Ibn Taymiyyah’s Personal Account Of His Damascus Trial (Part 1)

In the name of God, the Ever-Merciful, the Mercy-Giving

1. Praise be to God, the Ever-Merciful, the Mercy-Giving, Master of the Day of Judgment. I bear witness that there is no god except God alone, Who has no partner, no aid and no assistant. And I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His messenger whom He sent to all of humanity, may God’s blessings and abundant salutations be upon him, his family, his Companions and the rest of God’s righteous servants.

2. To proceed: I have been asked, on more than one occasion, to write down whatever I could recall of what transpired at the three hearings held to discuss [my] theological beliefs in compliance with a royal decree from the sultan in Egypt to his viceroy in Damascus, following the complaints of a group of Jahmites, ittihddiyyah pantheists, Shi’ites (rafidah) and others who harboured ill will. The viceroy duly summoned the four chief justices of the four schools of law, among others, including the latters’ deputies, the muftis, shaykhs and others who were revered and whose opinions were deemed worthy of consideration, these people all the while unaware of the reason for which they were being summoned. This occurred on Monday 8 Rajab 705 [1306].

3. The viceroy said to me, This assembly has been convened for you. We have received a royal decree from the sultan [in Cairo] ordering that I ask you about your creed and about the books you wrote to the people of Egypt inviting them to [your] theological doctrine. And I think he said, ‘and that I summon the judges and jurisconsults and that you debate these matters [in my presence].’

4. So I said, As for the tenets of faith (i’tiqad), they are received neither from me nor from any other scholar greater than me. Rather, they are received from God, His Messenger and the consensus of the Ancestors of the community. Whatever appears in the Qur’an must be believed in, even as those hadlths that have been confirmed as sound, such as those embodied in the sahih collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim. As for the books [you mention], I have not on my own accord written anything to anyone inviting him to any creed. I simply wrote responses to whomever among the people of Egypt or elsewhere asked me [about such things]. And it had reached me that a book containing heretical views had been falsely attributed to me and sent to the sultan’s ustad, Rukn al-Dln al-Jashnikir. Though I did not know the exact contents of this book, I knew that it had been trumped up [against me]. Meanwhile, I continued to receive from Egypt and other places people who would ask me questions about theological and other matters, to which I would respond based on the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the doctrines of the Ancestors of the community.

5. So he said, We would like you to draw up a creed for us [right here].

6. I said, Let it be written.

7. So he ordered Shaykh Kamal al-Dln [al-Zamlakanl] to write down [what I said]. I dictated for him an adumbrated creed covering the divine attributes (sifat), predestination (qadar), questions on faith (iman), divine threat (wa’id), the imamate and the superiority of some of the Companions over others (tafdil):

The creed of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah is to believe in God as He and His Messenger have described Him, without distorting this description (tahrif), without divesting Him of any attribute (ta’til), without inquiring about the modality of His attributes (takyif), and without assuming similarities between Him and created beings {tamthil); and to believe that the Qur’an is the uncreated word of God, from Him it began and to Him it will return; and to believe that God is the creator of every thing, including the acts of humans and other things; and that whatever God wills comes into being, and whatever He does not will does not; and that He commanded obedience to Him, being pleased therewith and loving it, and forbade disobedience and loathes it; and that the human being actually commits his actions (fa’ilun haqiqatan), while God is the creator of his acts; and that faith and religion consist of words and deeds and are subject to increase and decrease; and that we do not hold to be an infidel, because of sins committed, any professing Muslim {ahl al-qiblah); and we do not hold that any believing Muslim will dwell in hell-fire forever; and that the caliphs succeeding the Prophet are Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, and ‘All, respectively, may God be pleased with them; and their order in virtue is as their order in assuming the caliphate; and whoever places ‘All above ‘Uthman denigrates both the Emigrants {Muhajiriin) and the Helpers {Ansar).

8. I mentioned this and similar things. But my memory has now grown faint, and I do not quite remember exactly what I said at the time. But everything I said was duly recorded at the time.

9. Then I said to the viceroy and those in attendance, I know that some groups have [recently] invented lies against me, as they have spread lies about me before on more than one occasion. And were I to go on dictating my creed from memory, they are likely to say, ‘He is concealing parts of it,’ or ‘He is trying to wheedle his way,’ or ‘He is circumventing [issues].’ So let me bring forth a written credo, compiled some seven years ago before the Mongols came to Syria.

10. Before the written creed was brought forth, I said some other things of which my memory has now grown faint; and I remember becoming extremely angry. And I remember that I said, I know that people have spread lies about me and that they have related things to the sultan [about me]. And I said some other things that I felt needed to be said, e.g., I said, Who, other than me, has stood up for Islam in its time of need? And who has clarified its proofs and made clear its essence, and fought against its enemies? Who straightened its back when it began to slope, when everyone else had abandoned it there was no one to enunciate its plea nor to fight in its defence when I stood up, openly proclaiming its proofs, fighting in its defence and enhancing its attractiveness? Now, if these people desire to talk [negatively] about me, what will they perpetrate against others? And were some Jew to request a fair hearing from the sultan, it would be incumbent upon the latter to oblige him. As for me, I may relinquish my right [to justice]; and I may not. I may instead request from the sultan that he treat me justly and that he summon and those who spread lies against me to be questioned about their inventions. I went on at length, adding similar things. But my memory of all of this has now grown faint.

11. Anyway, the amir instructed the chancellor, Muhy al-Din, to make a record of what I had said.

. 12. I added, I know the doctrines of those who disagree with anything I have written better than they themselves. I do not remember whether I said this before or after the written creed was brought forth. But I [do remember that] after the creed was brought forth and read aloud [in court] I said, There is not a single chapter in this creed that does not have its opponents among those who profess Islam; every sentence in it contradicts the doctrine of some or another group.

13. Then I sent [someone] to my home to get a copy of the written creed, along with some notebooks that had been written in my own hand. Al- ‘Aqidah al-Wasitiyyah was thus brought forth.

14. I said to them, The reason this work was written was that one of the qadis from a district in Wasit, a man named Radi al-Din al-Wasiti, a Shafi, came to us on his way to the pilgrimage, he being a man of righteousness and religion, and he complained about the preponderance of ignorance and injustice among his people and the effacement of religion and knowledge from their land and those areas now under the Mongols. He asked me to write a creed for him that could serve as a pillar for him and his family. I tried to extricate myself from this request, and I said to him, People have composed numerous creeds; choose one of those by one of the imams of the Sunnah. But he persisted in his request, saying, ‘I shall not be pleased except by a creed drawn up by you yourself.’ So I drew up this creed for him as I sat after the afternoon prayer. And many copies of it have since circulated in Egypt, Iraq and other places.

To be continued… (Jackson, S.A 1994. Journal of Semitic Studies. Spring)

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