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Usool us-Sunnah of Imaam Ahmad
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The creed ('aqeedah) of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa'ah was penned down by Imaam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (may Allaah's mercy be upon him) in his great work Usoolus-Sunnah translated as The Foundations of the Sunnah. The term Sunnah in the title refers to the belief and the 'aqeedah of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa'ah. Indeed there were many works compiled in the early generations that dealt with clarifying and conveying the belief of the Companions of Allaah's Messenger (salallaahu 'alaihi wassallam), from them we have the following:
All these works and many more were compiled by the illustrious scholars of the past in explanation of the Islamic belief as it was understood and conveyed by the Companions of Allaah's Messenger.
Those who adhere to the creed expounded in these works are known as Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa'ah and those who turn away and reject what these works speak of are known as Ahlul-Bid'ah wal-Furqah (the people of innovation and separation from the truth).
As for the book we are discussing, Usool us-Sunnah, then though it is small in size it is indeed great in meaning. Abu Ya'la al-Hanbali (died 526H) stated (Tabaqaat al-Hanaabilah 1/241):
If one was to travel to China in search of it - it would be no mean feat.
This aqeedah was penned down by the Imaam of Ahlus-Sunnah by consensus - the one who remained firm and steadfast in the times of tribulation in which the people of misguidance compelled the people with their saying that the Qur'aan was created along with the denial and distortion of the Attributes of Allaah. So Allaah, the Most High, made the truth clear by way of Imaam Ahmad (rahimahullaah), the Imaam of Ahlus-Sunnah - born in the year 161H and died in 241H.
This work begins with the chain of narration that connects this work to Imaam Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal - and one should not doubt the blessing that has been conveyed upon this Ummah by Allaah by preserving this Religion by way of the chain of narration (i.e. the isnaad):
Ash-Shaikh al-Imaam Abul-Muzafar Abdul-Malik ibn 'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Hamdaani said: Shaikh Abu Abdullaah Yahyah ibn al-Hasan ibn Ahmad ibn al-Banaa narrated to us saying: My father, Abu 'Ali al-Hasan ibn Ahmad ibn Abdullaah ibn al-Banaa, informed us saying: Abul-Husayn 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abdullaah ibn Bishraan al-Mu'dal informed us saying: 'Uthmaan ibn Ahmad ibn as-Sammaak informed us saying: I read to Abu Muhammad al-Hasan ibn Abdul-Wahhaab ibn Abil-'Anbar from his book in the month of Rabee' al-Awwal in the year 293H and he said: Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Sulaymaan al-Munqaree al-Basree narrated to us in Tanees (a city in Egypt) and said: 'Abdoos ibn Maalik al-'Ataar informed me saying: I heard Abu Abdullaah Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal, rahimahullaah, say:
أصول السنة عندنا التمسك بما كان عليه أصحاب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم
The foundations of the Sunnah with us are: Holding fast to what the Companions of Allaah's Messenger (salallaahu ıalaihi wassallam) were upon.
The Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wassallam) said:
Binding upon you is my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the Rightly Guided Caliphs after me - hold onto it with your molar teeth. 
And holding on to whatever the Companions were upon is holding on to the Book of Allaah and the Sunnah of the Messenger and to his Seerah (i.e. his biography) and to his Rightly Guided Successors, from the noble Companions.
The Prophet (salallaahu 'alaihi wassallam) described the sect of salvation in the hadeeth of the splitting of the Ummah:
This Ummah will divide into seventy-three sects, all of them will be in the Hellfire except for one. He was asked: "Who are they (the Saved Sect)?" He said: They are those who are upon that which I and my Companions are upon. 
So if we know this then it is upon the seeker of knowledge that he read the biography and life of the Prophet and likewise about the lives of his Companions and how they were for indeed the innovations occurred after the time of the Messenger (salallaahu 'alaihi wassallam) and the Companions opposed all innovations.
And the first of the innovations to befall the Ummah was the innovation of the Khawaarij , Then there was the bid'ah of ar-Rafd (i.e. the Shee'ah) , Then came the bid'ah of al-I'tizaal , And there also occurred the bid'ah of Al-Qadr .
So all of this was taking place in that time, yet the Companions withheld and never entered into innovations, rather they forbade them and opposed them as occurs in the hadeeth of Abdullaah ibn 'Umar (radhi Allaahu 'anhumaa) in Saheeh Muslim when he was informed of the bid'ah of the Qadariyyah so he said to those who conveyed that to him:
If you meet them, then inform that I am indeed free of them and that they are free of me.
Then he narrated the hadeeth from his father in which Jibreel came to the Prophet (salallaahu 'alaihi wassallam) to him about the Religion. 
And likewise 'Ali ibn Abee Taalib who took a position against the Khawaarij and sent his cousin, Abdullaah ibn Abbaas, to them and he debated with them after which four thousand returned to the truth and the rest remained, so 'Ali fought them on the day of Nahrawaan. So we see the Companions of Allaah's Messenger withheld from bid'ah which became apparent in their times - and they took positions of enmity towards bid'ah. And that which clarifies their hatred of the people of bid'ah is the narration of Abu Umaamah al-Baahilee, the noble Companion who settled and died in Shaam in the year 86H, that is reported by Abu Dawood (died 275H) in 'Kitaab as-Sunnah' - that when Abu Umaamah saw the severed heads of the leaders of the Khawaarij erected upon stakes he stated that they are the dogs of the Hellfire and the most evil of the creation.
 Reported by Ahmad in his Musnad (4/126, 127); Abu Dawood in Kitaabus-Sunnah, Chapter: In Adhering to the Sunnah 4/200, 201 (4607); At-Tirmidhee in Kitaabul-'Ilm, Chapter: That which has been reported regarded taking from the Sunnah and abandonment of innovations 5/43 (2676), and he said concerning this hadeeth: Hasan Saheeh; Ibn Maajah in al-Muqadimah, Chapter: Sunnatul-Khulafaa ar-Raashideen al-Mahdiyeen 1/15, 16, 17 (42,43,44); Authenticated by al-Albaanee in Saheeh Sunan Ibn Maajah 1/13 (40, 41, 42); And ad-Daarimee in his Sunan, Chapter: Ittibaa' as-Sunnah 1/57 (95).
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