A Muslim is one who believes and submits to Allah, in other words, one who does not only have faith, but also abides by His orders and prohibitions, or at least accepts to abide by them. One's degree of Muslimness depends on how much they abide by them. Prophet Abraham and his son Ismail's submission in terms of sacrificing and being sacrificed is described in the Quran as, “they both became Muslim…” They were already mu'min (believers), but it means they turned their faith into complete submission. From this aspect, Islam is the step that comes after faith. In other words, a person first becomes a believer, then a Muslim. If they have become a Muslim, they are at the same time a believer. However, even though one is a believer, they may not have yet shown full submission. Despite this, a believer is also at the same time a Muslim. Because having faith is also the beginning of submission. From such a broad aspect, every believer is a Muslim and every Muslim is a believer. The bedouins not having submitted and believed is another situation.
Ahlussunah is not a term that is mentioned in the Quran or sunnah to define the Muslim. It is a position designated by Muslims, who abide by the Islam practiced by Prophet Muhammad and which he taught to his companions, against those who display belief and behaviors that do not comply with this. So, this term was not taught to us by Prophet Muhammad, Muslims who showed a reaction to those who said, “We are Ali's shiites/followers,” said “if that is what you are, then we are ahlussunnah wal-jamaah,” to determine their own position. In other words, they said, if you are Shiite, we are upon the path of Islam that Rasulullah taught through practice and also practiced by his companions and those who followed them in unanimity, as a jamaah, and Ali was like that too (may Allah be pleased with him). When the number of those who were in the wrong like the Shiite increased, Muslims who were on the “straight path” defined themselves against them as ahlussunnah. In this sense, there is nothing wrong with this and if you are referring to your position within different understandings, there is nothing wrong with saying I am ahlussunnah. However, when identifying yourself, it is correct to say I am Muslim, not I am ahlussunnah. There are many Islamic understandings and hence, we say I am an ahlussunnah Muslim when asked what kind of Muslim we are, and in saying this we refer to the Islam taught and practiced by Rasulullah. Islam is ahlussunnah and ahlussunnah is Islam. This is true, but we identify ourselves as Muslim. Because Islam is the alternative of disbelief and denial, while ahlussunnah is the alternative of other deviant sects. The opposite of Muslim is disbeliever, not different Islamic sects. This is the naming that complies with our holy book and sunnah.
Hence, the Quranic verse, “And who is better in speech than one who invites to Allah and does righteousness and says, 'Indeed, I am of the Muslims'” (Fussilat, 41:33) leaves no room for these debates.
Doing “good deeds” for a believer in every state and circumstance is the most suitable and priority thing to gaining Allah's approval. So, a believer whose goal is calling to Allah and doing what is necessary defines themselves as “I am Muslim.” This is said by Allah.
Not only this. Allah also says, “Allah named you "Muslims" before [in former scriptures] and in this [revelation]” (Hajj, 22:78). In other words, the religion revealed by Allah from Prophet Adam to the last prophet is Islam and those who believe in this are Muslim. This is the name Allah has chosen and approves. Could a name He has chosen not be prioritized?
Prophet Muhammad also says, “Whoever prays our salah, turns to our qiblah and considers what we slaughter halal, then they are Muslim and under the guarantee of Allah and His Messenger. Then do not break Allah's guarantee” (Bukhari). This is the measure of disbelief.
In brief, if you have an embracing civilization project and if you aim for the unity of the ummah and oneness, you should identify yourself not with a dividing term but one that is uniting. Ahlussunnah is a correct term if used in the right place and we have no problem with referring to ourselves as ahlussunah, but that is an attribute of Islam, not Islam itself. Because despite considering the Shiite and Ibadiyyah, which currently make up one-tenth of the Muslim population, to be in the wrong, we still consider them Muslim. When we say Muslim and the Muslim ummah, we include them all. Even though the Shiite do not consider us to be so. Is this not the reason why they are wrongful anyway?
Let alone, many individuals or groups today that constantly emphasizing the “ahlussunnah” name to seek legitimacy for their own thoughts, are at least as far as the Shiite from ahlussunnah, namely the Islamic lifestyle, the practices of Prophet Muhammad and his companions. As a matter of fact, the majority of the tariqahs in our day are not ahlussunnah, they are esoteric tariqahs. Of course, we are not saying anything to those that are not so. Those who hide behind the ahlussunnah shield and hit others should be asked to provide evidence from the Quran, prophet and his companions, without holding onto eccentric comments. Just as Allah commands, “Say, if you are speaking the truth, bring your evidence.” How can and act or form of worship not practiced by the prophet and the companions he taught be considered ahlussunnah?