Ibn Taymiyya the Sufi Shaikh

Answer to Shaikh Adly, response by Hisham Mohammed Kabbani

To our respected brother Shaikh Muhammad Adly, and to our dear internet readers, we would like to present our final conclusions of the "debate" between myself and Shaikh Adly in the following two parts.

In the first part we will discuss Ibn Taymiyya's views on Tasawwuf. In the second part we will mention some of the views of the Salaf and Khalaf scholars, as well as some relatively modern scholars on the subject of Tasawwuf.

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:

FACT #1:

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:

(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):

Ibn Taymiyya is quoted by Yusuf ibn 'Abd al-Hadi, affirming his Sufi affiliation in more than one Sufi order:

[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, Imam Ibn Taymiyya says:

Ibn Taymiyya continues:

He continues about the Sufis,

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:

He then quotes the famous hadith from Bukhari:

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:

He continues in Majmu'a Fatawi Ibn Taymiyya:

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]:

Imam Ibn Taymiyya says: He continues on p. 314 quoting Prophet's saying about the saints:

Imam Ibn Taymiyya About the Unveiling of Appearances

He said:

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:

And Ibn Taymiyya continues:

In Majmu'a Fatawa Ibn Taymiyya, published by Dar ar-Rahmat, Cairo, Vol, 11, page 497. Book of Tassuwuf), Ibn Taymiyya says:

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:

Ibn Taymiyya quotes from Bayazid al-Bistami, who said, on page 510, Volume 10:

Ibn Taymiyya continues quoting Bayazid al-Bistami, 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,

Further on Ibn Taymiyya says:

"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:

And further on he continues:

And he continues (vol 2., page 397):

That subject is also mentioned in a whole chapter in detail from page 337 -page 343, entitled:

This title means:"the Word of Annihhilation found in Sufism explained in Three Ways." This chapter describes in detail the concept of fana'.


For now we consider this to be the conclusion of our presentation of Sufism, and as a completion of our "debate" with Shaikh Muhammad Adly.

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,

--Shaikh Hisham Mohammed Kabbani