A Triumphant Group

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Recently we have had several questions posted asking about the textual evidences regarding a group from the Muslim Ummah, a ā’ifa, who will be steadfast upon the truth.  One of the questions posed within this, asks whether narrations which seem to specify where this group is or will be are authentic.  Rather than detailing each of the questions, we have decided to address all of them within this short essay, including the authenticity of the narrations that seemingly specify the location as being Bayt al-Maqdis, Jerusalem.

The nature of the word, ‘ā’ifatun’ (group)

Dictionary definitions tend to place the meaning of the word ā’ifa [طَائِفَةٌ, dual. طَائِفَتَانِ] as being a) a number of people and b) a particular party, faction or side.[1]  The word itself, ā’ifa, appears in the text of the Qur’ān as well as that of the corpus of authentic Sunnahā’ifa’ appears in over twenty-verses Qur’ānic, with examples such as: [3:154, 7:87, 33:13, 61:14].  Writing in his acclaimed Tafsir on one of the verses in which this word appears [3: 69], Abu Ja’far ibn Jarir al-Ṭabari said:

Concerning the interpretation (of the verse) in which He says:

وَدَّت طَّائِفَةٌ مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ لَوْ يُضِلُّونَكُمْ وَمَا يُضِلُّونَ إِلَّا أَنفُسَهُمْ وَمَا يَشْعُرُونَ

A party from the People of the Book would dearly love to lead you astray, but they only lead themselves astray, though they do not realise it.

Abu Ja’far said:  He means by His saying, He the Majestic and Praised, ‘would dearly love’ they wish for, ‘ā’ifatun,’ meaning a Jamā’ah (group) from the people of the book, who are the followers of the Torah among the Jews, and the followers of the Gospel among the Christians.  ‘To lead you astray,’ they said: if they could turn you away O believers from Islam and bring you back to what they are upon in terms of kufr (disbelief), they would destroy you by that.[2]

Sampling the body of evidence

There is a large body of authentic aādith which mention the continued existence of a group from among the Ummah who will have notable, distinct characteristics. One can readily discern the characteristics which are describing this group from the corpus of authentic aādith which has reached us.  Namely, they will remain resolutely upon the truth, the aqq; they will fight in pursuit of that.  Those who would desert them won’t be able to harm them; the last of them will fight the Antichrist, the Dajjāl.  Notably absent from the authentic aādith is a specific time-frame, rather emphasis is placed upon continuance.  These traditions also do not specify an exact locale or region.

These Ṣaḥīḥ aādith appear in the notable acclaimed collections, as well as in those known primarily to the specialists, such as the Musnad and Muṣṣanaf collections.  Listing each and every adith in this regard would require a separate standalone piece.  Notwithstanding that, one can quite easily document the aādith on this topic as they appear in the well-known collections.  To begin, Imām Muslim recorded the following Ṣaḥīḥ adith in his compilation of Ṣaḥīḥ under Kitāb al-‘Imāra (the book of government):

حَدَّثَنَا سَعِيدُ بْنُ مَنْصُورٍ وَأَبُو الرَّبِيعِ الْعَتَكِيُّ وَقُتَيْبَةُ بْنُ سَعِيدٍ قَالُوا حَدَّثَنَا حَمَّادٌ وَهُوَ ابْنُ زَيْدٍ عَنْ أَيُّوبَ عَنْ أَبِي قِلاَبَةَ عَنْ أَبِي أَسْمَاءَ عَنْ ثَوْبَانَ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم لاَ تَزَالُ طَائِفَةٌ مِنْ أُمَّتِي ظَاهِرِينَ عَلَى الْحَقِّ لاَ يَضُرُّهُمْ مَنْ خَذَلَهُمْ حَتَّى يَأْتِيَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ وَهُمْ كَذَلِكَ

Sa’eed ibn Manṣur, Abu al-Rabih’ al-‘Ataki and Qutayba ibn Sa’eed narrated to us, they said: Ḥammād and he is Ibn Zayd narrated to us from Ayub from Abu Qilābah from Abu Usāmah from Thawbān, he said the Messenger of Allah peace and blessings be upon him said: A ā’ifa (group) of people from my Ummah will always remain triumphant upon the aqq and continue to be triumphant. He who deserts them shall not be able to do them any harm. They will remain in this position until Allah’s command is executed.

In his Ṣaḥīḥ, al-Bukhāri records the same via different channels, reported on the authority of al-Mughira ibn Shu’ba.  These appear across several books within the Ṣaḥīḥ, including Kitāb al-Manāqib, Kitāb al’Itisām bil Kitāb wal Sunnah, and Kitāb al-Taweed.  Imām Muslim has further traditions in his Ṣaḥīḥ reported on the authority of other Companions, Jābir ibn Abdullah (Kitāb al-‘Imān), and al-Mughira ibn Shu’ba (Kitāb al-‘Imāra).  Variance of wording is slight:

حَدَّثَنِي هَارُونُ بْنُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ وَحَجَّاجُ بْنُ الشَّاعِرِ قَالاَ حَدَّثَنَا حَجَّاجُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ قَالَ قَالَ ابْنُ جُرَيْجٍ أَخْبَرَنِي أَبُو الزُّبَيْرِ أَنَّهُ سَمِعَ جَابِرَ بْنَ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ يَقُولُ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ لاَ تَزَالُ طَائِفَةٌ مِنْ أُمَّتِي يُقَاتِلُونَ عَلَى الْحَقِّ ظَاهِرِينَ إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ

Hārun in Abdullah and Ḥajjāj ibn al-Shā’ir narrated to me, they said Ḥajjāj ibn Muḥammad narrated to us he said Ibn Jurayj said, Abul’Zubayr reported to me that he heard Jābir ibn Abdullah saying, I heard the Messenger of Allah peace and blessings be upon him saying: A group of people from my Ummah will continue to fight upon the ḥaqq and remain triumphant until the Day of Judgment.

Other Imām’s recorded this tradition too in their respective collections, examples being such as the Sunan collections of Abu Dāwud (Kitāb al-Jihād) narrated on the authority of ‘Imrān ibn Ḥuṣayn, and in a longer tradition from Thawban; Ibn Mājah (Kitāb al-Fitān wal-Malāhim), narrated on the authority of Thawbān and al-Tirmidhi too, (Kitāb al-Fitān), again, narrated from Thawbān.  One of the traditions recorded by Abu Dāwud has continuance of this group up right up until the last of them confronts the antichrist:

حَدَّثَنَا مُوسَى بْنُ إِسْمَاعِيلَ حَدَّثَنَا حَمَّادٌ عَنْ قَتَادَةَ عَنْ مُطَرِّفٍ عَنْ عِمْرَانَ بْنِ حُصَيْنٍ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏ لاَ تَزَالُ طَائِفَةٌ مِنْ أُمَّتِي يُقَاتِلُونَ عَلَى الْحَقِّ ظَاهِرِينَ عَلَى مَنْ نَاوَأَهُمْ حَتَّى يُقَاتِلَ آخِرُهُمُ الْمَسِيحَ الدَّجَّالَ

Musa ibn Ismā’il narrated to us Ḥammād narrated to us from Qatādah from Muttarif from ‘Imrān ibn Ḥuṣayn, he said the Messenger of Allah peace and blessings be upon him said: A section of my community will continue to fight for the ḥaqq and overcome their opponents till the last of them fights with the Dajjāl.

Recorded similarly by al-Tirmidhi, but reported on the authority of Thawbān, and containing the additional wording: ‘But I fear for my Ummah, Imām’s that are misguiding.’

حَدَّثَنَا قُتَيْبَةُ بْنُ سَعِيدٍ حَدَّثَنَا حَمَّادُ بْنُ زَيْدٍ عَنْ أَيُّوبَ عَنْ أَبِي قِلاَبَةَ، عَنْ أَبِي أَسْمَاءَ الرَّحَبِيِّ عَنْ ثَوْبَانَ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏‏ إِنَّمَا أَخَافُ عَلَى أُمَّتِي الأَئِمَّةَ الْمُضِلِّينَ‏.‏ قَالَ وَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏ لاَ تَزَالُ طَائِفَةٌ مِنْ أُمَّتِي عَلَى الْحَقِّ ظَاهِرِينَ لاَ يَضُرُّهُمْ مَنْ يَخْذُلُهُمْ حَتَّى يَأْتِيَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ ‏

قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى وَهَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ

Qutayba ibn Sa’eed narrated to us Ḥammād ibn Zayd narrated to us from Ayub from Abu Qilābah from Abu Usamā’ al-Rahji from Thawbān, he said the Messenger of Allah peace and blessings be upon him said But I fear for my Ummah, Imam’s that are misguiding.  He (Thawbān) said: And the Messenger of Allah peace and blessings be upon him said: There will never cease to be a group from my Ummah manifest upon the truth, they will not be harmed by those who forsake them until the command of Allah is established.

Abu ‘Esa said: ‘This adith is adith Ṣaḥīḥ.’

The longer traditions appearing in the Sunan collections like that of Abu Dāwud and Ibn Mājah have the wording concerning the group but only as a part of that narration.  Additional wording is carried in those traditions, much of it relating to the portents or signs before the final hour, like the thirty great liars claiming Prophethood, but also where he, peace and blessings be upon him said: ‘The Hour will not come until tribes from my nation join the Mushrikeen (polytheists) and until tribes from my nation worship Awthān (idols).’

If it were not for the grace of Allah and His mercy to you [Prophet], a ā’ifa (group) of them would have tried to lead you astray; they only lead themselves astray, and cannot harm you in any way, since Allah has sent down the Book and Hikmah to you, and taught you what you did not know.  Allah’s bounty to you is great indeed

[Qur’an 4: 113]

Mention of a location

Thus far, the Ṣaḥīḥ aḥādith mention this group from the wider Muslim Ummah in indefinite form – ā’ifatun [طَائِفَةٌ].  There are a limited number of narratives which carry additional wording to specify where the  ‘ā’ifa’ is located or resides.  The difficulty these very small number of traditions present, is that they are not regarded as being Ṣaḥīḥ.  An example is that cited in the Musnad of Imām Aḥmad:

قال أبو عبد الرحمن وجدت في كتاب أبي بخط يده حدثني مهدي بن جعفر الرملي ثنا ضمرة عن الشيباني واسمه يحيى بن أبي عمرو عن عمرو بن عبد الله الحضرمي عن أبي أمامة قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم لا تزال طائفة من أمتي على الدين ظاهرين لعدوهم قاهرين لا يضرهم من خالفهم إلا ما أصابهم من لأواء حتى يأتيهم أمر الله وهم كذلك قالوا يا رسول الله وأين هم؟ قال ببيت المقدس وأكناف بيت المقدس

تعليق شعيب الأرنؤوط حديث صحيح لغيره دون قوله قالوا يا رسول الله وأين هم إلخ وهذا إسناد ضعيف لجهالة عمرو بن عبد الله السيباني الحضرمي

Abu ‘Abdar-Raḥman said: I found in my father’s book in his own handwriting, Mahdi ibn Ja’far al-Ramli narrated to us Ḍamra narrated to us from al-Shaybāni, and his name is Yaḥya ibn Abi ‘Amr, from ‘Amr ibn Abdullah al-Haḍrami from Abu Umāmah, he said the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him said:  A group from my Ummah will continue to remain adherent upon the Deen prevailing over their adversaries. Those who oppose them will not harm them, except for [occasional] hardships, until the command of Allah comes while they are in that state.  They asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah, where will they be?’  He said: In Bayt al-Maqdis and its outskirts.

Shu’ayb al-Arnā’uṭ comments: ‘The adith is Ṣaḥīḥ li’ghayrihi, absent where it is said ‘They said, O Messenger of Allah, where are they?’ etc.  This isnād is ḍaef given the anonymity of ‘Amr ibn Abdullah al-Saybāni al-Haḍrami.’

The comment made by Shaykh Shu’ayb al-Arnā’uṭ, which was in his commentary upon the Musnad of Amad as a whole, is illustrative.  While the former wording can be considered Ṣaḥīḥ given additional supporting evidence, a sample of which is outlined above, the specific wording here of locating the group in Bayt al-Maqdis is not.  Moreover, the isnād here itself is ḍaef given that it has a narrator who is Majhul (anonymous, unknown).  In Mu’jam al-Kabir, the variation recorded by al-Ṭabarāni also carries the wording of locating the ā’ifa in Jerusalem:

حدثنا حصين بن وهب الأرسوفي ثنا زكريا بن نافع الأرسوفي ثنا عباد بن عباد الرملي عن أبي زرعة السيباني عن أبي زرعة الوعلاني عن كريب السحولي قال حدثني مرة البهزي أنه سمع رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول لا تزال طائفة من أمتي على الحق ظاهرين على من ناوأهم، وهم كالإناء بين الأكلة حتى يأتي أمر الله وهم كذلك قلنا يا رسول الله وأين هم؟ قال  بأكناف بيت المقدس

Ḥuṣayn ibn Wahb al-Arsufi narrated to us he said Zakariyā ibn Nāfi’ al-Arsufi narrated to us he said ‘Abbād ibn ‘Abbād al-Ramli narrated to us from Abu Zura’ al-Saybani from Abu Zura’ al-Wahlāni from Kureeb al-Sahouli he said Murrah al-Bahzi narrated to me that he heard the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him saying: A group from my nation will remain steadfast on the truth, appearing to others as clear as day, and they will be like the container among the food until the command of Allah comes to pass.  We said, O Messenger of Allah, where are they?  He said: At the outskirts of Bayt al-Maqdis (Jerusalem).[3]

But this isnād is highly problematic, containing several anonymous narrators, including Ḥuṣayn ibn Wahb al-Arsufi, Zakariyā ibn Nāfi’ al-Arsufi and Kureeb al-Sahouli.[4]  That is without any further assessment on the remaining narrators as appearing in the isnād brought forth by al-Ṭabarāni.  Ibn Asakir quotes two ḥadith similarly in Tārikh Dimishq, the latter following al-Ṭabarāni, but neither are Ṣaḥīḥ,[5] and ultimately, Allah the Exalted and Majestic knows best.

Conclusions

From the textual evidences provided, we can assure ourselves beyond reasonable doubt that the aḥādith which state that there will always be a ā’ifatun [طَائِفَةٌ], a group, from the wider Muslim Ummah, who will always be manifestly upon the truth – is Ṣaḥīḥ.  It is authentic beyond reasonable doubt, being narrated through multiple channels on the authority of four different Companions.  That grouping, theā’ifa’ undefined, hasn’t been given as far as we can accurately establish, an additional Prophetic characterisationIn other words, it is not specifically defined in terms of number, background or even ethnicity.  The narratives which carry the additional wording of placing the location specifically in that of Bayt al-Maqdis for this ā’ifa are not Ṣaḥīḥ.  Hence, we cannot assert that location without the proper authentic textual evidences to back it.

In our present era, some have the audacity to claim for themselves that they are this ā’ifa or affiliated with it.  Such a boast borne of ignorance, or indeed sheer arrogance, isn’t a great surprise.  Such people come no way near to the Prophetic description as mentioned above.  Rather, they often fit the Prophetic description as it relates to the Khawārij, the dogs of hell.  As opposed to being upon the truth, the aqq, and pursuing that, their modern characteristic is attacking the people Islam, and doing everything humanly possible to ensure oppression, tyranny and injustice reign upon the Ummah, through their servitude to the status quo of rule by non-Islam.

We ask Allah to give us the knowledge, foresight, presence of mind and fortitude to be able to recognise anyā’ifa during our own times, as they fit the description given the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him.  We ask Allah, to permit us to aid them, support them and provide whatever assistance that they may require of us, if indeed any.  May Allah make them steadfast and grant them victory, providing this Ummah with the leadership, example and hope that often seems all too absent in a world filled by oppression, injustice, and ruled by the most evil of creation that walk this planet.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا أَنصَارَ اللَّهِ كَمَا قَالَ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ لِلْحَوَارِيِّينَ مَنْ أَنصَارِي إِلَى اللَّهِ ۖ قَالَ الْحَوَارِيُّونَ نَحْنُ أَنصَارُ اللَّهِ ۖ فَآمَنَت طَّائِفَةٌ مِّن بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ وَكَفَرَت طَّائِفَةٌ ۖ فَأَيَّدْنَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَىٰ عَدُوِّهِمْ فَأَصْبَحُوا ظَاهِرِينَ

O you who believe – be Allah’s helpers. As Jesus, son of Mary, said to the disciples, ‘Who will come with me to help Allah?’ The disciples said, ‘We shall be Allah’s helpers.’ Some of the Children of Israel believed and some disbelieved: We supported the believers against their enemy and they were the ones who came out on top

[Qur’ān 61: 14]

 


Endnotes

[1] Elsaid M. Badawi and Muhammad Abdel Haleem (2008), Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage, (Brill: Leiden), p. 578.  Qur’anic verses quotes in this entry are [3: 154] and [49: 9].

[2] Tafsir al-Ṭabari [Vol. 5, p. 489]

[3] al-Ṭabarāni Muj’am al-Kabir [Vol. 9, no. 17139, pp. 53/54]

[4] In Tahzeeb al-Kamāl fi’ Asmā’ al-Rijāl [Vol. 5, no. 3090, p. 181 and Vol. 9, p. 390] al-Mizzi has an entry for ‘Abbād ibn ‘Abbād al-Ramli, but neither Ḥuṣayn ibn Wahb al-Arsufi or Zakariyā ibn Nāfi’ al-Arsufi, even though the latter is mentioned in passing.  Al-Ḥāfiz al-‘Irāqi has an entry for Ismā’il ibn ‘Abbād al-Arsufi in Dheel Mizān al-‘Itidāl [Vol. no. 190, p. 55], citing al-Dāraquṭni that he is ḍaef.  For Zakariyā ibn Nāfi’ al-Arsufi, al-‘Irāqi mentions an obscure channel purportedly to be from him narrating from Mālik from Nāfi’.  Quoting al-Khaṭeeb, he says that more than one narrator in the channel is majhul (unknown, anonymous) [see: no. 393, p. 108].  The city from which the narrators originate from appears to be ‘Arsuf’ [أرْسُوف] which is on the coast of the Mediterranean in current occupied Palestine.  Referred to in archaeological circles as ‘Tel Arshaf,’ the city seems to date far into antiquity, being termed ‘Apollonia’ by the ancient Greeks.

[5] See: Ibn Asakir, Tārikh Dimishq [Vol. 1, p. 149]

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