Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
It is obligatory for every morally responsible person to believe that which is correct. The correct Sunni belief is that which these two great schools are on. Beliefs that contradict that which these two schools hold are unacceptable. Following one of these two schools is a means towards correct belief. So, whoever has a correct belief, is on guidance, even if they don't say or know that they are Ashari or Maturidi. And whoever says they are Ashari or Maturidi but have beliefs that do not correspond to the guidance of these schools is, to the extent of their deviation from their guidance, astray from the truth.
Historically, we find many Hanbalis who were not Ashari or Maturidi, but whose beliefs were simple yet sound, and did not fall into anthropomorphism.
Where does the Aqidah Tahawiyya fall in?
The Tahawiyya itself is a simple statement of Sunni belief. It is so simple that it is consistent with both Maturidi and Ashari aqida. Imam Subki mentioned that it differs with the Ashari school only on three very minor, subtle points. It is closer yet to the Maturidi school, for it is very much a Hanafi-influenced theological school, and Imam Tahawi was transmitting the Sunni beliefs of Abu Hanifa and
his companions (Allah be well pleased with them), as he mentions in his introduction.
Because of its simplicity, every school interprets the Tahawiyya according to its understanding. That is why we have Sunni commentaries, and literalist "Salafi" commentaries, in both recent times and old.
But this is also a valid path, especially for the common man: to hold fast to the basic beliefs of Sunni aqida, as represented by a reliable outline (such as the Tahawiyya, or Imam Ghazali's text that is in the Reliance), without delving into the details of the science of aqida. But, at the end of the day, "Are those who know like those who do not?" In times when there are all sorts of attacks on the bases of our belief, and on faith in general, it helps to understand the principles and bases of our belief, so that we have a solid foundation for our iman. This is not sufficient, however, for it is only like good soil. Unless there are good seeds (following the Sacred Law) and nourishment (righteous deeds, especially the worship and remembrance of Allah), then one's iman will remain weak and susceptible to dangers.
And Allah alone gives success.
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