Tasawwuf Ibn Taymiyya

[23] ON TASAWWUF Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728)

His admirers cite this jurist and hadith master of the Hanbali school as an enemy of Sufis, and he is the principal authority in the campaign of “Salafis” responsible for creating the present climate of unwarranted fanaticism and encouragement to ignorance regarding tasawwuf. Yet Ibn Taymiyya was himself a Sufi. However, “Salafis” are careful never to show the Sufi Ibn Taymiyya, who would severely hamper their construction of him as purely anti-Sufi.

Ibn Taymiyya’s discourse on tasawwuf is riddled with contradictions and ambiguities. One might say that even though he levelled all sorts of judgments on Sufis, he was nevertheless unable to deny the greatness of tasawwuf upon which the Community had agreed long before he came along. As a result he is often observed slighting tasawwuf, questioning his Sufi contemporaries, and reducing the primacy of the elite of Muslims to ordinariness, at the same time as he boasts of being a Qadiri Sufi in a direct line of succession to Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani, as we show in the lines that follow.

It should be clear that the reason we quote the following evidence is not because we consider Ibn Taymiyya in any way representative of tasawwuf. In our view he no more represents tasawwuf than he represents the `aqida of Ahl al-Sunna. However, we quote his views only to demonstrate that his misrepresentation by Orientalists and “Salafis” purely as an enemy of tasawwuf does not stand to scrutiny. Regardless of the desires of one group or another, the facts provide clear evidence that Ibn Taymiyya had no choice but to accept tasawwuf and its principles, and that he himself not only claimed to be a Sufi, but also to have been adorned with the cloak (khirqa) of shaykhhood in the Qadiri Sufi Order.

We have already mentioned Ibn Taymiyya’s admiration for `Abd al-Qadir Gilani, to whom he gives the title “my Shaykh” (shaykhuna) and “my Master” (sayyidi) exclusively in his entire Fatawa. Ibn Taymiyya’s sufi inclinations and his reverence for `Abd al-Qadir Gilani can also be seen in his hundred-page commentary on Futuh al-ghayb, covering only five of the seventy-eight sermons of the book, but showing that he considered tasawwuf essential within the life of the Islamic community.1

In his commentary Ibn Taymiyya stresses that the primacy of the Shari`a forms the soundest tradition in tasawwuf, and to argue this point he lists over a dozen early masters, as well as more contemporary shaykhs like his fellow Hanbalis, al-Ansari al-Harawi and `Abd al-Qadir, and the latter’s own shaykh, Hammad al-Dabbas:The upright among the followers of the Path – like the majority of the early shaykhs (shuyukh al-salaf) such as Fudayl ibn `Iyad, Ibrahim ibn Adham, Ma`ruf al-Karkhi, al-Sari al-Saqati, al-Junayd ibn Muhammad, and others of the early teachers, as well as Shaykh Abd al-Qadir, Shaykh Hammad, Shaykh Abu al-Bayan and others of the later masters — do not permit the followers of the Sufi path to depart from the divinely legislated command and prohibition, even were that person to have flown in the air or walked on water.2

Elsewhere also, such as in his al-Risala al-safadiyya, Ibn Taymiyya defends the Sufis as those who belong to the path of the Sunna and represent it in their teachings and writings:The great shaykhs mentioned by Abu `Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami in Tabaqat al-sufiyya, and Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri in al-Risala, were adherents of the school of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a and the school of Ahl al-hadith, such as al-Fudayl ibn `Iyad, al-Junayd ibn Muhammad, Sahl ibn `Abd Allah al-Tustari, `Amr ibn `Uthman al-Makki, Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Khafif al-Shirazi, and others, and their speech is found in the Sunna, and they composed books about the Sunna.3

In his treatise on the difference between the lawful forms of worship and the innovative forms, entitled Risalat al-`ibadat al-shar`iyya wal-farq baynaha wa bayn al-bid`iyya, Ibn Taymiyya unmistakably states that that the lawful is the method and way of “those who follow the Sufi path” or “the way of self-denial” (zuhd) and those who follow “what is called poverty and tasawwuf”, i.e. the fuqara’ and the Sufis:The lawful is that by which one approaches near to Allah. It is the way of Allah. It is righteousness, obedience, good deeds, charity, and fairness. It is the way of those on the Sufi path (al-salikin), and the method of those intending Allah and worshipping Him; it is that which is travelled by everyone who desires Allah and follows the way of self-denial (zuhd) and religious practice, and what is called poverty and tasawwuf and the like.4

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