By Kamillah Khan
Recently Allah once again revived His religion bringing to surface the pure teachings of Islam. This revival of Islam, from time to time, is His Sunna and a promise from Him, and our Lord The All Perfect Most Magnificent does not err nor forget. Free and far removed is He from all imperfections. So shirk was fought with the true understandings of tawheed; fabricated ahaadeeth were separated from the authentic texts; innovations were crushed by the sunna; blind following was shook with the might of evidence based thinking; and in all summation falsehood met with the strength and power of truth. Anyone who earnestly studies the last few decades will know that many facets and principles of our religion were revived. Through this revival different schools of thought were examined, deviant ideologies were exposed and wayward philosophies refuted. Errors in belief were explained, mistakes in writings were identified, and popular arguments were utterly defeated. The momentum increased and writings flourished with a return to the Quran and Sunna as understood by the companions and early generations of Islam.
However after the death of the main scholars who revived this call, differing and divisions again increased to the extent that even some groups who claimed to be upon this methodology of reviving early Islam, themselves developed harsh attitudes and extremism. Rectification of the conditions of the people was sought without Hikmah and Baseerah. Boycotting became popular to the point that sisters wearing Niqaab would not say Salaam to sisters wearing Hijaab. Sisters who previously studied in colleges and universities were looked down upon. Refutations flourished without offering the prescribed patience. The people of innovation were mocked and shunned to the point that clarifying the truth no longer became an agenda. And people displaying a few innovated thoughts or practices were shunned and labelled as Ahlul Bida’ without proof being established against them. Tragically this harshness has had a severe effect on the Ummah and prevented much good, and to Allah we complain. Here goodness was bestowed to this Ummah, and instead of beautifying the truth with gentleness, patience, and wisdom, it was hammered down with the full force of shidah and ghildah.
Despite this the truth does not change nor are the actions of a few individuals or groups an excuse for us to abandon the teachings of Islam. And there continues to remain scholars and students of knowledge who are reviving the teachings of old and translating the preserved writings. And the essence of the call is to understand the Quran and Sunna as the companions understood it and the early generations lived it. There is nothing wrong with this call. Rather all other calls are calls of misguidance and a leading astray. So we cannot justify severing ourselves from the Jamaa’ah of the believers from amongst the early generations of Islam for they were united under the true banner of Islam, holding the rope of Allah, and traversing the path of the believers. Instead we need to seek knowledge with an open mind and heart and return to the evidences, seeking clarification in these troubled times. This is just and this is the Mezaan.
With this background let us return to the evidences which clarify the meaning of the term Salaf-us Saaleh. Many of us may be confused by this term due to our troubled times but speculation is no substitute for the truth. Inshaa Allah let us return to the truth, removing any biases and misconceptions, and bringing clarity to light.
So when they angered Us We punished them and drowned them all. And We made them a Salaf and an example for the Aakhireen. (Qur’aan 43:55-56)
From the language the word Salaf simply means ‘those who preceded’ or ‘that which preceded.’ In the above verse Allah describes Pharaoh and his army as a Salaf, describing them as a precedent for those who came later. And the use of the word Aakhireen (those who came later) highlights the fact that those punished and drowned were from a preceding nation and past generation.
Eat and drink at ease for that which Aslaftum (you did previously) in the days past (Qur’aan 69:24)
In the above verse the word Aslaftum describes the past good deeds of the believers. Here again the word is used in context to that which has preceded.
Imraan bin Husain narrated that the messenger of Allah said, ‘The best of my Ummah are those in my generation, then those after them, and then those after them.’ (saheeh of bukhaari)
However in Sharee’ah the word Salaf refers to the first three generations of Islam defined by the above hadeeth and numerous others like it. The believers who preceded us from amongst the first three generations are collectively known as Salaf-us Saleeh, or the pious predecessors. Although many of us may be familiar with the above hadeeth, our hearts might have hardened due to the hesitation of following those who routinely promote such ahaadeeth. However we should realise the above hadeeth of our Prophet is authentic, narrated by Imraan bin Husain and recorded in the saheeh of Bukhaari. So the words of our Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) take precedence over any biases we may have.
Abdullah(may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘The best amongst mankind are those in my generation, then those after them, and then those after them. Then people will come whose witness will precede their oaths, and their oaths will precede their witness.’ (saheeh of bukhaari)
The ahaadeeth clarify that the general praise is restricted to only the first three generations. Thereafter no generation received a general praise through the lips of our Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him). In fact he mentioned blameworthy characteristics which would subsequently appear and spread. So the sharee’ah definition of the Salaf-us Saaleh is restricted to the first three generations.
So If they believe in the like of that which you believe, then they are guided. But if they turn way then they are only in opposition. (Quran 2:137)
The Aqeedah of Islam is one. True Creed and belief can only be one. This reality is inherently known to us and part of the Fitrah with which Allah created us. And in the above verse Allah equates guidance with believing the way our Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) believed. Our Prophets'(peace and blessings be upon him) Aqeedah was one, and those who followed him aligned their beliefs with his, abandoning all conflicting beliefs. The companions were the most knowledgeable in understanding the creed of Islam, and they preserved this creed teaching it to their students from amongst their children, freed slaves and general body of Muslims. The next generation received the pure creed in pristine form and they in turn conveyed it to the next generation. And these generations of Muslims did not differ in their understanding, rather the Aqeedah remained one, and they were the best of Muslims. For this reason we obviously need to seek the creed of the early generations and read the work of the earlier scholars. Deviating from their creed is a clear and open deviation from Islam. We ask ourselves what was the beliefs of the companions? What was the creed of Abu Bakr as Siddeeq, Umar ibnal Khattaab, Uthmaan bin Affaan, Alee bin Abee Talhah, Talhah bin Ubaydullah, Zubair bin Awwaam, Sa’d bin Abee Waqqaas, Abdur Rahmaan bin Awf, Zaid bin Thaabit, Abdullah bin Umar? And what was the creed of their children? With what beliefs did their fathers nurture them? What was the creed of Eesa bin Talhah bin Ubaydullah, Urwah bin Zubair bin Awwaam, Aamir bin Sa’d bin Abee Waqqaas, Humaid bin Abdur Rahmaan bin Awf, Khaarijah bin Zaid bin Thaabit, Saalim bin Abdullah bin Umar? What was the creed of the freed slaves of the companions who remained close and loyal to them? What was the creed of Naafi freed slave of Abdullah bin Umar or Humraan freed slave of Uthmaan bin Affaan?
And this methodology of passing on knowledge from heart to heart remained secure and free from corruption during the time of the Salaf. Again we ask ourselves what was the creed of those who studied under the students of the companions? What was the Aqeedah of Muhammad ibn Shihaab Az Zuhree, Ishaaq bin Abdullah bin Abee Talhah, Hishaam bin Urwah, Abu Az Zinaad, Yahya bin Sa'eed? What was the creed of those who followed like Sufyaan Ath Thawree, Fudayl Bin Iyyaad, Maalik bin Anas, Sufyaan ibn Uyaynah, Awzaa’ee, Layth bin Sa’d? And what was the creed of the four Imaams who are known for their schools of Fiqh? For all those who research truthfully and leave aside all biases, they will most surely find that the Aqeedah of the Salaf was one. So when we return to the creed of the Salaf ‘collectively’ we return to Aqeedat-ul Islam. And all those who feel repulsed by the word Salaf, then know, may Allah have mercy on you, that your repulsion is only to the companions, their students, and the students of their students.
There are many books which explain the Aqeedah of the Salaf. Abu Ja'far Ahmad bin Muhammad At-Tahaawee (died 321 AH) is famous for his book Aqeedatul Tahaaweyah which contains the Aqeedah of the Salaf in point form. He refers to the Salaf when he mentions the Jamaa'ah and the Ijmaa' Al Ummah. But more importantly his statements coincided with the statements and creed of the Salaf. And subsequent books of the authentic Aqeedah followed this same methodology and description. Abul Qaasim Hibatullaah Ibn al-Hasan Al-Laalikaa'ee (died 418 AH) is famous for his book Sharh Usool Itiqaad Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaa'ah. Sadly, this book has not been translated into English, except for a few points here and there. It is a vast collection of the sayings of the Salaf regarding issues of Aqeedah together with the chains of narration. We should understand that the use of the word Salaf and the explanation of the Aqeedah of the Salaf was addressed by earlier scholars whose works are accepted by the masses. They were all referring back to the glorious time of the Salaf. Some scholars would even name their books 'Aqeedat As Salaf' such as Abu Ismaa'eel Saboonee's (died 449 AH) book on the Aqeedah of Islam. Nobody would accuse them of starting a new movement. Rather it was understood that they were striving to revive the pure Islam of old.
Ibn Abbaas (may Allah be pleased with him)narrated that the Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘You will hear from me, and it will be heard from you, and then it will be heard from those who hear from you.’ (sunan of abu dawood/declared saheeh by albaani)
We should also be aware that the Salaf were the ones who transmitted the Sunna of our Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him), transmitting his statements and observed actions down a chain of narration, carried in the hearts of trustworthy men. Our Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) described this phenomenon which is known as the Isnaad. In the above hadeeth, our Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) again mentions the first three generations, describing how they would preserve hadeeth by hearing from one another, passing on knowledge from heart to heart.
Az Zuhree--Aamir bin Sa’d bin Abee Waqqaas---Sa’d bin Abee Waqqaas---Prophet
In this Isnaad Muhammad ibn Shihaab Az Zuhree, the Imaam of Maddenah, is hearing hadeeth from Aamir, the son of Sa’d bin Abee Waqqaas, who is narrating what he heard from his father Sa’d, who in turn is narrating what he heard from the Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him). This is the Salaf.
Hishaam bin Urwah---Urwah bin Zubair---Aa'eyshah---Prophet
In this Isnaad Hishaam the son of Urwah bin Zubair and grandson of the companion Zubair bin Awwaam is hearing hadeeth from his father Urwah bin Zubair who in turn is hearing hadeeth from his aunt, the mother of the believers Aa'eyshah, who is narrating what the Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) said. This is the Salaf.
Abu Az Zinaad---Al Araj---Abu Hurairah---Prophet
In this Isnaad Abu Az Zinaad, a famous scholar of Madeenah and one of the teachers of Maalik, is hearing hadeeth from Al Araj the close student of Abu Hurairah, who in turn is narrating hadeth from his teacher Abu Hurairah, who is narrating what the Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) said. This is the Salaf
Without the Salaf, there is no chain of narration, and without a chain of narration there is no hadeeth of our Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him). Those who abandon the Salaf must out of necessity abandon all the ahaadeeth of the Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) and turn completely away from his Sunna. It becomes clear that the understanding and narrations of the Salaf-us Saaleh are needed in order to return to the Quran and Sunna, and nobody will deny this irrespective of whether they are well versed in the science of hadeeth, for the sound intellects cannot deny this.
Muhammad Ibn Ismaa’eel al-Bukhari (died 256 AH) is widely known for his book, The Saheeh, which is the most authentic book of Hadeeth. He collected ahaadeeth of the Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) by studying under trustworthy scholars who would narrate what they heard from their teachers, until the chain of narration would reach the Salaf and through them be raised to the Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him).
Bukhaari---Abdullah bin Yusuf---Maalik---Naafi'---Ibn Umar---Prophet
Sometimes the Isnaad would be short with the teachers of Imaam Bukhaari narrating directly from the Salaf. In the above Isnaad Imaam Bukhaari is hearing hadeeth from his famous teacher Abdullah bin Yusuf who is narrating from Maalik the Imaam of Madeenah, who is narrating from Naafi the freed slave of Ibn Umar, who is narrating from Ibn Umar the companion, who is narrating from the Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him). Other times the Isnaad would include more narrators, but the principle of collecting hadeeth through unbroken chains of narration via the Salaf remained a criteria for determining authenticity. Although other Imaams of Hadeeth may not have been so strict in their selction of authentic hadeeth, they all used the Isnaad and mentioned the narrators from the Salaf. There are numerous books of hadeeeth through which the Sunna is established such as Saheeh of Bukhaari, Saheeh of Muslim, Sunan of Abu Dawood, Sunan of Tirmidhi, Sunan of Naasee', Sunan of Ibn Maajah, Muwatta of Maalik, Musnaad of Ahmad, Sunan of Daarimee, Sunan of Daaraqutni, Saheeh of Ibn Hibbaan, Saheeh of Ibn Khuzaimah, Mustadrak of Haakim, among many others. These books all rely on the narrations of the Salaf.
Every sincere student of knowledge will realise that the teachings of the 'Salaf-us Saaleh' are found extensively in the writings of the Scholars of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaa'ah throughout the different centuries. The writings of Abu Muhammad Al Hasan Ibn Alee Al Barbahaaree (died 329 AH), Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Al Husain Al Bayhaqee (died 458 AH), Baghawee (died 535 AH), Muwaffaq Ad Deen Ibn Qudaamah al Maqdasee (died 620 AH), Abu Zakariyah Al Nawawee (died 676 AH), Ibn Katheer (died 774 AH), Ibn Taymiyyah (died 728 AH), Muhammad bin Abdur Rahmaan As Sakhaawee (died 902 AH), Abdur Rahmaan bin Abee Bakr As Suyootee (died 911 AH), Alee Ibn Muhammad Sultaan Al-Qaaree (died 1014 AH), Muhammad Hayaat Ibn Ibraaheem As Sindee (died 1163 AH), Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhaab (died 1206 AH), Muhammad Siddeeq Hasan Khan (died 1307 AH), Abdur Rahmaan Ibn Naasir Aal Sa'dee (died 1376 AH), Muhammad Sultaan Al Ma'soomee (died 1380 AH), are only a few examples.
With this background it comes to no surprise that Allah again revived His religion in our time, for this is a promise from Him. The revivalist were known by their speech and actions; their observance of The Book of Allah and the Sunna of His Messenger(peace and blessings be upon him); their efforts to instil evidence based thinking; and their calling back to the way of the Salaf. Muhammad Naasirudden Al Albaani, Muhammad bin Saleh Al Uthaymeen, Abdul Azeez bin Baaz and others did not bring a new call. They merely revived the message of old and awakened within us the desire for evidence based thinking. So we should not be amazed by the use of the term Salaf-us Saaleh in our time. Rather it is a term which has great meaning, and a term which was used consistently by the Imaams of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaa’ah.
O Allah! Gather us with Muhammad, join us with our brothers and sisters amongst his companions, unite our hearts with those who heard from them, and increase our love for the early generations of Islam. O Allah! increase us in Taqwa and bestow upon us a Furqaan. O Allah! Guide us through our Emaan.