Ibn Taymiyyah And His Student Ibn Al Qayyim The Sufis
For years if not decades Imam Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn Al Qayyim Al Jawziyyah have been represented or should I say misrepresented as opponents of Sufism and Islamic spirituality as a whole. Whilst many of their legal rulings, general advices towards doing good and refraining from evil have been made available to the general masses, their works on promoting and endorsing Sufism seem to have been kept under the rug, away from the attention of the general masses.
Both Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Al Qayyim have been described as ‘harsh anti-sufi scholars’ and ‘hard line sufi opponents’. Indeed they both did strongly criticise the degenerate forms of Islamic spirituality that existed during their times, such practices that were not in line with the teachings of the prophet (SAW) and Islamic law. However, the individuals who expressed these views of the two scholars sadly misrepresented Sufism by not showing the bigger picture and depicted them as disagreeing with it as a whole and this is far from the truth, the reality is that they were both proponents of Sufism as will soon be shown.
Islamic spirituality has many names which include and are not limited to; tasawwuf, sulook, tazkiyah, zuhd and sufism. For a brief analysis and explanation on what Sufism is, its history and development please refer to this post. Since Ibn Taymiyyah’s view on sufism has been portrayed in a lopsided manner, let us first show a general statement expressed by the Imam himself, he says in his most well known work Majmoo Al Fatawa;
“People have differing opinions about the sufis, some of them exaggerate and see them as the greatest of Muslims. There are some who see all of the sufis as innovators and have left the fold of Islam, but that is slanderous. The best opinion about them is that they are a hard working Muslim faction who had worked hard to arrive at the truth. So some are unjust to themselves, some of them are frugal, and some of them vie in doing good deeds they are ‘people of the right hand’ (mentioned in Surah Al Waqi’ah). There are also attached factions that have nothing to do with sufis at all.” [Vol.11 pg.18]
As can be seen by the above quote, Ibn Taymiyyah actually held a very balanced opinion of sufis and his understanding of the different types of sufism was objective and fair like a true person of knowledge, this is much unlike the view that seems to have been projected upon the Imam in modern times.
Ibn Taymiyyah also held the view that following a Tariqa (plural; Turuq) was permissible. Tariqa linguistically means a pathway but in terms of sufism it means a methodology or codified system for spirituality. Just as over time the laws of Islamic jurisprudence were codified and systemized into four schools of law (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali) and are known as Madhahab (singular; Madhab), the different methods of practising spirituality were codified into orders/systems known as Tariqa. The four main Tariqa’s are Qadiri, Chishti, Naqshbandi and Suharwardi but there still survives other smaller ones such as Rifa’i found in Lebanon, Shadhilli in Syria and Sanusi in Libya. The way in which the Tariqa’s work is that an individual visits an expert in spirituality and the esoteric sciences who guides them towards the correct methods of dhikr and self purification (tazkiyah) just as a person seeking the external sciences studies with an Alim or a Mufti who is an expert in jurisprudence. Ibn Taymiyyah supports this as he says;
"You have to know that the rightly-guided sheikhs must be taken as guides and examples in the deen, as they are following in the footsteps of the Prophets and Messengers. And the Way (tariqat) of those shaikhs is to call people to Allah’s Divine Presence and obedience to the Prophet (SAW)." [Majmoo Al Fatawa, Vol.11 pg.497]
Here we see that not only did Ibn Taymiyyah recognise the validity of taking a spiritual guide/teacher but he acknowledges that each guide has their own method of calling people to the sunnah. Some may argue that he was talking about seeking guides in non spiritual matters but it becomes evident that this is not the case since this statement is found in his chapters of spirituality titled ‘Ilm As-Sulak’ along with other related topics, had it been about non esoteric matters such as Fiqh and Aqeedah this would have been mentioned in other chapters where they are discussed.
Also, Ibn Taymiyyah did not just accept and acknowledge the validity of Tariqa’s he himself was a part of a number of different Tariqa’s, he says;
"I have worn the Sufi cloak of a number of shaykhs belonging to various tariqas (labistu khirqata at tasawwuf min turuqi jama’atin min al shuyukhi), among them the Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al Jili [Jilani], whose tariqa is the greatest of the well known ones. The greatest Sufi Way (ajall al-turuq) is that of my master (sayyidi) Abd al-Qadir al Jili, may Allah have mercy on him. [From a manuscript entitled al-Mas’ala at-Tabriziyya (Damascus, Zahiriyya, 1186 H), as well as being quoted in his student and follower Ibn Abdul Hadi’s Al-Uqud Ad-Durriyyah].
The Khirqa is equivalent to an ijaza (authorisation) from a sufi sheikh. Representing the cloak of the prophet Muhammad (SAW) it is passed from the teacher to the student once they feel that the student has reached a level of proficiency in passing down the teachings and instructions of the Tariqa. These Tariqa’s have a silsila (chain) of authorisation similar to the isnad in hadith which provides them a physical link back to the prophet (SAW) as one of their proofs of legitimacy of being upon the sunnah. As further evidence to his love of Sheikh Abd Al Qadir Al Jilani and the Qadiri Tariqa, he wrote a favourable commentary on his Futuh al-Ghayb in his Majmoo Fatawa (Vol. 10, pg. 455-548).
We see further than Ibn Taymiyyah, his foremost student Ibn Al Qayyim and his student Ibn Rajab are found in the silsila (chain) of the Qadiri Tariqa;
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 Bin Qudama and his brother Muwaffaq received the khirqa directly from Abdul Qadir Jilani himself.) [This is also from al-Mas’ala at-Tabriziyya (Damascus, Zahiriyya, 1186 H) also found in Ibn Abd Al Hadi’s Bad’ al-ulqa bi labs al-khirqa]
Elsewhere in the same chapters he further reiterates the importance of a spiritual guide by stating;
"And the sheikhs whom we need to take as guides are our examples that we have to follow, as when on the Hajj, one needs a guide to reach the Ka’aba, these sheikhs are our guide to Allah and our Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him" (Majmoo Al Fatawa, Vol.11 pg. 499)
Among the practices of the sufis that Ibn Taymiyyah accepted, he was very favourable towards awrad (singular; wird) which a small number of his admirers today are ignorantly against. A wird is the recitation of a verse of the Quran, a praise of Allah (SWT) and His messenger (SAW) or any other form of dhikr a certain number of times in order to attain a particular reward. Ibn Al Qayyim says about one of the awrad Ibn Taymiyyah tried, and repeated daily;
"Among the tried awrad (mujarrabat) which the spiritual travellers have tried and found to work: he who addicts himself to saying ‘Ya Hayy Ya Qayyum, La Ilaha Illa Anta’ his heart and mind will become alive. Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah was very attached to repeating this dhikr, and said about it: ‘the Divine names Hayy and Qayyum have a strong spiritual effect on the heart’ and he would say that they are the Ismul A’atham (the Supreme Name). I heard Ibn Taymiyyah also say: ‘he who recites Ya Hayy Ya Qayyum I seek aid in your mercy 40 times between the Sunnah of Fajr and its Fard, his heart will stay alive (spiritually) and not die" [Madarij As-Salikin, Vol.1, pg. 448]
Here we see that not only did Ibn Taymiyyah permit awrad but he himself would recite them and he endorsed them to his students such as Ibn Al Qayyim who’s book I have just quoted from is full of very pro-sufi statements, the title itself meaning ‘The Stairway Of Those On The Spiritual Path’. Ibn Al Qayyim recommends this wird of Sheikh Ibn Taymiyyah again in his Madarij [Vol.3, pg. 264]
Ibn Ali Al-Bazzar, one of the murids (spiritual students) of Ibn Taymiyyah, says that his Sheikh would sit after fajr and continuously recite Surat Al-Fatiha until sunrise, he also says that during this time Ibn Taymiyyah would gaze and stare into the sky [mentioned in Al-Bazzar’s book “Al-A’alam Al-Aliyah”]
Upon being asked regarding the recitation of 70,000 repetitions of ‘la ilaha illalah’ (Tahleel) and sending the rewards and blessings upon a dead person he approved it, he says;
"It is not a Sahih or even weak hadeeth. However, if one utters Tahleel and then gifts its reward to the deceased then that benefit will reach the deceased. Wallahu A’lam" [Majmoo Al Fatawa, Vol. 24, pg. 324]
Among other sufi practices that Ibn Taymiyyah approved of was going into seclusion or isolation in order to draw nearness to Allah (SWT), today this is represented throughout the world in khanqah’s or khalwa’s (spiritual retreats). Ibn Al Qayyim mentions;
“Ibn Taymiyyah, would leave everyone at times and spend time alone in the desert.” [Al-Mustadrak alal Fatawa, Vol.1, pg. 155]
Ibn Abd Al Hadi also mentions the same with more;
"Ibn Taymiyyah would also go to deserted mosques alone to ask Allah (Swt) for inspiration when certain matters were unclear to him" (Al-Uqud Ad-Durriyyah, pg. 42)
Ibn Taymiyyah also accepted that certain ‘extra-natural’ events can occur at the hands of saintly and pious people through the help of Allah (SWT). The word in Arabic is Khawariq which are ‘outside normal events’ and I have chosen the position of Mufti Afzal Hussain Elias which is to translate it as ‘extra natural’ as opposed to ‘supernatural’ to avoid the modern connotations of that word. Ibn Taymiyyah says;
"There are certain extra-natural events which are related to knowledge, such as Kashf (divine unveilings explained further on). Others are related to power and kingdom such as enacting acts which are extra-natural. Others are related to self sufficiency in apparent gifts people are given, such as knowledge, authority, wealth and independence. All these that Allah (SWT) grants His slave is in order for him to use it as an aid upon what Allah (SWT) loves and is pleased with, and to draw closer to Him. Through it He raises his rank and status through the commands of Allah (SWT) and His messenger (SAW). In that way his rank and closeness to Allah (SWT) and His messenger (SAW) increase." [Majmoo Al Fatawa, Vol. 11, pg. 299]
From this we find that he accepted that extra-natural events are proven for saints, there are several types of these events, people can receive certain knowledges through divine inspiration, certain individuals can become self sufficient from things people are normally dependant upon and finally that all these things bring a servant closer to Allah (SWT) and His messenger (SAW).
Ibn Taymiyyah then further explains the different kinds of Kashf which is a divine inspiration or unveiling that Allah (SWT) bestows upon certain saintly and pious people, these are in relation to a few matters that are generally of the unseen. It is not the same as a revelation but rather an inspiring upon a person in different ways, i’ll let Ibn Taymiyyah explain it in his own words;
"Sometimes he is shown the exact object when Kashf of it is made. Sometimes he sees an image of it in his heart which acts as a mirror for him. The heart sees as well. This can occur while awake or asleep, such as when a man sees in his dream and then sees the exact thing when he awakens without any change to it." [Majmoo Al Fatawa, Vol. 11, pg. 638]
In other places he states the following regarding Kashf;
"As for the special ones amongst people, they know the punishments of nations through the Kashf Allah (SWT) gives them." [Majmoo Al Fatawa, Vol.11, pg. 69]
"These are true matters which Umar Ibn Al Khattab (RA) told us about which occur to obedient ones. These are the matters which the Most Honourable and Majestic makes Kashf of Allah’s friends have Mukhatabat and Kashf. [Majmoo Al Fatawa, Vol. 11, pg. 205]
Mukhatabat means that Allah (SWT) sometimes addresses His friends, and sometimes the saint addresses Allah (SWT). Sometimes the saint addresses unseen beings like Jinn, angels and souls. They sometimes also converse with him. These things can occur both in sleep and wakefulness. Ibn Taymiyyah also writes much more on the topic of Kashf which can be read in his Majmoo Fatawa. What is worth looking at now is Ibn Al Qayyim’s testimony that Ibn Taymiyyah himself experienced Kashf and Karamat (miracles), he says;
"I have seen some of the Farasah (spiritual visions) of Ibn Taymiyyah which made me wonder, while that which I havent seen is even greater! Ibn Taymiyyah informed his companions that the Tatars would enter the Levant (Sham) in the year 699 AH, and that they would defeat the Islamic armies, and that no killing or enslavement would occur in Damascus; he said all this before the Tatar armies even moved! He also informed the people and the princes in the year 702 AH, when the Tatar army was headed for Damascus, that the Tatar army will be defeated, and victory will be for the Muslims, he swore by Allah 70 times that this would happen, people around him told him to say ‘insha’Allah’, and he would say Allah will make this happen certainly, so when they criticized him for that, he said: ‘Allah has written in the Lawh Al-Mahfuth (Preserved Tablet) that they will be defeated and that victory is for the Muslims!" [Madarij As-Salikin, Vol. 2, pg. 510]
Ibn Al Qayyim also mentions in the same book that his Sheikh, Ibn Taymiyyah, informed him many times of secret and personal matters which he had never told anyone about. He also mentions that Ibn Taymiyyah foretold events occuring in the future, which some of them Ibn Qayyim witnessed himself!
Ibn Abd Al Hadi states the same;
"Ibn Taymiyyah had many Karamat and he was one of those who received futoohat (Divine inspirations)" [Al Uqud Ad-Duriyyah]
I can mention many more but i’ll lastly give the saying of Ibn Al Bazzar, he mentions in “Al-Alam Al-Aliyah” that once him and another murid of Ibn Taymiyyah had a list of questions to ask their Shaykh, they sat with him and before they even opened their mouth to ask, Ibn Taymiyyah answered all of the questions they had, one by one, without them even asking, which amazed them.
Some even claim Ibn Taymiyyah prohibited gatherings of dhikr which is strange since we see such things from among his edicts as;
“He was asked regarding a man that rejects the people of Dhikr, who says: ‘This Dhikr is Bid’ah, and raising your voice is Bid’ah, and their starting reciting of the Qur’an and finishing thereafter making Du’a for the Muslim for the living and the dead, and would collectively recite the Tasbeeh, Tahmeed, Tahleel, Takbeer and Hawqalah, and then sending blessing upon Nabi (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi WaSallam)’ – the person who rejects he would listen, he would slap his back wrist repeatedly to disturb them.”
Ibn Taymiyyah replied;
“The ijtima’ (gathering) for the Dhikr of Allah, and istima’ (listening) to His Kitaab and Du’aa is a GOOD PRACTICE. And it is AMONGST THE BEST FORMS OF WORSHIP in the Times. And in the Saheeh from Nabi (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi WaSallam). Said: (Quoting the hadith where the Mala’ikah look over Earth for People praising Allah) and the hadith goes on to mention in it: (Mala’ikah saying: we found them Glorfying Thee, and praising Thee)”…. [Majmoo Al Fatawa, Fiqh, Chapter of Salah: Ruling of reciting Quran, Dhikr and Dua in congregation]
Much can also be mentioned of Ibn Al Qayyim as a sufi, his student Ibn Rajab says of him;
“He was proficient in Arabic and the knowledge of hadith, lineage and history; he was a perfectimam in tafsir and in delivering orations. He was of excellent conduct and mode in Tasawwuf. He was a practitioner of Tasawwuf and would remain in the company of the Sufis.” [Al Dhayl ‘ala Tabaqat al-Hanabilah, Vol. 1, pg. 50]
Ibn al-Qayyim also wrote in his poem al-Nuniyya: “The Ahl Al Hadith (people of hadith), all of them, and the Imams of Fatwa (Mufti’s) are Sufis.”
There is much more evidence that can be extracted from the works of Ibn Taymiyyah, his student Ibn Al Qayyim and also his student Ibn Rajab Al Hanbali as well as their spiritual students Ibn Al Bazzar and Ibn Abd Al Hadi in evidence that they were sufis in the true sense but for the sake of brevity I will stop here and if Allah (SWT) gives me the opportunity I will compile more. All of the above was a compilation of excerpts from my first draft of a book I am in the process of writing, I would appreciate it if anybody had any advice or suggestions for improvement on it. Please pray that Allah (SWT) helps me in it so that it can benefit people.