The Abdal [substitute-saints]
It is obligatory for Muslims to believe that the abdal or Substitute-saints exist -- so called because, as the Prophet said (see #3 below), "None of them dies except Allah substitutes another in his place" -- and that they are among the religious leaders of the Community concerning whom there is no doubt among Muslims. No less than Ibn Taymiyya writes at the end of his `Aqida wasitiyya:
"The true adherents of Islam in its pristine purity are Ahl al-Sunnat wal-Jama`a. In their ranks the truthful saints (siddiqin), the martyrs, and the righteous are to be found. Among them are the great men of guidance and illumination, of recorded integrity and celebrated virtue. The Substitutes (abdal) and the Imams of religion are to be found among them and the Muslims are in full accord concerning their guidance. These are the Victorious Group about whom the Prophet said: "A group within my Community manifestly continues to be in the truth. Neither those who oppose them nor those who abandon them can do them harm, from now on until the Day of Resurrection." [Ibn Taymiyya, `Aqida wasitiyya (Salafiyya edition) p. 36.]
The Prophet emphasized in many authentic narrations the benefits brought to all creation through the intercession of Allah's saints and their standing with Him. Suyuti in his fatwa on the abdal in his Hawi li al-fatawi provided many examples of this type of universal intercession from which we quote the following:
1. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal says in his Musnad (1:112):
... The people of Syria were mentioned in front of `Ali ibn Abi Talib while he was in Iraq, and they said: "Curse them, O Commander of the Believers." He replied: "No, I heard the Messenger of Allah say: "The Substitutes (al-abdal) are in Syria and they are forty men, every time one of them dies, Allah substitutes another in his place. By means of them Allah brings down the rain, gives (Muslims) victory over their enemies, and averts punishment from the people of Syria."" al-Haythami said: "The men in its chains are all those of the sahih except for Sharih ibn `Ubayd, and he is trustworthy (thiqa)."[That is: this is a sound (sahih) hadith.]
2. al-Hakim narrated the following which he graded sound (sahih), and al-Dhahabi confirmed him:
`Ali said: "Do not curse the people of Syria, for among them are the Substitutes (al-abdal), but curse their injustice."
Note that any religious knowledge unattainable through ijtihad and authentically conveyed from one of the Companions is considered a hadith by the experts of that science.
3. Tabarani said in his Mu`jam al-awsat:
Anas said that the Prophet said: "The earth will never lack forty men similar to the Friend of the Merciful [Prophet Ibrahim], and through them people receive rain and are given help. None of them dies except Allah substitutes another in his place."
Qatada said: "We do not doubt that al-Hasan [al-Basri] is one of them."
Ibn Hibban narrates it in al-Tarikh through Abu Hurayra as: "The earth will never lack forty men similar to Ibrahim the Friend of the Merciful, and through whom you are helped, receive your sustenance, and receive rain."
4. Imam Ahmad also narrated in the Musnad (5:322):
The Prophet said: "The Substitutes in this Community are thirty like Ibrahim the Friend of the Merciful. Every time one of them dies, Allah substitutes another one in his place."
Hakim Tirmidhi cites it in Nawadir al-usul and Ahmad's student al-Khallal in his Karamat al-awliya'. Haythami said its men are those of the sahih except `Abd al-Wahid who was declared trustworthy by al-`Ijli and Abu Zar`a (as well as Yahya ibn Ma`in).
5. Abu Dawud through three different good chains in his Sunan (English #4273), Imam Ahmad in his Musnad (6:316), Ibn Abi Shayba in his Musannaf, Abu Ya`la, al-Hakim, and Bayhaqi narrated:
Umm Salama the wife of the Prophet said: "Disagreement will occur at the death of a Caliph and a man of the people of Madina will come forth flying to Mecca. Some of the people of Mecca will come to him, bring him out against his will and swear allegiance to him between the Corner and the Maqam. An expeditionary force will then be sent against him from Syria but will be swallowed up in the desert between Mecca and Madina, and when the people see that, the Substitutes (abdal) of Syria and the best people (`asaba) of Iraq will come to him and swear allegiance to him..."
6. Imam Ahmad cited in Kitab al-zuhd, also Ibn Abi al-Dunya, Abu Nu`aym, Bayhaqi, and Ibn `Asakir narrated from Julays:
Wahb ibn Munabbih said: I saw the Prophet in my sleep, so I said: "Ya Rasulallah, where are the Substitutes (budala') of your Community?" So he gestured with his hand towards Syria. I said: "Ya Rasulallah, aren't there any in Iraq?" He said: "Yes, Muhammad ibn Wasi`, Hassan ibn Abi Sinan, and Malik ibn Dinar, who walks among the people similarly to Abu Dharr in his time."
Nawawi in Bustan al-`arifin (1985 ed. p. 31) mentions that the hadith master Hammad ibn Salama ibn Dinar (d. 167) was considered to be one of the abdal.