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Ahl al-Sunna and the Merits of Imam Ali (a)

Other than the ‘Uthmāni Shī’as and some movements within the Murji’a and early Mu’tazalīs, the general populace of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamā’ah – including Sunnī Aṣḥāb al-Ḥadīth – all accepted and believed the merits and virtues exclusive to Amīr al-Mu’mineen (a).

After Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal accepted the legitimacy of the caliphate of Imam ‘Alī (a) and made it a part and parcel of Sunnī belief, he paved the way for the Sunnī Aṣḥāb al-Ḥadīth to become the mainstream position, which subsequently cast aside any anti-‘Alī movements amongst the Sunnīs. Afterwards, almost all reliable Ahl al-Sunnah scholars of ḥadīth would either write independent works on the virtues of the Ahl al-Bayt or Imam ‘Alī himself or in their own ḥadīth works they would dedicate a separate chapter for the Imam.

Once taṣawwuf (a form of mysticism) and more precisely the school of Ibn al-‘Arabī (d. 638 AH / 1240 CE) emerged within the greater body of Ash’arī Sunnīs, it strengthened certain Shī’ī concepts within Ahl al-Sunnah thought. This would be more prominent and accepted in Iran, Ma Wara al-Nahr (Transoxiana), and Iraq.

Besides a minority Ḥanbalī group in Baghdad and then later in Damascus who had strong anti-Shī’ī views, the rest of the Ahl al-Sunnah had no issue with regards to the merits of the Ahl al-Bayt (P.B.U.T) at the very least, in expressing their love and friendship towards them. This condition remained until the 17th and even until the 18th century when it was at its peak – particularly amongst the Ash’arī Shāf’ī school of thought. The spread of large networks of Sunnīs from the progeny of ‘Alī also played a role in maintaining such a perception.

The situation only changed when Salafism and Wahhābism – this Satanic ideology – emerged. One of the main pillars of this ideology is takfīr (considering someone a disbeliever) of the Shī’as. With the spread of Salafī Islam over the last two centuries, the state of literature concerning virtues of the Ahl al-Bayt changed immensely. Salafī perspective on Islam, its history, its religious literature closed, or created problems for the rising efforts of proximity which circled around the Ahl al-Bayt. One of their efforts was to present a perception of Islamic history that the early Aṣḥāb al-Ḥadīth would also propagate, which even if it did not have a dominant ‘Uthmānī or Umayyad perspective, at the very least had opinions of the Murji’ah regarding the first civil war and differences of opinions amongst the companions and subsequent events.

This perspective is based on the dominant ideology during the Umayyad dynasty, which is rooted in obedience and congregation. Such an ideology has no room for a Shī’ī interpretation or a view centred on Imām ‘Alī (a) and his virtues. In this ideology, the acts of Yazīd b. Mu’āwiyah can also be justified. The Ḥanbalīs during the middle ages had distanced themselves from such a perspective – particularly someone like Ibn al-Jawzī – but the Wahhābī movement is busy in reconstructing this Umayyad perspective. They do this by negating the taṣawwuf of Ibn al-‘Arabī as well as the Ash’arī and Maturīdī literature and works on virtues compiled by Ṣufīs. All efforts by the Salafīs have been influential in reconstructing literature and pushing forth a narrative built on Shī’ī hatred.

The article was written by Hassan Ansari and first published in iqraonline.

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