The external evidence of Ibn Taymiyya's affiliation with the Qadiri tariqat by a chain through three shaykhs named Ibn Qudama has been given by Ibn Taymiyya's disciple, Ibn Abd al-Hadi. Further internal evidence of Ibn Taymiyya's sufi inclination can be seen in his hundred-page commentary on Gilani, covering only five of the 78 sermons of "Futooh al-Ghayb", but showing that he considered the sufi path a salutary effort and even essential within the life of the Islamic community.
The commentary is found in volume 10:455-548 of the first Riyadh edition of the "Majmooʿ fatawi Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya".
It can be seen from this commentary that Ibn Taymiyya calls Abd al-Qadir "shaykhuna", "our shaykh," a title which he never gives anyone else in his entire works, just as he never gives the title "imamuna", "our imam", to other than Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
In his commentary on the "Futooh" Ibn Taymiyya stresses that the primacy of the shariʿa forms the soundest tradition in sufism, and to argue this point he lists over a dozen early masters, as well as more contemporary shaykhs like his fellow Hanbalis, al-Ansari al-Harawi and Abd al-Qadir, and the latter's own shaykh, Hammad al-Dabbas:
In his treatise on the difference between the lawful forms of worship and the innovative forms, entitled "Risalat al-ʿibadaat al-sharʿiyya wal-farq baynaha wa bayn al-bidʿiyya" (in "Majmooʿat al-rasa'il wal- masa'il", Beirut, Lajnat al-turath al-ʿarabi 5:83), Ibn Taymiyya unmistakably states that the lawful is the method and way of "those who follow the path" (al-salikeen) or "the way of self-denial" (zuhd) and those who follow "what is called poverty and Sufism", i.e. the fuqara and the sufis:
Regarding Abd al-Qadir's teaching that the salik should abstain from permitted desires, Ibn Taymiyya begins by determining that Abd al- Qadir's intention is that one should give up those permitted things which are not commanded, for there may be a danger in them. But to what extent? If Islam is essentially learning and carrying out the Divine command, then there must be a way for the striver on the path to determine the will of Allah in each particular situation. Ibn Taymiyya concedes that the Qur'an and Sunna cannot possibly cover every possible specific event in the life of every believer. Yet if the goal of union of will and desire with Allah is to be accomplished by those seeking Him, there must be a way for the striver to ascertain the Divine command in its particularity.
Ibn Taymiyya's answer is to apply the legal concept of ijtihad to the spiritual path, specifically to the notion of ilham or inspiration. In his efforts to achieve a union of his will with Allah's, the true Sufi reaches a state where he desires nothing more than to discover the greater good, the action which is most pleasing and loveable to Allah. When external sharʿi arguments cannot direct him in such matters, he can rely on the standard Sufi notions of private inspiration (ilham) and intuitive perception (dhawq):
Ibn Taymiyya bases this view on the principle that Allah has put a natural disposition for the truth in mankind (p. 474), and when this natural disposition has been grounded in the reality of faith and enlightened by Qur'anic teaching, and still the striver on the path is unable to determine the precise will of Allah in specific instances, then his heart will show him the preferable course of action. Such an inspiration, he holds, is one of the strongest authorities possible in the situation.
Certainly the striver will sometimes err, falsely guided by his inspiration or intuitive perception of the situation, just as the mujtahid sometimes errs. But, he says, even when the mujtahid or the inspired striver is in error, he is obedient.
Appealing to ilham and dhawq does not mean following one's own whims or personal preferences (p. 479). In his letter to Nasr al-Manbiji ("Majmuʿat al-rasa'il wal-masa'il" 1:162), he qualifies this intuition as "faith-informed" (al-dhawq al-imaani). His point is, as in the commentary to the "Futooh", that inspirational experience is by nature ambiguous and needs to be qualified and informed by the criteria of the Qur'an and the Sunna. Nor can it lead to a certainty of the truth in his view, but what it can do is give the believer firm grounds for choosing the more probable correct course of action in a given instance and help him to conform his will, in the specific details of his life, to that of his Creator and Commander.
Other works of his as well abound in praise for Sufi teachings. For example, in his book "al-ihtijaaj bi al-qadar" (Cairo: al-matbaʿa al- salafiyya, 1394/1974 p. 38), he defends the Sufis' emphasis on love of Allah and their voluntarist rather than intellectual approach to religion as being in agreement with the teachings of the Qur'an, the sound hadith, and the imjaʿ al-salaf:
Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions.
G Fouad Haddad ©
20 Mar 1996
What is Sufism