Follow the great majority of Muslims today?

Follow the great majority of Muslims today?

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

In Islam, we must always follow the great majority of the people of truth, who first and foremost are the companions of the Messenger of Allah (แนฃ), their students (tabiโ€™in), and the students of their students (tabiโ€™ tabiโ€™in).

These are the three best generations in Islam and they were all united upon religious truth. But some Muslims have a misconception that we should follow the greatest majority of Muslims, or those who claim to be Muslims, in any given time period. This is serious mistake.

The origin of this misconception is the interpretation of a prophetic tradition that orders us to follow โ€˜the great majorityโ€™ (al-sawad al-aโ€™dham). Several scholars considered this tradition to be weak and unreliable.

Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

ุฅูู†ูŽู‘ ุฃูู…ูŽู‘ุชููŠ ู„ูŽู†ู’ ุชูŽุฌู’ุชูŽู…ูุนูŽ ุนูŽู„ูŽู‰ ุถูŽู„ุงูŽู„ูŽุฉู ููŽุฅูุฐูŽุง ุฑูŽุฃูŽูŠู’ุชูู…ู ุงุฎู’ุชูู„ุงูŽูู‹ุง ููŽุนูŽู„ูŽูŠู’ูƒูู…ู’ ุจูุงู„ุณูŽู‘ูˆูŽุงุฏู ุงู„ุฃูŽุนู’ุธูŽู…ู

Verily, my nation will not unite upon misguidance. If you see differences, you must follow the great majority.

Source: Sunan Ibn Mฤjah 3950

Ibn Kathir judged this narration to be weak inย Bidayat al-Nihayahย 19/39 as well as Al-Albani inย Silsilat al-Daโ€™ifahย 2896. Ibn al-Qaysarani said inย Dhakirat al-Huffazย 1/493 that the chain contains two weak narrators. Abu Hatim said the sub-narrator Abu Khalaf is โ€˜rejectedโ€™ (munkar) as recorded by Al-Mizzi inย Tahdhib al-Kamalย 33/286.

The narration was recorded in Ibn โ€˜Adiโ€™s compilation of weak narrations known asย Al-Kamil fi al-Duโ€™afaโ€™ย 8/38. Ibn Hajar al-โ€˜Asqalani analyzed it various chains of authority inย Muwafaqat al-Khubar al-Khabarย 1/113-114 and found them all to be weak.

However, Al-Arnaโ€™ut stated in his verification ofย Siyar Aโ€™lam al-Nubalaโ€™ย 12/197 that the multiple chains strengthened each other enough to make it a credible proof, and some scholars accepted it at face-value regardless.

Nevertheless, it is true that was should join the โ€˜united communityโ€™ (al-jamaโ€™ah) also known as the โ€˜saved groupโ€™ (firqat al-najiyah). All of these titles refer primarily to the companions and the immediate generations following them, known as the righteous predecessors (al-salaf al-salih), as well as the later scholars who emulate their beliefs and practices.

The tradition does not refer to the majority of Muslims in any given era, as after the companions many heresies and religious innovations became widespread.

Ibn Kathir commented on this narration, writing:

ูˆูŽู‚ูŽุฏู’ ูƒูŽุงู†ูŽ ุฃูŽู‡ู’ู„ู ุงู„ู’ุญูŽู‚ูู‘ ูููŠ ุงู„ุตูŽู‘ุฏู’ุฑู ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽูˆูŽู‘ู„ู ู‡ูู…ู’ ุฃูŽูƒู’ุซูŽุฑูŽ ุงู„ู’ุฃูู…ูŽู‘ุฉู ููŽูƒูŽุงู†ูŽ ู„ูŽุง ูŠููˆุฌูŽุฏู ูููŠู‡ูู…ู’ ู…ูุจู’ุชูŽุฏูุนูŒ ู„ูŽุง ูููŠ ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽู‚ู’ูˆูŽุงู„ู ูˆูŽู„ูŽุง ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽูู’ุนูŽุงู„ู ูˆูŽูููŠ ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽุนู’ุตูŽุงุฑู ุงู„ู’ู…ูุชูŽุฃูŽุฎูู‘ุฑูŽุฉู ููŽู‚ูŽุฏู’ ูŠูŽุฌู’ุชูŽู…ูุนู ุงู„ู’ุฌูŽู…ูู‘ ุงู„ู’ุบูŽูููŠุฑู ุนูŽู„ูŽู‰ ุจูุฏู’ุนูŽุฉู ูˆูŽู‚ูŽุฏู’ ูŠูŽุฎู’ู„ููˆ ุงู„ู’ุญูŽู‚ูู‘ ูููŠ ุจูŽุนู’ุถู ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽุฒู’ู…ูŽุงู†ู ุงู„ู’ู…ูุชูŽุฃูŽุฎูู‘ุฑูŽุฉู ุนูŽู†ู’ ุนูุตูŽุงุจูŽุฉู ูŠูŽู‚ููˆู…ููˆู†ูŽ ุจูู‡ู

The people of truth in the beginning were the majority of the Ummah. One would not find innovations among them, neither in words nor deeds. In the later eras, numerous groups united upon innovation. The truth vanished in some of the later times due to the partisanship they established.

Source: al-Bidฤyah wal-Nihฤyah19/39

And Al-Barbahari writes:

ูู‚ุฏ ุจูŠู† ุฑุณูˆู„ ุงู„ู„ู‡ ุตู„ู‰ ุงู„ู„ู‡ ุนู„ูŠู‡ ูˆุณู„ู… ู„ุฃู…ุชู‡ ุงู„ุณู†ุฉ ูˆุฃูˆุถุญู‡ุง ู„ุฃุตุญุงุจู‡ ูˆู‡ู… ุงู„ุฌู…ุงุนุฉ ูˆู‡ู… ุงู„ุณูˆุงุฏ ุงู„ุฃุนุธู… ูˆุงู„ุณูˆุงุฏ ุงู„ุฃุนุธู… ุงู„ุญู‚ ูˆุฃู‡ู„ู‡ ูู…ู† ุฎุงู„ู ุฃุตุญุงุจ ุฑุณูˆู„ ุงู„ู„ู‡ ุตู„ู‰ ุงู„ู„ู‡ ุนู„ูŠู‡ ูˆุณู„ู… ููŠ ุดูŠุก ู…ู† ุฃู…ุฑ ุงู„ุฏูŠู† ูู‚ุฏ ูƒูุฑ

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, clarified the Sunnah for his nation and explained it to his companions.

They are the united community. They are the great majority, and the โ€˜great majorityโ€™ is the truth and its people. Whoever opposes the companions of the Messenger of Allah in any religious matters has committed unbelief.

Source: Sharแธฅ al-Sunnah 1/37

Thus, the original โ€˜great majorityโ€™ was the companions and the righteous predecessors, while after their time many groups of innovators appeared such as the Khawarij, the Muโ€™tazilah, the Qadariyyah, the Jabbariyyah, the Murjiโ€™ah, the Jahmiyyah, and the sectarian partisans of the Ashโ€™ariyyah and Maturidiyyah, although not all of the Ashโ€™ari or Maturidi scholars were sectarian since they took the Quran and Sunnah as their ultimate reference to the best of their knowledge.

In fact, many Ashโ€™ari and Maturidi scholars throughout history have been praised and widely accepted for their beneficial works in the service of Islam. May Allah have mercy on them.

The promise of the Prophet (แนฃ) that his nation would never unite upon misguidance refers to the upright scholars who follow his Sunnah and the way of his companions and the righteous predecessors. It does not refer to the majority of Muslims in any given time period. Heretics and innovators are not part of his Ummah in the proper sense.

And Al-Shatibi commented on this narration, writing:

ููŽู…ูŽุนู’ู†ูŽู‰ ู‚ูŽูˆู’ู„ูู‡ู ู„ูŽู†ู’ ุชูŽุฌู’ุชูŽู…ูุนูŽ ุฃูู…ูŽู‘ุชููŠ ู„ูŽู†ู’ ูŠูŽุฌู’ุชูŽู…ูุนูŽ ุนูู„ูŽู…ูŽุงุกู ุฃูู…ูŽู‘ุชููŠ ุนูŽู„ูŽู‰ ุถูŽู„ูŽุงู„ูŽุฉู

The meaning of his statement, โ€˜My nation will never unite upon misguidance,โ€™ is that the scholars of my nation will never unite upon misguidance.

Source: al-Iสปtiแนฃฤm 2/771

And Ibn Battal commented, writing:

ูˆู‚ุงู„ ุขุฎุฑูˆู† ุงู„ุฌู…ุงุนุฉ ุงู„ุชู‰ ุฃู…ุฑ ุฑุณูˆู„ ุงู„ู„ู‡ ุจู„ุฒูˆู…ู‡ุง ู‡ู… ุฌู…ุงุนุฉ ุงู„ุตุญุงุจุฉ ุงู„ุฐูŠู† ู‚ุงู…ูˆุง ุจุงู„ุฏูŠู† ุจุนุฏ ู…ุถูŠู‘ู‡ ุตู„ู‰ ุงู„ู„ู‡ ุนู„ูŠู‡ ูˆุณู„ู…

Other scholars said the โ€˜united communityโ€™ which the Messenger of Allah commanded holding onto is the united community of the companions who established the religion after his passing, peace and blessings be upon him.

Source: Sharแธฅ แนขaแธฅฤซแธฅ al-Bukhฤrฤซ li-Ibn Baแนญแนญฤl 10/35

This is why the true Muslims are called โ€˜the people of the Sunnah and the united communityโ€™ (Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaโ€™ah). They are united upon the Sunnah of the Prophet (แนฃ). The truth of Islam is the basis of their unity and not unity for the sake of itself.

It does not mean they are the greatest in number at any given time or place, because unity upon anything other than the Sunnah is simply false and dangerous misguidance.

It is confirmed in the authentic Sunnah that the companions and their immediate successors are the best of the Muslim nation, so the only way to protect ourselves from the deviance of various heretical sects is to strictly follow their example in beliefs and practices.

Abdullah ibn Masโ€™ud reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

ุฎูŽูŠู’ุฑู ุงู„ู†ูŽู‘ุงุณู ู‚ูŽุฑู’ู†ููŠ ุซูู…ูŽู‘ ุงู„ูŽู‘ุฐููŠู†ูŽ ูŠูŽู„ููˆู†ูŽู‡ูู…ู’ ุซูู…ูŽู‘ ุงู„ูŽู‘ุฐููŠู†ูŽ ูŠูŽู„ููˆู†ูŽู‡ูู…ู’ ุซูู…ูŽู‘ ูŠูŽุฌููŠุกู ู…ูู†ู’ ุจูŽุนู’ุฏูู‡ูู…ู’ ู‚ูŽูˆู’ู…ูŒ ุชูŽุณู’ุจูู‚ู ุดูŽู‡ูŽุงุฏูŽุชูู‡ูู…ู’ ุฃูŽูŠู’ู…ูŽุงู†ูŽู‡ูู…ู’ ูˆูŽุฃูŽูŠู’ู…ูŽุงู†ูู‡ูู…ู’ ุดูŽู‡ูŽุงุฏูŽุชูŽู‡ูู…ู’

The best people are those of my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them. Then, there will come people after them whose testimony precedes their oaths and their oaths precede their testimony.

Source: แนขaแธฅฤซแธฅ al-Bukhฤrฤซ 6429, Grade:ย Muttafaqun Alayhi

The Prophet (แนฃ) told us that his nation would split into seventy or more sects and only one of these groups, the โ€˜saved sect,โ€™ would enter Paradise. This โ€˜saved sectโ€™ are those who follow his companions and their immediate successors, the righteous predecessors.

Abdullah ibn Amr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

ูˆูŽุฅูู†ูŽู‘ ุจูŽู†ููŠ ุฅูุณู’ุฑูŽุงุฆููŠู„ูŽ ุชูŽููŽุฑูŽู‘ู‚ูŽุชู’ ุนูŽู„ูŽู‰ ุซูู†ู’ุชูŽูŠู’ู†ู ูˆูŽุณูŽุจู’ุนููŠู†ูŽ ู…ูู„ูŽู‘ุฉู‹ ูˆูŽุชูŽูู’ุชูŽุฑูู‚ู ุฃูู…ูŽู‘ุชููŠ ุนูŽู„ูŽู‰ ุซูŽู„ูŽุงุซู ูˆูŽุณูŽุจู’ุนููŠู†ูŽ ู…ูู„ูŽู‘ุฉู‹ ูƒูู„ูู‘ู‡ูู…ู’ ูููŠ ุงู„ู†ูŽู‘ุงุฑู ุฅูู„ูŽู‘ุง ู…ูู„ูŽู‘ุฉู‹ ูˆูŽุงุญูุฏูŽุฉู‹

Verily, the children of Israel split into seventy-two sects and my nation will split into seventy-three sects; all of them are in the Hellfire except for one denomination.

They said, โ€œWho are they, O Messenger of Allah?โ€ The Prophet said:

ู…ูŽุง ุฃูŽู†ูŽุง ุนูŽู„ูŽูŠู’ู‡ู ูˆูŽุฃูŽุตู’ุญูŽุงุจููŠ

Those who follow my wayย and my companions.

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhฤซ 2641, Grade:ย Hasan

Al-Tirmidhi commented on one of these variant narrations, writing:

ูˆูŽุชูŽูู’ุณููŠุฑู ุงู„ู’ุฌูŽู…ูŽุงุนูŽุฉู ุนูู†ู’ุฏูŽ ุฃูŽู‡ู’ู„ู ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ู ู‡ูู…ู’ ุฃูŽู‡ู’ู„ู ุงู„ู’ููู‚ู’ู‡ู ูˆูŽุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ู ูˆูŽุงู„ู’ุญูŽุฏููŠุซู

The meaning of the โ€˜united communityโ€™ according to the scholars are the people of jurisprudence (fiqh), knowledge, and prophetic traditions (hadith).

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhฤซ 2167

The great Imams of Fiqh are Abu Hanifa, Malik ibn Anas, Al-Shafiโ€™i, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and their students. The great Imams of Hadith are Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Al-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Al-Nasaโ€™i, Ibn Majah, and others. These eminent scholars are the link between ourselves, the companions, and the righteous predecessors.

As can be seen from the predication of the Prophet (แนฃ), the group of Muslims upon the truth will indeed be outnumbered by the many sects that became prevalent after the time of the righteous predecessors and new sects that have continued to emerge until today.

The only Muslims worthy of the title โ€˜the united communityโ€™ or โ€˜the great majorityโ€™ or โ€˜the saved sectโ€™ are those who follow the original united community, even if they are alone in doing so.

Abdullah ibn Masโ€™ud, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

ุฅูู†ูŽู‘ ุฌูู…ู’ู‡ููˆุฑูŽ ุงู„ู’ุฌูŽู…ูŽุงุนูŽุฉู ู‡ููŠูŽ ุงู„ูŽู‘ุชููŠ ุชูููŽุงุฑูู‚ู ุงู„ู’ุฌูŽู…ูŽุงุนูŽุฉูŽ ุฅูู†ูŽู‘ู…ูŽุง ุงู„ู’ุฌูŽู…ูŽุงุนูŽุฉู ู…ูŽุง ูˆูŽุงููŽู‚ูŽ ุทูŽุงุนูŽุฉูŽ ุงู„ู„ูŽู‘ู‡ู ูˆูŽุฅูู†ู’ ูƒูู†ู’ุชูŽ ูˆูŽุญู’ุฏูŽูƒูŽ

Verily, the majority of groups have left the united community. The united community is only the one that conforms to the obedience of Allah, even if you are by yourself.

Source:ย Sharแธฅ Uแนฃลซl Iโ€™tiqฤd Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamฤโ€™ah 160

Ibn al-Qayyim commented on this narration, writing:

ูˆูŽุงุนู’ู„ูŽู…ู’ ุฃูŽู†ูŽู‘ ุงู„ู’ุฅูุฌู’ู…ูŽุงุนูŽ ูˆูŽุงู„ู’ุญูุฌูŽู‘ุฉูŽ ูˆูŽุงู„ุณูŽู‘ูˆูŽุงุฏูŽ ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽุนู’ุธูŽู…ูŽ ู‡ููˆูŽ ุงู„ู’ุนูŽุงู„ูู…ู ุตูŽุงุญูุจู ุงู„ู’ุญูŽู‚ูู‘ ูˆูŽุฅูู†ู’ ูƒูŽุงู†ูŽ ูˆูŽุญู’ุฏูŽู‡ู ูˆูŽุฅูู†ู’ ุฎูŽุงู„ูŽููŽู‡ู ุฃูŽู‡ู’ู„ู ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽุฑู’ุถู

Know that the consensus, the proof, and the โ€˜great majorityโ€™ is one who knows the people of truth, even if he is alone and even if the people of the earth oppose him.

Source: Iโ€™lฤm al-Muwaqqiโ€™ฤซn 4/397

And Ishaq ibn Rawhuway said:

ู„ูŽูˆู’ ุณูŽุฃูŽู„ู’ุชูŽ ุงู„ู’ุฌูู‡ูŽู‘ุงู„ูŽ ู…ูŽู†ู ุงู„ุณูŽู‘ูˆูŽุงุฏู ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽุนู’ุธูŽู…ู ู‚ูŽุงู„ููˆุง ุฌูŽู…ูŽุงุนูŽุฉู ุงู„ู†ูŽู‘ุงุณู ูˆูŽู„ูŽุง ูŠูŽุนู’ู„ูŽู…ููˆู†ูŽ ุฃูŽู†ูŽู‘ ุงู„ู’ุฌูŽู…ูŽุงุนูŽุฉูŽ ุนูŽุงู„ูู…ูŒ ู…ูุชูŽู…ูŽุณูู‘ูƒูŒ ุจูุฃูŽุซูŽุฑู ุงู„ู†ูŽู‘ุจููŠูู‘ ุตูŽู„ูŽู‘ู‰ ุงู„ู„ู‡ู ุนูŽู„ูŽูŠู’ู‡ู ูˆูŽุณูŽู„ูŽู‘ู…ูŽ ูˆูŽุทูŽุฑููŠู‚ูู‡ู ููŽู…ูŽู†ู’ ูƒูŽุงู†ูŽ ู…ูŽุนูŽู‡ู ูˆูŽุชูŽุจูุนูŽู‡ู ููŽู‡ููˆูŽ ุงู„ู’ุฌูŽู…ูŽุงุนูŽุฉู ูˆูŽู…ูŽู†ู’ ุฎูŽุงู„ูŽููŽู‡ู ูููŠู‡ู ุชูŽุฑูŽูƒูŽ ุงู„ู’ุฌูŽู…ูŽุงุนูŽุฉู

If some of the ignorant ask, โ€˜Who are the great majority?โ€™ They will say, โ€˜The large group of people.โ€™ They do not know that the โ€˜united communityโ€™ is a scholar who holds onto the reports from the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and his path. Whoever is with him and follows him is the โ€˜united communityโ€™ and whoever opposes him has left the united community.

Source: แธคilyat al-Awliyฤโ€™ 9/238

Let it be known that the truth is made clear by the texts of the Quran and Sunnah and not by personalities or sectarian affiliations. The Messenger of Allah (แนฃ) is the only one who does not err in his actions or statements about the religion.

One must study the truth from these sources to learn who follows it and not to judge the truth on the basis of blindly following (taqlid) charismatic personalities.

Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

ุฅูู†ูŽู‘ ุงู„ู’ุญูŽู‚ูŽู‘ ูˆุงู„ุจุงุทู„ ู„ุง ูŠูุนู’ุฑูŽูุงู† ุจุฃู‚ุฏุงุฑ ุงู„ุฑูู‘ุฌูŽุงู„ู ุงุนู’ุฑููู ุงู„ู’ุญูŽู‚ูŽู‘ ุชูŽุนู’ุฑููู’ ุฃูŽู‡ู’ู„ูŽู‡ู ูˆุงุนู’ุฑููู ุงู„ุจุงุทู„ ุชูŽุนู’ุฑููู’ ู…ู† ุฃุชุงู‡

Verily, the truth and falsehood are not recognized by the measure of men. Know the truth and you will recognize its people. Know falsehood and you will recognize one who brings it.

Source:ย Ansฤb al-Ashrฤf 358

The good news is that at least some Muslims will always be united upon the Sunnah and the way of the companions and righteous predecessors. They will call people to Islam (daโ€™wah) according to their methodology and they will be well-known among the strands of Islam, even if they are a minority and are scorned by the majority of Muslims.

Abu Umamah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

ู„ูŽุง ุชูŽุฒูŽุงู„ู ุทูŽุงุฆูููŽุฉูŒ ู…ูู†ู’ ุฃูู…ูŽู‘ุชููŠ ุนูŽู„ูŽู‰ ุงู„ุฏูู‘ูŠู†ู ุธูŽุงู‡ูุฑููŠู†ูŽ ู„ูŽุนูŽุฏููˆูู‘ู‡ูู…ู’ ู‚ูŽุงู‡ูุฑููŠู†ูŽ ู„ูŽุง ูŠูŽุถูุฑูู‘ู‡ูู…ู’ ู…ูŽู†ู’ ุฎูŽุงู„ูŽููŽู‡ูู…ู’ ุฅูู„ูŽู‘ุง ู…ูŽุง ุฃูŽุตูŽุงุจูŽู‡ูู…ู’ ู…ูู†ู’ ู„ูŽุฃู’ูˆูŽุงุกูŽ ุญูŽุชูŽู‘ู‰ ูŠูŽุฃู’ุชููŠูŽู‡ูู…ู’ ุฃูŽู…ู’ุฑู ุงู„ู„ู‡ู ูˆูŽู‡ูู…ู’ ูƒูŽุฐูŽู„ููƒูŽ

A group of my nation will continue to be victorious upon the religion, overpowering their enemies. None who oppose them will harm them, except what afflicts them of difficult circumstances, until Allah brings his command while they are like so.

Source: Musnad Aแธฅmad 22320, Grade:ย Sahih li ghayrihi

Our imperative, then, is to find this rightly-guided group who calls to the Quran, the Sunnah, and the way of the righteous predecessors, and to abandon all the other groups who call to various heresies and innovations in the religion.

In sum, the โ€˜great majorityโ€™ whom we are commanded to follow are the companions, the righteous predecessors, and the later scholars who strictly followed them, even if they are not the majority of people in a given era. Even if there is only one scholar or one Muslim who follows their way, they are the true โ€˜united communityโ€™ regardless of their numbers.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.

Abu Amina