The Meaning of Ahl us-Sonnah wal Jamaa'h
Translated and Prepared by Abu 'Iyaad as-Salafee
assalamu alaicom wa rahmatu Allah wa barakatuh,
Sunnah In the language: "a path/way or a course"
Its usage in the Sharee'ah: "the guidance which the Messenger and his companions were upon in terms of knowledge, belief, speech and action. This is the Sunnah, the following of which is obligatory, whose adherents have been praised, and whose abandoners have been rebuked . The term 'sunnah' is also used for the various acts of worship and beliefs, just as everything which is contrary to it is termed 'bid'ah' (innovation)"
In the language: "is from Ijtimaa' (a gathering, where people come together, i.e. a unification) and this is the opposite of separation, dispersal. The Jamaa'ah are a people who have united together on a certain matter/affair".
Its usage in the Sharee'ah: "They are the salaf of this Ummah, from among the Sahaabas (companions) and the Taabi'een (successors of the Companions) and whoever follows them in goodness till the Day of Judgement. They are those who unite themselves upon the Book and the Sunnah and upon their leaders (i.e. their scholars) and those who travel upon that which the Messenger, His Companions and those who followed them in goodness were upon".
Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Jamaa'ah
"They are those who hold on to the Sunnah of the Messenger, the ones who unite themselves upon that and they are the Companions of the Messenger, the Scholars of Guidance, who follow the Companions and whoever travels upon their path in terms of belief, speech and action until the Day of Judgement, while remaining steadfast upon this adherence. They avoid innovating and innovations in whatever place or age/era they may be. They are the ones who will remain uppermost, aided (by Allaah) until the Day of Judgement."
So Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Jamaa'ah have been described with sticking to the Sunnah and [in all circumstances] avoiding/disregarding the invented matters and innovations in the Deen (religion).
By the word Jamaa'ah the totality of muslims is not meant, nor those who are largest in number or the great majority. This is because the Messenger mentioned that the Taa'ifat ul-Mansoorah is a single group from among the seventy three groups.
Other Terms for the Ahl us-Sunnah
The Ahl us-Sunnah have also been named with other terms and descriptions which have been reported from the Messenger or from the scholars who guide themselves by the Ahl us-Sunnah. So they have been called Ahl us-Sunnah without the annexation of Jamaa'ah. They have also been called Al-Jamaa'ah alone which has been reported from the Prophet by Mu'aawiyyah who said: The Messenger said: "Indeed this Ummah will split into seventy three sects and all of them are in the Fire except for one and that is the Jamaa'ah"
As-Salaf as-Saalih and Ahl ul-Athar
The phrase 'As-Salaf as-Saalih' (The Righteous Predecessors) is synonymous with Ahl us-Sunnah. The Ahl us-Sunnah has also been named 'Ahl ul-Athar' (The People of Narration) meaning: Followers of the Sunnah transmitted from the Messenger and his companions.
They have also been named 'Ahl ul-Hadeeth (the People of Hadeeth) as they take from the Sunnah of the Messenger that which has been reported, and what is contained therein of knowledge/cognizance, and are the followers of his guidance outwardly and inwardly. The Ahl us-Sunnah, therefore are the Ahl ul-Hadeeth with respect to this meaning.
The naming of the Ahl us-Sunnah, At-Taaifatul Mansoorah, and Al-Firqat un-Naajiyyah with Ahl ul-Hadeeth is a matter which is elaborate and extensive in the view of the Salaf of this Ummah because it is a requirement of the various ****s, of the description of the actual state of affairs and of factual evidence. This has been established from Ibn Al-Mubaarak, Ibn Madeenee, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Imaam Bukhaaree, Ahmad ibn Sinaan and others besides them (radiallaahu-anhum).
Many of the scholars have named them (the Ahl us-Sunnah) in a similar manner and have introduced their books, compositions and compilations with this name. For example the book: [Aqeedat us-Salaf Ashaab ul-Hadeeth] (The Aqeedah of the Salaf, the Companions of Hadeeth) of Imaam Isma'eel Saaboonee 449 H.
Also see Majmoo ul-Fataawaa of Shaikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah 4/9, 95 where he has named the Ahl us-Sunnah with Ahl ul-Hadeeth.
And also: the 'Firqat un-Naajiyah (The Saved Sect) ': this is the one which is rescued from the Fire due to its adherence to the Sunnah of the Messenger. This (term) has been taken from the hadeeth: "And this Ummah will split into seventy-three sects, seventy-two will be in the Fire and one in Paradise and that is the Jamaa'ah"
And this is why many amongst the Salaf and the Scholars of the Deen name the Ahl us-Sunnah with 'Al-Firqat un-Naajiyyah' and those who are clearly upon the Truth with 'At-Taa'ifat ul-Mansoorah' (the Aided Group) . These are the ones whom the Messenger himself has named due to his saying: "There will never cease to be a small group (Taai'fah) from my Ummah clearly upon the Truth until the Hour is established"
They are also called 'The Jamaa'ah' and sometimes 'Ahl ul-Jamaa'ah'as has preceded.
The (word) Jamaa'ah, which is the Jamaa'ah of the Ahl us-Sunnah, those who come together and unite themselves upon the Truth, is taken from the word Ijtimaa' (an assembly, gathering) and that is the opposite of Furqa (separatedness, disunity). The word Jamaa'ah contains the meaning of 'Ijmaa' which is 'Ittifaaq' (unanimous agreement) the opposite of which is 'Ikhtilaaf' (disagreement). The Ahl us-Sunnah have been described as those who have united themselves upon the Usool ud-Deen, have agreed upon them and have united upon the scholars of the Deen.
They have also been described with 'Ahl ul-Ittibaa'' (The People of Adherence and Imitation) because it is from their way: to follow the Aathaar (tracks) of the Messenger outwardly and inwardly, to follow the path of the first and foremost of this Ummah from among the Muhaajireen and the Ansaar and to follow the advice of the Messenger when he said: "You must follow my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the Rightly Guided Caliphs after me. Hold onto it (my Sunnah) and bite onto it with your molars. Beware of the newly invented matters for every bid'ah is misguidance... "