Imam al-Haramayn ibn al-Juwayni (419 – 478)

Ibn al-Sam’ani in Dhayl Tarikh Baghdad narrated from Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Abi ‘Ali al-Hamadhani that Imam al-Haramayn said: “I read fifty thousand times fifty thousand [folios]. Then I left behind the people of Islam and their Islam of outward sciences in those books. I took to the vast sea and probed what Muslims deem prohibited to probe. I did all this in the pursuit of truth. I used, in bygone times, to flee from imitation. Now I have returned from all this to the word of truth: ‘Cling to the faith of old women’ (‘alaykum bi dîn al-’ajâ’iz).3 If Allah does not catch me with His immense kindness so that I shall die with the faith of old women and my final end be sealed with the uprightness of the People of Truth and the pure declaration: lâ ilâha illallâh – then woe to al-Juwayni’s son!”

He died of jaundice and was buried in his house after a huge throng attended his funeral bare-headed. Unrestrained manifestations of grief by four hundred of his over-zealous students lasted for days in Khurasan. Ibn ‘Asakir said: “I believe that the marks of his hard work and striving in Allah’s Religion shall endure until the rising of the Hour.”

False Reports

Some anti-Ash’ari commentators have misconstrued al-Hamadhani’s report cited above to read like a disavowal of kalâm on the part of Imam al-Haramayn. They have derived this conclusion from the sentence “Now I have returned from all this to the word of truth: ‘Cling to the faith of old women.’” However, this sentence cannot be separated from what precedes and follows it, by which Ibn al-Juwayni meant not kalâm, but, as he said, the search for the truth independently of imitation, even outside Islam. He couched his ultimate abandonment of this search in terms of “the faith of old women,” a formula that denotes basic faith unscathed by ignorance of all but absolute essentials. This is similar to Abu Sa’id al-Shahham’s dream that Abu Sahl al-Su’luki said after his death: ‘Allah forgave me for questions old women used to ask me.’”4 Note also that this report comes only through al-Hamadhani, whom Ibn al-Subki declared unreliable as a narrator.

Ibn al-Sam’ani also narrated from the hadith master Abu al-’Ala’ Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Fadl, from the hadith master Muhammad ibn Tahir al-Maqdisi that the latter heard Abu al-Hasan al-Qayrawani in Naysabur say: “I heard Abu al-Ma’ali say: ‘Do not occupy yourselves with kalâm, if I had known where it would take me I would not have occupied myself with it.’” This report reads like a tendentious summary of al-Hamadhani’s report to strengthen the revised image of Imam al-Haramayn as finally disavowing kalâm. Ibn al-Subki comments: “It is indeed very strange that no-one reported this story from this great imam whose students filled the earth except al-Qayrawani who is unknown, and only through Ibn Tahir who is known for his enmity to Imam al-Haramayn! I tend to believe it is a forgery.”5

The hadith master Salah al-Din Khalil ibn Kikaldi al-’Ala’i cited al-Dhahabi’s brief notice on Imam al-Haramayn in Siyar A’lam al-Nubala’ as an example of al-Dhahabi’s bias against Ash’aris, while Ibn al-Subki considers that his teacher did his best to slight the Imam.6 This is borne out by the fact that al-Dhahabi indiscriminately adduces the following weak or forged reports detrimental to the imam:

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