THE REFUTATION OF HIM [IBN TAYMIYYA] WHO ATTRIBUTES DIRECTION TO ALLAH
Author: Ibn Jahbal Al Kilabi
Intoroduction by: Shaykh Wahbī Sulaymān Ghāwjī
Forward by: Shaykh Muhammad Afifi Al-Akiti
Translated by: Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad
Available now from www.aqsapublications.com
Forward by Shaykh Muhammad Afifi Al-Akiti
Like the Judaic and Christian theological traditions, the Islamic one also, – arguably with less crassness – faced the problems of scriptural literalism that result in an anthropomorphic theology. As the early (salaf) Muslim community became more sophisticated and began to lead the world in scientific progress – and especially from the time of Islam’s Doctor Angelicus, al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111) – Muslim theologians came to embrace and institutionalize the case for ta’wīl. This was Islām’s systematic solution of the problem, through a canon of figurative interpretation of scripture as a necessary tool of hermeneutics.
Not only did the method of ta’wīl keep anthropomorphism in check through offering a middle way in the understanding of Divine Attributes as limited by human language, but it served to reconcile Divine Scripture with the discoveries afforded by human reason. This legitimization of ta’wīl by the classical ‘ulamā’ and its systematic treatment in the Golden Age of Islām made it an established doctrine among Muslim theologians. It became the standard position in later (khalaf) orthodoxy within the Sunni tradition (alongside the formerly dominant, simpler alternative, and utterly unexplainable “non-method”: tafwīḍ) – the cultural milieu that brought forth this work.
This short theological tract, Fī Nafī al-Jiha, or On Denying Direction to God, by the Ash’ari theologian and celebrated Shafi’i jurist, Qāḍī Ibn Jahbal (d. 733/1333), is a clinical rebuttal of the controversial fatwā, the ‘Aqīda Ḥamawiyya, penned by his legendary contemporary, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328). It is considered, rightly, a classic manifesto of anti-literalism, which embraces the successful pro-ta’wīl Ghazālīan theses advocated centuries earlier – to the extent that Ibn al-Subkī (d. 771/1370) reproduced the whole of Ibn Jahbal’s work in his magisterial
The present volume is a special “all-Damascene” edition, which contains the very first (and definitive) English translation of Ibn Jahbal’s Arabic text; completed by an authorized, nay Damascus-trained and native scholar, Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad, who possesses the complete and exclusively Dimashqī ijāza going back to the original Damascene author; and supplemented by superb scholarly documentation and a running commentary. The volume includes the Muqaddima of one of Damascus’s senior living Ḥanafī jurists, Shaykh Wahbī Sulaymān Ghāwjī, which presents an up-to-date explanation of figurative interpretation in Islamic theology. The volume is also prefaced by another introduction, which catalogues the problematic positions of the redoubtable Ibn Taymiyya raised by scholars throughout the ages including his own students, regarding which a Dimashqī muḥaddith recently quipped: “The mistakes of the great are the greatest mistakes.”
This convenient Collectio Errorum by Shaykh Haddad is not a zero-sum critique. In fact, it will be appreciated for it isolates Ibn Taymiyya’s unquestionably controversial materials from the rest of his vast corpus – thus enabling one to take the good and leave the bad; and this list will be a service to the non-scholar who might want to benefit from reading the works of this prolific Ḥanbalī jurist, one who is now enjoying a greater following and who indeed can be said to be a phenomenon of present-day
Along with a work by an earlier Ḥanbalī theologian, the Daf’ Shubah al-Tashbīh of Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597/1200), this medieval contribution by Ibn Jahbal remains one of the most important texts refuting the anthropomorphists of the Muslim world. This will be an indispensable reference for advanced students of Islamic theology, other professional theologians, and modern academics needing primary source materials in English or a source book on the controversies surrounding Ibn Taymiyya’s theology.
This same work embodies, moreover, a contemporary exercise in polemic representing the longstanding views in the conformist tradition of Muslim theology, whether via ta’wīl or tafwīḍ, and whether in the schools of the Ash’arīs, Māturīdīs or Ḥanbalīs. In particular, it pits itself against one of the two opposite non-conformist readings of the Qur’ān and Sunna; and in general, it highlights the pitfalls of a literalistic mindset which plagues all scripturally-based religions.
Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti
Research Fellow in Islamic Theology
Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies