With terms such as ‘salaf’ and ‘salafism’ having become highly politicised and sensationalised in the public domain, Ustadh Ali Hammuda separates fact from fiction in this series demystifying the status and authority of the constitutive and interpretive “Understanding of the Companions” of the Messenger of God (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam).
The Authority of the Understanding of the Companions
Poor are those who wish to ‘modernise’ Islām. Not only because they are seen as sell-outs by mainstream Muslims, but because they are at the fingertips of their neo-con masters. Little do they realise that they are in fact selling their afterlife to forward the worldly agenda of someone else. The orthodox Muslim, apart from being scorned at, is inherently seen as principled and resilient. Those who follow the example of the companions are winners in every sense, and in this article we outline just some of their ‘prizes’.
1 – The one who chooses the side of the companions and sticks to their understanding will be closest in knowing what Allāh wants from him
Is this not the dream of every Muslim? To know precisely what Allāh wants from you so that your worship of Him is correct and so that your understanding is most precise? The companions were in darkness but since it was the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) who personally showed them the direction to the straight path, their awareness of its true nature is unmatched! Allāh says,
وَكَذَلِكَ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ رُوحًا مِنْ أَمْرِنَا مَا كُنْتَ تَدْرِي مَا الْكِتَابُ وَلَا الْإِيمَانُ وَلَكِنْ جَعَلْنَاهُ نُورًا نَهْدِي بِهِ مَنْ نَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا وَإِنَّكَ لَتَهْدِي إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُسْتَقِيمٍ
“And thus did We reveal to you an inspired book by Our command. You did not know what the Book was, nor what the faith was, but We made it a light, guiding thereby whom We please of Our servants; and most surely you show the way to the right path.”
Thus, no one is more aware of the reality of this straight path than the companions since their teacher was he who was taught by Allāh.
2 – Retreating to their understanding is one of the most effective ways of treating the illness of innovations
Yes, the innovators will have evidences, many of which are authentic in and of themselves, but their meanings are twisted until they are made to support their ideas. How do we remedy this? By asking such an individual, “Was this Abū Bakr’s understanding of this verse?” “Was this ʿUmar’s understanding of this Hadith?” “Was this how the Salaf interpreted this text?” Thus we use their understanding as a benchmark, causing the Sunnah to become apparent from the Bid’ah.
For this reason, we saw the companion Ibnu ‘Abbas, when he went to debate a group of innovators, the Khawaarij who’d defected from ʿAlĪ’s army (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu), he said to them:
جئتكم من عند أمير المؤمنين، ومن عند أصحاب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ولا أرى فيكم أحدا منهم
“I have come to you from the leader of the believers (‘Ali Ibnu Abi Taalib) and from the companions of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and I do not see any of them amongst you.”
A beautiful and polite way of reminding them that none of the companions of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), who are most aware of the Shari’ah, are upon your understanding. This is where and precisely why you went wrong, because you are following none of the companions!
3 – Retreating to their understanding will protect the Muslims from dividing and then fighting
One day, ʿUmar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) was alone contemplating, then he sent for ‘Ibnu ʿAbbas to ask him:
كَيْفَ تَخْتَلِفُ هَذِهِ الْأُمَّةُ وِكِتَابُهَا وَاحِدٌ وَنَبِيُّهَا وَاحِدٌ وَقِبْلَتُهَا وَاحِدَةٌ؟ قَالَ ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ: يَا أَمِيرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِنَّمَا أُنْزِلَ عَلَيْنَا الْقُرْآنُ فَقَرَأَنَاهُ وَعَلَمْنَا فِيمَ نَزَلَ وَإِنَّهُ يَكُونُ بَعْدَنَا أَقْوَامٌ يَقْرَأُونَ الْقُرْآنَ وَلَا يَعْرِفُونَ فِيمَ نَزَلَ فَيَكُونُ لِكُلِّ قَوْمٍ فِيهِ رَأْيٌ فَإِذَا كَانَ لِكُلِّ قَوْمٍ فِيهِ رَأْيٌ اخْتَلَفُوا فَإِذَا اخْتَلَفُوا اقْتَتَلُوا
“How can this Ummah disunite whilst they read from the same book, they believe in the same prophet and they pray in the same direction?!” He responded, “O leader of the believers, the Qur’ān was revealed and we read it and understood it. But there will be a people who will come after us who will read the Qur’ān but not understand it and so they will develop different ideas. Then they will begin to differ with one another and when they differ, they will fight one another.”
Every group has its own ideas which it insists are the absolute truth! How can we then agree? Why should I accept your understanding? And why should you accept mine? People will not budge. But when we make the understanding of the Salaf our judge and reference, then this will be a chief way of resolving disputes.
4 – Retreating to their understanding brings about a tremendous sense of comfort and peace of mind
Whenever one realises that he is taking his understanding from them, all doubts are cast aside and absolute surety within you is born! There is no more hesitancy and no worry of being wrong. The people who will testify to the significance of this particular prize are those who have tasted the bitterness of being confused and in doubt.
Abū ʿAbdillāh, Moḥammad b. ʿUmar Ar Rāzi (‘Fakhru Deen Ar Razi’) – who was from the Ashā’ira, a group that insisted that their logic be given precedence to the Islamic texts, said towards the end of his life:
نِهَايَةُ إِقْدَامِ الْعُقُولِ عِقَالُ … وَغَايَةُ سَعْيِ الْعَالَمِينَ ضَلَالُ
“The end point of our logic is shackles and majority of people’s efforts are astray.
وَأَرْوَاحُنَا فِي وَحْشَةٍ مِنْ جُسُومِنَا … وَحَاصِلُ دُنْيَانَا أَذَى وَوَبَالُ
And our souls are feeling lost within us and our lives have become pain and suffering
وَلَمْ نَسْتَفِدْ مِنْ بَحْثِنَا طُولَ عُمْرِنَا … سِوَى أَنْ جَمَعْنَا فِيهِ: قِيلَ وَقَالُوا
And we have not benefited from our lifelong study, other than the gathering of “they said this” and “they said that””
Couplets in which he expresses his sense of loneliness, pain and regret for having wasted his time weighing up and gathering the opinions of the logicians.
And he would say,
لَقَدْ تَأَمَّلْتُ الطُّرُقَ الْكَلَامِيَّةَ، وَالْمَنَاهِجَ الْفَلْسَفِيَّةَ، فَمَا رَأَيْتُهَا تَشْفِي عَلِيلًا، وَلَا تُرْوِي غَلِيلًا
“I have pondered deeply over the various sciences of discourse and methodologies of the philosophers and I found that they do not provide any answers at all!”
However, Imam Adh Dhahabi says about him,
وَقَدْ بدَتْ مِنْهُ فِي تَوَالِيفِهِ بلاَيَا وَعظَائِمُ وَسِحْرٌ وَانحرَافَاتٌ عَنِ السُّنَّةِ، وَاللهُ يَعْفُو عَنْهُ، فَإِنَّهُ تُوُفِّيَ عَلَى طرِيقَةٍ حَمِيدَةٍ، وَاللهُ يَتولَّى السّرَائِرَ
“We saw from his books calamities and major errors, reference to magic and deviances from the Sunnah, but we ask Allāh to forgive him for he died in a good state and Allāh is most aware of what is hidden.”
On the note of confusion, Sheikh Mohammad Ibn Abdil Kareem Ash Shihristaani, would say:
لَعَمْرِي لَقَدْ طُفْتُ الْمَعَاهِدَ كُلَّهَا … وَسَيَّرْتُ طَرْفِي بَيْنَ تِلْكَ الْمَعَالِمِ
“I have visited all of the academies and looked critically at what they teach.
فَلَمْ أَرَ إِلَّا وَاضِعًا كَفَّ حَائِرٍ … عَلَى ذَقَنٍ أَوْ قَارِعًا سِنَّ نَادِمِ
All what I saw were people immersed in confusion or people immersed in regret.”
Similarly, Abul Ma’aali Al-Juwaini, who was from the Ashaa’ira, would say,
يَا أَصْحَابَنَا لَا تَشْتَغِلُوا بِالْكَلَامِ، فَلَوْ عَرَفْتُ أَنَّ الْكَلَامَ يَبْلُغُ بِي إِلَى مَا بَلَغَ مَا اشْتَغَلْتُ بِهِ
“O my friends! Do not busy yourself studying the sciences of Kalaam (speculative theology), for if I knew what it would end up doing to me, I would have never busied myself with it!”
And he said as he was dying:
لَقَدْ خُضْتُ الْبَحْرَ الْخِضَمَّ، وَخَلَّيْتُ أَهْلَ الْإِسْلَامِ وَعُلُومَهُمْ، وَدَخَلْتُ فِي الَّذِي نَهَوْنِي عَنْهُ، وَالْآنَ فَإِنْ لَمْ يَتَدَارَكْنِي رَبِّي بِرَحْمَتِهِ فَالْوَيْلُ لِابْنِ الْجُوَيْنِيِّ، وَهَا أَنَا ذَا أَمُوتُ عَلَى عَقِيدَةِ أُمِّي، أَوْ قَالَ: عَلَى عَقِيدَةِ عَجَائِزِ نَيْسَابُورَ
“I have dived into a very deep sea and I moved away from the people of Islām and their sciences and I immersed myself in that which I was told not to and now, if my Lord does not have mercy upon me, then woe to me! And after all these years, I find myself dyeing upon the ‘Aqīda of my mother.”
Meaning after all those years of study, I have gone back to the simple ‘Aqīda of my mother, the same ‘Aqīda as that of the companions! Similar to this is the statement of Shams ad Deen al Khusrawshahi, of whose most prominent students were Fakhru Deen Ar Razi. Once, addressing one of his students he said:
مَا تَعْتَقِدُ؟ قَالَ: مَا يَعْتَقِدُهُ الْمُسْلِمُونَ، فَقَالَ: وَأَنْتَ مُنْشَرِحُ الصَّدْرِ لِذَلِكَ مُسْتَيْقِنٌ بِهِ؟ أَوْ كَمَا قَالَ، فَقَالَ: نَعَمْ، فَقَالَ: أَشْكُرُ اللَّهَ عَلَى هَذِهِ النِّعْمَةِ، لَكِنِّي وَاللَّهِ مَا أَدْرِي مَا أَعْتَقِدُ، وَاللَّهِ مَا أَدْرِي مَا أَعْتَقِدُ، وَاللَّهِ مَا أَدْرِي مَا أَعْتَقِدُ، وَبَكَى حَتَّى أَخْضَلَ لِحْيَتَهُ
“What ‘Aqīdah do you attest to?” His student replied: “The ‘Aqīdah that the Muslims attest to.” He said: “Are you content with it, and sure about it?” He said: “yes”. He said: “You must thank Allāh for this blessing! As for me, by Allāh, I do not know what ‘Aqīdah I attest to, by Allāh, I do not know what ‘Aqīdah I attest to” and he wept until he soaked his beard.
5 – The most important prize: Safety and Light on the Day of Judgment
وَلَا تَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ تَفَرَّقُوا وَاخْتَلَفُوا مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَهُمُ الْبَيِّنَاتُ وَأُولَئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ (105) يَوْمَ تَبْيَضُّ وُجُوهٌ وَتَسْوَدُّ وُجُوهٌ
“And do not be like the ones who became divided and differed after the clear proofs had come to them. And those will have a great punishment. On the Day some faces will turn white and some faces will turn black.”
Ibnu ‘Abbas comments says:
تَبْيَضّ وُجُوه أَهْل السُّنَّة وَالْجَمَاعَة وَتَسْوَدّ وُجُوه أَهْل الْبِدْعَة وَالْفُرْقَة
“The faces of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaa’a will be luminated and the faces of the innovators and separatists will be darkened.”
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) also said,
افترقت اليهود على احدى وسبعين فرقة ، وافترقت النصارى على ثنتين وسبعين فرقة ، وستفترق هذه الأمة على ثلاث وسبعين فرقه كلها في النار إلا واحدة . قيل : من هي يا رسول الله ؟ قال : ” من كان على مثل ما أنا عليه وأصحابي
“The Jews split into seventy one sects, and the Christians split into seventy two sects. This Ummah (nation) will split into seventy three sects, all of whom will be in the Fire apart from one.” It was said, “Who are they, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Those who follow the same path as I and my companions follow.”
The path of the Prophet and his companions. Call it fundamental, ‘backwards’, ‘outdated’, ‘medieval’, or whatever next, it is the path of safety and the way to Allāh, regardless of whomever may hate it or lambast the followers of it. May we live upon this path, die upon it, and meet Allāh attesting to it.
 Qur’an 42:52
 Siyar A’laam An-Nubalaa
 Al Khateeb – Al Jaami’ li’akhlaaq al raawy wa’adaab al saami’
 Qur’an 3:105
 Those who wish to separate the ‘Ummah into sects
 At Tirmithi, classified as Sahih
Shaykh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is Islam21c’s Tarbiya Editor. A UK national of Palestinian origin, he gained bachelors and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Planning from the University of the West of England, before achieving a BA in Shari’ah from al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is currently based in Wales and is a visiting Imām at Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, and also a senior researcher and lecturer for the Muslim Research & Development Foundation in London. Shaykh Ali is the author of several books including ‘The Daily Revivals’, ‘The Ten Lanterns’ and ‘The Friday Reminder’. He delivers sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.