Firstly, from the Noble Qur’an:
Allah Ta’ala says:
“And the former, the first from amongst the muhajirun and the ansar, and those who follwoed them in righteousness, Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. And He has prepared for them gardens of which rivers flow below, abiding therein forever, that is great success.” (9:100)
Thus, Allah is unreservedly pleased with the Muhajirun and ansar, and is pleased with those who follow them in righteousness. (i.e. The attainment of Allah’s pleasure for the companions is secure, whereas for those who come after them; this is not guaranteed, as it is dependent upon their adherence to the way of the companions in righteousness)
Allah Ta’ala also says:
“And whoever opposes the Messenger (salalahu alayhi wa salam) after the guidance has become clearly manifest to him and follows a path other than that of the believers, We shall leave him to that which he has adopted and land him in hell; what an evil destination!” (4:115)
Allah threatens those who follow a different path to the companions with the punishment of hell, and in the previous ayah, He promises His pleasure to those who follow them.
Secondly, from the sunnah:
1. The Statement of the Prophet salalahu alayhi wa salam : “The best of people are my generation then those who succeed them, then those who succeed them” (al bukhari 5/199, 7/6 and 11/460) and muslim, 7/184 and 185)
This excellence and goodness which the Prophet salalahu alayhi wa salam attested to for these three generations, is an indication of their preference, precedene and majestic rank as well as their knowledge of Allah’s laws and intense adherence to the way of His Messenger salalahu alayhi wa salam.
The following ahadith emphasise these (virtues):
2. The Messenger’s salalahu alayhi wa salam statement: “The jews split up into seventy-one sects, the christians split up into seventy-two sects and this ummah will split up into seventy-three sects; all of them are in the Fire except one.” Someone asked: “Which is that one O Messenger of Allah? salalahu alayhi wa salam. He replied: “Whoever is upon that wwhich I am upon today and my companions. (Related by Abu dawud, 4596-4597; al-Tirmidhi 2640-2641; Imam Ahmad, (2/332, 3/120 145 and 4/120 and Ibn Majah, 3991-3993)
This is a hadith that is sahih and mash-hur (well known)
3. His salalahu alayhi wa salam saying: “… for indeed, those who will still be alive after me will see many differences; so hold fast to my sunnah and to the sunnah of the rightely guided khalifahs after me. Adhere to and cling tightly to it and beware of newly-invented matters, for every newly-invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is a deviation.” (related by Imam Ahmad, 4/126-127; Abu Dawud, 4607; al-Tirmidhi, 2676; al-Darimi, 1/44 and others.)
Hence, the Prophet salalahu alayhi wa salam encouraged his ummah to follow his sunnah and the sunnah of the rightly guided khalifahs after him at the appearance of splits and differences.
Thirdly, from the statements of the Salaf al-Salih and their followers:
1. Abdullah ibn Mas’ud may Allah be pleased with him, said: “People will not cease to be in a good as long as knowledge emanating from the companions of Muhammad salalahu alayhi wa salam and their elders reach them. If however, knowledge comes to them by way of their young and their desires diversify, they will be ruined.” (Al-Zuhd of Ibn al-mubarak, p281 narration number 815)
2. He also said: “Whoever amongst you seeks to adopt a path, should take to the way of the dead, since the living are not safe and secure from being put to trial. They, the companions of Muhammad salalahu alayhi wa salam, possessed the most pious hearts of this ummah, were the most profound in knowledge and the least constraint of this ummah. A people whom Allah chose for the companionship of His Prophet salalahu alayhi wa salam and the establishment of His religion. So know their rights and adhere to their guidance, for they indeed were upon the straight way.” (Jami Bayan al-Ilm wa Fadlih 2/97)
3. He also said: “We emulate and do not set precedents, we follow and do not innovate, and we will not deviate as long as we hold on to the narrations.” (Sharh Usul Itiqad Ahl al-Sunnah of al-Lalaka’i, narration number 115)
4. He also said: “Follow and do not innovate, for indeed you have been sufficed.” (Al-Bida wa al-Nahy anha of Ibn Waddah, pg 13)
5. Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “O assembly of reciters! Remain upright and take to the way of those before you. For by Allah if you (choose to) follow them then know that you have been outstripped by a long distance, and if you take to the right or left (of their path) then you will be upon sever deviation.” (This and the following two narrations are in Jami Bayan al-ilm 2/29)
6. Mujahid said: “The scholars are the companions of Muhammad salalahu alayhi wa salam.”
7. Al-Awza’i said: “Knowledge is that which emanates from the companions of Muhammad salalahu alayhi wa salam, as for anything else besides this, it is not knowledge.” Imam Ahmad, may Allah have mercy upon him, also said this.
8. Al-Awza’i said: “Patiently restrict yourself upon the sunnah, stop where the people (ie the companions) stopped, say what they say and refrain from that which they refrained. Traverse upon the path of your Salaf al-salih, for indeed what was sufficient for them is sufficient for you.” (Al-Shari’ah of al Ajurri, pg58)
9. Al-Hasan al-Basri was in a gathering when he mentioned the companions of Muhammad salalahu alayh iwa slaam. He then remarked: “They possessed the most pious hearts of this ummah, were the most profound in knowledge and the leaste constraint. A people, whom Allah chose for the companionship of His Prophet salalahu alayhi wa salam, so emulate their character and way, for by the Lord of the Ka’bah, they are upon the straight path.” (Jami Bayan al-Ilm 2/97)
10 Abu Hanifa, may Allah have mercy upon him, was questioned: “What is your comment on the speech innovated by the people regarding al-A’rad and al-Ajsam?” He replied: “Statements of the philosophers! Take to the narrations and the way of the Salaf and beware of every newly invented matter for it is indeed an innovation.” (Sawn al-Mantiq of al-Suyuti, 322)
11. Al-Awza’i said: “Hold fast to the narrations of the Salaf, even if people abandon you. Beware of th eopinions of men, no matter how much they beautify it with their speech, for indeed the matter will become manifest whilst you will be upon the correct straight path concernint it.” ( Al-Madkhal ila al-Sunan of al-Bayhaqi, number 233)
12. Shaykh al-islam Ibn taymiyyah said: “It is a must upon every muslim, who testifies that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah and that Muhammad salalahu alayhi wasalam is the Messenger of Allah, that his basic intention be to single out Allah in his worship of Him alone, without any partner and to obey His Messenger. He is to remain upon this, following it whever he finds it, and he should know that the best of creation after the prophets are the companions.
He should not therefore, offer absolute and unrestricted allegiance to any one person except the Messenger of Allah salalahu alayhi wa salam. Nor should he offer absolute unrestricted allegiance to any one group except the companions; as the guidance remains with the Messenger salalahu alayhi wa salam, wherever he remains, and it remains with his companions and no one else’s companions, whever they remain.
If they are in agreement, they never agree u pon something incorrect, in contrast to the companions of a particular scholar, they could agree upon something incorrect. In fact, everything that they (ie the companions of a particular scholar) have asserted to which none other from amognst this ummah has asserted, can be nothing but incorrect, since the religion that Allah has sent His messenger salalahu alayhi wa salam with is not conferred to any single scholar and his companions. If this was so, that person should be an equal to the Messenger of Allah salalahu alayhi wa salam and this is simlar to the belief ot the Rafidah regarding the ‘Infallible Imam’.
Morever, it is a must that the companions and their successors were aware of that truth with which Allah had sent His messenger salalahu alayhi wa salam, well before the presence of those who are followed; those whom the madhhabs are attributed to, in relation to both fundamentals and subsidiary matters.
It is impossible for them to bring about a truth, which opposes what the Messenger salalahu alayhi wa salam brought, as everything that opposes the Messenger salalahu alayhiwa salam is falsehood. It is also impossible for them to know of something emanating from the Messenger salalahu alayhi wa salam which opposes (the knowledge and understanding of) the companions and their successors in righteousness, as they (ie the companions) did not unite upon any deviation. So his (ie a followed imam’s) saying, if true has to be taken from that which the Messenger salalahu alayhi wa salam brought and present with someone before him.
Every statement in the religion of Islam which lies in opposition to that which the companions and their successors in righteousness were upon, which none of them have asserted, but rather have said other than it, it is indeed a false saying.” (Minhaj al-Sunnah, 5/262-263)
Taken from the book Tawhid of Allah’s Most Beautiful Names and Lofty Attributes The Belief of Ahl al-Sunnah Wa l-Jama’ah by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Khalifah Al-Tamimi (Associate Professor, Islamic University of Madinah)