Saviours of Islamic Spirit

Ibn Jawzi (RA)

Ibn al-Jawzi was primarily a traditionist and jurist but he always emphasised the importance of the study of biographical accounts of the pious and saintly masters of the olden times for the purpose of purification of soul and implanting a religious zeal. He has advised the scholars, jurists and traditionists in the Talbis-o-Iblis and the Said al-Khatir to pursue this branch of learning. Speaking of his own experience in this regard, he writes in the Said al-Khatir:

"I feel that the study of juristic sciences and Traditions is not sufficient to instil a tenderness of heart which enables it to attract the divine grace. The only way to acquire this faculty is to study the inspiring biographies of the masters who were pure of heart. The knowledge pertain­ing to the lawful and unlawful matters does not produce the warmth and tenderness of heart. This is brought about by effective incidents narrated in the Traditions and the biographical accounts of the mentors of yore. Those teachers of the olden times had realised the true content of faith and lived up to it instead of simply acquiring a knowledge of it. What I am recommending to you is my personal experience. I have seen that the traditionists and their students generally devote their entire attention to the chain of narrators and the canons framed for the reception or rejection of the Traditions. Similarly, the jurists are extremely fond of the science of dialectics for gaining a victory over their opponents. How can these make one tender-hearted? Formerly the people used to visit the men of God to pattern their behaviour after the example set by these pious souls instead of acquiring knowledge from them. And, indeed, this is the end of knowledge. Therefore, let it be understood very clearly that it is absolutely necessary for you to include the study of the biographies of the pious and reverend souls in your curriculum of the Law and the Traditions."

Biographical Writings:

Ibn al-Jawzi has accordingly written the biographies of a number of luminaries such has Hasan al-Basri, Caliph Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, Sufyan Thauri, Ibrahim ibn Ad'ham, Bishr Hafi, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ma’ruf Karkhi and others. In addition to these biographies, he has also written a compendium of reputed scholars, writers, saints, etc., in four volumes under the title of Sifat us-Safwah. This book is really a revised edition of the Hilyatul Awliya by Abii Nua’im Asbahani which was edited by Ibn al-Jawzi. In revising the book he has kept in view the principles of historical criticism and deleted the spurious accounts related by Abu Nua’im.

Study of History:

Ibn al-Jawzi held the view that along with the study of religious sciences like the Law and the Traditions, History should also be studied by the students because the lack of knowledge in this branch of learning had led certain scholars to commit unpar­donable mistakes. He, therefore, advised that every student should have at least as much knowledge of history that he does not commit any grevious mistake. Writes he in the Said al-Khatir :

"A scholar-jurist must be conversant with all the rela­ted sciences. A jurist has to have the knowledge of other sciences like History, Traditions, Lexicology, etc., on which he has very often to rely upon. I heard a jurist saying that Sheikh Shibli and Qadi Shuraik had once got together in a meeting. I wondered at the ignorance of the jurist who did not know that the two were not contemporaries. Another scholar once said in a lecture that since Caliph Ali had bathed the dead body of Fatima, their marriage did not terminate even after the death of the latter. I thought, God may help this man, for he does not know that Caliph Ali had married the niece of Fatima, Umamah bint Zainab, after Fatima had passed away. How would it have been possible if their marriage had continued after the death of Fatima? I have seen similar grevious mistakes committed by al-Ghazali in the Ihya Ulum id-Din. I was surprised to see how he could mix up the incidents happen­ing at quite different times. I have compiled all such errors of lyha in one of my books. Another scholar, Sheikh Abul Ma’ali al-Jawa'ini has mentioned another curious story in his book entitled Ash-Shamil, on the subject of juris­prudence. He writes that certain Batinites have related that Hallaj, Abu Sa’id al-Janabi Qarmati and Ibn al-Muqann’a had conspired to overthrow the then government by creating dissatisfaction among the masses. Each one of them undertook to raise insurrection, in a certain country and in accordance with that agreement al-Janabi went to Ahs'a, Ibn al-Muqann’a to Tarkistan and Hallaj to Baghdad, The two confidants of Hallaj, were, however, of the opinion that he would surely lose his life because it was not possible to dupe the people of Baghdad. If the narrator of this story only knew that Hallaj was not a con­temporary of Ibn al-Muqann’a, he would not have given credence to this story. Mansur had ordered the execution of Ibn al-Muqann’a in 144 A.H. while Abu Sa’id al-Janabi Qarmati came to prominence in-286 a. h. and Hallaj was killed in 309 a. h. Thus Qarmati and Hallaj were almost contemporaneous but Ibn al-Muqann’a was born much earlier. There is thus no question of the three meeting and conspiring together.

This would amply make it clear that every scholar should have a grounding in the sciences related to his own. It is discreditable for a traditionist that he should not be able to give a legal opinion in any matter simply because he has been engrossed in the study of Traditions and has no time to pay attention to other branches of religious learning. Similarly, it does not behove a jurist to be unable to explain the meanings of any Tradition. I implore God that He may endow us with an ambition that may not allow us to put up with the least indolence".

Historical Writings :

Ibn al-Jawzi did not merely criticise the scholars for not being well versed in history, but he also wrote a comprehensive history of Islamic peoples from the inception of Islam till 574 a. h. in ten volumes. In this work entitled as al-Muntazam fi-Tarikh il-Muluk wal-Umam. Ibn al-Jawzi first gives the year and then narrates the important incidents and events of that year along with the pre­eminent personages who died during the year, followed by an account of their achievements. This work of Ibn al-Jawzi thus combines chronicle with scientific history interwoven with a harmonious account of the notable personalities.

Another historical work of smaller size by Ibn al-Jawzi is Taiqih-o-Fuhum-i-Ahl-il-Athar Fi-’Ayun At- Tarikh Wa-Sayar. This is a compendium of historical information which has also been published.

Oratory of Ibn al-Jawzi :

The chroniclers of his time agree that Ibn al-Jawzi was a gifted orator who could draw large crowds. In the Said al-Khatir he has mentioned his internal struggle which once almost prevailed upon him to pay absolutely no attention to the rhetoric and the choice of words in his speeches as this could be construed as a show of oratory. However, he gave up the idea since on further reflection he came to the conclusion that eloquence was a God given gift, a perfection and not a defection, which ought to be employed for the propagation of faith. Similarly, Ibn al-Jawzi entertained a desire, more than once, to give up preaching and withdraw himself to a life of complete seclusion and meditation. However, he won over his self to follow the right path by arguing the issue with it. He ultimately decided that this was a suggestion hinted at by the Satan who did not like to see thousands of per­sons carried away by his eloquence towards the path of moral and spiritual reformation. The prophets of God were primarily preachers and they also associated with the people. The self of the man being indolent and abhorring exertion wants to turn its back upon the world. It is also tempted by the love of fame, honour arid popularity which can easily be gained through winning over the hearts of the people by retiring from the world. Thus Ibn al-Jawzi reasoned with his Self to counter the whisperings of the Satan who wanted him to abandon his mission of preaching and inviting people towards the path of divine guidance. Ibn al-Jawzi thus continued to press his intellectual gifts for more than half a century to the task of serving his people and revivification of the faith.

Ibn al-Jawzi died on a Friday night in 597 A.H. The entire population of Baghdad suspended its work to attend his funeral prayers which was held in the mosque of (Jama) Mansur. It was a memorable day in the history of the metropolis; innumerable people were found sobbing for the departed teacher. The annalyist reports that quite a few inhabitants of Baghdad spent their nights throughout the ensuing month of Ramadhan at his grave offering prayers and reciting the Qur'an for the peace of his soul.