Ibn Taymiyyah’s Personal Account Of His Damascus Trial (Part 2)

The amir signalled that I not read the written creed myself, the better to avoid suspicion. He gave it, instead, to his secretary, Shaykh Kamal al-Din [al-Zamlakanl]. The latter read it aloud to those in attendance, word for word, while everyone listened. Those who had objections would stop him at various points to voice their objections. The amir would also inquire about a point from time to time. Everyone knew of the antagonism and undisciplined passions harboured by a party among those in attendance, some of which was widely known among the people. Some of this [antagonism] was due to theological differences, and some of it was based on other things.

Now, I cannot recall everything that was said, nor all of the debates that took place during these proceedings; for a lot was said, some of which cannot be reproduced exactly. But I will write a summary for you of what I am able to recall, even though my memory of these things has now grown faint and despite all of the shouting and clamour that took place, all of which cannot be reproduced. Among the things to which one of them objected was my mentioning in the beginning of the creed, “And a part of belief in God is to believe in Him 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 any attribute (takyif) and without assuming similarities between Him and created beings (tamthil).” 

He said, What do you mean by tahrif and ta’til? His point was that this disallows ta’wil, which is to divert a term away from its apparent meaning, either by necessity or by licence, a method claimed valid by the partisans of allegorical interpretation (ta’wil).

I said, [I mean] diverting words away from their proper usage (tahrif al-kalim ‘an mawadi’i-h), which God has censured in His Book. This means divesting utterances of the meaning they [normally] convey, such as obtains in the allegorical interpretation (ta’wil) of some Jahmites regarding the words of the Exalted, ‘and God spoke to Moses literally’ (kallama Allahu Musa takliman). They say that this means, “He cleaved him literally with the talons of wisdom” (jarraha-hu bi-azafir al-hikmah tajrihan). And such as the allegorical interpretations of the batiniyyah Qarmathians and others, including Jahmites, Shi’ites, Qadarites and others.

At this he fell silent, his soul, however, harbouring what it would.

I mentioned on another occasion, not at this hearing, that I opted to cite the term tahrif instead of ta ‘wil because tahrif is a term censured in the Qur’an itself; and I have taken care in this creed to follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Thus I rejected that which God had censued of tahrif, without making specific mention of ta’wil, either for or against, because the latter is a term that has a number of meanings, as I have made clear in a related discussion on religious precepts {qawa’id). Indeed, the meaning of ta’wil in the Book of God is not the same as its meaning in the technical language of later legal theoreticians and jurists, nor in the technical parlance of many Quranic exegetes and Ancestors. In fact, among those practices referred to as ta’wil are some that are sound and have been handed down on the authority of some of the Ancestors. Thus, I chose not to reject that for which there is proof of its soundness. For, if there is proof of its soundness and it has also been handed down on the authority of the Ancestors, it cannot be considered tahrif.

I also said to him, I cited the disallowance of tamthil-anthropomorphism without citing the disallowance of tashbih-anthropomorphism because God disallowed tamthil unequivocally in His Book, where He said, ‘Nothing is anything like him’ (laysa ka-mithlihi shay’); and where He said, ‘Do you know of a likeness to Him?’ (hal ta’lamu la-hu samiyyan). Thus I preferred [citing the word tamthil] over a term that is not in the Book of God nor in the Sunnah of the Messenger of God, even though the latter term [i.e., tashbih] may carry a meaning whose disallowance would be proper, just as it may carry a meaning whose disallowance would be improper!

When I mentioned, ‘They [Ahl al-Sunnah wa-al-Jama’ah] do not reject any attribute that He ascribes to Himself; nor do they distort the meanings of words; nor do they cast aspersions on God’s names and His verses,’ one of those in attendance took offence, realizing that this was an open refutation of his position. But he could not find the words [with which to voice his objections]. So he tried to overtake me with questions that I had grown used to hearing. But this did not avail him because he could not avoid acknowledging the soundness of my responses.

When I cited the Verse of the Throne (ayat al-kursi), I think it was the amir who asked about my statement, ‘… no devil will approach him until he awakes [the following morning].’So I related to him the hadith of Abu Hurayrah about the man who used to steal from the alms offerred at the end of Ramadan; and I mentioned that al-Bukhari cited this in his sahih collection.

Then they began citing the disallowance of tashbih- and tajsim- anthropomorphism, being excessive therein and making allusions to what some people have attributed to us [Hanbalis] of such things.

So I said, My statement, ‘without inquiring about their modality (takyif) and without tanthil-anthropomorphism,’ disallows all such fallacies. I simply chose these two terms [in particular] because the disallowance of inquiring about the modality of God’s attributes (takyif) has been handed down on the authority of the Ancestors, as appears, for example, in the famous dictum of Rabi’ah,Malik, Ibn ‘Uyaynah and others, which the scholars [over the generations] have received with favour: ‘God’s mounting the throne is known; how is unkown; belief in it is obligatory; and inquiring about its modality is unsanctioned innovation (bid’ah).’ Now, these great Ancestors all agreed that how is unkown to us. Thus, I disallowed takyif, following the example of the Ancestors, while it is also forbidden by scripture; for subjecting the verses on God’s attributes to allegorical interpretation (ta’wil) entails allegorically interpreting the One described, as well as His attributes. These are matters the inner meaning (ta’wil) of which is the preserve of God alone, as I have established in a separate precept on ‘inner meaning’ (ta’wil) and ‘meaning,’ (ma’na) and the difference between our knowing the meaning of a statement and our knowing its inner meaning.

Similarly, tamthil -anthropomorphism has been disallowed by scripture, as well as age-old consensus, not to mention the rational proofs of its incorrectness along with the incorrectness of takyif since the inner essence of the Giver of Form is not known to man.

I mentioned in the course of this the words of al-Khattabi, who related that it was the doctrine of the Ancestors to pass on the verses and hadiths on God’s attributes with their literal meanings intact, without engaging in takyif or tamthil-anthropomorphism, since speculating about the divine attributes entails speculation about the divine essence itself, the former going along with the latter and following its example. Moreover, just as the affirmation of any essence is an affirmation of its existence, not of its modality, so is the affirmation of an attribute an affirmation of its existence, not of its modality.

So one of the leaders from among the opponents protested, ‘Then it is permissible to say that He is a body dissimilar to [other] bodies (huwa jismun la ka-al-ajsam) I said, along with some of the savants in attendance, ‘[On the conrary], it is simply said that God is described according to the manner that He and His Messenger have described Him.’ And there is nothing in either the Qur’an or the Sunnah suggesting that God is a body, such that would raise such a question. * I added — I’m not sure whether this was during the first or second sessions — The First person to say that God is a body was the Shi’ite, Hisham b. al-Hakam.

At this, one of the judges among those in attendance who were known for their religiosity wanted to make an open show of his disavowel of the charges levelled by some against us. So he began an exaggerated disavowel of tashbih- and tamthil-anthropomorphism.

So I said, It has already been stated in more than one place, ‘without distortion (tahrif), without divestiture {ta’til), without positing modalities (takyif) and without assuming likenesses to created beings {tamthil)!

I Had already stated early on in the credo, ‘And part of belief in God is belief in Him as He has described Himself in His Book and as His Prophet Muhammad has described Him, without distortion (tahrif), without divestiture {ta’til), without positing modality (takyif), and without assuming likenesses between Him and created beings {tamthil).’

So I followed this up, ‘… and in the Prophet’s description of his Lord, as appears in the sound hadiths which the scholars have received with favour; belief in this too is an article of faith’ … until I said, ‘… and (in) the likes of those sound hadiths in which the Prophet informs us of whatever he informs us. For the Party of Salvation (al-firqah al-najiyah), Ahl al-Sunnah wa-al Jama’ah, believe in all of this, as they believe in the reports God gives in His Book, without distortion, without divestiture, without positing modalities, and without assuming created likenesses to God. Indeed, they follow a middle path amid the various factions of the community, just as the community follows a middle path amid other communities. Indeed, regarding God’s attributes, the community follows a middle path between the Jahmite partisans of divestiture and the tamthil-anthropomorphists.’

But when the aforementioned judge saw how conspirational and partisan they were and how few of them would acknowledge and support [the truth] and he became fearful of them, he said, ‘You have compiled the creed of Imam Ahmad; shall we just say, then, that this is the creed of Ahmad [b. Hanbal]? I mean, the man has merely compiled [a creed] according to his school {madhhab); he should not be molested for this. For this [Hanbali] school is a recognized school.’ His aim in all of this was simply to dismantle the disputants’ objections.

So I said, I have simply compiled the creed of the Pious Ancestors as a whole; Imam Ahmad has no special claim to this. Imam Ahmad simply communicates whatever knowledge comes to him on the authority of the Prophet. Were he to assert, on his own, something that did not come from the Prophet, we would not accept it. Indeed, this creed is the creed of Muhammad, God’s blessings and salutations be upon him!

I reiterated many times over: I give three years respite to anyone who disagrees with anything I have mentioned in this creed. Should he bring forth from the first three centuries of Islam— which the Prophet praised via his statement, ‘The best of centuries is the one in which I was sent, then the following one, then the one following that’ — a single consonant contradicting what I have stated herein, I will rescind my statement, while I assume, on the other hand, the duty of bringing forth what has been handed down from all the parties from the first three centuries — Hanafis, Malikis, Shafis, Hanbali’s, Ash’aris, Sufis, the Partisans of Hadith and others— all of which concurs with what I have said.

I also stated on another occasion, not at this hearing, Because Imam Ahmad came to possess more than other scholars in the way of the Sunnah and textual reports on the authority of the Prophet and because he weathered the Great Inquisition (mihnah) and (courageously) repudiated those given to unsanctioned innovation (ahl al-bid’ah) more than did other scholars, his statements and knowledge in this area surpass that of other scholars. As a champion (imam) of the Sunnah, he thus became more prominent than others. Or, one might put the matter in the words of one of the righteous, knowledgeable shaykhs from North Africa, ‘Credit for establishing doctrine belongs to Malik and al-Shafi, while prominence as a leader belongs to Ahmad b. Hanbal,’ meaning thatAhmad’s doctrine was the same as that of all the great imams, notwithstanding the fact that some of them may surpass others in terms of knowledge, clarity of articulation, championing the cause oftruth and fighting against falsehood.

And when the secretary came to that section of the creed that stated, … and [to believe in] the Prophet’s description of his Lord contained in the sound hadiths which the people of knowledge have received with favour and he read [during the course of this] the hadith of Abu Sa’id cited in the two sound collections [of Muslim and al-Bukhari] on the authority of the Prophet, ‘God will say on the Day of Judgment, “O Adam!” The latter will respond, “Your wish and Your command {labayka wa-sa’dayk).” Then a voice will cry out, “God commands that you send a contingent to hell-fire”, the amir asked, “Is this hadith sound?”

I said, Yes. It is in the two sound collections [of Muslim and al-Bukhari]. No one disputed this. The disputant was thus forced to demur, and everyone else agreed.

Then the amir requested a discussion of the issue of the voice and the letter, as was requested of him.

I said that which is attributed to Imam Ahmad and his disciples on the authority of Majd al-Din b. al-Khatib and others, i.e. that the voicew of the reciters and the ink in the written copies of the Quran have existed from eternity, is a concocted lie. Imam Ahmad never said this; nor has any other Muslim scholar, neither from among the disciples of Ahmad nor any other party. I brought forth a copybook, which had been brought along with the written copy of the creed, containing verbatim what Abu Bakr al-Khallal had cited in Kitab al-Sunnah on the authority of Imam Ahmad, along with what his companion, Abu Bakr al-Mirwadhi, had collected of the statements of Imam Ahmad, his disciples and the leading scholars of his times, Whoever says, ‘My utterance of the Qur’an is created,’ is a Jahmite; and whoever says that it is uncreated is a heretical innovator. I said, This is what al-Ash’ari cited in Maqalat al-Islamiyyin on the authority of Ahl al-Sunnah and the Partisans of hadith, adding that this was the view that he himself endorsed.

Then I said, ‘So what about one who says, “My utterances [of the Qur’an] have existed from eternity?” What about one who says, “My voice is uncreated?” What about one who says, “My voice is sempeternal?'”And there are clear statements on the authority of Imam Ahmad, as have been related by al-Bukari, author of al-Sahih, in his Kitab Khalq afal al-‘ibad, among others from the imams of the Sunnah, stipulating the difference between God’s speaking with a voice and the voice of humans.

I brought forth the response to a question I had been asked long ago about a man who swears, on pain of divorce, concerning the issue of the voice and the letter and the literal truth of the [verses on the] throne. I cited the response that I had given to this question back then, along with an explanation thereof and the fact that unqualified statements to the effect that the Qur’an is both the voice and the letter or neither the voice nor the letter are both heretical innovations which did not appear until after the third century of Islam. Then I said, here, this is my response.

This question [on the voice and the letter] had actually been sent by a group of obstinent pseudo-Jahmites, some of whom were present at the hearing. But when they were confronted with the incisive response, which is the [true] position of Ahl al-Sunnah, not the position that they advocate, nor what they attribute to Ahl al-Sunnah, perhaps on the authority of some ignorant people, they were flabbergasted.

My response included, Indeed the Qur’an in its entirety is the word of God, both its words and its meaning; for ‘qur’an is not a term that is restricted to either words or meaning alone.

I said in the course of this to Sadr al-Dln b. al-Wakil, in order to show the extent to which he contradicted himself and the fact that he did not hold consistently to any doctrine but merely strove tocause strife {fitnah) and dissension among the Muslims, ‘I have a credo by Shaykh Abu al-Bayan in which it is stated, ‘Whoever says that a single letter in the Qur’an is created is an unbeliever,’ to which you attached in your own hand, ‘This is the madhhab of al-Shafi and his leading disciples.’ You indicated further that you yourself worshipped God according to this creed.’ He admitted this; and when he did, Shaykh Kamal al-Din b. al-Zamlakani rose to condemn him.

Ibn al-Wakll responded, ‘This is the doctrine of al-Shafi’ verbatim.’ And he challenged the latter’s objections repeatedly. So when we met at the second hearing it was mentioned to Ibn al-Wakll that Ibn Darbas related exactly what I had cited in his Kitab al-Intisar on the authority of al-Shafi’. Then, when we met at the third hearing, Ibn al-Wakil returned to this issue [once again]. So Shaykh Kamal al-Din [al-Zamlakani] said to Sadr al-Din b. al-Wakil, ‘You said to Shaykh Taqi al-Din [Ibn Taymiyyah] at the [first] hearing that whoever says that a single letter in the Qur’an is created is an unbeliever.’ He [Ibn al-Wakll] then reiterated this doctrine.

At this Shaykh Kamal al-Din became extremely angry and raised his voice, exclaiming, ‘This man charges our rationalist Ash’ari brethren, such as Imam al-Haramayn [al-Juwaynl] and others who say that the letters of the Qur’an are created, with unbelief. We cannot tolerate such charges against our fellow Shafi’s!’

Ibn al-Wakll then denied that he had said this, and said, ‘I never said that; I simply said that whoever denies a single letter of the Qur’an is an unbeliever.’ Those in attendance promptly repudiated this, saying, ‘[Nay] you said such and such [i.e., exactly what al-Zamakani claimed].’ They added: ‘You should not make statements and then retract them.’ Then one of them said, ‘He never said this [i.e., what al-Zamlakani claimed].’ So when they [succeeded in] twisting his words, the latter said, ‘We never heard him say this.’ This reached the point that the viceroy himself interjected, ‘One person lies; another bears witness; and Shaykh Kamal al-Din is now upset.’ So they turned to the Shafi’i chief justice, Najm al-Din [b. Sasra], urging him to reprimand Ibn al-Wakil, since the latter had  said, ‘I never heard this.’ At this Shaykh Kamal al-Din became exceedingly angry, and uttered something the exact wording of which I did not catch but the meaning of which was that this was a denigration of al-Shafi’ and a disgrace to the Shafi’s, that their leading scholars should be charged with unbelief and no one comes to their defense.

I myself did not hear what Shaykh Kamal al-Din had said about Qadi Najm al-Din, though I tried to ascertain this from others who were in attendance, asking them if they heard him say anything about the latter. They responded in the negative. But Qadi Najm al-Din took whatever was said to be an insult directed against him and his position as judge representing the [Shafi’] madhhab and the fact that he did not defend his [Shafi] partisans. It was his belief that Shaykh Kamal al-Dln’s words [regarding the denigration of Shafi’, etc.] were directed at him. So he became angry and said, ‘Be it witnessed that I hereby remove myself from office!’ He proceeded to cite the reasons why he deserved to lead [his partisans] and to be paid the proper respects, along with the fact that he had never spoken in a manner prejudicial to the honour of any of those in attendance, calling upon the viceroy himself to confirm this. I myself spoke to him words of support, including the fact that he deserved to remain in office under the present circumstances.

When it came to the issue of the Qur’an, i.e., ‘And part of belief in God is belief that the Qur’an is the uncreated word of God, from Him it began and to Him it will return,’ some of them disputed its beginning with and returning to Him, and they petitioned an explanation thereof.

I said, as for this doctrine, it is the established doctrine handed down  on the authority of the Ancestors, such as, for example, what ‘Amr b. Dinar related, ‘For seventy years I have known the people to say, “God is the Creator; all else is created, except the Qur’an; it is the uncreated word of God. From Him it proceeded, and to Him will it return”.’ And a number of people, such as the hadith experts Abu al-Fadl b. Nasir and Abu’Abd Allah al-MaqdisI, have collected statements on the authority of the Prophet, the Companions and Successors to this effect.

As for the meaning of their statement, ‘from Him it proceeded,’it is that it is He who actually uttered it and revealed it from Himself. It was not, as the Jahmites claim, created in the air or someother place, nor did it proceed from other than Him.

As for ‘to Him it will return,’ He will lift it from the copies of the Qur’an and from the breasts of men at the end of time so that not a word of it remains in the breasts of men and not a letter in the written copies. Most of those in attendance agreed on this point, and those who disagreed fell silent.

I had spoken to one of them outside these hearings, during which conversation I showed him a copy of the creed that had been compiled by the [Abbasid] Caliph al-Qadir bi-Allah, in which it was stated, ‘The Qur’an is the word of God; it issued forth from Him{kharaja min-h).’ He [my interlocutor] expressed some reservation about the phrase kharaja min-h (it issued forth from Him). So I said, This is the wording of the Prophet himself: ‘God’s servants draw notnear to Him via anything as they do via that which issued forth from Him,’ meaning the Qur’an. Khabbab b. al-Aratt said, O so and so! Draw near to God by whatever means you can; but you will never draw near to Him by anything more loved by Him than that which issued forth from Him.’ And Abu Bakr al-Siddiq said, when the qur’an of Musaylamah the arch-liar was read to him, ‘This speech did not issue forth from any sacred being,’ meaning, ‘any Lord.’

It was read from [al-Wasitiyyah], ‘And Part of belief in Him is to believe that the Qur’an is the uncreated revealed speech of God; from Him it proceeded and to Him it will return; and that God actually spoke its words {takallama bi-hi haqiqatan); and that this Qur’an which God revealed to Muhammad is the actual speech of God, not the speech of anyone else. It is not permissible to say that it is a report about God’s speech (hikayah ‘an kalam Allah) or simply a means of conveying it {‘ibarah). Rather, when the people recite the Qur’an or make written copies of it, it does not cease thereby to be the speech of God. For indeed speech is attributed to the one who utters it originally, not to the one who utters it as transmitter or communicator.’

So one of them took exception to the assertion that it was the actual speech of God, after conceding that God actually spoke it. Then he conceded that it was the actual speech of God when it was xplained to him that, while it is permissible to deny the literal truth of metaphorical statements, it is not permissible to deny this [which proves that it is not merely metaphorically true], and that the  statements handed down from the ancients and the poetry attributed to the poets is their actual speech, and that the relationship of the Qur’an to God is no less than this. All in attendance concurred with what I cited on the question of the Qur’an and the fact that God actually spoke it and that it is the literal word of God, not the speech of anyone else.

When it was mentioned [in the creed] that actual speech is attributed literally to whomever utters it originally not to one who utters it as communicator, they applauded these words and lauded them. Even some of the chief disputants, such as Ibn al-Wakil and others, began  to extol these words and to make an open show of how pleased they were with this synopsis. One of them said, ‘You have done away with our apprehensions and put our hearts at ease.’ And he went on to make similar declarations.

When it came to what I had mentioned about belief in the Last Day, its details and the chronology of its events, they applauded this and extolled it.

The same occured when it came to belief in predestination (qadar)  and the fact that it operates on two levels, and other venerable precepts regarding this doctrine.

The same occurred when it came to what was said about miscreant professing Muslims (al-fasiq al-milli) and faith. But here they raised a number of objections, which I shall now cite.

All in all, the objections of these tendentious quarrelers, after the entire creed had been read and discussed, came down to four questions: first, our statement, Among the tenets of the Party of salvation (usul al-firqah al-najiyah) is that faith and religion comprise words and deeds and are subject to increase and decrease; they comprise the words of the heart and tongue and the deeds of die heart, tongue and limbs.’ They said, If these are held to be among the principles of the Party of Salvation, then those who do not hold this position must not be included among this party, e.g., our rationalist bretheren (ashabu-na al-mutakallimun) who say that faith is [merely] assent (tasdiq), or those who hold that faith is assent joined by verbal profession (al-tasdiq wa-al-iqrar). If these people are not going to be saved, then they must be doomed to perdition.

As for the remaining three objections — which constituted their main contention — they were levied against our statement, ‘And included in what we have mentioned of belief in God is belief in that of which He informs us in His Book and in what reaches us via disparate and concurrent channels (tawatara) from the Prophet and in that upon which the Ancestors of the community were in unanimous agreement (ijms’), i.e. that He, be He exalted, is above the heavens, upon His throne, exalted above His creation, yet with them wherever they are and knows what they do, as He has indicated in His statement,’ He it is who created the heavens and the earth in six terms; then He mounted the throne. He knows what enters the earth and what exists therefrom and what descends from the heavens and what ascends through it. And He is with you wherever you are. And God sees every act that you commit.

Now, the meaning of, ‘He is with you,’ is not that he [physically]permeates creation; for such is not dictated from the standpoint of language, as it also contradicts the consensus of the Ancestors and runs counter to man’s God-given intuition. Rather, the moon is one of God’s signs from among the smallest of His creation. And while it is placed in the sky, it is with the traveller [on earth], along with those who are not travelling, wherever they may be. And He, be He exalted, is above the throne, watching over His creation, guarding over them, cognizant of what they do, etc. , according to all that is commensurate with His divine lordship (rububiyyah). All that God has mentioned here, e.g., that He is above the throne and that He is with us, is literal truth in need of no distortion [of its literal meaning]. But it should be guarded against false ideas. 

The second objection, some of them said, ‘We accept the literal wording of these reports, as we do the hadith of al-‘Abbas,i.e., the so-called “hadith of the Ibex {hadlth al-aw’al),” and the literal wording of, “God is above the Throne.” But we do not say, “He is above the heavens,” or “He is upon the Throne”.’ And they added, ‘We say ‘The Merciful settled upon the throne {al-Rahmanu ‘ala al-‘arsh istawa),” but we do not say, “God settled upon the throne {Allah ‘ala al-‘arsh istawa);” nor do we say, “He is settling”…’ And they repeated this doctrine many times over, i.e., that the wording of scripture must be reproduced verbatim, and that it may not be substituted for by synonyms, and that no meaning is to be understood from these words at all, and that they may not be said to constitute proof of the existence of any divine attribute. This was discussed at length during the second hearing, as I shall mention subsequently, God willing.

The third objection, they said, ‘Your comparison involving the moon entails comparing God’s being in the heavens with the moon’s being in the heavens.’

The fourth objection, they said, ‘Concerning your statement, “literally true” {haqqun ‘ala haqiqati-h); now, literal truth {haqiqah) refers to the lexical meaning [of a term]. And [in this case] literal truth could only be understood to refer to the mounting {istiws’) and aboveness fawqiyyah) of corporeal bodies {ajsam), as the Arabs coined these terms to be used exclusively with reference to corporeal bodies. Thus, to speak of literal truth [in this case] is sheer tajsim-anthropomorphism. And to disavow tajsim while speaking of literal truth is either contradiction or sheer sophistry.’

At this point I offered a response to these objections. I said, My statement, ‘the doctrine of the Party of Salvation,’ refers to the party described by the Prophet as being saved, in his statement: ‘My community will divide into seventy-three sects; seventy-two will enter hell-fire and one paradise. The latter is composed of those who adhere to my way and that of my Companions.’ This doctrine, then, has been handed down on the authority of the Prophet and his Companions. They, along with those who follow them are the Party of Salvation. And, it has been confirmed on theauthority of more than one of the Companions that they used to say, ‘Faith increases and decreases.’ Indeed, everything that I have mentioned in this regard has been handed down on the authority of the Companions, through sound chains of transmission, in letter or in spirit. And if those who came after the Companions contradicted this, this does no harm to these doctrines.

Then I said to them, Not everyone who disagrees with some part of this creed is necessarily doomed. For one who disputes some aspect of this creed may do so on the basis of some faulty exercise of personal judgment (ijtihad), for which God may forgive him. Or the information he has received regarding a particular point may not constitute sufficient proof to him. Or his good deeds may be of such magnitude that God uses them to wipe out bad deeds. And since the pronouncements of divine threat against those who violate right belief are not necessarily inclusive of those who do so on the basis of [innocently faulty] interpretation (al-muta’awwil), or those who repent, or those who have expiatory good deeds, or those whose faults have been forgiven, among others, one who commits some[minor] violation is exempted a fortiori. Nay, the upshot of what I have said here is that whoever believes according to this creed attains salvation commensurate with this belief. And those whose  belief contradicts this creed may attain salvation; and they may not. As the saying goes, ‘Saved is the one who suspends judgment.’

As for the second objection, firstlyy, I answered that every word that I have said has been handed down on the authority of the Prophet, e.g., ‘above the heavens,’ ‘upon the throne,’ ‘above the throne…’ And I said, Write down my response! So the secretary commenced writing.

Then some of them said, Today’s session has gone on long enough. Let us postpone this response for another session. You can prepare a written response and bring it to that session. Some of those who were in agreement [with me] supported the suggestion that the discussion be concluded with a written response, in order to limit the number of questions and objections raised by the opposition.

And it appeared that the opposition was seeking some advantage in postponing the recording of my response: They wanted to prepare themselves, read up [on a few matters], summon some of their colleagues who were not present [at the first hearing], and ponder[my] creed among themselves in order to be able to impugne it and raise further objections against it.

So agreement was reached that the discussion be concluded on the coming Friday. And at this we adjourned.

And God had manifested the veracity of [my] proofs and the clarity of the [right] way such that He raised the stature of the sunnah and the Orthodox Majority (al-jama’ab), and He debased the people of unsanctioned innovation and error. But many of those in attendance harboured apprehensions about what would happen at the second session.

In the meantime, [the opposition] pondered my creed and the manner in which I had responded to certain questions connected to matters of belief, such as the Hamawiyyah question on mounting thethrone, the divine attributes and other things.

When the second session was held on Friday 12 Rajab, following the congregational prayer, they brought with them their leading shaykhs, some of whom were not present at the first hearing. In addition, they brought along Safi al-Din al-Hindi, and they said, ‘He is the most accomplished of the group and our shaykh in ‘ilm al-kalam. They [had] discussed matters among themselves, agreed on a plan and conspired. And they came forth in great strength and with a readiness which they did not have before; for the first session had taken them by surprise, not to mention that it also took me by surpise, I being the defendant, the respondent and the chief discussant.

So when we met, and I had brought forth my written response to their questions, the reply to which they requested be postponed until today, I opened by praising God via the preamble of need, the preamble of Ibn Mas’ud. Then I said, Indeed, God has commanded us to remain a harmonious community; and He has forbidden division and schism. He said to us in the Qur’an, ‘And hold fast, altogether, to the rope of God, and be not disunited.’ And He said, ‘Verily those who have divided their religion and become sectarians, you have nothing to do with them.’ And He said, And be not as those who became divided and differed among themselves after clear guidance had come to them.’ And our lord is one; our Book is one; our Prophet is one; and the basic principles of our religion do not accomodate division and dissension. And I advocate that which promotes community among the Muslims. And this is what was agreed upon by the Ancestors. Now, if the group agrees [with this], then God be praised. If not, I will uncover the secrets and shred the veils of whomever disagrees with me, and I will expose those heretical doctrines that have corrupted religious communities and governments. I will go to the sultan [in Egypt] myself, by post-mule, and acquaint him with matters that I have not mentioned during these hearings. For, indeed, there are words to be spoken at times of peace, and there are words to be spoken at times of war!

I said, No doubt, people dispute among themselves, this one saying, ‘I am a Hanbali,’ that one, ‘I am an Ash’ari,’ and then there runs among them division, strife and dissension over matters the truth of which they do not understand. But I have brought along with me a work that clearly establishes that all of the schools of thought are in agreement with what I have stated [during the course of these hearings]. Then I brought forth Kitab Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari fima Yunsabu ila al-Shaykh Abi al-Hasan al-Ash’ari  (God show him mercy) of the hadith expert, Abu al-Qasim b. al-Asakir, (God show him mercy) and I said, Nothing comparable to this book on the praiseworthy reports from al-Ash’ari has ever been written. It includes al-Ashcari’s position exactly as it appears in [the latter’s]Kitab al-Ibanah (fi usul al-diyanah).

This was the first controversy that occurred in the community. The Kharijites said, ‘They are unbelievers,’ while the [orthodox] majority(al-jama’ah) said, ‘They are believers.’ So one group responded, ‘We say that they are miscreants, neither believers nor unbelievers; rather, we relegate them to a status between the two {manzilah bayn almanzilatayn).’ And they held that such people would dwell in hellfire forever. Then they seceded from the study circle of al-Hasan al-Basrl [d. 110/728] (God show him mercy) and his companions. Because of this they were named ‘secessionists’ {Mu’tazilah). 

The chief among them objected vociferously, It is not as you have explained! Rather, the first controversy among the Muslims was over the question of [divine] speech, and the mutakallimun were named so because of their discourse about this issue. The first one to raise this issue was ‘Amr b. ‘Ubayd [d. 144/761], who was then succeeded after his death by ‘Ata’ b. Wasil — ; and he mentioned similar things.

I became extremely angry at this shaykh and I said, You are wrong! And this is a lie that contradicts consensus. I said to him, You have shown neither propriety, nor virtue, nor have you conducted yourself properly in addressing me; nor is your response correct!

Then I said, The controversy over divine speech occurred during the caliphate of al-Ma’mun [198-218/813-33] and afterwards, during the last part of the second [eigth] century. As for the Mu’tazilites, they appeared long before that, during the time of ‘Amr b. ‘Ubayd, after the death of al-Hasan al-Basri at the beginning of the second [eigth] century. These early Mu’tazilites did not discuss the issue of divine speech, nor were they party to any controversy over it. Rather, their first innovations involved their discourse over the divine names (al-asma’), the [five] principles (al-ahkam), and the issue of divine threat (al-wa’id).

So he [this shaykh] responded, Al-Shahrastani cites the view that I just stated in his Kitab al-Milal wa-al-Nihal.

I said, Al-Shahrastani mentioned that in connection with the term, mutakallimun, i.e. why they were called mutakallimun. He did not cite this in connection with the term, mu’tazilah. And the amir simply asked about the term mu’tazilah.

Those in attendance then rose against this shaykh and said, ‘You are wrong.’

I said during the course of this: I know of every innovation that has occurred in Islam, the first one’s to introduce it, and the reason behind its being introduced. Moreover, that which al-Shahrastani cited regarding the term, mutakallimun is wrong. For the mutakallimun were called by this name before their involvement in the controversy over divine speech. [In fact,] they used to endorse  the view that God speaks and they credited Him with the attribute of speech, on the authority of Wasil b. ‘Ata’, before the controversy over divine speech had even occurred.

I said, along with some others, It was Wasil b. ‘Ata’ [d. 131/748] [who first introduced the question of divine speech], not ‘Ata’ b. Wasil, as previously stated. I said, And Wasil did not live after the death of ‘Amr b. ‘Ubayd; he was, rather, a [contemporary] relative (qarib) of the latter. Thus it could be related that Wasil once delivered a speech, to which ‘Amr b. ‘Ubayd replied, ‘Were a prophet to be sent, he would not speak words more beautiful than these.’ And Wasil’s eloquence was well-known, to the point that it was said that though he suffered a speech impediment because of which he would avoid pronouncing the letter r (ra), one day it was said to him, The amir has ordered that a well be dug in the middle of the road. To this he responded, Is the general too good to have a well dug in the road?

When I came to what al-Ash’ari had stated, their leading shaykh, who had been put forth to represent them, said, There is no doubt that Imam Ahmad is a great imam, among the greatest in Islam. But there are people who have made unsanctioned innovations while claiming affiliation with him.

I said, This is true. But this is not exclusive to Imam Ahmad. On the contrary, there is not a single imam who has not been claimed by some party with whom he has nothing to do. Malik has been claimed by people with whom he has nothing to do. Al-Shafi’ has been claimed by people with whom he has nothing to do. Abu Hanifah has been claimed by people with whom he has nothing to do. Moses, upon him be peace, has been claimed by people with whom he has nothing to do. Jesus, upon him be peace, has been claimed by people with whom he has nothing to do. “Ali b. Abi Talib has been claimed by people with whom he has nothing to do. And our Prophet, God’s blessings and salutations be upon him, has been claimed by the Qarmathians, the Batiniyyah and others, including all types of atheists and hypocrites, with whom he has nothing to do.

This shaykh had mentioned in the course of this that people from among the hashwiyyah and tashbih-anthropomorphists have claimed affiliation with Ahmad. And he added similar assertions.

I said, The tashbih- and tajsim-anthropomorphists number more among other groups than they do among the disciples of Imam Ahmad. These various groups of Kurds, for example, all of them are Shafis; and there is tashbih- and tajsim-anthropomorphism among them such as exists among no other group. The people of Jilan, some of them are Shafiis and some Hanbalis. I said: As for the pure Hanbalis {al-Hanbaliyyah al-mahdah), these fallacies do not afflict them as they do their counterparts. And my coup de grace here was, These tajsim-anthropomorphist Karramites, all of them are Hanafis!

I went on to speak about the term, hashwiyyah, though I am not sure whether this was in response to a question from the amir or someone else, or simply of my own accord.

I said, The first ones to innovate this term were the Mu’tazilites, who used to refer to the majority and the masses as hashw, just as the Shi’ites refer to them as al-jumhur (plebians, general public). The hashw among a people are its commoners, the majority, in contradistinction to the distinguished nobility. They say, ‘This person is from the hashw of the people,’ just as it is said, ‘This person is from the jumhur.’ And the first person to speak of this was Amr b. ‘Ubayd, who used to say: “Abd Allah b. ‘Umar was a hashwl! Thus, the Mu’tazilites refer to the majority as hashw, just as the Shi’ites refer to them as al-jumhur.

I said to the aforementioned shaykh, ‘Who among the leading disciples of Imam Ahmad, God show him mercy, are hashwiyyah, according to what you mean by that term. Al-Athram? Abu Dawud? Al-Mirwadhi? Al-Khallal? Abu Bakr Abd al-‘Aziz? Abu al-Hasan al-Tamimi? Ibn Hamid? Qadi Abu Ya’la? Abu al-Khattab? Ibn ‘Aqil?’ Then I raised my voice and said, ‘Name them! Tell me! Are any of these men hashwisi Who are they? Is the sharfah to be dismantled and the lineaments of religion effaced on the strength of Ibn al-Khatib’s lies and his misrepresenting people’s doctrines? For example, as he and others have attributed to some people that they say, ‘The sempiternal Qur’an is the voices of the reciters and the ink of the copyists, and the voice and the ink are sempiternal.’ Now, whoever said this? And in what book are these statements of theirs to be found? Tell me! Similar is his attributing to them the belief that there will be no beautific vision of God in the Hereafter, according to what he claimed to be the necessary implications of a premise he claimed they endorsed.’

I went on to insist that this shaykh, being the leader of the group, their patron and a man of reason and religious devotion, deserved to be treated accordingly. And I instructed [the secretary] to read the creed all over for him, since he was not present at the first session but was simply brought along to the second to strengthen the opposition.

After this hearing, a trusted individual (thiqah) informed me that he met with this shaykh and that the latter said to him, ‘Tell me what happened at the first hearing.’ So this individual said to him: ‘So and so [i.e., Ibn Taymiyyah?] has committed no sin, and neither have I. The amir simply asked him about something to which he responded, though you may have been given to understand that he had asked him about something else.’

He [my informant] said, I said to them, You have no valid objections against the man; he simply supported abstaining from allegorical interpretation (ta’wil), while you support allegorical interpretation. And both of these are positions attributed to al-Ash’ari. He added, I myself favour the position against allegorical interpretation. He presented his credo in which he had affirmed his creed; and in it was the doctrine of abstaining from allegorical interpretation.

My informant then said to me, ‘So I said to this shaykh, “I hear that at the end of the hearing, when everyone was called upon to give sworn testimony indicating their agreement [to exonerate Ibn Taymiyyah], you said, ‘Do not write that I approve nor that I disapprove.’Now, why was that?”‘

The shaykh responded, ‘For two reasons; first, I did not attend the full reading of the creed at the first session. Second, because the members of my school asked me to attend the hearings in order to bolster their position; and it would have been improper, in light of this, for me to make an open display of disagreement with them. So I abstained from supporting either party.’

I had reiterated the order more than once that the creed be read over in its entirety for this shaykh. But some of those in attendance thought that this would take too long, so they suggested that only those parts about which they had questions be read. And the most significant matter here was [my use of] the word haqiqah. So they read this to him.

This shaykh himself cited a handsome argument in connection with the meaning of the term [haqiqah], for which I expressed my admiration and praised him. I added, There is no doubt that God is literally alive {hayyun haqiqatan), literally knows, literally hears, and literally sees. On this there is consensus among Ahl al-Sunnah and those who accept the divine attributes among all the parties. Were some who are given to unsanctioned innovation {ahl al-bid’ah) to  dispute any part of this, there would remain no doubt that God [still] exists. But created beings also exist. Whether the term ‘existence’ is applied to the uncreated and the created denotatively {bi-al-ishtirak al-lafzi), or connotatively (bi-al-tawatu’), which entails the intermingling of both the expression and its meaning, or ambiguously (bi-al-tashkik), which is a type of connotative usage — on every usage, God literally exists; and created entities literally exist as well. To apply a term in its literal sense to both the Creator and the created entails no danger.

During this session, however, I did not come out in favourof any one of these three usages. For my point was duly made assuming any one of them. My point was simply to establish the truth of what I had said about the position of all the parties, and to clarify the fact that the position of the Ancestors and those who follow them is in agreement with what I said, and that the position of the leading scholars of the four schools of law, as well as that of al-Ash’ari and his leading disciples, concurs with what I have said.

For, sometime before this second hearing, I was visited by a group of leading scholars, some Shafiis, some who claim affiliation with al-Ash’ari, some Hanafis, and others, all of whom had grave apprehensions about the upcoming hearing and [the possibility of] a triumph by the opposition. They were also fearful of what would befall them [should this hearing result] in schism. For, were I to give manifest proof in support of what I said, or if none of the leaders of their schools concurred with my arguments, the result would be schism, and it would become difficult thereafter for those who visited me to express publicly views that contradicted those of their group, this being grist to the mill of their adversaries. Meanwhile, were there among the leaders of their schools some who supported my view, there being proof to back up what I had said and to clarify the fact that this was the position of the Ancestors, these people would then be able to advocate these views openly, not to mention that this is what they believed in their hearts to be the truth all along.

[Their apprehensions reached the point] that one of the leading Hanafis who had come to meet me said, If you would only say, ‘This is the position of Ahmad b. Hanbal,’ and substantiate it, the dispute would be terminated. He meant that I could fend off the opposition on grounds that this was a recognized school of thought, while, at the same time, both those who supported me and those who disagreed with me would be relieved of having to express approval [with my creed].

I said, No, by God! Ahmad b. Hanbal has no special claim to this. This is simply the doctrine of the ancestors of the community and the Imams of the Parisans of Hadith. This, I added, is the creed of the Messenger of God. For every word I have mentioned I could cite a verse from the Qur’an, or a hadith, or an ancient consensus, and I could quote from all the parties of Muslims — the followers of the four schools, the mutakallimun, the Partisans of Hadith, and the Sufis — people who related a consensus on the authority of the Ancestors [confirming what I said].

I said to the those leading Shafi’is who addressed me: “Look, I will make clear that what I have stated is the position of the Ancestors and the leading scholars among the followers of al-Shafi’i. I will cite the doctrine of al-Ash’ari and the leading scholars among his disciples, which will refute the position of these opponents. Every Shaf’ii will gain a victory; and so will everyone who advocates that position of al-Ash’ari which is in agreement with the doctrine of the Ancestors. I will prove that the view attributed to him [al-Ash’ari] in support of allegorically interpreting the divine attributes has no basis in anything he ever said but is, rather, the view of a party of his followers. Indeed, it is the Ash’arites who have two views [on this issue], not al-Ash’ari!”

When I mentioned at the hearings that all of the names of God that are also used with reference to created beings, such as the term ‘existence’, which is used to refer to the reality of the necessary {wdjib) and the possible (mumkin), according to the three [previously mentioned] usages, two of the elders began to dispute over whether the term ‘existence’ is used denotatively (bi-al-ishtirak) or connotatively (bi-al-tawatu’). Said one of them, ‘It is  said connotatively.’ Said the other, ‘It is used denotatively,’ in order to avoid being bound to a theory of composition (tarkib). Said the latter, ‘Fakhr al-Din [al-Razi] has said that this controversy is based on the question of whether His existence is identical to His essence. Those who say that the existence of every thing is identical to its essence say that “existence” is denotative; those who say that the existence of a thing is something additional to its essence say that “existence” is connotative.’ Then the former began to give preponderance to the view of those who say that existence is additional to essence, in order to defend the thesis that ‘existence’ is used connotatively. The second disputant replied, ‘It is not the thesis of al-Ash’ari and Ahl al-Sunnah that His existence is identical to His essence.’ The first elder then denounced this.

So I said, As for the Speculative Rationalists of Ahl al-Sunnah{mutakallimu ahl al-sunnah), according to them the existence of every thing is identical to its essence. As for the other doctrine, it is the doctrine of the Mu’tazilites, i.e., that the existence of everything is something additional to its essence. And both of these groups are correct from a certain point of view. Indeed, the truth of the matter is that these names are in fact used connotatively {bi-al-tawati’), as I have established elsewhere where I rectified the fallacy of  composition {shubhat al-tarkib) in two well-known treatises. As for this being based on the existence of every thing being identical to its essence or not, this is a result of the false doctrine attributed to Ibn al-Khatib. For, indeed, even if we say that the existence of every thing is identical to its essence, it does not necessarily follow that the name used to designate this thing and its corresponding likeness {nazir) denotes only nominal similarity {ishtirak lafzi) between them, as is the case with generic nouns. For indeed, the term ‘blackness’ applies, connotatively {bi-al-tawatu’), to this blackness and to that clackness, while this blackness is not the same as that. Rather, what the term refers to is only what is common {al-qadr al-mushtarak) between them, namely, an abstract universal. But true abstract universals exist only in the mind. Yet, it does not follow [from this] that what is common among entities existing in the outside world must be denied. For such would necessitate the denial of all connotative nouns {al-asma’ al-mutawati’ah); and these constitute the bulk of nouns found in languages, i.e., generic nouns (asma’ al-ajnas), which are nouns that apply to a thing and all its resemblances, be it a concrete noun {ism al-‘ayn), or an adjectival noun {ism sifah), primary {jamid), or derivative {mushtaqq), and whether it be a generic of logic, law, or other. Nay, generic nouns [alone], linguistically speaking, include genera, categories, species and the like. And all of these are connotative nouns whose referents are individually distinguishable in the outside world.

Then one of them petitioned a re-reading of the hadiths cited in the creed, so that he could impugne the validity of some of them.

I understood what he was hinting at, so I said, ‘It seems that you have come prepared to impugne the hadith of the Ibexes {hadith al-aw’al), i.e., the hadlth of al-‘Abbas b. ‘Abd al-Muttalib.’ And they had gone to great pains until they finally came upon what Zaki al-Din  Abd al-‘Azim mentioned about al-Bukhari’s statement in the latter’s Tarikh, i.e., “Abd Allah b. ‘Amirah is not known to have heard from  Al-Ahnaf.’

I said, This hadith, in addition to being narrated by the compilers of the sunan collections, such as Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, al-Tirmidhi and others, has also been narrated via two other wellknown channels. To criticise one of these does not amount to a valid criticism of the others.

So he responded, Does not this hadith revolve around the person of Ibn ‘Amirah, while al-Bukhari has already stated that he was not known to have heard from al-Ahnaf?

I said, The great imam of imams, Ibn Khuzaymah, related this hadith in his Kitdb al-Tawhid, a book in which he stipulated that he would adduce only those reports that had been passed on from one reliable transmitter to another, going all the way back to the Prophet.

I added, Assertion [in matters such as the validity of a report] takes precedence over denial. Al-Bukhari, meanwhile, simply denied that  he knew of Ibn ‘Amirah’s having heard from al-Ahnaf; he did not deny that other people might know of this. If someone else, such as the imam of imams, Ibn Khuzaymah, knows of an unbroken chain of transmitters, his knowledge and his assertion are to be given precedence over the denial and lack of knowledge on the part of others.

The group then agreed on this. And some of them began to heap praise upon me in ways better left unmentioned.

Then they began to debate things that had not been mentioned in the creed but which were related to some of the things that I had said in response to [their] questions and in response to what some people may have understood from what was stated in the creed. One of the chiefs among them brought forth al-Bayhaqi’s Kitab al-Asmsd’ wa-al-sifst, and said, This contains an allegorical interpretation (ta’wil) of the face (al-wajh) on the authority of the Ancestors. I said, Perhaps you have in mind the Exalted’s statement, ‘So whichever way you turn, there will be the face of God (fa-aynama tuwallu fa-thamma uajhu Allah). He said, ‘Yes; and Mujahid and al-Shafii have said, “This means the direction of God {‘qiblat AllAh)”-

I said: Yes. This is rightly attributed to Mujahid, al-Shafii and others. And this [interpretation] is correct. But this verse is not of the verses on divine attributes. Whoever considers it such, as one party does, is simply in error. For the context of these words point to its intended meaning: God says, ‘And to God belongs the east and the west. So whichever way you turn, there will be the face {wajh) of God.

Now, the east and west are directions; and ‘face’ {wajh) here means direction. One says, ‘Which face do you want,’ meaning, ‘Which direction do you want [to go],’ as one says, ‘I want this face,’ meaning, ‘I want [to go in] this direction,’ as the Exalted said, ‘Every community has a direction towards which it faces {wa-li-kullin wijhatun huwa muwalli-ha) .

And because of this He said, ‘So whichever way you turn, there will be the face of God’, meaning whichever way you face, whichever way you turn. God knows best. And may He shower His blessings upon Muhammad.

Ibn Taymiyyah on Trial in Damascus
Jackson, SA.  journal of semitic studies.  v. 39. no. 1.   1994.


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