Much needed exposure of the ‘tendencies’ of these two wildly different representatives of the Islamic scholarly tradition. A beautiful piece.
By Sheikh Atabek Shukurov
The Prophet Muhammad PBUH was very concerned to avoid any type of ‘mess’ as much as he could. For example in order to avoid academic mess he said;
”Talk to the people on the level they can understand! Don’t let the truth which is from God and Prophet to be rejected by you speaking about the issues they don’t understand!”
Another example could be the incident that happened in the camp of the Prophet whilst on a journey. Some of the hypocrites compared the Prophet PBUH to a dog. Believers were very offended and a fight nearly began. When the Prophet learnt about what happened, he ordered everyone to get ready and to set off to carry on the journey as soon as possible. That is how he stopped bloodshed and ‘mess’ that would have happened if they would spend the night there.
There are many more stories where Prophet PBUH does everything possible to avoid a mess. And that is actually a compulsion in Islam.
We are living in a time when intellectuals such as Ibn Sina, Farabi, Biruni, Kindi, Razi and many others are rejected and insulted and disowned – although conveniently and hypocritically wheeled out in front of non-Muslims as proof of Islam’s glorious and scientific past.
On the other hand anti-intellectuals such as Ibn Taimia, Ibn Qayyum, Ibn Abdul-Hadi etc. are displayed as the main representatives of Islam.
I just want to compare a top scholar from each of these two groups to the above-mentioned principle of Islam which orders us to avoid chaos and disorder as much as we can.
Let’s talk about Ibn Sina or the latin ‘Avicenna’ first. He has written many books, the most famous of which is ”al-Isharaat wal-Tanbeehaat”. No doubt that the book is not for laymen. It is a very difficult with almost locked content. Even the language is hard to understand. Avicenna only uses philosophical terminologies which cannot be taken or understood in widely spoken Arabic language. Actually, there are sentences which would seemingly be against Islamic creed if we would understand them not according to their specialist terminologies but only by Arabic language, much like the way the scientific definition of something like ‘entropy’ or ‘temperature’ is rather different from the usage of these terms in common English. For example, ‘relativity’ means something completely different in physics, philosophy and colloquial English language respectively.
And indeed, what happened is that people anathematised Avicenna and declared him a disbeliever based on their imposition of their own ‘understanding’ onto Avicenna’s language. So where he was using philosophical terminologies from philosopher’s widely accepted lexicon of the time, many Islamic scholars imposed a theological meaning onto this without ever studying the scientific or philosophical one, or vice versa. This problem continues today. Salafi scholars such as Bilal Phillips (who said that believing in Einstein’s famous equation ‘E = MC squared’ was disbelief. Needless to say, he is not scientifically trained) have declared physicists ‘kaafir‘ for speaking of conservation of mass or energy, by assuming that they are speaking of these matters in a theological way as opposed to a technical way in the language of physics. So a Muslim or non-Muslim physicist may assert the conservation of mass or energy, that energy can neither be created or destroyed and mean this according to the physical laws of the universe, not that these laws apply to God or are general (though a non-Muslim may or may not mean this), just as we say the heart pumps blood around the body. This does not mean that God cannot interfere with this physical order. Of course, for puritans, everything must be in the ‘language’ of their chosen theology, but this is patently absurd.
This anathematisation, takfir and general disturbance at Avicenna proves that these books will cause a mess if you were to widely spread them to the laymen.
Avicenna was perfectly aware of that. That’s why he asked for very heavy oath from the person who actually asked him to write this book for him.
”O Brother! I have clarified for you these ”Isharaat” to show the truth. And spoon-fed you the wisdoms in very soft words. So protect it from the wasters and ignorant people. And keep it away from anyone who doesn’t have a sharp understanding, and wasn’t trained, and isn’t used to it. And from the ones who seek entertainment with the loud-voiced debaters. And keep it away from the sophists and non-qualified among Philosophers.
But if you find someone who has a pure intention, and good behaviour, who doesn’t get excited towards satanic issues, the one who receives the truth with honesty and pleasure then give him it part by part. When you give him some of it just look at what his reaction is. Use his reaction to the previous part of this book to decide about what to do with the next part.
Take a binding oath from him by the name of God to also do as you are doing and to follow what you are following [in terms of keeping it away from the above mentioned people etc].
But if you waste it then God is the Judge between me and you, and He is enough to be the Representative!”
We see how Avicenna is very concerned not to get his book widely spread as it is not directed to the non-specialists or laymen.
He repeated this demand few times in the book, for example here;
”I repeat my will and remind you of my demand again to keep it away from the people who don’t meet the conditions that I mentioned at the end of the ”Isharaat”!”
We see that Avicenna is very careful.
Now let us compare it to the works of Ibn Taimia who is classed as one of the top scholars of Islam by nearly all of the schools and scholars purporting to be from ‘Ahlus Sunnah‘ today. Along with numerous others he accused of being outside the fold of Islam (such as Al Ghazzali and Imam Razi and Ibn Arabi…), Ibn Taimia demanded that Avicenna be considered a non-Muslim and is a scholar beloved of Puritanical movements, of both the violent (ISIS) and non-violent (subcontinental Deo-Brelwis for instance) kind.
Here is one page from his famous and oft published and quoted book called ”Majmoo’ al-Fatawa”. Just to clarify, ‘Fatawa‘ means that someone comes to a scholar to ask him about an issue to know about it. Then the scholar answers his question. This answer is called ”Fatwa” and ”Fatawa” is the plural. The answers of the scholar are sometimes collected into a book, and it then will be called ”Fatawa of so and so scholar”. The main reason to compile the fatwas of the scholars is that if one person asked this question then there will likely be many more who may need it. Thus they compile it into a book so everyone can see it.
Therefore we know that fatawa are actually meant to go out to the public as widely as possible.
Here are some quotes from the book;
Here, in just one page Ibn Taimia states reasons for a death sentence eight times in seven issues;
1. If time of prayer enters, but a person didn’t pray, he will be killed
2. If one says; I will pray with no wudu (ritual ablution), he has to be killed
3. If one says; I will pray not towards qibla (facing the right direction), he will be killed
4. One will be killed if he leaves any of the agreed upon fards (compulsory acts)
5. One will be killed if he leaves the prayer
6. One will be killed by tightening the second and fourth
7. One will be killed by the tightening the first too
8. One will be killed by leaving one or three prayers (there are two narrations).
No doubt that a genuine person wouldn’t like this to go out to the public (never mind these fatwas being wrong in and of themselves).
Means: ”Killing the person who leaves one prayer is more effective than stating that he committed a major sin!”
Or another example:
He says; ”If someone insists that pronouncing the intention [for prayer, as most Muslims do] loudly, it is compulsory that he has to be killed”
Unfortunately it is not only these few pages with this ”killing” fatwa, but there are many more…the book is in 37 volumes in the recent edition.
I feel this is a good comparison for contemporary Muslims: one of the scholars (the ‘heretic’) thinks about not causing chaos with his book and takes an oath from the person for whom he has written the book not to spread it, with no consideration for the fame or recognition that he could receive for this acknowledged masterpiece of human intellection. He even demands another oath to make sure that the recipient takes a binding oath from anyone to whom he will give the book after testing that third person.
The second scholar (the ‘Shaykh Ul Islam‘ of salafis) writes a book which is dangerous without any doubt, as it is filled with fatwas about killing for minor or non infractions, but isn’t in the least bit bothered about what could be its effect, and sends it to the laymen. His followers today continue this blase tradition by mass publishing and disseminating this work proudly today – as can be seen first hand from any catalogue of Saudi funded publishers or any Islamic bookshop anywhere in the world in any language.
There could be some people who may say;
”Oh yes, regardless of what is the mistake of Ibn Taimia, but he is a Muslim whereas Avicenna is not”. Sadly, this is the attitude of many ‘practising’ Muslims.
Well, if few scholars takfeered Avicenna [declared him outside the fold of Islam], then even scholars takfeered Ibn Taimia too.
More than that, the three issues due to which Avicenna was takfeered (broadly, his allegedly believing in an eternal universe, denying God’s knowledge of particulars and purportedly denying a bodily resurrection) were clarified by many of the most senior scholars – such as Imam Razi, Ibn Arabi, Nabulsi, Khiali, and others. Of course, the Salafi favourites such as Ibn Taimia who takfired Ibn Sina were ‘generous’ enough to declare many of these scholars heretics and non-Muslims too.
Some may say;
”Why are you causing a mess by talking about these issues!?”
It is a double standard!
The ”mess” is already caused by spreading these type of ”killing” books. Actually, you can get this very ”Fatawa” book for free from certain institutes.
That is why it is important now to clarify and stop this mess which is caused by these types of books. In fact, what is happening is that extremist groups and individuals from Osama Bin Laden through Al Qaeda to ISIS are proudly using the fatwas of Ibn Taimia and others in their publications and justifications
Such examples can be multiplied almost without end and it is entirely understandable that an extremist groups such as ISIS which has a ‘kill first and ask questions later’ approach to what they claim is ‘Islam’ would be attracted to the utility of a scholar having a laissez fair attitude to killing such as Ibn Taimia. ISIS are quoting him frequently as can be seen in these excerpts from its English language magazine:
‘Dabiq’ issue 10
(‘Dabiq‘ is the English language publication of ISIS:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dabiq_(magazine))
Dabiq issue 4 p15
Of course, ISIS quoting from Ibn Taimia does not mean that their use of him or the other Islamic sources they quote is justified, but rather does indicate that such individuals who are careless about killing will ‘resonate’ with each other. Furthermore, the various glosses offered by non-violent Salafis for the fatwas of Ibn Taimia are wildly dishonest and convince no one, least of all the non-Muslims. In fact Salafi apologists for Ibn Taimia frequently cause more damage in front of non-Muslims by sacrificing the reputation of Islamic scholarship in general to salvage that of Ibn Taimia by claiming that all of the Islamic scholars were as quick on the ‘kill switch’ as Ibn Taimia, thereby confirming the worst prejudices of non-Muslims.
Rather, the ‘killing fatwas’ of Ibn Taimia in particular are so egregious and careless as to be indefensible, as is abundantly clear above.
And this is why it is important to address this issue as Muslims – because the proverbial cat is out of the bag. The wider and non-Muslim public is aware of the issue now, both the honest ones:
‘The ideology of Boko Haram is borrowed from Salafist thought and writings, “which treats anything western as completely un‐Islamic.” Yusuf was reportedly strongly influenced by the writings of the medieval scholar Ibn Taymiyya, who called for jihad against rulers (including Muslim rulers)…‘
‘Boko Haram: An Assessment of Strengths, Vulnerabilities, and Policy Options‘
Report to the Strategic Multilayer Assessment Office, Department of Defense, and the Office of University Programs, Department of Homeland Security, January 2015
As well as the growing ranks of the Islamophobes, who are amongst the most passionate (if anything, more so than even ISIS) in quoting Ibn Taimia and insisting that he represents the ‘true’ Islam. Of course, I am not saying any of these sources is completely accurate or reliable, but what is reliable is that we have the published fatwas of Ibn Taimia from his own followers to refer to in their original language. And so do our enemies and friends.
We are merely arming our enemies and confusing our youth if we are not the first and foremost to address these problems – and to be like our beloved Prophet – the best at avoiding a ‘mess’.