How People are Known:
Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728H) – rahimahullaah – said in Majmoo’ul-Fataawaa (15/330),
“And knowledge about the conditions of the people comes through the testimonies of people at times and through al-Jarh wat-Ta’deel at times and through testing and trial at times.”
Before moving into the rest of the article, we recommend that the reader peruse, “Testing Individuals by their Love or Hatred of Ahlus-Sunnah,” since it contains several examples of the Salaf speaking about testing people with love for the Scholars of Ahlus-Sunnah and hatred for the heads of innovation. The series of statements from the Salaf was derived mainly from Jamaal Ibn Furayhaan al-Haarithee’s collection, Lammud-Durril-Manthoor, which has received critical acclaim from Scholars such as Imaam Muhammad Ibn Saalih al-’Uthaymeen (d.1421H), Saalih Ibn Fawzaan al-Fawzaan and Saalih Ibn ’Abdul-’Azeez aalush-Shaykh, along with supplementary material from other works. However, this series will deal specifically with applying this principle of Ahlus-Sunnah in our times.
Shaykh Zayd Ibn Muhammad al-Madkhalee is Asked About Applying this Principle in Present Times:
The noble Shaykh, al-’Allaamah Zayd Ibn Muhammad al-Madkhalee – hafidhahullaah – was asked,
“What is the ruling on testing the people with individuals, regardless of whether they are Scholars of the Sunnah, or the heads of innovation? And is that ruling to be applied upon the modern day individuals? Benefit us, may Allaah reward you with goodness.”
The noble Scholar answered,
There is no doubt, my brother, that the Salafus-Saalih used to test the people with the Scholars who were known to be staunch upon the Sunnah and who were known for sound ’aqeedah (creed) and manhaj (methodology), and who were known for harshness against the people of desires and innovation. And I have become acquainted with some texts from the Salaf, each text contains an example of the people being tested by Ahlus-Sunnah. So whoever knew their excellence and loved them and mentioned them with goodness, then he was a person of Sunnah. And whosoever belittled them and dishonoured them, then he was a person of evil and innovation. And before you is an example from the many texts of the Salaf concerning this affair:
Imaam al-Hasan Ibn ’Alee al-Barbahaaree (d.329H) – rahimahullaah – said, “And when you see a man loving Aboo Hurayrah (radiyallaahu ’anhu) and Anas Ibn Maalik and Usayd Ibn Hudayr, then know that he is a person of Sunnah if Allaah so wills.
And when you see a man loving Ayyoob (d.131H) and Ibn ’Awn (d.151H) and Yoonus Ibn ’Ubayd (d.139H) and ’Abdullaah Ibn Idrees al-Awdee and ash-Sha’bee (d.103H) and Maalik Ibn Maghool and Yazeed Ibn Zuray’ and Mu’aadh Ibn Mu’aadh and Wahb Ibn Jareer and Hammaad Ibn Salamah (d.167H) and Hammaad Ibn Zayd (d.179H) and Maalik Ibn Anas (d.179H) and al-Awzaa’ee (d.157H) and Zaa‘idah Ibn Qudaamah, then know that he is a person of Sunnah.
And when you see a man who loves Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d.241H) and al-Hajjaaj Ibn Minhaal and Ahmad Ibn Nasr and he mentions them with goodness and he speaks with their speech, then know that he is a person of Sunnah.” 
And you said in your question, “And is this ruling to be applied upon the modern-day individuals in these times of ours?”
And the answer is yes. The people are to be tested in every time and place with Ahlus-Sunnah in ’aqeedah and Sharee’ah, those who have devoted themselves to the preservation of the Sunnah and understanding its meanings and texts and acting in accordance to it and defending it.
And testing the people with Ahlus-Sunnah is not confined to a specific individual or individuals. Rather, the people may be tested with every person of Sunnah in every time and place in the manner that I have described. Likewise, the people are to be tested with the people of innovation who call to it.
So from ’Uqbah Ibn ’Alqamah who said, ‘I was with Ata‘ah Ibnul-Mundhir. So some of the people in the gathering said, ‘What do you say about the man who sits with Ahlus-Sunnah and mingles with them, but when the people of innovation are mentioned, he replies, ‘Let us leave alone their mention, do not mention them.” Arta‘ah replied, “He is with them, do not be deceived by his affair.” He said: So I objected to the statement of Arta‘ah. He said: So I went to al-Awzaa’ee (d.157H), since he was skilled in these issues. So when I reached him, he said, ‘Arta‘ah has spoken truthfully. And the correct statement is what he said. This individual prohibits their mention, so when will they be warned against when we do not praise their mention?!” 
And al-Awzaa’ee (d.157H) – rahimahullaah – said, “Whosoever is able to hide his innovation from us, his friends do not remain hidden from us.” 
And al-’Ukbaree (d.387H) – and he is Ibn Battah – said, “And when Sufyaan ath-Thawree arrived at al-Basrah, he began looking into the affair of ar-Rabee’ – meaning, Ibn Subayh – and his status amongst the people. He asked, “What is his madhhab?” They replied, “He has no madhhab but the Sunnah.” Sufyaan said, “Who are his close companions?” They said, “The people of al-Qadr.” He said, “Then he is Qadaree.”  End of Shaykh Zayd’s words. 
Testing Individuals with the Modern Day Scholars of Ahlus-Sunnah:
Shaykh Jamaal Ibn Furayhaan al-Haarithee said,
“And we say today without any hesitation: When you see a man loving and praising Ibn Baaz (d.1420H) and al-Albaanee (d.1420H) and al-’Uthaymeen (d.1421H) and al-Fawzaan and al-Luhaydaan and Amaan al-Jaamee (d.1417H) and Rabee’ al-Madkhalee and al-Waadi’ee (d.1421H) and an-Najmee (d.1429H) and Zayd al-Madkhalee and al-Burjiss (d.1425H) and ’Abdul-’Azeez aalush-Shaykh and Saalih aalush-Shaykh and their likes, then know that he is a person of the Sunnah, if Allaah so wills. And when you see someone who differentiates between this and that, from those whom we have mentioned, then know that he is not upon the path. And Allaah knows best.” 
Imaam Aboo ’Uthmaan Ismaa’eel Ibn ’Abdur-Rahmaan as-Saaboonee (d.449H) – rahimahullaah – said,
“And I add onto these individuals whom Qutaybah (d.240H) – rahimahullaah – has mentioned, those whom the one who loves them is a person of Sunnah. They are from the Imaams of Ahlul-Hadeeth who are taken as an example, and the people are guided by their guidance and the people count themselves as being from their group and followers and party and other groups are found following their narrations, from them are: Muhammad Ibn Idrees al-Matlabee (d.204H): the Imaam, the magnificent leader, he was a great blessing upon the people of Islaam and the Sunnah, prosperous, inspirational, inspired and upright. He was an individual who acted in accordance to the Religion of Allaah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) by aiding them and defending them, to an extent that was not done by the Scholars of his time, nor those who came after him.
And from those who came before ash-Shaafi’ee – rahimahullaah – were: Sa’eed Ibn Jubayr (d.95H) and az-Zuhree (d.124H) and ash-Sha’bee (d.103H) and at-Taymee (d.143H). And those who came after them are: al-Layth Ibn Sa’d al-Misree (d.175H) and al-Awzaa’ee (d.157H) and ath-Thawree (d.161H) and Sufyaan Ibn ’Uyaynah al-Hilaalee (d.198H) and Hammaad Ibn Salamah (d.167H) and Hammaad Ibn Zayd (d.179H) and Yoonus Ibn ’Ubayd (d.139H) and Ayyoob as-Sakhtiyaanee (d.131H) and Ibn ’Awn (d.150H) and those like them.
And after them are the likes of: Yazeed Ibn Haaroon al-Waasitee (d.206H) and ’Abdur-Razzaaq Ibn Hammaam as-San’aanee (d.211H) and Jareer Ibn ’Abdul-Hameed al-Dubee (d.188H).
And after them are the likes of: Muhammad Ibn Yahyaa adh-Dhuhalee (d.258H) and Muhammad Ibn Ismaa’eel al-Bukhaaree (d.256H) and Muslim Ibnul-Hajjaaj al-Qushayree (d.261H) and Abee Daawood as-Sijjistaanee (d.275H) and Abee Zur’ah ar-Raazee (d.264H) and Abee Haatim ar-Raazee (d.277H) and his son (d.328H) and Muhammad Ibn Muslim Ibn Waarah ar-Raazee (d.270H) and Muhammad Ibn Aslam at-Toosee (d.242H) and Abee Sa’eed ’Uthmaan Ibn Sa’eed ad-Daarimee as-Sijzee (d.280H) and Imaam Muhammad Ibn Ishaaq Ibn Khuzaymah an-Naysaabooree (d.311H) – the one who used to be called the Imaam of the Imaams and upon my life he was the Imaam of the Imaams in his time and age – and Abee Ya’qoob Ishaaq Ibn Ismaa’eel al-Bastee (d.303H) and al-Hasan Ibn Sufyaan al-Fasawee (d.303H) and my paternal grandfather: Abee Sa’eed Yahyaa Ibn Mansoor az-Zaahid al-Harawee (d.292H) and Abee Haatim ’Adiyy Ibn Hamdawayh as-Saaboonee and his sons the two swords of the Sunnah: Abee ’Abdullaah as-Saaboonee and Abee ’Abdur-Rahmaan as-Saaboonee and other than them from the Imaams who held fast to the Sunnah, aided it, called to it and practiced it.” 
In his lessons on the book ’Aqeedatus-Salaf Ashaabil-Hadeeth, al-’Allaamah Muhammad Ibn Haadee al-Madkhalee – hafidhahullaah – commented on this statement of as-Saaboonee,
“So these individuals whom the author has mentioned are from the main Imaams of hadeeth – rahimahumullaah. And I add onto them: If you see a man in these times having hatred for Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728H) and his student Ibnul-Qayyim (d.751H) and having hatred for Ibn Ibn Katheer (d.774H) and having hatred for adh-Dhahabee (d.748H) and having hatred from Muhammad Ibn ’Abdul-Wahhaab (d.1206H) and having hatred for the Imaams of the da’wah and calling them derogatory names and reviling them… And in these times of ours, you find someone having hatred for the likes of our Shaykh, the Shaykhul-Islaam of this era, Shaykh ’Abdul-’Azeez Ibn Baaz (d.1420H) – rahimahullaah – and also the Imaam of hadeeth in this era Shaykh Naasirud-Deen al-Albaanee (d.1420H) and Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Saalih al-’Uthaymeen (d.1421H). If you see a man having hatred for those ones… Likewise, our Shaykh, Shaykh Rabee’ and our Shaykh, Shaykh Ahmad Ibn Yahyaa an-Najmee (d.1429H) and our Shaykh, Shaykh Zayd and likewise Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan and other than them such as Shaykh Saalih al-Luhaydaan and the Muftee (i.e. Shaykh ’Abdul-’Azeez aalush-Shaykh) and other than them from amongst those who are like them… If you see a man reviling them, then know that he is upon evil. Why? Because he does not hate them due to their personalities and them as individuals. Rather, he only hates them due to what they are upon from the Sunnah and hadeeth. And everyone makes mistakes. However, having hatred for these individuals only occurs due to what they carry from the Religion and the Sunnah, because these individuals are the carriers of the Sunnah in the later times. And in these days, they are the ones who aid it and they defend it and they refute the people of desires and innovation. So you will find that the one who reviles them does not do so because of them as individuals. He only hates them due to their ’aqeedah and their da’wah, which they are upon. So when you see someone reviling the likes of these individuals, then be suspicious of him because the one with a righteous heart and love for the Sunnah and its people does not revile them. Only the one who has a disease in his heart reviles them. We ask Allaah for protection and safety.” End of the Shaykh’s words.
: Refer to Sharhus-Sunnah (p. 163) of al-Barbahaaree, with the checking of ’Abdur-Rahmaan Ibn Ahmad al-Jumayzee.
: Refer to Taareekh Dimashq (8/15) of al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadee.
: Refer to al-Ibaanah (2/479) of Ibn Battah.
: Refer to al-Ibaanah (2/453) of Ibn Battah.
: Refer to al-Ajwibatul-Athariyyah ’anil-Masaa‘ilil-Manhajiyyah (p. 24-27) of Zayd al-Madkhalee.
: Refer to: سئل الشيخ الفقيه عبيد الجابري عن حال جمعية احياء التراث في الرياض
: Refer to ’Aqeedatus-Salaf Ashaabil-Hadeeth (p. 113), with the checking of Abul-Yameen al-Mansooree.
Translation by Maaz Qureshi