Imām Ahmad bin Hanbal’s, Usūl As-Sunnah (Foundations of the Sunnah) ― The Sirātul-Mustaqeem and the Path of the Salaf: The Introduction.

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Introduction

All thanks and praise is due to Allah, we seek His help and forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allah from the evil within ourselves and the consequences of our evil deeds. Whoever Allah guides will never be led astray, and whomever Allah leads astray will never find guidance. I bear witness that there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah, alone without any partners, and I bear witness that Muhammad (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) is His servant and Messenger.

Verily, the most truthful speech is the Book of Allah, the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad (salallāhu ’alaihi wasallam) and the worst affairs are the newly invented matters. Every newly invented matter is a religious innovation, and every religious innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire.

The article below is mostly based on Shaikh Ahmad bin Yahya An-Najmi’s (rahimahullah) explanation of Imām Ahmad Ibn Hanbal’s “Usool us-Sunnah”. Shaikh An-Najmi was one of the major scholars of Ahlus-Sunnah of this era, may Allah have mercy on him. In this introduction, he explains that the Sirātul Mustaqeem is the path of the People of Hadeeth; those who follow the Qur’ān and the Sunnah upon the understanding of the Sahābah (radiyallāhu ‘anhum).

The Sirātul-Mustaqeem

The ‘Aqeedah (Belief) is the foundation of the religion – if there is no ‘aqeedah, then there is no religion. The meaning of this is that the religion is not given consideration except with the correct ‘Aqeedah. So, if the ‘Aqeedah is not correct, then the Religion of a person cannot be straight and upright. It is for this reason that Allah commanded His servants to follow the Sirātul-Mustaqeem (the Straight Path), and that is the Sharee’ah of Allah (the Most High) which comprises His Book, the Sunnah of His Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and the actions of the Sahābah (radiyallahu ‘anhum). Allah (the Most High) alluded to this in His saying:

وَأَنَّ هَٰذَا صِرَاطِي مُسْتَقِيمًا فَاتَّبِعُوهُ ۖ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا السُّبُلَ فَتَفَرَّقَ بِكُمْ عَن سَبِيلِهِ

“And verily this is My Straight Path, so follow it, and follow not other paths, for they will separate you away from His Path.” (Surah al-An’ām 6:153)

So Allah mentioned His path as being one and straight. This is also stated in the hadeeth of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) reported by ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’oud (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) where he said, “The Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) drew for us a line saying, ’This is the Path of Allah.’ Then he drew lines to the left and right of this line, and he said, ‘These are the paths of divergence, at the head of every one of these paths there is a devil calling to it.’” So the path of Allah is one (the Sirātul-Mustaqeem), and the paths of the devil and his army are many. Allah has clarified to us by way of the revelation of the Qur’ān and the Sunnah, what that Straight Path is.

Furthermore, Allah has praised the people of Istiqāmah (those who are firm and steadfast upon the Sirātul-Mustaqeem), and promised them a tremendous reward:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا رَبُّنَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ اسْتَقَامُوا تَتَنَزَّلُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ أَلَّا تَخَافُوا وَلَا تَحْزَنُوا وَأَبْشِرُوا بِالْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي كُنتُمْ تُوعَدُونَ

Verily those who say: ”Our Lord is Allah (Alone),” and then they stand firm, on them the angels will descend at the time of their death saying: “Fear not, nor grieve! But receive the glad tidings of Paradise which you have been promised!” (Surah Fussilat 41:30)

These angels will say to them at the point of death:

نَحْنُ أَوْلِيَاؤُكُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ ۖ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَشْتَهِي أَنفُسُكُمْ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَدَّعُونَ

“We have been your friends in the life of this world and are so in the Hereafter. Therein you shall have all that your inner-selves desire, and therein you shall have all for which you ask.” (Fussilat 41:31)

So when a person is upon the straight path, then at the time of his/her death, the angels who come to take the soul, will come with glad tidings. It is true that death is not easy because the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said; ”Lā ilāha illallāh! Indeed death has agonies!” There is pain at the time of death, but when the soul is about to be taken out the believers who were upon istiqāma, those who truly followed the example of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam), then the angels take their souls with ease and give them glad tidings of Jannah. This is the end of the life of a believer.

Thereafter, Allah (the Most High) said:

نُزُلًا مِّنْ غَفُورٍ رَّحِيمٍ

“An entertainment from Allah, the Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Fussilat 41:32)

Clinging to the Sirātul-Mustaqeem and warning against following the deviated paths

Allah the Most High likewise warned His Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam), and the Ummah to whom he was sent, all of mankind and jinn, with the following:

ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَىٰ شَرِيعَةٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ فَاتَّبِعْهَا وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ. إِنَّهُمْ لَن يُغْنُوا عَنكَ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا ۚ وَإِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۖ وَاللَّهُ وَلِيُّ الْمُتَّقِين

“Then We have placed you O Prophet on a plain way of Our commandment. So follow that, and follow not the desires of those who know not. Verily, they can avail you nothing against Allah. The wrongdoers are protectors of one another, but Allah is the Helper and Protector of the pious and obedient believers.” (Surah al-Jāthiyah 45:18-19)

In these verses, Allah (the Most High) warns us, encourages us, clarifies to us and explains to us repeatedly that we must follow the guidance which is the Straight Path. So, this Ayah commands the believers to follow the Sharee’ah and warns against following other than that from those who call to other than the Straight Path. He also informs us that those who hold fast to the religion, to the Book and Sunnah, the Sharee’ah, those who are steadfast upon it, then they are the Awliyā of Allah, the friends and allies of Allah. As for those who follow other than that path, then they are nothing but allies and helpers of each other. They have no share in the friendship of Allah or the aid of Allah (the Most High). If you want to be amongst the allies of Allah, then that necessitates holding fast to the Book of Allah and acting upon it, clinging to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and acting upon that too, because the Sunnah is the explanation of the Book of Allah, as is shown by the saying of Allah:

وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ

“And We have also sent down to you the Dhikr, that you may explain clearly to men what is sent down to them.” (Surah an-Nahl 16:44).

So the Sunnah clarifies and explains the Book of Allah.

To be counted among the allies of Allah necessitates clinging to that which the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and to what his companions after him were upon. Allah the Most High stated:

فَاسْتَمْسِكْ بِالَّذِي أُوحِيَ إِلَيْكَ ۖ إِنَّكَ عَلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ

“So hold fast to that which is revealed to you. Verily you are on a Straight Path.”(Surah az-Zukhruf 43:43)

Is there any path comparable to this Straight Path? In our times we see Muslims looking around to find a path to follow: and most Muslims, unfortunately, follow their desires, whereas, in this noble Ayah, Allah is commanding the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) to cling to the revelation.

Similarly, in the Hadeeth of iftirāq (splitting), the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) warned the Ummah of the destruction that befell the people who came before us. He said: “The Jews split up into seventy-one sects, the Christians split up into seventy-two sects, and this Ummah will divide into seventy-three sects. All of them in the hellfire except one.” The Sahābah asked, “Who are the one sect, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied, ”Those who are upon that which I and my companions are upon.” (Saheeh, reported by Imām Ahmad in his Musnad, Ibn Mājah in Kitābul Fitan, Abu Dāwud in Kitābus Sunnah, at-Tirmidhi in Kitābul Imān, and others).

This Hadeeth explains the Hadeeth mentioned previously  when the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) drew the line in the sand and said, “This Allah’s Straight Path.” i.e. that the Straight Path of Allah is, ”Those who are upon that which I and my companions are upon.”

Shaikh Ahmad An-Najmi (rahimahullāh) explained that salvation is for those who traverse this path, those believers who are upon the Book of Allah, upon the Sunnah of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and upon the Methodology of the Companions (radiAllāhu ‘anhum). Those who are upon the path of Ahlul-Athar (the People of Narrations), and they are none other than Ahlul Hadeeth (the People of Hadeeth). That is because the truth is not known from falsehood, nor is an error known from that which is correct, except by way of the Hadeeth. Likewise, the actions of the Sahābah (radiyallahu ‘anhum) are not known except through the Hadeeth. Therefore Ahlul Hadeeth (the People of Hadeeth) are the ones who are steadfast and upright upon the Truth, even when the people around them go astray. They hold fast to the Truth, even if the people abandon it – and this is why Imām Ahmad (rahimahullah) said, “If the People of Hadeeth are not the Awliyā (friends and allies) of Allah, then I do not know who they are.”

When the scholars are taken away, the ignorant ones will be taken as leaders

When the People of Hadeeth who are the guardians of the Earth, are taken from it through death, then the people will take the ignorant ones as their leaders. These ignorant, misguided ones will give fatāwa without knowledge, so they are misguided and they misguide others. Sheikh Ahmad An-Najmi alludes to the Hadeeth of ‘Abdullah bin Amr ibn Al-’Ās (radiyallahu ‘anhumā) who narrated that he heard the Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) say: ”Indeed Allah (the Most High) does not take away knowledge by stripping it from the people, rather Allah takes away knowledge by the death of the scholars such that there does not remain a true scholar upon the Earth. And the people will take the ignorant ones as their leaders. They will go to them asking questions, so they will give fatāwa, leading themselves astray, and leading the people astray.” (Al-Bukhāri and Muslim). Allāhul-musta’ān (Allah’s aid is sought)!

So when Allah’s appointed guardians of the world die, then the gateway opens up for the people of misguidance. They want to snatch away the youth and put them on the pathways of misguidance, innovation, sin and transgression – even leading them to apostasy. This is why we treasure the Scholars of Hadeeth, our ‘Ulamā, the inheritors of the Prophets – and this is why we do not permit our scholars to be reviled. They are the ones who protect the people from going astray, with Allah’s permission.

Cultivating ourselves and our children upon seeking knowledge of the Sirātul Mustaqeem, and clinging to it

It is vital that we cultivate our youth upon seeking knowledge from the correct sources, that we bring them to the duroos in the masājid where the deen is taught upon the correct methodology. We must not leave them to the streets to be corrupted. That would be destroying our children with our own hands. We must guard our children more than we would guard our wealth. We should bring them to the circles of knowledge so that they can be guided and shown guidance, and we should constantly make du’ā that Allah turns their hearts to the Truth. We must show them who their real role models are: the Prophets, the Messengers, the Sahābah, the People of Sunnah, Ahlul Hadeeth; those brave ones of the Ummah who would not commit shirk even when they were cut to pieces. The likes of Imām Ahmad and those who came before him; the Prophets who were killed in the path of Allah and the righteous ones who upheld the banner of Islām.

Upon the students of knowledge is to take the path of the people of Hadeeth, so that you may comprehend this religion correctly so that you can learn the correct belief regarding Allah, and there nothing is more beloved than that. We must remain upon the correct belief and methodology until we die, without deviating from it, for indeed to deviate from it, leads to ruin. We must ask Allah continually to keep us upon guidance and the Straight Path. In fact, we ask for this in every rak’āh of our prayer.

Suratul Fātiha: Asking Allah to guide us to the Sirātul-Mustaqeem

Allah has obligated upon the tongue of his Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) the recitation of Suratul-Fātihah in every rak’āh of the prayer and Allah (the Most High) made it a condition for the correctness and validity of the prayer. If you do not ask Allah for guidance in the prayer by reciting Suratul-Fātihah, then Allah will not accept your prayer. So, Allah is commanding us with something that benefits us – He is commanding us to ask Him for guidance:

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ (1) الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ (2) الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ (3) مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ (4) إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ (5) اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ (6) صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ (7)

“In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. All Praise and thanks are Allah’s, the Lord of all creation. The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. The Sole Owner of the Day of Recompense. You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help. Guide us to the Straight Path. The Path of those on whom You have bestowed your Grace, not of those who earned Your Anger, nor of those who went astray.” (Suratul-Fātihah: 1-7)

 Suratul Fātihah  encompasses the following:

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

’All praise is due to Allah Lord of all creation.’ Here we begin by praising and extolling Allah with the rightful praise that is due to Him.

الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Then we describe Allah (the Most High) with the Attribute of all-encompassing mercy, and also specific mercy. Allah’s all-encompassing mercy (indicated by the name Ar-Rahmān) includes everyone: Muslim, non-Muslim, munāfiq, idol-worshipper. They all receive the all-encompassing mercy of Allah. They are all given water to drink, air to breathe as a mercy from Allah, despite their shirk and sins. But the name Ar-Raheem indicates Allah’s specific Mercy with which He singles out His believing servants.

مَالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ

Allah (the Most High) is described with dominion and ownership, which is not shared with anyone besides Him. He is the Owner of the Day of Recompense and Judgement. On that Day no one will have ownership except Allah (the Most High). Allah grants ownership to His slaves in this world to a certain extent – they may own property, gold, silver or land, but all of this is restricted because the true ownership is with Allah. Allah (the Most High) stated:

 وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا يَوْمُ الدِّينِ . ثُمَّ مَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا يَوْمُ الدِّينِ  .يَوْمَ لَا تَمْلِكُ نَفْسٌ لِّنَفْسٍ شَيْئًا ۖ وَالْأَمْرُ يَوْمَئِذٍ لِّلَّهِ

“And what will make you know what the Day of Recompense is? Again, what will make you know what the Day of Recompense is? It will be the Day when no person shall have the power to do anything for another, and the Decision that Day will be wholly with Allah.” (Surah al-Infitār, 82: 17-19)

That is the Day of Recompense that Allah owns, and only His decision is taken on that Day. Likewise, Allah (the Most High) has said:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمْ وَاخْشَوْا يَوْمًا لَّا يَجْزِي وَالِدٌ عَن وَلَدِهِ وَلَا مَوْلُودٌ هُوَ جَازٍ عَن وَالِدِهِ شَيْئًا ۚ

“O mankind! Be afraid of your Lord and fear a Day when no father can avail anything for his son, nor a son avail anything for his father.” (Surah Luqmān, 31:33) The day will come when we will have no power. A father will not be able to help his son on that Day, and vice versa.

إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ

You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help.” This part of the Surah contains the affirmation that all worship is for Allah, to the exclusion of everything besides Him, and that we seek only His help.

These previous Āyāt are all a build-up and an introduction to the next ayah; they are a cause for what is to come to be answered:

اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ

“Guide us to the Straight Path.” So after praising and extolling Allah and showing our humility before Him, we then supplicate to Him to guide us to the Straight Path.

صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ

“The Path of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not of those who earned Your Anger, nor of those who went astray.” In this Surah, Allah (the Most High) has gathered all goodness, and it was for this reason that Allah commanded that it be recited in every rak’ah of the Prayer. The Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) informed us that there is no prayer for the one who does not recite it, as occurs in the Hadeeth of ‘Ubādah bin Sāmit, that the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said: ”There is no prayer for the one who does not recite Fātihatul Kitāb (the opening chapter of the Book).” (Al-Bukhāri and Muslim)

Knowledge of the Sirātul-Mustaqeem

Sheikh Ahmad An-Najmi (rahimahullah) continues: Thereafter there is an affair that is incumbent upon us to pay attention to and that is that to have knowledge of the Sirātul Mustaqeem – and to be properly acquainted with it.

We are required to understand the Book of Allah with its Tafseer (explanation) by way of the Sunnah and the Āthār (narrations): the sayings and actions of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and his companions after him. Allah the (Most High) states:

 وَمَا كَانَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لِيَنفِرُوا كَافَّةً ۚ فَلَوْلَا نَفَرَ مِن كُلِّ فِرْقَةٍ مِّنْهُمْ طَائِفَةٌ لِّيَتَفَقَّهُوا فِي الدِّينِ وَلِيُنذِرُوا قَوْمَهُمْ إِذَا رَجَعُوا إِلَيْهِمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَحْذَرُونَ

“And it is not for the believers to go out to fight altogether. Of every troop of them, a party only should go forth, that they (who are left behind) may learn the religion, and that they may warn their people when they return to them, so that they may be aware of evil.” (Surah at-Taubah 9:122)

So, in this āyah, Allah mentions the obligation of a group of believers learning the deen, teaching others and warning them from evil. Therefore, it is a must to have knowledge of the Sirātul Mustaqeem by understanding the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam), and the Seerah (biography) of the Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam). Also studying the way of the rightly guided Caliphs, and the scholars upon guidance who came after them. This Straight Path is not known except through the ahādeeth. It is by way of the Hadeeth that one obtains Fiqh (understanding) of the Deen and knowledge of the rulings of the Sharee’ah. And by studying the narrations we learn about the actions of the Sahābah and their ‘Aqeedah, as well as the methodology of the Salaf, the Imāms of guidance. The carriers of Hadeeth are the people of correct ‘Aqeedah and correct Belief. Upon us is to cling to that, and expend every effort in learning it and becoming acquainted with it. Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) stated in a Hadeeth reported by Mu’āwiyah (radiAllahu ‘anhu) and others: ”Whoever Allah wants good for, He gives him the understanding of the religion,” (Al-Bukhāri, Muslim and others).

So the one to whom Allah gives understanding of the Deen, then it is hoped that Allah wanted good for him. Such are the ones who have comprehended the call which the chosen Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) called to in his saying, “May Allah illuminate (or make radiant) the face of the one who hears my words, comprehends them and then conveys them to the one who has not heard them” (Imām Ahmad in his Musnad, Ibn Hibbān and others, and declared Saheeh by Sheikh Al-Albāni). Within this Hadeeth is a duā of the Prophet to Allah (the Most High) to make the face of such a person radiant and illuminated.

There is another Hadeeth of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) narrated by Abu Hurairah (radiyallahu ‘anhu) where he said, “There is not a group of people who gather in a house from the houses of Allah (i.e. the masājid) and they recite His Book and study it among themselves, except that tranquillity descends upon them, mercy envelops them, the angels surround them, and Allah makes mention of them to those who are with Him.” Here Allah the (Most High) makes mention of the believers, Ahlus-Sunnah, Ahlul-Hadīth, the Salafis, those who have the correct and sound ‘Aqeedah. He mentions them with praise and extols them in the company of His angels, so we ask Allah (the Most High) to make us amongst them. This is for you, O student of knowledge! In it is an encouragement for you to follow the Tareeqatul-Haqq (the Path of Truth) – and I hope that you will follow it and not ever oppose it, and with Allah lies guidance and success.

The next article is the start of the book entitled: Imām Ahmad b. Hanbal’s, Usūl As-Sunnah: “Holding fast to what the Companions of Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wassallam) were upon.” Explanation of Ahmad An-Najmee (Part 1).

والحمد لله رب العالمين و صلى الله على نبينا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه أجمعين

End.

This article was transcribed by Umm Maryam (may Allah reward her) from the classes of Abu Khadeejah (SalafiSounds.com). Please share it with others.