Tasawwuf Ibn Taymiyya

Regarding `Abd al-Qadir’s teaching that the salik or Sufi wayfarer should abstain from permitted desires, Ibn Taymiyya begins by determining that Abd al-Qadir’s intention is that one should give up those permitted things which are not commanded, for there may be a danger in them. But to what extent? If Islam is essentially learning and carrying out the Divine command, then there must be a way for the striver on the path to determine the will of Allah in each particular situation. Ibn Taymiyya concedes that the Qur’an and Sunna cannot explicitly cover every possible specific event in the life of every believer. Yet if the goal of submission of will and desire to Allah is to be accomplished by those seeking Him, there must be a way for the striver to ascertain the Divine command in its particularity.

Ibn Taymiyya’s answer is to apply the legal concept of ijtihad to the spiritual path, specifically to the notion of ilham or inspiration. In his efforts to achieve a union of his will with Allah’s, the true Sufi reaches a state where he desires nothing more than to discover the greater good, the action which is most pleasing and loveable to Allah. When external legal arguments cannot direct him in such matters, he can rely on the standard Sufi notions of private inspiration (ilham) and intuitive perception (dhawq):If the Sufi wayfarer has creatively employed his efforts to the external shar`i indications and sees no clear probability concerning his preferable action, he may then feel inspired, along with his goodness of intention and reverent fear of Allah, to choose one of two actions as superior to the other. This kind of inspiration (ilham) is an indication concerning the truth. It may be even a stronger indication than weak analogies, weak hadiths, weak literalist arguments (zawahir), and weak istisHaab which are employed by many who delve into the principles, differences, and systematizing of fiqh.5

Ibn Taymiyya bases this view on the principle that Allah has put a natural disposition for the truth in mankind, and when this natural disposition has been grounded in the reality of faith and enlightened by Qur’anic teaching, and still the striver on the path is unable to determine the precise will of Allah in specific instances, then his heart will show him the preferable course of action. Such an inspiration, he holds, is one of the strongest authorities possible in the situation. Certainly the striver will sometimes err, falsely guided by his inspiration or intuitive perception of the situation, just as the mujtahid sometimes errs. But, he says, even when the mujtahid or the inspired striver is in error, he is obedient.

Appealing to ilham and dhawq does not mean following one’s own whims or personal preferences.6 In his letter to Nasr al-Manbiji, he qualifies this intuition as “faith-informed” (al-dhawq al-imani). His point is, as in the commentary to the Futuh, that inspirational experience is by nature ambiguous and needs to be qualified and informed by the criteria of the Qur’an and the Sunna. Nor can it lead to a certainty of the truth in his view, but what it can do is give the believer firm grounds for choosing the more probably correct course of action in a given instance and help him to conform his will, in the specific details of his life, to that of his Creator and Commander.7

Other works of his as well abound in praise for Sufi teachings. For example, in his book al-ihtijaj bi al-qadar, he defends the Sufis’ emphasis on love of Allah and their voluntarist rather than intellectual approach to religion as being in agreement with the teachings of the Qur’an , the sound hadith, and the imja` al-salaf:As for the Sufis, they affirm the love (of Allah), and this is more evident among them than all other issues. The basis of their Way is simply will and love. The affirmation of the love of Allah is well-known in the speech of their early and recent masters, just as it is affirmed in the Book and the Sunna and in the agreement of the Salaf.8

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