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Ibn Taymiyya

On "Futooh Al-Ghayb" and Sufism

by Sh. G. F. Haddad

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"Ibn Taymiyya considered the sufi path a salutary effort and even essential within the life of the Islamic community."

The external evidence of Ibn Taymiyya's affiliation with the Qadiri tariqat by a chain through three shaykhs named Ibn Qudama has been given by Ibn Taymiyya's disciple, Ibn Abd al-Hadi. Further internal evidence of Ibn Taymiyya's sufi inclination can be seen in his hundred-page commentary on Gilani, covering only five of the 78 sermons of "Futooh al-Ghayb", but showing that he considered the sufi path a salutary effort and even essential within the life of the Islamic community.

The commentary is found in volume 10:455-548 of the first Riyadh edition of the "Majmooʿ fatawi Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya".

It can be seen from this commentary that Ibn Taymiyya calls Abd al-Qadir "shaykhuna", "our shaykh," a title which he never gives anyone else in his entire works, just as he never gives the title "imamuna", "our imam", to other than Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

In his commentary on the "Futooh" Ibn Taymiyya stresses that the primacy of the shariʿa forms the soundest tradition in sufism, and to argue this point he lists over a dozen early masters, as well as more contemporary shaykhs like his fellow Hanbalis, al-Ansari al-Harawi and Abd al-Qadir, and the latter's own shaykh, Hammad al-Dabbas:

The upright among the followers of the Path - like the majority of the early shaykhs (shuyukh al-salaf) such as Fudayl ibn ʿIyad, Ibrahim ibn Adham, Maʿruf al-Karkhi, al-Sari al-Saqai, al-Junayd ibn Muhammad and others of the early teachers, as well as Shaykh Abd al-Qadir [Gilani], Shaykh Hammad, Shaykh Abul Bayan and others of the later masters - do not permit the followers of the Path to depart from the divinely legislated command and prohibition, even were that person to have flown in the air or walked on water. p516

In his treatise on the difference between the lawful forms of worship and the innovative forms, entitled "Risalat al-ʿibadaat al-sharʿiyya wal-farq baynaha wa bayn al-bidʿiyya" (in "Majmooʿat al-rasa'il wal- masa'il", Beirut, Lajnat al-turath al-ʿarabi 5:83), Ibn Taymiyya unmistakably states that the lawful is the method and way of "those who follow the path" (al-salikeen) or "the way of self-denial" (zuhd) and those who follow "what is called poverty and Sufism", i.e. the fuqara and the sufis:

The lawful is that by which one approaches near to Allah. It is the way of Allah. It is righteousness, obedience, good deeds, charity, and fairness. It is the way of those on the path (al- salikeen), and the method of those intending Allah and worshipping Him; it is that which is travelled by everyone who desires Allah and follows the way of self-denial (zuhd) and religious practice, and what is called poverty and Sufism and the like.

Regarding Abd al-Qadir's teaching that the salik should abstain from permitted desires, Ibn Taymiyya begins by determining that Abd al- Qadir's intention is that one should give up those permitted things which are not commanded, for there may be a danger in them. But to what extent? If Islam is essentially learning and carrying out the Divine command, then there must be a way for the striver on the path to determine the will of Allah in each particular situation. Ibn Taymiyya concedes that the Qur'an and Sunna cannot possibly cover every possible specific event in the life of every believer. Yet if the goal of union of will and desire with Allah is to be accomplished by those seeking Him, there must be a way for the striver to ascertain the Divine command in its particularity.

Ibn Taymiyya's answer is to apply the legal concept of ijtihad to the spiritual path, specifically to the notion of ilham or inspiration. In his efforts to achieve a union of his will with Allah's, the true Sufi reaches a state where he desires nothing more than to discover the greater good, the action which is most pleasing and loveable to Allah. When external sharʿi arguments cannot direct him in such matters, he can rely on the standard Sufi notions of private inspiration (ilham) and intuitive perception (dhawq):

If the salik has creatively employed his efforts to the external sharʿi indications and sees no clear probability concerning his preferable action, he may then feel inspired - along with his goodness of intention and reverent fear of Allah - to choose one of two actions as superior to the other. This kind of inspiration (ilham) is an indication concerning the truth. It may be even a stronger indication than weak analogies, weak hadiths, weak literal arguments (zawahir), and weak istisHaab which are employed by many who delve into the principles, differences, and systematizing of fiqh. p.473.

Ibn Taymiyya bases this view on the principle that Allah has put a natural disposition for the truth in mankind (p. 474), and when this natural disposition has been grounded in the reality of faith and enlightened by Qur'anic teaching, and still the striver on the path is unable to determine the precise will of Allah in specific instances, then his heart will show him the preferable course of action. Such an inspiration, he holds, is one of the strongest authorities possible in the situation.

Certainly the striver will sometimes err, falsely guided by his inspiration or intuitive perception of the situation, just as the mujtahid sometimes errs. But, he says, even when the mujtahid or the inspired striver is in error, he is obedient.

Appealing to ilham and dhawq does not mean following one's own whims or personal preferences (p. 479). In his letter to Nasr al-Manbiji ("Majmuʿat al-rasa'il wal-masa'il" 1:162), he qualifies this intuition as "faith-informed" (al-dhawq al-imaani). His point is, as in the commentary to the "Futooh", that inspirational experience is by nature ambiguous and needs to be qualified and informed by the criteria of the Qur'an and the Sunna. Nor can it lead to a certainty of the truth in his view, but what it can do is give the believer firm grounds for choosing the more probable correct course of action in a given instance and help him to conform his will, in the specific details of his life, to that of his Creator and Commander.

Other works of his as well abound in praise for Sufi teachings. For example, in his book "al-ihtijaaj bi al-qadar" (Cairo: al-matbaʿa al- salafiyya, 1394/1974 p. 38), he defends the Sufis' emphasis on love of Allah and their voluntarist rather than intellectual approach to religion as being in agreement with the teachings of the Qur'an, the sound hadith, and the imjaʿ al-salaf:

As for the Sufis, they affirm the love (of Allah), and this is more evident among them than all other issues. The basis of their Way (tariqa) is simply will and love. The affirmation of the love of Allah is well-known in the speech of their early and recent masters, just as it is affirmed in the Book and the Sunna and in the agreement of the salaf.

Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions.
G Fouad Haddad ©
20 Mar 1996



Related texts
link-in What is Sufism
link-in Tasawwuf

Other pages on Ibn Taymiyya:
link-in Ibn Taymiyya
link-in Ibn Jahbal on Ibn Taymiyya
link-in Ibn Taymiyya/Shah Wali Allah/Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr
link-in Missed Prayers & Ibn Taymiyyah
link-in Ibn Taymiyah within the Hanbali madhab
link-in Imām Ahmad's ʿAqīda and Pseudo-H. anbal ʿAqīda
link-in Debate with Ibn Taymiyya: ON TASAWWUF Ibn Ata Allah al-Iskandari


* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *