A Lengthy Explanation of the first three points from “Foundations of the Sunnah ”
Imaam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d.241H)
Source: Al-Ibaanah Magazine, Issue No.1 – Dhul-Qa’dah 1415H / April 1995
Shaykh Aboo ’Abdullaah Yahyaa Ibn Abil-Hasan Ibnul-Bannaa narrated to us saying: My father Aboo ’Alee al-Hasan Ibn ’Umar Ibnul-Bannaa related to us saying: Abul-Husayn ’Alee Ibn Muhammad Ibn ’Abdullaah Ibn Bushraan al-Mu’addil related to us, saying: ’Uthmaan Ibn Ahmad Ibn as-Sammaak reported to us, saying: Aboo Muhammad al-Hasan Ibn ’Abdul-Wahhaab, Abun-Nabr narrated to us, reading it to him from his handwritten copy in the month of Rabee’ul-Awwal, in the year two-hundred and ninety three (293H) who said: Aboo Ja’far Muhammad Ibn Sulaymaan al-Munqaree, in Basrah related to us, saying: ’Abdoos Ibn Maalik al-’Attaar narrated to me, saying:  I heard Aboo ’Abdullaah Ahmad Ibn Hanbal  – rahimahullaah – say:
“The Fundamental Principles of the Sunnah  with us  are:
Clinging to that which the Companions  of the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) were upon, taking them as our example to be followed,  avoiding innovation;  and every innovation is misguidance.” 
: This is the isnaad (chain of narration connected to the text) which – just as in the case of the hadeeth of the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) – helps ascertain whether or not the statement and the ascription is authentically related back to the one it is being reported from. As regards the importance of the isnaad, then a few narrations from the Scholars of the early generations will be mentioned.
Sufyaan ath-Thawree (d.161H) – rahimahullaah – said:
“The isnaad is the weapon of the Believer. So if he has no weapon, with what will he fight?”
Ibnul-Mubaarak (d.181H) – rahimahullaah – said:
“The isnaad with me is from the Religion. If there were no isnaad, then whosoever wanted would relate whatever they wanted. However, when it is said to him: Who narrated to you? He remains silent.” 
As regards the ascription to Imaam Ahmad, then a number of Scholars have agreed to its ascription from ’Abdoos Ibn Maalik al-’Attaar – one of the close students of the Imaam – and from these verifying Scholars are: Ibn Abee Ya’laa in Tabaqaatul-Hanaabilah (1/241-246), al-Laalikaa‘ee in Sharh Usoolul-I’tiqaad Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah (1/158-164) and also Ibnul-Jawzee in Manaaqib Ahmad (p. 222-228).
The text of this brief ’aqeedah was first printed by Daarul-Manaar in al-Mujaahid magazine (no. 28-29, Sha’baan – Ramadaan 1411H); and the original is a manuscript copy, transcribed by the Shaykh and muhaddith, Muhammad Naasirud-Deen al-Albaanee, rahimahullaah, in the month of Sha’baan 1374H, from the manuscript copy (no. 68, Q. 10-15) which is housed at the Dhaahiriyyah library in Damascus, Syria. We ask Allaah – the Most High – to grant us the ability to serialize the introduction of this valuable and concise tract, adding to it – for the benefit of the honourable readers – a brief commentary and explanation.
: He is Aboo ’Abdullaah Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal ash-Shaybaanee – the Imaam of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah in his time. Born in Baghdaad in Rabee’ul-Awwal, 164H, he attended the circles of al-Qaadee Aboo Yoosuf (the student of Abee Haneefah) – rahimahullaah – where he studied fiqh. He left this in favour of hadeeth, which he began to study at the age of thirteen – having already memorized the Qur‘aan at a young age. He traveled extensively acquiring and learning ahaadeeth from over two-hundred and eighty teachers. From them are: Wakee’ Ibnul-Jarraah, Yahyaa Ibn Sa’eed al-Qattaan, ’Abdur-Rahmaan Ibn Mahdee, Sufyaan Ibn ’Uyaynah, ash-Shaafi’ee, Yazeed Ibn Haaroon and others – rahimahullaah. He underwent severe torture and trial due to defending the correct ’aqeedah – the ’aqeedah of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah (the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam), his Companions and those who followed them in ’aqeedah and manhaj) – being from those who were foremost in clinging to their way, whilst shunning the innovations.
Aboo ’Umayr said: “May Allaah have mercy upon him. There was no one having more patience regarding this world than him, nor anyone more closely resembling those who cam before him, nor anyone more rightfully amongst the righteous. This world was presented to him, but he rejected it, and he expelled innovations.” In his time, he was the Imaam of the people of Hadeeth specifically, and the Muslims in general.” 
Imaam ash-Shaafi’ee (d.204H) – rahimahullaah – said:
“I left Baghdaad, and I did not leave behind me a man better, having more knowledge, or greater Fiqh (understanding), nor having greater taqwaa (piety) than Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.”
Ishaaq Ibn Raahawayh (d.238H) said:
“I used to sit with Ahmad and Ibn Ma’een revising ahaadeeth; and I would say: What is the Fiqh (understanding) of it? What is its explanation? So they would remain silent, except for Ahmad.”
Aboo Daawood (d.275H) said:
“The lectures of Ahmad were sittings for the Hereafter. He would not mention in them any worldly affairs; and I never saw him mention this world.”
’Alee Ibnul-Madeenee (d.324H) – rahimahullaah – said:
“Indeed Allaah aided this Religion through Aboo Bakr as-Siddeeq on the day of apostasy, and through Ahmad Ibn Hanbal on the day of the trial.” 
Due to these qualities, he became a sign for Ahlus-Sunnah – as Qutaybah Ibn Sa’eed (d.240H) said, “If you see a man loving Ahmad, then know that he is a person of the Sunnah.”
And Abul-Hasan al-Ash’aree (d.324H) – rahimahullaah – said:
“Our statement which we hold and take as our Religion is: Clinging to the Book of Allaah, our Lord the Mighty and Majestic, and to the Sunnah of our Prophet, Muhammad (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam), and what is narrated from the Companions, the Taabi’een and the Imaams of Hadeeth. This is what we cling to, and also that to which Aboo ’Abdullaah Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Hanbal – may Allaah enlighten his face, rais up his rank and grant him a magnificent reward – used to say, distancing ourselves from those who oppose his statement. Since he was the noble and complete Imaam, by whom Allaah made the truth clear, and removed the misguidance, and made the minhaaj (methodology) clear, and though whom Allaah annihilated the innovation of the innovators, the deviation of the deviant and the doubts of the doubters. So may Allaah have mercy upon him, the foremost Imaam.” 
Taajud-Deen as-Subkee (d.770H) – rahimahullaah – said, “Abul-Hasan al-Ash’aree is the foremost of Ahlus-Sunnah and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal…” 
Ibraaheem al-Harbee (d.285H) – rahimahullaah – said, “I saw Aboo ’Abdullaah, and it was as if Allaah had gathered for him the knowledge of the earlier people and the later people.”
Imaam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal died in the year 241H.
: The term ‘Sunnah’ here, refers to the principles and foundations of the correct Islaamic ’aqeedah (belief) and manhaj (methodology), since the Salafus-Saalih (pious predecessors) would apply this term to matters of ’aqeedah and manhaj – as can be seen from their books and writings – for example: [i] Kitaabus-Sunnah of Imaam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d.241H); [ii] as-Sunnah of al-Athram (d.273H); [iii] Kitaabus-Sunnah of Aboo Daawood (d.275H) – being part of his Sunan. [iv] Kitaabus-Sunnah of Ibn Abee ’Aasim (d.287H); [v] Kitaabus-Sunnah of ’Abdullaah (d.290H), the son of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal; [vi] as-Sunnah of al-Marwazee (d.292H); [vii] Sareehus-Sunnah of Ibn Jareer at-Tabaree (d.310H); [viii] as-Sunnah of al-Khallaal (d.311H); [ix] Sharhus-Sunnah of al-Barbahaaree (d.329H); [x] as-Sunnah of al-’Asaal (d.349H) and [xi] as-Sunnah of at-Tabaraanee (d.360H).
The term ‘Sunnah’ was employed in this context to differentiate those matters of ’aqeedah and manhaj of the Salafus-Saalih were upon, from that which was innovated by the deviant and misguided sects.
: Meaning, with the Scholars of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah and at the head of them in his time was Imaam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. And in this regard, the way of the Salafus-Saalih was to point out to the people, the true followers and adherents to the Sunnah so that their ’aqeedah and manhaj (methodology) could be learnt and adhered to, as Imaam Ayyoob as-Sakhtiyaanee (d.131H) – rahimahullaah – said, “From the success of a youth, or a non-Arab is that Allaah guides him to a Scholar of the Sunnah.” 
And ’Amr Ibn Qays al-Mulaa‘ee (d.143H) said,
“If you see a youth when he begins to sprout, keeping company with Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah then have hope for him. If you see him keeping company with the people of Innovation, then fear for him, because the youth is according to his initial upbringing.” 
: Companions: Arabic: Sahaabah, or Ashaab; singular: Sahaabee. As regards the Sharee’ah definition of ‘Sahaabee’ or ‘Companion,’ then:
al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar (d.825H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“The most correct of what I have come across is that a Sahaabee (Companion) is one who met the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) whilst believing in him, and died as a Muslim. So that includes one who lived with him for a long or short time, and those who narrated from him and those who did not, and those who saw him but did not sit with him and those who could not see him due to blindness.” 
Imaam an-Nawawee (d.676H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“The correct position is that whosoever accompanied the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam), even for an hour, then that person is from his Sahaabah.” 
Imaam Ahmad (d.241H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“Every person who accompanied the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam), whether for a year, month, a day, or even for an hour, or even just saw him is from his Companions.”
Imaam al-Bukhaaree (d.256H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“H who accompanied the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) or saw him – from the Muslims – then he is from his Companions.” 
al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar said in Fathul-Baaree (7/1),
“That which al-Bukhaaree states is the saying of Ahmad and the great majority of the Scholars of Hadeeth.” Some of the proofs that the Scholars have used for this are: The saying of the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam), “There will come upon the people a time when a group from amongst the people will go off to fight and it will be said to them: Is there any amongst you who has seen the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam)? So they will say: Yes. So victory will be granted to them. So a group will go off to fight and it will be said to them: Is there any amongst you who were the Companions of the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam)? So they will say: Yes. So victory will be granted to them. Then a group will go off to fight and it will be said to them: Is there any amongst you who have seen the companions of the Companions of the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam)? So they will say: Yes. So victory will be granted to them.” 
The Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) also said,
“You will not cease to be upon good as long as there amongst you those who accompanied me. By Allaah! You will not cease to be upon good as long as there are amongst you those who accompanied those who accompanied and saw me.” 
So these narrations contain a clear proof that a Muslim seeing the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) is granted virtue and excellence and is established as being from amongst the Companions.
Ibn Katheer (d.774H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“The fact that just seeing him (the Prophet) is enough for one to be called a Companion is clearly stated by al-Bukhaaree, Aboo Zur’ah and others who have written books regarding the names of the Companions – such as Ibn ’Abdul-Barr, Ibn Mandah, Aboo Moosaa al-Madanee, Ibnul-Atheer…” 
As regards the statement attributed to the taabi’ee and Imaam Sa’eed Ibnul-Musayyib – rahimahullaah – concerning the definition of a Companion, then this cannot be used as a proof at all. This is because al-Haafidh al-’Iraaqee – rahimahullaah – says, “The third saying is what is related from Sa’eed Ibnul-Musayyib, that he had not used to count someone as being a Companion, except one who accompanied the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) for a year or two and fought along with him in one or two battles. Ibnus-Salaah said, “What is meant by this if it is authentic from him – refers back to what the Scholars of Usool say (i.e. what is meant be companionship language wise). However, this definition contains restrictions, which will mean that we do not count as Companions those such as Jareer Ibn ’Abdullaah al-Bajalee – who obviously does not fulfill these conditions that are made – but such are people about whom we know of no difference of opinion with regards to them being Companions.” I say, this is not authentic from Ibnul-Musayyib, since the isnaad (chain of narration) from him contains Muhammad Ibn ’Umar al-Waaqidee – who is da’eef (weak) in hadeeth.” 
: Here the Imaam – rahimahullaah – explains and lays down the signposts for the correct manhaj followed by Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah, and that is the methodology of the best and most excellent of mankind, the Companions, then those who followed them (the taabi’een), then those who followed them (the atbaa’ut-taabi’een).
So Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah cling to what the first three generations of Muslims were upon – the Salafus-Saalih – whose excellence has been testified to by the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) in his statement, “The most excellent of mankind is my generation, then those who follow them, then those who follow them.”  And he (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “The most excellent Ummah is the generation which I have been sent in, then those who followed them, then those who followed them.” 
As regards to the following generations, then they have not been praised with any specific excellence. Rather, they have, in general, been spoken ill of by the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam). Indeed, in some authentic narrations, after mentioning the excellence of the first three generations, the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “…then there will come a people amongst whom fatness will appear and who will testify without having been asked to do so.”  And in another narration, “…then there will come a people in whom you will not find any good.”  Also, there occurs in another authentic narration, the wording, “…then there will come a people who will testify without being asked to do so, who make promises but do not keep them, who are treacherous and not trustworthy and fatness will appear amongst them.” 
So it is the first three generations – the Salafus-Saalih – whose era has been praised with an excellence, whose path is to be followed and whose understanding of the Religion is to be accepted and affirmed. ’Aa‘ishah – radiyallaahu ’anhaa – said: A man came to the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) and said, ‘Who is the most excellent of mankind?’ So the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “The generation which I am in, then the second, then the third.” 
And it is the first of these generations – the Companions – radiyallaahu ’anhum – who were the foremost in excellence from mankind; since they were: [i] those who learnt the Religion directly from the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) and, “Being informed is not like seeing.”  [ii] those who knew best and understood the Religion – and this is the root of their excellence – as the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “Whosoever Allaah intends to show excellence to, He gives him the understanding of the Religion.”  [iii] They were those who followed it the best, and [iv] They were the ones who were furthest away from and remained free from innovations. About the excellence of the Salafus-Saalih, and the excellence of those who follow them, and the obligation to follow their path, Allaah – the Mighty and Majestic says,
“Those foremost of those who first migrated and those that helped them and those who follow them in goodness, Allaah is well-pleased with them and they are well-pleased with Him. He has prepared for them gardens underneath which rivers flow, to dwell therein forever. That is the supreme success.” [Sooratut-Tawbah 9:100]
And Allaah – the Most Perfect – says,
“Whosoever contends with the Messenger, even after guidance has been clearly conveyed to him, and follows a path other than that of the Believers; We shall leave him in the Path he has chosen and land him in Hell, what an evil destination.” [Sooratun-Nisaa‘ 4:115]
Indeed, “This is a clear definition and a decisive proof upon the worshipper, in making following the path of the Believers obligatory. And who were the Believers at the time this aayah was revealed, except the Companions (radiyallaahu ’anhum). Thus, Allaah has threatened those who leave their way and traverse other than their path, with lowliness and humiliation in this world; and a severe punishment in the Hereafter.” 
What further adds to the above decisive proofs, and is considered to be the correct explanation of those aayaat, are the ahaadeeth of the Propht (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam), “Indeed my Ummah will split up into seventy-three. All of them are in the Fire except one.” It was said, ‘What is the one?’ He said, “The Jamaa’ah.” And in another narration, he said, “That which I and my Companions are upon.” 
He – sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam – also said,
“Those of you who survive after me shall see many differences of opinion. So hold fast to my Sunnah and to the Sunnah of the rightly-guided Caliphs after me. Cling to it tightly and beware of newly-invented matters, for every newly-invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is a going astray.” 
And the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said,
“The stars are the custodians of the sky, when the stars pass away, that which has been decreed for the sky will come upon it. I am the custodian for my Companions, so when I pass away there will come upon my Companions that which is decreed for them. And my Companions are the custodians for my Ummah, so when my Companions pass away, that which has been decreed upon my Ummah will come upon it.”  Below is a summary of the aforementioned proofs:
[i] That the iftiraaq (splitting-up) of the Ummah into various sects – on the basis of differences in ’aqeedah and manhaj – has been foretold.
[ii] All of the various firaq (sects) have been threatened with Hellfire, except those who adhere to the ’aqeedah and the manhaj of the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) and his Companions, and that is al-Firqatun-Naajiyah (the Saved-Sect) and the Jamaa’ah.
[iii] That the authentic hadeeth about iftiraaq (splitting-up) is an explanation of, and in full agreement with the aayah from Sooratun-Nisaa‘ [4:115] in that all those who, “follow a path other than that of the Believers (the Companions),” have been threatened with Hellfire.
[iv] The obligation to follow the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) and his Companions, and that is the way of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah, cannot be fulfilled, except by avoiding and shunning innovation and its people.
[v] When differences and innovations arise, it is obligatory to cling to the Sunnah, and also that which the Jamaa’ah have ijmaa’ (consensus and agreement) upon.
[vi] That the Companions were made examples to be followed and were for this Ummah, after the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam), the custodians of the correct knowledge, manhaj and ’aqeedah.
[vii] The root of the Companions excellence is in their understanding of and clinging onto the correct ’aqeedah and manhaj and also in their defending it, preserving it, and in their conveying it.
[viii] This is also the root cause for the excellence of those who followed the Companions in the next two generations. So it is binding upon the Muslims to follow the path taken by the Salafus-Saalih, those Muslims who – living in the first three generations – adhered to the ’aqeedah and manhaj, and have been praised with an excellence over and above the rest of mankind.
[ix] Opposing the way of the Salafus-Saalih is considered iftiraaq (splitting-up) and opposing them in matters related to Islaamic manhaj is also considered iftiraaq. So whoever chooses to oppose their knowledge and understanding of the Revelation, has split from them; and has therefore split from the way of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah, and has taken one of the forbidden and innovated paths.
Indeed, Ibn Mas’ood (radiyallaahu ’anhu) said,
“Indeed, Allaah looked into the hearts of the servants and found the heart of Muhammad (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) to be the best of the hearts of the servants. So He chose him for Himself and sent him as a Messenger. Then He looked into the hearts of the servants after Muhammad (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) and found the hearts of the Companions to be the best of the hearts of the servants. So He made them ministers of His Messenger, fighting for His Religion. So whatever the Muslims (i.e. the Companions) hold to be good, then it is good with Allaah, and whatever the Muslims hold to be evil, then it is evil with Allaah.” 
Imaam al-Barabahaaree (d.329H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“The foundations upon which the Jamaa’ah is made clear is the Companions of Muhammad (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam). They are Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah, so whoever does not take from them has gone astray and innovated; and every innovation is misguidance and misguidance and its people are in the Fire.” 
Indeed, “The truth is that which comes from Allaah the Mighty and Majestic. Th Sunnah is that which the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) laid down, and the Jamaa’ah is that which the Companions of the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) united upon, in the Caliphate of Aboo Bakr, ’Umar and ’Uthmaan. So he who limits himself to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) and that which the Companions were upon, is successful and triumphs over all the people of innovation, is saved and his Religion is preserved – if Allaah wills. Since the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “My Ummah will split up into seventy-three sects,” and he told us that which would be the saved sect, saying, “That which I and my Companions are upon.” So this is the cure, the explanation, the dear affair and the straight and distinct road.” 
Ibn Mas’ood (radiyallaahu ’anhu) said,
“The Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) drew a line for us and said, “This is the Straight Path of Allaah.” Then he drew lines to its right and its left and said, “These are other paths; upon every one of them is a devil calling towards it.” Then he recited,
“Indeed, this is My Straight Path, so follow it. And do not follow other paths, they will separate you from His Path.” 
About the statement of Allaah, “And do not follow other paths,” ad-Daarimee relates in his Sunan (1/68) and al-Bayhaqee relates in al-Madkhal ilas-Sunan (no. 200) that Mujaahid (d.204H) said explaining this aayah, “Innovations and doubts.”
Abul-’Aaliyah (d.90H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“Learn Islaam. Then when you have learnt Islaam, do not turn away from it to the right, nor the left. Rather, be upon the Straight Path and be upon the Sunnah of your Prophet and that which his Companions were upon…And beware of these innovations because they cause enmity and hatred amongst you. Rather, stick to the original state of affairs which was there before they divided.” 
: Arabic: Bida’ (singular: Bid’ah). Linguistically, bid’ah means: a newly invented matter. The Sharee’ah definition of bid’ah is: “A newly invented way (beliefs or actions) in the Religion, in imitation to the Sharee’ah (prescribed Law), by which nearness of Allaah is sought, not being supported by an authentic proof; neither in its foundations, nor the manner in which it is performed.” 
Imaam ash-Shaatibee (d.777H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“Everyone who follows the mutashaabihaat (those aayaat without a clear meaning), or twists the underlying meanings or gives a meaning to the aayaat not given to it by the Salafus-Saalih, or clings on to the very weak and unauthentic ahaadeeth, or takes that which is apparent as a proof – for every action, statement or belief in agreement with his objetives and intentions, not finding a fundamental proof for understanding it in that manner – then this is the method of deduction and derivation which gives rise to innovations and those who innovate.” 
Ibn ’Abdul-Haadee (d.745H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“It is not permissible to invent an interpretation about an aayah or a Sunnah which was not there in the time of the Salaf, nor did they have any knowledge of it, nor explain it to the Ummah. Since this would mean that the Salaf were ignorant of the truth in this matter and failed to reach it, whereas the late-coming opponent is somehow guided to the truth!” 
Imaam Ibnul-Qayyim (d.756H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“Inventing an explanation with regards to the Book of Allaah – to which the Salaf and the Scholars ar in opposition – necessitates one of two things; [i] either the explanation in itself a mistake, or [ii] that the sayings of the Salaf which run contrary to it are in error! And no one with an ounce of intellect would doubt that the one whose saying is in opposition to that of the Salaf is the one who is mistaken and in error.” 
And avoiding bida’ (innovations) is one of the great usool (foundations) of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah, and it involves: [i] keeping away from them; [ii] having hatred for them; [iii] warning the people about them; [iv] clarifying them to the people so that they do not fall into them; [v] refuting the innovators.
Imaam as-Saaboonee (d.449H) said about Ahlus-Sunnah,
“They follow the Salafus-Saalih – the Imaams and Scholars of the Muslims – and they cling to the firm Religion that they clung to and the firm truth. And they hate Ahlul-Bid’ah (people of innovation) who innovate into the Religion that which is not from it. They do not love them and they do not keep company with them. They do not listen to their sayings, nor sit with them, nor argue with them about the Religion, nor debate with them. Rather, they protect their ears from their futility – things which if they pass through the ears and settle in the hearts – will cause harm and will cause doubts and wicked ideas to appear. And concerning this, Allaah the Mighty and Majestic sent down:
“And when you see people engaged in vain discourse, then turn away from them unless they turn to different theme.” [Sooratul-An’aam 6:68].” 
Imaam ash-Shawakaanee (d.1255H) said,
“And this aayah contains a severe reprimand for those who allow people to sit with the innovators, those who twist the Words of Allaah, play around with His Book, and the Sunnah of His Messenger (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam). And refer them back to their own misleading desires and wicked innovations. Since, if he is unable to reprimand them and change them from what they are upon, then at the very least, he should avoid sitting with them – and that is easy for him, not difficult. And the innovators may make use of his presence with them – even though he may be free from their mistakes – through a doubt by which they will beguile the common people, in which case his presence will cause an extra evil, in addition to just listening to their evil.” 
The Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “Indeed, Allaah does not accept the repentance of an innovator, until he ceases from the innovation.”  And he (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “Every innovation is misguidance and going astray.”  And he also said, “Whosoever innovates, or accommodates an innovator, then upon him is the curse of Allaah, the Angels and the whole of mankind.” 
Sufyaan ath-Thawree – rahimahullaah – said,
“Innovations are more beloved to Iblees than sin. Since a sin may be repented from, but innovation is not repented from.”  The following narrations will highlight – if Allaah wills – the manhaj (methodology) adopted by our Salafus-Saalih with regards to the mubtadi’een (innovators). A man said to ’Abdullaah Ibn ’Umar, ‘Najdah (a man from the Khawaarij) says such and such.’ So Ibn ’Umar prevented himself from listening for fear of that some of it should enter into his heart. 
Imaam al-Hasan al-Basree (d.110H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“Do not sit with the people of innovations and desires, nor argue with them, nor listen to them.” 
Asmaa‘ Bint ’Ubayd said: Two of the people of vain desires and innovations entered upon Ibn Seereen (d.110H), and said, “O Abaa Bakr, may we speak with you?” So he said, “No!” They said, “May we recite an aayah?” He from the Book of Allaah said, “No, indeed either you must get up and leave me, or I will get up and leave.” So said, “O Abaa Bakr, what harm would they left, so some of the people it have done to you, for them to recite an aayah from the Book of Allaah?” He said, “I feared that they would read an aayah to me and distort it, and that would remain in my heart.” 
An innovator asked Ayyoob as-Sakhtiyaanee (d.131H), “O Abaa Bakr, may I ask you about a word?’ He turned away and indicated with his hand, “No, not even half of a word.” 
Ibraaheem Ibn Maysirah (d.132H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“He who honours an innovator has assisted him in the demolition of Islaam.” 
Aboo Qilaabah (d.140H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“Do not sit with the people of innovation, because I do not feel secure that they will not drown you in their misguidance and make part of what you used to know unclear to you.”
Ibn ’Awn (d.150H) – rahimahullaah – said:
“Whosoever sits with an innovator is worse than him.” 
It was said to Imaam al-Awzaa’ee (d.157H) – rahimahullaah, ‘A person says, ‘I sit with Ahlus-Sunnah and I sit with the innovators.’ So al-Awzaa’ee said, ‘This person desires to fluctuate between the truth and falsehood.”  Commenting upon this statement, Ibn Battah said, “Indeed, al-Awzaa’ee has spoken the truth. And I say, indeed this person does not know the truth from falsehood, nor faith from disbelief.” 
Sufyaan ath-Thawree (d.164H) – rahimahullaah – said, “Whosoever listens to an innovator has left the protection of Allaah and is entrusted to the innovation.” 
And al-Fudayl Ibn ’Iyaad (d.187H) – rahimahullaah – said, “Do not sit with an innovator, for I fear that curses will descend upon you.” 
Imaam Maalik (d.197H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“How evil are the people of innovation, we do not give them salaam.” 
Imaam ash-Shaafi’ee (d.197H) – rahimahullaah – said, “That a person meets Allaah with every sin except Shirk is better than meeting Him upon any one of the innovated beliefs.”
Aboo Daawood as-Sijjistaanee (d.275H) – rahimahullaah – said,
I said to Aboo ’Abdullaah Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, “If I see a man from the people of the Sunnah sitting with a man from the people of innovation, should I speak with him?” He said, “No, you should first inform him that the one whom you saw him with is a person of innovation. Either he will cease speaking to the innovator, so continue speaking with him, or if not, then consider him to be like him. Ibn Mas’ood said that a person is like his friend.” 
Indeed, the people of knowledge throughout the ages continued warning the masses against the innovators and considered this matter important enough to dedicate chapters in their various books about this. For example:
Aboo Daawood placed a chapter in his Sunan (4/197), called: “Chapter: Turning away from the innovators and having hatred for them.”
Al-Haafidh al-Mundhiree (d.656H) – rahimahullaah – placed a chapter in at-Targheeb wat-Tarheeb (3/14) called: “Deterrent against loving the people of innovation, since a person will be with those whom he loves.”
Imaam an-Nawawee (d.676H) – rahimahullaah – says in al-Adhkaar (p.323), “Chapter: Disassociating from the people of innovation and sin.”
Imaam al-Bayhaqee (d.458H) – rahimahullaah – said in al-I’tiqaad (p.236), “Chapter: The prohibition from sitting with the people of innovation.”
Imaam al-Laalikaa‘ee (d.418H) said in Sharh Usoolul-I’tiqaad Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah (1/128), “What is related from the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) with respect to the forbiddance of debating with the innovators.”
Imaam al-Baghawee (d.516H) – rahimahullaah – said:
‘‘Indeed the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) informed about the division in this Ummah, and the manifestation of desires and innovations in it. And he designated salvation for those who follow his Sunnah and the Sunnah of his Companions, may Allaah be pleased with them. So it is upon the Muslim, that if he sees a man having something from innovations and desires in belief, or something neglected from the Sunnah, that he makes Hijrah (migration) from him, and he frees himself from him, and abandons him in life and death. So he must not greet him if he meets him, and he must not answer him if he (i.e. the innovator) begins the greeting, until he abandons his innovation and returns to the truth…So verily the hijrah from the people of desires and innovation continues until they repent.’’ 
Qaadee Aboo Ya’laa (d.333H) – rahimahullaah – said in Hajarul-Mubtadi’ (p. 32), “There is ijmaa’ (consensus) from the Companions and the taabi’een as regards disassociating and cutting-off from the innovators.”
It is also necessary to mention here, the distinction that the Scholars make between a newly-invented matter being bid’ah (innovation) and passing a judgement upon the one who is involved in it that he is a mubtadi’ (innovator).
: Just as the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said in his sermons, “…and every innovation is misguidance and all that misguides, misguides to the Fire.” 
And ’Abdullaah Ibn ’Umar (radiyallaahu ’anhu) said,
“Every innovation is misguidance, even if the people think it is good.” 
Imaam al-Barbahaaree (d.329H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“Beware of small innovations, because they will grow until they become large. This was the case with every innovation introduced into this Ummah. It began as something small, bearing resemblance to the truth, which is why those who entered into it were misled and then were unable to leave it. So it grew and became the religion that they followed, and thus deviated from the Straight Path and left Islaam. And may Allaah have mercy upon you! Examine carefully the speech of everyone you hear from in your time particularly. So do not act in haste, and do not enter into anything from it until you ask and see: Did any of the Companions of the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) speak about it, or any of the Scholars? So if you find a narration from them about it, cling to it, do not go beyond it for anything and do not give precedence to anything over it and thus fall into the Fire.”
Imaam al-Hasan al-Basree said,
“The Sunnah is – by Him besides whom none has the right to be worshipped – between those who exceed the limits and those who fall short. So be patient upon it, may Allaah have mercy upon you. For indeed, Ahlus-Sunnah were a minority from those who preceded and shall be a minority from those to come. They did not accompany the people of excessiveness when they exceeded, nor the people of innovation when they innovated. Rather, they persevered upon the Sunnah, until they met their Lord.” 
In summary, two major principles of manhaj – with regards to the ’aqeedah of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah – have been covered in the first part of this serialization: Firstly, “The source for the ’aqeedah is: the Book of Allaah, the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) and the ijmaa’ (consensus) of the Salafus-Saalih.” Secondly, “Every newly invented matter in the Religion is an innovation, and every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Fire.” 
 Related by Ibn Hibbaan in al-Majrooheen (1/27)
 Related by at-Tirmidhee in al-’Ilal (4/388), Ibn Hibbaan in al-Majrooheen (1/18) an al-Khateeb in al-Kifaayah (no. 393).
 For a comprehensive biography of the imaam, refer to Manaaqib Ahmad of Ibnul-Jawzee; and also Siyar A’laamun-Nubalaa‘ (11/177-358) of adh-Dhahabee – from which the above biography and most of the following narrations have been taken.
 Tadhkiratul-Huffaadh (2/432) of adh-Dhahabee. The trial mentioned here is the trial of torture and persecution that Imaam Ahmad, whilst refuting the kufr (disbelief) of those who declared that the Qur‘aan was created, and standing firm upon the correct belief that the Qur‘aan is the Word of Allaah, uncreated. An explanation of this matter will come in its appropriate place, if Allaah wills.
 al-Ibaanah ’an Usoolid-Diyaanah (no. 24) of Abul-Hasan al-Ash’aree.
 Tabaqaatush-Shaafi’iyyatul-Kubraa (2/250)
 Related by al-Laalikaa‘ee in Sharh Usoolul-I’tiqaad Ahlis-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah (no. 30)
 Related by Ibn Battah in al-Ibaanah (p. 133)
 al-Isaabah (1/4-5) of al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar
 Sharh Saheeh Muslim (16/85) of an-Nawawee
 al-Kifaayah fee ’Ilmir-Riwaayah (p. 99) of al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadee
 Saheehul-Bukhaaree (7/1 – with Fath) of Imaam al-Bukhaaree
 Related by al-Bukhaaree (no. 3649) and Muslim (no. 3456) from Aboo Sa’eed al-Khudree (radiyallaahu ’anhu)
 Related by Ibn Abee Shaybah in al-Musannaf (no. 3242) from Waathilah (radiyallaahu ’anhu). It was authenticated by Ibn Hajar in Fathul-Baaree (7/7) saying, “It’s isnaad is hasan.”
 Mukhtasar ’Uloomul-Hadeeth (p. 174) of Ibn Katheer
 Fathul-Mugheeth (p. 346) of al-Haafidh al-’Iraaqee
 Related by al-Bukharee (no. 2652) and Muslim (no. 2533) from ’Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood (radiyallaahu ’anhu)
 Related by Muslim (no. 2534) from Aboo Hurayrah (radiyallaahu ’anhu)
 Saheeh: Related by at-Tirmidhee (no. 2334), Ibn Hibbaan (no. 2285) and others, from ’Imraan Ibn Husayn (radiyallaahu ’anhu). It was authenticated by Shaykh al-Albaanee Silsilatul-Ahaadeethus-Saheehah (no. 699)
 Hasan: Related by at-Tabaraanee from Ibn Mas’ood (radiyallaahu ’anhu). It was authenticated by Shaykh al-Albaanee in Saheehul-Jaami’ (no. 3293)
 Related by Muslim (7/186) and Aboo Daawood (no. 4657) from ’Imraan Ibn Husayn.
 Related by Muslim (no. 2536)
 Saheeh: Related by Ahmad (1/215) from ’Abdullaah Ibn ’Abbaas (radiyallaahu ’anhumaa)
 Related by al-Bukhaaree (1/25) and at-Tahaawee in Mushkilul-Aathaar (2/278), from Mu’aawiyah (radiyallaahu ’anhu).
 as-Sabeel ilaa Manhaj Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah (p. 16)
 The first hadeeth is mentioned by Aboo Daawood (no. 4598) and ad-Daarimee (2/249) and is Saheeh, and the second is related by at-Tirmidhee (no. 2792) and al-Haakim (1/128-129) and it is hasan. Shaykh al-Albaanee has authenticated them both in Silsilatul-Ahaadeethus-Saheehah (no. 204-205).
 Saheeh: Related by Ahmad (4/126), Aboo Daawood (no. 4607) and Ibn Maajah (no. 43), from ’Irbaad Ibn Saariyah (radiyallaahu ’anhu). It was authenticated by al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar in Takhreej Ahaadeeth Mukhtasar Ibnul-Haajib (1/137).
 Related by Muslim (16/82) and Ahmad (4/398), from Aboo Moosaa al-Ash’aree (radiyallaahu ’anhu)
 Related by Ahmad (no. 3600) and at-Tiyaalisee (no. 23). It was authenticated by al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar in ad-Diraayah (2/187), as did as-Sakhaawee in al-Maqaasidul-Hasanah (no. 959)
 Kitaab Sharhus-Sunnah (no. 2) of Imaam al-Barbahaaree
 Kitaab Sharhus-Sunnah (no. 82)
 Saheeh: Related by Ahmad (1/435), an-Nisaa‘ee (7/49) and ad-Daarimee (1/67-68). It was authenticated by Shaykh al-Albaanee in his checking to Kitaabus-Sunnah (no. 16-17) of Ibn Abee ’Aasim.
 Related by Ibn Battah in al-Ibaanah (no. 136) and Aboo Nu’aym in Hilyatul-Awliyaa‘ (2/218)
 al-I’tisaam (1/37) of the Imaam, the Scholar of usool, ash-Shaatibee
 al-I’tisaam (1/321) of ash-Shaatibee
 as-Saarimul-Munkee (p. 427) of Ibn ’Abdul-Haadee
 Mukhtasar Sawaa’iqul-Mursalah (2/128) of Ibnul-Qayyim
 Risalah fee I’tiqaad Ahlus-Sunnah Ashaabul-Hadeeth (p. 100) of Imaam as-Saaboonee
 Fathul-Qadeer (2/218) of ash-Shawkaanee
 Saheeh: Related by at-Tabaraanee in al-Awsat (no. 4360) and others. It was authenticated by Shaykh al-Albaanee in Silsilatul-Ahaadeethus-Saheehah (no. 1620)
 Saheeh: Related by Aboo Daawood (no. 4607), at-Tirmidhee (no. 2676) and others, and al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar authenticated it in Takhreejul-Ahaadeeth Ibnul-Haajib (1/137).
 Related by al-Bukhaaree (12/41), Muslim (9/140) and the hadeeth is general, as has been duly explained by al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar in Fathul-Baaree (13/281).
 Related by al-Laalikaa‘ee (no. 238)
 Related by al-Laalikaa‘ee (no. 199)
 Related by ad-Daarimee in his Sunan (1/121) and Ibn Battah in al-Ibaanatul-Kubraa (2/444)
 Related by ad-Daarimee in his Sunan (1/109)
 Fathul-Qadeer (2/128) of ash-Shawkaanee
 Related by al-Laalikaa‘ee (1/139)
 Related by al-Bayhaqee in al-I’tiqaad (p. 118) and ’Abdullaah Ibn Imaam Ahmad in as-Sunnah (p. 18).
 Related by Ibn Battah in al-Ibaanatul-Kubraa (no. 446)
 Related by Ibn Battah (1/456)
 Related by Aboo Nu’aym in al-Hilyah (7/26) and Ibn Battah (no. 444)
 Related by al-Laalikaa‘ee (no. 262) and Ibn Battah (no. 441)
 Related by al-Baghawee in Sharhus-Sunnah (1/234)
 Related by al-Bayhaqee in al-I’tiqaad (p. 158)
 Related by Ibn Abee Ya’laa in Tabaqaatul-Hanaabilah (1/60) and Ibn Muflih in Aadaabish-Shar’iyyah (1/263)
 Related by al-Baghawee in Sharhus-Sunnah (1/224)
 Saheeh: Related by an-Nisaa‘ee (1/224), from Jaabir (radiyallaahu ’anhu), and declared authentic by Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah in Majmoo’ul-Fataawaa (3/58).
 Related by al-Laalikaa‘ee (no. 126), Ibn Battah (no. 205), al-Bayhaqee in al-Madkhal ilas-Sunan (no. 191) and Ibn Nasr in as-Sunnah (no. 70). This narration refutes the concept of bid’ah hasanah (good innovation) with regards to beliefs and worship, and a more detailed explanation of this will come in a later issue – if Allaah wills.
 Kitaab Sharhus-Sunnah (no. 7-8) of al-Barbahaaree
 Related by ad-Daarimee in his Sunan (1/71-72)
 Mujmal Usool Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah fil-’Aqeedah (p. 7-9) of Dr. Naasir al-’Aql
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