Saviours of Islamic Spirit
by S. Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi (RA)
Ibn al-Jawzi presents another striking example of a preacher, reformer and renovator of the faith. He was the most reputed and profound scholar of his time and a prolific writer of voluminous books on exegesis of the Qur’an, Traditions, history and literary criticism.
Born in 508 AH at Baghdad, Ibn al-Jawzi was 38 years younger than Abdul Qadir. His father died when he was still young but his mother sent him to study under a reputed traditionist of the day, Ibn Nasir. He committed the Qur’an to memory and learnt its recitation, studied the Traditions and calligraphy. Describing his childhood days to his son, Ibn al-Jawzi says:
“I quite recollect that I was admitted to the primary school at the age of six. Boys much more elder than me were inmates. I do not recollect if I had ever spent my time in playing or laughing with other boys. Instead of witnessing the performance of the jugglers who frequently held their shows in the field in front of the mosque where I studied, I used to attend the lectures on Traditions. Whatever Traditions or biographical accounts of the Prophet were related in the Iectures, those were memorised by me and then I also used to take them down on reaching home. Other boys spent their time in playing along the banks of the river but I invariably used to sit down with a book in my hand in a corner and read it from cover to cover.
“I was always so anxious to attend the classes in time that often I doubled up to reach the school before the lectures began. It was not un-often that I had nothing to eat for the whole day but I am thankful to God that I have never had an occasion to be grateful to anybody in that connexion”.
Zeal for the Traditions
Ibn al-Jawzi had an intense enthusiasm for acquiring knowledge and propagating the Traditions of the Apostle of God. His works on the subject were so numerous that, as the chroniclers of his time report, Ibn al-Jawzi had made a will that the water for the ritual washing of his dead body should be heated by burning the clippings and ends of his pens used for writing the Traditions. It is further related that these clippings were found more than sufficient for the purpose.
Ibn al-Jawzi was a voracious reader from an early age. In his time Baghdad had well-stocked libraries where he used to spend most of his time. He read whatever book he could lay his hands on. In one of his books entitled Said al-khatir, an auto-biographical memoir, he writes:
“Il may state here my own cast of mind. I am never tired of reading books and my joy knows no bounds whenever I find a new book. It would appear to be an exaggeration if I say that I had gone through 20,000 books during my student days. I came to know of the courage and large-heartedness, erudition and tenacious memory, piety and eagerness for prayer cherished by the savants of the old, which I could not have learnt without reading those books. The study of the books in those days also revealed to me the shallow knowledge of the scholars in our times and the dull spirits of the students now-a-days.
Penmanship of Ibn al-Jawzi
Ibn al-Jawzi turned to writing from an early age. He began writing four folios daily and continued the practice throughout his life. Ibn Taymiyah relates that when he took a stock of Ibn al-jawzi's books, they were found to be more than one thousand in number. Ibn al-Jawzi had such a profound knowledge of the science of Traditions that he claimed to tell the authenticity or otherwise of any Tradition with reference to the character of those through whom the Tradition had been handed down or with reference to the manner in which it had been narrated. He was also without a peer as a litterateur and as an orator.
Ibn al-Jawzi was as much celebrated for his moral uprightness, devotion and piety as for his literary attainments. His grandson, Abul Muzaffar, relates that Ibn al-Jawzi completed recitation of the Qur’an every week; he never spent his time in fun or frolics during his childhood and never ate anything unless he was sure that it had been obtained through lawful means. Ibn al-Najjar records that in religious devotion and observance of prayers he presented a sublime picture of saintliness. Another annalist, Ibn al-Farsi says that Ibn al-Jawzi kept vigils by night and was never forgetful of the recollection of God. The works of Ibn al-Jawzi present an striking example of his fervent devotion and the heartfelt love of God. In an autobiographical passage included in the Said al-Khatir he writes:
"From early childhood I had an inclination towards devotion to religious contemplation and worship. I zealously observed obligatory as well as supererogatory prayers and preferred seclusion. Spending my days thus, I felt peace and enlightenment. I extremely regretted the time spent otherwise for I had an ardent desire to utilize every moment or my life under a diligent consciousness of the Omnipresent Lord. In those days I felt my heart attuned to God while my supplications and benedictions were a source of indescribable pleasure to me. My lectures and discourses, quite effective in those days, it appears, attracted a few high officials and chiefs who wanted to come closer to me by paying homage and putting themselves at my service. As it were, I too felt inclined towards them but in their company I lost the sense of peace and sanctifying grace that I enjoyed earlier in my supplications. Thereafter other functionaries of the government started gaining my favour with the result that the precautions I used to take earlier in regard to avoiding everything unlawful and doubtful, gave place to a sense of complacency. It was still not so deplorable but gradually my specious reasoning made the doubtful objects appear as perfectly lawful and, then, I realised that I had lost the sublimity and purity of my heart; instead, it seemed, as if a profaneness had taken its place which gave rise to restlessness and disquietitude in me. I witnessed that my sermons too bore a mark of my anxiety which caused an ever larger number of persons to offer penitence for their sins while my own guilt weighed heavily on my consciousness. This, obviously, made me still more disturbed, but there seemed to be no way out. I visited the tombs of the saints and earnestly beseeched God to show me the right path. Ultimately, God helped me and I again felt an inclination to spend more of my time in prayer and solitude. Now I came to know what was wrong with me and I thanked my Lord, the Most Compassionate and Merciful, for His kindness”.
Character of Ibn al-Jawzi
He is reported to have been a well-built man with handsome features and all imposing countenance. Favoured with easy circumstances “he possessed a refined taste", says Muwaffaq Abdul Latif, "in dress and dietary habits and was charming and graceful". Another annalist, lbn al-Dayni relates that Ibn al-Jawzi was soft-spoken, handsome and of medium height, reputed for his clemency and generosity. Extremely careful of his health, he liked what may be called the "good things of temperate quality."
In the Said al-Khatir and the Talbis-o-Iblis he has mentioned his numerous clinical experiences and advised against penance and arduous religious practices which had then been introduced by the Iranian mystics.
The most outstanding feature of Ibn al-Jawzi's character is his versatility. He towered over his contemporaries in his ardent desire to be well versed in almost every branch of learning. He has himself described it in some detail in the Said al-Khatir.
"The greatest trial for man lies in the loftiness of his ambition: the higher is one's ambition, the loftier aspiration for advancement or success one has. However, he is sometimes unable to achieve it owing to unfavourable circumstances, or because he lacks the means, and this causes dissatisfaction. God has, however, made me so ambitious that I have always a hankering for something higher. But I have never wished that God might not have made me too ambitious. It is true that life can be fully enjoyed only by a care-free, imprudent and a listless fellow but nobody endowed with brains would ever like retrogression of his intellect simply for the sake of getting more fun out of worldly pleasures. I know of many people who are boastful of their lofty ambitions but I have found their aspirations really limited to only one field of their activity in which they are ardently desirous of achieving success. These people are completely indifferent to their deficiency in other fields. A poet by the name of Sharif Radhi once said in a couplet: 'Ill health is never without a cause, but in my case it is because of too high an aspiration.' However, on going through his biographical accounts I found that he had no ambition save achieving power and position.
"It is related that Abu Muslim Khurasani could not sleep well during his youthful days. When asked about the reason for it, he replied, 'How can I sleep? Brilliant and ambitious though I am, I have been condemned to lead a life of poverty and obscurity'.
‘Then, what would satisfy you?’ asked someone. He replied, ‘I would be satisfied only if I achieve greatness and power.'
'Then try for it,' he was told. 'This would not be possible without putting my life at stake', replied he.
He was asked again, 'But why don’t you do so?' He said, 'Intellect asks me not to run into danger.' 'What would you do then?' was demanded of him. 'I would not accept the advice of my intellect,' replied Abu Muslim, 'and would give myself up to my folly. I will play a desperate game at the bidding of my ambition and seek the help of intellect only where imprudence fails me. I have no other course left, as poverty and obscurity are interdependent '.
"On giving further thought to this self deluded yet ambitious man I came to the conclusion that he had not given thought to one of the most important factors, and that was the question of life-to-come. He was mad after political power for which he had to be cruel and unsparing of innocent human lives. He got just a fraction of the worldly power and glory, the things he aspired, for a short duration of only eight years. Thereafter he fell an easy victim to the treachery of al-Saffah, and then his intellect did not come to his aid. It was the same with al-Mutannabbi too who was so pretentious of his ambitions, but he was also enamoured of worldly success.
"My ambition is, however, quite different from theirs. I aspire for a profound knowledge embracing the entire field of learning, which, I know, I cannot attain. I want to achieve a thorough and complete knowledge of every branch of learning which is obviously not possible in the short span of human life. I do not consider anyone perfect in the knowledge of a science so long as he lacks perfection in another branch, as, for example, if a traditionist is not a master of jurisprudence too I consider his knowledge to be incomplete.
"The imperfection of knowledge, I think, can be attributed to the lack of ambition alone. Not only that, to me the end of knowledge means an ability to act on it. Thus, what I want is that I should be able to combine with my knowledge the assiduity of Bishr Hafi and piety of Maaruf Karkhi. But it is hardly possible to achieve these along with the pre-occupations of studying and teaching and attending to other mundane affairs. And this is not all; I aspire to oblige others but do not want to lie under their obligation; my pre-occupation with the studies is an impediment in the way of my earnings but I detest to be indebted to anyone or to accept gifts from others. I ardently desire to have children as well as to be an author of merit and distinction so that these may commemorate my memory, but both these pursuits stand in the way of solitude and contemplation. I also do like to enjoy the lawful pleasures but do not possess the means for achieving these and if I devote myself to get at these; I would lose the contentment and peace of mind. Similar is the case with other matters, as, for example, I like the delicacies and refinements which my good taste desires. All these in fact mean aspiring for diametrical ends. What have those persons to do with these lofty ideals who aspire simply for worldly success, wealth, power and position? I too want worldly success but in a manner that I do not have to, impair my faith or to expose my learning or virtuous action to any risk or injury. Who can appreciate the demands of my ambition: on the one hand I relish contemplation and prayer, divine manifestation and illumination of heart, but, on the other, I have an inclination for the cultivation of knowledge, teaching and penmanship. The first requires penance, fasting and seclusion while the latter demands nourishment and mixing with the people. Spiritual contraction is unbearable for me, but making the both ends meet for my dependents stands in the way of my spiritual progress. I have endured these strains all through my life and submitted to the will of God for, it seems, the path to success and perfection lies through struggles and afflictions. For the loftiest ideal is to seek the pleasure of God Almighty, I guard myself of every defilement and take care that not a single moment of my life is spent in any vain effort. Glory be to God, if I succeed in my endeavours; but I won’t mind if I fail for the Prophet has said that the intention of the faithful is better than his action.
The sermons delivered by Ibn al-Jawzi were attended by the caliphs, kings and chiefs of the state besides the common people of Baghdad, It is reported that his lectures were normally attended by ten to fifteen thousand persons and sometimes the number went up even to a hundred thousand. An eloquent speaker as he was, his sermons breathed an almost tragic urgency behind his message which touched the heart of his audience. His soul-stirring calls so carried away the listeners that many of them burst into tears, broke down into hysterical screams or even tore off their shirts. Innumerable persons offered earnest repentance for their sins as a result of his sermons. It is estimated that Ibn al-Jawzi secured conversion of 20,000 Christians and Jews and over a hundred thousand people made solemn affirmations to lead a virtuous life after listening to his sermons.
Ibn al-Jawzi always condemned innovations and unlawful accretions to the Faith in his sermons, asking the people to follow the path enjoined by the Scripture and the Traditions. Because of Ibn al-Jawzi's profound knowledge and eloquence as also his popularity the sectaries of heretical factions never dared to controvert him, with the result that the orthodox school gained a dominating influence. The Caliphs and nobles of the time became followers of the Hanbalite school which was distinguished for its strict adherence to the Traditions and the Scripture.
Literary Endeavours :
Ibn al-Jawzi produced some of the most distinguished works which had a profound effect on the subsequent academic endeavours. His writings helped the succeeding generations to keep to the right path as enjoined by the Shariah.
Kitab ut Mauzuaat is Ibn al-Jawzi's chief work on the Traditions. In this book he has discussed all those spurious or weak Traditions which were then commonly relied upon by the heretics for spreading beliefs contrary to the authorised teachings of the conformist school, It is true that Ibn al-Jawzi has been too harsh in his judgments since he has adopted an extremist course in regard to certain issues dealt with by him in this book; nevertheless, he has performed an invaluable task by exposing the fallacies of the heretics and innovators.
Talbis-o-Iblis is a critical study of the then Muslim society by Ibn al-Jawzi. In this book he has made a critical evaluation of the different classes and sections of the Muslim society of his time, highlighted their weaknesses, misconceptions and aberrations and delineated the causes which had given birth to different vices marring their faith, action and behaviour. Ibn al-Jawzi has set-forth the habits and customs, faults and self-deceits to which the scholars, jurists, preachers, writers, rulers and the pious often fall a prey. This book is an outstanding example of the panoramic character of Ibn al-Jawzi's writings; he shows an awareness of the mental, emotional and social attitudes of the different classes of Muslim society along with the beliefs and doctrines of heretic sections, and the subtle ways in which the latter mislead others.
Critique of the Scholars and Administrators :
The criticism by Ibn al-Jawzi is at places too severe in the Talbis-o-Iblis, as is his verdict symbolic of his extremist views, yet the book contains a mine of useful information since it deals extensively with the vices found among different sections of the people. One has generally to agree with Ibn al-jawzi’s analysis which also gives an idea of the liveliness and incisiveness of his intellectual grasp.
Criticising the scholars of his time, some of whom were engaged in unnecessary hairsplitting of legal issues, he writes in the Talbis-o-Iblis:
"One of the greatest weaknesses of these scholar-jurists is that they have occupied themselves with the vain discussions but they do not pay heed to the Scripture, Traditions and the biographies of the companions of the Prophet which would have had a salutary effect towards the purification of their souls. It hardly needs any emphasis that the discussions on trifling issues like the kinds of impurities and the methods of purification would not make one tender-hearted or receptive of the awe of Allah. What is needed by man is the recollection of Allah and the discourses on the subject so that these may create a longing for success in the life-to-come. There is no denying the fact that ethical issues are not beyond the sphere of the Shariah, but these are by themselves not sufficient for achieving the ultimate objective. How can these persons be expected to follow the example of the pious souls of the bygone days, whose faith they profess to own, unless they endeavour to get at the state of ecstasy and propinquity to Allah attained by them? One should not lose sight of the fact that man is indolent by nature, and if left to himself, he would be inclined to follow the beaten track of his day. On the other hand, if he tries to cultivate the knowledge of beliefs and behaviour of the pious and elevated mentors of the former times, he would naturally try to take after their ways. A mentor of the yore has well said that he would prefer a Tradition that would make him soft-hearted to a hundred legal decisions of Qadi Sharaih."
In his critique of the preachers in the same book, Ibn al-Jawzi observes:
"Most of these preachers are accustomed to using a grandiloquent and heavily embellished language which often means nothing. The greater portions of their discourses are devoted to the accounts of the Prophet Moses, Mount Sinai, Joseph and Gelicho (Zulaikha), or the like, but they have hardly to say anything about the obligatory performances enjoined by the religion or how to avoid sins. How can their sermons prevail upon an adulterer to offer penitence; or else convince a woman to be faithful and maintain good relations with her husband ? These discourses are completely devoid of the ethical or religious teachings of the Shariah. This is also one of the reasons for these sermons being so popular, for the truth is always distasteful while falsehood is pleasing."
Further, continuing the same subject, he observes:
"It often so happens that the preacher is sincere and honest but he wants to win over and dominate the hearts of his audience. He wants to extort admiration from others. A sure symptom of this vice is that if another preacher tries to help him or begins to deliver lectures to his audience, he does not relish it although a sincere person would have welcomed the helping hand in his endeavour."
Ibn al-Jawzi also criticises the scholars for their lack of sincerity. He writes:
"If the students of any scholar leave their teacher to sit at the feet of another savant more learned and reputed than him, he feels a heartburning which is not befitting a sincere scholar. Sincere savants and teachers are like physicians who treat the people simply to propitiate God and bless with contentment another physician who is able to cure their patient."
In connection with the vices developed by the kings, rulers and administrators, Ibn al-Jawzi writes:
"Those people prefer to pattern their behaviour according to their own wishes rather than do what the Shariah enjoins. They would cut off the hand or execute a person even though it might not be lawful to do so. They labour under the misconception that what they do is essential as a matter of political expediency. This means, in other words, that the Shariah is incomplete and they are now making up for that deficiency.
"This is in reality a great deception created by the Satan ; for, the Shariah comprises divine guidance for the conduct of our temporal affairs as well, and it is unthinkable that the guidance vouchsafed by God should be deficient. God Almighty has ordained: “We have not left anything incomplete in the Scripture”, and also “There is none to amend Our order”. Thus, the man who wants to superimpose his own ideas over the Shariah in the garb of political expediency, really claims that the guidance vouchsafed to man by God is imperfect and incomplete. This is obviously blasphemous."
Ibn al-Jawzi points out another weakness of the rulers and administrators in these words :
"Besides their persistence on their wrongful ways they also ardently desire to pay a visit to some pious and godly personage for the purpose of seeking his benediction in their favour. The devil has brought them round to believe that the solemn invocation of the divine blessings by a godly person would make the burden of their sins lighter. This is, however, not so. Once a trader whose goods had been withheld by a collector of the toll-tax went to the reputed saint Malik ibn Dinar and requested him for his help. Malik ibn Dinar went to the collector of the toll-tax who treated him respectfully and released the goods of the tradesman. Thereafter the official asked Malik ibn Dinar to pray for him but Malik replied, 'Ask this purse in which you keep the money acquired illegally, to pray for you. How can I invoke blessings for you when countless people curse you?' 'Do you think,' added Malik, 'that God will accept the entreaties of a single individual in preference to the prayers of a thousand others?’.
At another place he writes:
"The rich and the affluent have a great regard for such misguided mystics who approve of the hearing of songs and playing on musical instruments. They are lavish in spending their riches on these mystics but would not part with a single shell for the sake of scholars and savants. As a matter of fact, the scholars are like physicians on whose advice a man spends his money grudgingly only when he falls ill. On the other hand, the misguided mystics and the musicians and singers accompanying them are like courtiers and flatterers who are normally hangers-on of every wealthy person.
"Likewise, they are devoted to the ascetics and other persons of assumed piety, and prefer them to the doctors of religion. They would readily submit to a charlatan attired as a mendicant; if he practises a pious fraud upon them they are easily led astray and begin to sneer at the scholars for not being ascetics. However, to hold the ascetics in higher esteem than the scholars is simply ignorance and an insult to the Shariah. These misguided persons should really be thankful to God that they were not present during the life-time of the Apostle of Allah for they would have turned apostate if they had seen him taking wives, eating, wearing clothes and enjoying honey."
In his critique of the masses Ibn a-Jawzi writes:
"Satan has mislead the masses to believe that attending of religious discourses and raising a wail of woe are highly meritorious acts and the sole purpose of delivering these sermons. This is perhaps because the people have been told about the merits of listening to these discourses but they do not know that the end of these sermons is reformation of their own morals and rectitude of their behaviour. Nor do they appear to be aware that whatever they listen to in these lectures shall be cited as an evidence against them on the Doomsday. I personally know a number of persons who are attending such discourses for a number of years. They get excited on hearing these sermons and burst into tears but they still persist in accepting interest, cheating others in their trade, remaining unmindful of the religious performances, and disobedience to their parents. Satan has led them to believe that their presence in these sermons, their lamentations and fits of crying will atone for their neglected duties and-the sins of omission and commission. There are also others who think that accompanying the pious and godly persons or paying visits to them shall be enough for expiation of their sins."
In regard to the rich and affluent, Ibn al-Jawzi has the following to say:
Many among these persons spend lavishly on the construction of mosques or bridges but their object really is to become famous and win over the people by such acts of piety. Another objective they have in view is that they should be remembered after their death, and, for that purpose they get their names inscribed on the foundation-stones of these edifices. Had they undertaken the construction of these works for the pleasure of God, they would have been content with the knowledge that God is aware of what they do. If these persons were to be asked to get simply a wall constructed without having their names inscribed on it, they would never agree to it.
"Likewise, these persons donate candle-sticks to the mosques during the month of Ramadhan although these remain without light during the remaining part of the year. They cannot, obviously, evoke admiration of others by providing oil for daily lighting, which they hope to attain by donation of a single candle-stick during the month of Ramadhan."
Not strictly an autobiographical work, the book also contains reminiscences of Ibn al-Jawzi, his ideas and feelings and personal experiences. In describing the incidents he had come across, Iba al-Jawzi frankly admits his mistakes and weaknesses. Ibn al-Jawzi often addresses his own self to criticise its longings and aspirations, gives an account of his mental and emotional states, describes his social experiences with the help of common and everyday happenings and relates the wisdom derived from the trials and tribulations, rough and tumble of life or his dealings with women, friends and servants. An outstanding feature of this book is its immaculate sincerity and simplicity. The book is also noted for the easy eloquence and lucidity of its style, which marks the first attempt made by an Arab writer in this direction, since the then prevailing style was to use a heavily embellished language in the literary works.
Ibn al-Jawzi possessed a special gift to draw out wisdom from insignificant occurrences which many of us come across and pass over without paying any heed to them. Here is an example from the Said al-Khalir:
"I saw two labourers who were carrying a heavy beam. Both were humming a song; when one recited a verse, the other listened to it attentively and then repeated it or came out with another verse in reply to the first. I thought that if they do not do so they would have a greater consciousness of their exertion. By singing the labourers made their work easier. On further reflection I found that by engaging themselves in singing the minds of the labourers get a little respite; they get busy in another work for a short duration and thus refresh themselves. This diversion also decreases the consciousness of the burden by diverting attention from the exertion of their work. My attention was diverted from it to the burden of responsibilities and obligations enjoined by the Shariah. I thought that perhaps the consciousness of these liabilities constitutes the heaviest burden on the self of man while the greatest effort lies in controlling and checking the propensities and impulses for which the self has a liking. Thus, I arrived at the conclusion that one should cover the path of endurance with the help of giving it necessary respite and by allowing the consciousness to refresh itself by yielding to lawful pleasures. A poet was rightly said that when the caravan gets tired of travelling for the whole night, tell the people that the dawn is at hand and that they would get the needed respite during the day.
"A similar story is told about Bishr Hafi who was going somewhere along with a companion. The friend of Bishr Hafi got thirsty and he asked Bishr to wait a bit so that he could get water from a well. Bishr, however, advised him to wait till they reached the next well, and then to the next one. After they had covered a considerable distance, Bishr told his friend that the life in this terrestrial world is also a journey which can be completed in that manner. The truth is that whoever is aware of the fact alluded to by Bishr, will console his self, cheer it up when in distress and assure it of lessening the burden so that it may bear the weight of its responsibilities with endurance. A certain preceptor of the times past addressed his self thus: 'O myself, if I check thee from thy fancies and attractions, it is only on account of my affection for thee'. Another master and devine, Ba Yazid al-Bustami, once said: I used to lead my wailing self flooded with tears towards God, then it gradually got familiar with the way and began to forge ahead cheerfully.' It should thus be remembered that it is absolutely necessary to console and enliven the self so that it may bear its burden patiently." At another place he writes:
"I have seen that when hounds pass by the side of wild dogs, the latter bark at them and try to chase them. The wild dogs are envious of the hounds because of their dog-belts and clothings, but the hounds do not pay any attention to them as if they do not belong to the same species. The wild dogs are, fat and clumsy, and are not trustworthy; the hounds, on the other hand, are lean, well-proportioned and quick. They are also well-trained and trustworthy. It is out of the fear or on account of the gratitude to their master that they bring back the game to him. I have drawn two conclusions from this comparison. First, the frame and appearance of a man has a bearing upon his morals. If the former has a finer countenance, the latter would also be of a nice demeanour. Secondly, nobody is envious towards one whom he does not consider his equal. Likewise, a man who has been favoured by Allah with faith and wisdom bears no ill-will against those who lack these qualities even though the latter might be moved by jealousy towards him. In fact the faithful does not consider the faithless worthy of his attention, for, their spheres of hopes and aspirations are quite different: one harbours a feeling of hostility at another's good in this world but the other aspires for success in the world-to-come. There is a world of difference between the two."
Dialogue with the Self:
Ibn al-Jawzi sometimes applies the method of tracing an incident to its source so as to discover the general principles underlying that phenomenon. Once he prayed to Allah along with another saintly person. The prayer was answered by Allah and this made him to think as to whose prayer had found favour with Allah. Here Ibn al-Jawzi analyses the incident with the help of self-dialogue.
"Once I was confronted with a difficulty for which I had to invoke Divine blessings and succour. Accordingly, I prayed to Allah along with another godly person. I felt that my prayer was about to be answered by Allah but I thought that it was not on account of my beseeching but because of the prayer of that pious soul. I said to myself: I am aware of my own sins and weaknesses which should not apparently allow my prayers to be answered, but. who knows that Allah did not really accede to my own entreaties? I felt that although the reverend man of God who prayed for me should be free of those vices which, I knew, I suffered from, still there was a difference between him and myself. I had a sense of regret and self-reproach for my sins while he was cheerful and enlivened. And, it is not unoften that broken-hearted penitence is more propitious on occasions like this.
"There is, however, another matter in which both of us stood on an equal fooling. None of us solicited the favour of Allah on the ground of our moral excellence. Now, if in these circumstances, I owned my mistakes and humbly prayed to Allah: 'Take pity on me, Oh Lord, for I am empty-handed', there was every likelihood of my supplication having being granted. Also, it is just possible that the other person might have had an eye on his actions which would have caused hinderance in the acceptance of his prayer.
"Therefore, O my Self, thou shouldst not make it insufferable for an already broken-hearted man like me. I am aware of my guilt, and I do also confess my sins; while, at the same time, I am aware of what I implore, and have a faith in the beneficence of my Allah to Whom I prefer my entreaties. Allah may bless that devoted soul if he lacks this quality, but so far as I am concerned, the confession of my guilt is my most valuable possession."
At another place he again portrays his inner-struggle in these words : "I was once undecided about a matter that was improper and unbecoming under the Shariah but my mind had brought forth certain arguments in its favour which apparently made it look lawful to me. In truth, however, it was nothing but specious reasoning because, as I later found out, it was manifestly abominable. However, I addressed myself to Allah and implored Him to ward off this state of indecision.
"I also began the recitation of the Qur’an so as to set my mind at rest. As I had to teach the commentary of the Chapter 'Joseph'- I began my recitation from there. I was so engrossed with the problem I had in mind that I did not pay much attention to what I was reading, but I was taken aback when I recited the verse, “He said: I seek refuge in Allah! Lo ! he is my lord, who hath treated me honourably”. I felt as if this verse had been revealed for me. I said (O myself: Didst thou follow it? Joseph was free, he was wrongfully made a slave and sold to Potiphar. Joseph felt so grateful to Potiphar that he called him his lord, although neither Joseph was a slave nor Potiphar a master. The chief reason for this gratefulness of Joseph to Potiphar was that the latter had treated him honourably. 'Now think of thy own self, I said to myself. 'Thou art really slave of a Master who has been a benefactor ever since thy birth. Nobody knows how many times he has over-looked thy mistakes. Dost thou remember how He provided thy needs? It was by His grace that thou acquired knowledge and earned thy living. He guarded thee from every danger and guided thee to adopt the right course. He saved thee from the hostility of thy enemies. He bestowed on thee a goodly appearance as well as intellectual gift. He enabled thee to master the sciences in a short duration although others could not acquire these over a much longer period. He also favoured thee with eloquence, intellect and memory, caused the people to show thee kindness and reverence, and made it easy for thee to procure thy livelihood without having to lie under an obligation to others. It is not possible, in truth and reality, to thank Him for the innumerable favours He has bestowed on thee the good-looking countenance, well-propor-tioned limbs, worthy demeanour, refined taste, intellectual grit, discrimination to adopt the right path and to avoid lewdness, opportunity to acquire knowledge of the Traditions and to act on it—Verily, if ye would count the bounty of Allah ye cannot reckon it How many of thy enemies laid snares for thee, but Alalh saved thee; how they wanted to discredit thee, but He exalted thee; how many favours were granted to thee, but denied to others; how many people left this world broken-hearted, but thou were crowned with success. Dost thou not see that thou are in good health, have sound intellect and a wholesome faith, thy knowledge is abounding, thy aspirations are fulfilled and if thou art ever thwarted in any desire, Allah makes thee patient and forbearing till thou knowest that it was really profitable that thy desire did not meet with success. It would be impossible to recount all the favours of Allah bestowed on thee ; since, the unknown bounties invested by Allah on man are far in excels of those that he can comprehend. Then, how didst thou consider it lawful to do something which was considered unclean by God Almighty: I seek refuge in Allah! Lo! He is my lord, Who hath treated me honourably. Lo ! wrong-doers never prosper."
Ibn al-Jawzi narrates another personal experience of the same nature: "Once I acted on a legal opinion which was upheld by certain schools of jurisprudence but rejected by others. However, I felt an uneasiness as if I had committed a sacrilege which was causing me spiritual contraction and a drift towards unorthodoxy. With a deepening sense of bereavement and sullenness, I realised as if my own Self was asking me: 'You didn't act against the advice of the jurists. Why is then this feeling of privation?' I replied: 'O my insinuating Self, I have two answers to thy question. First, thou turned aside from the teachings of thy own juristic school-If thou had been asked to pronounce a legal opinion on this question, thou wouldst not have advised it thus. 'I won't have acted on it, interjected the Self, 'if I had not considered it lawful.' I replied: 'No, thou wouldst not even advise others to act likewise. 'And the second reason is,' I added, 'that thou shouldst be happy over the gloom experienced by thee, for had thou not been already favoured with the illumination thou wouldst not have had this feeling of bereavement.' 'But I dislike the gloom coming over me,' replied the Self. 'Then thou shouldst make up thy mind,' said I, to give up the disputed act. Thou thinkest that it has been made lawful through consensus of opinion. Still thou shouldst decide to renounce it simply for the fear of God.' The Self was then saved of the spiritual contraction and gloominess after it had acted likewise.'
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."
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.