Ahl al-Hadith (Arabic: أهل الحديث, Urdu: Ahl-e-Hadith, "The people of hadith" or "People of the traditions (of the Prophet)"; also Așḥāb al-ḥadīṯ; أصحاب الحديث), is a name given to various Islamic conservative traditionalists, and refers to the adherent's belief that they are not bound by taqlid 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. Adherents contrast themselves with those they call Ahl al-Rai, literally "the people of rhetorical theology".
In recent times it has referred to a sect in Indian subcontinent started in the mid-nineteenth century in Northern India. Followers call themselves as Ahl al-Hadith (Ahl-e-Hadith) or Salafi, while others refer to them as Wahhabi, or consider them a variation on the Wahhabi movement. In recent decades the movement has drawn both inspiration and financial support from Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, but the movement itself claims to be distinct from Wahhabism, and some believe it possesses some notable distinctions from the mainly Arab Salafis or Wahhabis.
Early and medieval Islam
The term ahl-al-hadith has been used to refer to many Islamic movements (such as Kharijis and Zahiris) 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.
According to R. Kevin Jaques, it appears to have "developed out a of a pious reaction" to the assassination of Caliph Yazid b. Walid (d.744). Ibn Hazm has been called "the foremost philosopher-theologian" (by Cyril Glasse) of the Ahl al-Hadith.
They again drew attention in the post-Mongol era, when Ibn Taymiyyah, the very influential Hanbali scholar of Damascus, (1263–1328) started a reformist movement to purge the Islamic community of what he believed as deviant beliefs. 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."
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 Ibn Taymiyya, and his chief acolyte, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1351). 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). 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.
In the mid-nineteenth century a Islamic religious reform movement was started in in Northern India that rejected everything introduced into Islam after the Quran, Sunnah and Hadith. 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; 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. 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.
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. 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. 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, now being favored over the rival Deobandi movement as a counterbalance to Iranian influence.
Its adherents oppose taqlid. They believe 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. They reject the use of kalam in theology.
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, with which the Ahl al-Hadith consciously identify themselves.
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. 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. While the movement has been compared to Salafist movement in Arab nations and been branded as Wahhabist by the opposing Barelwi movement, the Ahl al-Hadith remain similar to yet distinct from Salafists.
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.
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.
Some of the organizations of the Ahl-e-Hadith are the All India Ahl-e-Hadith Conference, founded sometime on or before 1916, of which smaller organizations in India are members. One member is the Anjuman-i-Hadith formed by students of Maulana Sayyid Miyan Nadhir Husain and divided into Bengali and Assam wings. After the 1947 separation of India and Pakistan, the Pakistani Ahle-Hadith center was based in and around Karachi.
In 1930 Ahl-i Hadith was founded as a small political party in India. In Pakistan, the movement formed a political party, Jamiat Ahle Hadith, which unlike similar Islamic groups opposed government involvement in affairs of sharia law. Their leader, Ehsan Elahi Zaheer, was assassinated in 1987. The Ahl-i Hadith support support the Taliban and oppose Shi'ism.
The number of Ahle Hadith madrassa in Pakistan has grown from 134 in 1988 to 310 in 2000. The group has 17 organisations active in Pakistan, "looking after their own seminaries," three of them involved in jihad. It is linked to the Ahl al-Hadith movement, and receives support from Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia.
During the rule of the British Raj, no accurate census was ever taken of the movement's exact number of followers. In the modern era, the number of followers of the movement in Pakistan constitute 4% of the Muslim population, 25-30 million followers in India, and 27.5 million in Bangladesh.
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. 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.
Adherents of the Ahl al-Hadith movement
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- Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadees Pakistan
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