Foundations of the Sunnah
A lengthy explanation of the first three points from the tremendous work, Uṣūl al-Sunnah.
I left Baghdād, and I did not leave behind me a man better, having more knowledge, or greater Fiqh (understanding), nor having greater taqwá (piety) than Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal.
Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal
Shaykh Abū ʿAbdullāh Yahyá Ibn Abīl-Ḥasan Ibn al-Banná narrated to us saying: My father Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan Ibn ʿUmar Ibn al-Banná related to us saying: Abū al-Husayn ʿAlī Ibn Muḥammad Ibn ʿAbdullāh Ibn Bushrān al-Mu’addil related to us, saying: ’Uthmān Ibn Aḥmad Ibn as-Sammaak reported to us, saying: Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥasan Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, Abū al-Nabr narrated to us, reading it to him from his handwritten copy in the month of Rabīʿul-Awwal, in the year two-hundred and ninety three (293H) who said: Abū Ja’far Muḥammad Ibn Sulaymān al-Munqarī, in Baṣrah related to us, saying: ʿAbdūs Ibn Mālik al-’Attaar narrated to me, saying:  I heard Abū ʿAbdullāh Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal  – raḥimahullāh – say: “The Fundamental Principles of the Sunnah  with us  are: Clinging to that which the Companions  of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) were upon, taking them as our example to be followed,  avoiding innovation;  and every innovation is misguidance.” 
: This is the isnād (chain of narration connected to the text) which - just as in the case of the ḥadīth of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 isnād, then a few narrations from the Scholars of the early generations will be mentioned.
Sufyān al-Thawrī (d.161H) – raḥimahullāh– said:
“The isnād is the weapon of the Believer. So if he has no weapon, with what will he fight?”
Ibn al-Mubārak (d.181H) – raḥimahullāh– said:
“The isnād with me is from the Religion. If there were no isnād, 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 Imām Aḥmad, then a number of Scholars have agreed to its ascription from ’Abdoos Ibn Mālik al-’Attaar - one of the close students of the Imām - and from these verifying Scholars are: Ibn Abī Ya’lā in Tabaqaatul-Hanaabilah (1/241-246), al-Lālikaa‘ee in Sharḥ Uṣūl al-Iʿtiqād Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah (1/158-164) and also Ibn al-Jawzī in Manaaqib Aḥmad(p. 222-228).
The text of this brief ʿaqīdah was first printed by Daarul-Manār in al-Mujāhid magazine (no. 28-29, Sha’baan - Ramaḍān 1411H); and the original is a manuscript copy, transcribed by the Shaykh and muhaddith, Muḥammad Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī, raḥimahullāh, 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 Allāh - 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 Abū ʿAbdullāh Aḥmad Ibn Muḥammad Ibn Ḥanbal ash-Shaybaanee - the Imām of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah in his time. Born in Baghdād in Rabīʿul-Awwal, 164H, he attended the circles of al-Qaadee Abū Yūsuf (the student of Abī Ḥanīfah) - raḥimahullāh – where he studied fiqh. He left this in favour of ḥadīth, which he began to study at the age of thirteen - having already memorized the Qurʾān at a young age. He traveled extensively acquiring and learning aḥādīth from over two-hundred and eighty teachers. From them are: Wakīʿ Ibn al-Jarrāḥ, Yahyá Ibn Saʿīd al-Qattaan, ’Abdur-Raḥmān Ibn Mahdī, Sufyān Ibn ʿUyaynah, al-Shāfiʿī, Yazīd Ibn Hārūn and others – raḥimahullāh. He underwent severe torture and trial due to defending the correct ʿaqīdah - the ʿaqīdah of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah (the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), his Companions and those who followed them in ʿaqīdah and manhaj) - being from those who were foremost in clinging to their way, whilst shunning the innovations.
Abū ʿUmayr said: “May Allāh 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 Imām of the people of Ḥadīthspecifically, and the Muslims in general.” 
Imām al-Shāfiʿī (d.204H) - raḥimahullāh- said:
“I left Baghdād, and I did not leave behind me a man better, having more knowledge, or greater Fiqh (understanding), nor having greater taqwá (piety) than Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal.”
Ishāq Ibn Rāhawayh (d.238H) said:
“I used to sit with Aḥmad and Ibn Ma’een revising aḥādīth; and I would say: What is the Fiqh (understanding) of it? What is its explanation? So they would remain silent, except for Aḥmad.”
Abū Dāwūd (d.275H) said:
“The lectures of Aḥmad were sittings for the Hereafter. He would not mention in them any worldly affairs; and I never saw him mention this world.”
ʿAlī Ibn al-Madīnee (d.324H) – raḥimahullāh- said:
“Indeed Allāh aided this Religion through Abū Bakr as-Siddīq on the day of apostasy, and through Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal on the day of the trial.” 
Due to these qualities, he became a sign for Ahl al-Sunnah – as Qutaybah Ibn Saʿīd (d.240H) said, “If you see a man loving Aḥmad, then know that he is a person of the Sunnah.”
And Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (d.324H) – raḥimahullāh– said:
“Our statement which we hold and take as our Religion is: Clinging to the Book of Allāh, our Lord the Mighty and Majestic, and to the Sunnah of our Prophet, Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), and what is narrated from the Companions, the Tābi’īn and the Imāms of Ḥadīth. This is what we cling to, and also that to which Abū ʿAbdullāh Aḥmad Ibn Muḥammad Ibn Ḥanbal – may Allāh 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 Imām, by whom Allāh made the truth clear, and removed the misguidance, and made the minhaaj (methodology) clear, and though whom Allāh annihilated the innovation of the innovators, the deviation of the deviant and the doubts of the doubters. So may Allāh have mercy upon him, the foremost Imām.” 
Taajud-Dīn as-Subkee (d.770H) – raḥimahullāh – said, “Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī is the foremost of Ahl al-Sunnah and Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal...” 
Ibrāhīm al-Ḥarbī (d.285H) – raḥimahullāh – said, “I saw Abū ʿAbdullāh, and it was as if Allāh had gathered for him the knowledge of the earlier people and the later people.”
Imām Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal died in the year 241H.
: The term ‘Sunnah’ here, refers to the principles and foundations of the correct Islamic ʿaqīdah (belief) and manhaj (methodology), since the Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ (pious predecessors) would apply this term to matters of ʿaqīdah and manhaj – as can be seen from their books and writings – for example: [i] Kitābus-Sunnah of Imām Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal (d.241H); [ii] al-Sunnah of al-Athram (d.273H); [iii] Kitābus-Sunnah of Abū Dāwūd (d.275H) – being part of his Sunan. [iv] Kitābus-Sunnah of Ibn Abī ʿĀsim (d.287H); [v] Kitābus-Sunnah of ʿAbdullāh (d.290H), the son of Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal; [vi] al-Sunnah of al-Marwazī (d.292H); [vii] Sareehus-Sunnah of Ibn Jarīr al-Tabarī (d.310H); [viii] al-Sunnah of al-Khallāl (d.311H); [ix] Sharḥ al-Sunnah of al-Barbahārī (d.329H); [x] al-Sunnah of al-’Asaal (d.349H) and [xi] al-Sunnahof at-Ṭabarānī (d.360H).
The term ‘Sunnah’ was employed in this context to differentiate those matters of ʿaqīdah and manhaj of the Salaf al-Ṣāliḥwere upon, from that which was innovated by the deviant and misguided sects.
: Meaning, with the Scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah and at the head of them in his time was Imām Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal. And in this regard, the way of the Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ was to point out to the people, the true followers and adherents to the Sunnah so that their ʿaqīdah and manhaj (methodology) could be learnt and adhered to, as Imām Ayyūb as-Sakhtiyaanee (d.131H) – raḥimahullāh – said, “From the success of a youth, or a non-Arab is that Allāh guides him to a Scholar of the Sunnah.” 
And ’Amr Ibn Qays al-Mulā‘ee (d.143H) said,
“If you see a youth when he begins to sprout, keeping company with Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah 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: al-ʿArabīc: Ṣaḥābah, or Ashaab; singular: Sahaabee. As regards the Sharīʿah definition of ‘Sahaabee’ or ‘Companion,’ then:
al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar (d.825H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“The most correct of what I have come across is that a Sahaabee (Companion) is one who met the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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.” 
Imām al-Nawawī (d.676H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“The correct position is that whosoever accompanied the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), even for an hour, then that person is from his Ṣaḥābah.” 
Imām Aḥmad (d.241H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“Every person who accompanied the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), whether for a year, month, a day, or even for an hour, or even just saw him is from his Companions.”
Imām al-Bukhārī (d.256H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“He who accompanied the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) or saw him – from the Muslims – then he is from his Companions.” 
al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar said in Fat′h al-Bārī(7/1),
“That which al-Bukhārī states is the saying of Aḥmad and the great majority of the Scholars of Ḥadīth.” Some of the proofs that the Scholars have used for this are: The saying of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam)? So they will say: Yes. So victory will be granted to them.” 
The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) also said,
“You will not cease to be upon good as long as there amongst you those who accompanied me. By Allāh! 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 (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) is granted virtue and excellence and is established as being from amongst the Companions.
Ibn Kathīr (d.774H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“The fact that just seeing him (the Prophet) is enough for one to be called a Companion is clearly stated by al-Bukhārī, Abū Zur’ah and others who have written books regarding the names of the Companions – such as Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Ibn Mandah, Abū Mūsá al-Madanee, Ibn al-Atheer...” 
As regards the statement attributed to the tābiʿī and Imām Saʿīd Ibn al-Mūsáyyib – raḥimahullāh – concerning the definition of a Companion, then this cannot be used as a proof at all. This is because al-Ḥāfiẓ al-’ʿIrāqee – raḥimahullāh – says, “The third saying is what is related from Saʿīd Ibn al-Mūsáyyib, that he had not used to count someone as being a Companion, except one who accompanied the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) for a year or two and fought along with him in one or two battles. Ibnus-al-Ṣalāh said, “What is meant by this if it is authentic from him – refers back to what the Scholars of Uṣūl 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 Jarīr Ibn ʿAbdullāh 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 Ibn al-Mūsáyyib, since the isnād (chain of narration) from him contains Muḥammad Ibn ʿUmar al-Waaqidee – who is dāʿīf (weak) in ḥadīth.” 
: Here the Imām – raḥimahullāh – explains and lays down the signposts for the correct manhaj followed by Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah, and that is the methodology of the best and most excellent of mankind, the Companions, then those who followed them (the tābiʿīn), then those who followed them (the atbaa’ut-tābiʿīn).
So Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah cling to what the first three generations of Muslims were upon – the Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ – whose excellence has been testified to by the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) said, “The most excellent Ummahis 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 (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam). Indeed, in some authentic narrations, after mentioning the excellence of the first three generations, the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ – 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 – raḍī Allāhu ’anhaa – said: A man came to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) and said, ‘Who is the most excellent of mankind?’ So the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 – raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhum – who were the foremost in excellence from mankind; since they were: [i] those who learnt the Religion directly from the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) said, “Whosoever Allāh 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 Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ, and the excellence of those who follow them, and the obligation to follow their path, Allāh – the Mighty and Majestic says,
“Those foremost of those who first migrated and those that helped them and those who follow them in goodness, Allāh 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.” [Sūrah al-Tawbah 9:100]
And Allāh – 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.” [Sūrah Sūrah al-Nisāʾ 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 āyah was revealed, except the Companions (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhum). Thus, Allāh 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 āyāt, are the aḥādīth of the Propht (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Jamāʿah.” And in another narration, he said, “That which I and my Companions are upon.” 
He – ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Ummahwill 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 ʿaqīdah and manhaj– has been foretold.
[ii] All of the various firaq (sects) have been threatened with Hellfire, except those who adhere to the ʿaqīdah and the manhaj of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) and his Companions, and that is al-Firqatun-Naajiyah (the Saved-Sect) and the Jamāʿah.
[iii] That the authentic ḥadīth about iftiraaq (splitting-up) is an explanation of, and in full agreement with the āyah from Sūrah Sūrah al-Nisāʾ [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 (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) and his Companions, and that is the way of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah, 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 Jamāʿah have ijmāʿ’(consensus and agreement) upon.
[vi] That the Companions were made examples to be followed and were for this Ummah, after the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), the custodians of the correct knowledge, manhaj and ʿaqīdah.
[vii] The root of the Companions excellence is in their understanding of and clinging onto the correct ʿaqīdah and manhajand 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 ibnding upon the Muslims to follow the path taken by the Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ, those Muslims who – living in the first three generations – adhered to the ʿaqīdah and manhaj, and have been praised with an excellence over and above the rest of mankind.
[ix] Opposing the way of the Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ is considered iftiraaq (splitting-up) and opposing them in matters related to Islamic 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 Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah, and has taken one of the forbidden and innovated paths.
Indeed, Ibn Masʿūd (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu) said,
“Indeed, Allāh looked into the hearts of the servants and found the heart of Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Allāh, and whatever the Muslims hold to be evil, then it is evil with Allāh.” 
Imām al-Barabahārī (d.329H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“The foundations upon which the Jamāʿah is made clear is the Companions of Muḥammad (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam). They are Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah, 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 Allāh the Mighty and Majestic. The Sunnah is that which the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) laid down, and the Jamāʿah is that which the Companions of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) united upon, in the Caliphate of Abū Bakr, ʿUmar and ’Uthmān. So he who limits himself to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Allāh wills. Since the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Masʿūd (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu) said,
“The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) drew a line for us and said, “This is the Straight Path of Allāh.” 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 Allāh, “And do not follow other paths,” al-Dārimī relates in his Sunan (1/68) and al-Bayḥaqī relates in al-Madkhal ilas-Sunan (no. 200) that Mujāhid (d.204H) said explaining this āyah, “Innovations and doubts.”
Abū al-’Āliyah (d.90H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“Learn Islām. Then when you have learnt Islām, 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.” 
: al-ʿArabīc: Bida’ (singular: Bid’ah). Linguistically, bidʿah means: a newly invented matter. The Sharīʿah definition of bidʿah is: “A newly invented way (beliefs or actions) in the Religion, in imitation to the Sharīʿah(prescribed Law), by which nearness of Allāh is sought, not being supported by an authentic proof; neither in its foundations, nor the manner in which it is performed.” 
Imām al-Shāṭibī (d.777H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“Everyone who follows the mutashaabihaat (those āyāt without a clear meaning), or twists the underlying meanings or gives a meaning to the āyāt not given to it by the Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ, or clings on to the very weak and unauthentic aḥādīth, 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 ʿAbd al-Hādī (d.745H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“It is not permissible to invent an interpretation about an āyah 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 Salafwere ignorant of the truth in this matter and failed to reach it, whereas the late-coming opponent is somehow guided to the truth!” 
Imām Ibn al-Qayyim (d.756H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“Inventing an explanation with regards to the Book of Allāh – to which the Salaf and the Scholars are in opposition – necessitates one of two things; [i] either the explanation in itself is 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 bidʿah (innovations) is one of the great uṣūl (foundations) of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah, 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.
Imām as-Saaboonee (d.449H) said about Ahl al-Sunnah,
“They follow the Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ – the Imāms 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, Allāh 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.” [Sūrah al-Anʿām 6:68].” 
Imām ash-Shawakaanee (d.1255H) said,
“And this āyah contains a severe reprimand for those who allow people to sit with the innovators, those who twist the Words of Allāh, play around with His Book, and the Sunnah of His Messenger (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) said, “Indeed, Allāh does not accept the repentance of an innovator, until he ceases from the innovation.”  And he (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Allāh, the Angels and the whole of mankind.” 
Sufyān al-Thawrī – raḥimahullāh– said,
“Innovations are more beloved to Iblīs than sin. Since a sin may be repented from, but innovation is not repented from.”  The following narrations will highlight – if Allāh wills – the manhaj (methodology) adopted by our Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ with regards to the mubtadi’een (innovators). A man said to ʿAbdullāh Ibn ʿUmar, ‘Najdah (a man from the Khawārij) says such and such.’ So Ibn ʿUmar prevented himself from listening for fear of that some of it should enter into his heart. 
Imām al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d.110H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“Do not sit with the people of innovations and desires, nor argue with them, nor listen to them.” 
Asmāʾa‘ ibnt ’ʿUbayd said: Two of the people of vain desires and innovations entered upon Ibn Sīrīn (d.110H), and said, “O Abā Bakr, may we speak with you?” So he said, “No!” They said, “May we recite an āyah?” He from the Book of Allāh said, “No, indeed either you must get up and leave me, or I will get up and leave.” So said, “O Abā Bakr, what harm would they left, so some of the people it have done to you, for them to recite an āyah from the Book of Allāh?” He said, “I feared that they would read an āyah to me and distort it, and that would remain in my heart.” 
An innovator asked Ayyūb as-Sakhtiyaanee (d.131H), “O Abā Bakr, may I ask you about a word?’ He turned away and indicated with his hand, “No, not even half of a word.” 
Ibrāhīm Ibn Maysirah (d.132H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“He who honours an innovator has assisted him in the demolition of Islām.” 
Abū Qilābah (d.140H) – raḥimahullāh– 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) – raḥimahullāh – said:
“Whosoever sits with an innovator is worse than him.” 
It was said to Imām al-Awzāʿī (d.157H) – raḥimahullāh, ‘A person says, ‘I sit with Ahl al-Sunnah and I sit with the innovators.’ So al-Awzāʿī said, ‘This person desires to fluctuate between the truth and falsehood.”  Commenting upon this statement, Ibn Baṭṭah said, “Indeed, al-Awzāʿī has spoken the truth. And I say, indeed this person does not know the truth from falsehood, nor faith from disbelief.” 
Sufyān al-Thawrī (d.164H) – raḥimahullāh– said, “Whosoever listens to an innovator has left the protection of Allāh and is entrusted to the innovation.” 
And al-Fuḍayl Ibn ’Iyāḍ (d.187H) – raḥimahullāh– said, “Do not sit with an innovator, for I fear that curses will descend upon you.” 
Imām Mālik (d.197H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
“How evil are the people of innovation, we do not give them salām.” 
Imām al-Shāfiʿī (d.197H) – raḥimahullāh – said, “That a person meets Allāh with every sin except Shirkis better than meeting Him upon any one of the innovated beliefs.”
Abū Dāwūd as-Sijjistaanee (d.275H) – raḥimahullāh– said,
I said to Abū ʿAbdullāh Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal, “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 Masʿūd 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:
Abū Dāwūd placed a chapter in his Sunan (4/197), called: “Chapter: Turning away from the innovators and having hatred for them.”
Al-Ḥāfiẓ al-Mundhirī (d.656H) – raḥimahullāh – placed a chapter in al-Targhīb wa-al-Tarḥīb (3/14) called: “Deterrent against loving the people of innovation, since a person will be with those whom he loves.”
Imām al-Nawawī (d.676H) – raḥimahullāh – says in al-Adhkaar(p.323), “Chapter: Disassociating from the people of innovation and sin.”
Imām al-Bayḥaqī (d.458H) – raḥimahullāh – said in al-Iʿtiqād(p.236), “Chapter: The prohibition from sitting with the people of innovation.”
Imām al-Lālikaa‘ee (d.418H) said in Sharḥ Uṣūl al-Iʿtiqād Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah (1/128), “What is related from the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) with respect to the forbiddance of debating with the innovators.”
Imām al-Baghawī (d.516H) - raḥimahullāh- said:
‘‘Indeed the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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 Allāh 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 ḥijrah from the people of desires and innovation continues until they repent.’’ 
Qaadee Abū Ya’lā (d.333H) – raḥimahullāh – said in Ḥajarul-Mubtadi’ (p. 32), “There is ijmāʿ’ (consensus) from the Companions and the tābiʿīnas 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 bidʿah (innovation) and passing a judgement upon the one who is involved in it that he is a mubtadi’ (innovator).
: Just as the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) said in his sermons, “...and every innovation is misguidance and all that misguides, misguides to the Fire.” 
And ʿAbdullāh Ibn ʿUmar (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu) said,
“Every innovation is misguidance, even if the people think it is good.” 
Imām al-Barbahārī (d.329H) – raḥimahullāh– 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 Islām. And may Allāh 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 (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi 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.”
Imām al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī 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 Allāh have mercy upon you. For indeed, Ahl al-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 ʿaqīdah of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah – have been covered in the first part of this serialization: Firstly, “The source for the ʿaqīdah is: the Book of Allāh, the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) and the ijmāʿ’ (consensus) of the Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ.” 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 Hibbān in al-Majrooheen(1/27)
 Related by al-Tirmidhī in al-’Ilal (4/388), Ibn Hibbān in al-Majrooheen (1/18) an al-Khaṭīb in al-Kifāyah(no. 393).
 For a comprehensive biography of the imām, refer to Manaaqib Aḥmad of Ibn al-Jawzī; and also Siyar Aʿlām al-Nubʿalāʾ‘(11/177-358) of al-Dhahabī – from which the above biography and most of the following narrations have been taken.
 Tadhkiratul-Huffaadh (2/432) of al-Dhahabī. The trial mentioned here is the trial of torture and persecution that Imām Aḥmad, whilst refuting the kufr (disbelief) of those who declared that the Qurʾān was created, and standing firm upon the correct belief that the Qurʾān is the Word of Allāh, uncreated. An explanation of this matter will come in its appropriate place, if Allāh wills.
 al-Ibānah ’an Uṣūlid-Diyaanah(no. 24) of Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī.
 Related by al-Lālikaa‘ee in Sharḥ Uṣūl al-Iʿtiqād Ahlis-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah(no. 30)
 Related by Ibn Baṭṭah in al-Ibānah(p. 133)
 al-Isaabah(1/4-5) of al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar
 Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim(16/85) of al-Nawawī
 al-Kifāyah fī ’Ilmir-Riwāyah(p. 99) of al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (7/1 – with Fath) of Imām al-Bukhārī
 Related by al-Bukhārī (no. 3649) and Muslim (no. 3456) from Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu)
 Related by Ibn Abī Shaybah in al-Mūsánnaf (no. 3242) from Waathilah (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu). It was authenticated by Ibn Ḥajar in Fat′h al-Bārī (7/7) saying, “It’s isnād is ḥasan.”
 Mukhtasar ’Ulūm al-Ḥadīth(p. 174) of Ibn Kathīr
 Fat‘h al-Mugheeth(p. 346) of al-Ḥāfiẓ al-’ʿIrāqee
 Related by al-Bukhārī (no. 2652) and Muslim (no. 2533) from ʿAbdullāh Ibn Masʿūd (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu)
 Related by Muslim (no. 2534) from Abū Hurayrah (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu)
 Ṣaḥīḥ: Related by al-Tirmidhī (no. 2334), Ibn Hibbān (no. 2285) and others, from ’ʿImrān Ibn Husayn (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu). It was authenticated by Shaykh al-Albānī Silsilah al-Aḥādīth al-Ṣaḥīḥah(no. 699)
 Ḥasan: Related by at-Ṭabarānī from Ibn Masʿūd (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu). It was authenticated by Shaykh al-Albānī in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmiʿ(no. 3293)
 Related by Muslim (7/186) and Abū Dāwūd (no. 4657) from ’ʿImrān Ibn Husayn.
 Related by Muslim (no. 2536)
 Ṣaḥīḥ: Related by Aḥmad (1/215) from ʿAbdullāh Ibn ʿAbbās (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhumā)
 Related by al-Bukhārī (1/25) and al-Ṭahāwī in Mushkilul-Āthār (2/278), from Muʿāwiyah (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu).
 as-Sabīl ilā Manhaj Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah(p. 16)
 The first ḥadīth is mentioned by Abū Dāwūd (no. 4598) and al-Dārimī (2/249) and is Ṣaḥīḥ, and the second is related by al-Tirmidhī (no. 2792) and al-Ḥākim (1/128-129) and it is ḥasan. Shaykh al-Albānī has authenticated them both in Silsilah al-Aḥādīth al-Ṣaḥīḥah(no. 204-205).
 Ṣaḥīḥ: Related by Aḥmad (4/126), Abū Dāwūd (no. 4607) and Ibn Mājah (no. 43), from ’Irbaad Ibn Saariyah (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu). It was authenticated by al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar in Takhreej Aḥādīth Mukhtasar Ibn al-Haajib(1/137).
 Related by Muslim (16/82) and Aḥmad (4/398), from Abū Mūsá al-Ashʿarī (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu)
 Related by Aḥmad (no. 3600) and al-Tiyālisī (no. 23). It was authenticated by al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar in ad-Dirāyah (2/187), as did Al-Sakhāwī in al-Maqaasidul-Ḥasanah(no. 959)
 Kitāb Sharḥ al-Sunnah(no. 2) of Imām al-Barbahārī
 Kitāb Sharḥ al-Sunnah(no. 82)
 Ṣaḥīḥ: Related by Aḥmad (1/435), Sūrah al-Nisāʾī (7/49) and al-Dārimī (1/67-68). It was authenticated by Shaykh al-Albānī in his checking to Kitābus-Sunnah (no. 16-17) of Ibn Abī ʿĀsim.
 Related by Ibn Baṭṭah in al-Ibānah (no. 136) and Abū Nuʿaym in Hilyatul-Awliyaa‘ (2/218)
 al-I’tisaam (1/37) of the Imām, the Scholar of uṣūl, al-Shāṭibī
 al-I’tisaam (1/321) of al-Shāṭibī
 as-Saarimul-Munkee (p. 427) of Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī
 Mukhtasar Sawaa’iqul-Mursalah (2/128) of Ibn al-Qayyim
 Risalah fī Iʿtiqād Ahl al-Sunnah Aṣḥāb al-Ḥadīth (p. 100) of Imām as-Saaboonee
 Fat‘h al-Qadīr(2/218) of al-Shawkānī
 Ṣaḥīḥ: Related by at-Ṭabarānī in al-Awsaṭ (no. 4360) and others. It was authenticated by Shaykh al-Albānī in Silsilah al-Aḥādīth al-Ṣaḥīḥah (no. 1620)
 Ṣaḥīḥ: Related by Abū Dāwūd (no. 4607), al-Tirmidhī (no. 2676) and others, and al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar authenticated it in Takhreejul-Aḥādīth Ibn al-Haajib (1/137).
 Related by al-Bukhārī (12/41), Muslim (9/140) and the ḥadīth is general, as has been duly explained by al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar in Fat′h al-Bārī (13/281).
 Related by al-Lālikaa‘ee (no. 238)
 Related by al-Lālikaa‘ee (no. 199)
 Related by al-Dārimī in his Sunan (1/121) and Ibn Baṭṭah in al-Ibaanatul-Kubraa (2/444)
 Related by al-Dārimī in his Sunan (1/109)
 Fat‘h al-Qadīr (2/128) of al-Shawkānī
 Related by al-Lālikaa‘ee (1/139)
 Related by al-Bayḥaqī in al-Iʿtiqād (p. 118) and ʿAbdullāh Ibn Imām Aḥmad in al-Sunnah (p. 18).
 Related by Ibn Baṭṭah in al-Ibaanatul-Kubraa (no. 446)
 Related by Ibn Baṭṭah (1/456)
 Related by Abū Nuʿaym in al-Hilyah (7/26) and Ibn Baṭṭah (no. 444)
 Related by al-Lālikaa‘ee (no. 262) and Ibn Baṭṭah (no. 441)
 Related by al-Baghawī in Sharḥ al-Sunnah (1/234)
 Related by al-Bayḥaqī in al-Iʿtiqād (p. 158)
 Related by Ibn Abī Ya’lā in Tabaqaatul-Hanaabilah (1/60) and Ibn Muflih in Aadaabish-Shar’iyyah(1/263)
 Related by al-Baghawī in Sharḥ al-Sunnah (1/224)
 Ṣaḥīḥ: Related by Sūrah al-Nisāʾī (1/224), from Jābir (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu), and declared authentic by Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymīyyah in Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (3/58).
 Related by al-Lālikaa‘ee (no. 126), Ibn Baṭṭah (no. 205), al-Bayḥaqī in al-Madkhal ilas-Sunan (no. 191) and Ibn Naṣr in al-Sunnah (no. 70). This narration refutes the concept of bidʿah ḥasanah (good innovation) with regards to beliefs and worship, and a more detailed explanation of this will come in a later issue – if Allāh wills.
 Kitāb Sharḥ al-Sunnah(no. 7-8) of al-Barbahārī
 Related by al-Dārimī in his Sunan (1/71-72)
 Mujmal Uṣūl Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah fil-’Aqīdah (p. 7-9) of Dr. Nāṣir al-ʿAql
Tags: Sunnah, Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal