Imam al-Shatibi* and Imam al-Tabari on Adherence to the Jama‘ah and the Imam (Caliph)

The sixteenth issue [1] is that the narration of those who narrated, “and that is the Jama‘ah (main body of Muslims),”  [see previous footnote] as the meaning of the saved sect, is in need of commentary, because although its interpretation is clear by means of the elucidation of another narration – and that is his statement, “what I and my companions are upon,” – the meaning of the word, “Jama‘ah,” in terms of its intent in the unqualified usage of the Shar‘iah is in need of commentary; as it has appeared in many hadiths:

  1. from them is the hadith which we are commenting on;
  2. from them is what is authentic from Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه) from the Prophet (ﷺ), he said: “Whoever sees from his commander anything he dislikes, let him endure it, for indeed the one who departs from the Jama‘ah one hand span, then dies, he dies the death of Jahiliyyah [2].” [Bukhari and Muslim]
  3. And it is authentic from the hadith of Hudhayfah (رضي الله عنه), he said: I said: “O Messenger of Allah! Verily we were in [a period of] Jahiliyyah and evil, and Allah brought this goodness to us. Then, is there any evil after this goodness?” He said: “Yes.” I said: “And is there any goodness after that evil?” He said: “Yes, and there is dinginess therein.” I said: “And what is its dinginess?” He said: “A people following other than [my] guidance, you recognise [some things] from them [as correct], and you do not recognise [other things].” And in another narration: “A people following other than my guidance and adopting other than my Sunnah, you recognise [some things] in them and do not recognise [other things].” I said: “Then, is there any evil after the goodness?” He said: “Yes, callers on the gates of Jahannam. Whoever answers them in that [call], they will throw them therein.” I said: “O Messenger of Allah! Describe them for us.” He said: “They will be of our complexion, and they will speak with our tongues.” I said: “What do you advise me, if that [time] reaches me?” He said: “[That] you stick to the Jama‘ah of the Muslims and their Imam.” I said: “And if they do not have a Jama‘ah, or an Imam [3] ?” He said: “Withdraw from the sects, all of them, even if it were that you bite on the root of a tree, until death reaches you, and you are in that [state].” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Al-Tirmidhi and al-Tabari transmitted from Ibn ‘Umar (رضي الله عنه), he said: ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (رضي الله عنه) delivered a sermon to us at al-Jabiyah, and he said: “I stand amongst you in the standing-place of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) amongst us, when he said: ‘I bequeath to you my companions, and then those who follow them and then those who follow them, and then lying will spread, until a man will take oath and will not be asked to take oath, and will bear testimony and will not be asked to bear testimony. [Incumbent] on you is the Jama‘ah! And beware of division! A man must not be in seclusion with a woman, for indeed a man is not secluded with a woman except the third of them is Satan. Satan is with the individual, and he is farther from two [people]. Whoever desires the centre of Jannah, let him adhere to the Jama‘ah. And whoever’s good pleases him and evil displease him, that is a believer.” [Al-Tirmidhi transmitted in his Jami‘ (2165) and he said: “This is a hasan sahih hadith.”]

  1. And [it is reported] in al-Tirmidhi from Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه), he said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “The hand of Allah is with the Jama‘ah.” [It is] an uncommon hadith.
    And [he narrated] the like of it from Ibn ‘Umar, he said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Verily Allah will not unite my Ummah” – or he said “the Ummah of Muhammad” – “on misguidance, and the hand of Allah is with the Jama‘ah, and whoever is isolated, is isolated in the Fire.” [Al-Tirmidhi transmitted it in his Jami‘ (2167), and he said: “This is an uncommon hadith through this route.”]
    And Abu Dawud transmitted from Abu Dharr (رضي الله عنه), he said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Whoever parts from the Jama‘ah one hand span, he has removed the noose of Islam from his neck.”
  2. And [it is narrated] from ‘Arfajah (رضي الله عنه), he said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: “Verily there will be tribulations after tribulations in my Ummah, so whoever wishes to split the affair of the Muslims while they are united, strike him with the sword whoever he may be.” [Sahih Muslim]

…al-Tabari, the Imam, [said] that the Jama‘ah is the group of Muslims when they unite on a commander, then he (upon him be peace) commanded adherence to him, and he forbade parting from the Ummah in that which they united upon in terms of their appointing him over them, because their parting [from them] will not go beyond one of two characteristics: either [it is] due to condemnation of them for obedience to their leader and attacking him in his conduct that was approved [by them] for no reason but for an interpretation of innovating an innovation in religion, like the Haruriyyah (Khawarij) who the Ummah were ordered to fight, and the Prophet (ﷺ) called, “deviated from the religion”; or to seek leadership after the conclusion of the pledge to the commander of the Jama‘ah, since it is breaking an agreement and revoking a contract after its conclusion. And he (ﷺ) said: “Whoever comes towards my Ummah to split their group, strike his neck, whoever he may be.”

Al-Tabari said: Thus, this is the meaning of the command to stick to the Jama‘ah.

He said: As for the Jama‘ah which when it agrees on consenting to appoint a commander, the one who disassociates from them, his death is Jahilli, it is the group which Abu Mas‘ud al-Ansari and others described, and that is the bulk of people and the majority of them from the people of knowledge and religion and other than them, and that is the greatest mass [of believers].

He said: ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (رضي الله عنه) explained that. Thus, it is narrated from ‘Amr ibn Maymun al-Awdi, he said: ‘Umar (رضي الله عنه) said to Suhayb (رضي الله عنه) when he was stabbed: “Lead the people in prayer for three [days], and ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, Talhah, al-Zubayr, Sa‘d and ‘Abd al-Rahman should enter upon me, and Ibn ‘Umar should enter to the side of the house – and he has nothing of authority. Then, stand, O Suhayb, over their heads with the sword! If five [of them] pledge allegiance [to one of them] and one man turns [on his heel], strike his head with the sword, and if four pledge allegiance and two men turn [on their heels], strike their heads; until they give their assurance on [the caliphate of] one man.”

He said: Thus, the Jama‘ah which the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) commanded adherence to, and he called the one isolated from them “one who has parted from them,” is equivalent to the group which ‘Umar (رضي الله عنه) obligated caliphate for the one they agree on, and he commanded Suhayb to strike the head of the one isolated from them with the sword, because of the abundance of the number of those who agreed to pledge to him and the fewness of the number that is isolated from them.

He said: As for the report in which it is mentioned that the Ummah will not assemble on misguidance, its meaning is that He will not unite them on causing deviation from the truth in that which afflicts them in the matter of their religion, such that the entirety of them would have deviated from [true] knowledge and missed it, and that will not occur in the Ummah.

This is the entirety of his [i.e. al-Tabari’s] speech, and it has been transmitted with the meaning [of his statement], and [in] seeking out most of [its] wording.

Its upshot is that the Jama‘ah goes back to the agreement on an Imam that is in accordance with the Book and Sunnah, and that is manifest in [showing] that uniting on other than the Sunnah is outside of the meaning of the Jama‘ah mentioned in the hadiths, like the Khawarij and those who tread their path.

[Translated by Zameelur Rahman with some corrections]

[Excerpted from Imam Shatibi’s Kitab al-I‘tisam (Book of Holding Fast [to the Qur’an and Sunnah]), Chapter 9 Section 3]

*Abu Ishaq Ibrahim b. Musa b. Muhammad al-Lakhmi al-Shatibi (d. 790H/1388 CE) was among the greatest scholars of al-Andalus. He studied with the renowned scholars of Granada and gained expertise in Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), Hadith, jurisprudence (fiqh), the principles of Islamic law (usul al-fiqh) as well as Arabic language and grammar. He also wrote treatises on medicine and history.

[1] On the discussion of the hadith, “My Ummah will divide into seventy three sects.”
Abu Hurayrah narrated it, as transmitted by al-Tirmidhi in his Jami‘ (2640) – who said the hadith is “hasan sahih” –, and Ibn Majah in his Sunan (3991) and Abu Dawud in his Sunan (4586).

It is also transmitted authentically from the Sahabah, Anas ibn Malik, Mu‘awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan and ‘Awf ibn Malik al-Ashja‘i, with the addition, “All of them are in the Fire, except one, and that is the Jama‘ah.” (Musnad Ahmad, 12208, 12479, 16937; Sunan Abi Dawud, 4587; Sunan Ibn Majah, 3992)

[2] Commenting on the following hadith narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه): “Whoever disapproves of something done by his Amīr (ruler) then he should be patient, for whoever disobeys (disunites and goes away from) his Sultan even for a span will die as those who died in the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance” Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī explains the meaning of the phrase مات ميتة جاهلية:
“To die as those who died in the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance (al-jāhilīyyah) means the state of death: to die in a state of misguidance with no Imam [Caliph] to obey, as the inhabitants of that era had no such kind of ruling. The hadith doesn’t mean that the Muslim will die as a kāfir but as a disobeying Muslim. This Hadith has possible definitions: To resemble between the state of death between the disobeying Muslim and the Jāhil, even if the Muslim was not in reality a Jāhil; or, to frighten and reprimand, and this meaning is not the apparent one… Ibn Baṭṭāl said: this hadith is an argument to not disobey the Sultan even if he is wronged. The scholars agreed unanimously on the obligation of obeying the empowered Sultan and (engaging in) jihad under his commandment. As well the scholars consider that obeying the Sultan is better than disobeying him as this act prevents bloodshed and mitigates the masses.” (Fatḥ al-Bārī Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī #7053)

[3] In the absence of a Caliph (Imam) who rules over the main body of Muslims (the Jama‘ah) the duty of ordering mar‘uf and forbidding munkar (see the Qur’an 3:104, 110; 7:157; 9:71,112; 22:41 and 31:17) necessitates that we work collectively for a situation in which an Imam exists so that the Shari‘ah rules are implemented. For further details on the duty of ordering mar‘uf and forbidding munkar refer to the book Maroof and Munkar by Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umari which has many references to classical sources. Also available in the Urdu language. See also other posts on this blog in which several classical scholars mention the obligation of establishing a Caliph.

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