About Ibn Taymiyya and Tasawwuf
Orientalists and Modern Islamists have contributed to the misrepresentation of Ibn Taymiyya as an enemy of Sufis. This has been propounded even more strongly lately by the scholars of the “neo-Salafi” school, whose followers claim to strictly adhere to Ibn Taymiyya’s teachings, but who in fact have severely deviated from them in this area of understanding.
However, regardless of the desires of one group or another, the facts provide a clarification of reality: that Ibn Taymiyya accepted Tasawwuf on the condition that it follows shari’ah, and that Ibn Taymiyya himself was not only a Sufi follower, but was adorned with the cloak (khirqa) of shaikhhood of the Qadiri Order.
Let us look more closely at the facts:
- Ibn Taymiyya’s supposed anti-Sufism sentiment is a clearcut misrepresentation of the truth. To conclude that Ibn Taymiyya opposed Sufism/Tasawwuf as a whole, simply because he considered particular activities or statements by some individuals and groups as unacceptable in
- , is like concluding that he opposed the Science of Fiqh because he criticized the viewpoints and practices of certain fuqaha (jurists). This would be more than an exagerration, it is completely inaccurate.
FACT #2: Ibn Taymiyya received iniation as a Sufi shaikh. The fact that Ibn Taymiyya himself was a Sufi has been conveniently ignored by those who chose to misrepresent him, and with good reason: how could someone say that Ibn Taymiyya opposed Sufism/Tasawwuf and that he was a Sufi/mutasawwif in one and the same breath? Hence the corollary statement to Ibn Taymiyya’s alledged anti-Tasawwuf stance is that “he could certainly not have been a Sufi,” compounding inaccuracy with speculation.
Clear proof that most of the great ‘ulama and the major figures of the Four Schools of Islam were trained in Tasawwuf exists in the specialized biographical books known as “Tabaqat.” Tasawwuf was part and parcel of the complete education of a Muslim scholar, from the beginning of the formation of the Islamic curriculum until the gradual weakening and dismantling of the institutions and figures of Islamic higher education in the twentieth century. This resulted in the replacement of the Islamic ‘ijaza system (being “licensed” or receiving permission to teach from one’s own teacher), with the modern doctoral system of degrees, inherited from the West.
Far from denigrating or attacking the Sufi component of the Islamic sciences like of some of our contemporaries who claim him as their reference, Ibn Taymiyya in fact praised it in his time, endorsed it, participated in it, and acheived its highest formal level, which is to receive the khirqah, the equivalent of the ‘ijaza or permission in Sufi terms, from a Sufi shaikh. The khirqah, representing the cloak of the Prophet (s), is passed to a student of a Sufi shaikh, only when he is seen to be fit and fully qualified to pass on the teachings he has acquired from his shaikh in turn to students of his own. In this he as simply one of many among the Hanbali ‘ulama who both educated him or were educated by him, to undergo the expected training and instruction in the various disciplines of Tasawwuf appropriate to the scholarly vocation.
Many well-read specialists of Islam are to this day still surprised to hear that the Sufis al-Ansari al-Harawi (d. 481 H.) and ‘Abdul Qadir al-Jilani (d. 561 H) were both very strong Hanbalis. When one refers to their biographical notices in Ibn Rajab’s [student of Ibn Qayyim] “Dhail ‘ala Tabaqat al-Hanabila,” one finds al-Ansari referred to as “as-Sufi” and Jilani referred to as “az-zahid.” Ibn Rajab’s use of these terms in close proximity, indicates their interchangeability.
Ibn Rajab’s two volume biographical work covers a period of three centuries, from the middle of the 5th century Hijri to the middle of the 8th.. Identifiable as Sufis are over one-third of all the Hanbalis scholars treated by Ibn Rajab and other sources from the same time period.
The theory, presented by some Orientalists, that Abul Faraj Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597 H) and Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728 H), were antithetical to Tasawwuf does not stand up to scholarly scrutiny. In fact neither of these Hanbali doctors of law qualifies as in any way antithetical to Tasawwuf. Let us examine their record.
Ibn al-Jawzi’s work Talbis Iblis is perhaps the most important single factor in keeping alive the notion of this hostility towards Sufism. In reality, this work was not written against Tasawwuf as such at all, nor against Sufis alone. However, it was an indictment of all unorthodox doctrines and practices, regardless of their sources, and opposed any which were innovations in the rule of shari’ah–i.e. not found in the Qur’an and Sunnah, wherever found in the Islamic community, especially in Ibn al-Jawzi’s time. It was written against specific innovated practices of many groups, including: philosophers (mutakallimoon), theologians, traditionalists (‘ulama al-hadith), jurists (fuqaha), preachers, philologists, poets and Sufis. It is in no way an indictment of the subjects they studied and taught, but was an indictment of specific introductions of innovation into their respective disciplines and fields.
Ibn al-Jawzi has written other works which are not only in favor of Tasawwuf, but present its greatest figures in the most complimentary light. Two works considered as pillars in the field of Tasawwuf are Safwat as-Safa and Minhaj al-Qasidin wa Mufid as-Sadiqin. In addition, full length biographies in praise of the early Sufis have been penned by Ibn al-Jawzi, including Fada’il Hasan al-Basri (The Gracious Character of Hasan al-Basri), and Manaqib Ibrahim bin Adham, (The Good Qualities of Ibrahim bin Adham), Manaqib Bishr al-Hafi, Manaqib Ma’ruf al-Karkhi, “Manaqib Rabi’a al-Adawiyya. In sections of his book al-Muntazam many biographical notices may be found in praise of Mutasawwifeen.
Ibn Taymiyya’s Donning of the Qadiri Cloak
As for Ibn Taymiyya, one would search in vain to find in his works the least condemnation of Sufism as a discipline. He opposed the seemingly pantheist descriptions of certain Sufis, known as “ittihadiyya,” but he showed his great admiration for the works of the Sufis Junayd Baghdadi, Sahl at-Tustari, Bayazid al-Bistami, Abu Talib al-Makki, al-Qushayri, ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani and Abu Hafs as-Suhrawardi.
At present we are in the position to go much farther and show that this allegedly great opponent of Sufism was himself a Sufi, who belonged to more than one tariqat, but especially to that of ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani.
In a manuscript of the Hanbali ‘alim, Shaikh Yusuf bin ‘Abd al-Hadi (d. 909H), entitled Bad’ al-’ula bi labs al-Khirqa [found in Princeton, Sorbonne and Damascus], Ibn Taymiyya is found in a Sufi spiritual genealogy with other well-known Hanbali scholars, all except one (Say. Jilani) heretofore unknown as Sufis. The links in this genealogy are, in descending order:
- 1. ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani (d. 561 H.)
- 2.a. Abu ‘Umar bin Qudama (d. 607 H.)
- 2.b. Muwaffaq ad-Din bin Qudama (d. 620 H.)
- 3. Ibn Abi ‘Umar bin Qudama (d. 682 H.)
- 4. Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728 H.)
- 5. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 751 H.)
- 6. Ibn Rajab (d. 795 H.)
(Both Abu ‘Umar b. Qudama and his brother Muwaffaq received the khirqa directly from Abdul Qadir Jilani himself.)
Further corroboration of two links separating him from ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani comes from Ibn Taymiyya himself, as quoted in a manuscript of the work al-Mas’ala at-Tabriziyya (manuscript, Damascus, 1186 H):
labistu al-khirqata mubarakata lish-Shaikh ‘Abdul Qadir wa bayni wa baynahu ‘than”
“I wore the blessed Sufi cloak of ‘Abdul Qadir, there being between him and me two.”
Ibn Taymiyya is quoted by Yusuf ibn ‘Abd al-Hadi, affirming his Sufi affiliation in more than one Sufi order:
- “have worn the Sufi cloak [khirqata at-
- ] of a number of shaikhs belonging to various tariqas [
min turuqi jama'atin min ash-shuyukhi]
- , among them the Shaikh ‘Abdul Qadir al-Jili, whose tariqa is the greatest of the well-known ones.”
Further on he continues: “The greatest tariqa [ajallu-t-turuqi] is that of my master [sayyidi], ‘Abdul Qadir al-Jili, may Allah have mercy on him.”
[found in "Al-Hadi" manuscript in Princeton Library, Collection fol. 154a, 169b, 171b-172a and Damascus University, copy of original Arabic manuscript, 985H.; also mentioned in "at-Talyani", manuscript Chester Beatty 3296 (8) in Dublin, fol. 67a.]
Additional evidence of Ibn Taymiyya’s connection to the Qadiri silsila (lineage) is found in his lengthy commentary on the seminal Sufi work by his grand-shaikh, ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani, entitled “Futuh al-Ghayb.” [this is found in a Princeton manuscript, uncataloged, also in Leipzig University Library, Arabic manuscript #223, and Istanbul University, Turkish translation, "Futuh ul-Gayb Hakkinda Yorum"]
The essence of his commentary on “Futuh al-Ghaib” is to show that Sufism, when orthodox, is completely in consonance with the Qur’an and hadith and the consensus of the community [ijma'a]. A Tasawwuf not based on the revealed law is heretical. In his commentary, Ibn Taymiyya upholds ilham, or Sufi inspiration, as evidence stronger than weak analogy [qiyas], or a weak tradition [hadith,] or istis-hab cited by those who are immersed in fiqh, or divergences of the law [khilaf], or the principles and sources of the law [usul al-fiqh]. He places inspiration [ilham] on the level of legally valid evidence on which to base a preference for one action as against another when all other sources fail.
Perfection of the soul, says Ibn Taymiyya, does not consist in mere knowledge. On the contraray, along with the knowledge concerning Allah, there must necessarily be love [mahabba] of Allah, worship of Allah, and the turning back to Him in repentance. Real tawhid consists in worshipping no one but Allah, and worship calls for perfect love [kamal al-hubb], perfect veneration [kamal at-ta'zim], perfect hope, fear, reverence, and respect [kamal ar-raja' wal-khishya wal-ijlal wal-ikram].
We intend to publish a translation of that lengthy commentary by Ibn Taymiyya on Futuh al-Ghaib in the future.
Ibn Taymiyya’s Discussion of Tasawwuf in His Majmu’a Fatawa
What Ibn Taymiyya Says About the Term `Tasawwuf’
Here we will mention what Imam Ibn Taymiyya, mentioned about the definition of Tasawwuf, from Volume 11,”At-Tawassuf” of “Majmu’a Fatawa Ibn Taymiyya al-Kubra,” Dar ar-Rahmah, Cairo,
- “Alhamdulillah, the pronunciation of the word
- has been thoroughly discussed. From those who spoke about
- were not just the the Imams and Shaikhs, but also included were Ahmad bin Hanbal, Abi Sulayman ad-Daarani, As-Sirr as-Saqati, al-Junayd al-Baghdadi, Hasan al-Basri, Ma’aruf al-Karkhi, Abdul Qadir Jilani, Bayazid al-Bistami [one of the grandshaikhs of the Naqshbandi Tariqat] and many others. This is a term that was given to those who were dealing with that kind of science [
tazkiyyat an-nafs and Ihsan
Imam Ibn Taymiyya says:
- “Tassawuf has realities and states of experience which they talk about in their science. Some of it is that the Sufi is that one who purifies himself from anything which distracts him from the remembrance of Allah and who will be so filled up with knowledge of the heart and knowledge of the mind to the point that the value of gold and stones will be the same to him. And
- is safeguarding the precious meanings and leaving behind the call to fame and vanity in order to reach the state of Truthfulness, because the best of humans after the prophets are the Siddiqeen, as Allah mentioned them in the verse:
- ‘(And all who obey God and the Apostle) are in the company of those on whom is the grace of Allah: of the prophets, the sincere lovers of truth, the martyrs and the righteous; Ah! what a beautiful fellowship.’”
- (an-Nisa’, 69,70)
Ibn Taymiyya continues:
as-Sufi hua fil-haqiqa naw’un min as-siddiqeen. Fahua as-siddiq alladhee ikhtassa bil-zuhadiwal-’ibada.”
“And the Sufi is in reality a kind of Siddiq (Truthful One), that Siddiq who specialized in zuhd and worship.”
He continues about the Sufis,
- “some people criticised Sufiyya and
- and they said they were innovators, out of the Sunnah, but the truth is they are striving in Allah’s obedience[
mujtahidin fi ta'at-illahi
- ], as others of Allah’s People strove in Allah’s obedience. So from them you will find the Foremost in Nearness by virtue of his striving [
as-saabiq ul-muqarrab bi hasab ijtihadihi
- ]. And some of them are from the People of the Right hand [
- mentioned in Qur'an in
- ], but slower in their progress. For both kinds, they might make
- and in that case they might be correct and they might be wrong. And from both types, some of them might make a sin and repent. And this is the origin of
- . And after that origin, it has been spread and (
tasha’abat wa tanawa’at
- ) has its main line and its branches. And it has become three kinds:
- - the True Sufis
- - the Professional Sufis (those who use Sufism for personal gain)
- - the Caricature Sufis. (Sufi by appearance only).”
Imam Ibn Taymiyya About Saints and Sainthood
Imam Ibn Taymiyya mentions in volume 11, page 190 of Majmu’a Fatawi Shaikh ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyya, edition published in Egypt by Dar ar-Rahma:
- “a servant of Allah ‘azza wa-Jal, cannot be considered a saint unless he is a true believer. Allah mentions in Qur’an:
- “Now surely the friends of Allah– they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve. Those who believe and guarded (against evil):” (Yunus, 61,62)
He then quotes the famous hadith from Bukhari:
- “My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him.”
Imam Ibn Taymiyya About Miracles of Saints
In his book al-Mukhtasar al-Fatawa al-Masriyya, published by al-Madani Publishing House, 1980, page 603:
- “The miracles of saints are absolutely true and correct, by the acceptance of all Muslim scholars. And the Qur’an has pointed to it in different places, and the Hadith of the Prophet (s) have mentioned it, and whoever denies the miraculous power of saints are only people who are innovators and their followers.”
He continues in Majmu’a Fatawi Ibn Taymiyya:
- “what is considered as a miracle for a saint is that sometimes the saint might hear something that others do not hear and they see something that others do not see, while not in a sleeping state, but in a wakened state of vision. And he can know something that others cannot know, through revelation or inspiration.”
All that Imam Ibn Taymiyya says about the subject of Tasawwuf is found in a large book (volume 11) consisting of 704 pages only about Tasawwuf.
And we would like to mention briefly what he said on page 314, about the hadith Qudsi [i.e. related from Allah Himself]:
- “whoever comes against one of My saints is challenging Me for fighting”
Imam Ibn Taymiyya says:
- “Which means that Allah is expressing: ‘I will seek revenge against anyone who comes against My saints like an aggressive lion.’”
He continues on p. 314 quoting Prophet’s saying about the saints:
- “you are the martyrs of Allah on Earth.”
Imam Ibn Taymiyya About the Unveiling of Appearances
- “Allah Almighty will unveil to his saints states that have never been given before and give them support without measure…. If that saint will begin to speak from the things of the unseen, past or present or future it is considered from “Bab al’ilm al-khaariq” the miraculous unseen knowledge…. Anything that a saint does which is from unveiling to people or to listeners or curing or healing or teaching knowledge, it is accepted… and we have to thank Allah for it.”
Imam Ibn Taymiyya Mentions some Great Shaikhs of Sufism
And we wish to mention some of the shaikhs which Imam Ibn Taymiyya accepted from the well-known Sufi shaikhs. This is found in his volume entitled ‘Ilm as-Sulook [the Science of Travelling the Way to God], which consists of the whole of volume 10 of Majmu’a Fatawa Ibn Taymiyya which is 775 pages in length, all of which is about the knowledge of the ways of true Sufism, the Science of Travelling to God, ['ilm us-sulook].
On page 516, the third paragraph he says:
- “the great Sufi shaikhs are the best shaiks to be known and accepted, such as:
- Bayazid al-Bistami [a grandshaikh of the Golden Chain of the Naqshbandi Tariqat],
- Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani,
- Junayd bin Muhammad [the most well-known Sufi]
- Hasan al-Basri,
- al Fudayl ibn al-Ayyad,
- Ibrahim bin al-Adham [very famous sufi, known as Sultan of the Ascetics],
- Abi Sulayman ad-Daarani,
- Ma’ruf al-Karkhi [a well-known Sufi],
- Siri as-Saqati,
- Shaikh Hammad,
- Shaikh Abul Bayyan.”
And Ibn Taymiyya continues:
- “THOSE GREAT SUFI PEOPLE WERE THE LEADERS OF HUMANITY, AND THEY WERE CALLING TO WHAT IS RIGHT AND FORBIDDING WHAT IS WRONG.”
In Majmu’a Fatawa Ibn Taymiyya, published by Dar ar-Rahmat, Cairo, Vol, 11, page 497. Book of Tassuwuf), Ibn Taymiyya says:
- “You have to know that the rightly-guided shaikhs must be taken as guides and examples in the Din, as they are following in the footsteps of the Prophets and Messengers. And the Way (tariqat) of those shaikhs is to call people to Allah’s Divine Presence and obedience to the Prophet.”
Here we find Ibn Taymiyya calling for people to take a guide and mentioning that each guide has his own method (tariqat) in calling people to the Prophet’s ways.
Ibn Taymiyya says on page 499 of the same volume:
- “And the shaikhs whom we need to take as guides are our examples that we have to follow, as when on the Hajj, (the pilgrimage) one needs a guide [
- ] to reach the Ka’aba, these shaikhs are our guide [
- ] to Allah and our Prophet (s).”
Ibn Taymiyya quotes from Bayazid al-Bistami, who said, on page 510, Volume 10:
- “…the great Sufi shaikh Bayazid al-Bistami and the famous story about him when he saw God in a vision (
- ) and said to Him: ‘O Allah what is the way to You?’ And Allah responded ‘Leave yourself and come to Me.’”
Ibn Taymiyya continues quoting Bayazid al-Bistami,
- “I shed my self as a snake sheds its skin.”
This quotation is an indication of the need for zuhd (self-denial or abstention from the worldly life), as that was the path followed by Bayazid al-Bistami.
So we see from the above quotes, that Ibn Taymiyya was accepting many shaikhs by quoting them and urging people to follow guides to show the way to obey God and to obey the Prophet (s).
Imam Ibn Taymiyya Explains Those Who are Speaking about Fana’
In Book 2, volume 2, pages 396-397 of Majmu’a Fatawi Ibn Taymiyya, published by Dar ar-Rahmat, Cairo, Ibn Taymiyya speaks about subject of fana’ also known is Sufism as annihilation. He said,
- “This state of love is the state of many people that are from the people of Love to Allah ‘azza wa jall, they are the people of the love of Allah and the People of the Will (al-Irada) of Allah (it is typical of many of the people that love God and seek Him.) Because that person has vanished in his lover, in Allah ‘azza wa jall–through the intensity of the love, because He vanished in Allah’s love, not his own ego’s love. And he will recall Allah, not recalling himself, remember Allah not remembering himself, visualizing Allah [
- ], not visualizing himself, existing in Allah, not in the existence of himself. When he reaches that stage, he no longer feels his own existence. And that is why he says in this state, “
- ” (I am the Truth), or “
- . (Glory to Me!)” and he will say “
maa fil jubba ill-Allah
- ” (there is nothing in this cloak except Allah), because he is drunk in the love of God and this is a pleasure and happiness that he cannot control.”
Further on Ibn Taymiyya says:
- “This [matter] has in it Haqq and there is in it Batil. But when someone will enter a state with his fervor intense love (‘ishq) to Allah, he will enter a state of absentmindedness, and when he enters the state of absentmindedness, he will find himself as if he is accepting the [concept] ittihad. I do not consider this a sin. Because that person is excused and no one may punish him as he is not aware of what he is doing. Because the pen does not condemn the crazy except when he is restored to sanity. And when that person is in that state and he was wrong in what he did, he will be under Allah’s address:
“Rabbana laa tuakhidhna in-nasseeena aw akhtaana”
- “O Our Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or make mistakes.” (Baqara, 286)
“And Allah says in other verse, “wa laa junaaha ‘alaykum fimaa akhtaatum bihi” “there is no blame on you if you unintentionally do a mistake.”
On page 339, in Volume 10, he says:
- “there is a story of two men who were so respectful and loved each other very much. One of them fell in the water [of the sea] and immediately the other threw himself behind him. Then the first one, who was sinking asked, “what made you throw yourself here?” He said,”I vanished in you. and when I vanished in you I thought you were me and I was you.”
And further on he continues:
- “As long as he is not drunk through something that is prohibited, it is accepted, but if it were prohibited, (the intention was bad) then he is not excused.”
And he continues (vol 2., page 397):
- “And because of that [situation] many of the saints, like ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani, have an excuse, becasue they are in a state of love (
That subject is also mentioned in a whole chapter in detail from page 337 -page 343, entitled:
al-Fana’ alladhee yujad fi kalam as-sufiyya yuffassar bi-thalathat umur
This title means:”the Word of Annihhilation found in Sufism explained in Three Ways.” This chapter describes in detail the concept of fana’.
From what has preceded, including our presentation of the opinions of many different scholars, from Imam Abu Hanifa, through Ibn Taymiyya, and up to the present, such as Ibn Abdul Wahhab, how is it possible that one rejects what all these great and knowledgable scholars have never denied, nay they supported, namely the Science of Tasawwuf? Are we going to consider ourselves and our opinion better than the opinions of Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Qayyim and other great scholars? Are we going to say that the opinion of the students of MSA-Net and SRI and the shaikhs of today, are more valid than Ibn Taymiyya, whose opinions we have mentioned, who have put several large books on the validity and reality of Tasawwuf, and never considered that Tasawwuf as something to be denied in Islam?
The Prophet (s) ordered us to follow the Jama’at, when he said, “‘alaykum bi ijma’a al-Muslimeen” (“Hold to the Consensus of the Muslims”) and “alaykum bis-sawaad il-’aazam” (“Hold to the Majority”). Who are better representatives of “sawad al-’azaam” and “ijma’a al-Muslimeen” than these great scholars and imams, whom we have mentioned and quoted extensively from here and in articles in the past?
It is as if the students and shaikhs of today are saying “everyone who came before us were wrong and we are right,” and this comes from arrogance. So it is better for everyone and for ourselves, and for every true Muslim to read more, to investigate more and to examine more in order to know the truth and reality. And it is unbefitting Muslims to be like parrots, repeating the phrases taught them by their master, which have no reality nor basis in fact.
Muhammad Adly knew and understood that reality, as he is a scholar, given those titles by Azhar and Rabitah, as mentioned in his own c.v. He was unable to answer our questions as he knew that no scholar ever denied Tasawwuf. So how could he accuse Ibn Taymiyya of bida’? Instead he preferred to keep quiet, though we were sending post after post privately to his intermediary on the net asking for some response from his side. This means he was unwilling or unable to give an answer and therefore this is our wrapup of the “debate.”
So we respectfully request the readers who are skeptical of our conclusions, and who doubt our quotations and who suspect our scholarship: go and look for yourself–read what Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Qayyim and other scholars of Islam wrote and don’t throw out wild accusations.
We are worshipping Allah alone, and praising the prophet Muhammad (s) as a sincere and praiseworthy servant of Allah, and respecting our guides and our shaikhs; not as some would accuse us, of worshipping them. May Allah guide all who read these words to the reality and truth of Islam.
May Allah enlighten all of us to the goodness which is Islam.
From Allah is all guidance,
(Debate script of Shaikh Hisham Mohammad Kabbani)
Presented by: Zarlish afridi