Ahl al-Hadith

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Ahl al-Hadith (Arabic: أهل الحديث, "The people of hadith" or "People of the traditions (of the Prophet)"; also Așḥāb al-ḥadīṯ; أصحاب الحديث), is a Sunni Islamic movement started in the mid-nineteenth century in Northern India. It refers to the adherent's belief that they are not bound by taqlid (as are Ahl al-Rai, literally "the people of rhetorical theology"), but consider themselves free to seek guidance in matters of religious faith and practices from the authentic hadith which, together with the Qur'an, are in their view the principal worthy guide for Muslim.[1][2]Followers call themselves as Ahl al-Hadith or Salafi.The term Ahl al-Hadith is often used interchangeably with the term Wahhabi,[3] or as a branch of the latter movement,[4][5] though the movement itself claims to be distinct from Wahhabism.[6] The movement has the most adherents in the Indian subcontinent, where it possesses some notable distinctions from the Salafi movement,[7][8][9] most of whose adherents are found in the Arab world and Indonesia. In the modern era, the movement draws both inspiration and financial support from Saudi Arabia.[10]


Syed Nazeer Husain from Delhi and Siddiq Hasan Khan of Bhopal drew primarily on the work of hadith scholars from Yemen in the early years of the movement, reintroducing the field into the Indian subcontinent. Their strong emphasis on education and book publishing has often attracted members of the social elite both in South Asia and overseas;[2] University of Paris political scientist Antoine Sfeir has referred to the movement as having an elitist character which perhaps contributes to their status as a minority in South Asia.[1] Folk Islam and Sufism, commonly popular with the poor and working class in the region, are anathema to Ahl al-Hadith beliefs and practices. This attitude toward Sufism has brought the movement into conflict with the rival Barelvi movement even more so than the Barelvis perennial rivals, the Deobandis.[11]

In the 1920s, the Ahl al-Hadith opened a center for their movement in Srinagar. Followers of the Hanafi school of law, forming the overwhelming majority of Muslim in Jammu and Kashmir, socially boycotted and physically attacked Ahl al-Hadith followers, eventually declaring such followers to be apostates and banning them from praying in mainstream mosques.[12] From the 1930s the group also began dabbling in the political realm of Pakistan, with Ehsan Elahi Zaheer leading the movement into a full foray in the 1970s, eventually gaining the movement a network of mosques and Islamic schools.[1] Following other South Asian Islamic movements, the Ahl al-Hadith now also administer schools and mosques in the Anglosphere. In the modern era, the movement draws both inspiration and financial support from Saudi Arabia,[13] now being favored over the rival Deobandi movement as a counterbalance to Iranian influence.[14] During the rule of the British Raj, no accurate census was ever taken of the movement's exact number of followers.[11] In the modern era, the number of followers of the movement in Pakistan constitute 4% of the Muslim population,[citation needed] 25-30 million followers in India,[15] and 27.5 million in Bangladesh.[16] In the 19th century, the Ahle Quran formed in reaction to the Ahle Hadith, whom they considered to be placing too much emphasis on hadith instead of Quran.[17]

In the United Kingdom, the Ahl al-Hadith movement maintains 42 centers and boasts a membership which was estimated at 5,000 during the 1990s and 9,000 during the 2000s.[18] Although the movement has been present in the UK since the 1960s, it has not been the subject of extensive academic research and sources on the movement are extremely limited and rare.[18]

While the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba has recruited followers of the Ahl al-Hadith movement in the past, the organization's views on jihad are thought to alienate the mainstream of the movement.[19]


Like other Islamic movements, the Ahl al-Hadith are distinguished by certain common features and beliefs. The men tend to have a particular style of untrimmed beard often considered a visual indicator. In regard to ritual acts of Muslim worship, the movement's practices are noticeably different from the Hanafi legal school which predominates in South Asia; the men hold their hands above the navel when lined up for congregational prayer, raise them to the level of their heads before bowing, and say "amen" out loud after the prayer leader.[2] Due to their reliance on the Qur'an and Hadith only and their rejection of analogical reason in Islamic law, the modern-day Ahl al-Hadith are often compared to the older Zahirite school of Islamic law,[20][21] with which the Ahl al-Hadith consciously identify themselves.[9]

While their educational programs tend to include a diverse array of Muslim academic texts, few adherents of the movement ascribe themselves to one school of Muslim jurisprudence, placing a greater emphasis on personal responsibility to derive judgments and ritual practice.[2] While the movement's figureheads have ascribed to the Zahirite legal school, with a great number of them preferring the works of Yemeni scholar Shawkani, the generality of the movement is described as respecting all Sunni schools of Islamic law while preferring to take directly from the Qur'an, prophetic tradition and consensus of the early generations of Muslims.[2] While the movement has been compared to Salafist movement in Arab nations and been branded as Wahhabist by the opposing Barelwi movement,[1] the Ahl al-Hadith remain similar to yet distinct from Salafists.[22]

Historical use of the term[edit]

The term ahl-alhadith has been used to refer to many Islamic movements (both historical and modern) that emphasize the use of hadith in Islam. The characterization refers to the adherents of the powerful movement of the late second and third centuries of Islam (late eighth and ninth centuries C.E.) that insisted on the authority of the traditions (hadith) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, as against the informed “opinions” (ray) on which many contemporary juristic schools based their legal reasoning. This movement played a critical role in the emergence of Sunni Islam.[23] The orientation towards the Salaf and a textualist commitment to hadith instead of speculative reasoning characterized the ahl al-hadith movement of 9th-century scholars like Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 855). Classical Salafism represented a revival of Hanbali thought in the 14th century, specifically at the hands of the very influential Hanbali scholar of Damascus, Ibn Taymiyya, and his chief acolyte, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1351).[24] Early proponents ascribe the authority of Ahl al-Hadith to specific hadith of Muhammad al-Bukhari. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani mentioned the people of hadith in his commentary of the hadith, "And this nation will continue, established upon Allah's Command, unharmed by those who oppose them until the arrival of Allah's Order." He stated that Muhammad al-Bukhari was adamant that those referred to in this hadith were the people with knowledge of the narrations, Ahl al-Athar, i.e. the people of hadith, and then quoted Ahmad ibn Hanbal as saying, "If they are not Ahl al-Hadith, then I do not know who they are." Qadi Ayyad explained that Ahmad was referring to Ahl al-Sunnah and those who share the beliefs of the people of hadith (Essentially, according to Fath al-Bari, it is the opinion of Imam Ahmad that the faithful Ahl al Sunnah and Ahl al Hadith are not separate).[25] The followers of the Ahl al-Hadith movement claim their beliefs and practices to be the same as those of early Muslims and, in particular, the Rashidun (rightly guided caliphs). The movement rose to prominence in the 9th century AD during the Abbasid era to counter the beliefs of Mutazilities.[26]

Middle Age[edit]

They again drew attention in the post-Mongol era, when Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328) started a reformist movement to purge the Islamic community of deviant beliefs.[27] Noting the academic prowess of the people of hadith, Al-Dhahabi remarked, "Where is the knowledge of hadith, and where are its people? I am on the verge of not seeing them except engrossed in a book or under the soil."[28]

Adherents of the Ahl al-Hadith movement[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism - Olivier Roy, Antoine Sfeir - Google Books. Books.google.com.my. 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Understanding Islam: The First Ten Steps - C. T. R. Hewer - Google Books. Books.google.com.my. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  3. ^ Rabasa, Angel M. The Muslim World After 9/11 By Angel M. Rabasa, p. 275
  4. ^ Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, pg. 427. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780199927319
  5. ^ Anatol Lieven, Pakistan: A Hard Country, pg. 128. New York: PublicAffairs, 2011. ISBN 9781610390231
  6. ^ Guide to Islamist Movements, vol. 1, pg. 349. Ed. Barry A. Rubin. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2010. ISBN 0765617471
  7. ^ Dilip Hiro, Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia, pg. 15. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780300173789
  8. ^ Muneer Goolam Fareed, Legal reform in the Muslim world, pg. 172. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.
  9. ^ a b Daniel W. Brown, Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought: Vol. 5 of Cambridge Middle East Studies, pg. 32. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 9780521653947
  10. ^ Barry Rubin, Guide to Islamist Movements, Volume 1, pg. 349. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2010.
  11. ^ a b Arthur F Buehler, Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: the Indian Naqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Sufi Shaykh, pg. 179. Part of the Studies in Comparative Religion series. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998. ISBN 9781570032011
  12. ^ Yoginder Sikand, "Islamist Militancy in Kashmir: The Case of the Lashkar-e Taiba." Taken from The Practice of War: Production, Reproduction and Communication of Armed Violence, pg. 226. Eds. Aparna Rao, Michael Bollig and Monika Böck. New York: Berghahn Books, 2008. ISBN 9780857450593
  13. ^ Rubin, pg. 348
  14. ^ Sushant Sareen, The Jihad Factory: Pakistan's Islamic Revolution in the Making, pg. 282. New Delhi: Har Anand Publications, 2005.
  15. ^ Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadees
  16. ^ PROBE NEWS
  17. ^ Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought - Page 38, Daniel W. Brown - 1999
  18. ^ a b Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Muslims in Britain, pg. 105. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 9780521536882
  19. ^ Geoffrey Kambere, Puay Hock Goh, Pranav Kumar and Fulgence Msafiri, "Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)." Taken from Financing Terrorism: Case Studies. Ed. Michael Freeman. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2013. ISBN 9781409476832
  20. ^ Brown, pg. 28.
  21. ^ M. Mahmood, The Code of Muslim Family Laws, pg. 37. Pakistan Law Times Publications, 2006. 6th ed.
  22. ^ Mathieu Guidère, Historical Dictionary of Islamic Fundamentalism, pg. 177. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2012. ISBN 9780810878211
  23. ^ "Ahl al-Hadith". Oxford Islamic Studies. Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  24. ^ Jonathan A.C. Brown. "Salafism - Islamic Studies - Oxford Bibliographies". Oxford Bibliographies. Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  25. ^ Al-`Asqalani, Ahmad ibn `Ali (2005). Abu Qutaybah al-Firyabi, ed. Fath al-Bari (in Arabic) 1 (first ed.). Riyadh: Dar al-Taibah. p. 290. ISBN 1-902350-04-9. 
  26. ^ A Brief History of Islam by Karen Armstrong, Phoenix, London
  27. ^ The Right Way- By Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, Darrussalam publishers KSA
  28. ^ al-Dhahabi, Muhammad ibn Ahmad. al-Mu`allimi, ed. Tadhkirah al-Huffadh (in Arabic) 1. India. p. 4. 

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