Bismillahi Al-Rahmani Al-Rahim

Al-Harawi al-Ansari


by GF Haddad - Rabi` al-Awwal 1424

`Abd Allâh ibn Muhammad ibn `Alî Abû Ismâ`îl al-Harawî al-Ansârî al-Hanbalî (396-481), a major Sûfî shaykh, hadîth Master, Qur'ânic commentator, and philologist of the Hanbalî school eulogized by al-Dhahabî as "a genuine advocate of the transmitted sources" (atharî quhh). He used to distribute his wealth once a year to students and townspeople and was fearless in speaking the truth to princes He is one of those known as "Shaykh al-Islâm" but Ibn al-Subkî said: "He does not deserve that title but was given out of fanaticism, in imitation of Abû `Uthmân [al-Sâbûnî]."1

A fanatical censor of innovations, he was an arch-enemy of Ash`arîs in his time, against whom he wrote Dhamm al-Kalâm ("The Blame of Dialectic Theology"), admired by al-Dhahabî but banned by Ibn Hajar - who forbade his students to read it - as a model of bad writing.2 Because of this enmity he was expelled from Balkh repeatedly and jailed together with his students Asked before Nizâm al-Mulk's court why he cursed Abû al-Hasan al-Ash`arî, he replied:

<<I do not know Abû al-Hasan, but I curse whoever does not firmly hold that Allâh is in the heaven, or that the Qur'ân is in the mushaf, and says that the Prophet - Allah bless and greet him - today is no longer a prophet!>>

To hold that Allâh is located in, above, or below the heaven is anthropomorphism; to hold that the mushaf is pre-eternal is indwelling (hulûl); finally, al-Ash`arî and his School never held that the Prophet - Allah bless and greet him - today is no longer a prophet but the reverse.3

Another work al-Harawî compiled in refutation of Ash`arîs is al-Fârûq fîl-Sifât - also known as al-Fârûq fîl-Farq bayn al-Muthbita wal-Mu`attila - in which he states: "Allâh is in the seventh heaven (fî al-samâ' al-sâbi`a) over the Throne (`alâ al-`arsh) Himself (bi nafsihi)" and "in (fî) as well as over (`alâ) the seventh heaven."4

A third work compiled against Ash`arîs, al-Arba`în fîl-Tawhîd is replete, like the Fârûq, with blatant anthropomorphism and hadîth forgeries Perhaps the most extreme illustration of anthropomorphism ever authored by a purportedly Sunni authority, it contains about forty chapters, among them: "Exposition on the Fact that Allâh Most High is Something (shay')"; "Exposition of the Fact that Allâh Most High is a Person (shakhs)"; "Affirmation of the Fact that Allâh Most High has a Limit (hadd)"; "Affirmation of the Fact that Allâh Most High has Sides or Directions (jihât)"; "Affirmation of the Fact that Allâh Most High has an Image (sûra)"; "Affirmation of His Handwriting (khatt)"; "Affirmation of the Fact that Allâh Most High has Fingers (asâbi`)"; and - in conclusion - "The Prohibition of Delving Too Deep into the Divine Attributes"!5

Upon the encouragement of a female relative, Bîbî Nâzânîn, al-Harawî al-Ansârî met then became the student of the unlettered Naqshbandî Shaykh, Khwâjâ Abû al-Hasan al-Kharqânî (d 425).6

He authored several treatises detailing the principles and methods of the Sûfî path Among them:

o Manâzil al-Sâ'irîn ilâ al-Haqq al-Mubîn, frowned upon by Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Dhahabî, Ibn Rajab, and characterized by their teacher Ibn Taymiyya as "falling into the doctrine of incarnationism (hulûl)"7 and "ending up in literal merging with the Divine (haqîqat al-ittihâd),"8 of which Ibn al-Qayyim wrote an expurged version -cum-critical commentary entitled Madârij al-Sâlikîn.

o Tabaqât al-Sûfiyya ("Synchronical Layers of the Sûfî Masters"), the expanded version of an earlier work by the - Ash`arî - Shaykh Abû `Abd al-Rahmân al-Sulamî (d 411) bearing the same title.

o `Ilal al-Maqâmât ("The Pitfalls of Spiritual Stations"), his testament, describing the characteristics of spiritual states for the student and the teacher in the Sûfî path; Ibn Taymiyya in his Minhâj al-Sunna again said that al-Harawî filled it with notions of indwelling and union-with-the-Divine.9

o Sâd Maydân (in Persian, "The Hundred Fields"), a commentary on the meanings of love in the verse: {If you love Allâh, follow me, and Allâh will love you} (3:31). This book collects al-Harawî's lectures in the years 447-448 at the Great Mosque of Herat (in present-day Afghanistan) in which he presents his most eloquent exposition of the necessity of following the Sûfî path. He is also said to have devoted three hundred and sixty sittings to the commentary of the verse {Lo! those unto whom kindness has gone forth before from Us, they will be far removed from thence [Hellfire]} (21:101).

o Kashf al-Asrâr wa `Uddat al-Abrâr (in Persian, "The Unveiling of the Secrets and the Harness of the Righteous"), in ten volumes by al-Maybûdî, it contains al-Harawî's Qur'ânic commentary.

Al-Harawî al-Ansârî is documented by al-Dhahabî in his Târîkh al-Islâm and Siyar A`lâm al-Nubalâ', Ibn Rajab in his Dhayl Tabaqât al-Hanâbila,10 and Jâmî in his book in Persian Manâqib-i Shaykh al-Islâm Ansârî11 among others.

Main source: Siyar 14:38-48 §4333.


1Ibn al-Subkî, Tabaqât al-Shâfi`iyya al-Kubrâ (4:272-273).

2As mentioned by Ibn Hajar's student al-Sakhâwî in the introduction to al-Jawâhir wal-Durar.

3See on these notions Shaykh Nuh Keller's article, "Is It Permissible for a Muslim to Believe that Allâh Is in the Sky in a Literal Sense?" at and Ibn `Abd al-Salâm's al-Mulha in general, especially the section entitled "Proofs Against Those Who Claim the mushaf is Pre-Eternal". On the attribution to Ash`arîs of the heretical notion that "the Prophet - upon him peace - today is no longer a prophet," see our notice on Ibn Fûrâk at

4As quoted by al-Dhahabî in Mukhtasar al-`Uluw (p. 278 §339 and p. 151 §150).

5More alarming yet is the characterization of the above as "Salafî doctrine" (al-`aqîda al-salafiyya) by al-Harawî's admirer `Abd Allâh ibn Muhammad al-Ansârî in his recent 5-volume edition of Dhamm al-Kalâm (1:83, 1:86).

6The Naqshbandî chain of masters at the time of al-Kharqânî is as follows: Abû Yazîd al-Bistâmî > Abû al-Hasan al-Kharqânî > Abû `Alî al-Farmadî (al-Ghazzâlî's teacher) > Abû Yûsuf al-Hamadânî > Abû al-`Abbâs al-Khidr > `Abd al-Khâliq al-Ghujdawânî.

7In his Majmû` al-Fatâwâ (5:126, 5:230, 14:11, cf. 5:485, 8:317).

8In his Minhâj al-Sunna (1986 ed 5:342).

9As quoted in al-Ghumârî's al-Burhân (p. 52).

10Ibn Rajab, Dhayl Tabaqât al-Hanâbila (1:64-85).

11Edited by A.J. Arberry, "Jami's Biography of Ansârî" in The Islamic Quarterly (July-December 1963) p. 57-82.

Hajj Gibril