Exploring Ibn Taymiyyah in the Tradition of Tasawwuf

He was against innovations and un-Islamic practices which had been spread in the name of Tasawwuf
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 designedare for overcoming the sicknesses of the heart which are similar to varioussicknesses and diseases of the physical body which physicians and traditionalhealers seek to cure by prescribing new medications. So the actions of heartassume the foremost importance in Tasawwuf apart from the external ritualsenjoined by theology.

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

"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, andpurity of intention…It is the consensus of the community (in general) thatthese actions of the heart are obligatory."

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

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

He also talks about the two types of prohibitions: disbeliefand 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 fearlessof the punishment of Allah, to gain pleasure from seeing other Muslims inanguish, to express one's satisfaction at seeing a Muslim in turmoil, to desirefor the spread of promiscuity amongst Muslims, to be jealous of Muslims, andother sins which are more heinous than observable major sins like fornicatingand drinking alcohol. Without repentance to Allah, the heart cannot be purifiedof such spiritual evils. If one does not repent, the heart will be severelycorrupted, and when the heart is corrupted, the whole body in turn will becorrupted. Purification of the heart precedes purification of the body, and ifthe heart is not purified it will be deprived of everything that is in apurified heart."

 Ibn Qayyim speaks atlength on this subject. We should know that the spiritual masters of Tasawwufput their students through spiritual exertions to help them attain thispurification of heart. And that is what Ibn Qayyim tells us which clearlypoints to his teacher's (Ibn Taymiyyah's) being himself a great spiritualmaster.

Most of the people generally think of Shaykh al-Islam IbnTaymiyyah to be only an orthodox theologian, a hardcore debater, a staunchtraditionalist, a dry jurist. Yet again some people today propagate the myththat Ibn Taymiyyah was harshly against Tasawwuf. But the fact is that he wasagainst innovations and un-Islamic practices which had been spread in the nameof 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 theheart in his booklet, al-Tuhfah al-'Iraqiyyah fi al-A'mal al-Qalbiyyah. Hesays:

"These few words elucidate the actions of the heart which arecalled tempora; spiritual states and perpetua; spiritual states. They are thepillars 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 asufi, zahid and arif who had been initiated in Tasawwuf and knew the delicaciesof this esoteric aspect of Islam more than any common Sufi. In al-Wabilal-Sayyib min al-Kalam al-Tayyib, he states the conditions for being aspiritual mentor (shaykh). One of them is that if a person wants to make bay'ahwith a mentor, he should first investigate whether the person is amongst thepeople who live in the remembrance of Allah and is not amongst the heedlessones. He should be strict on the Sunnah…. If such a spiritual mentor is met, heshould hold onto him tightly. He then narrates the habit of Ibn Taymiyyah inthese words:

 "Once I went to mymentor; 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 thisfood I will become weak; and I only avoid dhikr to give myself breath for dhikrat another time."

Historical sources tell us that while on one hand IbnTaymiyyah was very harsh towards innovations and un-Islamic practices that hadcrept into the Islamic system through the deviant Sufis, he was no less anarif, 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 dynastyhad spiritual relations with Shaykh 'Abd al-Qadir Jilani. He writes in theMinhaj 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 meethim'.

 Professor GeorgeMaqdisi in, The American Journal of Arabic Studies, has written that IbnTaymiyyah belonged to the Qadri order of Tasawwuf. To substantiate his claimProfessor George gives two historical evidences: Ibn Taymiyyah's teachersbelonged to the Qadri order. Of them the foremost is Mufiq al-Din Ibn Quddamahwho was the disciple of Shaykh 'Abd al-Qadir Jilani and had studied in theMadrasah Qadriyah, Baghdad, and he pays high respect to Shaykh 'Abd al-QadirJilani in his writings and mentions him in highly decent words as does hemention Imam Ahmad in the same words. At most of the places he pays tributes toShaykh 'Abd al-Qadir Jilani and has written a voluminous commentary of theShaykh'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 trueembodiment of the Sunnah.

Ibn Taymiyyah and his Bay'ah

In the Minhaj al-Sunnah, Ibn Taymiyyah gives detailedaccounts 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 sothat truth and falsehood get differentiated; I have many sanads in Tasawwuf'.

His silsilah (genealogy) in the Qadiri tariqah, along withhis 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 fatherlearnt from Abdul Qadir al Jilani directly, — Ibn Taymiya (d.728 AH) — bn Qayyimal 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 beingbetween 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 alJili, 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 alJilli, may Allah have mercy upon him."

Author teaches at Central University, Kashmir

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