Tasawwuf al-Haytami

Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani

Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (d. 974) on Tasawwuf

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami was a student of Zakariyya al-Ansari. As mentioned before, he represents the foremost resource for legal opinion (fatwa) in the entire late Shafi`i school. He was once asked about the legal status of those who criticizes Sufis:

Is there an excuse for such critics? He replies in his Fatawa hadithiyya:It is incumbent upon every person endowed with mind and religion not to fall into the trap of criticizing these folk (Sufis), for it is a mortal poison, as has been witnessed of old and recently.1

Among many others on the same topic, he gave an important fatwa entitled: “Whoever denies, rejects, or disapproves of the Sufis, Allah will not make his knowledge beneficial.” We transcribe it below in full:

Our Shaykh, the gnostic (`arif) scholar Abu al-Hasan al-Bakri (d. 952) told me, on the authority of the shaykh and scholar Jamal al-Din al-Sabi verbatim — and he is one of the most distinguished students of our Shaykh Zakaria al-Sabiq (al-Ansari), that al-Sabi used to reject and criticize the way of the honorable Ibn al-Farid. One time al-Sabi saw in a dream that it was the Day of Judgment, and he was carrying a load which made him exhausted, then he heard a caller saying: “Where is the group of Ibn al-Farid?” He said:I came forward in order to enter with them, but I was told: “You are not one of them, so go back.” When I woke up I was in extreme fear, and felt regret and sorrow, so I repented to Allah from rejecting the way of Ibn al-Farid, and renewed my commitment to Allah, and returned to believing that he is one of the awliya — saints and friends — of Allah. The following year on the same night, I had the same dream. I heard the caller saying: “Where are the group of Ibn al-Farid? Let them enter Paradise.” So I went with them and I was told: “Come in, for now you are one of them.”

Examine this matter carefully as it come from a man of knowledge in Islam. It appears — and Allah knows best — that it is because of the baraka or blessing of his shaykh Zakariyya al-Ansari that he has seen the dream which made him change his mind. Otherwise, how many of their deniers they have left to their blindness, until they found themselves in loss and destruction!

If you ask: “Some eminent scholars, like al-Bulqini and others, the latest being al-Biqa`i and his students, and others under whom you yourself (i.e. al-Haytami) have studied, have disapproved of the Sufis, so why did you prefer this way over another?

I answer: I have preferred this way for a number of reasons, among them:*

What our shaykh has mentioned in Sharh al-rawd on the authority of Sa`d al-Din al-Taftazani (d. 791),2 the truthfinder of Islam, the knight of his field, the remover of the proofs of darkness that the latter said, responding Ibn al-Muqri’s statement: “Whoever doubts in the disbelief (kufr) of Ibn al-`Arabi’s group, he himself is a disbeliever”: “The truth is that Ibn al-`Arabi and his group are the elite of the Umma, and al-Yafi`i, Ibn Ata’ Allah, and others have clearly declared they considered Ibn `Arabi a wali, and that the language which Sufis use is true among the experts in its usage, and that the gnostic (`arif), when he becomes completely absorbed in the oceans of Unity, might make some statements that are liable to be misconstrued as incarnation (hulul) and ittihad (union), while in reality there is neither incarnation nor union.”*

It has been clearly stated by our Imams, such as al-Rafi`i in his book al`Aziz, and al-Nawawi in al-Rawda, al-Majmu`, and others:

“When a mufti is being asked about a certain phrase that can be construed as disbelief, he should not immediately say that the speaker should be put to death nor make permissible the shedding of his blood. Rather let him say: The speaker must be asked about what he meant by his statement, and he should hear his explanation, then act accordingly.”

Look at these guidelines — may Allah guide you! — and you will find that the deniers who assault this great man (Ibn `Arabi) and positively assert his disbelief, ride upon blind mounts, and stumble about like a camel affected with troubled vision. Verily Allah has removed their sight and their hearing from perceiving this, until they fell into whatever they fell into, which caused them to be despised, and made their knowledge of no benefit.*

Their great knowledge and utter renunciation of this world and of anything other than Allah testify to their innocence from these terrible accusations, therefore we preferred to dismiss such accusations, because their statements are true realities in the way they expressed them. Their way cannot be denied without knowing the meaning of their statements and the expressions they use, and then turning to apply the expression to the meaning and see if they match or not. We thank Allah that all of their deniers are ignorant in that kind of knowledge, as not one of them has mastered the sciences of unveilings (mukashafat), or even smelled them from a distance; nor has anyone of them sincerely followed any of the awliya, so that he could master their terminology.

If you object saying: I disagree that their expressions refer to a reality rather than being metaphorical phrases, therefore show me something clearer than the explanations that have been given?

I say: Rejecting that is stubborness. Let us assume that you disagree with what I have mentioned, but the correct way of stating the objection is to say: “This statement could be interpreted in several ways,” and proceed to explain them; not say: “If it meant this, then and if it meant that, then “3 and state from the start “This is kufr“! That is ignorance and going beyond the scope of nasiha or good advice that is being claimed by the critic.

Don’t you see that if Ibn al-Muqri’s real motivation were good advice, he would not have exaggerated by saying: “Whoever has a doubt in the disbelief of the group of Ibn al-`Arabi, he himself is a disbeliever”? So he extended his judgment that Ibn al-`Arabi’s followers were disbelievers, to everyone who had a doubt as to their disbelief. Look at this fanaticism that exceeds all bounds and departs from the consensus of the Imams, and goes so far as to accuse anyone who doubts their kufr. “Glorified are You, this is awful calumny!” (24:16) “When ye welcomed it with your tongues, and uttered with your mouths that whereof ye had no knowledge, ye counted it a trifle. In the sight of Allah, it is very great” (24:15).

Notice also what his statement suggests that it is an obligation on the whole Nation to believe that Ibn `Arabi and his followers are disbelievers, otherwise they will all be declared disbelievers — and no one thinks likes this. As a matter of fact, it might well lead into something forbidden which he himself has stated clearly in his book al-Rawd when he said: “Whoever accuses a Muslim of being a disbeliever based on a sin committed by him, and without an attempt to interpret it favorably, he himself commits disbelief.” Yet here he is accusing an entire group of Muslims of disbelief. Moreover, no consideration should be paid to his interpretation, because he only gives the kind of interpretation that goes against those he is criticizing, for that is all that their words have impressed upon him.

As for those who did not think of of the words of Ibn `Arabi and the Sufis except as a pure light in front of them, and believed in their sainthood — then how can a Muslim attack them by accusing them of disbelief? No one would dare to do so unless he is accepting the possibility to be himself called a disbeliever. This judgment reflects a great deal of fanaticism, and an assault on most of the Muslims. We ask Allah, through His Mercy, to forgive the one who uttered it.

It has been narrated through more than one source and has become well-known to every one that whoever opposes the Sufis, Allah will not make His Knowledge beneficial, and will be inflicted with the worst and ugliest (diseases/illnesses), and we have witnessed that happening to many deniers. For example, al-Biqa`i (d. 885) may Allah forgive him, used to be one of the most distinguished scholars, with numerous acts of worship, an exceptional intelligence, and an excellent memory in all kinds of knowledge, especially in the sciences of exegesis and hadith, and he wrote numerous books, but Allah did not allow them to be of any kind of benefit to anyone. He also authored a book on Munasabat al-Qur’an in about ten volumes, about which no one knows except the elite, and as for the rest, they have never heard about it. If this book had been written by our Shaykh Zakariyya, or by anyone who believes (in awliya), it would have been written with gold, because, as a matter of fact, it has no equal: for “Of the bounties of thy Lord We bestow freely on all, these as well as those: the bounties of thy Lord are not closed to anyone” (17:20). [Al-Biqa`i is the author, among others, of a vicious attack on tasawwuf and Sufis entitled Masra` al-tasawwuf aw tanbih al-ghabi ila takfir Ibn `Arabi wa-tahdir al-`ibad min ahl al-`inad (The destruction of I, or: The warning of the ignoramus concerning the declaration of Ibn `Arabi’s disbelief, and the cautioning of Allah’s servants against the People of Stubbornness).]

Al-Biqa`i went to an extreme in his denial, and wrote books about the subject, all of them clearly and excessively fanatical and deviating from the straight path. But then he paid for it fully and even more than that, for he was caught in the act on several occasions and was judged a disbeliever (kafir). It was ruled that his blood be shed and he was about to get killed, but he asked the help and protection of some influential people who got him out of it, and he was made to repent in Salihiyya, Egypt, and renew his Islam. On the latter occasion he was asked “What exactly do you disapprove of in Shaykh Muhiyyiddin (Ibn `Arabi)?” He said: “I disagree with him on certain passages, fifteen or less, in his book al-Futuhat.”

Consider well this individual who contradicts his own books, where he mentions that he opposes many parts of al-Futuhat and other books and declares that they constitute disbelief: is there any reason to this other than fanaticism? He had some distinguished students who listened to his words and believed in them, among them some of my shaykhs, but they did not gain any kind of true knowledge from it, because some of them did not succeed in writing any books, while some wrote books on the art of fiqh equal to the books of Sa`d al Din al-Taftazani and others in their eloquence, the beauty of their style and the excellence of their diction, but no one paid any attention to them or even noticed them, on the contrary: people ignored them.

It happened to me with one of those, that while I was studying under him, he started to have difficulties breathing, and I did not know at that time that he opposed the Sufis. In one of his sessions, the name of Shaykh `Umar Ibn al-Farid, may Allah sanctify his secret, was mentioned, and he was asked: “What do you think about him?” He said: “He is a great poet”; then he was asked, “and what else after that?” He said “He is a kafir.” Then I had to leave, then I came back later to read something to him and I examined carefully to see if he had repented, but I found him seriously ill and oppressed in his breathing to the point that he was almost dying. I said to him: “If you believe in Ibn al-Farid (i.e. in his Friendship with Allah), I guarantee that Allah will cure you of your illness.” He said: “I have had this condition for years.” I said: “Even so.” He said, “All right, then I will,” after which he began to feel better and better. One day, while I was walking with him, trying to correct his doctrine (`aqida), he said to me: “As far as that man is concerned, I do not judge him to be a kafir, but as far as his discourses are concerned, they do include kufr.” I said: “One evil deed out of two,” after which I quit studying under him, and that illness stayed with him, but relatively better than before.

One of the students of al-Biqa`i, the scholar Shaykh Nur al-Din Al-Mahalli, also used to say “As far as the man is concerned, I don’t judge him to be a kafir, but as far as his discourses are concerned, they do include kufr.”[This resort to “one evil out of two” is characteristic of many of today’s “Salafis,” who do not hesitate to brand Sufis with disbelief, both on the whole and individually, then when they are admonished for their reprehensible act, they answer: “I do not judge them to be kafir, but their words do include kufr“! As Haytami said, criticizing the Sufis is a mortal poison and a pitfall from which one does irremediable damage to one’s belief, and we ask Allah’s protection.]

If you ask: Has not Allah made the knowledge of some of the deniers of Sufis beneficial?

I say: There are two groups of deniers: in the case of those we mentioned, their intention was not to show pure good counsel to Muslims, but pure fanaticism, which is why they believed whatever they believed. They were overcome by a kind of envy and the desire to be different from others in their time, in order to be distinguished from them by means of these unusual things and to gain the reputation that they disapprove of any reprehensible matter without fearing anyone, and the like of such corrupted intentions which contains not the slightest portion of sincerity.4

1 Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, Fatawa hadithiyya (Cairo: al-Halabi, 1970) p. 331.

2 Sa`d al-Din Mas`ud ibn `Umar al-Taftazani, one of the great mujtahid polymaths of the Shafi`i school, he authored books in tafsir, kalam, usul, fiqh, `ilm al-mantiq (logic), grammar, rhetoric, and philology.

3 An allusion to Ibn Taymiyya, who predicated his judgment of Ibn `Arabi on the constant obnoxious assumption that he understood his terminology and meanings.

4 al-Haytami, Fatawa hadithiyya p. 52-54.

Reproduced with permission from Shaykh M. Hisham Kabbani’sThe Repudiation of “Salafi” Innovations (Kazi, 1996) p. 387-395.

Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions