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The Meaning of 'Aqidah'
The word 'aqidah' (عقيدة) is of the (morphological) form of (فعيلة) which has the meaning of (مفعول) (that to which something is done), meaning (معقودا عليه), that which is tied, knotted to, firmly fixed onto, held onto. It is derived from the root (عقد), which means to tie, fasten, join, bind.
The affairs of the religion are divided into akhbaar (information) and ahkaam (rulings that require action), as Allaah, the Mighty and Majestic, said:
وَتَمَّتْ كَلِمَتُ رَبِّكَ صِدْقًا وَعَدْلاً
And the Word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice... (Al-An'am 6:115)
Allaah's word has been fulfilled in these two types: truthfulness in information and justice in His commands and prohibitions (ahkaam).
As for the akhbaar (information), then it is obligatory to accept and believe in them (make tasdeeq of them). Thus, anything that returns to belief (Eemaan) and acceptance (tasdeeq) and does not enter into the practical matters requiring action is called 'aqidah'. This is because its source and starting point is in the knowledge of the heart. It is called 'aqidah' because it enters the heart and it becomes fixed and tied to the heart strongly, meaning strongly bound and strongly adhered to it, in the sense that the heart is eager upon it so that it does not leave or escape from the heart.
In Arabic one says, "aqada the rope", meaning he tied the rope firmly, and likewise, "aqada the sale", which means he concluded or settled the sale, or contract, or agreement. And Allaah mentions this verb in the context of [the ratification of] pledges (وَالَّذِينَ عَقَدَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ, an-Nisaa 4:33), and oaths which have been sworn in earnest (وَلَـكِن يُؤَاخِذُكُم بِمَا عَقَّدتُّمُ الأَيْمَانَ, al-Maa'idah 5:89). And when a person says that "aqadtu such and such", it means that my heart is firmly upon such and such.
From what has preceded, the meaning of 'aqidah' can be defined as:
The firm belief (i'tiqaad) that one's heart is strongly attached to and which is settled and fixed in the heart without any wavering or doubt approaching it. It excludes any supposition, doubt or suspicion.
As for the practical matters, then they too are from Eemaan (faith), as is well known that all of the Sharee'ah enters into Eemaan, however, they take place on the limbs, and for this reason they do not enter under the term 'aqidah', but would come under 'Eemaan', being from it, and also under the terms "Sunnah" and "Sharee'ah" - whilst noting that all these terms are also used for affairs of belief (see next).
Terms Synonymous with 'Aqidah'
There also words which are synonymous with 'aqidah' and 'i'tiqaad' in usage, such as at-Tawheed (التوحيد), as-Sunnah (السنة), and ash-Sharee'ah (الشريعة), and some of these terms refer specifically to aspects of belief, such as 'at-Tawheed', and others are used for both aspects of belief and other affairs, such as as-Sunnah and ash-Sharee'ah. Some of the Salaf also authored works using the title of al-Eemaan (الإيمان) since the knowledge-based topics are part of that which makes up the entirety of Eemaan - consisting of beliefs (knowledge-based affairs), statements and actions.
And all of this is indicated in books authored by the Salaf, for the authored books and gave them titles such as "Kitaab us-Sunnah", many of the Salaf authored books with this title, and "ash-Sharee'ah", such as the book of al-Aajurree, and "Kitaab ut-Tawheed", such as that of Imaam al-Bukhaaree (in his Saheeh) and that of Ibn Khuzaimah. And all these books covered the subjects of aqidah, namely Allaah's Names and Attributes, al-Eemaan (faith), al-Qadr (Predestination) and so on.
List of Books of the Early Salaf
Here are a list of books from the Salaf using the words mentioned above:
Deviations in 'Aqidah'
All these books were written to refute the sects of innovation, and the innovators who appeared, from them, the Khawaarij, the Raafidah, the Qadariyyah, the Murji'ah and then the heads of innovation such as al-Ja'd bin Dirham, al-Jahm bin Safwaan, Waasil bin Ataa, Amr bin Ubayd and others.
And the latter four were the originators of the sects that became known as the Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah and these groups devised a rational, intellectual proof called "hudooth al-ajsaam", a method of demonstrating that the universe is haadithah (came to be) because it is made up of bodies (ajsaam) that have qualities (Sifaat) and incidental attributes (a'raad) and events, occurrences (hawaadith) proving that these bodies (ajsaam) came to be after not being, thus being considered events (hawaadith) themselves. And as everything in the universe is therefore an event, all of these events must have an originator, which is Allaah. To demonstrate this proof to the atheists they were debating with, they took the underlying terminology and classifications of Aristotle's (d. 322BC) "al-Maqoolaat al-Ashar" (Ten Categories), also known as "al-Jawhar wal-Arad" (Substance and Incidental Attribute) and used it's language and classification, as well as incorporating other ideas that preceded them and also had their origins in Greek Philosophers, such as the Atomism of Democritus (d. 370BC) and the "transcendent supreme one that is free of divisibility and multiplicity" of Plotinus (d. 270CE). On account of this, they were forced to adhere to this very same language in describing their Lord to the atheists out of the fear of invalidating the proof they had devised. This in turn led them to reject or explain away much of what is in the Book and the Sunnah related to belief in Allah, in particular His Names, Attributes and Actions, and some other areas of aqidah, thus the birth of "ta'weel" and "tafweed" to deal with those "problematic" texts that were conflicting with this proof they devised.
So the Salaf wrote works in refutation on these groups whilst noting that the Ash'ariyyah were upon the creed of Ibn Kullaab (d. 240H) and were not recognized as a faction until the fifth century hijrah (after 400H). All these groups opposed Ahl us-Sunnah in fundamental matters, from them (as examples only):
These oppositions occurred from them due to that intellectual proof called "hudooth ul-ajsaam" that they wrongly considered to be the ultimate truth upon which the very veracity of Islaam depends. To learn more about this, please refer to Asharis.Com where this subject has been covered in lots of detail from the source works of the Mu'tazilah and Ash'ariyyah.
The point here is that these people innovated into the affairs of aqidah and Tawhid, split the ranks of the Muslims, and exerted themselves in spreading their innovations, until Sunnah became bid'ah and truth became falsehood, and so they tore apart the unity of the Muslims, separated their hearts (through these beliefs), and then separated their bodies as a result, and thus the saying of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) regarding the splitting of the Ummah into 73 sects became fulfilled.
The Importance of 'Aqidah'
From what has preceded one can see that as the knowledge that is kept in the heart is the basis of one's belief and worship of one's Lord and is connected to Tawheed, it is vital that a Muslim know the correct creed and its adherents and its sources, and that he only takes knowledge from, and seeks religious rulings from those with sound and correct aqidah. For approaching those with the wrong aqidah, even in practical affairs such as fiqh rulings and religious verdicts and so on can be harmful in that the base and foundation of such people is built upon what contains error, and that will have implications in the rest of their knowledge and practice, because the far' (branch) follows on from the asl (root).
And the sources of aqidah are the Book of Allaah, explained by the Prophetic Sunnah, and consolidated by the understanding, and statements, and positions, and clarifications of the Salaf - those in the first three centuries of Islaam (up to 300H), and whoever followed them thereafter, in belief, methodology and statement in expressing and clarifying that belief.
Further reading and references:
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