There are a number of Sunni scholars in the Muslim world shaping a new discourse on the role and history of the Household of the Prophet (ahl al-bayt), Hadith Criticism, and rationalist legal theory. They are staunchly pro-Alid in their views on history, very critical of Wahhabism and its use of Hadith, and well-versed in dialectical theology. These Muslim leaders complicate any attempts to characterize the Sunni tradition as uniform in its views on history and theology. Their contributions to the Sunni intellectual tradition deserve academic study. Scholars representative of this trend include:
Adnan Ibrahim [عدنان إبراهيم]
An independent, rationalist thinker based in Europe. He rejects attempts to edify Muawiya b. Abi Sufyan as a righteous figure possessing any merit. He has broadcast a series of lectures that critically analyzed the life of Muawiya within the Sunni intellectual tradition.
Hasan b. Farhan al-Maliki [حسن بن فرحان المالكي]
A prolific writer and public intellectual based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Trained as a Hanbali and Salafi, he began his work by combing the Sunni intellectual tradition to produce a coherent pro-Alid narrative of history based on reports that Sunni scholars of hadith would deem reliable [sahih] or acceptable [hasan]. He excluded historical reports that did not meet this standard in order to refute the claims of other Saudi academics who argued that 'reliable reports' which vindicated the political careers of Ali b. Abi Talib, the grandsons of the Prophet or their partisans simply 'did not exist.'
However, over the years, al-Maliki has increasingly used a methodology which has become more rationalist and pluralist. His approach is now akin to rationalist legal theorists who primary tools rely upon the Qur'an, the collective memory of prophetic practice [sunna mutawatira], consensus, and reason, followed by solitary hadith reports. He is condemned in Wahhabi influenced circles not only for his pro-Alid orientation, but for his willingness to actively and respectfully engage marginalized Muslims (e.g. the Shi'i and Ahmadi communities).
Hasan Saqqaf [السيد حسن السقاف]
A prolific writer and theologian based in Amman, Jordan. Saqqaf was trained as an Ash'ari theologian and Shafi'i jurist in traditional, clerical circles. He also studied under the tutelage of the Ghumaris, a family of pro-Alid hadith specialists in Morocco. Saqqaf is notable for a number of characteristics; staunch opposition to the tradition of ibn Taymiyya and the influential Salafi M. Nasir al-Din Albani (who was also based in Jordan), rationalist refutation of some sahih hadith that contradict his theological views, and independent views that disagree with prevalent beliefs in Sunnism. His magnum opus is a commentary on Tahawi's guide to Sunni creed. He further elucidates his rationalist worldviews in commentaries on the works of ibn al-Jawzi (Daf‘ shubh al-tashbih) and al-Dhahabi (al‘uluww l'l-‘ali). He has composed a work containing hadith and proof-texts from the early Sunni tradition that condemn Muawiya in his Zahr al-Rayhan.Muhammad b. Aqil al-‘Alawi[السيد محمد بن عقيل العلوي]
According to pro-Alid Sunnis, there exists some anti-Alid bias in biographical dictionaries and the history of hadith criticism. Partisanship to the Umayyads encouraged a Sunni tendency to criticize pro-Alid predecessors as untrustworthy and praise their anti-Alid opponents as reliable scholars. Muhammad b. Aqil al-Alawi's famous book which argues this point is readily available online. Al-Alawi's famous book condemning the first Umayyad caliph (Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan) as an enemy of the Muslim community and rejecting any characterizations of him as a noble Companion caused a firestorm in the Muslim world. Responses to his first book prompted him to write a second book on the subject.
Abu Bakr b. Shihab al-‘Alawi [السيد أبو بكر ابن شهاب العلوي]
Sayyid Abu Bakr b. Shihab was a traditionally trained cleric from Tarim who studied with pro-Alid jurists like the Grand Mufti of Mecca, Sayyid Ahmad Zaynī Daḥlān. Muhammad b. Aqil [listed above], considered himself a student of Sayyid Abu Bakr b. Shihab. However, Sayyid Abu Bakr, in defense of his student's work on Mu'awiya, wrote a book further elucidating his arguments and providing proofs that encouraged the Sunni community to reject Mu'awiya as a respected figure in Islamic history.
It is important to note the kinship between the last three of these scholars [al-Saqqaf, ibn Aqil, and ibn Shihab]. All were members of the famous Bā‘alawī clan of Tarim, Yemen, a Shāfi‘ī family of mystics honored for their descent from the Prophet. However, the staunch pro-Alid inclinations of these three scholars do not seem to reflect the cultural currents of the family in modernity. The Bā‘alawī clan certainly utilizes its descent from the Prophet to legitimate its own authority as scholars of the Islamic tradition, however, their views are generally non-partisan in regards to early Islamic history. A prominent scholar currently reflecting the clan's non-partisan and mystic orientations is Habib Ali al-Jifri.
Mahmud Sa‘id Mamduh [محمود سعيد ممدوح]
A pro-Alid Shafi'i jurist and hadith specialist based in Egypt. Mamduh trained in traditional circles with scholars noted for their pro-Alid tendencies in Mecca and elsewhere.
‘Abd Allah al-Harari [عبد الله الهرري]
The radical and idiosyncratic Sufi cleric was famous for staunchly opposing Wahhabism in his books. He gathered Shafi'i legal opinions and other proof-texts to defend the legitimacy of the caliphate of Ali b. Abi Talib and explicitly condemn all rebellions against him as disobedience to God. This pro-Alid book is available online.