There had been vigour, even if tinged with fanaticism, among the Hanbalites of Baghdad in the eleventh century. Up till then Baghdad seems to have been their main centre, although, as noted above, there were Hanbalites in other places such as Ispahan and Herat. Before i ioo there were Hanbalite schools in Jerusalem and Damascus, but Jerusalem was captured by the Crusaders in 1099, and the jurists there fled to Damascus. The group in Damascus was further strengthened by other refugees from the troubled eastern and central provinces, such as the family of the Banü-Qudáma, one of whose members, Muwaffaq-ad-dîn ibn-Qudâma (d.1223 ), has already been mentioned. This family arrived in 1156. Fully a century later in 1269 another scholarly family came from Harrân, bringing with it a boy of about five who was to become the greatest Hanbalite after Ahmad ibn-Hanbal himself.
This was Ibn-Taymiyya (more fully, Taqî-d-dîn Ahmad ibn-Tay-miyya ) who was bom in January 1263 and died in September 1328.1 It was through him that Henri Laoust approached the study of Hanbal-ism, and thus he stands in brilliant light compared with the obscurity surrounding the Ash'arites of the same period. What follows is based on the conclusions of Laoust.
The career of Ibn-Taymiyya is best understood when his primary problem is seen to be the same as that of al-Ghazali, namely, the corruption of the ulema or religious scholars. As a class they were nearly all mainly interested in their own promotion in their academic or judicial career ; and, since promotion was in the hands of the rulers, they were subservient to these. Ibn-Taymiyya, following in the tradition of Ibn-Hanbal, stood up for what he believed to be right, regardless of the suffering it might bring upon him personally. As a result of his intellectual brilliance he is said to have been qualified to give formal legal opinions at the age of seventeen ¡ and in 1284 at the age of twenty-one he succeeded his father as leading professor at the Suk-kariyya madiasa. This was followed by other teaching positions. In
1293 he publicly took an intransigent view of the case of a Christian who had insulted the Prophet, and he was imprisoned for a time. Then about 1298 in response to a request from the people of Hama for instruction on the attributes of God and their relation to his essence, he drew up a statement of his dogmatic position, known as Al-Hamawiyya al-kubiâ, 'The Large (Creed) of Hama'. In this he expressed forceful criticisms of Kalâm and of Ash'arism. Some of his many enemies, annoyed at his attacks on Ash'arism and astrology, and jealous of his good relationship with the governor of Damascus, accused him, on the basis of the Hamawiyya, of holding the heresy of anthropomorphism. They even got a crier to parade the city proclaiming that Ibn-Taymiyya was a heretic, and the governor had to intervene to preserve order. The jurists, asked to examine the creed carefully, reported that there was nothing objectionable in it, and the incident was closed.
Since about 1260 Syria had been ruled by the Mamluks who had succeeded the Ayyùbids in Egypt about 1250 and had Cairo as their main capital. They were not a dynasty but a ruling élite of highly-trained former slaves, which perpetuated itself by importing further slaves mainly from South Russia and the Caucasus and giving them the same advanced training in military and civil administration. One of their innovations in both provinces was to give an official organization to the four legal schools or 'rites', the Shâfi'ite, Hanafite, Màlikite and Hanbalite. Each Muslim has to belong to one of them and have his legal affairs ( such as inheritance ) judged according to its principles. For each of the rites, in both Cairo and Damascus, the Mamluks created a chief qâdî, and the order of precedence was as given, following the numbers attached to each. The Shàfi'ites resented this, since previously only they had had a chief qâdî, and there was friction between the four groups of jurists. This was the framework of the career of Ibn-Taymiyya.
In the years after 1299 he took a share in the public life of Damascus, was a member of diplomatic missions, and joined an expedition against revolted Nusayrite heretics. After the conquest of the Nusayrites he was consulted by the Mamluk sultan on their treatment. About the end of 1305, however, he once again found himself in trouble. He publicly attacked the sùfï order of the Ahmad-iyya (Rifà'iyya) for engaging in various practices contrary to the Shari a; but the head of the Ahmadiyya order was on friendly terms with influential persons in Cairo, and early in 1306 Ibn-Taymiyya was summoned thither. After a short trial of dubious validity he was imprisoned, and kept in prison until September 1307. On his release he was not allowed to return to Syria, so he set up as a professor and gave lectures,- but his attacks on the pantheism of many sûfïs soon brought him into prison again, first in Cairo and later in Alexandria, since in the latter his freedom to receive visits was less dangerous. A change of government led to his release in March 1310, but he spent nearly three more years in Cairo before returning to Damascus.
The remainder of his life was spent in Damascus where he was generally held in honour and respect and had many pupils and other followers. On the whole he was less implicated than previously in public incidents, but an attack on the cult of saints led to his imprisonment in the citadel in July 1326, together with some persecution of his followers, and he was kept a prisoner, under increasingly rigorous conditions, until his death in September 1328.
Laoust conceives the thought of Ibn-Taymiyya as culminating in a 'political sociology', but one based on a theological position; and he sees the central point of this theology as a development of the old Islamic idea of the absolute dissimilarity of God and man. From this Ibn-Taymiyya concluded that it is impossible to attain knowledge of God by rational methods, whether those of philosophy or of Kalam, and also impossible to attain the sufi aim of union with God. He was no mere obscurantist, however, for he had made a careful study of the main Arabic philosophers, as well as of theologians like al-Ghazali and Fakhr-ad-din ar-Razi. His criticisms of the philosophers are acute and well founded, notably in Radd 'ala 1-mantiqiyyin, 'Refutation of the Logicians'. To ar-Razi he was strongly opposed, because he regarded him as bringing many foreign elements into theology from philosophy and other sources; but in the general direction of his thought he was influenced by ar-Razi, even if only by way of reaction. From al-Ghazali, to whom he was more sympathetic, he seems to have learned much.
His attitude to sufism is complex. He rejects everything resembling 'union with God' as the highest aim for human life. Absorption into the One, or even contemplation of the highest Good, he felt to be at variance with the Shari'a. For him the supreme end was the worship or service ('ibada) of God—the relation of slave ('abd) to master —and the basis of this was the observance of the prescriptions of the Shari'a. On the other hand, in his own make-up there was something of the sufi; and from the standpoint of his conception of 'ibada he proceeded to give a new meaning to many of the distinctive terms of the sufis, such as fear of God, confidence in him, humility, love for him. He even saw in the perfect fulfilment of the Shari'a a kind of 'annihilation' If ana'), equivalent to that of which the sufis spoke. This emphasis on observing the Shari'a was doubtless one of the factors behind an important work, Minhaj as-sunna an-nabawiyya, in which he criticized the Imamite theologian al-'Allama al-Hilli (p. 150 below); his use of the methods of Kalam and acceptance of Mu'tazilite theses, as well as his theory of the imamate, were anathema to Ibn-Taymiyya.
Ibn-Taymiyya's attacks on saint-worship were linked with his insistence on adhering to the original forms of Islam, just as his attacks on philosophical conceptions were linked with his rejection of foreign elements. All this grew out of a realization that the concrete, 'poetical' or 'symbolic' language of the Qui'an kept men closer to the deep springs of religious vitality than the abstractions of philosophical thinking. From an early period of his life he must have had spiritual experiences of sufficient profundity to give him confidence to adopt an independent and critical attitude towards his teachers and textbooks. In the simple, but by no means naive, acceptance of Islamic dogma in its Qur'anic formulation he had found, in a form suited to his own needs, the source of real life and power,- and the acceptance of this material was followed by constant meditation on it and by the effort to bring his conduct into accord with his beliefs.
Something of this outlook and attitude Ibn-Taymiyya managed to convey to his followers, though none was outstanding and none shared his independence of mind. Nevertheless he profoundly altered the course of theological thought in Islam, and his influence is still pregnant for the future. He had the advantage of living at a period when Cairo, as capital of the relatively stable Mamluk state, was becoming one of the cultural foci of Islam in place of Baghdad, and when Damascus, as second Mamluk capital, was also rising in importance. The reputation of Ibn-Taymiyya and the number of his disciples thus ensured that Hanbalism was well represented in the new phase of Islamic thought brought about by the change of location from Baghdad. Hanbalism here gained a base—or should we say a beach-head ?—from which it was able to influence later centuries.
The names are known of many Hanbalites who were the immediate pupils of Ibn-Taymiyya, as well as of others, scattered through the following centuries, who admired him and were to some extent influenced by him} and these were found not only in Damascus and Cairo but in several other centres. Most were primarily jurists. The only one who may be regarded as having made some contribution to theology was Ibn-Qayyim-al-fawziyya (1292-1350).2 His name means 'the son of the qayyim (warden?) of the Jawziyya (college)', and the only permissible shortening is to 'Ibn-al-Qayyim'. He became a close disciple of Ibn-Taymiyya in 1313 after the master's return from Egypt, and was thought sufficiently important to be imprisoned in the citadel in 1326 at the same time as Ibn-Taymiyya, though separately from him. He was not released until 1328 after the master's death. From 1342 until his own death he taught in the Sadriyya madiasa. He had absorbed all Ibn-Taymiyya's views and propagated them as a kind of literary executor, but he was more strongly attracted to sufism, and is sometimes thought to have altered his master's later works not only in language but also in sentiment. Undoubtedly, however, both by transmitting the works of Ibn-Taymiyya and by publicizing the ideas in his own works in a faultless style, he did much to spread and perpetuate their influence.
The vitality imparted to Hanbalism by Ibn-Taymiyya is generally held to have led to the appearance in the eighteenth century of the Wahhabite movement.3 The theological founder of this movement, Muhammad ibn-'Abd-al-Wahhab (1703-92), came, like many other theologians, from a family which had already produced many scholars. This particular family had held posts in various small towns in Nejd (Central Arabia). After preliminary studies in the oasis of al-Uyayna under his father and in Mecca, he spent some time in Medina as a student, and then travelled in quest of knowledge to Basra, Baghdad, Hamadhan, Ispahan, Damascus and Cairo. It was apparently at Medina that he first became aware of the importance and the relevance, from the point of view of his own interests, of the thought of Ibn-Taymiyya. From an early age he had seen the decadence of popular religion in Arabia and the need for a thoroughgoing reform. His first attempts at reform, after his return to Arabia, met with opposition, but in 1744 he was able to make an agreement with the emir (belonging to the family of Su ud) of the small town of Dar'iyya. Following on this agreement, and in part because of it, the dynasty of Su'ud prospered enormously, and in the opening years of the nineteenth century, when they were already rulers of much of Arabia, also occupied Mecca and Medina. The occupation of the holy cities, however, by a dynasty professing Wahhabite doctrines, disturbed many Sunnites, and on the instructions of the Ottoman sultan an Egyptian army invaded Arabia (1813-18) and put an end to the Su'udite principality for the time being. Through the dynasty's vicissitudes of fortune up to the establishment of the kingdom of Saudi (Su'udi) Arabia in 1930 the association with Wahhabism remained, and the present kingdom is essentially a Wahhabite state.
The theology of the Wahhabites is characterized by Laoust as not so much an elaboration of the ideas of Ibn-Taymiyya but rather 'a new edition of Hanbalite doctrines and of the prudent agnosticism of the traditional faith'. Its clearest dependence on Ibn-Taymiyya is in its attack on the cult of the saints and in its general insistence on a return to the purity of original Islam. For the most part it is concerned largely with externals, like much of Islamic religious thought. It shows no interest in the methodology of Ibn-Taymiyya, which he devised in order to escape from the rigidity of the scholastic methods and to make possible an adaptation of Islamic truth to contemporary conditions.
Beyond the world of the Arabs Wahhabism influenced certain
Indian Muslims in the early nineteenth century. The so-called Wah-habites of India are associated with an armed movement under Sayyid Ahmad (1786-1831) against the Sikhs and the British. In its origins the movement was due to internal Indian causes, but in 1823 Sayyid Ahmad came under Wahhabite influence while on the pilgrimage to Mecca, and thereafter insisted on a reform and purification of Islam in accordance with Wahhabite ideas. Something of the Wahhabite spirit has been retained in the important theological seminary at Deoband, but, in contrast to Ibn-Taymiyya, it is very rigidly conservative.
The upsurge of vitality in Hanbalism in the person of Ibn-Tay-miyya continues to the present time. His insistence on maintaining or returning to the purity of original Islam points out to the Islamic thinkers of today, whether professional theologians or not, the surest way of finding a solution to their problems. Some have in fact become great admirers of Ibn-Taymiyya and in particular of his methodology.
This is a convenient point at which to mention briefly the development of theology prior to 1850 in the Indian subcontinent and in the peripheral regions of the Islamic world. Although this theology is not Hanbalite, it is relatively close to Hanbalism.
The Indian subcontinent is the area beyond the heartlands where Islam is most deeply rooted. From the eleventh century onwards the names are known of Muslim scholars living in India, but in general they were dependent on the central stream of Islamic scholarship and made no original contributions. The outstanding figure up to 1850 was Shah Wall-Allah of Delhi (1703-62), roughly a contemporary of Muhammad ibn-'Abd-al-Wahhab, who studied in the Hijaz under a number of distinguished teachers.4 His outlook is described as 'fundamentalist' in that he kept close to Qur'an and Hadlth, but he was alive to the intellectual needs of the India of his time and adapted his teaching to meet these needs. By his writings, which were in Arabic, he has influenced Islamic thought in India to the present time; and his influence has been perpetuated by his establishment of a tradition of religious scholarship, centred in a school in Delhi. The leader of the Indian Wahhabites, Sayyid Ahmad, was a disciple of Shah Wall-Allah's son, who succeeded him as head of the school. There has so far been no study in depth of the thought of Shah Wall-Allah in the social and political context of his times, and among the few scholars who have written briefly about him there are differences in the interpretation and assessment of his achievement.
West Africa—in particular the Sudan in the wider sense, which is all the steppe country between the Sahara desert and the equatorial forest along the coast—was another region where Islam and Islamic scholarship took root at an early period. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries religious movements of a special type developed here and led to states of the form known as 'theocracies', in which political leadership derived from the religious revival. The most important of these was the sultanate of Sokoto, which grew out of the religious revival initiated by Usuman dan-Fodio (TJthmán ibn-Fúdí) (1754-1817).5 The basis of these movements was a special theological emphasis, which was expressed in the oral teaching, poetry or writings of the founder. A large number of books and pamphlets by Usuman dan-Fodio are still extant, and even more by his disciples and followers. Such works cover law and ritual as well as theology, and the latter is relatively simple and unlikely to have much attraction for the more sophisticated Muslims of the heartlands. When further study of this material has been undertaken, it will probably be found to deserve a place in a general history of Islamic theology.
Was this article helpful?