Ibn Taymiyya the Sufi Shaikh

The theory, presented by some Orientalists, that Abul Faraj Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597 H) and Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728 H), were antithetical to Tasawwuf does not stand up to scholarly scrutiny. In fact neither of these Hanbali doctors of law qualifies as in any way antithetical to Tasawwuf. Let us examine their record.

Ibn al-Jawzi’s work Talbis Iblis is perhaps the most important single factor in keeping alive the notion of this hostility towards Sufism. In reality, this work was not written against Tasawwuf as such at all, nor against Sufis alone. However, it was an indictment of all unorthodox doctrines and practices, regardless of their sources, and opposed any which were innovations in the rule of shari’ah–i.e. not found in the Qur’an and Sunnah, wherever found in the Islamic community, especially in Ibn al-Jawzi’s time. It was written against specific innovated practices of many groups, including: philosophers (mutakallimoon), theologians, traditionalists (‘ulama al-hadith), jurists (fuqaha), preachers, philologists, poets and Sufis. It is in no way an indictment of the subjects they studied and taught, but was an indictment of specific introductions of innovation into their respective disciplines and fields.

Ibn al-Jawzi has written other works which are not only in favor of Tasawwuf, but present its greatest figures in the most complimentary light. Two works considered as pillars in the field of Tasawwuf are Safwat as-Safa and Minhaj al-Qasidin wa Mufid as-Sadiqin. In addition, full length biographies in praise of the early Sufis have been penned by Ibn al-Jawzi, including Fada’il Hasan al-Basri (The Gracious Character of Hasan al-Basri), and Manaqib Ibrahim bin Adham, (The Good Qualities of Ibrahim bin Adham), Manaqib Bishr al-Hafi, Manaqib Ma’ruf al-Karkhi, “Manaqib Rabi’a al-Adawiyya. In sections of his book al-Muntazam many biographical notices may be found in praise of Mutasawwifeen.

Ibn Taymiyya’s Donning of the Qadiri Cloak

As for Ibn Taymiyya, one would search in vain to find in his works the least condemnation of Sufism as a discipline. He opposed the seemingly pantheist descriptions of certain Sufis, known as “ittihadiyya,” but he showed his great admiration for the works of the Sufis Junayd Baghdadi, Sahl at-Tustari, Bayazid al-Bistami, Abu Talib al-Makki, al-Qushayri, ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani and Abu Hafs as-Suhrawardi.

At present we are in the position to go much farther and show that this allegedly great opponent of Sufism was himself a Sufi, who belonged to more than one tariqat, but especially to that of ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani.

In a manuscript of the Hanbali ‘alim, Shaikh Yusuf bin ‘Abd al-Hadi (d. 909H), entitled Bad’ al-’ula bi labs al-Khirqa [found in Princeton, Sorbonne and Damascus], Ibn Taymiyya is found in a Sufi spiritual genealogy with other well-known Hanbali scholars, all except one (Say. Jilani) heretofore unknown as Sufis. The links in this genealogy are, in descending order:

    1. ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani (d. 561 H.) 2.a. Abu ‘Umar bin Qudama (d. 607 H.) 2.b. Muwaffaq ad-Din bin Qudama (d. 620 H.) 3. Ibn Abi ‘Umar bin Qudama (d. 682 H.) 4. Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728 H.) 5. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 751 H.) 6. Ibn Rajab (d. 795 H.)

(Both Abu ‘Umar b. Qudama and his brother Muwaffaq received the khirqa directly from Abdul Qadir Jilani himself.)

Further corroboration of two links separating him from ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani comes from Ibn Taymiyya himself, as quoted in a manuscript of the work al-Mas’ala at-Tabriziyya (manuscript, Damascus, 1186 H):

labistu al-khirqata mubarakata lish-Shaikh ‘Abdul Qadir wa bayni wa baynahu ‘than”

“I wore the blessed Sufi cloak of ‘Abdul Qadir, there being between him and me two.”

Ibn Taymiyya is quoted by Yusuf ibn ‘Abd al-Hadi, affirming his Sufi affiliation in more than one Sufi order:

    “have worn the Sufi cloak [khirqata at-


    ] of a number of shaikhs belonging to various tariqas [

min turuqi jama'atin min ash-shuyukhi]

    , among them the Shaikh ‘Abdul Qadir al-Jili, whose tariqa is the greatest of the well-known ones.”

Further on he continues: “The greatest tariqa [ajallu-t-turuqi] is that of my master [sayyidi], ‘Abdul Qadir al-Jili, may Allah have mercy on him.”

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