Posted by: faqir | December 26, 2009

Imam al-Izz ibn ‘Abd al-Salam: The Belief of the People of Truth

Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam’s son Sharaf al-Din ‘Abd al-Latif related that his father wrote al-Mulha fi I’tiqad Ahl al-Haqq in Damascus at the request of al-Malik al-Ashraf Musa ibn al-Malik al-‘Adil ibn Ayyub, in refutation of certain heresies propagated by some Hanbalis on the anthropomorphist understanding of the ‘letter’ of Qur’anic writing and the ‘voice’ of Qur’anic recitation. Envious of the Sultan’s love for Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam, they had approached the Sultan with the following charges against Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam:

He is Ash’ari in his doctrine, he declares incorrect whoever believes [in the preternality of] the letter and voice of the Qur’an and declares them innovators, and part of his doctrine is that he affirms what al-Ash’ari said, namely, that bread does not sate, nor water quench thirst, nor fire burn.

The Sultan expressed doubt that this was Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam’s position, whereupon the Hanbalis issued a fatwâ on the preternality of the letter and the voice, challenging him to refute it. When news of this reached him, Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam said: ‘This fatwâ is a test for me, and – by Allah! – I shall not respond except with the truth.’ Then he wrote al-Mulha. The Hanbalis then took the Mulha to the Sultan in triumph, expecting to have Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam executed on its basis. The Sultan expressed outrage at Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam’s position, and the only scholar to rise to his defense was Jamal al-Din Abu ‘Amr ibn al-Hajib al-Maliki. The latter accused the ulama of remaining silent when they should have spoken out, and of suggesting to the Sultan that Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam was wrong and his accusers right. He then convinced them to co-sign a fatwâ in support of Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam’s position.

Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam then asked for a general meeting of the scholars of all Four Schools before the Sultan, but the latter sent him a stern letter of refusal in which he accused him of claiming independent ijtihâd and wanting to form a fifth School of Law.

Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam replied:

The fatwâ issued [by us] on this question is agreed upon by the scholars of Islam – Shafi’is, Malikis, Hanafis, and the eminent ones of the Hanbalis. None contradicts it except the riffraff about whom Allah cares not a whit. This is the truth and it is impermissible to reject it, the correct position which can never be obviated. If the scholars convene before the Sultan’s court, the Sultan will know the truth of what I say, and the Sultan is the most qualified of people to implement this. Those who kept silent did so at first, because of what they saw of the Sultan’s anger. If they had not seen such anger they would not have given fatwâ in the beginning other than what their position is now. Nevertheless: Write what I said in my fatwâ and what the others said, then send it to the countries of Islam, so that every authority who must be followed can write about it and be relied upon in his own fatwâ concerning it; as for us we shall adduce the books of the authoritative scholars, so that the Sultan can see them for himself. As for the mention of ijtihâd and the fifth School: there are no schools in the tenets of faith. The foundation is one, while differences are in the branches. The like of that talk comes from those upon whom you have relied in something for which it is impermissible to rely upon them. Allah knows best whoever knows his religion and stop at his limits. In conclusion we say that we are in Allah’s party, and we are His helpers and soldiers, and a soldier that does not risk his life is not a soldier.

When the Sultan received the above reply he declared Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam forbidden from giving fatwâ, confined to his house, and forbidden from meeting anyone. The latter said: ‘These stipulations are from Allah’s great bounty for me.’ Three days later, Shaykh Jamal al-Din al-Hasiri al-Hanafi visited the Sultan and convinced him that Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam’s words in the Mulha and his subsequent reply were ‘the doctrine of the Muslims, the rallying-cry of the pious, and the certitude of the believers,’ adding: ‘All that is in there is correct, and whoever contravenes it and goes to the beliefs of the opponents concerning the affirmation of the letter and the voice – he is a donkey.’ After this the Sultan expressed remorse and swore that he would make Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam the wealthiest of scholars, returning him to his previous position of fatwâ and ordering that his books be read, and so until the Sultan’s death.

Read the Fatwa:
The Belief of the People of Truth
Sultan of the Scholars, al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam al-Sulami


  1. Do you have any info or study on the book:

    – Ta’wil al-ayat almushkilah (The Interpretation of Difficult Verses) of Abu al-Hasan al-Tabari

    – Mu’tamad ft usul al-din (The Foundation con­cerning the Basic Doctrines) of the Hanbali qadi Abu Ya’la al-Farra’ ?

    The first book is said to be “the only theological work by one of his (al ashari’s) direct disciples that is known to have survived” and the second one was mentioned as such: “Ash’ari language and concepts can be detected even in some later Hanbali ‘aqidahs (outlines of basic doctrine), and in at least one case, the Mu’tamad ft usul al-din (The Foundation con­cerning the Basic Doctrines) of the Hanbali qadi Abu Ya’la al-Farra’ (d. 1066), several formulations are taken over directly from the theological writings of al-BaqilIani, a leading Ash’ari theologian of the preceding generation.”

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