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Saturday, October 06, 2018

Funeral Prayer /Janazah over criminals

This issue was brought to my attention and when I answered the question, it reminded me that there was something wrong. Therefore, I wanted to put something into writing that is topical and very important.

First, let us look at a few hadith.

رواه سمرة رضي الله عنه أَنَّ رَجُلًا قَتَلَ نَفْسَهُ بِمَشَاقِصَ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : أَمَّا أَنَا فَلَا أُصَلِّي عَلَيْه رواه النسائي 1964

Sumarah (may Allah be pleased with him) reports that a man killed himself with an arrow. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) said, "I will not pray over him." Nisa'i

روى الشيخان و أصحاب السنن عَنْ سَلَمَةَ بْنِ الأَكْوَعِ رضى الله عنه قَالَ كُنَّا جُلُوساً عِنْدَ النَّبِىِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم إِذْ أُتِىَ بِجَنَازَةٍ فَقَالُوا صَلِّ عَلَيْهَا فَقَالَ هَلْ عَلَيْهِ دَيْنٌ ؟ قَالُوا لاَ قَالَ هَلْ تَرَكَ شَيْئاً ؟ قَالُوا  لاَ  فَصَلَّى عَلَيْه ثُمَّ أُتِىَ بِجَنَازَةٍ أُخْرَى فَقَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلِّ عَلَيْهَا قَالَ هَلْ عَلَيْهِ دَيْنٌ ؟ قِيلَ نَعَمْ قَالَ فَهَلْ تَرَكَ شَيْئاً ؟ قَالُوا ثَلاَثَةَ دَنَانِيرَ  فَصَلَّى عَلَيْهَا ثُمَّ أُتِىَ بِالثَّالِثَةِ ،‏ فَقَالُوا صَلِّ عَلَيْهَا قَالَ هَلْ تَرَك شَيْئاً ؟ قَالُوا لاَ ، قَالَ  فَهَلْ عَلَيْهِ دَيْنٌ ؟ قَالُوا ثَلاَثَةُ دَنَانِيرَ قَالَ صَلُّوا عَلَى صَاحِبِكُمْ.‏ قَالَ أَبُو قَتَادَةَ صَلِّ عَلَيْهِ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَعَلَىَّ دَيْنُهُ فَصَلَّى عَلَيْهِ

The two scholars [Muslim and Bukhari] and the compiler of the hadith report that Salamah bin Al-Akuwa' (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "We were sat with the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) when the funeral came and they asked, "Pray for them." He asked, "Does he have any debts?" They said, "No." He asked, "Has he left anything?" They said, "No." Then he would prayer over it [the deceased]. Then another funeral would come and they would ask, "O Messenger of Allah pray for them." He asked, "Does he have a debt?" Someone said, "Yes." He asked, "Has he left anything?" They said, "Three silver coins." [Most likely, this money was used to pay the debt] Then he prayed over him. Then a third funeral came and they asked, "Pray for it." He asked, "Has he left anything?" They said, "No." He asked, "Does he have any debts?" They said, "Three silver coins." He replied, "Pray over your companion." Abu Qatadah said, "I will pay his debt." Then he prayed over him."

عن أبي قتادة - رضي الله عنه - قال: " كان رسول الله - صلى الله عليه وسلم - إذا دعي لجنازة سأل عنها " فإن أثني عليها خيرا " قام فصلى عليها " وإن أثني عليها غير ذلك " قال لأهلها: شأنكم بها ولم يصل عليها

أبن حبان و حاكم

When he was called to a funeral prayer, he would ask [about the deceased], if the person was praised, he would arise and perform the prayer. Abu Qatadah (may Allah be pleased with him) reports, "the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) would say to the family, "They are your concern." When the words about them was other [badness] and did not pray over them." Ibn Hibban and Al-Hakim.

In terms of debts of companions one of the following occurred,
1. His debts were paid by the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him)
2. By one of the companions
3. Inheritance was made to pay debts
4. Someone else paid the debts. 

وقال صلى الله عليه وسلم : ( والذي نفسي بيده لو أن رجلاً قتل في سبيل الله ثم أحيي ثم قتل ثم أحيي ثم قتل وعليه دين ما دخل الجنة حتى يقضى عنه دينه)رواه الإمام أحمد وهو حديث صحيح

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) said, "I take oath by the possessor of my soul if a man is killed in the path of Allah, brought back to life then killed, then brought back to life and killed but he owes a debt. He will not enter paradise until the debt is paid." Imam Ahmed

There are more hadiths than the above but we will suffice with these.

In the books of the Hanafi's

Imam Al-Haskafi in Al-Durr Al-Mukhtar on Imam Al-Mosuli's Ikhtiyar in the book of prayer p.119, "It is an [collective] obligation that every deceased Muslim [to be prayed over] except.."

Then he mentions four categories of people who are the exceptions from the above.  

Imam Abu Laith Al-Samarqandi said in Khazanta Al-Fiqh/ Treasure of Jurisprudence,

أربعة لا يصلي عليهم الخناق والباغي والخوارج إذا قتلوا و ماتوا قبل التوبة و قاطع الطريق إذا قتل بعدما أخذ المال وقيل الذين كابروهم فقتلهم لايصلى عليهم

"Four [categories] are not to [perform the funeral] prayer over: the strangler, the rebel, the Khawarij who died before repentance, the highway robber when killed stealing money and it was said the vile transgressor of them are killed and not prayed over." p.69

Imam Zayn Al-Deen Al-Razi said in Tufhat Al-Muluk,

لا يصلى على باغ ولا قاطع طريق

"The rebel and the highway robber are not [funeral] prayed over."p.114

Imam Al-Tahtawi said Hashiyah Al-Tahtawiyyah on Maraqi Al-Falah on Nur Al-Idah p.601/2, "The rebel is not prayed over (by agreement, even if Muslim) and not (highway robber) when one of them is killed in a battle. They are not wasted because Ali (may Allah ennoble his face) did not [instruct] the rebels to be washed. They are washed before a leader is affirmed and they are prayed over. The murderer by strangulation/assassination, he deceives, takes him to a place and kills him, the general meaning is like the strangler who takes his victim and causes corruption in the land. Not [to pray over] the haughty of a city who take arms in the night and are killed in this state. The slain of the nationalist/tribalism to humiliate him and warn others. They are washed according to one of the opinions and prayed over, if washed. A person who killed themselves on purpose for severe pain is washed and prayed over, according to Abu Hanifah and Muhammad and this is most authentic opinion because he is a sinful believer. Abu Yusuf said, "They are not prayed over." The judge, the Imam, Ali Al-Saghdi said, "The correct opinion to me they are not prayed over, even if it was an error, if it was for a pain then they prayed over by agreement. Killing oneself is a greater crime and sin than killing someone else. He who kills one of his parents is not prayed over because of oppression and to lower him."

Here, Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Muhammad's position is reliable, that a person who kills themselves because of an illness is prayed over but not someone who kills others whilst killing himself.

Nur Al-Idah is one of the most popular books of Fiqh in the Indo pak world. So it makes it even more bizarre that no one has noticed.

Similar is mentioned in Al-Fatawa Al-Tatarhaniyah by Sheikh Alim ibn Al-Alaa' Al-Indaryti in the section of those who are prayed for and those not prayed for p.607/8.

Similar is also confirmed by Imam Al-Haskafi in Al-Durr Al-Mukhtar on Imam Al-Mosuli's Ikhtiyar in the book of prayer p.119/2.

In Imam Al-Mosuli's own commentary on Ikhtiyar, he said, "The killed for the Had or Qasas is washed and prayed over because they were not killed performing oppression and are not in the meaning of martyrs of Uhud. He said, "The rebel and highway robber are not prayed over because they spread corruption on the earth. The Exalted said, "This is their disgrace in the world." (Quran 5:33). [Funeral] Prayer is intercession that they are not worthy of. Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) did not pray over rebels and he is the exemplar, to be followed, in this chapter. This was seen by the companions and they did not reject and it became consensus." P.105.

Someone who has been killed because of the penal system has been recompensed their sin because of a court order. Therefore, they can be washed and buried but those who have committed sins which cause corruption in the land deserve more severe punishment from the government.  

Are they martyrs?

People are resurrected upon their intentions but if your attention was to get away from the police then one thing is clear. You have died committing a criminal act and because of reckless driving.

Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) said, “Who do you reckon to be martyr among you?” They replied, “The one who is killed in the way of Allah.” He said, “In that case the martyrs among my people would be few!” They asked, “Messenger of Allah! Then who are the martyrs?” He replied, “He who is killed in the way of Allah is a martyr; he who dies naturally in the cause of Allah is a martyr; he who dies of plague is a martyr; he who dies of a stomach disease is a martyr; and he who is drowned is a martyr.” Muslim

A martyr is someone who was killed in battle by someone else, drown, house collapses on them, plague, defending their property, woman dying giving birth, abdominal disease, etc. Therefore, it is clear that gangsters who die committing evil acts are not martyrs.

Sheikh Gibril Haddad gives more details of the classifications of martyrs.

Imam's role in society and conclusion

He is the person who guides people to Allah by adherence to the sacred law. If he himself has no regard for it then how can he affect people? Alternatively, is that he fears for his job? The masjid committees have a lot to answer for. Praying over those who are known to be criminals should not be done by the Imam. The Imam should find out about the person they are praying over and if they are a criminal then he should refuse. The hadiths also give us a way for someone other than the Imam to pray over them but if we follow the fiqh strictly then no one should pray over them.

It shocked me that Imams do not seem to lose any sleep praying over gangsters and their ilk. If someone is driving at illegal speeds then crashes their car killing all those onboard, they have committed a criminal act. 

Criminals such as drug traffickers/gangsters and their ilk should be chastised in the community and not lauded. They should be expelled from a community and people should refuse to do business with them. Their families should not be left alone though, we cannot have the law of jungle practiced. 

Unfortunately, they find validation from their parents who brought up monsters whose harm reaches everyone they come into contact. Parents who defend the wrong actions of their children cause increase in their disobedience. These children become monsters because they have never heard the word 'no.' He is a bad person if he is harming the community by his presence. So many parents have failed to inculcate the correct manners into their children. We are then left with communities whose roads are treated like racetracks and unrighteous activity is over looked. When it should not be tolerated. 

All Imams need to heed this call and not pray over anyone who died in a wretched state of criminal activity. This will send shock waves and it might make some people wake up. However, it is clear that part of the sacred law is not being followed here and if you are an Imam then you should not make excuses. Because your sin is greater because it encourages others to commit such sins. Excuses are not going to wash on the day of judgement for anyone.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Who and what is the Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jammah?

This is a subject that has much discussion and the root problem is that everyone claims that they are from Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jammah. Yet, some have no right to use this at all.

What does it mean?

Ahl Al-Sunnah means the people of the Sunnah and this differentiates from all other sects in Islam. Namely not the Shia, Khawarij, Mutazilites etc. 

Al-Jammah means the majority. Therefore, the term means the people of the Sunnah and majority. Sunnah is reference to the prophetic practice. Majority mean adhering to the opinions of the majority of scholars.


This term is often misused by speakers and lecturers. In some geographical regions, the writing is joined together.

It should be written as such

أهل السنة و الجماعة


أهلسنة ولجمعة

I saw the above written on a masjid banner. It seemed very strange that they had taken this term and changed it. There are different groups who have taken this term and re-arranged.

What is not Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jammah

I do not accept it when people claim that this is the opinion of Ahl Al-Sunnah and it should be accepted, when they give an isolated opinion of one scholar. They should prove their point with more than once source from the majority of scholars and not opinions from a specific geographical regions.

One group of geographic scholars are not Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jammah; for that to be true then there must be all scholars from all madhabs present where there is agreement. Rather than six teachers in a room who all agree with each other because they have the same grand teacher.

Where did the term come from?

There are different reports about who was the first to use this term. There are reports that this could be a term used by the companions. 

This first time this term was used was by Ibn 'Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) which is textually sourced in the Quranic commentary of Ibn Kathir.  Now the strange thing about this report is that it is not in Ibn 'Abbas's own commentary of the Quran. 

يوم تبيض وجوه وتسود وجوه حين تبيض وجوه أهل السنة والجماعة، وتسود وجوه أهل البدعة والفرقة،

"A day faces are brightened and faces are darkened." (Ahli Imran 3:106)

Ibn 'Abbas said, "This is when the faces of the Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jammah adherents are brightened and the faces of the people of innovation and (other) sects are darkened." Tafsir Ibn Kathir Vol 1  p.381.

In addition, the other textual reference is in the Aquida Al-Tahawiyyah of Imam Al-Tahawi (may Allah show him mercy). 

هذا ذكر بيان عقيدة أهل السنة و الجماعة

"This is a reminder of the clarification of the belief of the people of the Sunnah and the majority."

Then he mentions that this is according to Abu Hanifah (may Allah show him mercy) and some of his students. Therefore, this gives us an indication that this term was used by Abu Hanifah and those before him. If it came from his teachers then it must have come from Abdullah ibn Mas'ud (may Allah be pleased with him). I cannot confirm this but I have a strong inclination that the companions used this term to differentiate themselves from Khawarij and Shia. 

However, at this time the Shia or the party of Ali was a political group in favour of his leadership. It was not until later did they break from the main Sunni group. 

Interestingly, Ibn Mas'ud, said, 

الجماعة ما وافق الحق؛ ولو كنت وحدك


"The majority is what agrees with the truth even if there is but one." Al-Tirmidhi.

ان جمهور الناس فارقوا الجماعة ان الجماعة ما وافق طاعة الله عز وجل

"Most of the people have left the majority. The majority is what concurs to the obedience of Allah Almighty and Exalted."

Here Ibn Mas'ud (may Allah be pleased with him) is speaking about the majority or what could be said to be Sawad al-'Azam. If it agrees to the truth then it is the opinion of the majority.

Evidence from Hadith

Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) reports from Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) delivering a sermon at Al-Jabiyyah (village in Damascus). He said, "The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) stood before us saying, 

مَنْ أَرَادَ بُحْبُوحَةَ الْجَنَّةِ فَلْيَلْزَمِ الْجَمَاعَةَ فإن الشيطان مع الواحد وهو من الاثنين أبعد

"Whoever wants the blessings of paradise should adhere to the majority because Satan is with the alone and further away from two." (Al-Tirmidhi)

This is where the term majority is sourced, the Sunnah itself. It is not a new term and it was a term used by the companions.

Ibn 'Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) said, 

يد الله على الجماعة

"The power of Allah maintains the majority." (Al-Tirmidhi) 

Al-Hafiz Al-Suyuti mentioned in his book Al-Amr Biltiba' wa Al-Nahi 'an Ibita'/the command of fellowship and prohibition of innovation the following addition, "Satan is with he who opposes the majority." 

Then he said, "Ibn Sharik (may Allah be pleased with him) said that he heard the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) say,

يد الله على الجماعة فاذا شذ الشاذ منهم اختطفه الشيطان كما يختطف الذئب الشاة من الغنم

"The support of Allah is with the majority.  So whoever deviates from them falls prey to Satan as a wolf prey on a sheep away from the flock."

Mu'adh (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) said, 

إن الشيطان ذئب الإنسان كذئب الغنم، يأخذ الشاذة والقاصية والناحية، وإياكم والشعاب، وعليكم بالجماعة والعامة

"Satan is the wolf of mankind like the wolf of cattle who takes the sheep heedless and unaware. Beware of groups and adhere to the majority and the generality." (Imam Ahmed) 

Al-Hafiz Al-Suyuti said, in his aforementioned book, reported from Abu Dhar (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) said,

اثنان خير من واحد و ثلاثة خير من ثنين و اربعة خير ثلاثة فعليكم بالجماعة فان الله لم يجمع امتي الا على هدى

"Two are better than one, three are better than two, four are better than three. Adhere to the majority because Allah does not make a consensus in my nation except it is guidance."

Imam Maydani (may Allah show him mercy) said in his commentary of Aquida Al-Tahawiyyah p.44, "Ahl Al-Sunnah means [adherence] to life and Muhammadan path. Al-Jammah from [the time] of the companions and the successors then those who follow them..."  

"Al-Najam Al-Gazi in Hassan al-Tanbih fi al-Tashbih said, "The meaning of path of the Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jammah is what the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) was on [belief] and the honoured companions. It is a proof of the prevailing majority/Sawad al-'Azam of the Muslims [the scholars] in every time. They are the majority and the group manifest on the truth."

There are a few points that mentioned here that need to be highlighted. 

1. The people of the truth have existed from the time of companions and will last until the day of judgement. 

2. The majority of scholars/Sawad al-'Azam is also an important point.

No other groups have this claim like the four madhabs and the two in belief (Ash'ari and Maturdi). The vast majority of scholars fall into these categories even though groups outside this may protest. This is historical fact and nothing to be shyed away from. This is the truth and do not bother with anything else. So the majority of scholars of Islam in history are Hanafi, Shafi, Hanbali and Maliki - they are the Sawad al-'Azam, the prevailing majority. Therefore, if your group does not fit into this then you are following a group outside the Sawad al-Azam or the majority.

The majority of scholars are protected, how can I say that? The Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings be upon him) said,

إن الله لن تجمع أمتي على ضلالة


"Allah will not allow my nation to agree to misguidance." Al-Tirmidhi.

Therefore, if all the classical scholars agree or the majority of the scholars belonging to the four madhabs agree then it is truth.

Imam Al-Shafi (may Allah be pleased with him) said, 

الجماعة لا تكون فيها غفلة عن معنى كتاب الله و لا سنة ولا قياس و إنما تكون الغفلة في الفرقة

"The Majority are not ignorance of the meanings of the book of Allah [the Quran], the Sunnah and not analogical reasoning. The only in the sects is there ignorance."

Imam Maydani (may Allah show him mercy) said in his commentary of Aquida Al-Tahawiyyah p.95 about the verse, 

لا نخالف جماعة المسلمين

"We do not oppose the majority of Muslims." The Sawad al-'Azam is the Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jammah because Allah the Exalted has protected this nation from accepting misguidance."

Who  is the Ummah of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him)?

This is a question that has many facets. There are two main points here. 1. Those who have accepted [or received] the message and 2. Those who have not had the message.

Shifah Al-Kubra/the grand intercession, on the day of judgement, is when the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) intercedes for humankind and he says, 'my nation, my nation.' Is this just for the Muslim? When the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) requested permission to intercede every human and jinn were taken from horror of waiting for judgement. The non-Muslims and Muslims benefit. Had the intercession been just for the Muslims then there would be a specification but his intercession benefits all. This gives us an indication the non-Muslims are part of the nation, in terms of receiving the message. Though they will not receive the specific intercession that is only for the Muslims. So the Muslims accepted the message thus took the true benefit of the intercession that others will not get.

Ibn 'Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "He [the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him)] is a mercy for the believers and non believers. They are pardoned from being afflicted similar to misguided nations." (Shifa - Qadi Iyyad p.21)

Everyone from the time of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) until the end of time will receive mercy by two ways. One, in the world by not being punished like other nations. The people of Lut, Salih, and so forth were destroyed once they rejected the message of the prophets sent to them. This nation is not to be punished similarly but they will be punished in other ways like tribulations and so forth. Each 'natural' disaster is a manner in which other nations were destroyed. One nation was destroyed with an earthquake, flood, and so on. May Allah forgive us. Two by the grand intercession of the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him).

73 sects? Who is the saved sect then?

Let us now look at this important question. For the reason being, that everyone claims to be the 'saved' sect. Here are the hadith were this is sourced.

Mu'awiyah (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) stood before us and said, 

الا من كان قبلكم من اهل الكتاب افترقوا على ثنتين و سبعين ملة وان هذه الامة ستفترق على ثلاثة و سبعين ثنتان و سبعون النار وواحدة في الجنة و هي الجماعة

"Were not those before you of the people of the book separated into seventy two sects; this nation will separate into seventy three; seventy two are for the fire and one is for paradise; and this is the majority." (Imam Ahmed)  

Abu Dawood has the addition, 

انه  سيخرج في امتي اقوام تنجارى بهم الاهواء كما يتجارى الكلب بصاحبه لا يبقي منه عرق ولا مفصل الادخله

"From my nation will come people who follow their passions as a dog follows its owner; there is no vein or joint except it (passions) enters it."

Abdullah ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) said,

ليأتين على امتي من اتى على بني اسرائيل حذو النعل بالنعل حتى ان كان منهم من ياتى امه علانية لكان من أمتي من يصنع ذلك وان بني اسرائيل تفرقوا ثنين وسبعين فرقة وستفترق امتي على ثلاث وسبعين فرقة كلهم في النار الا فرقة واحدة قالوا من هي يا رسول الله قال ما اناعليه وصحابي

"There will come to my nation what came to the tribe of Israel; following step by step; even if one of them goes to his mother publicly; one of my nation will do this. The tribe of Israel divided into seventy two sects and my nation will separate into seventy three sects, all of them are for the fire except one." They asked, "Who are they O Messenger of Allah?" He said, "What I and my companions adhere to." (Abu Dawood and Al-Tirmidhi) Al-Hafiz Al-Suyuti said, in the aforementioned book, after the mention of the previous hadith; reporting from Mu'awiyah ibn Sufyan (may Allah be pleased with him) that he (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) stood before people to deliver sermon and said, 

الا ان قبلكم من اهل الكتاب افترقوا على ثنتين و سبعين ملة ان هذه الامة ستفترق على ثلاث وسبعين ملة ثنتان و سبعون النار و واحدة في الجنة وهي الجماعة

"Except those before you of the people of the book who separated into seventy two sects, this nation will separate into seventy three; seventy two are for the fire and one is for paradise; this is the majority."

Now there are two points here that need to be understood properly.  That if we had similar belief to the points mentioned in the hadith then we would be saved. We have previously understood that all jinn and mankind are part of his nation. 

So the two points mentioned in hadith are: 1. Who are the Majority are and 2. What was believed by the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) and his companions.

“Say: ’O mankind, I am the Messenger of God to you all"
Quran The Heights 7:158

If we understand this ayah with this hadith then we come to the conclusion that the entirety of mankind belong the nation of the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him). So some believe in him and some do not but they are all part of the same nation. 

“And We have not sent you (O Muhammad) save as a bringer of good tidings and a warner unto all mankind; but most of mankind know not.”
Quran: Sura Saba 34:28

This further illustrates our point and that these hadiths cannot be taken in isolation. This is how most speakers make their point about this hadith.

Majority in these hadiths means the majority of Muslims, which adhere to the testification of Islam; there is no deity except Allah and Muhammad is the final messenger. The reason why majority in the first hadith does not refer to all Muslims is that people are mostly astray, as reported in the Quran. The scholars of the classical period are not included. But here the majority means people because there are Muslims who are not part of the four madhabs. So all of them are the majority in terms of number but this is different when it refers to scholarship. Majority when it refers to knowledge means the scholars of the Ahl Al-Sunnah.

In addition, there are more than seventy sects in Islam. So this hadith is about the major groups of humanity being sourced from 73 sects. The Jews is the severity first and Christianity is the seventy second then Islam is the seventy third group. The other all the sects are different religions of mankind. So the only one that is saved is Islam and this after the message is received, not before.

This includes many groups as long as they do not believe in something that contradicts this initial belief. Like belief in another Prophet or more than one deity and so on.

Note the word majority is in some narrations but most are about what was believed by the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him) and his companions.

Though, please note some speakers say the saved group is Ahl Al-Sunnah. But the problem with this there is still some Muslims who are excluded when they should be included.

Signs of groups that are outside Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Jammah

Are you ready for this? Hold onto your toppess and Hijabs! Here are some points that you need to be aware of that are signs that you have beware of.

1. Disrespect of Allah, His Messenger (may Allah bestow peace and blessings be upon him), any of his companions, ahl Al-Bayt, or blatant disrespect for religious symbols.
2. Takfir especially on entire other groups, getting up and declaring other groups disbelievers. Especially on matters that have classical disagreement.
3.  Only accepting opinions from their regions scholars or their path etc.
4. Not following classical knowledge, 4 madhabs or 2 in belief.
5.  Openly opposing or mocking the Quran and Ijma
6.  Over respect of one scholar to the extent no other scholars opinion is accepted.
7. A sole opinion on one matter - their opinion.  Or repeating the same things again and again.
That is quite a lot for you to digest. If they do this continually then they are definitely outside and if they do it every now and then. Then they are outside when they do it inside when they do not.

Also take the point that the person must accept everything that the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings be upon him) came with. So the seven points only apply to those who are accepted as Muslims. Those who believe in another Prophet or that Ali was prophet etc are already excluded. 

Final point

We hope that this has enlightened you all and just to end this with a quote from Aquida Al-Tahawiyyah,

"We follow the Sunnah and the majority [of the scholars], avoid isolated opinions, disagreements and sectarism." (p.112) 

The problem of this time is that most groups claim they alone are Ahl Al-Sunnah and no one else. The problem with this is that it makes them a sect. They should instead say that they are part of Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Jammah.  Following classical opinions is the way forward and not take our whims masters. 

If a group claims to be from Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Jammah then examine what they say and refer to the classical works of belief written centuries ago. Then you will find some groups have no right to use this term when their opinions are against the majority. Or they  have left madhabs and follow the whims and vices of the time. Take time to study the oldest works of Islamic belief, basically anything written before 1800. Then you will shocked at the lack of depth of the famous speakers. Some openly oppose Quranic verses and hadith or agreed matters/ijma, yet have large followings?  

One scholar alone is not Ahl  Al-Sunnah and whoever thinks that is in a sect, with the exception if he alone agrees with the majority opinion but is opposed by many. In which he deems his 'personality' to be king and this is also misguidance.

We follow what agrees to the Quran and Sunnah, which is the four madhabs with their groups in belief. Yet, even though a person is not following one the four madhabs, he is still a Muslim but risks nullifying his works. So next time someone uses this term make a note about what they say and speak to others you trust and you might be shocked.

Please see following articles on following a madhab.