Tasawwuf ibn `Abd al-Salam

ON TASAWWUF Sultan al-`ulama’ al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam al-Sulami (d. 660)

His nickname is “Sultan of the Scholars.” The Shaykh al-Islam of his time, he took hadith from the hafiz al-Qasim ibn `Ali ibn `Asakir al-Dimashqi, and tasawwuf from the Shafi`i Shaykh al-Islam Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (539-632), whom al-Dhahabi calls: “The shaykh, the imam, the scholar, the zahid, the knower, the Muhaddith, Shaykh al-Islam, the Peerless One of the Sufis…”1 He also studied under Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili (d. 656) and his disciple al-Mursi. The author of Miftah al-sa`ada and al-Subki in his Tabaqat relate that al-`Izz would say, upon hearing al-Shadhili and al-Mursi speaking: “This is a kind of speech that is fresh from Allah.”2 In his two-volume Qawa`id al-ahkam fi masalih al-anam on usul al-fiqh he mentions that the Sufis are those meant by Allah’s saying:

“Allah’s party” (5:56, 58:22), and he defines tasawwuf as “the betterment of hearts, through whose health bodies are healthy, and through whose disease bodies are diseased.” He considers the knowledge of external legal rulings a knowledge of the Law in its generalities, while the knowledge of internal matters is a knowledge of the Law in its subtle details.3

Among his books on tasawwuf are:

  • Shajarat al-ma`arif wa al-ahwal wa salih al-aqwal wa al-a`mal (The tree of the gnostic sciences and states and pious sayings and deeds) in twenty chapters, the last seven of which are devoted to the various branches of ihsan in one’s religion
  • Mukhtasar ri`ayat al-Muhasibi, an abridgment of al-Muhasibi’s book on the Observance of the rights of Allah
  • Masa’il al-tariqa fi `ilm al-haqiqa (Questions of the Sufi path concerning the knowledge of Reality) in which al-`Izz answers sixty questions regarding tasawwuf
  • Risala fi al-qutb wa al-abdal al-arba`in (Treatise on the Pole of saints and the forty substitute-saints)
  • Fawa’id al-balwa wa al-mihan (The benefits of trials and afflictions)
  • Nihayat al-rughba fi adab al-suhba (The obtainment of wishes in the etiquette of companionship).

In view of his strictness in every matter, he is famous for his fatwa allowing sama` or poetry recitals, and the swaying of the body and dancing associated with trances and other states of ecstasy during dhikr. Imam Ahmad related in his Musnad:

`Ali said: I visited the Prophet with Ja`far (ibn Abi Talib and Zayd (ibn Haritha). The Prophet said to Zayd: “You are my freedman” (anta mawlay), whereupon Zayd began to hop on one leg around the prophet (hajala). The Prophet then said to Ja`far: “You resemble me in my creation and my manners” (anta ashbahta khalqi wa khuluqi), whereupon Ja`far began to hop behind Zayd. The Prophet then said to me: “You pertain to me and I pertain to you” (anta minni wa ana minka) whereupon I began to hop behind Ja`far.4

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami mentions that some scholars have seen in this evidence for the permissibility of dancing (al-raqs) upon hearing a recital (sama`) that lifts the spirit.5 al-Yafi`i concurs with him in Mir’at al-jinan.6 Both of them mention al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam as the chief example of such scholars, since it is authentically reported that he himself “attended the sama` and danced in states of ecstasy” (kana yahduru al-sama` wa yarqusu wa yatawajadu), as stated by Ibn al-`Imad on the authority of al-Dhahabi, Ibn Shakir al-Kutabi, al-Yafi`i, al-Nabahani, and Abu al-Sa`adat.7

This permissibility of a type of dancing on the part of the Imams and hadith masters precludes the prohibition of sama` on a general basis, and that of the dancing that accompanies sama` as well, regardless of the reservations of Ibn Taymiyya concerning it which, in the mouths of today’s “Salafis,” do become cut-and-dry prohibitions.

As for particular cases where the dancing may be prohibited, it regards the worldly kind of effeminate dancing which has nothing to do with the ecstasy of of sama` and dhikr. al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam differentiated the two in his Fatwas:

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