Being a Translation with notes


Kitab al-‘Ilm 



Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din


On what is popularly considered to be a part of the science of religion, but is (really) not, including a discussion of the circumstances under which some of the sciences would be blameworthy, and on the exposition of how the names of certain sciences, jurisprudence, the science of religion, theology, admonition, and philosophy, have been changed, as well as on showing how much of sacred knowledge is praiseworthy and how much is blameworthy.

Why blameworthy knowledge is so regarded. You may say that knowledge is seeing things as they really are, which is one of the attributes of Allah. Now, then, could a thing be knowledge and at the sometime be blame worthy? Be advised then that knowledge is not held to be blameworthy in itself. It is only regarded as such in the eyes of men for one of three reasons.

First when it leads to any harm, whether the harm should befall its practiser or someone else besides, for which reason the science of magic and talismans is held blameworthy. This is right and in accordance with the Qur’an which so attests. It is also a means for separating husband and wife. The Apostle of Allah himself was the victim of magic which caused him to become sick until Gabriel made it known to him and exorcized the evil spirit from underneath a stone in the bottom of a well.1 Magic is something obtained through the knowledge of the properties of the precious stones and mathematical calculations relative to the places and times of the rising of the stars. A skeleton resembling the person to be charmed is made out of these

1.      For this incident see ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. II, Pt. 2, pp. 4-6; al-Bukhari: Tibb, 47, 49, 50; ibn-Majah, Tibb, 45.


precious stones, which is gazed into, to the accompaniment of constant repetition of words of unbelief and obscenity which are contrary to law, until a special time in the rising of the stars arrives. Through it the aid of the devils is secured with the result that, in accordance with the established order Allah has ordained, strange states befall the charmed person. In so far as knowing these things constitutes knowledge, it is not blameworthy. Nevertheless, it is of no use except for harming people. The instrument of evil is in itself evil, and it is for this reason that magic is regarded blameworthy. If a person should pursue one of the saints of Allah in order to kill him, but the saint should hide in a safe place and, then, the oppressor inquires about the saint’s whereabouts, it would not be permissible to point out his hiding place, but rather, under the circumstances, lying would be incumbent. For while pointing out the whereabouts of the saint is, in itself, a true statement of the fact, nevertheless it is blameworthy because it breeds injury.

Second, a knowledge is blameworthy when it is mostly (fi ghalib al-amr) harmful as, for example, astronomy which is not, in itself, blameworthy, because it is of two parts: The first is mathematical in reference to which the Qur’an has pronounced that by it the courses of the sun and the moon are reckoned. Thus Allah said, “And the sun and the moon (run their courses) according to a (certain) reckoning.”1 And again, “And as for the moon we decreed stations for it, till it changes like an old and crooked palm branch.”2 The second is astrology (ahkam) the gist of which is that future events are indicated by present causes. This is similar to how a physician is guided by the patient’s pulse to predict the future development of a disease. Astrology is therefore an attempt to know the course of the laws and ordinances of Allah relative to His creatures. But the law has declared it blameworthy. Thus the Prophet said, “Whenever the decrees of Allah are mentioned, withhold (from discussing them); whenever the stars are mentioned, desist (from any talk); and when my Companions are mentioned, refrain (from any gossip).” And again, “After my

1.      Surah LV: 4.

2.      Surah XXXV: 39.



death three things I fear for my people, the injustice of Imams, the belief in the star (astrology), and disbelief in the decrees of Allah.” Umar ibn-al-Khattab said, “Acquire of the science of the stars enough to lead you on land and on sea but no more.” He warned against it for three reasons: First, because it is harmful to most people, since if they were told that these results would ensue consequent upon the course of that stars, they might think that it is the stars which influence the course of events and are also the gods who direct the world. Furthermore, in view of the fact that the stars are glorious celestial bodies and awe-inspiring to the hearts, man’s heart would naturally become focussed upon them and would see both good and evil required or forbidden by the stars with the result that the name of Allah would be erased from the heart. The feeble-minded one does not look beyond the means, and only the learned man who is well-grounded in knowledge would understand that the sun, moon, and stars are subject to the will of Allah. Thus the parable of the feeble-minded person who thinks that the light of the sun is the result of its rising, is like the parable of an ant which as it happened upon the surface of a sheet of paper, was endowed with reason and thereupon watched the movement in the process of writing, only to think that it was the work of the pen, but would not go beyond that to see the fingers, and behind the fingers the hand, and behind the hand the will which moves it, and behind the will a deliberate and an able scribe, and behind all, the Creator of the hand,, and the ability, and the will. Most people do not look beyond the nearby and earthly causes and never arrive at the Cause of all causes. This, therefore, is one of the reasons why the science of the stars has been forbidden.

A second reason is that astrology is purely guess work and in the opinion of the average man, the influence of the stars is not determined either with certainty or even with probability. Pronouncements in connection with it are the result of ignorance. Consequently, astrology has been pronounced blameworthy because of this ignorance, not because it is knowledge. Furthermore, this knowledge, it is said, was of a miraculous nature possessed by


Prophet ldris,1 but has now vanished and is no more. The rare cases in which the astrologer happens to be correct are coincidences. He may happen upon some of the causes, but the effect will not result therefrom unless several other conditions, the comprehension of whose realities are beyond the reach of human beings, should prevail. If, however, Allah should grant to him the knowledge of the remaining causes, the astrologer’s prediction would come true; but if that is not granted to him, he would err and his prediction would be not unlike the guess of a man who is moved to say whenever he sees the clouds gathering and rising from the mountain tops, that there will be rain this day. Rain may actually fall though it is also possible that a hot sun should rise and disperse the clouds. The mere presence of clouds in the skies is not sufficient for bringing down rain; there are other conditions which cannot be determined. Similarly, the sailor’s guess that the ship will have a safe sailing is based upon the usual behaviour of the winds with which he is familiar. But there are unknown factors which control the movements of the winds and which the sailor would never know. Consequently, he would sometimes guess correctly and sometimes he would err. For this reason, even the strong minded person has been forbidden to practise astrology.

A third reason why man has been warned against the science of the stars is because it is of no use at all. The most which could be said on its behalf is that it is, at its best, an intrusion into useless things and a waste of time and life which is man’s most precious belonging. Such a thing is the most serious loss.

Once upon a time, the Apostle of Allah passed by a man surrounded by a crowd. On asking what the matter was, he was told that the man was learned authority “On what?” the Prophet said, and was told, “On poetry and Arab genealogy.” Thereupon the Prophet said, “This is a science whose knowledge availeth not and the ignorance of which harmeth not.” And again, “Verily knowledge is an attested wonder, or an observed law, or a just ordinance.”2

1.      The Muslim equivalent to Enoch See Surahs XIX: 57, XXI: 58; cf Gen. 4:17; 5: 8-24; Heb 11:5.

2.      Cf ibn-Majah, Intro., 8: 3; abu-Dawud, al-Fara’id, l.



Therefore meddling into astrology and the like is a hazardous undertaking, both foolish and useless, because what has been ordained shall be, while the attempt to avoid it is impossible. On the contrary, in medicine, for which the need is great, most of the principles, unlike those of the interpretation (of dreams), can be determined and known; unlike interpretation, too, in spite of the fact that it may sometimes be guess work, there is no danger inherent in medicine.

The third reason (for which a kind of knowledge may be pronounced blameworthy) is when the pursuit of that kind of knowledge does not give the practiser any real scientific advantage. Consequently, such knowledge is intrinsically blameworthy, as, for example, the study of the trivial sciences before the important ones, and the obscure before the significant, like delving into the divine mysteries which have been pursued by both the philosophers and the theologians; but neither they nor anyone else could grasp it in whole or in part except the prophets and the saints. For this reason people should be deterred from delving into these mysteries, and instead, be diverted to pursue those subjects which the law allows, wherein lies sufficiency for the guided. How many a person has delved into the sciences and reaped injury therefrom? Had he not meddled in them, his religious standing would have been far better that its resultant condition. It is, thus, undeniable that knowledge is harmful to certain people just as bird meat and several kinds of excellent pastry are injurious to the suckling infant. Still more there are persons for whom ignorance is, in some cases, beneficial. It is thus related that a certain person had once complained to a physician about the sterility of his wife - that she bore him no children. The physician, thereupon, examined the wife’s pulse and told her that she needed no medicine for bearing children because her pulse indicated that she was destined to die within forty days. On hearing that, the woman became gravely frightened and perturbed and gave away all her possessions, having also written her will. Furthermore, because of worry she remained for those forty days without either food of drink. Nevertheless, she did not die, to which the physician replied, “I knew that all along! Go


to her now and she will bear you children.” The husband said, “But how could that be?” The physician answered and said, “Seeing that your wife was fleshy and the fat gathered around the mouth of her womb, and knowing that she would not reduce except from fear of death, I frightened her until she became thin and the obstruction to bearing children has now gone.” This, therefore, would show you the dangers of some of the branches of knowledge and would make clear to you the significance of the words of the Prophet when he said, “We seek refuge in Allah from useless knowledge.”1 Do not, then, be a seeker after sciences which the law has pronounced blameworthy and against which it has warned. Rather be steadfast in emulating the example of the Companions and follow nothing but the usage of the Prophet; for safety lies in obedience whereas in adventure and aberration lies danger. Do not also boast much of your so-called opinion, reasonable judgement, proof and evidence, as well as the claim that you investigate into things in order to find out and determine their true nature and that there is no harm in the pursuit of knowledge. Truly the harm that might befall you therefrom would be greater (than the benefits). Many are the things whose knowledge is harmful to you to the extent that it might ruin you in the hereafter unless Allah should intervene with His mercy. You should also know that just as the keen and skillful physician masters secret therapies which, to the lay mind, seen strange and improbable, so also do the Prophets who are the physians of the hearts and the experts on the principles which underlie life in the herafter - (in their field of religion they achieve a knowledge which no lay mind can grasp). Consequently, do not pass judgement on their ways according to what you deem reasonable or you would perish. Not infrequently a person may injure one of his fingers and following his own mind would proceed to apply ointment to it until the skillful physician points out to him that he should treat it by applying the ointment to the opposite shoulder.2 But the patient, not knowing how the sinews branch out into the body or where they spring from or how they go around the body, would deem it very unusual and improbable. The same is true of the hereafter and of the particulars of the statutes of

1.      Ibn-Majah, Intro., 23:1

2.      Breads: palm



the law, its rules and articles of faith which have been ordained for man to follow; all are imbued with mysteries and symbols which are beyond the capacity and the ability of the mind to perceive, just as the properties of the precious stones possess wonderful qualities which experts have failed to understand, so much so that no one has been able to determine the reason why the magnet attracts iron. Yet the wonderful and strange things in faith and works and their usefulness for the purity of the heart as well as its cleanliness, integrity, and rectitude in order to be lifted up to the neighbourhood of Allah, so that it might be exposed to the breeze of His bounty, are far more numerous and greater than anything in medicines and drugs. And as the mind fails to discern the things which are useful for life in the hereafter, especially since it is not possible to determine them through experimentation. These things would be subject to experimentation only if some of the dead would return and enlighten us as to what faith and works are acceptable and useful in the sight of Allah, and would bring man nearer to Him, and what faith and works would estrange the creature from his Maker. But alas, this is not possible and is not to be expected. You should be satisfied if your mind would guide you to the truth of the words of the Prophet and make plain to you the significance of his counsel. Put aside, therefore, the promoting of your mind from your conduct and persist in comformity, for nothing else would save you. For this reason the Prophet said, “Verily some forms of knowledge are ignorance and (eloquent) speech, incoherence.” Of course knowledge is never ignorance but may have the same harmful influence as ignorance. The Prophet also said, “A little bit of divine guidance is better than a great deal of knowledge” Jesus also said, “Many are the trees, but not all are fruitful; plentiful are the fruit, but not all are edible; (likewise) many are the branches of knowledge, but not all are useful.”1


You should also know that the source of confusion of the blameworthy sciences with the sacred is the tampering with, and the

1.      Not in the canonical gospels.


changes in, the names of the praiseworthy sciences and the alterations introduced therein, in bad faith, so as to connote other than those which the righteous fathers and the first-century Muslims intended. Consequently, five terms, namely, jurisprudence (fiqh), the science of religion (al-‘ilm), theology (tawhid), admonition (tadhkir), and philosophy (hikmah), all names of praiseworthy sciences, whose possessors have held the chief positions in the religious organisation, but which now have been altered so that they connote something blameworthy ; yet people have become reluctant to condemn those who possess them because of the widespread practice of applying these names to all of them alike.

The first term to be affected was jurisprudence whose meaning has been tampered with not so much by alteration and change but by limitation. It has thus been limited to the knowledge of unusual legal cases, the mastery of the minute details of their origins, excessive disputation on them, and the retention of the different opinions which relate to them. The person who goes more deeply into these things than his colleagues and devotes more time to them than the rest is considered the most versatile in jurisprudence. But in the early period of Islam the term jurisprudence (fiqh) was applied to the science of the path of the hereafter and the knowledge of the subtle defects of the soul, the influences of which render works corrupt, the thorough realization of the inferiority of this life, the urgent expectation of bliss in the hereafter, and the domination of fear over the heart. This is, indicated by the words of Allah when He said. “.... that they may instruct themselves in their religion, and may warn their people when they come back to them.”1 Jurisprudence is therefore, that which brings about such a warning and such a fear rather than details of ordinary divorce or divorce through li‘an, or manumission (‘ataq),2 salam contracts, and hire, rental, and lease (ijarah), which produce neither warning nor fear. On the contrary, to devote oneself exclusively to these things hardens the heart and removes from it all fear which is exactly what we now see in those who have so devoted themselves. Allah thus said, “Hearts have they with which they understand not,” 3

1.      Surah IX: 123. Al-Ghazzali took this verse out of its context.

2.      Also ‘itq.

3.      Surah VII: 178; cf. 115: 4-8, 135: 15-18.



having had in mind the meaning of belief, not of legal opinions. Upon my life, the word fiqh (discernment), now used for jurisprudence, and the word fahm (understanding) are nothing but two names for the same thing. At the present time, however, they are used both in their earlier and also their modem significations. Allah said, “Indeed ye are a greater source of fear in their hearts than Allah! This is because they are a people void of any discernment.”1 He thus attributed their little fear of Allah and their great terror of the power of man to their meagre discernment. Judge, then, for yourself whether this was the result of not learning the details of legal opinions or the outcome of the disappearance of those sciences we have already mentioned. Speaking to the envoys who called on him, the Prophet addressed them saving, “Learned, wise and discerning.”

Sa‘id ibn-Ibrahim al-Zuhri2 was once asked which of the people of al-Madinah he thought was the most discerning, and he replied, “He who fears Allah the most,” thus pointing out that the fruit of religious insight (fiqh) and piety is in fact the fruit of esoteric knowledge rather than that of legal opinions and decisions.

The Prophet said, “Shall I tell you who is the profoundly discerning man?” They answered, “Yes.” Thereupon he said, “The profoundly discerning man is he who has not induced people to despair of the mercy of Allah; nor made them feel safe (rather than urge them to repent) during the period of respite which Allah, out of patience, gives unto man; nor made them lose hope in the spirit of Allah; nor discarded the Qur’an in favour of something else.” When Anas ibn-Malik3 related the following words of the Prophet. “I prefer sitting in the company of men who praise Allah from sunset until sunrise to the setting free of four slaves,” he turned to Yazid al-Raqahi4 and Ziyad al-Numayri5 and said, “Our meetings of invocation (dhikr) were different from your present gatherings in which one of

1.      Surah LIV: 13.

2.      A.H. 201/A.D. 816-17; see ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. VIL, pp. 2, 83; al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Ta’rikh Baghdad, Vol. IX (Cairo, 1349), pp. 1234.

3.      A.H. 93/A.D. 711-12; see ibn Qutaybah, p.157.

4.      Zayd in “C”; cf. ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. VII, Pt. 2, p. 13; al-Sam‘ani, f. 256 b.

5.      Al-Sam‘ani, f. 569 b.


you delivers his sermons before his friends and recites traditions. We used to sit and ponder over the articles of faith, study the meaning of the Qur’an, enlighten ourselves in matters of religion and enumerate the blessings of Allah upon us.” Hence the process of studying the meaning of the Qur’an and of enumerating the blessings of Allah was called enlightenment. Said the Prophet, “The servant will not attain perfect religious insight until he should hate men in the essence of Allah and see in the Qur’an several meanings.”1 This same tradition has been related as a mawquf tradition (tradition whose ‘sanad goes back to the Companions, but stops short of the Prophet) going back to abu-al-Darda’ who is supposed to have added, “(the servant) would then turn to himself and would hate himself more.” Asked once by Farqad al-Sabakhi2 about something, al-Hasan expounded his view but the former retorted. “The jurisprudence disagree with you.” Thereupon al-Hasan exclaimed, “May thy mother be bereft of thee! Hast thou ever seen with thine own eyes a (real) jurisprudent? Verily the (real) jurisprudent is he who forsaketh the world and seeketh the hereafter, who understandeth the import of his religion, persisteth in the worship of his Lord, is pious, restraineth himself from attacks on the reputation of his fellow Muslims, abstaineth from (reaching his hand to) their riches, and giveth them advice.” In all of this, he did not say, “who knoweth all legal opinions”. Nevertheless, I do not say that the term jurisprudence (fiqh) did not include legal opinion in civil cases as well. This, however, was either in a general and broad manner or by way of regarding the one a subdivision of the other. But its application to the science of the hereafter was more common. Consequently, this restriction brought forth some ambiguity which caused men to devote themselves solely to it to the neglect of the science of the hereafter and the nature of the heart. Furthermore, in their own human nature, men found encouragement, since esoteric knowledge is abstruse, to live by it is difficult, and to attain through it candidacy for office, whether executive or judiciary, or a position of prestige and wealth, is not possible. For this reason, by means of

1.      This is a literal translation, the meaning of which may be: “he should hate men (because of his absorption) in the essence of Allah.”

2.      A.H. 131/A.D. 748-9; see ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. VII Pt. 2, p. 11.



restricting the signification of the term jurisprudence, which according to the law is a praiseworthy term, Satan found the opportunity to make the neglect of the science of the hereafter and the alteration in the connotation of its name attractive to the human heart.

The second term to have been altered is the science of religion (al-’ilm) which used to be applied to the knowledge of Allah, His miracles, and His works among His servants and creatures. When, therefore, (the Caliph) ‘Umar died, ibn-Mas’ud exclaimed, “Verily nine-tenths of the science of religion (al-’ilm) has passed away.” He thus designated this knowledge as the science, using the definite article, and then explained it as the knowledge of Allah. Yet people used the term freely and altered its meaning by restriction until it became more commonly applied to those who debate cases of jurisprudence and the like with adversaries and are dubbed learned in the truth, versatile in knowledge, while those who do not practice that nor take it up are numbered among the weak, and are not considered to belong to the company of the learned. This also is alteration by restriction. But most of what has been said regarding the excellence of learning and the learned relates to the learned in Allah, His ordinances, His works, and His attributes. Nevertheless, it has now become customary to apply the word learned to those who do not comprehend of the science of the law except controversial syllogisms on disputed cases. Those versed in such gymnastics, in spite of their ignorance of the sciences of interpretation, tradition and religion, are now numbered among the versatile learned men. This, as a result, has proved detrimental to a great number of those who seek knowledge.

The third term (to suffer alteration) was theology (tawhid) which has now become equivalent to scholastic theology (sina ‘at al-kalam), the knowledge of the methods of argumentation, the manner of confounding adversaries, and the ability to be diffuse in speech by means of asking too many questions, raising doubts, and formulating requisites, to an extent that some of those groups have gone so far as to call themselves ‘The People of Equity and Unity’ (ahl al-adl w-al-tawhid)1 while the scholastic theologians were called the learned men of religion although nothing of the tenets of their profession was known during the early period of Islam. On the contrary the learned men at that time condemned very strongly anyone who would take to disputation and contention.

As to the evident proofs which the mind accepts immediately on hearing and which are contained in the Qur’an, they have been known to all. Knowledge of the Qur’an was all knowledge while theology (tawhid) signified something else which was beyond the comprehension of most scholastic theologians, and which, when they comprehended it, they were not called after its name. Theology was then the belief that all things come from Allah, a belief which ruled out all intermediary causes (al-asbab w-al-wasa’il). Both good and evil would then be seen as coming completely from Allah. Such a thing is a noble station one of whose fruits is dependence, which will be described in the Book on Dependence. Of its fruits, too, are to discontinue blaming people and being angry with them, contentment, and resignation to the will of Allah. One of its fruits, also, has been illustrated by the words of abu-Bakr who when asked during his sickness, “Shall we call you a physician?” said, “(It was) the physician (who) made me sick.” According to another report when he fell sick he was asked, “What has the physician told you about your sickness?” To which he replied. “He hath told me, ‘Verily I doeth what I chooseth.’”2 Examples of this will also appear in the book on Dependence and the book on the Unity of Allah.

Theology(tawhid) is, therefore, like a precious fruit which is encased in two successive husks. Obviously the outer husk is farther from the pith than the inner husk. People have thus applied the term [theology] exclusively to the husk which encases the pith, as well as to their protection, and have entirely ignored the pith itself. The outer husk represents the verbal profession that there is no god but Allah, which profession is called monotheism in contra-distinction to the

1.      These were the Mu’tazilites.See al-Shaharastani, al-Milal w-al-Nihal, ed., William Cureton (London, 1846), pp. 29-31.

2.      Cf Surahs XI: 109; LXXXV:16; Hikyat al- Awliya’, Vol. 1, p. 34.



trinitarianism the Christians profess. Such a profession, however, may come from the lips of hypocrite whose secret thoughts contradict his open declaration. The inner husk represents the state wherein the heart neither opposes nor denies to express meaning of this statement, but rather the outward expression of the heart represents its belief and the acceptance of that belief. This is the monotheism which the common folk profess. As already mentioned, the theologians are the guardians of these husks against the corruption of innovators.

The third part is the pith itself. It represents the belief that all things come from Allah, a belief which rules out any consideration of instrumentalities and implies worshipping Him and no other thing besides Him. Those who follow their own passions do not conform to this monotheism, because anyone who follows his own passions makes them the object of his worship. Thus Allah said, “Hast thou seen him who hath made a god of his passions.”1 The Prophet also said, “Of all the gods who have been worshipped on earth Allah hateth the passions most.” Actually, anyone who would think, would find out that the idol worshipper worships not the idol but his own passions because his soul is inclined after the religion of his fathers and he follows that inclination. The inclination of the soul towards the things familiar to it is one of the meanings expressed by the word passions. Outside the pale of this monotheism are also dislike for people and not paying attention to them, because how is it possible for the person who believes that all things come from Allah to dislike his fellowmen? Theology stood for this station, the station of the saints. But see to what it has been altered and with what of its husks people have been content? See how they have sought refuge in mutual praise and boasting of those things whose names have a praiseworthy reputation while in the meaning and signification for which these names stand, and for which the real praise is due, they have been utterly bankrupt. Their bankruptcy is like that of the man who, rising up in the morning, turns his face towards the Qiblah and says, “I have turned my face like a hanif, unto the Creator of the heavens and

1.      Surahs XXV: 45; XLV: 22.



the earth.” Yet unless his heart in particular has been duly turned unto Allah, his assertation would be the first daily lie which he commits against Allah. If he means by the word face its obvious meaning, the fact still remains that he has not turned it except towards the K‘abah and away from the other directions. But the K‘abah does not point towards the Creator of the heavens and the earth so that he who turns his face towards it turns it to Allah who is limited by neither directions nor climes. If, on the other hand, he means by it his heart, which is what it should be and which is the instrument of worship, how could his words be true when his heart is bent upon his worldly desires and needs, and absorbed in devising tricks wherewith to amass wealth and prestige and to secure an abundance of worldy means towards which he is directing the attention of all his being? When, then, did he turn his face to the Creator of the heavens and the earth? The following sums up all the truth of monotheism: the monotheist is he who sees nothing but the One Allah and only turns his face to Him. This is in conformity with the words of Allah when He said, “Say: It is ‘Allah’; then leave them in their pastime of cavillings.”1 What is intended here is not verbal profession, as the tongue is like an interpreter who tells the truth at one time and lies at another. Allah, however, regards not the interpreter [the tongue], but that for which the tongue is the interpreter, namely, the heart which is the source of religion and the place wherefrom it springs.

The fourth term to be altered was the science of invocation (dhikr) and admonition (tadhkir). Allah said, “Yet warn them for, in truth warning will profit the believers.”2 Several traditions commending the assemblies of invocation (dhikr) have been passed down to us, as for instance, by the words of the Prophet when he said, “When you pass by the gardens of Paradise, stop and enjoy yourselves.” On being asked what the gardens of Paradise were, he replied. “The assemblies of invocation.” And again in the following tradition, “Verily, other than guardian angels,3 Allah hath rover

1.           Surah VI: 91.

2.           Surah Ll: 55.

3.           The Muslims believe that two angels, who are changed every day, attend every person to observe and write down his action Cf Surahs L: 16: LXXXII: 10-11: al-Qazwini, ‘Ajaibn al-Makhluqar wa-Ghara‘ib al- Mawjudat, ed. F. Wustenfeld (Gottingen, 1940), p. 60.


(sayyahun) angels1 who roam the earth looking for assemblies of invocation (dhikr). On locating an assembly they beckon one another saying, ‘Come unto your goals.’ Then the rover angels gather around these assemblies and hear the words, ‘O remember ye Allah and give warning to one another.” The [practice] has been altered in favour of story telling, the recital of poems, ecstatic utterances (shath) and heresies (tammat),2 the things which contemporary preachers persist in doing.

As to storytelling, it is an innovation; in fact, our Fathers have warned against attending the circles of story-tellers saying that it was not the custom either at the time of the Apostle of Allah or the time of abu-Bakr and ‘Umar.3 It was not until the appearance of heresy that they made theirs. It has been related that one day ibn-‘Umar emerged from the mosque exclaiming, “No one had sent me out but the story-teller; but for him I would not have left.” Damrah4 said, “One day I asked Sufyan al-Thawri, “Shall we listen to story-tellers?” But he answered, “Turn ye your backs on innovations.”

Ibn-‘Awn5 said, “Once upon a time I called on ibn-Sirin.6 As I entered upon him he asked me, “What is new today?” When I informed him that the governor had prohibited the story-tellers from telling their stories, he said, “He had done correctly.” It is also related that, once upon a time, as al-A‘mash7 entered the Basrah mosque, he heard a story-teller say in his sermon, “We were told by al-A‘mash...”. Whereupon al-A‘mash took himself to the centre of the mosque and began to remove the hair from his armpit, at which the speaker indignantly shouted, “Old man, are you not ashamed to do that in the mosque?” To which al-A‘mash replied, “Why should

1.      Al-Qazw’ni, ‘Ajatib al-Makhluqar, p. 61. Cf al-Tirmidhi, Da‘awat, 129.

2.      Literally signifies calamities.

3.      Cf. ibn-Majah, Adaab, 40.

4.      Ibn-Rabi’ah (A.H. 202/A.D. 817-8): see ibn-Sa’d, Vol, VII, Pt. 2, p. 173;

Tadhkirat al-Huffaz, Vol. 1, p. 322.

5.      ‘Abdullah ibn-‘Awn ibn-Artaban (A.H. 151 /A.D. 769): see ibn-Sa‘d, Vol 7, Pt. 2, pp. 24-30.

6.      Muhammad (A.H. 110/A.D. 729): see ibn-Sa‘d, Vol. VII, Pt. I, pp. 140-50.

7.      Abu-Muhammad Sulayman ibn-Mihran (A.H. 148/A.D. 765); see ibn-Sa‘d, Vol, VI, pp. 238-40.


I be ashamed? What I am doing is according to the law1 while what you have been saying are down right lies. I am al-A‘mash.”


Ahmad [ibn-Hanbal] proclaimed that the most persistent liars among men are the story-tellers and the beggars.


‘Ali ibn-abi-Talib once drove the story-tellers out of the Basrah mosque, but when he heard the words of al-Hasan al-Basri he allowed him to carry on and did not drive him out because al-Hasan al-Basri used to discourse on the science of the hereafter and the contemplation of death, and to point out the defects of the soul, the shortcoming of works, the passing thoughts with which Satan tempts men and the way to resist them, and to remind his audience of the favours and blessings of Allah and of the failure of man in his gratitude. He also would expose the inferiority of this world, its defects, its impending end, and its deceitfulness, as well as the dangers and the terrors of the hereafter. This is the warning which, according to the law, is praiseworthy and which has been encouraged in the tradition related by abu-Dharr when he said, “To be present in an assembly of invocation (dhikr) is better than prostrating oneself in prayer a thousand times, or visiting a thousand sick men, or attending a thousand funerals.” Abu-Dharr further related that the Prophet was then asked; “Is it also better than the reading of the Qur’an?” To which the Prophet replied, “What good, though, is the reading of the Qur’an except through knowledge?” ‘Ata’ also said, “Attendance at an assembly of invocation atones the evils of attending seventy places of entertainment.”


Unfortunately, however, those who are in the habit of embellishing their speech with lies have taken these traditions as means of justification for themselves and have appropriated the name warning (tadhkir) for their fables thus forgetting the right path of praiseworthy invociation (dhikr) and spending their time in [recounting] tales which are subject to variations, accretions, and deletions, and which deviate from the stories which accrue in the

1.      Cf. al-Bukhari, Libas, 64. lsti’dhan, 51.



Qur’an and go beyond them. Some of the tales are good to hear while others are harmful in spite of the fact that they may be true. Whoever would go after this practice would no longer be able to distinguish truth from lies and what is good from that which is harmful. For this reason Ahmad ibn-Hanbal said, “Oh how much do people need a truthful story-teller?” If his story be one of the tales of the prophets, pertaining to the affairs of their religion, and the story-teller be truthful and trustworthy, I see no harm in it. But people should guard against lies and against such stories which point to trivial faults and compromises which the common folks fail to understand, or to realize that they are nothing but trivial and unusual faults although they have been followed by atoning deeds and rectified by good works which are supposed to make up for them. In order to justify his compromises and find for himself an excuse, the layman is apt to resort to such reasoning, protesting that such and such has been related on the authority of one of the masters (mashayikh) or one of the prominent men, and adding that whereas all of us were subject to sin, it is no wonder if he would disobey Allah especially since a greater person than himself has done the same. This also develops in him unwillingly the daring to disobey Allah. But if one should guard against these two dangers (which are inherent in story-telling) it would cease to be harmful for it will mark a return to the praiseworthy stories contained in the Qur’an and to the authentic stories of tradition. There are some, however, who take the liberty of making up stories which inspire in men the desire to worship and serve Allah, and claim that they seek thereby nothing but to call men to the truth. Nevertheless this is one of the baits of Satan, and there is no way to avoid lying but in truthfulness. Besides there is in what Allah and His Apostle said enough to render fabrication in preaching needless. Did not the Prophet abhor the affectation or rhymed prose regarding it pedantic?


On hearing his son ‘Umar1 indulge is rhymed prose, S ‘ad ibn-

1.      A.H. 66 A.D. 685-6; See ibn-S‘ad, Vol. V, p. 125; abul-Fida’, Mukhtasar Ta’rikh al-Bashar (Constatinople,1286), Vol. I, p. 205.


abi-Waqqas1 said to him as the former sought something from his father, ‘This, my son, would make me hate thee; I shall not grant thee thy request until thou should cease to compose rhymed prose.” The Prophet also said to ‘Abdullah ibn-Rawahah2 when the latter composed three rhymed sentences, “Beware of rhymed prose, O thou ibn-Rawahah.” Consequently any rhymed prose which exceeds two sentences has been deemed affected and hence forbidden. For the same reason when (in connection with the bloodwit which should be paid for smiting a woman so that the child in her womb dies) a certain man asked, “How shall we pay a bloodwit for the death of someone who has had no drink nor food, neither has he cried nor shed any tears since such a person is not avenged?” the Prophet reproached him saying, “Art thou, like Bedouins, indulging in rhymed prose?”3


As to poetry, its generous use in sermons is blameworthy. Allah said, “It is poets whom the erring follow: Seest thou not how they rove distraught in every valley?”4 And again, “We have not taught him (i.e. Muhammad) poetry, nor would it beseem him.”5 Furthermore, most of the poetry with which the preachers are familiar and which they are accustomed to repeat in their sermons pertains to claims of being in love, the beauty of the beloved, the joys of union with him, and the pains of separation; while the assembly comprises none but the crude among the common folk whose minds are saturated with lust and their eyes never cease from staring at fair faces. Their poetry inspires nothing in their hearts except that which their hearts already conceal, and enkindles therein the flames of lust. Consequently they begin to shriek and make a show of their love. Most of this, if not all, is the result of a certain kind of corruption

1.      One of the ten promised Paradise by Muhammad, one of the council of six in whose hands ‘Umar left the future of the caliphate, and one of the greatest of Muslim generals during the early period of the conquests. It was S‘ad who conquered Persia. Died between A.H. 55 and 58/A.D. 675 adn 678. See ibn-Sa’d, Vol. III, Pt. 1, pp. 275-8.

2.      A.H. 8/A.D. 629-30: ibn-Sa’d, Vol, III, Ot. 2, pp. 79-82; Tahdhib-al-Asma’, pp. 340-41.

3.      Muslim, al-Qasamah, 11:5.

4.      Surah XXVI: 22-45.

5.      Surah XXXVI: 69.




Therefore no poetry should be used unless it contains a moral or a wise saying and should only be used either as evidence or for example.


The Prophet of Allah said, “Verily some poetry is wisdom.”1 If only the elite whose hearts are known to be absorbed in the love of Allah should frequent these assemblies alone, on poetry whose outward meaning dealt with people would be of any harm because, as it will be seen in the Book on Audition and Music, a person would always interpret all that he would hear according to the light which dominates his heart. Al-Junayd used to discourse before some ten people or there about and whenever the number went beyond that he would stop. Thus his circle never reached twenty in number. Once upon a time when a crowd gathered before the door of ibn-Salim’s2 house, someone requested him to address them saying, “Your followers have come.” To which ibn-Salim replied. “No! these are not my followers; they are the followers of the assembly. As to my followers, they are elite.”


By ecstatic utterances we mean two types of speech evolved by some of the Sufis. The first comprises long pretentious claims of excessive love (‘ishq) of Allah and of union (wisal) which renders outward deeds superfluous until some have asserted oneness (ittihad) with Allah, the removal of the veil (hijab), seeing (mushahadah) Him with the eye (ru ‘yah), and mouth to mouth conversation. They thus say that they were told such and such and that they have said such and such and imitate thereby al-Husayn ibn-Mansur al-Hallaj3 who was gibbeted for letting slip from his lips certain words of this type, and cite as an example his saying, “I AM THE TRUTH” (Ana’l-Haqq).

1.      Ibn-Majah, Adab, 41; al-Darimi, Isti’dhan, 68.

2.      Abu-al-Hasan ibn-Saalim, mentioned by ibn-Khallikan, Vol. II, p. 297, in the narrative on the life of abu-Talib al:Makki.

3.      The great mystic theologian: he was gibbeted on Dhu-al-Qa’dah 24,3091 March 26, 922, and finally was decapitated and burnt. See ibn-Khallikan, Vol. l, pp. 261-3.


Similarly, it has been related that abu-Yazid al-Bastami1 once said, “Praise be to me! Praise be to me!” This is, in truth, a type of speech which, to the common folk, is of great harm, so much so that several farmers have relinquished their farms and proclaimed similar claims. Such speech, moreover, is attractive to human nature for it offers relief from work as well as self-justification through the attainment of certain stations (maqamat) and the experience of certain states (ahwal). Consequently, the ignorant do not fail to claim these things for themselves nor to swallow up such confused and embellished words. And no matter how much their claims are disapproved they do not hesitate to say that such disapproval has been the outcome of knowledge and disputation, the one is a veil and the other is the work of the self, while their words are not understood except from within through revelation by the light of the Truth. These and similar other words have spread like fire in the land and their harm to the common folk has become great. To destroy the person who comes out with such words is, according to the religion of Allah, better than sparing ten lives.


As to abu-Yazid al-Bistami what has been ascribed to him of such words cannot be true. Even if he were heard saying them, most probably he must have been repeating to himself words about Allah; for example he might have been heard quoting the words of Allah, “Verily, I am Allah: there is no Allah but Me: therefore worship Me.”2 These words should not have been taken in any other way besides that of a quotation.

The second type of ecstatic utterance comprises unintelligible words with pleasing externals of which some, through awesome, are useless. They may be of two kinds: The first and the more common comprises words unintelligible to the author who utters them because of the perplexity in his own mind and the confusion in his imagination

1.      Also al-Bistami; (A. H. 261 or 264/A.D. 875 or 878). See ibn-Khallikan, Vol. 1, p. 429: al-Hujw-ri, Kashf al-Mahjub, tr. R.A. Nicholson (Leyden, 1911), pp. 106-8: al-Sha‘rani al-Taabaqat al-Kubra (Cairo, 1343), Vol. 1, pp. 61,2.

2.      Surah XX 14.



resulting from his ignorance of the exact meaning of words which he hears; while the second represents words which may be intelligible to their author who, however, because of his insufficient practice in science and his lack of instruction in rhetoric, is unable to convey them to others through language which can express his thoughts. Such words are of no use except to confuse the heart, amaze the mind, and perplex the understanding. They are also apt to convey a meaning other than that for which they are intended so that anyone may find in them the meaning which his own nature may desire.

The Prophet said, “Never does any one of you relate a tradition which is beyond the ability of the audience to understood without becoming a cause of corruption among them.” And again, “Communicate with people in terms known to them and discard those which are unknown. Do you desire to see Allah and His Apostle disbelieved?” This has been said of words which the author understands but fails to convey their meaning to the mind of his audience. How then would it be with words whose meaning neither the author nor the audience understand when those which the former understands while his audience do not are forbidden to relate?

Jesus said, “Entrust not wisdom to those unworthy of it lest ye do it injustice; nor withhold it from those who are worthy of it lest ye do them injustice. Be ye therefore like the skilful physician who applies the medicine to the sore spot.”1 And according to another version, “Whoever should entrust wisdom to those unworthy of it would reveal his ignorance, and whosoever should withhold it from those who are worthy of it would perpetrate an injustice. Verily wisdom hath a right as well as a people worthy of it. Give, therefore, each his right.”2

As to heresies (tammat), they comprise, besides what we have already mentioned under the ecstatic utterances (shath) another thing characteristic of them, namely, the dismissal of the obvious and literal meaning of words in favour of an esoteric interpretation of

l.       Cf Matt. 7:6,9:16-17.

2.      Cf. Matt. 11:19: Luke 7:35.


worthless value such as the Batinite1 method of interpretation which is unlawful and of great harm; because when words are given other than their literal meanings, without either the authority of the traditions of the Prophet or the dictates of reason, the loss of faith in words becomes inevitable and the benefits of the words of Allah and His Apostle are in consequence nullified. Little trust can be placed in whatever is understood therefrom while its esoteric meaning cannot be determined; rather opinions differ therein and it is open to many interpretations. This too belongs to those widespread and very harmful innovations. The authors of those innovations have sought nothing but the unusual because human nature is fond of the strange and the unusual and delights in anything uncommon.

Through this very thing were the Batinites successful in destroying all the law, by interpreting its letter to conform to their way of thinking as we have shown in the Mustazhiri Book2 which was composed for the purpose of refuting their views.

An example of the interpretations put forth by these heretics may be seen in the assertion of one of them that in the verse where Allah addresses Moses saying, “Go unto Pharaoh, for he hath trespassed,”3 the word Pharaoh stands for the heart of Moses, the heart being the trespasser against every man. Again when Allah said to Moses, “Go, cast down thine staff”4 the word staff is said to represent anything besides Allah on which man may depend [and in which he may place his trust], and should therefore be cast away. The same kind of interpretation is applied to the words of the Prophet when he said, “Go, eat the daybreak meal (sahr), for therein lies blessing.”5 These words are interpreted to mean the asking of Allah’s forgiveness at day-break. They set forth similar interpretations thereby tampering with

1.      On the Batinite. see al-Shahrastani, pp. 147-52: al-Baghdadi, Mukhtasar Kitab al-Farq bayn al-Firaq. ed. P.K. Hitti (Cairo, 1924), pp. 170-6.

2.      So named after the Caliph al-Mustazhir (A.D. 1094-1118) on whose request it was composed. It is also known as, Fud’ih al-Batin yah. It was edited together with a German translation by 1. Glodziher (Leyden, 1916).

3.      Surah LXXIX:17.

4.      Cf Surahs VII: 114: XXVII:10: XXVIII: 31.

5.      Al-Tirmidhi Sawm, 17. al Darimi. Siyam. 9.



the literal meaning of the whole Quran and altering its interpretation which has come down to us on the authority of ibn- ‘Abbas and other learned men.

Some of these interpretations are obviously and completely corrupt, as is, for example, the interpretation of the word Pharaoh to mean heart. Pharaoh was real and historical and so was Moses’ summons to him. He was like abu-Jahl,1 abu-Lahab,2 and other of the unbelievers, and in no way like either the demons or the angels who are not perceived by the senses, and whose names are, therefore, open to interpretation. Similarly to interpret the occasion of the eating of the daybreak meal as the time for asking Allah’s forgiveness is equally corrupt. The Prophet used to eat the daybreak meal and say, “Come, eat the daybreak meal: Gather for the blessed dinner.” The corrupt nature of such interpretation is determined both by the testimony of tradition and by that of the senses, while others which pertain to objects beyond the realm of the senses are probably the same. All, besides being unlawful, are also the cause of confusion and corruption to people in their religion. Nothing of these interpretations, has come down to us on the authority of either the Companions, or their followers [al-tabiun], or even al-Hasn al-Basri, in spite of his continual teaching and preaching among men.

There appears, therefore, no other meaning for the words of the Prophet when he said, “Whoever should explain the Qur’an in accordance with his own opinion will occupy his place in Hell,”3 than the following: when a person is intent upon establishing and proving something he will drag in proofs from the Qur’an and will apply them to his point without the existence of any linguistic or historical evidence which justifies his contention. This, however, does not mean that the Qur’an should not be explained through intelligence

1.      One of Muhammad’s most bitter opponents. He once threatened to set his foot on the Prophet’s neck when prostrate in prayer. See Surah XCVI: 9-19: bn-Hisham, pp. 190-91.

2.      An uncle of the Prophet and one of his most violent enemies. See Surah CXI: ibn-Hisham, pp. 231 see: 244, 430, 461.

3.      AI-Tirmidhi,Tafsir al-Our’an, 1


and thinking, since some verses have been given by the Companions and the commentators five, six and even seven interpretations, all of which, it is well known, were not heard from the Prophet. Some of these interpretation may be contradictory, incapable of reconciliation, and are therefore ascertained only through keen understanding and profound thinking. For this reason the Prophet prayed for ibn-‘Abbas saying, “O Allah! Enlighten him in religion and teach him interpretation”1 Therefore whoever allows the perpetrators of heresies such interpretations in spite of his knowledge that the words do not possess any such meaning claiming that he only intends thereby the exhortation of men to follow Allah, would be like the person who allows attributing false and fabricated savings to the prophets relative to things which, in themselves, are true but concerning which the law handed down no legislation, or like him who coins a hadith to cover anything which he deems right. Such a thing is decidedly a transgression and a cause of confusion as well as a sin which merits and incurs the threat implied in the words of the Prophet when he said, “Whoever should deliberately lie to me, would occupy his place in Hell.”2 Indeed, the interpretation of these words in such a manner is greater transgression because it undermines the faith in the meaning of words and destroys altogether the only way by which they could be understood and be useful.

You have thus learned how Satan has diverted men from seeking the praiseworthy science to the study of the blameworthy. This is all the result of the ambiguity caused by the changes in the names of the sciences which the teachers of falsehood have effected. If you would follow them depending on the prevalent significations of these terms at the present time regardless of what they signified during the first century, you would be like him who sought the honour which is the reward of wisdom by attaching himself to anyone who is called wise (hakim), a term which, because of the change in the meaning of words, is at the present time applied equally to the physician, the poet, and the astrologer.

1.      Ibn-Sa‘d, Vol II, pt. 2, p. 120, 11, 3-4: Cf. ibn-Majah. Intro., 1]: al-Tirmidhi, Manaqb, 42,

2.      Al-Darimi, Intro., 25: ibn-Majah, Intro., 16.



The fifth term to have been altered is wisdom (hikmah), since we see that it has now become customary to apply the word wise (hakim) equally to the physician, the poet, the astrologer, and even to him who reads fortunes for the peasants who squat on street corners. Wisdom, however, is that which Allah commended when He said, “He giveth wisdom to whom He will: and he to whom wisdom is given, hath had much good given him.”1 The Prophet also said, “A word of wisdom which man learns is better to him than the world and all that is in it.” See, therefore, what wisdom stood for and to what it has been altered, and examine, in the same way, the other terms. Beware, then, of being deceived by the ambiguities of the teachers of falsehood: their evil influence upon religion is greater than that of Satan, because through their aid does he arrive at removing religion from the hearts of men. For this reason when the Prophet was asked who were the most wicked among men he would not at first answer but said, “Forgive, O Allah.” When his inquirers persisted in their query he replied, “The most wicked among men are the teachers of falsehood.”

You have now been shown both the praiseworthy and the blameworthy sciences as well as the causes of ambiguity. Yours is the choice either to follow the example of the Fathers, or to succumb to deception and emulate those who came after.

All knowledge which the Fathers approved has vanished, while most of what people now pursue falls under the category of innovations and made-up novelties. The Prophet was right when he said, “Islam began as a strange element and will become thus again as it was at the beginning. Blessed, therefore, are the strangers.” He was then asked who were the strangers to which he replied, “The strangers are those who rectify what people have corrupted of my law as well as those who revive what they have destroyed of it.”2 According to another report, “The strangers are those who hold fast to the belief which you now possess” while according to another, “The strangers are a few righteous people in the midst of many

1.      Surah II: 272.

2.      Cf. al-Darimi, Riqaq, 42: al-Tirmidhi Iman, 13: ibn-Majah, Fitan, 15.


unrighteous, whose haters outnumber those who love them.” The praiseworthy sciences have also grown unfamiliar and unpopular among men to the extent that those who dare mention them are despised. For this reason al-Thawri had said, “If you see a learned man who has many friends, you may be sure he is a charlatan and a faker, because if he would speak the truth, those friends would hate him.”


You should know that, in this respect, science is divided into three parts. One part is that whose knowledge is blameworthy whether it be in part or in toto. Another is that whose partial as well as total knowledge is praiseworthy; in fact the more one acquires of it the better. The third is that whose knowledge is praiseworthy within a certain limit, that of sufficiency, but beyond that it ceases to be praiseworthy: to go into it deeply is not desirable. This is best illustrated by the human body: that which is praiseworthy, whether little of it or much, is like health and beauty while that which is blameworthy, whether little of it or much, is like ugliness and bad temper. On the other hand there are things which are praiseworthy when they are found in moderation like the spending of money where extravagance is not praiseworthy although it is spending; and like courage where recklessness is undesirable although it is a type of courage. The same thing is true of knowledge.

The part whose partial and total knowledge is blameworthy is that which has no use either in the realm of religion or in the domain of life because its harmfulness exceeds its utility, such as the science of magic talismans, and astrology, parts of which are of no use whatever and to spend one’s life, the most precious thing a man possesses, in them is sheer waste; and to waste anything precious is blameworthy. Other parts of these sciences are of greater harm than the good they are deemed to perform in life, which good, when compared to the harm resulting therefrom, becomes of no consequence.


The part whose knowledge, even to the limit of thoroughness, is praiseworthy is the science of knowing Allah, His attributes and works as well as His law which governs His creatures and His wisdom in ordaining the superiority of the hereafter to this life. The knowledge of this is incumbent upon man both for itself and also for attaining thereby the bliss of the hereafter. To exert oneself even to the utmost capacity of one’s effort, falls short of what is required because it is like the sea. Its depth cannot be sounded and men can approach its shores and edges only to the extent to which it has been made possible for them, while no one has navigated its ends except the prophets, the saints, and those who are grounded in the science of Allah - each according to his rank and ability and according to what Allah has preordained for them therein. This is the hidden science which is never recorded in books but whose knowledge may be at first promoted by learning and by contemplating the states of the learned man in the science of the hereafter whose characteristics we shall discuss later. Its knowledge may be furthered1 through self-mortification, discipline, and through purifying the heart and freeing it from the affairs of this world as well as through emulating the prophets and the saints so that it may be revealed to every seeker in proportion to Allah’s mercy (rizq) on him rather than in proportion to his efforts and labours (jahd). Yet diligence in it is indispensable for self-mortification which is the sole key to guidance.

The sciences whose knowledge is praiseworthy up to a certain limit are those which we have already mentioned under the sciences the acquisition of whose knowledge is a fard kifayah.2 Every one of these sciences has three stages: first limitation (iqtisid) which is the intermediary, and third thoroughness (istiqsi) which is a sequel to moderation and which goes on and on during the entire life of the seeker. Be, therefore, one of two: either one who educates himself, or one who concerns himself with the education of others after he had educated himself. Never, however, concern yourself with reforming others before you have first reformed yourself. If you are educating

1.      In text “furthered in the hereafter”.

2.      See Supra, p. 36.


yourself take up only those branches of knowledge which have been required of you according to your needs, as well as those which pertain to the outward deeds such as learning the elements of prayer, purification, and fasting. More important, however, is the science which all have neglected, namely, the science of the attributes of the heart, those which are praiseworthy and those which are blameworthy, because people persist in the latter such as miserliness, hypocrisy, pride, and conceit and the like, all of which are destructive and desisting therefrom is obligatory. Performing those outward deeds is like the external application of ointment to the body when it is stricken with scabies and boils while neglecting to remove the pus by means of surgery1 or purge. False scholars recommend outward deeds just as fake physicians prescribe external ointments for virulent internal diseases. The learned men of the hereafter recommend nothing but the purification of the inner-self and the removal of the elements of evil by destroying their nursery-beds and uprooting them from the heart. It is only because of the ease which characterizes the works of the senses and the difficult nature of the works of the heart that most people have neglected the purification of their hearts and devoted themselves to the outward deeds, just as he who finds it disagreeable to drink a bitter medicine resorts to the external application of ointments and persists in his labours, continually increasing the ingredients, while his ailments multiply. If, therefore, you are desirous of the hereafter, seeking salvation and running away from eternal damnation, pursue the science of spiritual (batinah) diseases and their remedies, as we have described it in the Quarter on the Destructive Matters in Life, which will lead you to the praiseworthy stations mentioned in the Quarter on the Saving Matters in Life; because no sooner is the heart purged from what is blameworthy than it is filled with that which is praiseworthy just as the soil where all kinds of plants and flowers would grow as soon as the grass is weeded out - unless the weeds are removed neither plants nor flowers would grow. Therefore do not pursue those branches of knowledge whose acquisition is a fard kifayah especially

1.     Lit. bleeding.


when they have already been taken up by some. He who would spend himself in pursuing what would reform others [while he himself remains unredeemed] is insolent and how utterly foolish is the man who, when snakes and scorpions have crept beneath his clothes, is busy looking for a whisk wherewith to drive flies off other people, a task which will neither spare nor save him from the attacks of the snakes and scorpions lurking beneath his clothes. If on the other hand you have completed the task of purifying yourself and have been successful in abstaining from outward and inward sin so that purity of the heart and abstinence from sin have become to you a religion and a second nature, which thing is very unlikely, then you may pursue those branches of knowledge whose acquisition is fard kifayah. You should, however, observe gradual progress therein beginning with the Book of Allah, then the Usage of His Apostle, then the science of interpretation and the other sciences of the Qur’an such as that of the abrogating and the abrogated (al-nasikh w-al-mansukh),1 the related and the unrelated (al-mawsul w-al-mafsal)2 and the clear and the ambiguous (al-muhkam w-mutashabih)3. The same gradual procedure should be observed in the study of the Usage of the Prophet after which you may proceed to the study of applied jurisprudence (furu) which is the elaboration of positive law under the wider science of jurisprudence. You then may proceed to the sources of jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) and to the other sciences as far as the span of life permits and time allows. Do not spend, however, all your life in one of these sciences seeking to exhaust the subject thoroughly, because knowledge is of varied and numerous branches and life is short. Furthermore these sciences are only introductory means sought not for themselves but for the sake of something else and in everything which is sought as a means for the attainment of another thing, one should not loose sight of the end. Limit yourself, then, in the study of vernacular speech, to that which would enable you to understand and speak the Arab tongue and in the study of the strange words confine

1.      See al-Suyuti, al-Itoan fi-Ulum al-Qur’an (Cairo, 1343). Vol. II, pp. 20- 27.

2.      Ibid Vol. I, pp. 90-91.

3.      Cf. Surah III; 5; Al-Suyuti, Itqan, Vol. II, PP. 2-13.


your efforts to those occurring in the Qur’an and the tradition; even then avoid going into them profoundly. As to syntax, limit yourself also to what pertains to the Qur’an and the tradition since in every branch of knowledge there are three degrees of acquisition, namely limitation, moderation, and thoroughness. We- shall here describe each of these three as they relate to the science of tradition, interpretation jurisprudence, and theology in order to offer a standard with which other subjects may be measured.

The limited degree of acquisition in interpretation covers about twice the size of the Qur’an, i.e., similar to al- Wajiz1 which ‘Ali al-Wahidi al-Naysabari2 composed; the moderate degree is equivalent to three times the size of the Qur’an, i.e., similar to al-Wasil3 by the same author. Beyond these two degrees of acquisition is that of thorough exhaustion which can be dispensed with; the entire lifetime may expire in its pursuit.

In tradition the limited degree is represented by the mastery of the two Sahihs4 as corrected by one well-informed in the science of the texts of tradition. As to the authorities of the two Sahihs, those who preceded you have spared you the trouble and you may depend on their books for that information. Nor need you memorize the texts of the two Sahihs but familiarize yourself with them so that you may be able, when the need arises, to lay your hand on whatever you may want. The moderate degree of acquisition in the field of the hadith includes, besides, the two Sahihs, the other authoritative corpuses.5

1.      Al- Wajiz fi Tafsir al-Quran al-Aziz printed in Cairo, A.H. 1305.

2.      A.H. 468/A.D. 1076: see ibn-Khallikan. Vol. II pp. 8-9.

3.      Al-Wasit bayn al-Aagbud w-al-Basit unpublished: see Hajj Khalifah Vol. VI, oo. 436-7; W. Ahlwardt, Verzichniiss derArabischen Handschrften der Koniglichen Bibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin. 1887-99), Nos. 750-2.

4.      That of al-Bukhari and that of Muslim; Printed several times.

5.      These are the six authoritative corpuses which comprise, besides the two Sah ihs, the following: The Sunan of abu-Dawud al-Sijstani (A.H. 275 A.D. 888), printed in Cairo. A.H. 1280; the Sunan of ibn-Majah (A.H. 273/A.D.887), printed in Cairo, A.H. 1340; the Sahih of al-Tirmidhi (A.H. 279 A.D. 892), printed in Cairo, A.H. 1290; and the Aujtaba of al-Nastt‘i, (A.H. 303 A.D. 915), lithographed in Delhi, A.H. 1315

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Beyond this is thorough exhaustion of the subject which requires the detailed mastery of all traditions including weak (duaif) traditions, [about whose authenticity serious doubts can be raised], the strong (qawi), [those utterly faultless traditions in whose isnad there is no weakness and whose tendency does not contradict any generally prevalent belief], the genuine (sahih) [fulfilling all conditions], and the corrupt (saqim), as well as knowing the several ways of hadith transmission with knowledge of the qualification of each authority, his names and characteristics.

As to jurisprudence, the limited degree of acquisition is equivalent to the contents of the Mukhtasar1 of al-Muzani2 which work we rearranged in our Khulasat al Mukhtasar;3 the moderate degree is three times as long and is equivalent to the material we have included in our al-Wasit min al-Madhhab:4 while the degree of thoroughness is represented by our al-Basit5 and by other comprehensive works.

As to theology (al-Kalam), it is solely designed to safeguard the articles of faith which the followers of the Usage of the Prophet and righteous Fathers transmitted down to us, and nothing else. Anything beyond this would be an attempt to reveal the truth of things in other than its proper way. The purpose of learning the Usage of the Prophet is to attain, through a concise creed, the limited degree of its knowledge. This is equivalent to the contents of the Book on the

Contd. To these six may be added the Muwatta’ of Malik ibn-Anas (A.H. 179, A.D. 795), printed several times-, the Musand of al-Darimi (A.H. 225 A.D. 869) printed in Damascus, A.H. 1349; and the Musnad of Ahmad ibn-Hanbal (A.H. 241. A.D.855), (first three volumes printed in Cairo d.).

1.      Al-Mukhtasar al Saghir; printed in Bulaq, A.H. 1321-6.

2.      Abu-Ibrahim Ismail ibn-Yahya (A.H.264, A.D.878); see al-Fihrist p. 212; ibn-Khallikan, Vol. I, pp. 124-5.

3.      Unpublished; see al-Subki, Vol. IV, p.116, I.5.

4.      Unpublished; see ibn-Khallikan, Vol. p. 246; Fihrist al-Kutub al Arab yah al-Mahfuzah bi-al-Kutubhanah al-Hhidaywiyah, Vol.III Carro,1306), pp. 289-90. (Henceforth will be referred to as Cairo Catalogue.

5.      Unpublished; see ibn-Khallikan, Vol.II, p. 246; Cairo Catalogue, Vol. IIL, pp.1978.



Articles of Faith which is a part of this work.1 The moderate degree would equal about a hundred leaves representing the contents of our work, al-Iqtisad fi al-I’tiqad,2 and is indispensable in debating innovators and answering their heresies with what will remove and destroy their influence over the heart of the common man. This is of use among the common people only before their fanaticism becomes far gone, because no mere words would convince the innovator once he had acquired a smattering of the science of argumentation. Even if you silence him in arguments, he would not relinquish his ideas but would protest his inability in debates asserting that your argument can be met although he himself is incapable of it and he only was confused by your debating acumen.

Furthermore when the common men, through some kind of an argument, have been diverted from the truth, it is quite possible, while their fanaticism in these errors is still not far gone, to bring them back to it through similar arguments. But if fanaticism becomes rooted in their hearts their redemption becomes hopeless because fanaticism fastens beliefs deeply to the minds of men. It is one of the evils of the teachers of falsehood who go to excess in their fanaticism for the truth and regard with contempt and scorn all non-conformists. This drives the nonconformists to further spite and encourages them to seek the support of falsehood. Interest in holding fast to their position is thereby strengthened. If, instead, these fanatics would approach their opponents privately in a spirit of kindness, sympathy, and advice rather than attack them publicly in the spirit of bigotry and acrimony, they might succeed in their effort. But whereas prestige requires a following and nothing attracts a following better than bigotry, cursing and vilifying of opponents, they have adopted fanaticism as their rule of conduct and their method of approach. Finally they call this a defence of religion and a protection for the Muslims, while in fact it results in nothing but the destruction of all people and in the firm establishment of innovation in their minds.

1.      It comprises Bk. II of the Quarter on the Acts of Worship; see infra; cf. Hajji Khalifah, VOL IV, p. 575.

2.      Printed in Cairo, 2nd ed., A.H. 1327.



Beware, therefore, of coming near these controversies that have sprung up in these recent times and on which have been written masterpieces of publications, compositions and argumentations the like of which have neither been seen nor heard by the Fathers. Avoid them as you avoid deadly poison for they are like a virulent disease. It was these controversies which have driven all jurisprudents after rivalry and boasting which will be discussed later together with their hazards and evils.

You may hear it said: “Men are the enemies of things they do not know.” Do not, however, accept this as law. You have stumbled upon one who knows; accept, therefore, this advice from one who has wasted his life in [controversies] and surpassed the ancients in composition, research, argumentation, and exposition until Allah inspired him with His righteousness and made known to him the flaws therein. Consequently he abjured controversies and turned his attention to himself. Do not be deceived by the words of those who say that the giving off legal opinions is the pillar of the law, but know not its principles except through the science of argumentation, while the principles of religion are contained in the books of religion and whatever accretions are added thereto are nothing but wranglings which neither the ancients nor the Companions, who were better versed in the principles of legal opinions than any other group, had known. These wranglings are not only useless for the science of religion, but are also harmful and corrupting to one’s taste and judgement in jurisprudence. Thus in most cases it is usually not possible to have a decision, backed by the opinion of a judge whose good taste in legal matters is established, conform to the rulers of debate. Whoever is familiar with the syllogisms of controversy will submit to the rules of debater rather than follow legal taste. Only those who seek repute and prestige and feign that they are striving after the principles of religion pursue controversy in which they spend their lifetime without making the slightest effort towards the science of religion. You need not fear the Devil but beware of men who have relieved the Devil of the task of tempting and misleading people.


In sum, what is acceptable among the wise is to assume that you are alone with Allah in this universe while before you lie death, resurrection, judgement, Paradise and hell. Consider then what concerns you of all these and ignore the rest.

A certain Sheikh saw in a dream one of the learned men and said to him, “What has happened to those sciences in which you used to argue and debate?” The learned man, stretched the palm of his hand open and, blowing over it, said: “It has all vanished like scattered dust I have not benefited except from two prostrations which I have performed in the middle of the night.” According to one tradition the Prophet said, “People who have once been guided go not astray except they become afflicted with disputation.”1 He then read from the Qur’an the following verse: “They put this forth to thee only in the spirit of dispute. Yea, they are a contentious people”.2 According to a tradition the Quranic verse which begins with the words, “But they whose hearts are given to perversity,”3 signifies the people of disputation of whom Allah warned saying, “Beware of them!”4 One of the forbears declared that at the end of time there will be a people who will be denied the opportunity to work but will be free to dispute. Another tradition says, “Ye are in the midst of a time wherein ye are blessed with work but a people will appear who will be given to disputation,”5 while in the well-known tradition we read that “Allah abhors most those who are given to bitter enmity.”6 Another tradition declares that “no people are ever given to logic and debate without being lost to useful work.”7

1.      Ibn-Majah, Intro., 7:4.

2.      Surah XLIII, 58.

3.      Surah III:5.

4.      Al-Jayahsi, No.1432,1433; al-Bukhari, Tafsir al-Qur-an, Al-Imran, 2:al-Tirmidhi, Tafir al-Qur‘an, Al-Imran,1.

5.      Unidentified.

6.       Cf, al-Darimi, Intro., 23, 29, 35.

7.       Unidentified.



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