Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and Sufism (Part One)

Translated by Ismaeel Nakhuda

(Translator’s foreword: Below is the first part of the sixth chapter of the incomplete yet ongoing translation of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz’s Mawqif A’immat al-Harakat al-Salafiyyah min al-Tasawwuf wa al-Sufiyyah. In this chapter, the author, a student and khalifah of Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandhalawi, produces a series of excerpts from the writings of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah that demonstrate the positive manner by which the shaykh regarded Sufism and the Sufis. However, before that, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz cites excerpts from the writings of a number of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah’s contemporaries and also academics of the present era who support the view that he was a shaykh of Tasawwuf. Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz writes:)

Before we begin citing various quotations from the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah from his numerous books, we shall firstly present a number of extracts from a lengthy letter written by one of his great students, Shaykh ‘Imad al-Din ibn Shaykh al-Hazamiyyin. We shall then cite a few sections from four poems composed to mourn the death of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah by his students and admirers from which it becomes clear that he was, according to them, a shaykh of Tariqah and imam of Tasawwuf on the level of being a qutub in this field, in addition to his being an imam in other religious fields and an expert in various sciences and disciplines. We shall follow this by portions from the writings of some contemporary researchers who have explicitly mentioned Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah’s firm connection to Tasawwuf and the Sufi shaykhs, may Allah have mercy on them. We shall thereafter, insha-Allah, quote his writings from his various books.

The Salafi Imam Hafiz Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Hadi al-Hanbali writes in his book Al-‘Uqud al-Durriyyah min Manaqib Shaykh al-Islam Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah (published by Matba‘h al-Madani, Cairo), P. 192:

His (Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah’s) total absence from Damascus was seven years and seven weeks.[1] During the shaykh’s absence from Damascus, many of his great companions and masters passed away. Among them was the shaykh, the imam, the exemplar, the ascetic, the knower of Allah, ‘Imad al-Din Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad ibn Ibrahim ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Wasiti, who was popularly known as Ibn Shaykh al-Hazamiyyin.[2] He died on Saturday, 26 Rabi‘ al-Akhir, 711 AH. He was a pious man, abstinent, of great standing, someone who had severed himself [from the dunya] for Allah, and one who was great in worship and Suluk. He had written a letter which he sent to a group of the shaykh’s companions in which he directed them to firmly remain with the shaykh and encouraged them to follow his way. He praised the shaykh greatly in that. This is a copy of the letter that he wrote:

An excellent letter from Shaykh ‘Imad al-Din praising Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah and advising regarding him:

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. All praise is for Allah and glory is for Allah along with His praise. Hallowed is He in His exaltedness and splendour. He is most high in all His perfect qualities (sifat). He is grand in the majesty of His uniqueness and beauty. He is noble in His excellent qualities and the beauty of His favours. He is beyond comparison (tamthil) with any of His creation or that He can be comprehended, rather He encompasses all that He has created. Minds cannot comprehend Him, bodies cannot carry Him, and nor can eyes and intellects understand the nature of His being…

Thereafter, this is a letter written by the feeble slave, he who is hopeful of the mercy of his Lord, His forgiveness, kindness and favour, Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Wasiti—may Allah treat him as he deserves for indeed He alone is worthy to be feared and obeyed (ahl al-taqwa) and He alone forgives sins when He so wishes (ahl al-maghfirah)—to his brothers for the sake of Allah, the honourable ‘ulama, the god fearing imams, and the people of beneficial knowledge, humble hearts and brilliant light, those whom Allah has clothed in the garb of the followers. I am hopeful of His kindness that He asserts for them the true essence of benefitting: [They are namely] the great master, the erudite scholar, the pride of the hadith scholars, the lamp of the worshippers, he who is turned to the Lord of the Worlds, Taqi al-Din Abu Hafs ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abd al-Ahad ibn Shaqir; the great shaykh, the erudite scholar, the salik, the one with knowledge and actions, he who is dressed in the most beautiful of attire in terms of praiseworthy qualities, Shaykh Shams al-Din Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Ahad al-Amidi … and others from those who seek shelter in the presence of their shaykh, our shaykh, the master, the magnanimous imam and teacher of good, the reviver of the Sunnah, the destroyer of innovation (bid‘ah), the aider of hadith, the mufti of various denominations, he who has transcended realities and connected them to the principles of Sacred Law for the seeker who is tasting spiritual bliss (dhawq), he who gathered between the exoteric and the esoteric for he judges according to the truth clearly whilst his heart is dwelling with the Most High, he is from the example of the Rightly Guided Khalifahs and guided imams whose path became hidden from hearts and the Ummah forgot their example and way, and so the shaykh reminded them of that, he who treads in their obliterated ways, he is a reviver of their dead ways, a possessor of the reins of their principles, the shaykh, the imam, Taqi al-Din Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Halim ibn ‘Abd al-Salam ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah bring upon us his blessings (barakah) and raise his rank to the highest station, may He also make perpetual the divine accordance (tawfiq) and the correctness of those with whose mention [this letter] began, and increase for them their lot and much more.

Peace be upon you, oh brothers, and the mercy of Allah and His blessings. May Allah make us and you from among those whose hearts remain firm on the difficulties of the truth. I am hopeful of reward from Allah for that which one expends from one’s self in establishing His faith, the grief that one experiences on account of that and the treading in the path of the early predecessors from among the Migrants (Muhajris), Helpers (Ansar) and those who were unperturbed by the blame of the criticiser; those who abandoned them did not harm them nor did those who opposed them in spite of their being few in number at the beginning.

In spite of that, each of them strove hard and was firm in the faith of Allah. We have hope of the favour of Allah Most High that he grants us accordance to follow their actions, grants our hearts a portion of their spiritual states (hal), arranges us as beads along their thread and under their banner with their leader and imam, the master of the prophets, the imam of the pious, Muhammad, may Allah bless him, his family and companions, all of them…

It is known that people are different in their stations of love and fear; they are in a station that is loftier than the other and have a share that is greater than the other. Let the aim of each of us in relation to the stations of love and fear be the loftiest and let us not suffice except with an abundant portion of it and its apex. Low ambitions suffice with a little portion, while lofty ambitions rise with breaths close to the Beloved—that which is below it in qualities will not preoccupy us away. The intelligent will not suffice with something that is superseded by a superior [spiritual] state (hal). Let aspirations be divided into acquiring exoteric (zahir) levels and esoteric (batin) stations (maqam). It is not fair to fatigue one’s self in the exoteric and to be preoccupied in anything apart from lofty goals of brilliant lights.

Let there be for all of us during the night and day an hour in which we sit in solitude with our Lord Whose name is magnanimous and Whose hallowedness is most high, and gather our thoughts in front Him in that hour, cast away from our hearts the preoccupations of the world and remain aloof from all that is apart from Allah for an hour of the day. By this, man will recognise his condition with his Lord. Hence, he who is of a standing with his Lord then his determination shall come into motion during that hour, his inner self will become glad on account of the love and exaltedness, and his breathing and secrets will hasten to that which is lofty. These hours are examples of the situation of the slave in his grave when he will become devoid of his wealth and its love. He who does not vacate his heart for an hour of the day—which would drive him away from worldly thoughts and people of sin—then know that he is not of any lofty connection, nor does he have a portion of love or being the beloved. Let him cry over his self; he should in respect to it only be pleased with being close to his Lord and being intimate with Him.

If those hours are acquired for Allah’s sake, then it is possible to realise the five prayers in their [proper] mode of having presence of mind (hudur), humbleness (khushu‘) and awe for the Lord Most High in prostration (sujud) and bowing (ruku‘).

It is not proper for us that we become niggardly on ourselves in setting aside one hour for Allah Most High during the twenty-four hours of the day and night in which we may worship Him as He ought to be and then strive in realising the obligatory acts (fard) according to a way that is in due accordance for Him. This is the path of us all that we have to, insha-Allah Ta‘ala, pass. Hence, the jurist who has not traversed this path has acquired, through his knowledge, the exoteric (zahir) portion and missed the esoteric (batin) portion due to his heart being characterised with hardness and due to his being far, when worshipping and reciting [the Quran], from having a soft heart and flesh. It is as Allah Most High says: “Shivered from which are the flesh of those who fear their Lord, so that their flesh and their hearts soften to the remembrance of Allah.” (39:23)

With this (traversing the path), the jurist rises above the jurists of our era and by it becomes distinguished from them. The one who has traversed [the spiritual path] from among the jurists has enlightened sight, correct taste of spiritual bliss (dhawq), true insight (firasah) and complete knowledge of Allah (ma‘rifah); he is a beholder over others in [understanding] correct actions and those that are wrong. He who has not traversed [the path], he will not have these specialities. He will see some things and others will remain hidden from him.

Therefore, it is determined for us all to traverse close into the presence of He Who is worshipped, to meet Him with firm conviction so we may worship Him as though we are seeing him as has come in the hadith…

You have come, my brothers, under the banner of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), insha-Allah Ta‘ala, with your shaykh and imam, our shaykh and imam with whose mention we began—may Allah be pleased with him. You are distinct from all the people of the world—its jurists, fuqara and Sufis—with the correct religion.

You have recognised what innovations people have introduced from among the jurists, fuqara, Sufis and lay masses…

Then, my brothers, know the favour which Allah has favoured you with in your standing for that. Know your way to that and thank Allah Most High for that; He is the one who raised for you and us in this era the like of our master, the shaykh by whom Allah opened the locks of hearts and by whom he removed from sights the blindness of doubts and bewilderment of deviancy, wherein which the intellect would lose its way between these sects and not find the way to the reality of the faith of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).

Among that which is strange is that each of them claims that he is on the faith of the Prophet until Allah revealed for us and you, by means of this man, the reality of His faith which he revealed from the heavens and preferred for His slaves.

Know that in the far flung areas of the world are communities that live their lives among these sects, believing that these innovations are the true Islam; they do not know Islam except like this.

Thank Allah who rose for you at the beginning of seven hundred years after the Hijra a man who clarified for you the rites of your faith, by whom Allah guided you and us to the way of His Sacred Law (Shari‘ah), and with this Muhammadi light he clarified for you the deviances of people and their errors. You began to recognise that which is crooked from that which is straight, and right from wrong. I hope you will be the aided group, those who will not be harmed by those who abandon them and oppose them—they will be in the Levant insha-Allah Ta‘ala.

Chapter

When you have known this, then recognise the right and worth of this man who is among us; his right and worth will not be recognised save by he who has recognised the religion of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), and its right and worth. He in whose heart the faith of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) has taken the place that it deserves will recognise the correctness of that with which this man has stood up amidst the slaves of Allah—he sets right their distortions, corrects their corruption and rectifies their unsettled affairs as much as possible in these dark times in which the faith is distorted, the Sunnahs are unknown, innovations are common, good is wrong and wrong is good. The one holding on to his religion is like the one holding hot embers. Surely, the reward of he who stands in expressing this light in this darkness cannot be described; its danger cannot be recognised. This is when you recognise him from the exoteric Shar‘iah way. There are people here who have recognised him in a different way, in an esoteric manner. They are those who he guided to recognise the names of Allah Most High and His qualities and the greatness of His being (dhat), to attach their hearts to the beams of His ma‘rifah, to be fortunate to possess the specialities of His ma‘rifah and lofty spiritual bliss (dhawq), to pass from the exoteric to the esoteric and from witnessing to absence and from absence to witnessing, and to pass from the abode of the creation to the abode of the matter and other things the explanation of which is not possible in a book.

Your shaykh—may Allah Most High aid you—is a knower of all of that. He knows the injunctions of Allah and the Sacred Law, he is a knower of injunctions pertaining to His names and personal qualities. The like of this knower (‘arif) at times looks with his sight the descending of the Command between the levels of the heavens and the earth. It is as He Most High has said: Allah is the One who has created seven skies, and their like from earth. The Command descends among them, so that you may know that Allah is powerful over everything, and that Allah has encompassed everything in knowledge.” (65:12)

People sense that which operates in the abode of viewing (‘alam al-shahadah), while the sight of these people is focused on the unseen awaiting what destiny shall bring. They feel this at times when it descends.

Do not consider insignificant the situation of these people due to their friendliness with people and preoccupying their time with them. They are as has been narrated from Junayd (may Allah have mercy on him) that it was said to him: “How much do you call unto Allah Most High while being with people?” He replied: “I call unto the people while in front of Allah.”

Allah ensures he (Ibn Taymiyyah) is respected and his orders are carried out. He protects his honour in his presence and absence, He loves he who loves him and keeps aloof those who dislike him and demean him. He rejects slander regarding him and is in support of him in the truth.

Know, may Allah have mercy on you, that there is here that person who travelled to the provinces and recognised the people and their habits, and came to know of the majority of their conditions. I swear by Allah, I swear by Allah and I swear by Allah, he has not seen under the skies the like of your shaykh in knowledge, actions, spiritual condition (hal), manners, following, nobility, gentleness in matters regarding himself, and firmness in standing for the right of Allah when that which He has made sacred and inviolable is broken. He is the most truthful of people in making an agreement, most correct in knowledge and intention, the most energetic and zealous in aiding and establishing the truth, the most generous and perfect in following the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).

We have not seen in this age of ours anyone who presents with clarity the Muhammadan Prophethood (al-nubuwwah al-Muhammadiyyah) and the Sunnah from his sayings and actions except this man. He does so in a way that the balanced heart testifies that this is following in the true sense.

After all of this, saying the truth is incumbent. We do not claim infallibility from mistakes in relation to him, nor do we claim he is absolutely perfect in relation to all specialities that are sought after for there are, at times, sought after and desired specialities in some who are deficient—these are such specialities that perfection would not be complete without them. The just knower is not ignorant of this value. If speaking the truth was not obligatory and being sectarian (ta‘assub) in relation to people is swerving from the truth (hawa), then I would have abstained from mentioning this. However, speaking the truth is incumbent regardless if it displeases or pleases. Help is sought from Allah.

When you have recognised this—may Allah Most High help you—then look after his heart, for indeed the likes of him at times are called on in a great fashion in the heavenly sphere. Carry out actions to make him happy in all possible ways and attract his affection and fondness as much as is possible for the like of him are possessors of great knowledge and those in possession of great knowledge seek in this era the likes of him. So, if you were to gain his affection then I would hope for you, on account of that, some specialities that I shall not disclose or mention. At times, the intelligent from among you will recognise that and at times my soul shall allow me to mention so that my advice is not hidden from you.

That speciality is that you acquire a piece of his special Muhammadan connection with Allah Most High, for that will only come by means of the shaykh’s love for the murid, and the murid will attract the shaykh’s love by being gentle with him, looking after his heart and feelings, and attracting his affection and fondness. By that, I hope for you a portion of that which is between him and Allah Most high not to mention what you earn from him in terms of his exoteric knowledge, benefits and managing of affairs, insha-Allah.

I hope that when you are successful in the relationship between you and your Lord Most High by means of correct dealings [with Him] by safeguarding that hour, the five prayers and Tahajjud, then He will bestow you with knowing the reality of this man and true information about him, insha-Allah.

I have only mentioned the safeguarding of one hour even though the five prayers are enough when the slave stands to pray for Allah Most High’s sake; that is because the five prayers come suddenly on the slave while his heart is gripped by external distractions and so he does not recognise the lot of his heart with his Lord within that time. When the slave has an hour from the night and day in which he recognises the lot of his heart with his lord then when the prayers come he will recognise during that time his condition—his advancement and retraction—in comparison to his condition with his Lord in that one hour. It is from Allah that aid is sought.

The Salafi Imam Hafiz Ibn ‘Abdul Hadi al-Hanbali has also mentioned in Al-‘Uqud al-Durriyyah an extremely long poem composed by Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Khidhr ibn ‘Abdur Rahman al-Rumi (by origin) al-Dimashqi al-Hariri, who was known as al-Mutayyam (the Enthralled in Love), to mourn the death of Shaykh Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah. The composer is one of the shaykh’s companions (may Allah be pleased with him and may he also please Him). We shall cite from it some poems pertaining to this issue:

I have lost an imam who was unique in his era, the entire creation is in grief in this era,

I have lost an imam who constantly placed his trust in Allah and did not incline to anything contrary to the Sunnah,

I have lost an imam who acted on knowledge and was in reality one who uprooted every innovation (bid‘ah),

He brought the Book of Allah and the Sunnah which is lofty and which definitely rose higher than every other religion,

He brought the hadiths of the Prophet and explained them, and from those he narrated he did so with the correct text,

He brought the knowledge of the entire world with asceticism, support, piety and strength,

He brought the principles of the faith and fiqh that required explanation and explained them with detail leaving no doubt,

He brought before us the conditions of the Prophet in their true sense and his biography which ascends over every other life story,

He brought to us the conditions of all of the Companions and the Followers (Tabi‘in) the straight religion,

He brought before us the qualities of all of the imams and compiled books describing them,

He brought to us the description of the pious and their conditions and that on which they were in terms of beautiful ‘aqidah,

Who was a qutub of the universe (al-kawn) in his time save he? Who else had reached being an abdal (al-badaliyyah)?

He was brave, high-minded and excellent in his qualities. He would aim high in lofty levels,

In love of his Lord he would command the good and forbid the wrong firmly,

He was god-fearing, pure and upright since his youth, and of noble disposition and praiseworthy qualities,

Is he not the one whose mention has spread in the universe and who spread wide among the creation great fatwas?

Who was the crown of the knowers of Allah (‘arifs) in our era and the shaykh of guidance? Tell me without any zeal (hamiyyah),

He was the sage (hibr) and qutub whose mention spread far and whose repute as a man of piety became well known like fragrance when it disperses,

When we mention his condition and qualities, it is as if we have entered into enjoyment and a garden,

You bid farewell to us in a way that you will not be returning; you have gone from us and the abode is not distant,

I drank wine from the glass of the knowers of Allah (‘arifs); its essence was from the innermost part of the spring of haqiqah,

I found by the glass kindness from you and generosity over those who followed the Sunnah of Ahmad,

Glory be to He Who granted you from the excesses of His generosity. Verily you acquired proximity that cannot be gained by means of a strategy,

Verily you lived beloved and died revered. Let the Merciful bestow on you the purest of greetings from me,

The radiance of His friendship continued to raise you and you remained forever with respect, proximity [to Him] and in loftiness.

Shaykh al-Mutayyam al-Rumi al-Hariri also has another poem which was written to lament the death of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah have mercy on him) and which Hafiz Ibn ‘Abdul Hadi has mentioned in Al-‘Uqud al-Durriyyah. We shall also quote a few couplets from there:

He perpetually remained in need at the door of his Master and constantly afflicted with trials,

Forever he followed the ways of the Prophet according to the correct methodology by following proper signs,

He guided to his Sunnah, issued fatwas according to his Shari‘ah and safeguarded his boundaries at all hours,

He was the qutub of the era, the crown of all of the people and the embodiment of meanings who carried out all types of worship,

He was the sage of knowledge and unique in his knowledge. He annihilated with the sabre of guidance the people of deviance,

He drew from Mustafa knowledge and ma‘rifah; and came to him from the Prophet help and gifts,

A seeker of aid would not come to him, save that he would grant him, either with abundant generosity or [in the least] with what has been sought,

What shall I say? Is it that my speech in regards to him is confined to describing his manners? The words I utter have become fatigued,

In terms of his knowledge, we do not know anyone equal to him except for our imams, the people of kindness,

In terms of his asceticism, we have not heard of anyone who compares to him, save for the men of the past, the people of miracles,

In terms of his generosity, we have not found anyone akin to him, save for the al-Baramiks[3] who were from the people of good fortune,

He would be generous and he was poor himself. How astonishing, he is the one we have never heard in stories,

The sun of The Noble One shines in his good character and in the clarity of his face is the light of guidance,

An ocean of inner knowledge of Allah (ma‘rifah), at the beginning of which the people of great qualities [of knowledge, piety and generosity] and those who have reached the utmost point would wander lost,

He is a qutub of realities [pertaining to Allah]. The people of Tasawwuf and the men of spiritual exercises (riyadat) would be left perplexed in explaining his perfect qualities,

He was the wonder of the era and unrivalled in his excellent qualities, the ‘allamah of the age in the past and in the future,

My heart grieved for he gathered us on the sciences that are commended and subtle allusions,

I separated from he who quenched my thirst just by seeing him because the secrets of worship would indeed manifest,

He narrated stories regarding the dwellers of Kazma which would enrapture people due to the excellent stories,

He would exert himself in mentioning their excellent qualities, as a result of which the heart would dance in eagerness like those who are noble,

He has reached Allah and the gardens of paradise are his abode. Let there be upon him from his Cherisher the purest of greetings,

Then salutation on the best of the people, he who Allah chose from the creation,

He who He chose to be in His presence on the night of Isra until the Lord of the Heavens manifested His self to him,

For he is the intercessor whose intercession is hoped at the times of difficulties on the day of reckoning,

Among the poems with which Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah was mourned, Hafiz Ibn ‘Abdul Hadi al-Hanbali has also narrated in Al-‘Uqud al-Durriyyah a lengthy ode by a military man from the Egyptian lands called Badr al-Din Muhammad ibn ‘Izz al-Din Aydumun al-Mughithi, an erudite man who had memorised an array of knowledge. He was religious and firm in his religion. He presented this poem to Imam Abu Hayyan. Here are some stanzas:

Converse without any fear and speak regarding his asceticism what you wish. There shall be no refutation or sins incurred [in doing so],

He abandoned food, clothes and the world. In his dedication in abandoning them he was firm,

He ate and slept little, and reverence for the men of the world could not be seen in his heart,

He was overcome with the awe of his Lord. His speech was, hence, one of revering and honouring [Him],

He would avoid people on account of his preoccupation with his Beloved. Hence, his showing of affection to those close to him was [simply] by way of making salam,

He had a standing in reaching his Lord. Such was his standing that pens would write about it,

And he possessed many favours from the hidden treasures of his Lord. [He also possessed] being sorrowful, humble and good speech,

[He also possessed, from his Lord, a standing in] Tasawwuf, a sense of abstinence, chastity, qira’ah, [a high level of] worship and [habitual] fasting,

[He also possessed from his Lord] divine focus, protection, guarding, safeguarding, faithfulness and standing,

He performed miracles which were very clear and much in number and, over the passing of time, continued [to take place],

Hafiz Ibn ‘Abd al-Hadi has also produced, in Al-‘Uqud al-Durriyyah, an elegy also in remembrance of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah. He has, however, not mentioned the name of its composer.[4] Here are some stanzas.

If only I had, on the day of departure, visited him so that I could renew my pledges that I had made,

….

He was our shaykh, our leader and our imam. To Allah is attributed his being pure, righteous and god fearing,

If you say he went around greatly for knowledge then this is the truth. Listen to this word regarding him and verify it,

He would issue fatwas by gathering the four mathhabs. However, in excellence he was the last of those who remained behind,

He was, in qira’ah unique in his age. In usul [of fiqh] he benefitted us and also in diction,

He was the shaykh of Tariqah and Haqiqah, and a knower of Allah (‘arif). He was an inheritor of imamah and the religious sciences, so verify it,

[He was] a giver of alms (sadaqah), kind and generous; I swear by Allah, no giver of alms can replace him,

….

Oh grave of his, that ascetic, pious, pure and god fearing one that you have taken possession of will please you greatly,

You have become a garden of paradise by his coming. For you, hence, is pride and prosperity with the master.

Having sufficed with various odes that some of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah’s companions and followers composed to lament his death, we shall now begin citing the writings of some contemporary researchers. We will begin by quoting what the great Islamic thinker, the ‘allamah, the historian, the great researcher Sayyid Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali al-Hasani al-Nadawi (may Allah protect him with goodness and allow people to benefit from him) has mentioned in part two of his amazing book Rijal al-Fikr wa al-Da‘wah fi al-Islam[5] this part is full of mention of the life of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah:

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah as a Knower of Allah (‘arif billah) and Researcher (muhaqqiq)—New Revelations Regarding the Character of Ibn Taymiyyah

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah is generally known as a scholar of theology (mutakallim), a dialectic jurist (faqih jadali) and a great scholar of hadith. Students of his academic writings and books on dialectics do not feel he is more than an intelligent scholar of great knowledge, strong proof and wealth of information. Those who know him by way of the biographies that general historians have written or judge him according to his later students and those who affiliate themselves to him[6] do not see in him anything more than a dry hadith scholar and scholar who is thoroughly familiar with the exoteric sciences. What Hafiz Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah has mentioned in Madarij al-Salikin in relation to his spiritual states (hal) and sayings at various opportunities and, likewise, what ‘Allamah al-Dhahabi and others like him have mentioned in his biography in relation to his manners and tastes, habits and character, and his spiritual exercises (ashgal) and actions clearly show that Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah fully deserves to be counted among the knowers of Allah (‘arifs) and people of Allah (rijal Allah) in this Ummah. All may be delighted to know that he took that place and enjoyed all those goals that, generally, cannot be easily acquired save by way of difficult spiritual exercises (riyadat), lengthy sacrifice, the spiritual conditioning (tarbiyyah) of the imams of this knowledge and constant dhikr and meditation (muraqabah)—and that is something that the later Sufis called nisbah with Allah.[7] That is a favour of Allah. He gives it to whom He wills (57:29).

Numerous Means yet Singular Goal

It is clear to the people of insight that spiritual taste (dhawq), knowing Allah (ma‘rifah), actual faith (iman haqiqi), firm conviction (yaqin), sincerity, steadfastness, the purification of the inner self (tazkiyat al-batin), correcting manners, complete following of the Sunnah and dedication in following the Shari‘ah are real goals that are sought after for which numerous means and paths are adopted. Those who research this have not limited their acquisition to a single path. The powerful and effective way to acquire these goals at the dawn of the history of the Islamic da‘wah was the company (suhbah) of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), the effect and strength of which was not unknown to anyone.

When the Ummah of Islam was deprived of this bounty, the successors of the Prophethood and the physicians of this Ummah in their eras practiced a way that could substitute that. Finally, they focused the majority of their attention, due to various causes, on suhbah and plenty of dhikr which has a documented and revised path that is known as the system of Tasawwuf and Suluk. One cannot deny that the acquisition of these goals and purposes is not dependant on these means, for iman and seeking reward from Allah (ihtisab), taking stock of the inner self (nafs), following the Sunnah, preoccupation with the books of hadith and the characteristics of the Prophet (shama’il) in terms of studying, teaching, serving and propagating them with love and reverence, plentiful Salat wa Salam on the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), serving the creation, Jihad, commanding the good and forbidding the wrong, calling to Allah (da‘wah) and propagation (tabligh) with the true intention and hope for reward, all of that—save [for that person who acquires] Allah’s particular focus of abundant bounty without toiling (ijtiba) and being gifted with which some individuals are selected—are means to draw close to Allah and gain an affiliation (nisbah) to Him when it is done with faith, hope for reward, presence of mind and diligence.

There is nothing preventing means from being various and paths from being many for indeed the purpose is one. There is no doubt that all of the Shaykh al-Islam’s conditions show with clarity that he was successful in achieving that purpose. This is what I wish to clarify in the following lines.

Measuring Man’s Perfection and the Sign of him Reaching the Level of Wilayah and its Verification

We are capable of bearing witness for a man that he is from the knowers of Allah (‘arifs) and perfect verifiers (muhaqqiq) and from among those whom Allah has accepted (qubul) by looking at their spiritual states (hal), tastes (dhawq) and general habits with which they lived. There is not, for this, an apparent gauge or logical proof, and at times mistakes can be made by he who has been granted sound temperament and pure taste; on account of his abundant studying of the spiritual conditions of the knowers of Allah and the men of Allah and his remaining firm in their company with depth of mind and love (wijdan) he is able, with this, to pass judgment. However, there are signs and conditions with which it can be understood that the level of a religious man is loftier than the level of general people, and that he benefits from the manners of the men of Allah, their spiritual tastes, and the correct understanding of religion.

For example, to have a special disposition for servitude (‘ubudiyyah), turning to Allah, taste for worship and to be absorbed in that, enjoyment from supplicating, earnestly praying and asceticism, to be cut off from the material world and to hold it in contempt, natural disposition to be generous, giving preference to others over one’s self, humility and swallowing one’s pride, tranquillity, happiness, totality in following the Sunnah, acceptance among the pious, testimony of ‘ulama for him, vigour of his followers and dear ones in religion, their pious conduct and other characteristics like that. In respect to that, we shall quote for readers the testimonies of the contemporaries of the Shaykh al-Islam and what the historians have registered in their books regarding these features which have been mentioned…

The ‘allamah and researcher al-Nadwi (may Allah protect him) has expanded in explaining this, something that has been rendered in an extremely pleasant and beautiful way. However, we shall omit this for brevity’s sake and it is Allah Who is the Granter of Accordance.

We shall now quote excerpts from other contemporary writers and that is the doctor, the researcher and erudite Ahmad ibn Muhammad Bannani from his book Mawqif al-Imam Ibn Taymiyyah min al-Tasawwuf wa al-Sufiyyah, first published by Umm al-Qura University, Makkah al-Mukarramah, in 1406 AH.

The erudite doctor writes at the beginning of the book under the title “Summary of the Treatise”:

This treatise, Mawqif al-Imam Ibn Taymiyyah min al-Tasawwuf wa al-Sufiyyah, as is clear from its title, consists of some of the issues that the Sufis wrote about and what came to pass between them in terms of discussions and debates; it presents that from their point of view and that from which they drew conclusions for their views. It then clarifies the stance of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah in regards to this topic in terms of either criticism or support, and with ambiguity or detail.

In the meantime, the correct view that deserves to be supported becomes distinct from the faulty view that deserves to be rejected. From the whole of that, the overall stance of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah regarding Tasawwuf and the Sufis becomes clear.

It appears to me that Imam Ibn Taymiyyah definitely did not treat Taswwuf in general with enmity, rather he rejected that which did not agree with the Book and the Sunnah and which was not transmitted from any of the Companions and Followers.

It has also become clear to us in the discussed issues known by the Sufis as stations (maqamat) and spiritual states (ahwal) that Imam Ibn Taymiyyah was more knowledgeable and specific in describing and detailing some of them than other Sufis and others who wrote regarding these subjects…

Likewise, he writes at the end of the book:

Secondly, the subject of our treatise is to show the stance of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah regarding Tasawwuf and if he was right or wrong. It has become clear to us in this treatise that verily Imam Ibn Taymiyyah adopted a true and honest gauge in taking stock of these people—take note this was the Book and the Sunnah.

Whoever treads on this way without straying even as much as a finger then he is on the truth and the right path, and deserving of praise and compliment. Whoever strays from among them from this correct way, turning from the straight path, then Imam Ibn Taymiyyah would pass judgment that his action and opinion are invalid.

We end this chain of citations from the writings of contemporary researchers with what the researcher Dr Majid ‘Irsan al-Kaylani, professor at the Faculty of Tarbiyyah at King ‘Abdul ‘Aziz University—a branch of [the University of] Madinah al-Munawwarah—has mentioned in his book Al-Fikr al-Tarbawi ‘ind Ibn Taymiyyah. Dr al-Kaylani writes on page 18:

The significance of the works of Henri Laoust[8] is that he is the first researcher who focused on opposing the hostile tone regarding Ibn Taymiyyah in Western academic circles and presented a more superior and positive image of this Muslim thinker and his standing in the history of Islamic thinking.

Professor George Makdisi[9] has tread along the path of Laoust in three of his papers that he wrote regarding Ibn Taymiyyah in a focused and academic way:

1] Ibn Taymiya’s Autograph Manuscript on Istihsan.[10]

2] Ibn Taymiya: A Sufi of the Qadiriya Order.[11]

3] The Tanbih of Ibn Taymiya on Dialectic.[12]

In all of these three papers, George Makdisi has tried to establish the mistake of Duncan MacDonald[13] in terms of his antagonistic observations regarding Ibn Taymiyyah when he assumed that Ibn Taymiyyah was only a selfish man and that “he did not benefit the path of asceticism, philosophy or religion, and he only intended to benefit his self.”[14]

George Makdisi refutes this allegation by saying that the method of Ibn Taymiyyah and his lofty level of understanding Islam do not dismiss the standing of asceticism (zuhd) and Tasawwuf when the contents of asceticism and Tasawwuf are transmitted correctly and are correct in content. Makdisi continued his research in this field—and the one who has a passion for Ibn Taymiyyah could be led to lengthy and in-depth research.

He also writes on page 219:

Researchers have varied on Ibn Taymiyyah’s stance regarding the Sufis and differed greatly. Writers on this topic have continuously revolved around pages of books and specialist magazines. Some—such as the orientalist D.B. MacDonald[15] —have depicted that he is equally the archenemy of Sufism and the spiritual life.

Others have always insisted that Ibn Taymiyyah was not an enemy of the Sufis and that he himself was a Sufi who acquired his Sufism by way of the Qadiri tariqah.

The reality is that which Ibn Taymiyyah set his goal on was presenting the original essence of Tasawwuf like the school of nurturing and moulding (al-madrasah al-tarbawiyyah) whose fundamental purpose is refining the inner self and purifying it from its base qualities, and it is because of this he opposed every deviation that came over Tasawwuf in those matters that single out this goal and everything that opposes the Quran and Sunnah in this field.

As a starting point of this principle, Ibn Taymiyyah expresses great respect for the pioneers of asceticism and the shaykhs of Tasawwuf who held firmly to the Quran and Sunnah such as Fudayl ibn ‘Ayyad, Ibrahim ibn Adham, Sarri al-Saqati, Junayd, Hammad al-Dabbas, Shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir al-Kilani and ‘Adi ibn Musafir.

As to what George Makdisi has mentioned in respect to attributing Ibn Taymiyyah to the Qadiris, he has relied in that on the silsilah of the shaykhs of Ibn Taymiyyah which begins with Muwaffaq al-Din ibn Qudamah, the student of ‘Abdul Qadir mentioned above and graduate of the Qadiri madrasah in Baghdad.

He also relied, likewise, on the respect and veneration that Ibn Taymiyyah has saturated his writings with in respect to Shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir. In his letters and books he refers to Shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir in the same level by which he refers to Imam Ibn Hanbal in the titles that he bestows on him. So he is the “Pole of the Knowers of Allah” (qutub al-‘arifin), “Our Shaykh Abu Muhammad May Allah Sanctify his Secret” (qaddas Allahu Ruhahu), “the greatest in his era in holding firm to the Shari‘ah”,[16] “Shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir and his like are from the greatest shaykhs of their era in holding firm to the Shari‘ah, commanding [good] and forbidding [wrong], and turning to tasting of spiritual bliss (dhawq), and from the greatest shaykhs in abandoning whims (hawa) and carnal intentions.”[17] When Ibn Taymiyyah brings an example he says: “It is because of this that Shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir and his like from the righteous (mustaqim) shaykhs.”[18] He cites him greatly like a model who is followed in beliefs and suluk.

Likewise, Ibn Taymiyyah has explained many excerpts from the sayings of ‘Abdul Qadir and commented on his book—Futuh al-Ghayb—in hundreds of pages which are included within the tenth volume of [his] Al-Fatawa that is entitled Kitab ‘Ilm al-Suluk (The Book of the Science of Suluk). In the course of the commentary, Ibn Taymiyyah presents Shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir as an example that embodied correct firm adherence to the Book and the Sunnah.

There are here some indications in the books of Ibn Taymiyyah that indicate that his family had a spiritual connection to Shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir. For example, he mentions in Kitab ‘Ilm al-Suluk: “My father narrated to me from Muhyi al-Din al-Nuhas and I believe I heard from him that he saw Shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir in his dream and he was saying regarding Allah Most High: ‘Whoever comes to us, we shall receive them…’” He then continues to explain this text over a number of pages…[19]

He also writes on page 222:

Whatever the situation is, the stance that Ibn Taymiyyah took regarding the Sufis is distinct in two ways: The first is that he treated the Sufis in the exact manner with which he treated the jurists (fuqaha), the mathabs of fiqh and the ‘ulama of kalam (theologians). He was of the view that the early shaykhs of Tasawwuf had confined their knowledge and spiritual training (tarbiyyah) to the Book and the Sunnah. As to the later ones, many of them deviated due to the effect of the new Platonism which had generally penetrated Islamic thought during the translation of Greek knowledge and that they strayed far from the correct path of asceticism (zuhd) and spiritual training (al-tarbiyyah al-ruhiyyah). The second is that Ibn Taymiyyah did not reject Tasawwuf wholesome and only disapproved that which befell it in terms of leaving the primary goals and the ways of spiritual training and suluk. Regarding that he said: “The Sufis have established their matter on intention (iradah) and that is important. This is, however, with the condition that the intention is with Allah alone in fulfilling what He commands.”[20]

He also says: “That corruption in beliefs and actions that befell these people (the Sufis) necessitated that many groups totally rejected the original path of the Sufis until those who erred were of two types: one type that affirms its being right and also wrong and another type that negates its being right and wrong, positions on which there are the people of theology and fiqh. The only correct position is affirming that which is, in this matter and others, in agreement with the Book and the Sunnah, and rejecting that which is, in this matter and others, contrary to the Book and the Sunnah.”[21]

To be continued…

Previous sections:

Sufism and the Imams of the Salafi Movement: Introduction
Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab and Sufism
Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim and Sufism – Part One
Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim and Sufism – Part Two
Imam al-Dhahabi and Sufism
Hafiz Ibn Kathir and Sufism
Hafiz Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali and Sufism (Part One)
Hafis Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali and Sufism (Part Two)

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  1. He reached Damascus after this absence of his on 1 Dhu al-Qa‘dah 712 AH (Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz al-Makki). []
  2. He has already been mentioned in the various sections from the writings of Imam Hafiz Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz al-Makki). []
  3. The al-Baramiks (also pronounced Barmakid or Barameka) was a well-known family of secretaries and viziers during the time of the early ʿAbbasids. They originated in Balkh where they were Buddhists prior to accepting Islam. They, subsequently, came to great political power under the Abbasids and were known for their splendour and hospitality which became proverbial. They are also mentioned in some stories of the Arabian Nights (translator). []
  4. It seems that the poem has been composed by one of the shaykh’s murids, and Allah knows best (Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz). []
  5. Shaykh Abu al-Hasan’s book is available in English under the title Saviours of Islamic Spirit. This particular section in relation to Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah is not found in the English translation (translator). []
  6. This is aside from his excellent student Hafiz Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzi who has discussed his teacher’s esoteric spiritual condition in his book Madarij al-Salikin which is the commentary of Shaykh al-Islam al-Hirawi’s Manazil al-Sa’irin; in this book it is clear that Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn al-Qayyim occupied a lofty position in the knowledge of Allah (ma‘rifah), spirituality and esoteric taste (dhawq) (Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz). []
  7. In other words a spiritual connection with religiosity (Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hafiz). []
  8. Henri Laoust (1905–1983) was a French orientalist (translator). []
  9. George A. Makdisi (1920-2002), Emeritus Professor of Arabic & Islamic Studies in the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern (formerly Oriental) Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Following an early educational career in both the United States and Lebanon, Makdisi pursued graduate studies in France where he obtained the degree of Docteur es-Lettres at the Sorbonne in 1964. He taught at both the University of Michigan and Harvard before coming to the University of Pennsylvania as Professor of Arabic in 1973. His greatest interest was in the study of Arabic texts from the classical age of Islamic thought, and that was also the focus of his teaching. Makdisi contributed a number of crucially important works, prime among which were his two volumes, The Rise of Colleges (1981) and The Rise of Humanism (1990) (translator). []
  10. George Makdisi, Ibn Taymiya’s Autograph Manuscript on Istihsan in G. Makdisi (ed). Arabic and Islamic Studies. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965). P.453 (Dr al-Kaylani). []
  11. George Makdisi, Ibn Taymiya: A Sufi of the Qadiriya Order The American Journal of Arabic Studies, Vol. 1. 1973. (Leiden: E.J. Brill) pp. 118-129 (Dr al-Kaylani). []
  12. George Makdisi, The Tanbih of Ibn Taymiya on Dialectic in, Medieval and Middle Eastern Studies, edited by Sami A. Hanna. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1972), P. 285 (Dr al-Kaylani). []
  13. Duncan Black MacDonald (1863-1943) was professor of Semitic languages at Hartford Theological Seminary. A Scot, he studied at the University of Glasgow (translator). []
  14. Translated from the Arabic and not from the English (translator). []
  15. MacDonald, D. B. Development of Muslim Theology, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903. P. 273 (Dr al-Kaylani). []
  16. Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Fatawa, Kitab ‘Ilm al-Suluk, volume 10, page 448 (Dr al-Kaylani). []
  17. Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Fatawa, Kitab ‘Ilm al-Suluk, volume 10, page 488 (Dr al-Kaylani). []
  18. Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Fatawa, Kitab ‘Ilm al-Suluk, volume 10, page 668 (Dr al-Kaylani]). []
  19. Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Fatawa, Kitab ‘Ilm al-Suluk, volume 10, page 549 (Dr al-Kaylani). []
  20. Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Fatawa, Kitab ‘Ilm al-Suluk, volume 10, pages 486 – 516 (Dr al-Kaylani). []
  21. Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Fatawa, Kitab ‘Ilm al-Suluk, volume 10, page 82 (Dr al-Kaylani). []
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