By Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin

Translation by Umm Jaabir (

Several individuals had suggested that I briefly expound in my column regarding what was mentioned last week by a tarekat (Sufi sect) activist that had commented on my arrest.

Personally, it is a norm for these tarekat followers to feel antsy with me because few of my previous articles contained criticisms on the culture of blind-following (taklid buta) or the abandonment of rational thinking, which is very common in many tarekat groups where its followers would perform anything instructed by their “shaykh” (leader) without questioning the basis of such command.

However, the more frequently asked question is “who are the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā`ah?” Since this ‘branding’ is very popular, whereby it is even used as a ‘weapon’ by some, we then find many quarters claiming absolute ownership of this phrase. Whomever oppose them or dare question their legitimacy would be deemed deviated and expelled from Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā`ah. These folks’ mentality only reminds us of the words of Napoleon Bonaparte: “I am France and France is me.”

Given this, many people would proudly claim subscribing to Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā`ah; although if asked to explain the definition of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā`ah, they will stagger and struggle in providing an answer. Or even if answered, it will be according to their terms and interests.
Also making this claim are the tarekat groups known for various claims including the concept of “wahdatul ujud” (the unity of God and creations) which was popularized and espoused by Ibn `Arabi.

Even more pathetic are those who claimed “Ahlus Sunnah are only those who follow the Shāfi`i madhhab (school of thought).” If that is the case, then it is implied that the great imāms such as al-Imām Abu Hanīfah, al-Imām Mālik, and al-Imām Ahmad are all not considered from among Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā`ah!

So much so, that even those that do not perform qunūt (in Fajr or Subh prayer) are expelled from Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā`ah. Thus, approximately three fourth of the Muslim ummah are no longer from Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā`ah.

All aside, the term Sunnah refers to the Sunnah of the Prophet salAllāhu `alayhi wasallam, which includes the understanding of al-Qur’ān and as-Sunnah. Therefore, the people of Sunnah (Ahlus Sunnah) are those who grasp and practice this very understanding. While the term Jamā`ah refers to the Companions (Sahābahs) of the Prophet salAllāhu `alayhi wasallam. In other words, it is the understanding of al-Qur’ān and as-Sunnah according to the practice and understanding of the greatest generation of Islam, whom are the Sahābahs. Those who are convinced with full certainty that al-Qur’ān and as-Sunnah is the ultimate source of reference, and the understanding of the Sahabahs is their source of guidance, then they are the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā`ah (see al-Mawsū’āt al-Muyassarah fi al-Adyān wa al-Madhāhib wa al-Ahzāb al-Mu’āsarah, pages 40-54, World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY)).

Therefore, even with multiple differences of opinion within the fiqhi (Islamic jurisprudence) madhhab, these differences do not cause them to fall out from Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā`ah. As mentioned by `Abd al-Qāhir al-Baghdādi (died 429H): “It is from among them (Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā`ah) those who follow al-Imām Mālik, al-Imām Shāfi’i, al-Awzā`i, ath-Thawri, Abu Hanīfah, ibn Abi Layla, Abi Thawr, Ahmad bin Hanbal, Ahli Żāhir (literalists) and those who adhere to using the intellect (rationalists) based on the principles of tawhīd ŝifāt. They do not mix and add from religious innovations (bid`ah) of the people of hawā’ (desire) and those misguided” (al-Baghdādi, al-Farq bayn al-Firāq, pages 314-315, Beirut: Dār al-Ma`rifah).

From this, we see that even madhhab Żāhiri (the literalists’ school of thought) whom only subscribe to literal evidences (żahir nās) are categorized as Ahlus Sunnah. Then, is a person taken one out of the fold of Ahlus Sunnah by not performing qunūt (in Fajr prayer), putting the hands on the chest while praying, and not making group dhikr after congregational prayers?!

In the Utusan interview, the JAIS (Islamic Religious Department of Selangor) representative had mentioned that among the deviant characteristics are those who mentioned the breakdown of tawhīd (Islamic monotheism) into Rubūbiyyah, Ulūhiyyah, and Asmā’ was Ŝifāt. However, in the characteristics of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā`ah as explained by the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), in the course syllabus from the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), and in the school curriculum in Malaysia and the majority of universities in the world, this is the categorization that is being taught and explained in understanding the tawhīd of Ahlus Sunnah.

Ever since my primary school days, that has been the content of the `aqīdah (Islamic creed) of Ahlus Sunnah taught, whether in my Islamic study circle (usrah), in the `aqīdah book of the PAS president, in the UMNO-led government school books, in the Arab states, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Europe.

Today, the JAIS representative in his interview had stated that this is not the `aqīdah of Ahlus Sunnah, and furthermore, likened it to the `aqīdah of the idol-worshipper. As a conclusion, it is said to be related to Wahhabism. If so, then all of us had become Wahhabis all these while.

I am saddened to see religious leaders who have became careless in easily making takfīr (declaring others to be outside the fold of Islam) and haphazardly declaring others as deviants, in order to protect their interest and status, while in the end, it is the ummah that gets destroyed. Allow me to share the words of Professor Hamka: “Sometimes it is stated that Kaum Muda shows no respect to the Muslim scholars. In reality, those whom they claimed as scholars are not Imām Mālik or Imām Shāfi`i but several government officials that don the turban and long robes (jubah). And they deem themselves as scholars because they hold certification letters (surat tauliah) in their hands.” (Hamka, Noble and Sincere Advice for the Mufti of Johor, page 66).

From the certification (tauliah) issue, the subject gets shifted to Wahhabi. Anyone who opined differently than those with religious authority will be automatically labeled as Wahhabi.

Last week, the Director of JAIS stated that non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque (masjid) because they are viewed to be the same as menstruating women. It is amazing how this type of religious edict (fatwa) is issued at a time when vast majority of non-Muslims do not have the proper understanding of Islam.

In the time of the Prophet salAllāhu `alayhi wasallam, all the Muslim and non-Muslim delegations whether Jews, Christians or others, would meet with the Prophet salAllāhu `alayhi wasallam inside the mosque. They learned and understood Islam from the mosque and conducted affairs with the Islamic government inside the mosque. This was mentioned in numerous narrations (ahadīth, plural of hadīth).

If the Director of JAIS subscribes to the view that I deem as weak and less favorable to Muslims in Malaysia, does it make me a Wahhabi and misguided if I decided to choose the opinion of the scholars stating that non-Muslims can enter the mosque if there is valid reasoning? What if, by the grace of Allah Almighty, that I am granted the position of authority in the future, then should his (Director of JAIS) view be taken as Wahhabi and deviated at that time?! Such is the corruption of the religion when it becomes a tool for the lustful desire and vested interests!

I am not an avid fan of the works of Muhammad bin `Abd al-Wahhāb (died 1115H). I am more inclined to Dr Yūsuf al-Qaradāwi whom stated that Ibn Taymiyyah (died 728H) is very dear to his heart. The same applies to me as well. Nevertheless, I can never accept the irresponsible habit of making takfīr and loosely declaring religious scholars as deviants, which is happening nowadays. Even if I am not an adherent of the Māliki madhhab, I would strongly refute and condemn those who defame al-Imām Mālik bin Anas, because it is incumbent (wājib) upon every Muslim to defend their Muslim brethren who is being oppressed, let alone the Muslim scholars.

Though not a follower of Muhammad bin `Abd al-Wahhāb, I will not allow that he be defamed, insulted, and denounced from being a Muslim. Not to mention of its huge implication. Those adamant in claiming Wahhabi as deviants and being outside the fold of Islam will result by declaring Saudi Arabia in particular and several other Arab states as deviants in the end, and possibly kāfir (disbeliever). Originating from Lebanon, they have their own hidden agenda and have now made progress in having their agents present in this country. Their modus operandi is to instigate the culture of takfīr within the ummah. This will be further elaborated in future articles.

Recently, IIUM hosted a highly distinguished guest and a renowned scholar `Abd Allah bin `Abd al-Muhsin al-Turki, Secretary-General of Muslim World League, during the International Conference on Jurisprudence of Minorities in the Light of Maqāsid ash-Sharī`ah.

In his writing Mujmal I`tiqād A’immah as-Salaf, this prominent figure praised the `aqīdah and struggle of Muhammad bin `Abd al-Wahhāb. He wrote: “ash-Shaykh Muhammad bin `Abd al-Wahhāb was consistent and steadfast in calling the people towards a pure and refined `aqīdah. With tawhīd, he repelled shirk; with knowledge, he extinguished superstitious beliefs” (page 105, Beirut: Mu’assasah ar-Risālah).

Dr Yūsuf al-Qaradāwi also praised him (Muhammad bin `Abd al-Wahhāb) in Fiqh al-Awlawiyyāt. He wrote: “For al-Imām Muhammad bin `Abdul Wahhāb in the Arabian peninsula, `aqīdah is of utmost importance to him, that is to protect the purity of tawhīd, which had been smeared and tainted by shirk. He had written books and treatises regarding this topic. He rose and carried the struggle through da`wah, and was practical in destroying acts of shirk” (page 263, Egypt: Maktabah Wahbah).

Another prominent Muslim jurist (faqih) of this era, whose views are often referred to, is Dr Wahbah az-Zuhaili. He said: “It is without doubt that he, realizing the whole truth, not intending to please anyone, held strong to the verse of the Noble Qur’ān:

“… do not deprive the people of their due…” (Surah Hūd 11:85);

that the bravest voice of truth, the greatest Islamic caller (dā`i) to revivalism and reformation (iŝlāh) in building the ummah, fighting in the way of Allah and returning the Muslims to the way of the salāfus ŝālih (pious predecessors) is the da`wah of Muhammad bin `Abd al Wahhāb in the 12th century Hijri. His objective was to revive (purify) the lives of the Muslims after being tarnished with various differences (khilāf), religious misunderstandings, bid`ah (religious innovations), and corruptions. Thus Muhammad bin `Abd al-Wahhāb was a leader of Islamic revivalism and reformation (iŝlāh) that was much anticipated, whom manifested the pure unadulterated `aqīdah..” (reference: Dr Wahbah az-Zuhaili, Risālah Mujaddid ad-Dīn fi Qarn ath-Thāni `Ashar, pages 57-58).

Once again, a question that I had posed in the past, are all of them to be considered Wahhabi for praising Muhammad bin `Abd al-Wahhāb? Will they be labeled as such if they are to give lectures in this country because they hold no ‘certification’? Or perhaps they are not entitled for ‘certification’ since they have elements of Wahhabism?

Throughout history, resulting from the ploys of the religious authorities, al-Imām Ahmad bin Hanbal was notoriously punished by the ruler’s `ulamā (religious scholars) of his time. Al-Imām al-Bukhāri also faced similar predicament. The term Wahhabi has surfaced as a scary boogeyman, used by the elders in the past to frighten the children.

Therefore, it is irrelevant whether the ghost actually exists or not, whether the elders have witnessed it or not, or even seen its physical look. What is important is that the children are fearful of it while the elders can comfortably lounge around and converse in the coffee shop, laughing all the way until the morning.