Knowledge means: The statements of Allaah & His Messenger & the statements of the Sahaabah, along with ijmaa and Qiyaas – Shaikh Muhammad Bazmool
THE FOURTH FOUNDATION:
Knowledge means: The statements of Allaah and His Messenger and the statements of the Sahaabah (Companions), along with the unanimous agreement of the scholars (ijmaa’) and correct logical conclusion (qiyaas).
Therefore, the Qur’aan and Sunnah must be understood in light of the understanding of the Companions and those who followed them in goodness. This is the Way of the Believers, as Allaah says:
وَمَن يُشَاقِقِ الرَّسُولَ مِن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُ الْهُدَى وَيَتَّبِعْ غَيْرَ
سَبِيلِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ نُوَلِّهِ مَا تَوَلَّى وَنُصْلِهِ جَهَنَّمَ وَسَاءتْ مَصِيرًا
“And whoever opposes the Messenger after the guidance has been made clear to him, and follows a way other than the Way of the Believers, We will turn him to what He has chosen and land him in Hell – what an evil destination.” [Surah An-Nisaa: 115]
How excellent is the statement of the one who said:
“Knowledge is: (what) Allaah said, (what) His Messenger said, (and what) the Companions said, there being no variance in this. Knowledge is not that you present a difference imprudently between the Messenger and the view of a fool. Nay, nor is it the presenting of a difference ignorantly Between the texts and the view of a Faqeeh (Scholar) Nay, nor is it the rejection of texts intentionally out of fear of falling into tajseem  and tashbeeh.” 
Al-Awzaa’ee, may Allaah have mercy on him, said:
“Knowledge is what the Companions of Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم have reported. Anything beyond this is not knowledge.” 
Az-Zuhree, may Allaah have mercy on him, would write down the statements of the Taabi’een, and Saalih bin Kaysaan would oppose him in this. Later, he felt remorse for having abandoned that. 
This is also the path that Abu Haneefah An-Nu’maan followed, may Allaah have mercy on him and be pleased with him.
Ibn Al-Mubaarak, may Allaah have mercy on him, said: “I heard Abu Haneefah say:
‘When something is reported from the Prophet, we take it. And when something is reported from the Companions of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, we choose from their opinions. And when something is reported from the Taabi’een, we contest with them (with our views as to which is correct).’” 
This was the same path taken by Maalik bin Anas Al-Asbahee, the Imaam of Madeenah, may Allaah have mercy on him and be pleased with him.
When his book al-Muwatta’ was mentioned to him, Maalik said:
“It contains the hadeeth of Allaah’s Messenger and the statement(s) and opinion(s) of the Sahaabah and the Taabi’een. I also voiced my opinion based on Ijtihaad (scholarly deduction) and on what I found the people of knowledge upon in our lands, not transgressing that for the views of others.” 
This was also the path that Ash-Shaafi’ee adhered to, may Allaah have mercy on him and be pleased with him. 
Ash-Shaafi’ee, may Allaah have mercy on him, said:
“Knowledge is of several categories:
First: The Book and the Sunnah, if it is an authentically reported Sunnah;
Second: The unanimous agreement of the scholars in those matters in which proof from the Book and the Sunnah cannot be found;
Third: When some (or one) of the Companions of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said something and we don’t know of any opposition to that from the rest of them;
Fourth: When the Companions of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم differed among themselves, yet he صلى الله عليه وسلم did not object to them.
Fifth: Qiyaas (analytical deduction) of one of these categories.
One should not go to another source apart from the Book and the Sunnah so long as they are both present (i.e. proof is found in them). Knowledge should be taken from the highest source.” 
This was also the way of Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Hanbal, may Allaah have mercy on him and be pleased with him.
Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Hanbal said:
“If a hadeeth from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم exists on an issue, we should not take the opinion of someone else that is in opposition to it – regardless if he is one of the Companions or those that came after them.
And if there exist conflicting views from the Companions of Allaah’s Messenger on a particular issue, we may choose from their opinions. However, we do not transgress from their opinions to the views of someone else.
And if no statement from the Prophet or his Companions exists on an issue, we may choose from the opinions of the Taabi’een…” 
Muhammad bin Al-Hasan said:
“Whoever is knowledgeable of the Book and the Sunnah, and of the opinions of the Companions of Allaah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم, and the views favored by the Muslim Fiqh scholars is allowed to exert his opinion by way of (scholarly) Ijtihaad in those matters in which he finds difficulty, thus ruling by it and implementing it in his prayer, fast, Hajj, and all of the other things he was commanded and prohibited to do.
But if he exerts his efforts to come up with an opinion, and investigates and applies analytical deduction, and still doesn’t come up with the correct view, he is permitted to act on his resulting view, even if he did err in attaining the correct view that should be followed.” 
Muhammad bin Al-Hasan also said:
“Knowledge is of four types:
1. That which is found in the clear Book of Allaah, and what is analytically deduced from it;
2. That which is found in the reported Sunnah of Allaah’s Messenger, and what is analytically deduced from it;
3. That which the Sahaabah (Companions), may Allaah have mercy on them, unanimously agreed on, and what is analytically deduced from it;
This also includes the issues they differed on, so long as it doesn’t transgress beyond their views. If one of their opinions is chosen, that (view) is considered knowledge that was analytically arrived at.
4. That which the majority of the Muslim Fiqh scholars have favored as well as what is analytically deduced from that and which serves as an equivalent to it.
Knowledge does not exceed the boundaries of these four types.” 
* This foundation consists of several matters, amongst which are:
1. A student of knowledge should accustom himself to connect issues with their evidences from the Book and the Sunnah, according to the understanding of the pious predecessors (Salaf as- Saalih). This is where the importance of the books written on the rulings found in ayaat and ahaadeeth and the books on the narrations of the Companions comes in.
2. The Sunnh of the Messenger of Allaah صلى الله عليه وسلم is divided into two types:
A. The apparent Sunnah, which is explicitly clear, and
B. The unapparent Sunnah, which is not explicitly clear.
As for the first type of Sunnah, which is the clear and apparent Sunnah, then it refers to what is clearly attributed to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم from statements, actions, tacit approvals, behavioral descriptions and physical attributes. This is considered “the Sunnah” according to the scholars of Hadeeth.
From the categories above, those that are related to religious rulings, and which serve to establish obligations and laws, are: his صلى الله عليه وسلم statements, actions, and tacit approvals. This is why the scholars that formulate principles (Usooliyoon) and those that excel in Jurisprudence (Fuqahaa) have limited the definition of the Sunnah to just these categories, since their main objective was just to clarify the religious laws.
The second type of Sunnah, which is the Sunnah that is not explicitly clear, refers to that which is attributed to one of the Companions for which there is no room for opinions in the matter or that which takes on the ruling of being raised to a saying or action of the Prophet.
This consists of the following scenarios:
A. When a Companion makes a statement on a matter in which there is no room for one’s opinion to enter into it (i.e. so naturally he received knowledge of it from the Prophet);
B. When a Companion issues an opinion and there is no text that contradicts it;
C. When a Companion explains the circumstances under which a verse from the Qur’aan was revealed, in a clear manner;
D. When a Companion explains something that has been reported;
E. What has been reported from the Companions concerning their difference of opinion in the description of acts of worship;
F. What has been reported from the Companions, in that which is known as “Interpretative Recitation”;
G. What has been reported from them as interpretations of the noble Qur’aan from some of the scholars.
It is for this reason that a student of knowledge must strive to find out what has been reported on the Companions with regard to issues of knowledge.
However, there are some shortcomings that occur in this aspect, and that is due to several reasons:
First: There is a general lack of concern for finding out which narrations are authentic from which are weak.
Second: Verifying the opinion of a Companion on an issue.
Third: Discrediting the ascription of an opinion to a Companion before verifying if it was the last of the views he had on the issue or not.
3. In order to fully implement this principle, you must know that it is not permissible for us to introduce an opinion on a particular issue that is outside the realm of their views.
Their statements – may Allaah have mercy on them – show a unanimous agreement on this approach. So whoever transgresses beyond the fold of their views has departed from the path of the believers. We also just recently quoted their statements in this regard.
Abul-Mudhfar As-Sama’aanee, may Allaah have mercy on him, said:
“We were ordered to follow and encouraged to do that. And we were prohibited from innovating as well as warned against it. The trademark of Ahlus-Sunnah is their following of the Salaf whilst abandoning everything that is innovated and newly-introduced.” 
Ibn Taimiyyah, may Allaah have mercy on him, said:
“Whoever interprets the Qur’aan or the Hadeeth, explaining them in a way that is different from the well-known interpretations of the Companions and Successors, is fabricating a lie on Allaah, denying Allaah’s verses and distorting words from their proper places. This is opening the door to heresy and atheism. The falsehood of this is known in the religion of Islaam by necessity.” 
So it is not for anyone to interpret a verse or a hadeeth in a manner that contradicts the interpretation of the Companions of Allaah’s Messenger, may Allaah be pleased with them.
Ibn Rajab, may Allaah have mercy on him, said:
“And in our time – I say: And in our time, this applies even more  – the recording of the statements of the exemplary Salaf is restricted to the time of Ash-Shaafi’ee, Ahmad, Ishaaq and Abu ‘Ubayd. So let the individual beware of what was introduced after them, for indeed there were many innovations that were introduced after their time. And there appeared those who ascribed themselves to following the Sunnah and the Hadeeth, such as the Dhaahirees and their likes who are the greatest in opposing it (i.e. the Sunnah) due to their deviation from the Imaams and their isolation from them in coming up with an understanding (of the texts), or their taking a view that the Imaams before them never held.” 
Ahmad bin Hanbal, may Allaah have mercy on him, said:
“Beware of speaking on an issue for which you do not have an Imaam (i.e. scholar who preceded you in it).” 
4. It is due to this principle – which is understanding the Glorious Qur’aan and the Prophetic Sunnah in light of the understanding of the Companions, may Allaah be pleased with them – that you will not find Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah, the people of Hadeeth, engaging in the interpretation of the glorious Qur’aan or the explanation of the meanings of the Hadeeth from a linguistic and intellectual standpoint. Rather, you will find them investigating into the narrations, compiling the reports of the Salaf in their books, and basing their understanding and analytical deductions on that, contrary to the people of innovations and desires!!
Ibn Taimiyyah, may Allaah have mercy on him, said:
“The Murji’ah have deviated concerning this foundation (i.e. Eemaan) from what is clearly stated in the Qur’aan, the Sunnah and the statements of the Companions and those who follow them in righteousness. Instead, they have relied on their personal views and on the perverted interpretations they have reached from their understanding of the (Arabic) language. This is the way of the people of innovation. And this is why Imaam Ahmad would say: ‘The majority of the time that people fall into error is due to misinterpretation and incorrect analogy.’
This is why we find the Mu’atazilah, the Murji’ah, the Raafidah and other groups of innovators interpreting the Qur’aan with their own opinions and intellects and what they understand from it linguistically. As a result of this, you will find that they do not rely on the narrations of the Prophet, the Companions, the Successors or the Muslim Imaams. So they neither rely on the Sunnah nor do they rely on the unanimous consensus or reports of the Salaf. Rather, they just rely on the intellect and the language.
We also do not find them relying on the recorded books of Tafseer and Hadeeth and the narrations of the Salaf. Instead, they only rely on the books of literature and rhetoric that their leaders fabricated. This is also the way of the heretics. They only accept what is in the books of philosophy, literature and language. As for the books on Qur’aan, Hadeeth and Narrations, they do not give any importance to them.
These individuals turn away from the texts of the Prophets since according to them, they do not produce any knowledge!
And they are the ones who interpret the Qur’aan according to their own personal views and understanding, without resorting to any of the narrations of the Prophet and his Companions. We already mentioned previously the statements of Imaam Ahmad and others which show the prohibition of this and an indication that this is the way of the people of innovation.” 
He also said:
“Innovations only entered into the beliefs of the innovators because of the fact that they turned away from this path and began to base the Religion of Islaam on leads that were not correct, either due to what the verbatim indicated or what was understood from the meanings. They did not reflect on the explanation that came from Allaah and His Messenger. All leads that contradict the explanation of Allaah and His Messenger are considered misguidance.” 
Disregarding the ahaadeeth and narrations of the Salaf while relying on just the language and intellect to understand the Qur’aan and Hadeeth is a method that has been embarked upon in recent times by the Orientalists. So when they need to research a narration, they simply quote from the books of Al-Jaahidh or from the book al-Aghaanee or from al-‘Aqd-ul-Fareed. And if quoting becomes hard on them, they just say: “This conforms to the intellect!”
Contrary to this, a Muslim who follows what the Prophet and his Companions were upon confines his comprehension and understanding of the Glorious Qur’aan and Prophetic Sunnah to conform to the understanding of the Companions, may Allaah be pleased with them, and doesn’t leave from their fold.
And if he must resort to Ijtihaad (scholarly deduction) or investigation on an issue, he searches if there is someone before him (Salaf) that held that view so that he may follow him, and if not, he leaves it alone. This is since all good lies in following those who preceded (Salaf), while all evil lies in the innovating of those who came after (Khalaf). So stick to the early generation.
14 Translator’s Note: The evil act of ascribing anthropomorphic qualities to Allaah such as claiming that He has a physical hand.
15 Translator’s Note: The evil act of comparing and likening Allaah’s attributes to the attributes of a created being, such as by saying Allaah’s hand is like a human’s hand.
16 Transmitted by Ibn ‘Abdil-Barr in Jaami’ Bayaa al-‘Ilmi wa Fadlihi (2/29)
17 Reported by Al-Khateeb Al-Baghdaadee in Taqyeed-ul-‘Ilm (pg. 106-107) and Ibn ‘Abdil-Barr in Jaami’ Bayaan al-‘Ilmi wa Fadlihi (1/76-77) in the footnotes of brother Muhammad Naasir Al-‘Ajamee to Bayaan Fadlu ‘Ilm-is- Salaf (pg. 69)
18 Akhbaar Abee Haneefah of As-Saymaree (pg. 10) on the authority of Abu Yoosuf and Eeqaadh Himam Uleel- Absaar (pg. 70)
19 Tarteeb-ul-Madaarik (1/193)
20 His statement preceded in the first part of this foundation, but this is another one of his statements.
21 Al-Madkhal ilaas-Sunan-il-Kubraa (pg. 110)
22 Al-Musawwadah (pg. 276)
23 Reported by Ibn ‘Abdil-Barr in Jaami’ Bayaan al-‘Ilmi wa Fadlihi (2/61)
24 Reported by Ibn ‘Abdil-Barr in Jaami’ Bayaan al-‘Ilmi wa Fadlihi (2/26)
25 Al-Intisaar Li-Ahlil-Hadeeth of Abul-Mudhfar As-Sama’aanee, which is found in Sawn-ul-Mantiq wal-Kalaam (pg. 158)
26 Majmoo’-ul-Fataawaa (13/243)
27 Translator’s Note: This statement is from the author, Shaikh Muhammad Baazmool.
28 Bayaan Fadlu ‘Ilm-is-Salaf (pg. 69)
29 This was quoted in Majmoo’-ul-Fataawaa (21/291) and Ibn Al-Jawzee mentioned its chain of narration in Manaaqib-ul-Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal (pg. 178)
30 Al-Eemaan (pg. 114)
31 Majmoo’-ul-Fataawaa (7/288)
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Laying the Foundations for Seeking Knowledge : Shaikh Muhammad Baazmool