Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad



by Dr. G. F. Haddad

Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr ibn Sa‘d, Shams al-Din Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Zur‘i al-Dimashqi al-Hanbali, known as Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 751). A specialist in Qur’anic commentary, hadith, fiqh and its principles, Arabic philology and grammar, and the foremost disciple of Taqi al-Din Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Halim ibn Taymiyya al-Harrani (d. 728), whose anthropomorphic and anti-madhhab teach­ings he helped perpetu­ate. Ibn Taymiyya had suggested that Allah was a corporeal entity in writings such as al-‘Aqida al-Hamawiyya, al-‘Aqida al-Wasitiyya, and al-Ta’sis al-Radd ‘ala Asas al-Taqdis. Here and in other works he in­dicates that Allah’s “Hand,” “Foot” (qadam), “Shin” (sâq), “Face” (wajh), and “Ele­vation” (‘uluw) are literal (haqîqi) attrib­utes, and that He is upon the Throne “in person” (bi al-dhât), a phrase which his student al-Dhahabi frequently condemns as innovated in the Religion.[1] Ibn Taymiyya’s error was in be­lieving such Attributes to be literal, and declaring as nullifiers-of-the-Attributes (mu‘attila) all the Ahl al-Sunna who be­lieved them to be metaphorical. These are among his unwarranted inno­vations in faith which Shaykh al-Islam Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756) refuted in his al-Durra al-Mudiyya and al-Rasa’il al-Subkiyya fi al-Radd ‘ala Ibn Taymiyya. Al-Sakhawi in al-Tawbikh (p. 61) noted: “Certain people gave rise to disa­vowal and a general reluctance to make use of their knowledge despite their stature in knowledge, pious scrupulosity, and asceticism. The reason for this was the looseness of their tongues and their tactlessness in blunt speech and excessive criticism, such as Ibn Hazm and Ibn Taymiyya, who were subse­quently tried and harmed.”

            Ibn Qayyim followed the same path as his teacher in his infamous poem entitled al-Qasida al-Nuniyya (“Ode Rhyming in the Letter N”). This lengthy poem on the tenets of faith is filled with corrupt suggestions about the divine Attributes, which Subki analyzes in detail in his al-Sayf al-Saqil fi al-Radd ‘ala Ibn Zafil (“The Burnished Sword in Refuting Ibn Zafil” i.e. Ibn al-Qayyim). Subki gives the verdict that the anthropomor­phisms of the Divinity in the poem are beyond the pale of Islam. The poem could not be openly circulated in Ibn al-Qayyim’s lifetime but only secretly, and it seems that he never abandoned it, for the Hanbali historian Ibn Rajab heard it from its author in the year of his death as stated in his Dhayl Tabaqat al-Hanabila (2:448).

            Today, some “Salafi” followers quote this poem indiscriminately, heedless of the deviations it promotes. Shaykh Nuh Keller observed:

[An] unfor­tunate peculiarity the poem shares with some of Ibn al-Qayyim’s other works on Islamic faith is that it pre­sents the reader with a false dilemma, namely that one must either believe that Allah has eyes, hands, a descend­ing mo­tion, and so forth, in a literal (haqîqi) sense, or else one has nullified (‘attala) or ne­gated these Attributes. And this is erro­neous, for the literal is that which cor­responds to an expression’s primary lexical sense as ordinarily used in a lan­guage by the people who speak it, while the above words are clearly in­tended otherwise, in accordance with the [Qur’anic] verse (There is noth­ing whatsoever like unto Him) (42:11), for if the above were intended lit­erally, there would be innumerable things like unto Him in such respect as having eyes, hands, motion, and so forth, in the literal meaning of these terms. The would-be dilemma is also far from the practice of the early Mus­lims, who used only to accept such [Qur’anic] verses and hadiths as they have come, consigning the knowledge of what is meant by them – while af­firming the absolute Transcen­dence of Allah Most High above any resemblance to created things – to Allah Most High alone, without trying to determinately specify how they are meant (bi lâ kayf), let alone suggesting people understand them literally (haqî­qatan) as Ibn al-Qayyim tried to do.

       While granting that his other scholarly achieve­ments are not necessarily compromised by his extreme ab­errances in tenets of faith, it should not be forgotten that depicting the latter as a “reform” or “return to early Islam” rep­resents a blameworthy innovation on his part that ap­peared more than seven centuries after the time of the Prophet, Allah bless and greet him, and his Companions. A particularly unsa­vory aspect of it is that in his at­tempts to vindicate the doctrine, Ibn al-Qayyim casts aspersions upon the Islam of anyone who does not sub­scribe to it, at their forefront the Ash‘ari school, whom his books castigate as Jahmiyya or Mu‘attila, implying, by equating them with the most extreme factions of the Mu‘tazilites, that they deny any significance to the Divine Attributes, a misrepresentation that has seen a lamentable recrudes­cence in parts of the Muslim world today.

Ibn al-Qayyim’s “Book of the Soul” (Kitab al-Ruh) ranks among the best books on the subject of the Islamic understanding of life after death according to the Qur’an, the Sunna, and the doctrine of the Salaf and the Four Imams, establishing without doubt that the dead hear the living and know of them. Since this hearing of the dead is a contradiction of the fun­da­men­tal Wahhabi tenet that the dead cannot hear the living, mumblings are sometimes heard about the authenticity of his authorship of the book among the “Salafis.”[2] However, the book is undoubtedly by Ibn al-Qayyim and is attributed to him by over two dozen scholars both in his time and after.[3] It also contains internal proofs of his authorship, such as his mention of his own book – now lost – entitled Ma‘rifa al-Ruh wa al-Nafs[4] and his identifying two of his direct teachers as Abu al-Hajjaj (al-Mizzi), and Ibn Taymiyya:

“Our shaykh Abu al-Hajjaj, the hadith master, used to say that.”[5]

“I heard Shaykh al-Islam, Ibn Taymiyya stress this…”[6]

“Our shaykh said: ‘The sun itself does not descend from the heaven, and the sunrays that are on earth are neither the sun nor its attribute, but an accident (‘arad) caused by the sun and the mass (jirm) opposite it.’”[7] This is taken verbatim from Ibn Taymiyya’s notorious “Explanation of the hadith of Allah’s descent.”[8] 

An­other internal proof of Ibn al-Qayyim’s authorship of Kitab al-Ruh is his lapsing into excessive criticism of Ash‘aris and misattributions of spurious positions to them as is typical of his school,[9] although in much of his book he cites from al-Tadhkira, a book by the Ash‘ari scholar al-Qurtubi.

Ibn al-Qayyim violently attacked imitation (taqlîd) of the four schools of Law among traditional Sunni Muslims and voiced his anti-madhhab stance in a two-volume work on the principles of the Law entitled I‘lam al-Muwaq­qi‘in. In the latter book he rejects the evidence that the Com­panions and great Imams endorsed imitation as inapplicable to later gen­erations and instead advocates a kind of populist ijtihâd in which every Muslim is his own imam and is urged to apply his or her own mind to­ward inter­preting the Qur’an and Sunna independently, untrammelled by the burden­some quali­fi­cations in jurisprudence, language, hadith meth­od­ol­ogy, and the Qur’anic sciences that are required for ijtihâd. It is enough refutation of this Islamically-veiled Protestantism that Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i said: “If the Companions made ablution to the wrists I swear I would have done the same, even as I read the verse of ablution as stating [to the elbows] (5:6).”[10] More explicitly, al-Shatibi said: “The fatwas of the mujtahids are to the laymen what the Shari‘a evidences are to the mujtahids.”[11] The Indian jurist and hadith scholar Habib Ahmad al-Kiranawi blasted Ibn al-Qayyim’s theses in a 100-page epistle entitled al-Din al-Qayyim[12] in which he states:

   He [Ibn al-Qayyim] also said: “Your claim that the imitator (mu­qallid) is closer to being right by imitating those who are more knowl­edgeable than he is, than by exerting his own reasoning (ijtihâd) is an empty claim. For the muqallid is like a blind man who does not know whether what fell into his hand is a stick or a viper. Whereas he who leaves taqlîd is a mujtahid who has two rewards if he is correct and one reward if he is incorrect. How then can the blind man’s being right and his supposed reward compare with the seeing man’s being right, who exerts every effort?”[13]

   The ignorance, inanity, arrogance, and hostility of the preceding words are not hidden to anyone. For he has equated the muqallid with a blind man and the one who leaves taqlîd with a seeing man although the latter is blinder than the muqallid. If sight consisted in leaving taqlîd it would follow that he who most assiduously follows his own opinion must be the most sighted of people, for he is as far from imita­tion as can be. And if taqlîd were blindness then the most assiduous follower of the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless and greet him, would be the blindest of people, for he is a pure imitator! Whereas the sighted one sees the truth as does the imitator, while the blind one does not see it, nor does the one who leaves imitation, following his own guidance despite the fact that he is blind and castigating anyone who might imitate the sighted and follow the latter’s guidance.

   As for exerting every effort, if reward depended on exerting every effort in absolute terms then the muqallid has exerted every effort toward following the truth, having realized that he is incapa­ble to do more than to imitate the knowledgeable person. How then could he be committing a sin and be deprived of reward? But if reward depended on exerting every effort in other than absolute terms then how could he who leaves taqlîd, be rewarded when he is cutting wood in the dead of night? Is this anything but absurd?

   Whoever knows the conditions for being qualified to give legal responses in Allah’s Religion according to the statements of Ahmad ibn Hanbal,[14] al-Shafi‘i,[15] and Ibn al-Mubarak,[16] does not doubt at all that those who leave taqlîd without having achieved those condi­tions are not allowed to give fatwa on the basis of their opinion and what they have understood of the Book and the Sunna. The reason is that their knowledge is virtually no knowledge. This is a far cry from possessing sight and obtaining reward while being wrong. For theirs is only the bane of the ijtihâd of the non-mujtahid.

   He [Ibn al-Qayyim] also said: “The muqallid is closer to being right only when he knows that the correct position is with the one he is imitating exclusively of others. At that time he is not a muqallid for him but a follower of the evidence (muttabi‘ li al-hujja).[17] But if he does not know this at all, then how can you claim that he is closer to being right than he who has exerted his every effort and applied all his strength in searching for the truth?”[18]

   This objection is spurious because the reason that the muqallid is closer to being right is that he is led by the guidance of his imam who is a mujtahid. His being right is through his imam’s being right, and his being wrong is through his imam’s being wrong. This is other than the one who leaves taqlîd, whose being right is through his own person’s being right, and whose being wrong is through his own person’s being wrong. Now the error of the mujtahid is less probable than that of the non-mujtahid just as his being correct is more probable than that of the non-mujtahid. It follows that the muqallid is closer to being right than the one who leaves taqlîd as is readily apparent. This puts to rest what is being claimed by this man without understanding the meaning of what he uses for evidence 

   He [Ibn al-Qayyim] also said: “The one who is nearest to being right when the Ulema are in dispute is he who adheres to Allah’s com­mand [[refer it to Allah and the Messenger] (4:59)] and refer to the Qur’an and the Sunna whatever over which they dispute. As for who­ever refers the matter to the one he follows exclusively of others, then how can he be closer to being right?”[19]

   This is worthless sophistry. It is those who are in dispute who are commanded to refer to Allah Most High and the Messenger, Allah bless and greet him. So when the Ulema dispute it is incumbent upon them to refer to Allah Most High and the Messenger, Allah bless and greet him. But if the ignorant dispute, such as the muqallid and other than the muqallid, then their referring to Allah Most High and the Messenger, Allah bless and greet him, cannot take place except through referral to the ‘âlim who knows the Book and the Sunna – not to the Book and the Sunna themselves, for they are ignorant of them. Else, it would necessarily follow that the ignoramus is the arbiter among the Ulema, and nothing is more patently false than such a claim. It is all-too-apparent that what he said is pure sophistry, and it stems from failing to meditate on the Qur’an.[20]


Ibn al-Qayyim wrote extensively on tasawwuf with which he evidently felt strong affinities. He wrote an extensive commentary on al-Harawi al-Ansari’s slim Sufi manual entitled Manazil al-Sa’irin ila al-Haqq which he named Madarij al-Salikin and in which he says:


Religion is all moral character (khuluq), and whoever bests you in moral character, bests you in Religion. It is the same with tasawwuf. Al-Kattani said: Tasawwuf is moral character, and whoever bests you in moral character, bests you in Religion…. Truly, the hardest thing for human nature is the modification of the moral qualities and traits with which the selves have been stamped. Those who earnestly enga­ged in harsh discipline and arduous strivings worked on nothing else. Most of them did not succeed in changing the self, but the latter became fully employed in those exercises and thus unable to wield its influence…. One day I asked Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya – may Allah have mercy on him! – about this matter and how to eliminate defects and occupy oneself with the cleansing of one’s path. The gist of his reply was that the self is like a garbage pile: the more you dig in it, the more of it comes out to the surface; if you can pave a pathway over it and go past it, do so, and do not preoccupy yourself with digging into it for you shall never reach its bottom!…. Tasawwuf is one of the cornerstones (zawâyâ) of true wayfaring (al-sulûk al-haqîqî) and the purification and disciplining of the self (tazkiya al-nafs wa tahdhîbuhâ) so that it may prepare itself for its journey to the company of the Highest Assembly and for being together with its beloved. For “One is with the one he loves”[21] as Sumnun stated: “The lovers of Allah have gained the honor of both the world and the hereafter, for ‘he is with the one he loves.” And Allah knows best.[22]

Sources: Reliance p. 1058.


[1]See posting titled, “Allah is now as He ever was,” toward the end.

[2]Cf. Albani’s remark in his notes on al-Alusi al-Ayat al-Bayyinat (p. 22): “See the book al-Ruh attributed to Ibn al-Qayyim, for it contains the strangest and oddest narrations and opinions”! But there is virtually nothing in al-Ruh which cannot also be found or confirmed in al-Qurtubi’s al-Tadhkira, Ibn Rajab’s Ahwal al-Qubur, ‘Abd al-Haqq ibn al-Kharrat’s al-‘Aqiba, al-Suyuti’s Sharh al-Sudur, Ibn Abi al-Dunya’s al-Qubur, etc. See “The Hearing of the Dead” from Kitab al-Ruh at https://sunnah.org/aqida/index.htm.

[3]Al-Dhahabi (d. 748) in al-Mu‘jam al-Mukhtass bi al-Muhaddithin (fo 145), al-Safadi (d. 764) in A‘yan al-‘Asr (fo 129) and al-Wafi bi al-Wafayat (2:170-172), al-Husayni (d. 765) in Dhayl al-‘Ibar (5:282), Ibn Kathir (d. 774) in al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya (14:234), Ibn Rafi‘ (d. 774) in al-Wafayat (2:6-7), Ibn Rajab (d. 795) in Dhayl Tabaqat al-Hanabila (2:447), Ibn Nasir al-Din (d. 842) in al-Radd al-Wafir (p. 68), Ibn Hajar (d. 852) in al-Durar al-Kamina (3:400), al-Biqa‘i (d. 885) in Sirr al-Ruh (introduction), etc.

[4]“We mentioned this in our large book, Ma‘rifa al-Ruh wa al-Nafs…” Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Ruh (1975 ed. p. 38=1998 ed. p. 125).

[5]Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Ruh (1975 ed. p. 37=1998 ed. p. 122).

[6]Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Ruh (1975 ed. p. 83=1998 ed. p. 227).

[7]Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Ruh (1975 ed. p. 45=1998 ed. p. 141).

[8]Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu‘a al-Fatawa (5:438).

[9]“This is a position rejected by the Book, the Sunna, the Consensus of the Compan­ions, as well as the evidence given by reason, common sense, and primordial nature, and is the position of one who does not know his own soul let alone the souls of others.” Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Ruh (1975 ed. p. 111=1998 ed. p. 286).

[10]Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i as cited by Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani in al-Jami‘ fi al-Sunan (p. 150 #18).

[11]As cited by Dr. Salah al-Sawi in his al-Thawabit wa al-Mutaghayyirat (Cairo: al-Muntada al-Islami, 1994) p. 66.

[12]Included in full in his Fawa’id fi ‘Ulum al-Fiqh in the second volume of the general introduction to al-Tahanawi’s I‘la’ al-Sunan (2:1-99). This epistle is probably the most comprehensive rebuttal of “Salafi” anti-madhhabism.

[13]Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Dar al-Jil ed. 2:273).

[14]Zakariyya ibn Yahya al-Darir said to Imam Ahmad: “How many memorized hadiths are sufficient for someone to be a mufti? Are one hundred thousand suffi­cient?” He said no. “Two hundred thousand?” He said no. “Three?” He said no, until Zakariyya said: “Five hundred thousand?” Ahmad said: “I hope that that should be sufficient.” Al-Dhahabi, Siyar (9:469=al-Arna’ut ed. 11:232).

[15]See Ibn al-Salah’s Adab al-Mufti wa al-Mustafti at the beginning of his Fatawa wa Masa’il (1:5-133).

[16]“He [Ibn al-Mubarak] did not give fatwa except upon strength and on the basis of transmitted reports.” ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn Shaqiq as cited by Ibn Abi Hatim in his introduction to al-Jarh wa al-Ta‘dil (p. 262).

[17]This reasoning is at the origin of the invented terminology of “Salafis” whereby one “should be a muttabi‘ and not a muqallid,” and their barefaced prohibition of taqlîd as reported of ‘Eid ‘Abbasi by al-Buti in al-Lamadhhabiyya (p. 99-108).

[18]Ibn al-Qayyim, op.cit.

[19]Ibn al-Qayyim, op.cit.

[20]Al-Kiranawi, al-Din al-Qayyim in the second volume of the general introduction to al-Tahanawi’s I‘la’ al-Sunan (2:62-63).

[21]A mass-transmitted hadith of the Prophet, Allah bless and greet him, narrated from fifteen Companions – as stated by al-Kattani in Nazm al-Mutanathir – in the Nine Books.

[22]Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin (2:307).