Misquoting Ibn Taymiyyah

This is in response to Dr. Nazir Ahmad Zargar’s Write-Up, “Re-reading Ibn Arabi” (GK, dated April 18, 2019). As a student of Islamic Studies, I have certain reservations with the write-up, which I put forth in the below paragraphs.

Taqi al- Din Abu al-Abbas was born in Harran in Syria in 661/ 1263, and from 667/ 1269, he lived in Damascus, having fled Harran due to the Mongol invasion. He spent a total of over six years of his life in prison as the result of his campaign against the teachings, which stood against Sunni weltanschauung, particularly the Sufis. Ibn Taymiyyah asserted speculative mysticism propounded by figures like Ibn Sab‘in, Sadr al-din Qunawi, Tilmisani and above all Ibn Arabi in a good member of treatise as the most dangerous than Tatar invasion, and of all the treats which lay in the heart of Islam. He criticized the logical foundations of speculative mysticism and categorically rejected the doctrine of whadat al-wujud, its logical underpinnings, and its relation to Platonic philosophy. However, it was pantheistic mysticism which Ibn Taymiyyah opposed, for he himself was the traditional, non-Ittihadi Sufi (Wael B. Hallaq, 1993).

In his piece, Dr. Zargar tinted varied opinions of scholars about Ibn Arabi: “Some declared him as Kafir (disbeliever) on the basis of the so many heretical utterances in his writings which, they urge, are clearly against the Shari’ah”. He only mentions four scholars who declared him Kafir and likewise. The author then presented a queue of scholars, who praised Ibn Arabi, is either because of bias or unfamiliarity of Ibn Arabi critiques. In fact, there are hundreds of prominent and classical scholars (belonging to different school of thought), who declared Ibn Arabi as Kafir, Mulhid, Zandeeq and likewise. For instance, Imam Azz bin Abdus Salam as-Shafi (d. 660 A.H.) termed Ibn Arabi as ‘Shaykh of evil (s’uu) and lair’. Sharif Uddin Zayi al-Malki (d. 743 A.H.) said: ‘what has been written in the Fassus of ibn Arabi is chatter/ irrational talk and based on kufr and fable’. Similarly, another scholar, Sharif-ud-Din al-Mukri as-Shafi (d. 837 A.H.) said: “one who doubts regarding the disbelief of Jews and Christians and the group of Ibn Arabi, he himself is a disbeliever”. Al-Mukri’s argument is furthered by Allahuddin Bukhari al-Hanafi (d. 841 A.H.), who is reported to have said: “He (Ibn Arabi) is zindaaq (disbeliever).’

Dagish al-Ajami, in his book on Ibn Arabi, has given a long catalog of numerous scholars who highly criticized Ibn Arabi and termed him as Kafir, Imam ul-Mulhideen, Zindeeq and likewise. Dr. Zargar postulates the contradictory arguments, he writes: “At the very outset let’s admit that there are many things in the books of Ibn Arabi that seems clearly against the Qur’an and the Sunnah…. books does not remain a Muslim”. This designates that the author himself believes that Ibn Arabi sometimes goes against the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The author further considers (pretends to be like a Mufti, which he is not) those who believe on these things are not Muslims. Ironically, he believes that the one who writes against the Qur’an and the Sunnah is Muslim and one who trusts on these things is not Muslim. Surely, a flagrant contradiction ensues from this assertion.  On second occasion he writes: “the author as a humble student (which he is not) …against the belief of ahl al-Suunah wa al-jama’ah”. Here the author professes himself as a scholar, which he is not—because students of knowledge knows that Futuhat is quite different from rest of his writings—and he specifies Ibn Arabi writings to Futuhat.

Dr. Zargar has a long history of misquoting the scholars particularly Ibn Taymiyyah. Here as usual continued the legacy and misquotes Ibn Taymiyyah by writing half text only that is indeed very cheap act. “Ibn Arabi is nearest to Islam amongst them …commands and prohibitions and the laws”. The question arises amongst whom Ibn Arabi is nearest to Islam and why half text only?  The full text/ passage reads as:  “The second rule: The existence of creation appearances is the real existence of creator and besides him nothing exists; this is what he innovated and goes lonely with opposite to all scholars (Mashayikh), and this is the sayings of other Ittihadiyah. But, amongst them Ibn Arabi is nearest to Islam, and better in his saying because he, in many occasions, makes a distinction between manifestation and exteriority (differs between apparent and being) and pays due regard to the commands and prohibitions and the Shariah. Many Sufi’s in the way of Suluq enhance his sayings regarding morality, worship. And that is why most devotees took his teaching and got benefited. Despite, they didn’t understand his realities. Whoever among them understands his realities/ beliefs and agreed with him, discloses his stand.”

In a video clip on Facebook uploaded by Anjuman Ahle Sunnat Waljama’at titled Shaykh ibn Arabi aur Whadat ul Wujud, the author as usual continued his legacy of misquoting Ibn Taymiyyah. His open and unqualified statement(s) are: “Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah didn’t use any critical language against Ibn Arabi; instead he called him Muttabi’al-Sunnah (follower of the Sunnah)”. Here Dr. Zargar openly lies against Ibn Taymiyyah, that too in Masjid. Then in the piece also his intellectual dishonesty is apparent by writing procedural fuss like “It is interesting to note that while Ibn Taymiyyah is very harsh against the followers of Ibn Arabi like Ibn Sab‘in, Sadr al-din Konya, Tilmisani and Billiyani, but at the same time he seems moderate while evaluating Ibn Arabi”. These are ostensible misrepresentations which have no pedigrees in Ibn Taymiyyah’s writings, to deconstruct the allegations let’s quote Ibn Taymiyyah directly. “Certainly, I was among the people who had good intention with regards to Ibn Arabi, and I praised him, what I found beneficial in his books like in Al-Futuhaat, al-Kinnah, al-Muhkam, al-Marboot, al-Durrah al-Fakhirah, al-Matali al-Nujoom and likewise other writings, we were not aware of his real ideology and  didn’t study yet his al-Fussus and other alike texts,  then we gathered with our brothers for the sake of Allah and went to search the truth in order to follow that and display the reality of the path, when the matter opened before us it was obligatory to explain his deviancy” (Majmo al-Rasil, vol.1, p. 179). He further writes in Al-Furqaan (vol.1, p103): “certainly Ibn Arabi and his alike claimed that they are Sufi’s, actually they are among the Sufi apostate/ heretic (Mulhid) philosophers and not among the knowledgeable Sufis”. The phrase ‘Ibn Arabi and his alike’ is explained in Majmu al-Fatawa; he mentions Ibn Arabi, Ibn Sab‘in, Ibn Farz, Tilmisani, they all are Ittihadiyah. Ibn Taymiyyah identified them as apostate/ heretics (Mulhid za’la). He further stated that they should be called towards repentance, if they won’t, then they must be decapitated or killed (Majmu al-Fatawa, vol.2, p 390). Now, it is evident like Ajhar’uminas Sha’ms (appearance of Sun) that Ibn Taymiyyah evaluates Ibn Arabi and his followers alike.

In sum, he shakes the foundations of mystical pantheism and held the philosophers and the Jahmis—stripping God of all attributes—responsible for the pantheistic heresies of Ibn Sab‘in, Qunawi, Tilmisani, and above all Ibn Arabi and their followers.

(Owais Manzoor Dar is pursuing PhD in Islamic Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)