Allah – beginning with the name of – the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Praise is to Him who guided the believers to the truth. And may His blessings and salutations be upon our master Muhammad (salla Allahu alayhi wa-sallam) the seal of the Prophets and the coolness of our eyes.
“And hold firmly on to the rope of Allah together and be not divided amongst yourselves.”
[Surah 'Ali `Imran 3:103]
The Jews split into seventy-one sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy in Hell. The Christians split into seventy-two sects, seventy-one of which will be in Hell and one in Paradise. I swear by the One Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, my nation will split into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two in Hell.” It was said: “O Messenger of Allah, who are they?” He said: “The main body.”
[Sunan ibn Majah]
And he was asked “Which is it O Messenger of Allah? And He (salla Allahu alayhi wa-sallam) said “What I am upon and what my companions”.
The Sunnah of RasoolAllah is also the path of the Companions. RasoolAllah’s path is his Sunnah and the Companions’ path is also his Sunnah and so what does ‘Those who follow my path and the path of my Companions’ mean? It means Ahle Sunnah.
[Imam Tirmidhi in Jaam’i Tirmidhi]
There is a Hadith narrated by Hazrat Mu’awiya with the following words that RasoolAllah (salla Allahu alayhi wa-sallam) said, “Seventy-two of the groups will go to Hell and one of them will go to Paradise.” The Companions asked, “Which group will go to Paradise?” The Beloved Prophet replied, “The majority group (Jama’at).”
[Masnad Ahmed bin Hanbal and Sunan Abu Dawood]
The words Sunnah and Jama’at (taken from the two Ahadith) were joined together and the saved group was given the name ‘Ahle Sunnat Wal Jama’at’ at that time by the Companions.
So we can conclude that the Ahle Sunnat wal Jama’at are those individuals who are on the way of the Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa-sallam) and his companions. The other sects as a result can be systematically understood not to fit this label. The Ahle Sunnat wal Jama’at follow the Qur’an, the sunnah of the Prophet, and the companions as derived from the six books of hadith, the binding consensus of the first three generations and thereafter the analogical reasoning of established jurists. A Sunni is one who adheres to one of the schools of jurisprudent law i.e. Hanafi, Malaki, Shafii and Hanbali, they follow traditional scholarship in matters of faith, not reformist or modernist ideologies; and also adheres to one of the theological schools i.e. Maturidi and Ash’ari. They also see the importance and necessity of spirituality.
This removes the vast majority of sects and refines our understanding of the saved sect. It is confusing when we see certain sects who adhere to all the aforementioned conditions such as the Deobandi, who explicitly claim to be from the Ahle Sunnat wal Jama’at. The reality of the situation is these individuals may share common core beliefs but also have beliefs which are counter to the beliefs of the Ahle Sunnat wal Jama’at which the scholars of truth have dealt with whereby exposing them as deviants.
Allah knows best.
Answered by Ustaadh Asid Mahmood Shafait