Exploring Ibn Taymiyyah in the Tradition of Tasawwuf

The only objective of Tasawwuf is to attain Ihsan, Tazkiyah, while the different exercises and tedious devotions which the Sufis designed are for overcoming the sicknesses of the heart which are similar to various sicknesses and diseases of the physical body which physicians and traditional healers seek to cure by prescribing new medications. So the actions of heart assume the foremost importance in Tasawwuf apart from the external rituals enjoined by theology.

In Madarij al-Salikin, a book on Tasawwuf, Ibn Qayyim writes:

“Servitude of a human is divided into branches: the heart, the tongue, and the other limbs. The essentials of the heart are: sincerity, reliance on Allah, love, patience, fear and hope, true and strong belief, and purity of intention…It is the consensus of the community (in general) that these actions of the heart are obligatory.”

After this, he mentions the actions of the heart upon which the scholars disagree:

Contentment (as opposed to patience which is obligatory) upon a tribulation is disagreed upon as to whether it is obligatory (and in this respect there are two opinions: the opinion of the jurists and the opinion of the Sufis)… and another thing upon which they disagree is concentration (khushu‘) in salah. (Their disagreement is composed of two opinions on whether the salah will be repeated if one is overcome by satanic whispers (waswasah] in salah).

He also talks about the two types of prohibitions: disbelief and sin:

“The example of disbelief is: doubtfulness, hypocrisy, paganism, etc.

Sins are of two types: major and minor. Major: ostentation, vanity, arrogance, haughtiness, despair in the mercy of Allah, to be fearless of the punishment of Allah, to gain pleasure from seeing other Muslims in anguish, to express one’s satisfaction at seeing a Muslim in turmoil, to desire for the spread of promiscuity amongst Muslims, to be jealous of Muslims, and other sins which are more heinous than observable major sins like fornicating and drinking alcohol. Without repentance to Allah, the heart cannot be purified of such spiritual evils. If one does not repent, the heart will be severely corrupted, and when the heart is corrupted, the whole body in turn will be corrupted. Purification of the heart precedes purification of the body, and if the heart is not purified it will be deprived of everything that is in a purified heart.”

 Ibn Qayyim speaks at length on this subject. We should know that the spiritual masters of Tasawwuf put their students through spiritual exertions to help them attain this purification of heart. And that is what Ibn Qayyim tells us which clearly points to his teacher’s (Ibn Taymiyyah’s) being himself a great spiritual master.

Most of the people generally think of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah to be only an orthodox theologian, a hardcore debater, a staunch traditionalist, a dry jurist. Yet again some people today propagate the myth that Ibn Taymiyyah was harshly against Tasawwuf. But the fact is that he was against innovations and un-Islamic practices which had been spread in the name of Tasawwuf. Ibn Taymiya wrote about Tasawwuf in many places and viewed it positively. He teaches it, for example in his major work Majmu‘ al-Fatawa.  He writes exclusively on the actions of the heart in his booklet, al-Tuhfah al-‘Iraqiyyah fi al-A‘mal al-Qalbiyyah. He says:

“These few words elucidate the actions of the heart which are called tempora; spiritual states and perpetua; spiritual states. They are the pillars and foundation of Din, such as: love for Allah and his Blessed Prophet, dependence on Allah (tawakkul), sincerity, gratitude (shukr), patience (sabr), fear of Allah (kahwf), hope in Allah (raja’) etc.”

Ibn Taymiyyah’s disciple Ibn Qayyim introduces him as a sufi, zahid and arif who had been initiated in Tasawwuf and knew the delicacies of this esoteric aspect of Islam more than any common Sufi. In al-Wabil al-Sayyib min al-Kalam al-Tayyib, he states the conditions for being a spiritual mentor (shaykh). One of them is that if a person wants to make bay‘ah with a mentor, he should first investigate whether the person is amongst the people who live in the remembrance of Allah and is not amongst the heedless ones. He should be strict on the Sunnah…. If such a spiritual mentor is met, he should hold onto him tightly. He then narrates the habit of Ibn Taymiyyah in these words:

 “Once I went to my mentor; he sat after praying Fajr salah, doing the dhikr of Allah until midday. He said to me, ‘this dhikr is my breakfast in the morning. If I do not eat this food I will become weak; and I only avoid dhikr to give myself breath for dhikr at another time.”

Historical sources tell us that while on one hand Ibn Taymiyyah was very harsh towards innovations and un-Islamic practices that had crept into the Islamic system through the deviant Sufis, he was no less an arif, as Abul Hasan Nadwi opines, himself.  He descended from the elders who had been great scholars and zuhhad.

Ibn Taymiyyah’s writings hint at the fact that his dynasty had spiritual relations with Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir Jilani. He writes in the Minhaj al-Sunnah that he had heard Muhyi al-Din Nuhas say: ‘I saw Hadrat Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir Jilani in dream’. He was saying: ‘whoever comes to us, we meet him’.

 Professor George Maqdisi in, The American Journal of Arabic Studies, has written that Ibn Taymiyyah belonged to the Qadri order of Tasawwuf. To substantiate his claim Professor George gives two historical evidences: Ibn Taymiyyah’s teachers belonged to the Qadri order. Of them the foremost is Mufiq al-Din Ibn Quddamah who was the disciple of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir Jilani and had studied in the Madrasah Qadriyah, Baghdad, and he pays high respect to Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir Jilani in his writings and mentions him in highly decent words as does he mention Imam Ahmad in the same words. At most of the places he pays tributes to Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir Jilani and has written a voluminous commentary of the Shaykh’s book Futuh al-Ghayb which is now included in his (Ibn Taymiyyah’s) encyclopedic Majmu‘al-Fatawa where he presents the Shaykh as the true embodiment of the Sunnah.

Ibn Taymiyyah and his Bay‘ah

In the Minhaj al-Sunnah, Ibn Taymiyyah gives detailed accounts of the Sufi masters’ spiritual genealogies. Then he gives the sanad (spiritual chain) of his own bay‘ah and says: ‘I have mentioned my own sanad so that truth and falsehood get differentiated; I have many sanads in Tasawwuf’.

His silsilah (genealogy) in the Qadiri tariqah, along with his students is as follows:

1. Abdul Qadir al Jilani (d.561AH) — Abu Umar Quddamah (d.607AH) — Muwaffaq al-Din bin Quddamah (d.620 AH), both he and his father learnt from Abdul Qadir al Jilani directly, — Ibn Taymiya (d.728 AH) — bn Qayyim al Jawziyya (d.751AH) — Ibn Rajab al Hanbali (d.795 AH).

Ibn Taymiya himself said “I wore the blessed Sufi clock (Khirqa, meaning he became a shaykh in the Tariqa) of Abdul Qadir, there being between him and me two.” And “I have worn the Sufi clock (Khirqah al-Tasawwuf) of a number of shayks belonging to various tariqahs, among them Shaykh Qadir al Jili, whose tariqa is the greatest of the well-known ones”…further on he says “The greatest tariqah (ajall al-turuq) is that of my master Sayyid Abdul Qadir al Jilli, may Allah have mercy upon him.”

Author teaches at Central University, Kashmir