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:

    Ibn Taymiyya’s supposed anti-Sufism sentiment is a clearcut misrepresentation of the truth. To conclude that Ibn Taymiyya opposed Sufism/Tasawwuf as a whole, simply because he considered particular activities or statements by some individuals and groups as unacceptable in

shari’ah

    , is like concluding that he opposed the Science of Fiqh because he criticized the viewpoints and practices of certain fuqaha (jurists). This would be more than an exagerration, it is completely inaccurate.

FACT #2: Ibn Taymiyya received iniation as a Sufi shaikh. The fact that Ibn Taymiyya himself was a Sufi has been conveniently ignored by those who chose to misrepresent him, and with good reason: how could someone say that Ibn Taymiyya opposed Sufism/Tasawwuf and that he was a Sufi/mutasawwif in one and the same breath? Hence the corollary statement to Ibn Taymiyya’s alledged anti-Tasawwuf stance is that “he could certainly not have been a Sufi,” compounding inaccuracy with speculation.

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.

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