Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah

A great hero of Islam and a revivalist of the faith

Courtesy of "Muslim Heroes"

O Christ-worshipers! We want an answer, A poem by Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya

"Through patience and poverty one attains leadership in religion. The seeker of Truth needs the will that inspires him and pushes him upward and knowledge that leads and guides him."

These words sum up the personality of this great man Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr who is better known as Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah. Ibn Qayyim was born in 691 A.H one year after the liberation of Jerusalem by Saladin.

Our hero began his long journey on the road of learning early in his life, moving from one teacher after the other to quench his thirst for knowledge. At the age of 21 (in 712 A.H) Ibn Qayyim met his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah, another great hero of Islam and a revivalist of the faith. Their companionship lasted to the end of the teacher's life. Our hero kept close company to Ibn Taymiyyah with whom he suffered the pains of prison and flogging many a time. Apparently, it was from Ibn Taymiyyah, that our hero learnt many special qualities such as frankness and courage, in defiance of the wrath of others including the authorities. For, to both truth had to be said regardless of the consequences. But, unlike his teacher, our hero was less fierce in his attacks (in words or action).

The 8th century after Hijra witnessed the Muslims community in a state of ignorance and feuds. Muslims were fighting other Muslims, each trying to impose his authority in everything, including religious leadership and scholarship that suffered from stagnation. For, the majority of religious scholars acted more like recorders and stores of knowledge, rather than true scholars and teachers. To them their teachers were the main, if not sole, source of knowledge and the schools of thought they blindly imitated were the only acceptable ways.

Like his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah, our hero spent life attempting to correct the wrong course the community was following. He fought the exaggerated reverence for the tombs of the pious, despite the resistance he met with from the masses. He tried to show the errors committed by the misled sects and their blind followers. For, ibn Qayyim considered that the disputes and fights among the Muslims of his time were caused by their sectarian attitude and practices, each one considering himself and each sect or school of thought the only right one, and claiming that everyone else was on the wrong path.

So our hero spent a great portion of his time and efforts trying to unite the people, pointing out to them the dangers of blind imitation of predecessors. He explained that a Muslim should be open-minded, accepting what is right and good regardless of the teacher, unless it was inconsistent with the Quran and Hadeeth (Prophetic traditions) and the general spirit of the faith. To him imitation was wrong in the following cases:

1) If it entails violation of diving teachers.

2) If it represents an act of blind following of people, we are not sure of their knowledge.

3) If it is in defiance of truth after finding it.

But imitation is acceptable if it means that we follow someone who knows something we could not learn about ourselves. For it was blind imitation that caused stagnation in scholarship and difference among people. Some so-called scholars, he pointed out, were not really scholars but simple propagators of others' opinions. To those people the words and vies of their teachers or leaders were the only correct way of understanding the faith, to the extent that they subjected even the interpretation of the Quran and prophetic teachings to the views of their teachers, which they wrongly took for the ultimate criteria. Ibn Qayyim considered that the sources of the religious knowledge were to be taken in the following order:

1) The Quran

2) The Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad's (S.A.W.) teachings

3) The teachings of the companions of the Prophet.

To these one could add consensus and analogy. Bigotry and prejudice were, to him, the enemies of learning. To propagate his views our hero wrote scores of books besides direct teachings.

In his own private life ibn Qayyim was a very pious and devout worshipper who spent most of his time in prayers and recitation of the Quran. He was in fact an ascetic and a sufi of the orthodox type. For, he rejected the unorthodox practices of some Sufis who claimed that religious teachings had external and internal sides, meaning that religious obligations did not apply to them. As pointed out earlier, our hero was a man of courage and frankness to whom the truth was the ultimate goal. His open-minded attitude is reflected in his views on the correct understanding of religious laws (Shariah) and that these should be interpreted in the light of the circumstances of time and place, because Islam is intended of all mankind at all times. Many books were written by Ibn Qayyim to explain this invaluable principle and many of his views find their application taken in the legal system of modern nations, more than six centuries after his death in 751 A.