the guidance to Islam- is to make them among the people submitting to Sunnah, and not those submitting to whims and Bid’ah (innovations in matter of religion). Accordingly, Allah’s right on us is to accept this blessing, be thankful, value it, and preserve it from vanishing because of sinful deeds and matters that may disrupt its sustenance.
Among the blessings of Allah is the spread of Sunnah and the retreat of Bid’ah and other -old and new- atheist ideologies. However, whenever Satan gives-up hope to be worshipped in a community, he is satisfied to see divide and disputes among them.
Behaving appropriately with the people of Qiblah (those who face towards Makkah whilst praying) is the best way to unite this Ummah. It is such, because the rules to behave and deal with people of Qiblah are based on the Quran and Sunnah. These are not based on mare common interests as might be thought by many.
Publicizing such rules is part of the methodology of Islam, a methodology that the unity and victory of this Ummah is relative to the compliance with it.
For the above, it is imperative to advice and remind people on issues pertaining to dealing with the people of Qiblah. Here are some of such matters.
The path of Sunnah and obedience (i.e., Islam) is the most straight as well as the widest and the most merciful path. It was able to accommodate the most righteous among the companions of the Prophet as well as the remotest Bedouin Muslims, and between these two groups are innumerous shades of faith that no one could reckon except Allah, as was elaborated in Chapter 9 (Surah At-Tawbah). The followers of this path are part of the selected Ummah described in Chapter 35 (Fatir) verse 32:
“Then we caused to inherit the Book those We have chosen of Our servants; and among them is he ho wrongs himself, and among them is he who is moderate, and among them is he who is foremost in good deeds by permission of Allah . That [inheritance] is what is the great bounty.”
Thus, the wrong doers will not suffer, as long as they are on the same path as those foremost albeit walking behind. They would carry each other, mend each other’s fracture and will all end to the same happy destination. Some would be allowed to enter the Paradise from all of its eight gates, and some will be attached to a single gate, and others will be somewhere in between. Some would enter Paradise for standing up for the role of Prophets, and some would enter it for a sincere supplication at a humble moment, or a drop of tear in the middle of night, or perhaps for a penny given to a poor, or a branch of tree removed from the street.
The people of Sunnah are diverse in their skills and competencies, yet are unified in their goals and objectives. Among them are soldiers (i.e., Mujahedeen), those who enjoin good and prevent vice, commentators of the Quran (i.e., Mufassir), narrators of Hadith (i.e., Muhaddith), linguists, and poets. Among them are also the mass public who obey Allah and His Messenger even if they might not carry any knowledge. Those who are not corrupted by the ideologies of deviated sects remain on the basic nature of Sunnah, like the newborn remaining on the natural religion of Islam before being corrupted by his Jewish, Christian or Magi parents.
Moreover, the people of Sunnah fulfil the rights of the Ummah as dictated by Shari’ah rules. These rules tie the entrance of Paradise with the attribute of Emaan (faith) when it comes to the rights of Allah as in many verses in the Quran, however, when it comes to dealing with fellow humankind then their blood, money and honor are preserved through the attribute of Islam. As an evidence, take for example the Hadith: (Every Muslim is prohibited for another Muslim: his blood, his money and his prestige), or the Hadith: (Rights of one Muslim on another are six..), or the hadith: (The (true) Muslim is the one who keeps other Muslims protected from the evil of his tongue and hand..).
Thus, whoever is attached with the name of Islam is guaranteed these set of rights and this guarantee is never lifted except with certainly or outweighing benefit to Islam. In fact, Allah called the two fighting groups as believers to emphasize their rights (49:10)
“The believers are naught else than brothers. Therefore make peace between your brethren..).
In addition, they never abandon the established and fundamental rules because of temporary incidences. For example, “staying under a unified umbrella of Islam” is a fundamental rule whereas “avoiding the deviated and the lecherous” is a temporary measure. Thus, if applying this temporary measure does not outweigh the benefit of preserving Muslim unity then this avoidance should be avoided. These temporary measures change based on circumstances and multiple individual judgments are allowed.
Those who pray Muslim’s prayer, face their Qiblah (i.e, Makkah) during prayer, and eat from their slaughtered animal then he is among them. He is entitled to what other Muslims are entitled, and he holds accountable to what others hold accountable. Allah will measure the inner status, thus, one need to refrain from attempting to dig deep into intentions and secrets, and make evil assumptions, or have resentments towards someone declared faith. There should be no divisions based on nicknames even if they were noble names, like Muhajiroon (those who migrated from Makkah to Medinah) or al-Ansaar (those who were the hosts at Medinah). It were of no benefit to the Mu’tazilites (an Islamic sect who are influenced by Greek philosophy and rank reason above revelation) when they called themselves the people of Tawheed and Justice, neither did it benefit the Sufis when then claimed to be the allies of Allah, and before them the Jew and Christians who said [5:18]:
“We are the children of Allah and His beloved.”
Moreover, the people of Sunnah consider it a disliked act of innovation to place people under trial to examine their loyalty to a certain group or individual. The early predecessors have warned against this. The enmity or amity is supposed to be based on facts, not on claims and mere names. The smaller Muslim community resembles a good example for the bigger. As it is required for them to perform the prayer as the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Caliphs prayed with the Imam being among the righteous follower of Sunnah but not to prevent sinners and hypocrites from entering the masjid and praying with them, similarly it is imperative for the entire Sunni community to adhere to this deep and wide attitude towards others who would like to support Islam and fight its enemies even though they might be committing sins or stay on some Bid’ah. However, the people of Sunnah exert effort to teach these people the right path as the Imam of a Masjid would teach his congregation how to perform the prayer in correct manner. This is far better than allowing this group of sinners (or innovators) to get isolated in a separate Masjid with a different Imam and start engaging in perpetual dispute and clash with the other Masjid.
And they are strong in adhering to truth but without extravagance, and at the same time they show mercy to the creatures without injustice. They enjoin good in a good manner, and refrain from evil in no evil ways.
And they fulfil the measures and do not deprive people of their due, and weight matters with justice and wisdom. They resort to the lesser among two harmful things and stay away from the greater, and stay patiently to face the pain. They march forward on the nearer road, and they choose the less complex of two matters. The oppressed of all nations rush towards their justice, and seeker of truth among all religions and sects entrusts their knowledge. Justice is an absolute value to them, as Allah made is an obligatory on everyone towards everyone on every situation. Justice is thus an absolute value that and is not violated by difference in religion let alone other lesser differences. Allah said (Sura al-Maedah5:2)
“And do not let the hatred of a people for having obstructed you from al-Masjid al-Haram lead you to transgress.”
Those who cannot make distinction between the obligation to take infidels and oppressors as enemy and the obligation to be just with them, and is not able to fulfil the both obligation simultaneously, is not of sound knowledge of Islam and not a perfect follower of the best among Messengers (i.e., Prophet Muhammad) to whom Allah revealed: (Surah ash-Shuraa 42: 15):
“and I have been commanded to do justice among you”.
Moreover, among the signs of their wisdom in preaching is that they portrait the excellence of followed leaders among the scholars and preachers. They demonstrate that the fame they attained is because of their adherence to the truth and their struggle for its sake, and that the success they achieved is because of their adherence to the Sunnah. They take this as a means to call others to be followers of the Sunnah, and stay away of fanaticism towards the followed leaders, rather to strive for the sake of Islam’s victory as these followed leaders did. In such way, they combine between justice towards the followed leaders and wise preaching for the followers, as was the case with Ibn Taimiyyah – may Allah have mercy on him- when he talked about the four Imams (i.e., Abu Hanifah, Malik, Shafei, and Ahmad) or others like Al-Ash’ari or Adi’ ibn Musafir.
And they are the ones who look down upon themselves the most for the sake of Allah, and they are the furthest to claim perfection. They never praise themselves through boastful banners and names, and they do not avail mere attachment to names against real adherence through deeds, rather they know that it is not by your wishful thinking nor by that of the People of the Scripture.
And they proceed in all their activities in the light of Shariah evidence: in their Jihad, preaching, enjoining good, preventing evil, rebuking the people of Bid’ah, and in all matters. Their objective is what benefits Islam -out of their love for Allah and the Messenger-, not based on the urge for personal revenge or gaining fame. They punish the dearest friend and pardon the deadliest enemy if the commands of Allah and benefit of Islam requires that.
And they become happy when a person repents to Allah and accept their excuses and supplicate to Allah for the forgiveness of the sinners, because they have no personal gains in this equation, rather their sole objective is to please Allah. They try utmost to bring guidance to the humankind, and they never enjoy discovering Bid’ah or act of sin committed by their enemy. Those who enjoy discovering sins is the one who loves that Allah be disobeyed, and those who does that has no share from Allah.
And they cover the shortcoming of Muslims and steps no further to discover them. They never publicize the mistakes of the scholars except to declare the truth. They take it as a mean to compare opinions not as a mean to injure personalities. Moreover, while criticizing, they seek all means to find excuses whenever possible.
Some of our early scholars advised the preachers not to detail and publicize the shortcoming of Muslims while delivering sermons so as not to receive gloat from the non-Muslims among the people of the Scripture and the Polytheists. Similarly, one should avoid public admonition of Islamic groups or political parties in front of the atheists and the people of Bid’ah.
Many people restrict a person to be a Sunni only when he is completely on Sunnah and has never made mistakes or misinterpretations. To the other extreme is a group who think that a person of Bid’ah is the one who collects all fundamentals of Bid’ah or is attached to what consensus has been reached to be characteristics of deviated sects. Rather, the truth is that Bid’ah is like other sins: among them are major Bid’ah as well as minor, also clear Bid’ah as well as doubtful, and indeed, being able to stay pure from all sorts of Bid’ah is very rare.
Disagreement based on misinterpretation, mistake or ignorance is something that majority of humankind cannot escape. A single person or group can combine between extreme eagerness to follow the Sunnah and clear violation of it through falling into Bid’ah. Similarly, many among the people of Bid’ah may happen to follow Sunnah in certain circumstances. Thus, what matters are the general fundamentals and methods, and the guided is whom Allah guided.
On each of us is to accuse ourselves, search out for our own shortcomings, and strive to renew our own faith. Upon all of us is the responsibility to extend advice without harshness and to accept the truth from whatever source it came.
And their seeking of perfectness does not prevent them from approaching contemporary matters with wisdom. They call people to the entire –and not partial- truth, and to the absolute adherence to the Prophet – peace be upon him. However, they accept from people gradual entrance into this adherence and variation in the degree of attachment. The ultimate benchmark for them is the biography of the Prophet peace be upon him.
He whose short sightedness prevented him from combining between the attachment with fundamentals of Sunnah and the correct method to treat with the people especially those who have shortcomings then actually his adherence to Sunnah is incomplete, for example, those who think that all Shari’ah rights are denied for the deviated, or doing justice to them is a symptom of weakness, or that the victory of this religion cannot be achieved except from pure followers who perfected the entire Sunnah. Allah grants victory to this religion through wicked persons and people who has no share of goodness, especially at military, ideological or political battlefields.
Thus, it is among the fundamentals of Sunnah is to participate in Jihad under the leadership of any Muslim; be he a righteous or non-righteous. This Jihad includes military battlefield as well as political and intellectual fields, as long as the intention is to inflict harm in the heart of enemy, an enemy who’s mischief -if granted victory- outweighs the mischief of a Muslim who lacks terms and conditions to be just and righteous.
As an example, many early scholars fought under the banner of Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf who is without doubt a tyrant and oppressor. Also, people of Sunnah got delighted when some of the Caliphs or rulers punished the people of Bid’ah although these rulers themselves were not on the pure intact Sunnah, as was the case with Al-Mutawkkil and Khalid ibn Abdullah Al-Qasri. In summary, what matters most is the contribution to the benefit and establishment of Islamic Shari’ah.
It is important to distinguish between the person who calls generally towards Quran and Sunnah but stays on some Bid’ah or deviated ideology, and the person who calls towards his Bid’ah ideology. This is evident in political battlefields today. You will find a group who was established on Bid’ah and made it the basis for their political party, and others who originally attached to this Bid’ah but do not agree with the first group, rather they call for Islam either as a separate group or join under a general Islamic banner. Also, you would find someone used to be an adherent to deviant ideologies like socialism, but later reverted but yet to learn the details of Islam, so one need to differentiate between him and the one who is still attached firmly to these ideologies like socialism, nationalism, etc.
Islamic History is witness to the fact that Allah granted victory to Islam over its enemies (like the Crusader or Moguls, etc.) through leaders who were not on pure Sunnah, but they were fighting for the sake of Islam not for the sake of their Bidah. There is a big difference between them and the states who were established on the tenets of Bid’ah like the Khawariz or the Bateni Shia who fought against their Muslim opponents in order to bring them into their Bid’ah ideology.
Therefore, when various Islamic political parties today face against the secularists or Shia or socialist groups in political or military battlefields then they are of the first case, and hence, need to be supported by Muslims against their common opponents. At the same time they need to be advised and counselled in order to abandon whatever Bid’ah remains in their mind and revert to pure Sunnah. In fact, there is no contradiction in applying the two cases simultaneously for those who have sharp understanding.
On the contrary, if Muslims start to spend time and effort to oppose these political parties and leave aside the real people of Bid’ah then this is a great mistake. Even greater than that is to befriend those who follow man-made legislations or secular parties and join them against these Islamic parties. No one does this except a clear hypocrite or someone whom Allah cast a veil over their mind. Their analogy is like the one who builds a church and closes the mosque for the excuse that those who pray in this mosque do not follow Sunnah. Or like the one who calls people to eat from dead and leave the meat which was slaughtered by those who commit sin. Or like the one who prefers to be illiterate about Quran over learning it from an expert who has some Bid’ah. Or like the one who makes ablution from impure water leaving aside the water which is doubted to be contaminated.
It is imperative for the people of Sunnah to stay away from the method of Khawarij in treating others. They have killed Abdullah ibn Khabbab (the companion of the Prophet peace be upon him) and legalized his blood, while they secured a Christian being under the protection of Muslim state! They (i.e., Khawarij) used to kill people of Islam and leave alone the people of Shirk. The non-Muslims among the Turks and others were in peace with them, while many of companions, their students and great scholars were not secure from their knife.
It is never an excuse for students of knowledge to think that they alone are on the path of righteousness and Sunnah. In fact, this is a great cause of keeping on one’s own whims and blindness of the heart and heed no attention to justice. May Allah grant us protection.
The enemies of Allah are plotting a great plot against us. It is imperative for all Muslims to stand in unity in this great battle and refuse to compromise to its enemies. Muslims should prepare for this battle in all fields, and the greatest mean to prepare -after the fear of Allah- is to stay united. This unity by itself is a great victory; Allah says [Surah as-Saff 61:4]: