Further Information on Tasawwuf 3
Let us look more closely at the facts:
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 group is 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.
Ibn Taymiyya received iniation as a Sufi shaykh. 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 ecucation in the twentieth century. This resulted in the replacement of the Islamic ‘ijaza system (being “licensed” or recieving 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 khirqa, the equivalent of the ‘ijaza or permission in Sufi terms, from a Sufi shaykh. The khirqah, representing the cloak of the Prophet (s), is passed to a student of a Sufi shaykh, only when he is seen to be fit and fully qualified to pass on the teachings he has acquired from his shaykh 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 sourcesfrom the same time period.
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 (mutakallimun), 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.
© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America