By: Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi (RA)

Hafiz Ibn Taimiyah


Muslim World in the Seventh Century
Maulana Jalal-ud-din Rumi had sought to refute the excessive rationalism of the dialecticians which was permeated with the spirit of Greek Philosophy and excessive formalism. Rumi was, in fact, founder of a new school of scholasticism which was based on a greater sense of realism and profundity of thought than its earlier counterpart, dialectics, the dominant feature of which was employment of cold logical argumentation. Rumi's thought was grounded in the personal experiences of a sublimated soul, a purified heart and an illuminated self. He was not simply an erudite scholar of religion and a teacher of dialectics, but was also blessed with a keen intellect and an enlightened heart. He was disgusted by syllogism and vain disputation of the dialectics, when he was led by a God-moved soul, through prayer and penance and the grace of God, to the lofty heights of the certitude of knowledge. He soon realised that dialectics was more of an exercise in specious reasoning, an art of confounding one's adversary than propounding the truth. He, there­fore, adopted another method of expounding the mysteries of mute reality and metaphysical truths which reposed trust in the intuitive experience, intimate and personal, for that could be felt deeply in the core of one's heart.
But, something more was needed to combat the evil effects of philosophy and dialectics. Theological philosophy, too, delved into the secrets of imperceptible realities and freely discussed the nature and attributes of the Supreme Being. Islam had not left man groping in the gloom of uncertainty in so far as the postulates of faith are concerned; instead, it had expounded these matters in a much more lucid and easy manner intelligible to all and sundry. For every ethical theory shaping the behaviour of an individual or the culture of a society must be rooted in the philosophical conception of the relationship between man and Ultimate Reality; it had of necessity to be set forth by Islam quite clearly so that no further speculative effort was needed in that direction. The prophets alone, declared Islam, were the fount of knowledge in regard to the realities beyond the ken of human perception and the unverifiable, incomprehensible Ultimate Being; and, therefore, their teachings constituted the last word on a subject which could not be adequately comprehended by man's intellect. The philosophy had, for that reason, no right, no locus standi, to intrude in a matter of which it did not possess even rudimentary knowledge- the basic premises from which it could infer the logical conclusions drawn by it. But the questions which philosophy sought to discuss did not simply admit any analysis or speculation, nor were the philosophers capable of undertaking the task; but, curiously enough, philosophy considered it prudent to meddle with them, trying to explain and elucidate and even to bring in its verdict on them. The constant aim of its endeavour was to trace every question down to its source and discover the general principles underlying every metaphysical phenomenon as if it were an organic matter capable of being analysed in a laboratory.
Dialectics came into existence to answer the questions raised by philosophy. But, it soon absorbed the spirit of its adversary and itself turned into a theological philosophy, discussing those very questions, employing the same claim of reasoning and trying, like philosophy, to ascertain the nature and attributes of the Divine Being through the speculative categories of reasoning. In fine, dialectics, too, turned a deaf ear to the teaching;, of the prophets of God, and, placing reliance on limited human intellect, tried to explain the inexplicable in terms of Greek metaphysical terminology borrowed from philosophy. All this vain effort resulted in complication and concealment of the truth behind a veil of words and phrases although the nature and attributes of Divinity could have been explained in a simple, direct and intelligible manner to the satisfaction of all minds, and capable of enkindling everyone's heart. The task could have indeed been accomplished in the light of the Qur'an and the Sunnah, but the dialecticians preferred to compile voluminous treatises on philosophic interpretation of the simple tenets of faith which betrayed how far it was influenced by Greek thought even though it claimed to refute the latter. This was a development opposed to the spirit of the teachings of the Qur'an and the Tradition, and, accordingly, a sizable section of the Muslims never agreed with the views put forth by the dialecticians. Still, a savant of religious sciences with a penetrating intellect, extensive knowledge and firm conviction in the revealed truth was needed at that time for expounding the creed and its doctrines in a faithful yet convincing manner.
Islam was, at that time, confronted with several other internal and external dangers. A new evangelical movement was taking shape amongst the Christians which sought to censure Islam and set up Christianity as the only saving principle for humanity. The incessant attacks by the Crusaders on Palestine along with the presence of a large number of Christians of European origin in Syria and Cyprus had emboldened them to criticize the prophethood of Mohammad, to compose works on the truthfulness of Christianity and to invite the Muslims to debate and argumentation.
Another danger, rather more severe and hurtful to Islam was that posed by a so-called Muslim sect known as Batinites, It had a peculiar creed interwoven from the texture of Magian dogma, Platonic concepts and dangerous political ambitions, and its followers like Israelites, Assassins, Druzes and Nusayris were always too willing to help the enemies of the Muslims. Not unoften were foreign aggressions the result of conspiracies hatched by the Batinites, They hided with the crusaders when the latter attacked Syria and Palestine and were awarded with offices of dignity and confidence when the Christians established themselves in Syria. Throughout the reign of Zengl and Ayyubid dynasties the Batinites continued to conspire against the then Muslim sovereigns and, when the Tartar hordes invaded the Muslim lands, they joined hands with them to make common cause against Islam. Besides this, by posing themselves as a sect of the Muslims, they could easily sow the seeds of intel­lectual dissension and spread irreligiousness and apostasy among the simple-minded folk, in order, therefore, to warn the Muslims from being further duped by the Batinites and also to punish them for the abominable crimes already committed by them, it was necessary to expose their nefarious activities and blasphemous beliefs.
Apart from these, free intercourse with non-Muslims, certain external influences and the indolence of the then doctors of religion had all combined to introduce among Muslims certain impious ideas running counter to the concept of Unity and over-lordship of God Almighty Like the Jews and Christians, the Muslims had begun to glorify their saints and elevated souls as those nearer to God exercising some of the Divine functions. Acting on the pagan principle-We worship them only that they may bring us near unto Allah-even the educated saw no harm in supplicating to the departed souls and martyrs or resorted to practices worshipful in manners and gestures even though the Prophet of Islam had strictly forbidden his followers to indulge in such practices. The careless and unguarded believer often yielded to the temptation of participating in feasts and festivals of the non-Muslim zimmis and adopted their manners and customs which wore the appearance of harmless pleasure or innocent entertainment. The polytheistic beliefs and customs of the non-Muslims being closely interwoven with every circumstance of their private and public life, the untutored minds of the Muslim laity were artfully let to withdraw their adoration from the Creator to the abominable associates of divinity. In order to warn the Muslims against these impious ideas and practice which were destructive of the religious value of orthodox Islam, it was necessary to start a reformative movement which could maintain the purity of faith by uprooting irreligious, rituals and practices.
On the other side, certain indiscreet schools of mysticism in Islam had, for reasons intellectual as well as those pertaining to their development, absorbed neo-Platonic and Hindu doctrine of initiation in divine mysteries. These mystical-ascetic attitudes had been so mixed up with the Islamic beliefs and doctrines dial it had become difficult to distinguish one from the other. The popular thought of the Muslim mystics showed visible traces of neo-Platonic gnosticism and Hindu pantheism, incar­nation and union, cult of esoteric meanings and hidden realities and antinomian practices. Although some of the eminent leaders of mystic thought had vehemently protested against these doctrines, still, a large part of the sufis insisted on them and quite a few of them even resorted to wonder-working and magic spells. A misguided sect of the Rafa'iyah mystic order which was quite popular in the seventh and the eighth century of the Islamic era, had taken to divination, charms and wonder­working as a spiritual instrument. Thus, the sufis, with their tremendous influence on the uneducated masses, were spreading ideas completely divorced from the Qur'anic system of thought.
In the intellectual circles, too, rigidity and stagnation had overtaken the theologians who considered it a grievous sin to deviate from the corpus of their own juristic schools. In their disputes over theological differences, they tried to interpret the canon in accordance with their own cherished views instead of subordinating their interpretations to the supremacy of their Qur'an and the Sunnah. The doors of legislative process which imparts dynamism to ihe legal system had almost been closed. The demands of the changing social problems required study of the entire corpus of legal doctrines of the earlier legists and thinkers, an insight into the teachings of the Qur'an and Sunnah, academic research and intellectual effort in the light of accepted juristical norms but the rigidity of approach on the part of the then theologians had so numbed their intellectual capabilities that nobody dared to reinterpret the Law for keeping it abreast of the changing conditions. The legal system of Islam had thus lost its originality and dynamism, thanks to the erroneous view that nothing could now be added to the corpus juris of the Shari'ah already formulated by the earlier teachers.
These were, broadly, the disruptive forces which had to be counteracted by a systematic effort before any movement of Islamic renaissance could be started. In its conflict with the speculative reasoning applied by the dialecticians, Islam required a doctor of religion deeply versed in all the categories of philosophy and dialectics, their points of difference and their growth and development. For the polemical disputes raised by the Christians, a man of vast learning fully acquainted with Christianity as well as other religions, especially their original scriptures and the amendments and interpolations to which these had been subjected from time to time, was needed who could undertake a comparative study of the different religions. Similarly, the Batinite heresy could be combated only by a man who was fully conversant with the beliefs and dogmas of all the Batinite sects. The reform needed for eradication of external influences, rites and customs and such other un-Islamic practices as saint-worship required a doctor of faith not only animated by zeal for Islam and abhorrence of polytheistic cults but also capable of distinguishing clearly Islam from un-Islam and discerning even the faint traces of the pagan past. He had had to learn the lesson of unalloyed Tawhid directly from the Qur'an and the Sunnah, and follow in the foot-steps of the companions of the holy Prophet rejecting all those prevalent practices of his time which cut across the true concept of the Oneness of God. The revitalisation of the intellectual effort required a master­mind-a theologian, a Traditionist and a legist, all combined into one-a man who had mastered the entire theological literature, had such a command over the Qur'an and the Traditions that anything not acceptable to him could easily be rejected as untrustworthy; was deeply-versed in the lexicography, grammar and usage of the Arabic language; had an encyclopaedic know­ledge of all the juristic schools; had a developed sense of interpreting the rules of the Shan'ah and drawing analogical inferences from the teachings and practices of the earlier masters; and, lastly, he had to have been endowed with an incisive intellect and prodigious retentive memory like the Traditionists of the earlier times bearing testimony to what was thus predicted by the Prophet of Islam: "The parable of my people is that of rain: nobody knows whether its beginning is better or its last."
Thus the man of the hour was to have not only mastered all the religious and secular sciences but he was also to possess all the ennobling qualities of mind and heart, a penetrating intellect, logical thinking, mental grasp, breadth of vision and encyclopedic knowledge so that he could be held in the highest esteem as an illustrious scholar and master by his contemporaries. He had also to be a man of spirits so that he could willingly put his life at stake for what he deemed to be right. If, on the one hand, religious and political opponents of Batinites were being eliminated by terrorism and murder, any effort to oppose the popular sufi orders was, on the other, likely to earn the displeasure of the masses as well as the ruling elite. Similarly, the slightest deviation from the views held by earlier legists was sure to be condemned as impious and irreligious inviting severe condemnation by the then doctors of religion. Thus, the man aiming at the reconstruction of the religious life and thought of the then Muslim society had to have the courage to set his face against the then governments and the chiefs of State, the misguided ulama and the popular opinion of the time, and be willing to fight relentlessly on all fronts for the restoration of the true faith. Such was the man needed by the world of Islam in the eighth century after Hijrah, and it did find him in the person of Sheikh-ul-Islam Ibn Taimiyah, who, by his single-minded devotion and idealism yoked with a strong practical sense, erudite scholarship and dauntless courage rescued the world of Islam from the rut of intellectual lethargy and demoralization.

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