WHO IS SUNNI AND WHAT IS AHLUS SUNNAH IN HISTORY?
In the past, there was a civil war in Lebanon. In radio news, we would often hear reports like "Clashes between right-wing Christians and left-wing Muslims." This made us wonder, "How can Christians be right-wing?" Later, we learned that those supporting the existing regime were referred to as right-wing, while those advocating for change were labeled as left-wing.
Recently, there emerged a phrase about "division among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds in Iraq." However, Shia and Sunni are not races; they are sects within Islam. All Kurds in Iraq and a portion of Arabs are Sunni. In essence, the term Sunni here generally refers to the Arab Ba'athists loyal to Saddam. It is questionable how devout Muslims they are. But how would anyone know? The events taking place are portrayed as "terrorist activities by Sunnis." With the likes of Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and now ISIS, similar misconceptions have arisen. Western agencies tend to label them as Sunni terrorists.
Those Who Remain from the 73 Sects
According to the saying of the Prophet Muhammad, "My ummah (the Muslim community) will be divided into 73 sects, and only one of them will be saved, which follows my path and that of my companions."
Within this framework, the sect that adheres to the path of the Prophet and his companions is called Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah, and its followers are referred to as Sunnis. The other sects are referred to as Ahlul Bidah, meaning those who introduced innovations later on.
During the political dispute between Khalifa Ali and Khalifa Muawiyah, may Allah be pleased with them, a deviant group opposing their agreement was called the Khawarij (Kharijites). They interpreted verses of the Quran and hadiths literally, adopting a marginal position, and engaged in a relentless campaign of terror, carrying out assassinations against Ali, Muawiyah, Amr ibn al-As, and others who did not share their beliefs.
During the time of Ali and Muawiya, their respective supporters remained steadfast in Sunni belief. Over time, the Kharijites were marginalized, but some extremists among Ali's followers took a divergent path, which later came to be known as Shia. Shia itself has been divided into many sects.
During the Abbasid period, a movement emerged that prioritized reason over revelation, and it included several caliphs. This movement was known as the Mutazila. The Mutazilites persecuted those who did not embrace their beliefs and caused the death of the great scholar Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal because he did not consider the Quran to be a created entity.
Prominent scholars, including Imam Abu Hanifa, documented the principles of Ahlus Sunnah in books to enlighten the people and engaged in scholarly debates with deviant sects to strengthen the belief of Ahlus Sunnah. Thus, Islamic scholastic theology (Kalam) emerged. The vast majority of Muslims around the world adhere to Sunni belief. The division of Sunnis into the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali schools of thought is not related to belief but rather to matters of practice. Throughout history, many of the deviant sects that emerged have disappeared, with only Shiism and Kharijism persisting until today.
In recent times, a mixture of Kharijism and Mujassimah/Mushabbihah (the anthropomorphic) belief that God resembles a physical being has emerged in the form of Wahhabism. Although they claim to return Islam to its pure state as it was in the early years, those who identify themselves as Salafis (Wahhabis) portray themselves as Sunni while labeling anyone who approves of Islamic Sufism as engaging in polytheism (shirk) or innovation (bidah).
The Western world has also fallen into the misconception of accepting Wahhabism within the Sunni sphere of belief. This perplexing situation continues through the influence of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and now ISIS, and even within the Sunni world, there are those who fail to recognize this distinction.
Abandoning the Ijma
The Quran threatens those who deviate from the consensus (ijma) of the early scholars regarding matters of judgment with punishment (Quran 4:115). Ahlus Sunnah are those who remain within this consensus. The principles of this belief can be summarized as follows:
All the companions (Sahabah) of the Prophet Muhammad were just and righteous. The caliphates of Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali were valid in their respective order.
Allah is not a physical entity and does not resemble humans.
In Paradise, believers will see Allah in a manner that is beyond human comprehension.
The Night Journey (Isra and Mi'raj), the emergence of the Mahdi, the descent of Jesus (Isa), torment in the grave, intercession, and miracles (karamat) are all true.
Faith does not increase or decrease, and there should be no doubt in faith.
Humans have free will in their actions. A person wills to do something and does it. Then if Allah also wishes, creates that thing.
Deeds are not a part of faith, and committing major sins does not make one a disbeliever.
Ahl al-qibla (Muslims who pray facing Ka'ba as their qibla, that is, prayer direction) are not considered as disbelievers even if they are among the bidah (heretic) sects.
It is prohibited to rebel even against an oppressive or sinful government.
In the absence of any knowledge, a good opinion should be held regarding the Imam.
Wiping over leather socks (masah ala al khuffain) during ablution (wudu) is permissible.
It is evident that in order to be considered a follower of Ahlus Sunnah, one should not hold the belief that rebellion against the government is permissible. Therefore, categorizing those who justify rebellion, or even killing people, as Sunni would be regarded as a historical misconception.
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