The Obligation of Following The Path of the Pious Salaf

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عبد الواحد الصقلي

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The article in Arabic

Definition of (As-Salaf) :

Its Lexical Meaning:

Ibn Faris (d. 395 H.) states: "The (letter) Sin, the (letter) Lam, and (letter) Fa (together), is a root which indicates precedence and antecedence. A derivation of this root is "as-salaf" which means those who have passed on. (1) And the Salaf ...are the predecessors.(2)

Who are the Pious Salaf ?

Scholars differed about those who are called “As-Salaf As-Saleh” (The Pious Predecessors), while agreeing that the Sahabah * –may Allah be pleased with them - are the first of the Salaf and the best and most pious of them.

And we, in this website go by the opinion of the ones who say that the pious Salaf are the first three generations, because of the testimony of the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, in which he said: ”The best of my Ummah is my generation (Qarni), then those who follow them, then those who follow them.“ [Bukhari and Muslim] And “Qarn” (the word used in the hadith, translated to “generation”) is used for a certain amount of time, and scholars differed in specifying it, some said: It is fourty years. Others said: It is eighty years. And others said: It is 100 years, and there are more opinions on this. (3)

And the most correct opinion is that it is one hundred years, for it has been mentioned in the hadith of Abdullah bin Bisr Al-Mazini – May Allah be please with him- , that the Propeht -Sallallaahu Alayhi Wa Sallam - said to him: ”You will reach a Qarn.“ (4), and Al-Mazini died at 100 years old, as Imam Al-Bukhari said in His “Tarikh al-Awsat (al-Saghir)”, and he was the last of the Sahabah to die in Al-Sham. (5)

The obligation of following their path:

The proof from the Qur’an and the Sunnah:

1. The Qur’an has made obligatory the following of the Sahabah - may Allah be pleased with them- and adhering to their way, and threatened those who oppose their way with a painful punishment, Allah Ta’ala says –translation of the meaning-: {And whoever opposes the Messenger after guidance has become clear to him and follows other than the way of the believers – We will give him what he has taken and drive him into Hell, and evil it is as a destination} [4:115] And were there any believers when this verse was revealed other than them?

2. Allah Ta’ala said –translation of the meaning-: {So if they believe in the same as you believe in, then they have been (rightly) guided; but if they turn away, they are only in dissension, and Allah will be sufficient for you against them. And He is All-hearing, All-Knowing.} [2:137] This is a clear proof that what the Sahabah -may Allah be pleased with them- were upon is guidance and the truth, so whoever follows it then he will be upon guidance and upon the straight path. For it is the Sahabah who are the ones referred to in the verse firstly, then those who came after them who took their path and followed them.

3. And the saying of Allah Ta’ala –translation of the meaning-: {Say, This is my way; I invite to Allah with sure knowledge, I and those who follow me. And exalted is Allah; and I am not of those who associate others with Him.} [12:108] And the Sahabah - may Allah be pleased with them- were the first followers of the Prophet -Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam -, so they are upon the path of the Prophet --Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam - inviting to Allah with sure knowledge and certainty.

4. Allah’s praising of them and him being pleased with them. Allah Ta’ala says –translation of the meaning-: {Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; and those with him are forceful against the disbelievers, merciful among themselves. You see them bowing and prostrating [in prayer], seeking bounty from Allah and (His) pleasure. Their mark is on their faces from the trace of prostration.} [48:29]

And the saying of Allah Ta’ala –translation of the meaning-: {And the first forerunners (in the faith) among the Muhajireen and the Ansar and those who followed them with good conduct – Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him, and He has prepared for them gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. That is the great attainment.} [9:100]

And the saying of Allah Ta’ala –translation of the meaning-: {But Allah sent down His tranquility upon His Messenger and upon the believers and made them stick to the word of piety (i.e. La Ilaha illa Allah), and they were more deserving of it and worthy of it. And ever is Allah, of all things, Knowing.} [48:26]

5. The testifying of their righteousness by the Messenger -Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam -, in which he said: ”The best of my ummah is my generation, then those who follow them, then those who follow them.“

These ayat and hadiths are proof that the Pious Salaf were upon guidance and goodness, and that they are worthy of being taken as an example, and be followed.

6. Another evidence is that the Sahabah are the only generation that didn’t have any innovators. Innovations started to appear amongst the next generation, close to the end of their time. In the hadith narrated by Al-Khudri –may Allah be pleased with him- describing the Khawarij (6) it says: ”In this Ummah there will appear …“ (7), he didn’t say "From this Ummah”, because none of the Khawarij were from the Sahabah –may Allah be please with them-, but they appeared during their time, that is why the hadith says ”In this Ummah“, meaning during their time. This is the reason why the scholars, when wanting to define what is bidah, said: «It is what was innovated that is opposing to the Quran or Sunnah, or Athar (statements of the Sahabah and Tabi`een (8) ) or consensus, that is the bidah that is misguidance.»

7. Differences and division has increased between the Muslims after the time of the Pious Salaf –may Allah be pleased with them-, and every group interprets the texts of the Quran and Sunnah according to its own understanding, thus you find them differing in some of their beliefs, many of them being contradicting, and every group claims that their understanding is the Truth, so whom do we follow? Who is upon the Truth? The answer is in the saying of the Prophet -Sallallaahu Alayhi Wa Sallam -: ”For indeed, those who will still be alive after me will see many differences; so hold fast to my Sunnah, and to the sunnah of the rightly guided Khalifahs after me, Adhere to and cling tightly to it and beware of newly-invented matters, for every newly-invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is deviation.“ (9)

Also, his saying: ”The Jews split up into seventy-one sects, the Christians split up into seventy-two sects, and this ummah (Muslims) will split up into seventy-three sects; all of them are in the Fire except one." Someone asked: "which is that one O Messenger of Allah?". He replied: "Whoever is upon that which I am upon and my companions.“ (10)

These are clear evidences that the Truth is in following the way and understanding of the Sahabah – may Allah be pleased with them-, and who followed their path.

Evidences by reason:

1. The Sahabah –may Allah be pleased with them- never differed in the fundamental matters of belief. Examples are: Their consensus in affirming Allah’s Attributes; their consensus in accepting the Sunnah, and following from it what has been proven authentic, and not rejecting any of it; there consensus in not calling a person, who falls into major sin, a disbeliever (kafir) ... etc.

2. They new the reality of Jahiliya (Age of ignorance, the period preceeding Islam) that Islam came to remove, because some of them lived it, and others new about it through their families and relatives who lived it or witnessed the people who lived it; so when Islam came, they distinguished between them.

3. They received the teachings of Islam pure, they didn’t mix it with foreign cultures, or corrupted religions, or the science of kalam … etc.

4. They received the Quran fresh, when it was descended to the heart of Prophet Muhammad –Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam-, and they witnessed the incidents that were the cause of the coming down of many of the ayat and surahs. And they interacted with it, and understood it correctly.

5. They heard from the Prophet –Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam- directly, so most of what they transmitted they heard from him directly, they understood its purpose and its course.

6. The Tabi`een and their successors are the closest generations to the Prophet –Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam- , and the Tabi`een lived with the Sahabah –may Allah be pleased with them-, and took their knowledge from them. Also, bidah during their time was less than the bidah during the generations after them.

Some statements by the Sahabah, the Pious Salaf, and the Scholars who came after them, on adhering to what the Sahabah –may Allah be pleased with them- were upon, and what the Pious Salaf, as a whole, were upon.

1. Ibn Mas`ood (Sahabi) –radiyallahu anhu- said: «Follow and do not innovate, for indeed you have been sufficed.» (11)

2. Al Hasan al Basri (110 H.) was in a gathering when he mentioned the companions of Muhammad -Sallallaahu Alayhi Wa Sallam -. He then remarked: «They possessed the most pious hearts of this ummah, were the most profound in knowledge and the least constraint. A people, whom Allah chose for the companionship of His Prophet -Sallallaahu Alayhi Wa Sallam -, so emulate their character and way, for by the Lord of the Ka'bah, they are upon the straight path.» (12)

3. Al-Awza`i (d. 157 H.) said: «Patiently restrict yourself upon the Sunnah, stop where the people (i.e. the companions) stopped, say what they say and refrain from that which they refrained. Traverse upon the path of your Salaf as-Salih (Righteous Predecessors), for indeed what was sufficient for them is sufficient for you.» (13)

He also said: «Hold fast to the athar (narrations) of the Salaf, even if people abandon you. Beware of the opinions of men, no matter how much they beautify it with their speech, for indeed the matter will become manifest whilst you will be upon the correct straight path concerning it.» (14)

4. Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 241 H.) said: «Allah –Jal Thana`uhu wa Taqaddasta Asma`uh- sent Muhammad His Messenger –Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam- {with guidance and the religion of truth, to make it superior over all religions even though the Mushrikûn (i.e. polytheists) hate (it)} [9:33] and sent down to him His Book the guidance and light for whomever follows it, and made His messenger –Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam- the director to the meaning of what He intended, its apparent and hidden, its general and specific, its abrogater and abrogated, and the aim of the book. Thus the Prophet –Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam- is the expresser of Allah’s Book., the guide to its meaning, his companions are the witnesses of that, whom Allah choose for His Prophet, and they transmitted that from him, so they were the most knowledgable people of the Messenger of Allah –Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam-, and of what he informed of the meaning of what Allah intended from that, by witnessing what the Book aimed to, so they were the expressers of that after the Messenger of Allah –Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam-.» (15)

5. Abdullah Ibn Abi Zayd al Qairawani (d. 386 H.) said in his famous "Risalah": "Salvation lies in seeking protection in the Book of Allah Almighty and the Sunna of His Prophet and following the path of the believers and that of the best of generations of the best community produced for mankind. Reliance on that is protection. Salvation lies in following the righteous Salaf."

6. Abu Al-Qasim Al-Lalikai (d. 418 H.) said in the introduction of his book “Sharh Usool I`tiqad Ahl-Assunnah Wal-Jama`ah”, when speaking about understanding Tawheed and Allah’s Attributes: “From the greatests of statements, and the clearest of proofs and reasoning, is Allah’s Book, the clear truth, then the saying of the Messenger of Allah –Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam- and his pious companions, then what was agreed upon by the Righteous Salaf, then holding on to it until the day of judgement, and avoiding innovations and listening to it from what was innovated by the misguided.”

7. Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani (d. 852 H.) said: ”The happy one is the one who sticks to what the Salaf were upon, and avoids what was innovated by the Khalaf.(16)”. (17)

8. Ahmad bin Abder-Rahim Ad-Dehlwi (d. 1176 H.), known as Shah Waliullah, said in his book “Al-Hujjah Al-Baligha”: "And the religion was established by transmition and inheritance, and there is no inheritance except by glorifying the ones who witnessed the places of revelation, and knew its interpretations, and witnessed the life of the Prophet –Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam-." (18)

( * ) Companions of the Prophet -Sallallaahu Alayhi Wa Sallam-
(1) Maqayis Al-Lugha by Ibn Faris, the root: Salaf.
(2) Lisan Al-Arab by Ibn Mandhur, the root: Salaf.
(3) See the explanation of the hadith in Fath Al-Bari by Ibn Hajar, and Sharh Sahih Muslim by An-Nawawi.
(4) Musnad Ahmad (29/235), the hadith is hasan, by the grading of shaikh Shuaib Al-Arnaut.
(5) The Sham consists of the following countries: Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon
(6) A deviant sect, one of its deviant beliefs is that all major sins constitute kufr, which is contrary to the belief of Ahl As-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah.
(7) Sahih Muslim.
(8) Tabi`een are the generation after the Sahabah –may Allah be pleased with them-, they are their students and successors.
(9) Narrated by several scholars including At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud in their Sunan. At-Tirmidhi said: Hadith hasan sahih.
(10) Sunan Tirmidhi and others, and he declared it hasan. Al-Iraqi said in “Takhrij Al-Ihya”: Its chains are good.
(11) Kitab Az-Zuhd by Waki` bin al Jarrah, chapter: Man Qala Al-Bala` Muwakkalun bil-Qawl.
(12) As-Shari`ah by Al-Ajurri, chapter: The virtue of all of the Companions –may Allah be pleased with them.
(13) Sharh Usool I`tiqad Ahl-Assunnah wal-Jama’ah by Lalikai (1/154)
(14) Sharaf Ashab Al-Hadeeth by Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi; and Al-Madkhal Ila As-Sunan by Al-Baihaqi.
(15) Tabaqat Al-Hanabila by Ibn Abi Ya`la (3/122)
(16) Khalaf: The ones who came after the time of the pious Salaf, the successors..
(17) Fath Al-Bari by Ibn Hajar (13/267)
(18) Hujjat Allah al-Baligha by Ahmad bin Abder-Rahim Dehlwi. (2/333)
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