Friday, February 4, 2011

Modern Salafism and Its Effect on Muslim Unity

Modern Salafism and Its Effect on Muslim Unity
Sa‘īd ‘Abdal–Latif Foudah

All the praise belongs to Allāh, the Lord of the worlds. May peace and prayers be upon the Prophet Muhammad, the Final Allah’s Messenger, and May peace and prayers be upon his family, Companions, the followers of the Companions, their followers, and all who receive his guidance until the Day of Judgment. Allah! Inspire us with uprightness and guide us with Your guidance and subtle mercy unto the Straight Path; the path of the clear truth, and give us a good end [death], o Lord of the worlds!

Preliminary Statement

Allāh, the Exalted, revealed this upright religion of Islām to the best of His creation, our Prophet Muhammad, the seal, the Final of the Prophets and Messengers and made him a witness over his nation, and He made his nation a witness over other nations. Allāh, the Exalted, said“And your Lord would not have destroyed the cities due to injustice while their people were reformers. And if your Lord had willed, He could have made mankind one nation; but they will not cease to differ. Except whom your Lord has given mercy, and for that He created them; But the word of your Lord is to be fulfilled that: “I will surely fill Hell with jinn and men all together.” [Hood: 117-119] Imām Fakhr al-Din al-Razi said in his exegesis, al-Tafsir al-Kabir

Know that He, the Exalted, did not destroy the cities except due to injustice. There are numerous points to this. 

1-What is meant by injustice here is polytheism [shirik]. The Exalted said“Indeed, polytheism is the tremendous injustice”   [Luqman:  13].  This  means  that  if  the  inhabitants  of  the  cities  are reformers and [upright] in their transactions and dealings between them, Allāh does not destroy them merely on account of the fact that they are pagans. The consequence of this is that the punishment that entails complete extermination does not descend upon a people merely because they believe in  polytheism  and  things  that  are  disbelief;  rather  that  punishment  only  descends  when  they commit  wrongdoings  in  their  transactions  with  others  and  endeavour  to  harm  and  commit injustice. For this reason, the jurists said that the rights of Allāh are based upon ease and pardon, whereas the rights of the servants are based upon stricture and restriction.
It is mentioned in the report: “Dominion shall remain even with disbelief, but it shall not remain with injustice.” Therefore, the meaning of the verse “And your Lord would not have destroyed the cities unjustly…”  is that He will not destroy them merely on account of their polytheism so long as they are reformers and so long as they deal with each other with what is right and correct. This is Ahl al-Sunnah’s interpretation of the verse. They said that the proof for it is that the people of Nūh, Hūd,  Sālih,  Lūt,  and  Shu‘aib  were  only  punished  with  complete  extermination  as Allāh, the Exalted mentioned about them because of the harm and oppression to which they subjected the creation. 

2-The second point regarding its interpretation is the view chosen by the Mu‘tazilah, that had He, the Exalted,  destroyed  them  even  though  they were  reformers, He would  not  be  exalted  above oppression, so consequently, He did not do that, and rather He destroyed them due to their wrong actions. Then He, the Exalted, said:  And if your Lord had willed, He could have made mankind one nation….  The  Mu‘tazilah  understand  this  verse  to  refer  to  the  will  of  compulsion  and obligation, which we discussed earlier. Then He, the Exalted, said: but they will not cease to differ. Except whom your Lord has given mercy. This refers to the man’s differing with regards to religious beliefs, behaviors, and actions. 

It is no way for us to fully enumerate the various doctrines of the world here. You may read our book entitled al-Riyad al-Muniqa. However, we will mention a comprehensive categorization of all the schools of thought. We say: people are divided into two groups. One group attests  to  the physical  sciences,  such as our knowledge  that fire  is hot and  that  the  sun  shines, as well as  the  self-evident knowledge,  such as our knowledge that negation and affirmation cannot be united together. The other group denies these things, and they are the Sophists. Those who attest to these things [the first group] are the great majority of the inhabitants of the world. They are further divided into two groups. One group submits that it is possible  to  arrange  these  self-evident  sciences  in  a  manner  that  results  in  non-self  evident scientific results. The other group eschews investigation into the sciences, and they [the latter] are few in number.  

The first group is the great majority of the inhabitants of the world and they are further divided into two groups. One  group  of  them  does  not  affirm  an  original  starting  point  for  this  physical universe, and they are the minority. The other group affirms that it has a starting point, and they are further divided into two groups. One group of them says that this starting point [creation] is intrinsically necessary for the Divine Entity – and they are the majority of the philosophers of this age. The other group says that He [the Divine] is possessed of free will in His actions – and they are the majority of the inhabitants of the world. [1] They are further divided into two groups. One group of them says that He [the Creator] did not send a Messenger to the servants and the other group says that He did send a Messenger. The former are the Brāhima and the latter are the possessors of Sacred Laws and religions: the Muslims, the Christians, the Jews, and the Magians.  

Each group has their own inestimable differences. The intellects may be shaky and paths of pursuit are obscure and the disputes of imagination and surmise are unending. If it is seen as good for one who spends his life in the field of medicine to say: “The life-span is short and the field of medicine is vast; grasping it is difficult and there is danger in experimentation”, then it is good, a fortiori, for the same to be said regarding these lofty pursuits and obscure areas of research. 

It might  be  said:  “You  interpreted His words:   but  they will  not  cease  to  differ ,  saying  that  it refers to the differences in religions; what is your proof for it, and why can it not be interpreted as differences in skin colour, language, provision, and works?” We say in response: the proof for it is the verse before that, if your Lord had willed, He could have made mankind one nation. It is necessary to interpret this differing as one that prevents them from being one nation. In the verse right  after  it,  it  states:   “Except  whom  your  Lord  has  given  mercy” ,  hence,  it  is  necessary  to interpret this differing in such a way that allows for it to be given exception by His words:  Except whom your Lord has given mercy  – and this is all we have said.  

Allāh, the Exalted, said: “Except whom your Lord has given mercy”. Our companions [colleagues] inferred from this verse that guidance and faith are not obtained save with Allāh’s act of creation thereof. This is because the verse proves that the removal of disagreements in matters of religion cannot  be  obtained  except  by  he  who  is  shown  special mercy  by  Allāh.  That mercy is not an expression denoting the giving of power and intellect and the sending of Messengers and Books and the elimination of excuses, for all of these things are found with the disbelievers [as well]. All that remains is to say that this mercy is when Allāh creates right guidance and gnosis within man. Al-Qadi said something to the effect that the phrase “Except whom your Lord has given mercy” means for a person to become one of the people of Paradise and reward, with Allāh showing him mercy by bestowing reward. Another possible interpretation is “Except he who is shown mercy by Allāh with His subtle kindness, becoming a believer due to His subtle kindness and ease.” Both of these latter interpretations are extremely weak. The  reason  for  the weakness  of  the  first  one  is because  His  statement:   “but  they  will  not  cease  to  differ.  Except  whom  your  Lord  has  given mercy”   indicates  that  this  differing  only  ceases  due  to  this mercy, which  entails  that  this mercy must  take  the  role  of  a  preceding  cause  for  the  removal  of  this  differing,  and  that  the  reward follows after the differing ceases. In that case, differing takes the role of a cause and that which is caused; therefore it is farfetched to interpret this mercy as reward. 

Regarding the second view that interprets this mercy as subtle kindness, we say: all of the subtle acts of kindness that He does for the believer are also done for the disbeliever. This mercy here is specific  for  the  believer,  so  it  must  be  something  additional  to  those  subtle  acts  of  kindness. 

Moreover, it should be asked: does or does not the receiving of these subtle acts of kindness entail that the existence of faith is preponderant over its non-existence? If that is not entailed, then the presence or absence of those subtle acts of kindness in relation to the obtainment of this objective would be one and the same, and would not be a subtle act of kindness for him. 

If it is in fact entailed, then [as we] clarified in our books on the rational sciences, whenever there is preponderance there is obligation [i.e. something is necessary]; consequently, obtaining faith is from Allāh. That which proves  that  the obtainment of  faith  is only by Allāh’s creation  is  that as long as faith is not distinguished from disbelief and as long as knowledge is not distinguished from ignorance,  it  is  not  possible  to  bring  faith  and  knowledge  into  being.  This distinction is only obtained when it is known that one of these two beliefs is concomitant with what is believed and that the other is not. This knowledge can only be obtained when one knows that belief in himself. 

How  can  that  be  when  it  entails  that  it  is  not  valid  for  a  servant  to  endeavour  to  gain or form knowledge of something until after he knows it, which further entails forming what is formed and obtaining what  is  already obtained  [tahsil al-hasil], both of which  are  impossible.  It is therefore established that ending differences in the religion and gaining knowledge and guidance cannot be obtained save with Allāh’s creation thereof – and this is the desired conclusion. 

The Exalted said: “and for that He created them”. There are three opinions regarding this statement. [One] Ibn ‘Abbās said “And for mercy He created them.” This is the preferred opinion of the majority of the Mu‘tazilah. They said: “It is impermissible to say that they were created for differences, and this is proven from various angles. The first angle is that it is more fitting that the pronoun  refers  to  that which  is mentioned  in  the closest proximity to it,  rather  than  referring  to that which  is  further away. That which is in closest proximity here is [the word] mercy, and that which is further away is [the word] differing. The  second  angle  is  to  state: had He,  the Exalted, created  them  for  differing  and  [at  the  same  time]  wanted  them  to  have  faith,  it  would  be impermissible for Him to punish them for that, as their differing would be considered obedience to Him. The  third  angle  is  to  state:  if we  explain  the  verse,  giving  it  this meaning,  it would  be concomitant with  the  statement of  the Exalted:   ‘And  I have not  created men  or  jinn  except  to worship Me’”     

If  it  is  retorted:  “But  if  the  verse meant  ‘And  for mercy He  created  them’, He would  have  said ‘And  for  that  [tilka] He created  them’, and not:  ‘And  for  that  [dhalika] He created  them.’” [2], we respond by saying: the feminine structure of the word mercy [rahmah] is not literal; it is interpreted as bounty and forgiveness, as in His statement:  This [hadha [3]] is a mercy from my Lord [al-Kahf: 98] and:  And do not sow corruption upon the earth after its reformation [al-‘Araf: 56]. 

[2]The  second  view  posits  that  it means:  “and He  created  them  for  differing”. The third view, which is the preferred view, is that He created the people of mercy for mercy, and the people of differing for differing. Abu Lali narrated from Ibn ‘Abbās that he said: “Allāh created the people of mercy so they do not differ, and [He created] the people of torment in order that they differ; and He created Paradise and its denizens and created the Hell-fire and its denizens.” There are many angles supporting this interpretation and its correctness.  [A] The  unequivocal  evidence which  proves  that  neither  knowledge  nor  ignorance  can  be  obtained within  the  servant  save  by Allāh’s creation thereof. [B] It can be said that since He, the Exalted, ruled that some will differ and that some are the people of mercy, and He knew that, it is therefore impossible for that to be reversed,  for  otherwise  that  would  entail  knowledge  transforming  into  ignorance,  which  is impossible.  [C] The Exalted  said  right  after  that:   “And  the word  of  your Lord was  completed: [that]  I  shall most  certainly  fill  the Hell-fire with  jinn  and men  all  together”. This  is  an  explicit statement  showing  that  the Exalted  created  some  people  for  guidance  and Paradise,  and  some people for misguidance and the Fire – and this strengthens this interpretation. 

 Ibn ‘Attiyya said in al-Muharrar al-Wajiz fi Tafsir al-Kitab al-‘Aziz (3/215):  

“And had your Lord willed…”  As Qatāda said, it means “He would have made them one believing nation, so that do not disbelieve and so they are not punished, however; the Exalted and Sublime did not will that, and consequently, they shall not cease differing in their religious beliefs, doctrines, and opinions.” This is the interpretation posited by the majority [of exegetes]. 

Al-Hasan, ‘Atta’, Mujahid, and others said that those shown mercy and made as exceptions are the believers and that they do not differ. One  group  says  that  they  shall  not  cease  differing  with regards  to  felicity  and wretchedness,  and  this  is  close  to  the  first meaning,  for  it  is  the  fruit  of religious  beliefs  and  differing  in  them. This interpretation would include the believers, as they differ with the disbelievers.  Al-Hasan also said that they shall never cease differing regarding [their respective levels of] poverty and wealth. Al-Qadi Abu Muhammad said: “This statement is farfetched. The meaning of  the  verse  is  that Allāh excluded  from  the pronoun  in “they will not cease”  the people whom He  had  shown mercy by  guiding  them  to  faith  and  giving  them divine success towards it.  

“Except whom your Lord has given mercy, and for that He created them” The exegetes differ about the meaning of His statement “and for that He created them”. One group said that He created them for the aforementioned day that is witnessed (the Day of Judgement). Another group  said  that  it  is  an  allusion  to  His  earlier  words:   “From  them  are  the  wretched  and  the felicitous” , in other words, for that He created them. 

Al-Qadi  Abu  Muhammad  said:  “Even  though  these  two  meanings  are  correct,  the  distant [linkage] of the pronoun is not good.” Ash’hab narrated from Mālik that He [Allāh] said that as an allusion to the fact that one group shall be in Paradise and another group shall be in the Blazing Fire. Al-Qadi Abu Muhammad said: “So, the allusion to that came with two matters: differing and mercy. This was stated by Ibn ‘Abbās and was the preferred view of al-Tabari, and the pronoun in ‘created them’ refers to both [groups]. Mujahid and Qatāda said that it [the pronoun] refers back to the mercy that is mentioned in His statement “Except whom your Lord has given mercy”. In other words, He created those shown mercy for mercy. Al-Hasan said ‘and that indicates the differing found in His statement:  “they will not cease differing’”  

Al-Qadi Abu Muhammad said: “This can be retorted against by asking how He could create them for differing and is that the intent behind their creation? A separate point can be made, that the principle in the Sacred Law is that Allāh, the Exalted and Sublime, created some for felicity and some for wretchedness, and then made easy the path for which each were created. This is explicitly mentioned in the rigorously authentic Hadith. After that, He made the differing with the truth of the  religion  a  sign  of  wretchedness  to  which  punishment  is  connected.  Hence, it is valid to understand His statement to mean: “And for differing He created them” – that is, due to the fruit of differing and its resultant wretchedness. 

It is also valid to interpret the governing particle lam as a “lam of becoming” [lam al-Sayrura], that is, in order that their affair leads to that, even if they did not intend to differ themselves. Al-Qadi Abu Muhammad said: “The meaning of His words “And I have not created man or a jinni except that they worship Me” is: “In order that I command them with worship and make it a duty upon them.” Hence, He expressed it by way of mentioning the fruit of the command and its end result.” 

His  statement:  “And  the word of your Lord was completed:  [that]  I  surely  fill  the Hell-fire with jinn  and  men  all  together”   means  that  His  decree  was  carried  out  and  His  command  was actualized. The lam particle in “I shall most certainly fill…” is a particle of swearing an oath [lam al-qasam], as the word consists of an oath. The word Jinn is a plural that does not have a singular form. It is from [the verb] ajanna, which is when something is concealed. The letter ha’   in Jinna is for hyperbole. Now, if the word Jinn can be used in the singular, then Jinna is its plural.  

The erudite scholar, Abu al-Su‘ūd said in his exegesis (4/248):  

“And had your Lord willed He could have made mankind one nation” united upon the truth  and  the  religion  of  Islām  in  such  a  way  that  not  a  single  person  would  differ  about  it, however; He did not will that, so they will not agree upon  the truth.  “And they will not cease to differ” about the truth. In other words, they will be in opposition to it, as the Exalted said:  “And none differed over it except those who were given it – after the clear proofs came to them – out of jealous animosity among themselves”  

“Except whom your Lord has given mercy”: except a folk who, by Allāh’s bounty, were guided to the truth, agreeing upon it and not differing over it. In other words, they did not oppose it. Interpreting this as differing in an unrestricted sense that includes both the one who is right and the one who is wrong is invalid, as per the exception mentioned.  “And for that”: that is, due to the aforementioned differing “He created them”, that is, those mentioned after the exception – those who differ. The  governing  particle  of lam  [here]  refers  to  either  punishment  or mercy…so  the pronoun refers to people entire and the lam takes on a figurative meaning that is general for both meanings.   “But  the  word  of  your  Lord  is  to  be  fulfilled” :  that  is,  His  Divine  threat  or  His statement  to  the Angels:   “I will  surely  fill Hell with  jinn  and men  all  together.” . This means: from the disobedient of both [men and jinn] all together, or both of them all together and not one [only].  

Allāh, the Exalted, said:  Say: “He is the One able to send upon you affliction from above you or from beneath your feet or to confuse you [so you become] sects and make you taste the violence of one another.”  Look  how We  diversify  the  signs  that  they  might  understand”  [al-An‘am:  65].  And Imām Muslim narrated in his Sahih collection (4/2216 # 2890) from ‘Amir bin Sa‘d, from his father: One day, the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) went to ‘Aliya, until he happened upon the Mosque of Banu Mu‘awiyah. He entered and offered two units of prayer and we prayed behind him. He then supplicated o his Lord for a long time and then turned to us and said: “I asked my Lord for three things. He granted me two [of them] and denied me one. I asked my Lord that He does not destroy my nation by famine and He granted that to me.  I asked him that He does not destroy my nation by flood and He granted that to me.  I then asked Him that he removes infighting among them and He denied me.” 

From all of this we can conclude that the Islāmic nation will experience divisions in opinions, schools of thought, and beliefs, and that this is all a test from Allāh, the Exalted. Consequently, the people must see to it that they act in a way that is best.


As a term, the “Islāmic nation” includes within it every individual who affiliates his or herself with Islām, so long as he or she has not left it by believing that which necessitates disbelief: and provided that he or she believes in that which is known by necessity to be from the religion, whether it is from the issues of doctrine, such as  faith  in Allāh’s existence and  that He  is All-Powerful, belief  in  the Prophethood of Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) and that he is the seal of all the Prophets and Messengers and that his Sacred Law abrogates all previous revealed laws (whether or not it is submitted that they are altered or not), or from the issues of action, such prayer, Zakat, fasting, Hajj, and other practical rulings in the Sacred Law that are affirmed and that do not accept independent scholarly judgement [ijtihad]. 

It  is  well-known  that  some  doctrinal  positions  are  self-evident  and  that  whoever  opposes  them  has disbelieved, whereas other doctrinal positions are unequivocal but not self-evident, in which the one who opposes  them  is  declared  an  innovator  (and  some  might  impute  him  with  disbelief),  and  yet  other doctrinal positions are speculative and not self-evident,  in which case  the one who opposes  them  is not declared an innovator. 

In the Hadith narration it is mentioned that this Islāmic nation shall split into seventy-three sects. Now, I know that many people disagree regarding the authenticity of this Hadith’s chain of narration, however we  also know  that  the number mentioned  is not necessarily  exact – meaning,  it  is not  explicit  that  the number of sects will grow until they reach that exact number, although it would not be problematic if they did reach that number. 

Some people have adopted the viewpoint that disagreement is intrinsically harmful and that it leads to decline. If it is said that the Islāmic nation, the nation of the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam), will split into more sects than the sects of the Jews and Christians, it is questioned that how can it be said that this nation is preferred over other nations? 

At  first  glance,  this might  seem  like  a  good question, however; we do not  submit  that disagreement  is completely blameworthy or that differing entails that the status of this nation will decline vis-à-vis other nations. Although we might submit that some forms of disagreement do in fact lead to disunity, we do not submit  that every  form of disagreement  leads  to this so-called decline; even  though we believe that this nation will split or has split into more sects than the sects of the Jews and the Christians, still this splitting that will or has taken place within the nation of the Prophet  (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam)  does not imply – in general – that its state has  diminished,  because  the  group  of  the people  of  truth: Ahl  al-Sunnah wa  al-Jama‘ah,  has  historically been and continues to be the overwhelming majority, and the number of practicing scholars among them are more numerous than the scholars from all the other sects combined.  

That is not the case with the sectarian divisions among the Jews and Christians. Their sects were like or equal in number, which in turn entailed their weakness as nations. With the Islāmic nation this is not the case.  Because  Ahl al-Sunnah  wa  al-Jama‘ah  are  greater  in  number  and  because  they  have  historically possessed more scholars in various places, the presence of other sects has not affected them as much as it has the other nations. The negative effects that sectarianism has had on other nations have not affected the Islāmic nation in the same way. No matter how much  the opponents object  to  this Hadith, and no matter how many doubts  are  raised  about  its  chain of narration, present day  reality  confirms  that  this nation has in fact differed. It is of no benefit to say–after this differing has already occurred – that the Hadith  in  question  cannot  be  relied  upon  because  it  is  weak  or  because  its  chain  of  narration  has problems. Both present day reality and sense perception confirm a large portion of the meaning in this Hadith. 

From  all  of  that,  we  conclude  that  sectarian  division  is  a  reality  in  this  nation  and  that  we  have  our differences just like other nations. According to the scholars of Islām and many thinkers in this field, what is  important  is  the  relationship  between  coexistence  and  cooperation  among  the  Muslims,  and  the presence of these disagreements. 

Although I shall address this at the conclusion of my talk, I would like to bring it to your attention here as well, as it is important in relation to the main subject. It is not hidden to you all that disagreements have occurred ever since the first generations, i.e. the generation of the Companions and the Followers. The Khawarij, the early Shiites, the first Qadirites, and others, all manifested in the Islāmic nation during the first generations that were described with goodness. Nay; many of the sects that were present in that time are no longer existent in our time or the time before us. This proves that there is no inherent link between sectarian differences and decline. How  can  this  be  asserted  when  the  Prophet   (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) bore  witness  to  the goodness of the early generations? 

All of the aforementioned sects became sects because they split from Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah – the people of the truth. Differences occurred because they opposed the people of the truth, which is why each sect was distinguished from Ahl al-Sunnah by specific ideas and fundamentals. Ahl al-Sunnah remained, distinguished by their general affiliation to Islām, and its scholars saw no pressing need to announce their distinction from others or vice versa, until tens of years later when the opponents gained in strength and proclaimed their differences with Ahl al-Sunnah: going to extremes and claiming that they were in fact the people of the Sunnah to the exclusion of everyone else. When Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah observed  this behaviour  from  their opponents,  the  scholars  and  verifiers  among  them went out of  their way to write books and distinguish between truth and falsehood. Perhaps that was one of the greatest causes allowing for  the Mu‘tazilite,  the  Shiite,  the  Kharijite,  and  the  Quadrite  to  be  distinguished  with  unique  signs, whereas  one who  is  not  a  part  of  those  sects  is  considered  to  be  upon  the  default  foundation of old, namely the foundation of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah.

The Concept of a Salaf and a Khalaf

Here, we shall endeavour to explain the concept of the salaf  and the khalaf  according our scholars who are well-considered,  and  according  to  the Wahhabis  and  others who  are  in  agreement with  them. We shall  explain  the  universal  foundations  upon  which  these  concepts  are  based.  They shall serve as foundational principles for studying the effect of the Wahhabis and those who follow Ibn Taymiyyah

The Concept of a Salaf and a Khalaf according to our Scholars 

As is well-known to you, the esteemed attendees and scholars, within our scholarly heritage there is a concept of a salaf and a khalaf.  This concept is only temporal in nature, and it is not a concept that marks a separate reality between those present in early times and those who came later, in the sense that those  who  are  not  from  the  Salaf   are  despised  and  those  who  are  from  the  Salaf   are  praised unrestrictedly.
When  the  verifying  scholars  of Ahl  al-Sunnah  would  speak  about  the  terms  “salaf”  and  “khalaf”,  they primarily meant their respective time periods. And when they would praise the Salaf, they would intend those among them who were known to be from Ahl al-Sunnah; who were for the most part identified with the first three generations.
It is no secret to the esteemed scholars that based on this definition, many of the sects we mentioned were present during the time of the Salaf, such as the Qadirites who appeared in the time of the Companions and Followers, the extreme Shiites, and many sects among the anthropomorphist who appeared in the early history of Islām.  It is impossible to say that all of these sects were praiseworthy and good merely because they existed – without any choice of their own – in an early time period. 

Due to the depth of knowledge our scholars possessed, they would distinguish between the Salaf who were from the people of the truth, and the Salaf who proclaimed their differences with the former. The scholar’s praise for the Salaf is incontrovertibly reserved for the Salaf who were from Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama‘ah; not for others, even if they were from the Salaf temporally. 

In light of this definition, the scholars called those who came after these generations the “khalaf”, and with that in mind, the terms salaf and khalaf were originated. Considering this, some of Ahl al-Sunnah are among the Salaf and some are among the Khalaf. The verifying scholars distinguished between the Salaf and Khalaf in a general sense insofar as methodology is concerned; the distinction is not between truth on one side and falsehood on the other. In other words, most of the Salaf took to dealing with the issues and pursuing  the  sciences  in  a  general  sense  (barring  some  issues  and  circumstances).  This was the predominant situation during their time, but it was not universal. Conversely, the Khalaf pursued these sciences and dealt with these issues in a detailed fashion and with scholarly verification and investigation. They eschewed generalities. Having said that, this is not a universal judgement of them in the sense that no one among them took an alternative route. This was the predominant situation during their time.     
These facts serve as the basis for the scholars’ statement about figurative interpretation [ta’wil] and noncommittal  [tafwid]  and  realising  the doctrine  of Divine  transcendence  that:  “The way  of  the Salaf was non-committal –although some of them engaged in figurative interpretation – and the way of the latter day scholars is figurative interpretation – although some of them take a position of non-committal.” Both the position of figurative interpretation and non-committal are well-considered and relied upon by Ahl al-Sunnah, past and present. Both positions lead to the doctrine of Divine transcendence, which is the doctrine of the people of truth. 

Consequently,  according  to  our  scholars,  both  the Salaf   and  the Khalaf   are  from  Ahl  al-Sunnah,  and neither  group  is  opposed  to  it  [the  way  of  Ahl  al-Sunnah]  or  deviated. We  believe  in  the  continued connection of  truth between  the  scholars of  the Salaf  and  the Khalaf  from  the Ash‘aris and Maturidis: they are united upon one creed and never has there appeared a time in which there was mutual boycott or disunity between them.  

The Concept of a Salaf and a Khalaf according to our Opponents 

We mentioned that the basis for our understanding lies in the natural progression of time and the continuous development of the sciences and the respective generalities and details between the two eras. 

By opponents, we primarily mean the Wahhabis:  those who follow Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab, and by extension, the secularists (as we shall soon explain). 

Let us now take a moment to focus on Wahhabite thought, or Taymite thought (i.e. the followers of Ibn Taymiyyah) as I sometimes like to call it. Their view-point can be summed up in the following:  the Salaf were upon the true creed and their affair remained for a while. Afterwards their occurred a disconnection and  the  innovators  from  other  sects  became  dominant,  and  that  has  continued  unabated  till  today  – barring of course, the specific time periods in which certain callers to their doctrine appeared. The most important of these callers, according to the Wahhabis, are Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, both of whom appeared in the eighth century Hijrah. 

Were  you  to  ask  the Wahhabis  and  the modern-day  Salafis  about  a  fully  connected  chain  of  scholars spread across the world who were known by the common people for their teaching of the religion (which is only fitting for the people of truth whom the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam)  described as being victorious and upon the truth, unharmed by those who oppose them, until the affair of Allāh [the Last Hour] arrives), they would not be able to produce a single one, and they would only be able to name individuals from the eighth  century,  individuals  in  the ninth  century, and  some  individuals  in  the  fourth  century, and  so on. 

They will  never  be  able  to  provide  proof  for  a  continued  connection  through  the  times  and  places  in which the Islāmic nation has spread. 

The most  they  will mention  to  you  are  disconnected  and  disparate  individuals  in  separate  times  and places; and this in my view is one of the biggest proofs demonstrating the falsehood of their ideas, beliefs, and  rulings  in which  they oppose Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah. Because of  this  fact,  they employ various stratagems  in order  to  somehow prove  that  some Ash‘ari  scholars were  in  fact  from  their own, arguing that  they were scholars of Hadith or Qur’ānic exegetes, such as Imām  Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Imām  al-Nawawi,  al-Bayhaqi,  and  Ibn  ‘Asakir. After  some  time, when  they discover  that  these  scholars were  in explicit  agreement  with  the  doctrine  of  the  Ash‘aris,  they  retract  their  statement  and  declare  their innocence  from  them,  or  perhaps  some  Wahhabis  suffice  by  saying  that  these  scholars  “were  in agreement with the Ash‘aris in certain issues only, and not in the fundamentals of their doctrine”. 

These  are mere  claims  for  which  they  will  never  find  any  evidence.  The Wahhabis  reason  that  these scholars were in agreement with the Ash‘aris because the Ash‘aris were the majority, and thus, they were influenced  not  because  of  their  [the Ash‘ari’s]  doctrine,  but  because  of  their  close  companionship  to them.  They  are  seemingly  unaware  that  this  theory  of  individual  scholars  becoming  affected  and influenced by doctrines, if affirmed, is an insult to these very scholars. 

It is clear to us now that the reality of the Wahhabi school is the belief that the people of this time and those before them are disconnected from the creed of the Salaf. This is why they do not rely upon the opinions and views of many scholars or hold them in a position of esteem unless they are from their own ranks

The Effect of this upon the Secularists 

This  understanding  that  is  deeply  embedded  in  the minds  of  the Wahhabis  and modern-day Salafis has proven  to be  the greatest  cause disconnecting  the present day Ummah  from  its past.  It is no secret that this mental separation weakens the Ummah both in ideas and beliefs, and leaves them to fall victim to attacks from those who oppose them in the fundamentals of the religion. It is also no secret that if this disconnection is true, it will serve as the greatest opening, allowing the secularists to find fault with the fundamentals of the religion. 

This  has  in  fact  occurred;  there  are  groups  of  secularists who  find  fault with  the  fundamentals  of  the religion and who do not attest to the fundamentals of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah. Most of their objections stem from this point of view; a refusal to submit to the understandings and rulings issued by the scholars over successive generations, whether concerning issues of creed, issues of jurisprudence, or other issues. 

They claim that these opinions are merely the opinions of other humans and that they are not obliged to hold fast to them, rather; they claim that they must go back to the original sources and commit to a rereading of the religious texts and reach new conclusions that are suitable for this day and age. 

The  secularists have  adopted  the  fundamental premise of  the Wahhabis  and  added  to  it by  going well beyond the Salaf. They claim to refer back to the Book and the Sunnah directly, resulting in what is today called a “modern reading of our heritage”, a “modern reading of the Qur’ān”, or a “modern reading of our history”: these things are nothing more than gross distortions, reminding us of the distortions of the Qarmatites and Batinites of old!

Statements from the Callers of Modern-Day Salafism

Here, we shall reproduce statements from some of the pillars of modern-day Salafism and those who laid down its ground work.  These  statements  are  reproduced  as  examples  only;  it  is  not  our  intention  to discuss  the history of  this movement. We shall endeavour to explain some of them in a manner that is fitting. 

Muhammad Bin ‘Abd Al-Wahhab

1- The Scholastic Theologians are Disbelievers

Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab said: 

Having said that, the scholastic theologians and their followers are from the most clever and  intelligent  of  people;  they  are  possessed  of  such  astuteness,  memorization,  and understanding,  which  would  bewilder  one  possessed  of  reasonable  intelligence.  Both  they  and their  followers  attest  to  the  fact  that  they oppose  the Salaf; even  the  Imām s of  the  theologians, when  they  refuted  the  philosophers’  figurative  interpretations  of  the  verses  of  commands  and prohibitions, who said, for instance, that “What is meant by fasting is concealment of our secrets; and what is meant by Hajj is the visiting of our Shaykhs; and what is meant by Jibril is the active intellect”,  and other  types  of  falsehood  – when  they  [the  theologians]  refuted  them,  saying  that this  explanation  goes  against  what  is  well-known  by  necessity  from  the  religion  of  Islām,  the philosophers  retorted: “You deny Allāh’s elevation above His creation and His  rising above  the Throne, even though both are mentioned in the Books upon the tongues of the Messengers and are agreed upon by all of the Muslims and the adherents of the other religions – so how can our figurative  interpretation  be  considered  a  distortion,  yet  yours  is  considered  correct?”  – when presented with this retort, none of the theologians are able to respond. 

What this means is that their doctrine, along with being corrupt in and of itself and in opposition to the intellects, is also opposed to the religion of Islām, the Book, the Messenger, and the Salaf entire.  They mention  in  their  books  that  they  oppose  the  Salaf,  while  at  the  same  time  their innovation has spread to scholar and ignorant alike, covering the whole world. 

I  adjure  you  to  contemplate  this  issue;  the  Salaf  have  many  words  and  writings  on  the fundamentals  of  the  religion,  the  invalidation  of  the  words  of  the  theologians,  and  writings charging them with disbelief. Those who mentioned this among the latter-day Shafi‘is include: al-Bayhaqi, al-Baghawi, and Isma‘il al-Taymi. Those after them include al-Hafiz al-Dhahabi, and those before them include: Ibn Surayj, al-Daraqutni, and others.  

All of them were upon this, so examine closely the books of these individuals; if you bring me a single word stating that even a single man among them refrained from censuring the theologians and did not accuse them of disbelief, do not accept anything from me ever again! With all of this and its manifest clarity, [the contrary] has spread among you, to the point where you claim that Ahl al-Sunnah is the theologians – and Allāh’s help is sought!”  

For this, you should examine the books of these individuals; if you bring me a single word stating that even a single man among them refrained from censuring the theologians and did not accuse them  of  disbelief,  do  not  accept  anything  from me  ever  again! With all of this and its manifest clarity, [the contrary] has spread among you, to the point where you claim that Ahl al-Sunnah are the theologians – and Allāh’s help is sought!” [4]
See – may Allāh have mercy upon you – how he explicitly mentions the charge of disbelief against the theologians, and then attributes that to al-Bayhaqi and others.  This  attribution  to  al-Bayhaqi  is undoubtedly  false,  as he was  a  theologian upon  the way  of  al-Ash‘ari.  In  addition  to  that,  see how he   exaggerated  and  claimed  that  there  is  a  consensus  that  they  are  imputed  with  disbelief!  This  clearly illustrates  the  disconnection  between  the Ummah  and  its  scholars  that we  said  is  an  implication  of  the Wahhabi doctrine. 

2 – Those that perform the act of Tawassul are described as Pagans 

In his essay found in al-Durar al-Saniyya he said:  

And  I  shall  mention  to  you  something  of  what  Allāh  mentioned  in  His  Book  as  a response  to  the  words  used  as  an  argument  against  us  by  the  pagans  of  our  time.  We  say: responding  to  the people of  falsehood  is  from  two  routes: a general  route and a detailed  route. 

The general route is the mighty affair and the great benefit for the one who truly understands it, and that is the statement of the Exalted:  It is He who has revealed unto you the Book, wherein are  plain  verses, which  are  the  foundation  of  the Book;  others  are  ambiguous. As for those in whose hearts is deviation: they seek out that which is ambiguous of it, seeking mischief, and seeking its explanation – yet none know its explanation save Allāh [al-‘Imran: 6]  

It is authentically reported from the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) that he said: “When you see those who follow what is ambiguous of it, [know that] they are those named by Allāh, so beware of them.” To illustrate this, when one of the pagans say:  Indeed, the friends of Allāh: no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve , and that intercession is the truth, and that the Prophets possess rank with Allāh, or when he mentions some words from the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) by which he seeks to infer from it something that supports his falsehood, and you do not understand the meaning of the words he says  –  answer  him  by  saying:  “Indeed, Allāh mentioned  that  those who  have  deviance  in  their hearts  follow what  is  ambiguous”, and mention what  I  told  you,  that Allāh  said  that  the pagans attested  to  godhood  [rabubiyyah],  and  that  He  charged  them  with  disbelief  because  of  their attachment  to  the Prophets,  the Angels,  and  the  saints,  even  though  they  said:   These  are  our intercessors  with  Allāh .  This  matter  is  clear-cut  and  manifest;  no  one  is  able  to  change  its meaning. [So say] “That which you have mentioned to me, o pagan, from the Qur’ān  or from the words of the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam)  , I understand not its meaning, however I am absolutely sure that Allāh’s words do not contradict each other and that the words of the Prophet do not oppose the words of Allāh.” This is a good and upright answer; however none understand it save he who is granted success by Allāh. Do not belittle it, because it is as the Exalted said:  And it is not received save by those who are patient, and it is not received save by he who possesses a great portion  

… If he retorts by saying: “These verses were revealed regarding those who worshipped idols; how can you make the righteous like idols, and how can you make the Prophets like idols?”, then answer him with the aforementioned response. If he attests that the disbelievers bore witness that godhood in its entirety is for Allāh, and that they did not intend anything from what they did other than [gaining] intercession, yet he still wishes to made a distinction between their action and his action using that argument, mention to him that among the disbelievers were those who called upon/worshipped  the  righteous;  and  among  them  were  those  who  called  upon or worshipped  the saints,  regarding whom, Allāh  said:  Those whom  they worship  seek  a means of approach unto their Lord, which of them is closest ; and they call upon or worship ‘Isa bin Maryam and his mother, and Allāh, the Exalted, said:  The Messiah, the son of Maryam is nothing more than a Messenger before whom there were other Messengers; and his mother is veraciously truthful. Both of them used  to eat  food;  see  then, how We clarify  to  them  the  signs, and  see  then, how  they deny. Say: “Do you worship besides Allāh that which cannot harm or benefit you, and Allāh, He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing?”   

Also mention His statement:  On the Day in which they will all be gathered, then the Angels will say: “Were these the ones who used worship you?” They will say: “Glorified are You! You are our Protector  besides  them;  rather  they  used  to  worship  the  jinn; most  of  them  used  to  believe  in them!”  So, say to him: “You know that those who intended the idols [with worship] were charged by Allāh with disbelief, and He also charged those who intended the righteous [with worship] with disbelief, and the Messenger of Allāh   fought them.” If he retorts: “The disbelievers want from them, however  I bear witness  that Allāh  is  the One who harms  and benefits  and  that He  is  the disposer of  the  affairs;  I  only want  from Him,  and  the  righteous possess  nothing  of  the matter; however I go to them, hoping for their intercession by Allāh”, the answer is: this is identical to the statement of the disbelievers! Read to him their statement:  We do not worship them except for them to draw us closer to Allāh, and:  These are our intercessors with Allāh …      
…It  can also be  said  to him: “Regarding  your  statement,  that  ‘polytheism  [shirik]  is  the worship of idols’, do you mean to say that polytheism is restricted to this and that relying upon the righteous and calling upon them is not included in it?” This is refuted by what Allāh mentioned in His Book regarding the disbelief of he who attaches himself to the Angels, ‘Isa, and the righteous. He must submit to you that whoever associates anyone from the righteous in the worship of Allāh, then he  is  the  type of pagan mentioned  in  the Qur’ān  – and  this  is  the conclusion  that  is  sought after… 

 3 - The Belief of the Latter-Day People is Paganism 

He said:
 …If you are aware that this, what the pagans of our time call “creed”, is the paganism mentioned in the Qur’ān and the paganism against which the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam)   fought, know then that the paganism of the earlier people is less in severity than the paganism of the people of our time, and that is due to two things

1-The earlier ones would only associate partners or call upon the Angels, the saints, and the idols along with Allāh during times of ease. During times of severity they would be sincere to Allāh in the religion, as the Exalted said:  And when you are grasped by harm in the sea, those whom you call upon besides Him are lost. And when He saves you [by delivering you unto] land you turn away. And mankind is exceedingly ungrateful, and:  Say: “What do you think: if the punishment of Allāh comes to you or the Last Hour; shall you call upon Allāh – if indeed you are truthful?” Nay, you shall call upon Him to remove that which you are praying about – if He wills – and you shall  forget  that which  you  associate  as  a partner ,  and:   And when harm  afflicts man, he  calls upon his Lord, turning to Him…say: “Take delight in your disbelief for a short while. Indeed, you are  from  the  companions of  the Fire.” , and:  And when  the waves envelop  them  like  shadows they worship Allāh, sincerely in their religion       
Whoever  understands  this  issue  that  Allāh  clarified  in His  Book,  that  the  pagans  whom    the Messenger of Allāh  (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam)  fought used to call upon Allāh and call upon others in times of ease, and that  during  times  of  difficulty  and  severity  they  would  call  upon Allāh  alone  and  without  any partners,  and  they would  forget  their masters  [sadat ] –  the distinction between  the paganism of our time and the paganism of the early ones will be clear to him, however; where is he whose heart deeply understands this issue? Allāh’s help is sought. 

2-The  early  ones  worship  along  with  Allāh,  people  who  were  close  to  Him:  Prophets,  saints, Angels, or stones or trees that are obedient to Allāh and not disobedient. The people of our times however,  call besides Allāh,  those who  are  from  the most  corrupt of  people;  those  upon whom they  call  are  reported  to  have  committed  lewd  acts  such  as  fornication,  theft,  abandonment  of prayer, and so on. The one who possess this belief in the righteous or that which does not disobey – such as a piece of wood or a stone – is not as bad as the one who possess this belief in someone whose corruption and depravity is witnessed and attested to.      
When you ascertain the fact that those whom the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) fought were sounder in intellect and less severe in their paganism than these people, you should also know that they have a misconception that they mention in response to what we have said. And it is from the greatest of their obfuscations, so listen attentively for its answer. They say: “Those who were mentioned in the Qur’ān did not bear witness that there is no god but Allāh. They belied the Messenger, denied the Resurrection, belied the Qur’ān and called it sorcery. We, on the other hand, bear witness that there is no god but Allāh and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) ; we confirm our belief in the Qur’ān; we have faith in the Resurrection; and we pray and we fast; how then can you make us out to be like them?”… 

4 - Charges of Disbelief against Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and Specific Charges of Disbelief, as opposed to General Non-Specific Charges of Disbelief 

In  the  twenty  first  treatise  found  in Tarikh Najd  (page  348), Muhammad  bin  ‘Abd al-Wahhab mentioned a charge of disbelief against Imām  Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and quoted it from Ibn Taymiyyah with approval. He quoted  Ibn Taymiyyah  saying: “And greater  than  that  still,  is  that  some of  them  compiled things of apostasy, as al-Fakhr al-Razi did  in his compilation on  the worship of celestial bodies. This is apostasy from Islām by the agreement of the Muslims.” Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab commented on these words of Ibn Taymiyyah, saying:   

Look  to  his  words  to  see  the  distinction  between  the  subtle or obscure  beliefs  and  the  specific disbelief that we are discussing. Contemplate his charges of disbelief upon their leaders: so-and-so and so-and-so specifically, and see their explicit apostasy. Contemplate his explicit mention of the consensus regarding Fakhr al-Din’s apostasy from Islām, even though he is one of the four Imām s according to your scholars. Does this fit with what you have understood from his words [in which he allegedly said] that a specific person cannot be charged with disbelief?  

There are many fallacies here. One is the alleged consensus regarding al-Fakhr al-Razi’s disbelief, and another is their [Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab] claim that Fakhr al-Din al-Razi wrote about the worship of celestial bodies. Notice also that he [Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab] explicitly stated that Ibn Taymiyyah made specific charges of disbelief. This is contrary to the claim of some of their followers who say they would only mention general charges of disbelief and would not specify individuals. 

As we mentioned earlier, it is not our intent to engage in an inductive and detailed reading of Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s words, or the words of anyone else. We only wish to present supporting proofs from their works that establish the extremism of this view-point. 

The Wahhabi’s Position Regarding Anthropomorphism and Corporeality  

The Wahhabi’s position regarding anthropomorphism and negating Allāh’s transcendence above resemblance to the creation is well-known and famous. They affirm a  limit and direction  for Allāh,  the Exalted;  they  believe  that  contingent  acts  subsist within Allāh;  and  they  believe  that He  sits  upon  the Throne with contact and physical movement, etc. There is no doubt whatsoever that these beliefs oppose the creed of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah. In this creed, the Wahhabis have followed their first Imām, Ibn Taymiyyah. They have taken all of this from him. They understood his words from the explanations of his student, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya. For reference, one may peruse Ibn Taymiyyah’s Naqad Asas al-Taqdis, Manhaj al-Sunnah, and other books.  I  have  written  many  books  on  this  topic,  establishing  that  Ibn Taymiyyah believed  in anthropomorphism and  its  implications,  that he completely opposed the Ash‘aris, and that he had his own complete doctrine to which he invited others. His statements were not mere slips of the pen or ecstatic expressions as some would like to believe.  

Muhammad Rashid Rida (d.1345 Hijri)

As I see it, Muhammad Rashid Rida was one of the founders of the Salafi School – in its general meaning – who outlined its foundations and fundamentals. Within his books, he laid the down the ground work for the idea that the effects of the latter-day scholars have been disrupted, claiming that he was an independent scholar [mujtahid] who had the right to go back to the original sources and examine them as the early major Mujtahids did. He claimed that he was only obliged to follow that to which his research and investigation led him.  There  is  no  doubt  that  he  was  affected  in  this  by  his  Shaykh, Muhammad ‘Abduh, and by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. 

Rashid Rida expressed many views and opinions that affirm this attitude, in addition to his many well known disputes with the Shaykhs and administration of al-Azhar and his battles with Shaykh Yusuf al-Dajawi and his companion, and Shaykh al-Kawthari, and those who supported them. 

1- His Explicit Agreement with the Wahhabi call 

In an important book of his called al-Manar wa al-Azhar, he said: 

Intermediaries between the Creator and the creation and refutation against some scholars regarding it

On pages 318 and 533 there are two lengthy articles on the subject of intermediaries between the creation and the Creator: a subject in which the innovators have gone to extremes and in which they have fallen into clear idolatry and have taken equals with Allāh, the Exalted. Shaykh al-Islām Ahmad  bin Taymiyyah  wrote  an  essay  by  the  same  name  in which  he  refuted  their  obfuscations. 

Around  that  time  it was  published  and  had  a  great  effect  upon  the  people  because  it  thwarted them [from that] by explaining its odious misguidance and defending the doctrine of Divine unity which is the foundation of Allāh’s religion upon the tongues of all of His Prophets. It delighted the people  of  Divine  unity  and  the  followers  of  the  Book  and  the  Sunnah  and  it  perturbed  the innovators among the grave-worshippers and shrine-worshippers

One of the scholars endeavoured to refute it, gathering treatises on the issue and topics related to it, such as visitation of the graves and the innovations that occur along with that – works written by some deceased superstitious people – and he wrote an introduction to those many blameworthy innovations, supporting them with contradictory and conflicting theories.  

Hence, we wrote those two articles in refutation against him. That was the first time a well-known scholar  from  al-Azhar  in  our  era wrote  and  distributed  a  book  in  support  of  pagan  beliefs  and superstitious  innovations,  supporting  them  with  theories  and  statements  that  go  against  the Mighty Book, the Lofty Sunnah, the way of the pious predecessors, and the texts of the Mujtahid Imāms. We explained this in the utmost detail – and our experience with that man was other than this… 

 It is obvious that the style adopted by Rashid Rida was the exact same style as Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab. You  see  in  his words  here  the  exact  same  expressions  used  by  Ibn  ‘Abd  al-Wahhab, such as “superstitious”, “grave-worshippers”, “shrine-worshippers”,  “clear  idolatry”, “pagan  beliefs”,  and “superstitious innovations”. Muhammad Rashid Rida indicated that his focus on this matter was a testimony to al-Manar’s (the magazine he used to publish) efforts in reforming al-Azhar; as both he and his Shaykh, Muhammad ‘Abduh were dedicated to what they called the “reformation of al-Azhar”. 

2-Rida’s Accusation  against  al-Azhar  and  Some  of  its  Scholars,  saying  they were  “Grave-worshippers” attempting to spread Grave-Worship among People 

On page 22 of al-Manar wa al-Azhar

I criticised Nur al-Islām magazine, al-Azhar’s official publication, for the articles and verdicts they published from him [Shaykh Yusuf al-Dajawi] in support of common innovations among the laity of the Umma especially the innovations and evil acts that take place at the graves and the calumny against Salafism in general and Wahhabism in particular; especially in this time in which the Islāmic world  from  east  to west  and  all  in between,  such  as Egypt  – may Allāh  safeguard  her  – has been affable  towards  the Saudi  state, defended  it,  and  censured  the Egyptian  state  for  not  recognizing it… 

Elsewhere in his book, he said:  

Perhaps most  of  the Azhari  sermonizers  who  are  spread  about  here  and  there  have  the  same orientation as al-Manar and those who read its Qur’ānic exegesis. Indeed, I know the most choice among  them…al-Manar  was  the  first  to  propose  to  al-Azhar  the  establishment  of  this  blessed group.  Shaykh  al-Zawahiri  aspires  to  make  all  of  them  superstitious  grave-worshippers  who oppose al-Manar  and  stand  in  the way  of  its  call. Each  time  he  tests  someone who  is  set  to  be appointed  or  sent  abroad, most  of  his  focus  is  set  at  discovering  what  that  individual  believes regarding  the  Salafi  concept  of  Divine  unity  and  blameworthy  innovation  related  to  grave-worship.

His  usual  way  of  ascertaining  that  is  to  ask  that  person’s  opinion  regarding al-Manar  [magazine],  its Qur’ānic  exegesis,  and  its  author  –  and  he might  add  to  those  questions  other things  that  set him apart  from his opponents and malign  their  call  to  the Book,  the Sunna, and following  the Salaf.  It has been established within al-Azhar that this is his desire and those who have to take the test seek to avoid his anger using whatever permissible dissimulation they can. It has reached the point that if someone gives a misleading impression and says: “Zayd and ‘Amr are scholars who serve the religion; both make mistakes and are correct at other times”, then he will lose  al-Zawahiri’s  respect;  he  is  not  pleased  with  those who  call  to  Islām  and  guide  its  people unless they make up things, fawn flattery towards him, and say what they don’t believe. 

His Allegiance to Al-Sa‘ud 

Rashid Rida openly announced his agreement and following of Al-Sa‘ud in their call and said that they resembled the Children of Israel during the days of Musa (`Alaihis-Salam). He encouraged them to have patience and he gave them glad tidings of victory from Allāh, the Exalted, against their enemies among the “grave-worshippers” and “pagans”. 

He said in al-Manar wa al-Azhar

The First Sermon I Delivered to Ibn Sa‘ud and His Response

I said to Ibn Sa‘ud in the first sitting I had with him after arriving at Makkah: Certainly, you were harmed before and after, yet you were patient and Allāh gave you victory as He promised those who are patient. It is fitting that your people take the example and consider what Allāh mentioned with respect to the Children of Israel and Musa (`Alaihis-Salam):  They said: “We have been harmed before you came to us and after you have come to us.” He said: “Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy and grant you succession in the land and see how you will do.” Alas, see to it that you perfect your works by being thankful for this new bounty. Indeed, Allāh is looking to see how you will do, that He may reward you for it. He [Ibn Sa‘ud] said in response: “By Allāh! We fear nothing but the Qur’ān!” Contemplate this answer, o people of insight. 

His Position Regarding the Wahhabi Call and His Rejection of the Well established Schools such as the Ash‘aris and Maturidis 

It  is well-known  that Shaykh Muhammad  ‘Abduh was Muhammad Rashid Rida’s  role-model,  and  that the  former  was  the  first  one  to  distance  himself  from  the  Ash‘ari  and  Maturidi  schools  and claim independent Ijtihad and maintain that he was able to pick and choose opinions as he wished – even if the opinions he preferred were philosophical or overly rationalistic in nature.  

Rashid Rida said: 

As  far  as  the  author of al-Manar  is  concerned,  let  the  esteemed ones  present  here  and  all who read al-Manar know that he does not follow any of the Imāms in his creed, so how is it conceivable that  he  follows  Shaykh Muhammad  bin  ‘Abd  al-Wahhab  –  assuming  that  he  does  in  fact  have a school of thought that is distinct from the school of Imām  Ahmad and the Salaf of this nation? He who does not follow Imām al-Ash‘ari, even though he grew up following his doctrine, has more right that he does not follow Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab. 

It is not hidden that his claims of not following Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab does not contradict his agreement with him, his following of his ideas, and his support for the latter’s call. The most this indicates is that he asserted Ijtihad for himself in this matter, which is either accepted or rejected. 

These words stem from the firm fundamentals that he took from his Shaykh, Mu4ammad ‘Abduh. When Shaykh ‘Ulaysh spoke to him [‘Abduh] about his lessons on the book al-‘Aqa’id al-Nasafiya and about the fact that he had opposed the Ash‘aris and preferred the doctrine of the Mu‘tazila, he confirmed that. Rashid Rida mentions in his famous book, Tarikh al-Ustadh al-Imām (1/134):  

Shaykh ‘Ulaysh said: “It has reached me that you are teaching the commentary of al-‘Aqa’id al-Nafasiya.”  He [‘Abduh] said:  “Yes.”  Shaykh ‘Ulaysh said:  “It has reached me that you have preferred the doctrine of the Mu‘tazila over the doctrine of the Ash‘aris.” He [‘Abduh] said: “If I don’t blindly follow al-Ash‘ari, why should I blindly follow the Mu‘tazila?  I eschew the blind following of all of them and instead follow the proofs.” Shaykh ‘Ulaysh said: “Someone reliable informed me of that.” He [‘Abduh] said: “Let this reliable person come before us and distinguish between the two doctrines in order than he then inform us of which of the two I preferred.” 

The basis  for  the  claim of  following  the Salaf  rests on  abandoning  the  independent  efforts of  the past scholars and not  relying on  them,  claiming  that one – even  if he  is not qualified –  is able  to engage  in Ijtihad and extrapolate legal rulings from the source texts. If this viewpoint gains ascendency it will most certainly lead to the belittlement of the rank of Ijtihad and will encourage and goad every person of weak understanding who aspires for leadership to claim Ijtihad for himself – and the tribulations and problems that will result in are not hidden. 

The Effect of Salafism on the Unity of the Muslims

1- The separation  and  detachment  between  the  current  generations  and  more  than  ten  centuries of scholarship and detailed research in every science and subject, resulting in a loss of the Ummah’s efforts. 

2- Weakening  the  stance  of  the  current  generations  in  their  confrontations with  the  severe and multiple attacks against the religion of Islām. This is accomplished by disconnecting the current generations from the previous scholars of Islām and preventing them from benefiting from them or relying upon them. This results in our severe weakness in the modern sciences -as we see with our own eyes in many fields. 

3- A manufactured disconnect between the present and the past, resulting in accusations against the beliefs of the general body of Islāmic scholars.  This of course results in weakening confidence in them and doubting their knowledge and sciences. He who loses sight of his past will undoubtedly lose sight of where he is and where he is going. 

4- Inclination  to  charge  one’s  opponents  with  disbelief  or  blameworthy  innovation,  resulting  1n severe psychological disorders and doubts regarding everything transmitted to us by those of the past. The least of  these  effects  it  could  in  turn  push  some  weak  minded individuals as most of those who adopt this position are and motivate them to pursue extreme courses of action in their dealings with others. 

5-Undoubtedly, these effects and results affect them because they were ignorant regarding the distinction between the unequivocal and the speculative in both doctrine and jurisprudence. They declared some speculative matters unequivocal and opposed certain unequivocal matters. All of this stems from ideas and ways that suffer from major gaps and errors. 


On Disagreements and their Resultant Problems

There is no doubt that the science of theology is the most appropriate science for researching the disputes between the various Islāmic sects and attempting to know which of them is correct and incorrect, or which of them is more correct than the others. It is legally encouraged for the Muslims to argue about the  affairs  of  their  religion,  contrary  to  those  who  believe  that  it  is  unlawful.  This is because disagreements do in fact exist, and working to either remove or diminish differences is obligatory as much as humanly possible.  It  is  impossible  to  remove  these  disagreements  or  even  attempt  to  remove  them without  recourse  to  theology  and  arguing  in  a way  that  is best. There is no doubt that speaking about matters related to the fundamentals of the religion – what is conventionally known as creed – is sought after and desired. 

Neglecting disagreements and attempting to forget them or sweep them under the rug will never be a viable alternative to attempting to reach what is closest and reach the truth and what is correct. The fact that it is impossible to reach an agreement that is inclusive of all of the Muslims cannot justify sweeping disagreements under the rug. The fundamentals of theological rhetoric indicate that differences do in fact exist.  It  is also established  in  the upright  religion  that  it  is obligatory  for Muslims  to work  together. 

So here we have two basic premises: 

A. Disagreements exist and will continue
B. Cooperation between the Muslims is obligatory 

So,  if  we  say  that  it  is  impossible  for  us  to  work  together  as Muslims  until  we  are  all  in  complete agreement  in doctrine – both  in  its  fundamentals  and  subsidiary branch  issues  –  then  this  implies  that cooperation is impossible, which is a false conclusion. 

If we say that cooperation is obligatory and that it is conditional upon agreement, that means we must forget our disagreements. Now of course this is also incorrect because it entails neglecting that which is real and ignoring that which cannot be ignored. Every sect claims that it is correct and on the truth; how then can each sect be commanded to ignore that in which they claim they are right? 

The sound view based upon the fundamentals of theological rhetoric calls for everyone – with a certain degree of investigation – to gather between the two premises. The first premise is taken from the sensory world and sense perception, and it is regarding the means of knowledge. The second premise is taken from the unequivocal texts of the religion. It is incorrect to neglect or ignore either of them. 

The logical conclusion is that it is obligatory to work together while maintaining one’s disagreement with the other, and that it is obligatory to adopt practical measures in which these two premises and realities are kept. In sum, it is obligatory to work together with others while taking note of disagreements. In this circumstance, one must either base cooperation on that in which there is disagreement or that in which there  is  agreement,  and  obviously  constructive  work  can  only  be  based  on  that  in  which  there  is agreement. Obligatory actions that must be carried out need to be based on the points in which there is agreement between the Muslims, while at the same time not neglecting the unique features of each Islāmic sect and making sure to continue arguing in a way that is best. 

Some people look to the disagreements among the Muslims as impending threats and dangers that must be eradicated, and that they are harms that lead the Ummah to its own destruction. We hold a dissenting viewpoint and say that even though the existence of well-considered disagreements between the major sects results in some harms, it results in greater benefits overall. The most important of these benefits is constant investigation and continual research into these fundamentals. This in turn results in competition in  refuting  the obfuscations of  the external opponents who do not belong  to  the  religion – as  Imām  al-Ghazālī  said when  he  argued with  the  philosophers:  “I  am  not  addressing  you with  the  tongue  of the Ash‘aris alone; I am addressing you with the tongue of all the Islāmic sects entire: all of them are united against you.”

And Allāh grants all success


1. i.e., it is not intrinsically necessary for Allāh to create the universe. [t]
2. The point being is that in Arabic, the word for mercy, “rahmah” is a feminine noun, which means that the demonstrative pronoun that signifies it must also be feminine. In Arabic, the demonstrative pronoun that designates feminine nouns is tilka, and the demonstrative pronoun that designates masculine nouns is dhalika. [t]
3. Hadha is a demonstrative pronoun for masculine nouns/objects that are close up. [t]
4. The first treatise found in Tarikh Najd, by Shaykh Zusayn b. Ghannam, edited by Dr. NaTir al-Din al-Asad (page 222)

[Via al-Maghrib Institute; Excerpted from “Modern Salafism and Its Effect on Muslim Unity” by Sa‘īd ‘Abdal–Latif Foudah, a Paper Submitted To the International Conference, Islāmic University of Malaysia, Released by; 1430 H]

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