The Scholars of Islam: Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya

ID 136212396 © Chernetskaya | Dreamstime.com

Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya is often compared in importance with Imam al-Ghazali who lived two hundred years before him. Just like al-Ghazali, al-Jawziyya was revealing and reinforcing the inner resources of true Islam. He was a very bright and strong man. His views and teachings were sometimes controversial, his character could be difficult, but, as Ibn Kathir said, he aroused love and respect in people.

Shamsuddin Abu Abdullah Mohammed ibn Abu Bakr ad-Dimashqi al-Hanbali. In this full name of the imam we see his nicknames ‘One from Damascus’ (ad-Dimashqi) and ‘a Hanbalite’ (al-Hanbali), which accurately deswcribe him in a nutshell. He actually lived in Damascus at the beginning of the 14th century when the centre of Muslim life shifted to Mamluk Egypt. Six months before the birth of Imam al-Jawziyya, in 1291, the Mamluk sultan of Egypt, Halil, had captured the last stronghold of the crusaders in Palestine, the Acre fortress, and expelled Christians from Muslim lands forever. Now the Mamluk state, of which Damascus became a province, could develop without looking back at foreign invaders.

The nickname ‘Hanbalite’ reflected the views of Imam al-Jawziyya. In matters of jurisprudence, he adhered to the methodology of the Hanbali madhhab which was in strict adherence to the literal meaning of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah and rejection of novelties such as judgment by analogy (qiyas).

The nickname by which the imam became known in posterity means ‘son of the guardian of the Jawziyya madrasah’ (ibn – son; qayyim – guardian, director; Jawziyya – the name of the madrasah in Damascus). The boy’s family was very pious and righteous, strictly observed all the laws and regulations of the Muslim faith. Imam al-Jawziya began studying before he was 7 years old, since his father’s position allowed him to receive profound knowledge. At that time Damascus was the centre of Muslim scholarship. Imam al-Jawziyya was able to attend the lectures of at least a dozen prominent sheikhs, each in his own subject. But his favorite teacher, whom he even followed to prison, was Imam Ibn Taymiyyah. Together with him, Imam al-Jawziyya went to preach in Egypt. Together with him, he returned to Damascus, where he was imprisoned with him for his sermon, where he spent two years before being released after the death of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah.

The reason for the arrest was the harsh statements of Imam al-Jawziyya, which contradicted the prevailing practices of most of the Damascus scholars of the time. Imam al-Jawziyya opposed the practice of worshiping saints, venerating their graves and remains, which had developed by that time in Sufism (which was patronized by the rulers of Egypt), expressed his own views on the procedure for administering justice according to Sharia. Representatives of all four legal madhhabs (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and even Hanbali) unanimously spoke for his imprisonment, so much he incensed them with his unabashed denunciations. But it is precisely such people as Imam al-Jawziyya who subvert novelties, the harsh critics of falsehood who are ready to go to the end and are not afraid of anyone, who are the “renovators of the faith,” the Mujaddids whose emergence was ordained by the Prophet. In the book of commentaries on the philosophical work of the “Sage from Herat”, the respected Sufi scholar of the 11th century al-Ansari, whom al-Jawziyya greatly revered and called ‘sheikh’, he wrote: “I love the sheikh very much, but the truth is dearer to me.”

In the dungeon, al-Jawziyya did nothing except read the Quran. Although it is believed that al-Jawziyya, as a firm Hanbali practitioner, rejected Sufism, in prison, according to his own stories later, he experienced the Sufi experience of ‘the fragrance of spiritual joy’ from reading the Qur’an (dhawq).

In his scientific works, Imam al-Jawziyya devoted a lot of attention to the criticism of Christianity and all its errors. In addition, he acted as an active opponent of the doctrine of ‘wahdat al-wujud’ (unity of existence), which was widespread at that time, which was based on the assertion of Creation as an act of self-observation and self-cognition of God. It was through the efforts of Imam al-Jawziyya, supported by his followers Imams Ibn Khaldun and al-Asqaliani, that this theory, which contradicted the strict understanding of God according to the teachings of the traditional schools of Muslim theology, was criticized and did not gain acceptance.