السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته
All three groups are part of Ahlus Sunnah wal-Jamaa`ah. They are all three Madhaahib (schools of thought) in `Aqeedah.
Atharis are known as such because they follow the "Aathaar
" (narrations) of the Sahaabah. The differences between the three groups are primarily in the issue of al-Asmaa was-Sifaat
(The Names and Attributes of Allaah Ta`aalaa). Matters such as Yad, Wajh, Istiwaa
, etc. For example, Yad
literally means "Hand". Now, the Atharis say that we are to believe in the Names and Attributes of Allaah Ta`aalaa as they are, without modality. We do not know how the Yad of Allaah Ta`aalaa is, we do not know what is meant by it. We leave the meaning of it up to Allaah Ta`aalaa.
The Ash`ari Madh-hab, founded by Imaam Abu-l Hasan al-Ash`ari, came about originally as a counter measure to the Baatil groups which had sprung up after the Khayrul Quroon
(The Golden Era of Islaam), such as the Jahmiyyah, Mu`tazaliah, Khawaarij, Murji'ah
, etc., and also because of the Greek philosophy which had crept into Muslim ideology. The Ash`aris do Ta'weel
(interpretation) of the Sifaat
. For example, they will say that Yad
Ash`aris and Maatureedis are almost exactly the same. There are only a handful of differences between them.
The Sahaabah رضوان الله عليهم
did not do Ta'weel
of the Sifaat
of Allaah Ta`aalaa. Their way was to leave the meanings of the Sifaat
of Allaah Ta`aalaa up to Him, without delving into them, explaining them, negating them, interpreting them, etc. The Atharis claim to follow the Sahaabah. Whatever Sifaat
of Allaah Ta`aalaa are mentioned in the Qur'aan or in the Ahaadeeth, they believe in without modality (bilaa kayf
The four A'immah (Imaam Abu Haneefah, Imaam Maalik, Imaam ash-Shaafi`ee and Imaam Ahmad) were all "Atharis". They lived before the Ash`ari and Maatureedi Madh-habs came into existence.
There are two Kitaabs on `Aqeedah from Imaam Abu Haneefah رحمة الله عليه
himself. They can be downloaded from the following links:
There is no need for a person to involve himself in intricate and complex issues. This Kitaab of Imaam Abu Haneefah (i.e. al-Fiqh al-Akbar
) is sufficient. It contains the `Aqeedah of Ahlus Sunnah wal-Jamaa`ah, as espoused by the Sahaabah. I advise you to read it, In Shaa Allaah.