Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: Are the courses at SeekersGuidance, such as the beliefs course Kharida al-Bahiyya and others, representative of Sunni Islam? Also, could you explain what is meant by Sunni Islam?
Answer: wa `alaykum assalam
The courses at SeekersGuidance and the texts taught in these courses are based on the orthodox Sunni tradition (Ahl al-Sunna). This is a tradition accepted and followed by the vast majority of Muslim scholars and laity from the time of the Companions (Allah be well pleased with them) up to our own times.
Thus, the Kharida al-Bahiyya, which is the text we are reading for this class, was written by Imam Dardir, who was considered one of the greatest scholars of the Maliki school of his time, an expert in the field of Islamic belief, as well as an accomplished spiritual master.
Understanding Sunni Orthodoxy
The best way to understand the tradition of Ahl al-Sunna is through the hadith of Gibril (Allah bless him), narrated by Abu Hurayra (Allah be well pleased with him) as follows:
“One day while the Prophet was sitting in the company of some people, (The angel) Gabriel came and asked, ‘What is faith (iman)?’ Allah’s Apostle replied, ‘Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, (the) meeting with Him, His Apostles, and to believe in Resurrection.’ Then he further asked, ‘What is submission (islam)?’ Allah’s Apostle replied, ‘To worship Allah Alone and none else, to offer prayers perfectly to pay the compulsory charity (Zakat) and to observe fasts during the month of Ramadan.’ Then he further asked, ‘What is Ihsan (perfection)?’ Allah’s Apostle replied, ‘to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, then be sure that He is seeing you.’” [Bukhari, Muslim]
This narration sums up the orthodox and accepted tradition of Islam, which is divided into three main sub-categories:
a. Faith (iman), namely what we need to believe, discussed under the science of Islamic belief (`aqida),
b. Submission (islam), namely the ritual practices we need to perform, discussed under the science of Islamic Law (fiqh), and
c. Perfecting our belief and worship (ihsan), namely spirituality and purification of the self, discussed under the science of tasawwuf, tazkiyya, or, as you refer to it, Sufism.
Together, these three formulate the “religion” (din) as a whole and so none of them should be neglected.
The Sciences & Relying on Authority
Each of these three sciences, namely belief (`aqida), law (fiqh), and spirituality (tasawwuf/tazkiyya), have been well-defined, developed, and transmitted by thousands of scholars for the past 1400 years, from the very time of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) up to our own times.
Our duty is to recognize this scholarly way and benefit from it, following the command of Allah to “ask those who know if you know not.” (16:43)
Thus, when it comes to Islamic belief (`aqida), we have the Ash`ari and Maturidi schools. Both helped define the contents of faith, the proof for it, and defended it from those who sought to undermine it.
Likewise, when it comes to Islamic law (fiqh), we have the four schools (madhabs): the Hanafi, Shafi`i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools. Each of these legal schools have a long, nuanced tradition of dealing with aspects of Islamic practice like prayer, fasting, Zakat, and Hajj, and have been accepted as the standard of this science for centuries.
Similarly, when it comes to Islamic spirituality (tasawwuf), we have the spiritual masters who are trained in identifying and fixing the ailments of the self (nafs), purifying the heart, and making one’s worship sincere. This is the reality of Sufism.
The authoritative figures of each of the sciences can be found in every generation including our own. As a living tradition, there is no era where experts in each of these fields do not exist, guiding people, answering questions, coming up with answers to new problems, and spreading the light of this religion.
Focus & Aim
Thus, we strive to follow the hadith of Gibril (Allah bless him) and teach our courses with a focus on all three of the main categories mentioned in this noble narration without neglecting any one of them. This is the way of balance and the way the scholars of this religion tread throughout the past.
Thus, you will find that we teach courses covering all of these science, such as law, belief, hadith, and spirituality. In doing so, we teach from the most authoritative and widely-accepted texts in each field and recognize the importance of constantly going back to this long accepted tradition of scholarship that has its roots in the very earliest generations of Muslims, namely the Companions (Allah be well pleased with them).
I hope that answers your questions. Please do not hesitate to post a follow-up.
I would also advise reading the following:
A Reader on Following Schools of Thought (Madhabs)