Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaa`ah (The People of Sunnah and the Community)
The Beginning Point of an Islamic Methodology
By Dr. Ihsan Bagby
In its mission statement, MANA says that its organization will be based on Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaa`ah (the People of Sunnah and the Community). What does this mean? The term Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaa`ah is actually an old term that was first used in the second century of the Islamic era.
Firstly the term means that the foundation of all Islamic thought is Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) as found in authentic hadith. The ultimate arbiter and final source of truth are Quran and Sunnah. MANA is committed, therefore, to follow carefully and thoroughly the Quran and Sunnah.
Secondly the term Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaa`ah refers to the Ummah of Islam and in particular the community of scholars and teachers who have struggled (done ijtihad) to interpret and implement the Quran and Sunnah. The myriad scholars of Islam from the first century, through the long centuries of Islamic dominance, to the present century, have produced a large, spectacular body of diverse Islamic opinions that are all sincere efforts to understand Quran and Sunnah. In the first century Ibn Umar was known as rigid while Ibn Abbas was thought of as mild. Abu Hanifah and Malik in the second century used a range of methodological principles to interpret Quran and Sunnah, while al-Shafi`i preferred to rely more on hadith. Great scholars such as al-Nawawi and Khalil tried to regularize the opinions of the madhhabs while al-Shatibi and Ibn Taimiyah tried to loosen the hold of the classical schools. Al-Ghazali and Abdul Qadir Jilani tried to re-awaken Muslims to the spiritual side of Islam, sometimes called Sufism.
MANA will respect the diverse opinions of the great scholars of Islam. In other words, Malik and al-Shafi`i are welcome in MANA. Al-Ghazali and Ibn Taimiyah are welcome in MANA. Yes, the opinions of Bin Baz and al-Qaradawi, Sayyid Qutb and al-Albani will be respected and considered. A Muslim who follows a madhhab and a Muslim who does not believe in following a madhhab (as long as it is within the bounds of Quran and Sunnah) are welcome. Sufi and salafi are welcome.
MANA does not want to be defined and pigeon holed as a Maliki or Shafi`i organization, a sufi or salafi organization. We want to learn and benefit from all. When we deal with an issue that requires an organizational decision, we will honor and weigh the diversity of opinions, we will analyze our present circumstances, and then depending upon a process of consultation and consensus, we will make a decision.
MANA’s purpose is not to serve as the sole source of correct Islamic teaching. As an alliance, we do not want to dictate how a particular organization teaches salah, for example, but we do want that salah is taught within an authentic understanding of Islam—within the framework of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaa`ah. Our main purpose as an organization is not to produce a definitive book of salah or aqidah. Our goals are focused on community building, inviting America to Islam and standing up for justice.
Ihsan Bagby is Associate Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of Kentucky, and General Secretary of MANA.