Understanding the World of Ibn al-Athīr – Hamid Mahmood

Hamid Mahmood 

Picture by Hamid Mahmood

Understanding the World of Ibn al-Athīr

 Ibn al-Athīr, ‘Izz al-Dīn Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī al-Jazarī (1160-1233) the historian of Mosul has been put in first place alongside his contemporary Ibn Shaddād for the study of Saladin’s life.  But on the contrary Gibbs also accuses Ibn al-Athīr of giving a ‘malicious twist’ to the history of al-Isfahānī.  Can both statements be justified without contradicting the other; I believe it of great significance to try and understand the ‘mind’ of the author alongside the surroundings he finds himself in.    I will therefore analyse from the muqaddima (foreword) of al-kāmil, what Ibn al-Athīr believes to be the objective of History and its worldly benefits.  I will focus on the account of Saladin’s death in order to understand the medieval traditionalism at work in al-kāmil and contemporary works and explore the dualism in Ibn al-Athīrs description of Saladin.  Finally I will briefly mention some criticism of Gibbs’ understanding of Ibn al-Athīr by Yaacov Lev.  My main objective throughout, however, is to explore whether Ibn al-Athīr is wholesome negative of Saladin or is his analysis more complex in nature than what is generally thought.

I believe it is greatly significant to analyse a text through its ‘rootedness’ in ‘time’ and ‘place’.  This metaphor of the ‘rootedness’ of texts comes from Friedrich Schleiermacher, who argued that meaning and interpretation began with the intention of the author of a text, with due regard also to the historical context and situation out of which the author wrote.  Thiselton elaborated on what Schleiermacher meant by ‘intending’ as opposed to a simplistic understanding of it, ‘the goal and purpose behind and within a text that signal an author’s desire, will, and action as evidenced in and by the text and its surroundings.  Meaning and interpretation include more than these; but these remain his [Schleiermacher’s] starting point’.[1]  Yaacov Lev in his book ‘Saladin in Egypt’ illustrates such an approach and suggests,

Saladin’s historians were a product of their age and their attitudes and perceptions were shaped by the political and cultural values of the twelfth century… They have much in common in their educational and cultural backgrounds as well as in their professional careers… their world was shaped by the new institutions of learning that spread throughout the middle East from the second half of the eleventh century’.[2]

This analysis, despite it being for Saladin’s historian admirers, also includes Ibn Athīr because he too was influenced by the politics and culture of the time.  Hence, it is important to understand the role a madrasa would play and how it may influence the writings of the author.

The politics and culture in that period were intertwined.  Lev explains that, the cultural and religious life of the period was marked by traditionalism combined with mysticism, and focused on three institutions: madrasa, khānqā and dār al-ḥadīth’.[3]  From these institutions the former and latter were certainly influenced by the state and rulers, due to the system of patronage coupled with a social life that was overshadowed by a ‘zealous adherence’ of people (ta’assub).  Ibn al-Athīr’s work ‘asad al-ghāba fī ma’rifa al-ṣaḥāba’, which gives an alphabetical account of approximately 7500 companions of the Prophet shows ibn al-Athīr to be very much part of the traditional landscape of the madrasa and dār al-ḥadīth.  Secondly al-kāmil, according to Douglas Patton, was commissioned under the patronage of Badr al-Dīn Lu’Lu’.[4]  Hence I will examine al-kāmil, while fully aware of the cultural traditionalism and the patronage that Ibn al-Athīr owed his book to.

Furthermore, it is of equal importance to have in mind the ‘intent’ of the author as explained himself.  In this case we can deduce some points from Ibn al-Athīr’s illustration of the objective of History, which he describes under ‘fā’ida al-taṣnīf fī al-tārīkhfawā’iduhū al-dunyawiyya… al-fawā’id al-ukhrawiyya’ the benefit of authoring in [the subject of] History… its worldly benefits… benefits of the next world…’.  Ibn al-Athīr elaborates under ‘its worldly benefits’ the following points:

“The instructiveness of history has many aspects and its usefulness, both in this world and the other world, is very great.  Here, we shall mention only as much of that as we see fit.  We shall leave it to the natural intelligence of the student of history to make himself acquainted with the rest.

As to the usefulness of history for this world, for instance, it is no secret that human beings like to remain alive and prefer to be among the living.  Would that I knew what difference there is between things seen or heard yesterday and things read in books which contain historical information about the men of the past.  Reading about them is like being their contemporary, and knowing events is like being present when they took place.

Furthermore, kings and persons in authority may find the biographies of oppressors and tyrants treated in books which circulate among the people and which are transmitted from generation to generation.  They look at the ill fame and disgrace that were the consequence of oppression and tyranny, the resulting destruction of countries and human lives, the financial loss and the general corruption.  Thus, they come to disapprove of and avoid practises of oppression and injustice.  Likewise, they may see the biographies of just governors.  They read about the good reputation that survived them after their death, and the development and financial prosperity of their countries and realms.  Thus, they come to approve of their example and to desire to practise permanently what they did as well as to omit all that works to the contrary.  Kings and persons in authority derive an additional advantage from the study of history.  They learn through history about the wise counsels that served (their predecessors) to avert damage at the hands of enemies, to escape disasters, and to protect (?) rich cities and great realms

If such were the only useful aspect of history, it would be glorious enough`…’[5]

Here Ibn al-Athīr points towards three main benefits and also reasons for him writing texts on the subject of History, and his main readership he suggests is ‘men of authority and power’.  For ease of understanding I term each notion as follows: 1) faḍā’il (virtue), the readership approves and implements the ‘good reputation’ that survives the virtuous leaders; 2) mawā’iẓ (admonition), they disapprove of the oppression and tyranny by reading about the ill consequences that befell them and lastly; 3) ma’rifa al-ārā’ al-ṣā’iba (acquaintance of pertinent and wise counsels),  they learn through wise counsels and build awareness of imprudent ones.  Also interesting, I believe, the first two are a direct influence of the traditional background of the author, which could be understood from the Qur’anic verse chosen to conclude the introduction: ‘[We have destroyed even mightier generations before these disbelievers, who travelled through many lands – was there any escape?] There truly is a reminder in this for whoever has a heart, whoever listens attentively’.[6]  This attention to the purpose of History has also been addressed by ibn al-Khaṭīb (1313-1374):

و یری العاقل من تصریف قدرۃ اللہ تعالیٰ ما یشرح صدرہ بالایمان و یشفیہ، و یمر علیٰ مصارع الجبابرۃ فیحسبہ بذلک واعظاً و یکفیہ’ [7]

…and that the intelligent may witness the vicissitude of the omnipotence of God: which enlightens his heart with faith and cures it.  And that he may journey through the falls and ruins of [once] mighty [rulers] and that should be sufficient for him as an admonisher and warning’.

And this is then further systemised by Ibn Khaldūn, which Muhammad Iqbal summarises in his famous poem:

ميں تجھ کو بتاتا ہوں ، تقدير امم کيا ہے

شمشير و سناں اول ، طاؤس و رباب آخر[8]

The destiny of nations I chart for you:

at first: The sword and spear;

the zither’s, the lute’s soft sighs at last.[9]

So, from the outset Ibn al-Athīr’s analysis of history is influenced by the theological trend present in medieval madāris (pl. of madrasa).  However, I will experiment with texts from al-kāmil with these notions for a creative insight into the mind of Ibn al-Athīr or whether he writes with a ‘malicious twist’ to al-Iṣfahānī’s al-barq al-shāmī as argued by Gibbs.

An analysis of the death of Saladin is significant in trying to understand the traditional medieval world of Ibn al-Athīr by merely scrutinizing the titles and benedictions attributed to the Sulṭān.  When comparing Ibn al-Athīr’s text on the account of the death of Nur al-Dīn compared to Saladin there are striking differences, which affirm the influence of ‘zealous adherence’ of people (ta’assub) suggested by Lev:  a notion that influences ibn al-Athīr’s writings and also that of his contemporaries.  Ibn al-Athīr begins with the title:

ذکر وفاۃ نور الدین محمود بن زنکی رحمہ اللہ

ثم دخلت سنۃ تسع و ثمانین و خمسماءۃ  ۔  ذکر وفاۃ صلاح الدین و بعض سیرتہ[10]

‘Account of the death of Nūr al-Dīn Maḥmūd ibn Zankī (God have mercy on him)

The Year 580 [1193]  –  Account of the death of Saladin and a little about his character’.[11] When mentioning Nūr al-Dīn the benediction ‘raḥimahū Allāh’ (God have mercy on him) is clearly cited in the title.  But on the contrary for Saladin it is omitted and only mentioned within the text but not title.  Even within modern Muslim societies such a notion would raise eye brows.  When comparing the accounts of the deaths of both leaders in al-Nawādir and kaitāb al-fatḥ al-qussiyy there is benedictions for both Nūr al-Dīn and Saladin:

ذکر وفاۃ نور الدین محمود بن زنکی رحمہ اللہ

ذکر وفاتہ رحمہ اللہ و قدس روحہ[12]

Account of the death of Nūr al-Dīn Maḥmūd ibn Zankī (God have mercy on him)

Account of his death (may God have mercy on him, sanctify his spirit and give the Muslims a good successor).[13]

ذکر وفاۃ السلطان رحمہ اللہ بدمشق  ۔

جلس لیلۃ السبت سادس عشر صفر فی مجلس عادتہ  ۔  و مجلیٰ سعادتۃ  ۔  و نحن عندہ فی اتم اغتباط ۔  و اتم  نشاط  ۔  و ھو یحدثنا و نحن نحدثہ ۔۔۔[14]

Account of the death of the Sultan (may God have mercy on him) in Damascus –

It is evident from these two that Saladin is more highly revered, as due to the cultural respect he is not mentioned by name: either he is referred to with a  pronoun (huwa – he) or a title (al-sulṭān). This additional reverence suggests the notion of ta’assub for Saladin and is very much similar to that of the Prophet in the Qur’an whereby he is mostly referred to by a qualitative title and his name Muhammad only appears four times in the entire scripture – adding to the idea of a cultural traditionalism prevalent in the madrasa thought process.  And this further suggests a transformation also of the sufi notion of tashakhuṣ (high reverence of the saint) into one that now begins to take precedence when speaking of the political leadership, which Lev also suggests from Ibn al-‘Asākir when ascribing to Nur al-Din an aura of holiness by saying that Nur al-Din’s baraka (blessing) saved people from hardship and brought prosperity to his subjects.[15]

One other factor that is at play in the mind of Ibn al-Athīr is his view of History and reason for the rise and fall of nations and dynasties.  Despite inserting a benediction for Saladin in the text he eagerly mentions Saladin’s conversation with his son al-Afḍal and brother al-‘Ādil, which suggests a greed for land.  Ibn al-Athīr mentions, ‘He [Saladin] said, ‘We have finished with the Franks.  There is nothing to occupy us in this land.  Which region shall we attack?’… [al-‘Ādil then proposes to attack Khillāṭ] because Saladin had promised him, if he took it, that he would hand it over to him…’.[16]  This endless greed for land and power for Ibn al-Athīr is punished by God and he elaborates:

‘I have perused histories and seen many events of Islamic history that can be reliably documented.  I have seen in the case of many who start a dynasty that power is transferred from their immediate offspring to other family and relatives’.[17]

Ibn al-Athīr gives the example of Mu’āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān (602-680), who ‘usurped’ power from Muḥammad’s cousin and son-in-law ‘Alī, from whom power was denied to his descendents and passed onto the Banū Marwān.  Lev points out that, ‘Ibn al-Athīr implies that the establishment of rule is associated with the shedding of blood and violence and therefore the founders cannot enjoy the fruits of their endeavours.  The roots of this concept are Biblical, but it serves Ibn al-Athīr’s purpose well’.[18]  It is interesting to note – despite this concept of punishment – that throughout his al-kāmil Ibn al-Athīr manages to conceal and circumvent this notion for his patron Badr al-Dīn Lu’Lu’, who according to Patton commissioned this work.[19] But, again one is perplexed of Ibn al-Athīr’s praise of Saladin subsequent to the conversation he had with his brother and son:

‘Saladin (may God have mercy on him) was a generous, forbearing, of good character, humble, ready to put up with something that displeased him, much given to overlooking the faults of his follower… as for his generosity, he gave away much, not hesitating about anything he gave away…when he died, he left only one Tyrian dinar and forty Nāṣirī dirhams in his treasury…’[20]

And Ibn al-Athīr continues to describe more virtues of Saladin, which include his humility when Sufis would attend on him; his adherence to the sharī’ah; transmission of ḥadīth and his might in Jihad against the infidels.  Ibn al-Athīr, I believe, divides his description of Saladin between that of Saladin the ‘ruler’ and Saladin the ‘religious’ personality.  This indicates how Ibn al-Athīr had no problem with viewing Saladin as a religious man but his political environment imprisons his thoughts on his leadership and forces him to term him a usurper.  This is similar to Mu’āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān, whose descendants too were deprived of the ‘fruits’ of power but under religiosity he too is highly regarded, also for being the companion of the Prophet the unique benediction ‘raḍiya Allāhu ‘anhu’ is placed besides his name, which means ‘God is pleased with him’.


However, as a resident in Mosul under the Zangids and constantly under their patronage, with the Ayyūbids Ibn al-Athīr conceals naught as opposed to curtaining Lu’Lu’s usurpation, and hastens to portray the transfer of power from Shīrkūh to Saladin and then from him to his brother’s descendents:

‘Finally take this Shīrkūh:  as we have mentioned, power was transferred to the descendants of his brother Ayyūb, and from Saladin too, after he had established and exalted the dynasty and become its founder, power passed to the offspring of his brother al-‘Ādil and in the hands of his own offspring there remained only Aleppo… what I think to be the reason for this is that the person who is the first of a dynasty takes ‘extreme measure’[21] and seizes power, while the hearts of his predecessors are deeply attached to it.  Therefore God, as a punishment for him, denies it to his descendents and those for whose sake he acts’.[22]

Clearly when Ibn al-Athīr was writing this only Aleppo remained under the hands of Saladin’s descendents.  However, it is slightly obscure to what Ibn al-Athīr means by ‘punishment’ and the reason for its importance determines the influence of theology present in medieval traditionalist madāris (pl. of madrasa).  For indeed Ibn al-Athīr, when narrating the incident of the death of Saladin, inserted into the text the benediction of ‘raḥimahu Allāh’ God have mercy on him.  This seems to be a contradiction between the ‘punishment’ of God on Saladin to ‘mercy’ of God, this transformation illustrates Ibn al-Athīr’s dual approach – of viewing him as a sulṭan and separately a religious figure.  By that I mean Ibn al-Athīr portrays Saladin as ‘Saladin the usurper and villain, greedy for power and wealth’ in relation to his usurpation of power from the Abbasids but then provides balanced evaluations in relation to the Crusaders and does not shy away from commending his religiosity.


An example of his balanced evaluations can be seen within his analysis and portrayal of the council of doctors.  Ibn al-Athīr mentioned in the introduction to al-kāmil as a benefit of History ‘ma’rifa al-ārā’ al-ṣā’iba’ recognition of pertinent counsels.  Ibn al-Athīr narrates:

‘His emirs attended him and advised him to move from that place and to abandon close pressure on the Franks.  They presented this to him as the best course, saying, ‘We have pressed the Franks hard and even if they wanted to leave their position, they could not.  Our best plan is to move away so that they can pack up and leave.  If they do depart – and this is the likely outcome – then we are spared their trouble and they ours!  If they stay, we can return to the battle and get back to where we were before.  Moreover, your health is bad and your pain intense.  If any rumour of that got abroad, our men would be lost.  By every calculation our best plan is to withdraw from them.’  The doctors concurred in this, so he accepted it to do what was God’s will’.[23]

Despite Ibn al-Athīr being a contemporary to these events he was not an eye witness and uses ‘Imād al-Dīn’s text for this incident at Acre.  It is significant to note that following Saladin’s great victories at Ḥiṭṭīn and Jerusalem, here was a chance for Ibn al-Athīr to launch the most subtle criticism and there was no need to ‘maliciously twist’ the situation either – as Gibbs argues – as it was failure in all aspects of warfare.  But, instead Ibn al-Athīr decides to shield Saladin and bring the ‘councils and their counsels’ at the forefront of his criticism.  I view this as Ibn al-Athīr’s view of the incident through  ma’rifa al-ārā’ al-ṣā’iba or lack thereof and perhaps intends this counsel to be a lesson for future kings.  However, he only comes with this conclusion with hindsight otherwise strategically at the time that was perhaps a better option as strongly argued by the doctors.  Ibn al-Athīr here is trying to portray Saladin’s lack of leadership, autonomy, and a faltering passion for jihād.  It is also felt as though he is covering Saladin and shifting the blame onto his council.  But, he also credits Saladin when he opposes the council in Haṭṭīn, who suggest to avoid a large scale battle for constant raids and he opts for the all out attack, which earns him his greatest victory.  Hence, I agree with Lev that ‘each account that deals with Saladin must be examined on its own merits.  In many cases Ibn al-Athīr’s bias against Saladin is not evident and neither detectable to us because of our restricted understanding of the system of values which guided twelfth / thirteen century historians’.[24]


So is Ibn al-Athīr’s understanding of Saladin merely shrouded by and influenced by political powers or is the matter more complex?  In response to Gibb’s ‘all out attack’ on Ibn al-Athīr Lev suggests for a consideration of the following points to illustrate the complexity of dealing with al-kāmil.   I) Since both historical works of Ibn al-Athir (al-bāhir and al-kāmil) were written after the conclusion of ‘Imad al-Din’s the Syrian Lightning, there is no valid reason to accept Gibb’s assumption that Ibn al-Athir’s account of the years 1169 – 1171 is independent of ‘Imad al-Din. Ibn al-Athir could have used ‘ Imad al-Din for the years 1169 – 1171 too.[25]   2) Ibn al-Athir did collect information and sources quite independently of ‘Imad al-Din. In both works of Ibn al-Athir there are many accounts based on oral information.  For example, the man who was instrumental in the proclamation of Friday sermons in Egypt in the name of the Abbasids was personally known to Ibn al-Athir.  And the account of Nur aI-Din’s death is related on the authority of his personal physician.  Therefore, the divergence between the works of ‘lmad al-Din and Ibn al-Athir is not necessarily a reflection of Ibn al-Athir’s distortion of ‘Imad al-Din; it could have been a result of different and independent sources’.[26]    Also to overlook a culture of study based very much on the oral tradition is erroneous.

3) Hostility to Saladin does not discredit outright Ibn al-Athir’s commentary on Saladin’s deeds and motives.  For the modern student of Saladin a non-partisan account might prove very valuable. 4) A comparison between Ibn al-Athir’s accounts in the history of the Atabegs and the universal history reveals that the narrative in the universal history is more hostile to Saladin. In the universal history Saladin is always portrayed in a worse light than in the history of the Atabegs.

And lastly and most significantly, 5) hostility to Saladin did not permeate the whole of Ibn al-Athir’s writings. The following example can serve as an illustration for the different ways Saladin is treated by Ibn al-Athir. In his account of Shirkuh’s third campaign in Egypt, Ibn al-Athir quotes Saladin as saying: “Allah gave me a possession of what I had not coveted”. Ibn al-Athir’s informant was a person very close to Saladin, and here this illustrated Saladin’s early reluctance to participate in the third campaign to Egypt and the results were beyond imagination.  Lev rightly notes that, ‘Saladin’s aim is to portray himself as a man who is not avid for power.  His fortunes were ordained by God in spite of his own reluctance and  he is merely a tool of God’s will.[27]  By using this account, Ibn al-Athīr propagates in fact Saladin’s self created image, which contradicts that of the power-obsessed leader.  Once again it becomes unclear of why Ibn al-Athīr’s views change throughout the book.

In conclusion I found through a constant focus on the traditional landscape of the then medieval Islamic world that Ibn al-Athīr is shrouded by complexity and by no means is completely dismissive of Saladin’s career.  However, through the focus on the account of Saladin’s death I found that Ibn al-Athīr maybe has a duality in viewing the sulṭan as a leader who usurped but at the same time a man of commendable religiosity.  Hence, he draws a line between his criticism of his usurpation – and any matter related to it – and his religiosity, which includes his jihādī valour against the might Crusades.  I have come to learn that the general view of Ibn al-Athīr as a zangid historian twisting history to stigmatize Saladin, maybe correct in relation to the account of his usurpation and must be dealt with additional care, but throughout al-kāmil there are passages which prove otherwise.


The Qur’an: A New Translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem

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Ibn al-Athīr, (D. 630) – (2003).  al-Kāmil fī al-Tārīkh: min sana 489 li ghāya sana 561 li al-hijra – al-mujallad al-tāsi’ (Part 9) (الکامل فی التاریخ: للامام العلامۃ عمدۃ المورخین أبی الحسن علی بن أبی الکرم محمد بن محمد بن عبد الکریم بن عبد الواحد الشیبانی المعروف ‘با بن الأثیر’ الجزری المقلب بعز الدین المتوفیٰ 630 ھ ۔ من سنۃ 489 لغایۃ 561 للھجرۃ).  Notes by M. Yūsuf al-Diqāqa. 4th ed. Dār al-Kutub al-‘ilmiyyah: Beirut, Lebanon

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Ibn Shaddād, B. (D. 632 A.H.) – (1317 A.H.).  Kitāb Sīra Salāḥ al-Dīn al-Ayyūbiyy al-musammāt bi al-Nawādir al-Sulṭāniyya wa’l-Maḥāsin al-Yūsufiyya – (کتاب سیرۃ صلاح الدین الأیوبی المسماۃ با لنوادر السلطانیۃ و المحاسن الیوسفیۃ ۔ تألیف القاضی بھاء الدین المعروف بابن شداد ۔ المتوفی سنۃ 632 ھجریۃ). Notes on side by Tāj al-Din Shāhanshāh ibn Ayyūb.  Maṭba’at al-aādāb wa al-mu’ayyad: Cairo, Egypt

Nicholson, H. J. (2001).  Chronicle of the Third Crusade: A Translation of the Itinerarium pereprinorum et gesta Regis Ricardi. (Crusades Texts in Translation).  Ashgate Publishing Limited: England.

Richards, D. S. (2010).  The Chronicle of Ibn al-Athir for the Crusading Period from al-kamil fi’l-Ta’rikh. Part 2: The Years 541-589/1146-1193: The Age of Nur al-Din and Saladin. – (Crusades Texts in Translation; 15).  Ashgate Publishing Limited: England.

Richards, D. S. (2007).  The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin or al-Nawādir al-Sulṭāniyya wa’l-Maḥāsin al-Yūsufiyya by Bahā’ al-Dīn Ibn Shaddād.  (Crusades Texts in Translation).  Ashgate Publishing Limited: England.

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Websites and Internet Sources


[1] Thiselton, A. C. (2009).  Hermeneutics: An Introduction. pp. 20-22.  See ‘The Rootedness of Texts Located in Time and Place’.

[2] Lev, Y. (1999).  Saladin in Egypt.  pp. 1-2

[3] ibid., p. 2.  In the madrasa, Sunni law and other auxiliary subjects were taught. Dār al-Ḥadīth was an institution of a more narrow scope devoted to the study of the Prophetic traditions. The

khānqā served the mystics (Sufis) as a focal point of their social and religious life.

[4] ibid., p. 36

[5] Ibn al-Athīr, (D. 630) – (2003).  al-Kāmil fī al-Tārīkh: min sana 562 li ghāya sana 628 li al-hijra – al-mujallad al-tāsi’.  Vol. 1,  p.9-11.  Translation taken from: Rosenthal, F. (1968).  A History of Muslim Historiography.  2nd ed.  pp. 298-300

[6] Qur’an 50:33-37

[7] Quote taken from ibn al-Khaṭīb of Granada (1313-1374). Al-iḥāṭa fī akhbār al-gharnāṭa. see muqaddima (introduction)

[8] Taken from Iqbal’s ‘bāl-e-jibrīl’ – available online: http://www.allamaiqbal.com/

[9] Translation from ‘Gabriel’s Wing’ by Taseer, M.D in Pakistan Quarterly, Karachi. April 1947

[10] Ibn al-Athīr, (D. 630) – (2003).  op. cit., Vol. 10, p.589

[11] Richards, D. S. (2010).  The Chronicle of Ibn al-Athir for the Crusading Period from al-kamil fi’l-Ta’rikh. Part 2: The Years 541-589/1146-1193: The Age of Nur al-Din and Saladin. p.408

[12] Ibn Shaddād, B. (D. 632 A.H.) – (1317 A.H.).  Kitāb Sīra Salāḥ al-Dīn al-Ayyūbiyy al-musammāt bi al-Nawādir al-Sulṭāniyya wa’l-Maḥāsin al-Yūsufiyya.  p. 249

[13] Richards, D. S. (2007).  The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin or al-Nawādir al-Sulṭāniyya wa’l-Maḥāsin al-Yūsufiyya by Bahā’ al-Dīn Ibn Shaddād. p. 243

[14] Al-Iṣfahāniyy, ‘I. D. (1935).  Kitāb al-fatḥ al-qussiyy fī al-fatḥ al-qudsiyy ‘کتاب الفتح القدسی فی الفتح القدسی’. p. 454

[15] Lev, Y. (1999).  op. cit., p. 8

[16] Richards, D. S. (2010).  op. cit., p.408

[17] Richards, D. S. (2010).  op. cit., p.178

[18] Lev, Y. (1999).  op. cit., p. 40

[19] ibid., p.36

[20] Richards, D. S. (2007). Al-kāmil  op. cit., p.408-9

[21] Richards interprets this to mean taking extreme measure: to acquire and remain in power by killing many people.  He comes to this conclusion because one manuscript mentions explicitly mentions ‘yukthir al-qatl (kills many people).  See al-nawādir, p.179, footnote no. 14

[22] Richards, D. S. (2010).  op. cit., p.179

[23] Richards, D. S. (2010).  op. cit., p.369

[24] Lev, Y. (1999).  op. cit., p. 40-41

[25] ibid., p. 38

[26] ibid.

[27] ibid., p. 39

Eschatology in Islam: Interpreting Sacred Texts

Eschatology in Islam: Interpreting Sacred Texts

(Hamid Mahmood)

– Undergraduate Dissertation for Heythrop College, University of London – 

(Note:  I thought it significant to mention that the following was a dissertation I wrote to explore eschatology and interpretations that were prevalent on social media at the time of writing, hence I focused on them and chose to examine them.  Lastly, the following in no way represents my beliefs but an academic exploration of the topic and to illustrate its complexities)



The talk of Armageddon and a ‘final confrontation’ between the Abrahamic faiths seems to be the new trend.  In which, most persons on grassroots level have constructed their own eschatological postulation.  I believe, thoughts give rise to opinions, which are then expressed verbally; this then leads to movements either positive or negative between the Abrahamic religions.  However, in the midst of such concept building, one overlooks the idea and place of authenticity and interpretation of the Islamic Sacred Texts (Qur’an) and Traditions of Prophet Muhammad [1]  (ḥadīth).  I therefore intend in this essay to critically analyse superficial mainstream thought of eschatology in Islam and focus my attention on ‘the place of authenticity and interpretation’.  For indeed it is only subsequent to having a cogent foundation based on the Qur’an or Ḥadīth that one may form an acceptable concept in Islam.

I will therefore analyse three major and significant eschatological concepts in Islam – understood as the ‘Major Signs of Qiyāmah’: (1) the Mahdī; (2) the Christ (Jesus – the second coming) and Anti-Christ (al-Dajjāl); and (3) Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj (Gog and Magog).  The reason for selecting the above notions will become clear, as indeed the first notion, the Mahdī, is neither in the Qur’an nor famous traditions of Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Muslim.  The second concept, which I have combined as one, is not in the Qur’an but on the contrary scattered throughout the ṣiḥāḥ, including al-Bukhārī and Muslim.  The third of the notions is perspicuously expressed in the Qur’an and all Canonical books of ḥadīth.  In this work I intend on focusing on the first notion as compared to the other notions due to its fragility in authenticity, yet many interpretations; and ultimately concepts and beliefs are based upon it.  Hence, it is significant for the reader to ultimately grasp the notion of authenticity of ḥadīth and also that interpretations that follow are human judgements and not legitimate divine sources of knowledge in Islam.


Significance of Eschatology in Islam


The Qur’an portrays to its reader striking and vivid images of al-sā’ah (the Hour), but the portents and signs of al-sā’ah are discussed in detail in the aḥādīth (traditions of the Prophet) understood to be legitimate Islamic doctrine.  The significance and centrality of eschatology in Islam and knowing the portents to al-sā’ah is evident from the ḥadīth of Jibrīl – as it is famously known.  In this authentic ḥadīth, angel Jibrīl appears in human form to teach the early Muslims the ‘fundamentals’ of Islam: and amongst central notions of Islam; shahādah (to testify faith); ṣalāh (prayer); zakāh (charity); ṣawm (fasting); ḥajj (pilgrimage to the Muslim Holy land) and iḥsān : the question of the Last Day and its portents (signs) comes to occupy the latter part of the ḥadīth:

[ … Jibrīl then asked the Prophet the final question]:

He [Gabriel] said: “Tell me about al-sā’ahThe Hour”.  He (The Prophet) commented:  “The one who was asked knows no more than the one who asked”.  He said: “Tell me some of its portents (signs)”.  He (The Prophet) answered: “(Some of its portents are):  That the slave girl will give birth to her mistress and master, that you will find barefooted, destitute goat herds competing one another in constructing the great huge buildings”.

[Thereafter the Prophet] said: “He (the angel) was Gabriel, who came in order to teach you the matters of your religion”. [2]

Here it is evident, that eschatology and the signs leading up to it are held significantly as part of the fundamentals of Islam.


Understanding the Notion of Imām Mahdī

The notion of the Mahdī in mainstream Islam is a simplistic one, that a man will emerge from the umma to lead the entire body of bewildered Muslims at the end times; he will come as the epitome of good and diminish all evil in the world alongside Jesus.  Due to the vast number of aḥādīth it is believed to reach the level of mashūr or ḥasan li ghairih [3], hence diverging from the idea would face staunch criticism.  Opposing this idea brought to the forefront are Ibn Khaldūn, Muhammad Iqbal and Javed Ghamidi.  However, on the contrary I will analyse the interpretation and idea of the Mahdi by Imran Hosein, who despite differing from mainstream Islam in some aspects transforms the idea in modern contexts.


Iqbal denies the concept of Mahdī, as he believes, conviction in such a notion would stagnate the umma, hence the constructive struggle for good would be substituted by the idea of ‘waiting for an individual’. Iqbal in his Asrār-e-Khūdī and Rumūz-e-Bekhūdī strongly denies any ṣūfī idea that distances the Muslim world from collective struggle, he is also believed to have transformed a Persian ṣūfī idiom in Iran of Sheikh Sa’dī, “zamānā bāṭin-o-sāzad tū bāzamānā basās” (if the era is at war with you, escape from it!), was later replaced by Iqbal’s innovative idiom, “zamānā bāṭin-o-sāzad tū bāzamānā satīs”(if the era suppresses you, be at war against it!).  For indeed Iqbāl takes the idea of khūdī  and the passionate call to man to struggle to mould his own future from Bergson, ‘Men do not sufficiently realise that their future is in their own hands.  Theirs is the task of determining first of all whether they want to go on living or not’.[4]  Alongside Iqbal, I believe, there are two problems with this notion; that it really sets aside the struggle of the umma; and secondly the state of incertitude the Muslim world is faced when a number of Mahdīs emerge claiming leadership.  Iqbal further corroborates his argument by proving that this idea has penetrated into Islam from Magian and Zoroastrianism concepts of the return of Zoroaster’s unborn sons.  Ghamidi opines that it is the amalgamation of Shi’ite ḥadīth that have influenced later muḥaddithūn – subsequent to Mālik, and their influences from the region of Persia.     Iqbal also sides with Ibn Khaldūn’s denial and rejection of all the ḥadīth asānīd related to the Mahdī in his ‘Muqaddimah’ due to their ḍu’f (fragility).

Iqbal further illustrates through the notion that Spengler holds regarding the ‘Magian group of religions’, by which he means Judaism, ancient Chaldean religion, early Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam.  Iqbal and Spengler believe a ‘Magian crust’ has grown over Islam, and particularly here in reference to eschatology, however Iqbal denies it to be from pure prophetic teachings and a true seeker must understand the essence of the finality of prophethood in Islam.  Iqbal elaborates,

‘The kernel of the prophetic teaching,’ says Spengler, ‘is already Magian. There is one God – be He called Yahweh, Ahuramazda, or Marduk-Baal – who is the principle of good, and all other deities are either impotent or evil. To this doctrine there attached itself the hope of a Messiah, very clear in Isaiah, but also bursting out everywhere during the next centuries, under pressure of an inner necessity. It is the basic idea of Magian religion, for it contains implicitly the conception of the world-historical struggle between Good and Evil, with the power of Evil prevailing in the middle period, and the Good finally triumphant on the Day of Judgement.’ If this view of the prophetic teaching is meant to apply to Islam it is obviously a misrepresentation …No doubt, one important feature of Magian culture is a perpetual attitude of expectation, a constant looking forward to the coming of Zoroaster’s unborn sons, the Messiah, or the Paraclete of the fourth gospel. I have already indicated the direction in which the student of Islam should seek the cultural meaning of the doctrine of finality in Islam. It may further be regarded as a psychological cure for the Magian attitude of constant expectation which tends to give a false view of history. [5]

Iqbal further clarifies his ‘aqīdah (belief) regarding the Mahdī in a letter dated 7 April 1932 to Muḥammad Aḥsan.  In this letter among other ideas he states according to his firm belief (‘aqīdah), ‘all traditions relating to mahdī, masīḥiyyat [referring to the return of Jesus] and mujaddidiyyat [6] are the products of Persian and non-Arab imagination… and certainly they have nothing to do with the true spirit of the Qur’ān’.[7]  It is interesting to note that Ghamdi’s approach analysing the authenticity of aḥādīth is to verify them firstly with the Qur’an and thereafter to verify whether there is any such kind of ḥadīth in the Muwaṭṭa’ of al-Imām Mālik. [8]  As Irshad Abdal-Haqq explains, the characteristic of Mālikī methodology that distinguishes it from the other schools is the great weight it gives to the customary practises of the people of Medīna as a source of evidence of how the sharī’ah should be applied’.[9]  Imām Mālik places ‘amal of the people of Madīna subsequent to the Qur’ān and sunnah and ahead of ijmā’; individual opinion of ṣaḥābah; qiyās; Isolated customs and practises of Madīnah; istislāh and ‘urf.[10]  This would also include the ḥadīth he transmitted, as they were from the people of Madīna, hence were unlikely to be diluted with Persian and Zoroastrian influence.

This methodology applied by Ghamidi is one that would also prove to be cogent when analysing Schacht’s criticism of later canonical Six Canonical books of ḥadīth.  Schacht’s argument was compelling and clear,  ‘books surviving from the ancient schools of law, like Mālik’s Muwaṭṭa’, include far more reports from later figures than from the Prophet himself.[11]  Jonathan Brown further elaborates on Schacht’s understanding,

‘the collections compiled after al-Shāfi’ī, however, such as the canonical Six Books, were undeniably focused on Prophetic reports.  Furthermore, these collections compiled often included reports attributed to the Prophet that the authors of earlier ḥadīth collections had attributed to Companions [ṣaḥābah] or Successors [tābi’ūn].  A report in the Muwaṭṭa’ maybe attributed to a Companion while a generation later al-Shāfi’ī attributes the same report to the Prophet through a defective mursal isnād (in which there exists a gap in the isnād between the Prophet and the person quoting him).  Two generations later. In the Ṣaḥīḥ of al-Bukhārī, we find the same ḥadīth with a complete isnād to the Prophet’.[12]

Brown concludes that according to Schacht many of the later traditions-after Muwaṭṭa’-  must have been forged (mauḍū’) or mursal.  For Schacht believes if such traditions really did exist earlier then Mālik would certainly have included them in his writings against his opponents in legal debates.[13]

Ghamidi further clarifies the understanding of the coming of a ‘caliph’, ‘no doubt, some narratives, which are acceptable with regard to their chain of narration, inform us of the coming of a generous caliph; however, if they are deeply deliberated upon, it becomes evident that the caliph they refer to is ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (d. 101 AH) who was the last caliph of the early history of the Muslims. This prediction of the Prophet (sws) has thus materialized in his personality word for word. One does not need to wait for any other Mahdī now’.[14]

However, Iqbal then approaches the subject from the traditionalist perspective, as one may ask what of the vast corpus of aḥādīth that illustrate the coming of the Mahdī in the end of times.  To this Iqbal holds on to the argument presented by Ibn Khaldūn, he says,

‘Ibn Khaldūn, seeing the spirit of his own view of history, has fully criticized and, I believe, finally demolished the alleged revelational basis in Islam of an idea similar, at least in its psychological effects, to the original Magian idea which had reappeared in Islam under the pressure of Magian thought’.[15]

Ibn Khaldūn in his Muqaddimah opposes all aḥadith concerning the Mahdī.  He argues, ‘that the Ṣūfīs have other theories concerning the Mahdī.  The time, the man, and the place are clearly indicated in them’.[16]  He further states, which is recorded only in the full version, ‘they like to base themselves upon the removal (of the veil, kashf), which is the basis of their various (mystical) paths’.[17]  Here it is evident that Ibn Khaldūn argues that the Ṣūfīs under the Fatimid dynasty have not approached the matter through reason or ḥadīth authenticity, but rather through kashf, which I will also argue is the case with Imran Hossein.


Ibn Khaldūn’s outline of the argument is simply that the aḥādīth used by the Sufis are all from ḥadīth books and narrations other than the two Ṣaḥīḥs– al-Bukharī and Muslim.  He quotes that the aḥādīth are primarily from the following sources:

‘At-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, al-Bazzar, Ibn Majah,  al-Hakim, at­-Tabarani, and Abu Ya’la al-Mawsill’.[18]

He further states that, ‘their chains of transmission, have often been found objectionable by those who disapprove (of the matter)… because ḥadīth scholars acknowledge negative criticism to have precedence over positive criticism’.[19]  However, subsequent to this statement Ibn Khaldūn falls behind the expectation of Ghamidi (and his teachers Farāḥī and Iṣlāḥī) when he affirms:

‘it should not be said that the same faults often affect the persons (mentioned as authorites in) the two Ṣaḥīḥs.  The general consensus [ijmā’] of ḥadīth transmitters confirms the soundness of the contents of the (two Ṣaḥīḥs) as presented by al-Bukharī and Muslim.  The uninterrupted general consensus in Islam also confirms the acceptability of (the two Ṣaḥīḥs) and the necessity of acting in accordance with their contents.  General consensus is the best protection and defence.[20]

Thereafter Ibn Khaldūn examines twenty four traditions regarding the Mahdī, and rejects them all.  As he finds deficiency in the transmitters of every ḥadīth, I have given here an example of one such type as the criticism on all other twenty three are homogeneous:

‘(Al-Suhaylī) said:  the tradition with the strangest chain of transmitters is the one mentioned by Abu Bakr al-Iskaf in the Fawā’id al-Akhbār…. [Abū Bakr al-Iskaf > Mālik ibn Anas > Muhammad ibn Munkadir > Jābir > The Messenger of God]: “He who does not believe in the Mahdī is an unbeliever and he who does not believe in the Antichrist is a liar”.[21]

Ibn Khaldūn criticises here the matan alongside the isnād, for the former he believes it to be ‘an extreme statement’, and the latter, ‘that Abū Bakr al-Iskāf is considered by ḥadīth scholars as suspect and as a forger of traditions.[22]  However, Ibn Khaldūn concludes on the point that many of his contemporary and earlier Ṣūfīs calculated his arrival, but their calculations have already been proven erroneous. Such as Ibn a-’Arab, who believed that the Mahdī would appear in kh-f-j years had passed: by this he meant the numerical value that is understood for letters.  However, the time and dates passed and there was no sign of the Mahdī, even in contemporary times there are many who begin estimating his arrival.

Imran Hosein, a contemporary conservative eschatologist, has recently responded through article responses to the following questions from the grassroots: ‘Is Imām al-Mahdī about to emerge?[23] And ‘Will an Israeli attack on Iran provoke the emergence of another false Mahdī?[24] Imran Hosein’s methodology and epistemology of determining eschatological meaning comprises of two ideas.  Which he superficially describes as ‘seeing with the two eyes’ as compared to one, as ‘Dajjāl sees with only one eye’: here Hosein refers to the internal (esoteric) and external (exoteric) epistemological meanings.  As I mentioned earlier, Ibn Khaldūn differed from the notion of applying meaning understood from kashf of the Ṣūfīs.   However, in determining exoteric meaning Hosein rejects the idea of an atomistic exegesis of the Qur’an and builds upon the methodology of his teacher, Maulānā Dr Fazlur Rahmān Anṣārī, of assessing each verse as part of an intelligible ‘whole’, and thereupon enshrouds it with Ṣūfī epistemological understanding.

Hosein insists that Ṣūfī masters of the past, such as al-Ghazālī and Rūmī, have both ‘used the heart as a vehicle for the acquisition of knowledge’.  He further elaborates:

‘that the experience of the heart through which it ‘sees’ and directly experiences ‘truth’, is frequently referred to in philosophy as ‘religious experience’. In its wider sense, ‘religious experience’ also includes that internal intuitive spiritual grasp which delivers to the believer the ‘substance’ or ‘reality’ of things. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah Most High be upon him) referred to it when he warned: “Fear the firāsah (i.e., intuitive spiritual capacity for penetrating the substance of things) of the believer, for surely he sees with the light of Allah.”[25]

Hosein here is referring to an epistemology, which on the contrary to modern Enlightenment, accepts ‘religious experience’ as a ‘source of knowledge’, which he refers to as the Ṣūfī epistemology.  And thereafter defines such inner knowledge as ‘ilm al-bāṭin: which Ibn Khaldūn defines as kashf and staunchly repudiates.   However, I believe it difficult to determine which knowledge acquired from the contrasting kushūf (pl. of kashf) of individuals to give credence to, in a contemporary setting as well as kushūf determined in conflicting political environments.  As I will discuss this matter under the interpretation of Gog and Magog, where Imran Hosein interprets them to be Russia and America, and on the contrary Anwar Shāh al-Kashmīrī believes them to be The Soviet Union [26] and The British (British Empire).  These two Ṣūfī epistemological interpretations were set in deferring political backgrounds, the former in contemporary and latter in 1930’s.  However, when elucidating his position on the exoteric methodology, Hosein advocates the idea of his teacher Anṣārī:

‘Now, besides consistency, the conformability of the Holy Qur’ān in its various parts… brings us to the logic of theoretic consciousness, which, too, is inherent in the holy book, even as the logic of religious consciousness is enshrined therein. The conformability, however, signifies, in the estimation of the best Qur’ānic authorities, not only uniformity of teaching but also the principle that all the verses of the holy book are inter-related as parts of an intelligible system—whereby the existence of a system of meaning in the Holy Qur’ān is positively established, as also the technique of the exposition of that system.’[27]

Hosein and Anṣārī, both affirm a modern exegesis, of approaching each verse or even each ḥadīth as part of a whole, as compared to earlier pre-modern atomistic approaches to the Qur’anic text.  This approach to the text is similar to all contemporary exegetes such as’ Ḥamīduddīn Farāḥī, Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī and somewhat to Sayyid Quṭb and Thanwī, the former of which emphasise the ‘amūd within each sūra; pair of sūratain; group of suwar and the Qur’an.  However, in  eschatological contexts when approaching the sources from the two fold methodology, he further elaborates, ‘Our methodology of study requires us to locate the system of meaning which binds the totality of our data pertaining to the subject of ‘Signs of the Last Day’ into a harmonious and integrated whole.  That system of meaning, in turn, would allow us to identify those aḥādīth which are, or appear to be, in conflict or discord with the main body of data of the system as derived from the Qur’an and the aḥādīth… we then exclude from our study such aḥādīth or intetrpretations of aḥādīth that are in contradiction or discord with that expanded system of meaning’.[28]   

However, Hosein’s idea behind the Mahdī and the second coming of Jesus is to relive the experience of Jesus’ initial period.  He recognises a similarity between John the Baptist and the Mahdī.  Hence, Hosein identifies the nature of the historical process to be, ‘the question of positive identification of the Messiah (when he was to appear) was solved by way of a special person who was raised by Allah Most High, and was commissioned to make that positive identification.  John the Baptist not only kept on declaring to all and sundry that the Messiah was coming but, additionally, it was before John that Jesus appeared when he returned to the Holy Land as an adult.  John faced him and publicly declared:  This is the man you have been waiting for; this is the Messiah.[29]  This was the divine method of ensuring ‘positive identification’ of the Messiah!  Similarly when the Messiah is to return, God would raise another man whose function would be the same as that of John.  The historical process thus maintains consistency.  Imām al-Mahdī’s role is identical to that of John the Baptist’.[30]  It is interesting to note how in accordance to the traditions the initial meeting of the Mahdī and the Messiah would be in Damascus, by the ‘white minaret’ which according to Muslim understanding is the ‘Umayyad Mosque’.[31]   And, incidentally, the tomb of John the Baptist is venerated in the very mosque.  However, Hosein further reinforces the concept of the alliance of Jesus and the Mahdī by introducing the Old Testament into ‘the intelligible whole’.  This method is also applied by Ghamidi when interpreting the notion of Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj (Gog and Magog).  As Ghamidi tends to go back to the Old Testament to understand the Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj.

Imran Hossein further corroborates his line of argument and suggests that the Jews related to the Qumran writings were expecting not one but two Messiahs.  He argues,

From certain other passages in the Qumran writings, it appears quite certain that this community, which was fundamentally a priestly one, expected an especially anointed high priest (‘the Messiah of Aaron) as well as an especially anointed lay ruler (‘the Messiah of Israel’).  It should be noted that in the Cairo Damascus Document (CD 7:20) the royal Messiah is not called a ‘king’, but a ‘prince’, (nasi in keeping with Ezek. 34:24; 37:25; etc).  ‘The concept of two Messiahs, one royal and one priestly, probably goes back to Zechariah 4:14: ‘These are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth’.[32]

Hosein further elaborates,

‘In addition to those two there was to be a third person who could not have been any other than Prophet Muhammad: “The rule which they (i.e., the priestly community in Qumran) received from him (i.e., their teacher) was to be their way of life ‘until the coming of a Prophet and of the anointed ones of Aaron and Israel’.[33]

It is evident that Hosein points towards a unique dual approach to the Messiah, where one is sent prior to the coming of the ultimate.  However, it would be an interesting research to determine whether the idea of the Messiah in Judaism has Babylonian roots, as Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar and the Jews remained in Babylonia before their return.

Hence, for Hosein the idea of Messiah – Mahdī cannot be repudiated in any circumstance.  He therefore believes that Iqbal was not ‘immune’ from the negative influence of Western epistemology and argues that Iqbal when expressing his ideas in poetry, would do so from the heart and use ṣūfī  epistemology as witnesses in his poem of regarding ‘khidr – e – waqt’:

“out of the seclusion of the desert of Hejaz, the divinely-illuminated Guide of the Time (Khidr-e-Waqt) is to come.  And from the far, far away valley, the Caravan is to make it appearance”.[34]  On the contrary Hosein believed when addressing these issues in English prose and to an educated audience, he quite contradicted his  ideas in Persian and Urdu poetry and therefore suggests Iqbal’s duality in thought.

Overview of the Mahdī Concept


The concept of the Mahdī in mainstream Islamic eschatology is significant, yet contentious due to its appearance in preponderant ḍa’īf (fragile) ḥadīth.  I initiated by analysing Iqbal’s approach, which is based upon the stagnant element found within the concept of the Mahdī and the concept’s disagreement with his idea of khūdī. He disapproved of the notion by explaining the influence of Zoroastrianism through Spengler’s criticism, which Ghamidi transforms as Zoroastrian influence on Shi’i Islam and ḥadīth and thereafter the influence of Shi’i ideology on mainstream sunnī Islam.  Iqbal conforms to ibn Khaldun’s traditional method of ḥadīth matan and isnād criticism.

I thereafter examined Ghamidi’s innovative methodology of analysing the meaning of ḥadīth matan in light of the Qur’an as a whole, hence the Qur’an is seen as a mīzān and furqān to distinguish between pure concepts from influenced ones.  If such a concept finds no backing in the Qur’an, he then applies similar methodology, but with the Muwaṭṭa’ of Imām Mālik.  The reason for giving such precedence to the Muwaṭṭa’ is due to the notion that Muwaṭṭa’ was amongst the first ḥadīth compilations; compiled in Madīna; Imām Mālik’s principle of giving tarjīḥ (precedence) to ‘the ‘amal of the people of Madīna’; hence it is most likely due to these reasons that the Muwaṭṭa’ remained impervious to Persian concepts and culture.  This method, as I analysed was cogent to Schacht’s notion of ḥadīth isnād criticism.  However, Ghamidi’s method seems to be reminiscent to the wahhābī and puritan methodology, at times more extreme.

The idea that mere interpretation or simply finding a notion in a ḥadīth sufficient for determines truth in Islam is a simplistic one.  Ibn Khaldun’s matan and isnād criticism of ḥadīth proves otherwise.  It is therefore evident from Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddima that even ḥadīth authentication plays a significant role in determining Islamic practises, concepts and fundamentals.

I then concluded on examining Imran Hosein’s methodology which echoes that of mainstream sunnī Islam, yet is modern in nature.  For Hosein it is significant that verses and aḥādīth about eschatology be interpreted by implementing two methods: Exoteric and Esoteric:  the former of which he bases on the methodology of his teacher, and the latter he enshrouds the former with – Sūfī epistemology (religious experience).  He further tries to determine the notion of the Mahdī through the historical process, ‘the question of positive identification of the Messiah and likens the notion of the Mahdī to that of John the Baptist.  He finally includes the Old Testament and Qumran writings into his understanding of the intelligible whole.

However, this was an analysis of a notion prevalent and found in ḍa’īf (fragile) aḥādīth, traditions with debilitated mutūn or asānīd,  where the Qur’an was void of any such idea or al-aḥādīth al-ṣaḥīḥa.  Now I hasten to assess notions of eschatology not in the Qur’an but found in the bulk of al-aḥādīth al-ṣaḥīḥa, which include the canonical books Al-Bukhārī, Muslim and the Muwaṭṭa (i.e., Christ and Anti-Christ – Dajjāl)’; and finally a notion present in the Qur’an, but holding diverse interpretations (i.e., Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj).


Christ (second coming of Jesus) and the Anti-Christ (al-Dajjāl)


The eschatological concept of the Christ (second coming of Jesus) and the Anti-Christ (al-Dajjāl – the epitome of evil), again in mainstream Islamic theology is an issue of great significance.  It is an eschatology which also influences Muslim and Jewish-Christian relations, ‘an end of time showdown between the Abrahamic Religions’. However, the difference between the notions of the Mahdī and the Return of Christ to overcome the Anti-Christ (Dajjāl), is the level of authenticity they both hold.  For the former, it is proven through a bulk of ḍa’īf narrations, and if ṣaḥīḥ narrations exist it is interpreted to be ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Azīz according to those who disapprove of the orthodox position, such as Iqbal, Ibn Khaldun and Ghamidi.  The latter notion is contrastive due to its prevalence in not merely ḍa’īf aḥādīth, but also aḥādīth al-ṣaḥīḥa which include the Canonical books of al-Bukhārī, Muslim and Muwaṭṭa’.  Although Muhammad Iqbal had elaborated in his Letter to Muhammad Ahsan regarding his denial of masīḥiyyat (return of Jesus), he does not present an argument for it, as unlike mahdiyyat, the notion  masīḥiyyat is clearly found in ṣaḥīḥ aḥādīth. However, I will analyse Ghamidi’s methodology for rejecting the notion of masīḥiyyat (the second coming of Jesus), which is contrary to ṣaḥīḥ aḥādīth (Al-Bukhārī and Muslim) and mainstream Islamic theology.

Ghamidi’s Methodology


According to traditional methodology Qur’ānic texts are analysed in the light of aḥādīth (pl. of ḥadīth), however Ghamidi argues that the Qur’ān is to be held as the criterion (al-furqān) in determining the authority of the ḥadīth matan.  Hence, his approach towards verses and aḥādīth illustrating eschatology in Islam differ from mainstream.  Ghamidī, has built upon the methodology and hermeneutics of his teacher and mentor Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, who transformed the hermeneutics of his teacher Ḥamīduddīn Farāḥī.  Farāḥī believed he was amongst the first group of scholars who were intent on the criticism of ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, which was not really attempted in the past by traditionalist scholars.  Therefore I believe it is from Farāḥī that Ghamidi builds upon his notion of ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Muslim criticism.  Hence, due to this epistemology, change in thought was evident.  As mentioned earlier Ibn Khaldūn, despite his critical analysis of the Mahdī aḥādīth he was adamant regarding the asānīd of ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Muslim, which he believed were authentic due to the ijmā’ of the ‘Umma.

Ghamidi’s approach to ḥadīth is similar to that of the traditionalists, but he differs in certain aspects of it, hence arrives at contrasting conclusions as compared to the conservative body of scholars.  Ghamidi insists that, ‘aḥādīth are mostly akhbār-i aḥād (isolate reports). It is absolutely evident that they do not add to the contents of religion stated in the Qur’ān and Sunna… [hence] it is outside the scope of Aḥādīth to give an independent directive not covered by the Qur’ān and Sunnah’.[35] For Ghamidi ḥadīth must be scrutinised through five channels before it could be accepted; (1) Literary appreciation of the Arabic language; (2) Interpretation in the light of the Qur’an; (3) Understanding the occasion of the ḥadīth; (4) Analysis of all the variant texts and (5) Reason and revelation.  However, prior to this Ghamidi differs to traditionalists when explaining the critical analysis of the ‘chain of narrations of a ḥadīth’ (isnād) and ‘text of ḥadīth’ (matan).  On the former notion Ghamidi differs on the following point:

‘no narrative attributed to the Prophet (sws) even if found in primary works as the al-Jāmi al-Ṣaḥīḥ of Imām Bukhārīal-Jāmi al-Ṣaḥīḥ of Imām Muslim and the Muwaṭṭa’ of Imām Mālik can be accepted without application of this standard’.[36]

As mentioned earlier Ghamidi, here differs from the traditionalists and follows the innovative theory of his teachers Islahi and Farahi.  He further elaborates on criticism of the matan,

‘Nothing in it should be against the Qur’ān and Sunnah … nothing in it should be against established facts derived from knowledge and reason … in religion the Qur’ān is the mīzān (the scale of truth) and the furqān (the distinguisher between truth and falsehood).[37] [38]

It is in the light of these differences that I will now examine where Ghamidi differs from traditionalists.

Ghamidi’s main idea in rejecting the second coming of Jesus and the Mahdi is the notion of the analysis of ḥadīth in the light of the Qur’an.   Ghamidi explains the main crux of his denial of the notion of masīḥiyyat and mahdiyyat:

‘The reason is that the narratives of the advent of Mahdi [and the advent of Jesus] do not conform to the standards of ḥadīth criticism set forth by the muḥaddithūn. As far as the narratives which record the advent of Jesus (sws) are concerned, though the muḥaddithūn have generally accepted them; however, if they are analyzed in the light of the Qur’an, they too become dubious’.[39]

Ghamidi gives three aspects in the light of the Qur’an in his work ‘Islam: A Comprehensive Introduction’ of why the aḥādīth in the ṣiḥāḥ regarding the return of Jesus cannot be taken seriously. He argues,

‘Firstly, the personality of Jesus (sws) has been discussed in the Qur’an from various aspects. The Qur’an has commented on his da‘wah mission and his personality at a lot of places. The cataclysm that will take place on the Day of Judgement is also a very frequently discussed topic of the Qur’an. The advent of a celebrated prophet of God from the heavens is no small an incident. In spite of the fact that there were many instances in which this incident could have been mentioned, we find that there is not a single place in which it is mentioned in the Qur’an. Can human knowledge and intellect be satisfied with this silence? One does find this hard to digest.

Secondly, the Qur’an has recorded a dialogue of God with Jesus (sws) which will take place on the Day of Judgement. During the course of this conversation, the Almighty will ask him about the real sphere in which the Christians had gone astray: the divinity of Jesus (sws) and Mary. He will ask Jesus (sws) if it was as per His instructions that he had told people to deify himself and his mother whilst leaving aside God. In response to this question, among other things, Jesus (sws) will say that he instructed his people in the very manner he was asked by God and that as long as he remained among them he watched over what they were doing, and that after his own demise he was not aware of what good or evil they did, and that after his death it was God who watched over them. In this dialogue, one can clearly feel that the last sentence is very inappropriate if Jesus (sws) had also come in this world a second time. In such a case, he should have responded by saying that he knew what happened with them and that a little earlier he had gone to warn them of their grievous faults. The Qur’an says: Never did I say to them except what You commanded me to do: “Worship Allah my Lord and your Lord,” and I was a witness over them while I dwelt with them. When You gave death to me, You were the Watcher over them and You are a witness over all things. (5:117)

Thirdly, in one verse of the Qur’an, the Almighty has disclosed what will happen to Jesus (sws) and his followers till the Day of Judgement. Sense and reason demand that here He should also have disclosed his second coming before the advent of this Day; however, we find no such mention. If Jesus (sws) had to come, why was silence maintained at this instance? One is unable to comprehend any reason for it. The verse is:  “O Jesus! I have decided to give death to you and raise you to Myself and cleanse you from these people who have denied [you]. I shall make those who follow you superior to those who reject faith till the Day of Judgement. Then to Me you shall all return. So at that time I shall give My verdict in what you have been differing in.” (3:55)’.[40]

Hence, at the heart of Ghamidi’s argument is embedded the idea that the Qur’an is empty from any such notion.  He then argues at two instances in the Qur’an where the second coming of Jesus could have been illustrated due to the significance of the matter.  However, Ghamidi further illustrates why it is imperative to reject the notions of masīḥiyyat and mahdiyyat, he believes again that these notions have crept into the corpus of ḥadīth through Shi’ite aḥādīth.  Hence he contends, despite the vast number of ḥadīth regarding the advent of Jesus in the ṣaḥīḥ’s of Bukhārī and Muslim,  that the Muwaṭṭa’ of Imam Mālik must be sought.  Due to the concept, as mentioned earlier, that the Muwaṭṭa was most unlikely influenced by Zoroastrian, Magian and Shi’ite ideology.  Despite it having aḥādīth regarding the Anti-Christ (Dajjāl) there is no mention of the second coming of Jesus.

However, after sifting through the ḥadīth corpus of Muwaṭṭa Imām Mālik one is forced to re-examine a ḥadīth which does not ‘directly’ deal with the matter but has within it scope to appreciate the notion rejected by Ghamidi:

‘And Yaḥyā narrated from Mālik, on the authority of Nafi’, from ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar  that the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said:  “I dreamt this night that I was at the ka’ba.  I saw a dark man, like the most handsome of dark men you have ever seen.  He had hair reaching to between his ears and his shoulders, like the most excellent of such hair you have seen.  He had combed his hair, and water was dripping from it.  He was leaning on two men or on the shoulders of two men doing the circumambulation (ṭawāf) around the Ka’ba.  I asked:  Who is that?  It was said: This is Jesus Christ, the son of Mary.  Then I was with a man with wiry hair and blind in his right eye, as if it was a floating grape.  I asked: who is that?  It was said to me:  This is the antichrist”.[41]

This very ḥadīth is also narrated in ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī with the following chain of narrators:

محمد بن اسماعیل البخاری  >  حدثنا عبد اللٰہ بن مسلمۃ ، عن مالک ، عن نافع ، عن عبد اللٰہ بن عمر رضی اللٰہ عنھما : ان رسول اللٰہ  قال: ۔۔۔ الیٰ اٰخرِ الحدیث

This sanad (one comprising of Mālik > Nāfi’ > ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar) is considered by al-Bukhārī as the most authentic in the prodigious corpus of aḥadīth, and is entitled ‘silsila al-dhahab’– the Golden chain of narrators.[42]  Here Ghamidi argues that there is no explicit or implicit indication towards the second coming of Jesus as the Prophet had seen other Prophets, such as Moses and Abraham, in his dream but that in no way determined their second coming.  And as they are from individual reports Ghamidi disregards of them and agrees with  Ibn ‘Abdu’l Barr, ‘(وأهل السنة مصدقون بنزول عيسى في الآثار الثابتة بذلك عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم من نقل الآحاد العدول)’

‘The Ahl-i-Sunnah testify to the decent of Jesus mentioned in the authentic sayings from the Prophet (sws) transmitted through the individual reports by narrators who are of sound characters’.[43]  Hence, it is known that individual reports do not ‘form a source of certain knowledge’.  However, I believe, that the mention of Jesus (Christ) and Dajjāl (Anti-Christ) in one tradition has its suspicions – as to why are they illustrated together in one single ḥadīth.  It is also interesting to note that due to the mention of Dajjāl in other ḥadīth of the Muwaṭṭa’, he accepts the coming of an Anti-Christ in contrast to Christ.  I believe this notion to be misleading as again it could be argued that there is no explicit or implicit mention of Dajjāl in the Qur’anic text.  However, earlier tafāsīr indicate the implicit verse regarding second coming of Jesus, and Sayyid Quṭb affirms that due to its vast majority of traditions it is likely that this verse could be taken for the second coming of Jesus, as the sign of al-sā’ah:

ثم يعود إلى تقرير شىء عن عيسى عليه السلام. يذكرهم بأمر الساعة التي يكذبون بها أو يشكون فيها:
{ وإنه لعلم الساعة. فلا تمترن بها. واتبعون. هذا صراط مستقيم. ولا يصدنكم الشيطان إنه لكم عدو مبين }قد وردت أحاديث شتى عن نزول عيسی عليه السلام ـ إلى الأرض قبيل الساعة وهو ما تشير إليه الآية: {وإنه لعلم للساعة } بمعنى أنه يُعلم بقرب مجيئها، والقراءة الثانية { وإنه لَعَلَم للساعة } بمعنى أمارة وعلامة.  وكلاهما قريب من قريب [44].

It is interesting to note also at this point, that due to the mere difference in criticising Bukhārī and Muslim or not,  determines whether eschatology in Islam holds the notion of the second coming of Christ.  As Ibn Khaldun argued,  

The general consensus of hadith transmitters confirms the soundness of the contents of (the two Sahihs) as presented by al-Bukhari and Muslim. The uninterrupted general consensus in Islam also confirms the acceptability of (the two Sahihs) and the necessity of acting in accordance with their contents. General consensus is the best protection and defence’.[45]

Hence, the major difference between the two arguments originates in the principle of jurisprudence, where Ghamidi in this case does not give credence to ijmā’ in contrast to Ibn Khaldūn.  Despite ijmā’ being a principle of Islamic Jurisprudence, it is not a divinely revealed source and the universality of ijma’ is still disputed.[46]

Similar to the notion of the return of Christ is the notion of the Anti-Christ, yet there is far less dispute.  As Dajjāl has been spoken of in all the ṣiḥāḥ books, including the Muwaṭṭa’ of Imām Mālik and is also mentioned in a ṣaḥīḥ ḥadīth of Muslim, which mentions ten signs before the Last Day and does not include the Mahdī and Masīḥ concepts.  However, it is of great significance to understand how the notion of Dajjāl is used in modern polemics aimed at the ‘Zionists’ and ‘Freemasons’.  This notion is to understand Dajjāl (the Anti-Christ) as not merely an individual but a system – similar to one of the Jewish understandings of the Messiah.

Ahmad Thomson asserts a broader understanding of the notion of Dajjāl, not merely a physical epitome of evil.  He contends, ‘There are three aspects of the Dajjāl.  There is Dajjāl the individual.  There is Dajjāl as a world wide social and cultural phenomenon.  There is Dajjāl as an unseen force’.[47]  He further elaborates the three phenomena’s of the Dajjāl:

‘It is clear that before the Dajjāl the individual appears on earth, there must already be present and established the system, and the people running that system, which and who will support and follow him when he does appear.  Evidence of that system, and the people running that system, is evidence of Dajjāl as a world wide social and cultural phenomenon, and Dajjāl as an unseen force.  The signs of these broader aspects of Dajjāl, that is what Dajjāl the individual will epitomise, are very apparent today, which would indicate that Dajjāl the individual is soon to appear’.[48]

However, again this notion creates uncertainty within the Muslim umma due to the secretive nature of the Freemasons and the Zionists.  However, it is interesting to note here that Imran Hosein indicates the presence of this notion under the umbrella of a Jewish-Christian Zionist (Evangelical) alliance in an implicit verse:

You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians as allies: they are allies only to each other (Qur’ān 5:51)

For Hosein believes that there existed no such alliance between Jews and Christians in the medieval period until modern times.  Hence, there exit a lot of contemporary conspiracies regarding the alliance of the Jews and Christians: and verses and aḥādīth are therefore approached with a preconceived notion of such an alliance against the Muslim umma.  And this eschatological preconception opens up Pandora’s Box of uncertainties.  This notion then leads to again, a set preconceived interpretation of Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj (Gog and Magog).


Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj


Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj are the same tribes mentioned in the Old Testament.  However, in fragile and fabricated aḥādīth narrations there is a mythological image painted of them; some enormous; some dwarfed; some having ears so large that they could take cover with them; and vivid images of them drinking all the waters of the world dry.  However, these striking images I believe are all from mauḍū’ (fabricated) aḥādīth, which were probably influenced by early myths of the Khazars: as described by Kevin Alan Brook in ‘The Jews of Khazaria’.[49]

However, there are diverse interpretations regarding the identification of the Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj: and as mentioned earlier, some are Sufī epistemological approaches.  However, I argued that the ‘preconception’ of the idea due to the occurrences in the world played a greater role in these Sufi interpretations.  For instance Anwar Shah Kashmiri (died 1933 C.E.) believed that Ya’juj were the Soviet Union, who were in power at the time, he also believed Majūj were the people of the British Empire – as India was under British rule.

اما الروس فھم من ذریۃ یاجوج [50]

ان یاجوج و ماجوج لا یبعد ان یکونوا اھل روسیا و بریطانیا [51]

‘As for the Soviet Union, they are from amongst the descendants of Ya’jūj’… it is not unlikely that the Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj are the people of the Soviet Union and the British Empire’.  In his Faiḍ al-Bārī, he adds to the list of ‘Superpowers’ Germany:

و کذا المانیا ایضا منھم [52]

However, it is interesting to note how less then a century later Imran Hossein believes United States of America and Russia to be from Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj.  However, he also argues that it was initially from the Jews of Khazar, where the wall built by dhū al-Qarnain, that spread into the West and ultimately America.  Hence it was from America that they then formed an alliance to take control of Israel.  Hosein, with his preconceived notion of the matter, then points towards this from the ḥadīth regarding the ‘drying of the Sea of Galilee’, which is now taking place.  He also hints towards the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and a final confrontation from an implicit indication in a verse of the Qur’an:

“We declared to the Children of Israel in the Scripture, ‘Twice you will you spread corruption in the land and become highly arrogant!’ When the first of these warnings was fulfilled, We sent against you servants of Ours with great force, and they ravaged your homes.  That warning was fulfilledand when the second warning was fulfilled [We sent them] to shame your faces and enter the place of worship as they did the first time, and utterly destroy whatever fell into their power.. but if you do the same again, so shall We (Qur’an 17:4-8).

The key phrase emphasised by Hosein is   وَإِنْ عُدتُّمْ عُدْنَا   , and he translates this verse as, ‘if you return [for a third time to Jerusalem- the Holy Land] We will return [with Our punishment]’.  Hosein further interprets ‘Our punishment’ with ‘the Muslim Army’ – followed by earlier, first and second Temple destruction, by the Babylonian and Roman armies.  However it is clear that these understandings are based on interpretation.  Hosein quotes a ḥadīth from al-Bukhārī and Muslim (muttafaq ‘alaih) which further corroborates his argument:

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.” [53]

Hosein further suggests that the Jews illustrated in this ḥadīth refer not to Orthodox and conservative Jews, but rather the Jews in the Zionist alliance.  David Cook also speaks of the modern interpretation which transforms Banū Isrā’īl to the ‘State of Israel’ in his book ‘Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature’.[54]


Under such interpretations one could see where this takes Jewish – Muslim relations in the future.  Particularly, when the notions of the Mahdī, the Messiah and al-Dajjāl begin to overlap, where the Jewish Messiah becomes the Anti-Christ for the Muslim mind and vice versa.  It seems at the end of the tunnel there is no light, and the future of this relation seams bleak when interpretations take this course.

However, the purpose of this essay was to give the reader a glimpse of the complexities of dealing with sacred texts (Qur’an and Ḥadīth) and their interpretations.  I therefore  looked at three concepts (1) the Mahdī; (2) the Christ (Jesus – the second coming) and Anti-Christ (al-Dajjāl); and (3) Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj (Gog and Magog) due to the diversity of their authenticity in relation to the principles of uṣūl al-ḥadīth and vast interpretations.  However, in the midst of political upheaval in the world one almost forgets that many a times concepts and theories in Islam are based upon ḍa’īf aḥādīth and individual interpretations, which are not divinely inspired within Sunni Islam.   But, on the contrary such ‘interpretations’ are treated as divine sources: which at times, particularly when understanding the relations between the Abrahamic faiths in Eschatology, is contrary to the actual essence of Islam.





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Thomson, A. (2007).  Dajjal: the Anti Christ. 8th ed. Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd: London, U.K.

Winter, T. (2008).  The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology.  Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK


[Accessed 15.12.2010]


[Accessed 15.12.2010]


[Accessed 15.12.2010]


[Accessed 01.11.2010]


[Accessed 01.11.2010]


[Accessed 01.11.2010]




[1] In all instances of a Muslim’s speech and traditional writings the phrase ‘Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH)’ (صلی اللہ علیہ و سلم) is followed by the name of the Prophet,  but in this essay I intend the phrase, hence on the understanding  that it is intended and assumed that no disrespect is intended.

[2] Muslim, H. N. (2005 C.E. – 1426 H.).  Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim: The authentic hadiths of Muslim, with full Arabic text (صحیح مسلم).  (pp. 60-63)

[3] A ḍa’īf ḥadīth, which is strengthened by ‘other’ ḥadīth supporting it in form and sense.

[4] Bergson, H. (1922).  Creative Evolution.  (p. 317)

[5] Iqbal, M. (2008).  The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. (pp. 144-145)

[6] Marcia Hermansen compares the notion of millennia to mujaddidiyyat and terms it as ‘centennialism’ – based on a Prophetic tradition that a Renewer (mujaddid) would appear at the beginning of every century.  Winter, T. (2008).  The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology.  (p. 316). See Eschatology.

[7] Iqbal, M. (1934). The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Lecture V: The Spirit of Muslim Culture.  See under footnote 61.  Reference given to Iqbālnāmah, II, 231

Accessed online [21.04.2011]: http://www.ziyaraat.net/books/ReconstructionOfIslamicThought.pdf

[8] In Pakistan Javed Ahmad Ghamidi staunchly opposes dictatorship or any other form of governance which is based on an ‘individual’, and he argues that this feeling –due to the fiasco of democracy in Pakistan-  is an influence of misunderstanding the notion of Mahdī and Jesus, which according to him have no real basis in Islam.

[9] Abdal-Haq, I. (1996).  The Journal of Islamic Law: An Overview of Its Origins and Elements. (p.48)

[10] ibid.

[11] Schacht, J. (1967).  The Origins of Muhammad Jurisprudence.  (p. 22)

[12] Brown, J. A. C. (2009).  Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World.  (p. 212).  Under chapter: ‘Western debates over historical reliability’.

[13] ibid.

[14] Ghamidi, J. A. (2009).  Islam: A Comprehensive Introduction – An English Rendering of Mīzān by Shehzad Saleem.  (p. 174)

[16] Khaldūn, I. (2005).  The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. Trans. by Rosenthal F. (p. 258)

[17] Khaldūn, I.  Complete Text of The Muqaddimah: [Accessed online: 06.01.2011]: http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ik/Muqaddimah/ and Specific Chapter III under subheading No.51 (The Fatimid. The opinions of the people about him. The truth about the matter. Sufi opinions about the Mahdi): http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ik/Muqaddimah/Chapter3/Ch_3_51.htm

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid.

[20] ibid.

[21] ibid.

[22] ibid.

[25] Hosein, I. N. (2010).  Iqbāl and Pakistan’s Moment of Truth.  (Article) See Under: ‘The Sufi Epistemology’.

[Accessed 23.04.2011]:


[26] In Faiḍ al-Bārī, he also includes Germany, as towards the end of al-Kashmīrīs life, Adolf Hitler was in the initial stages of his onslaught.

[27] Ansari, M. F. R. (2008).  The Qur’ānic Foundations & Structure of Muslim Society.  (pp. 141-142)

Also available online [Accessed 22.04.2011]:


[28] Hosein, I. N. (2009).  An Islamic View of Gog and Magog in the Modern World.  (pp. 91-92)

[29] I believe Hosein here refers to Matthew 3:11, ‘but he who is coming after me is mightier than I , whose sandals I am not worthy to carry’.

[30] Hosein, I. N. (2010).  Iqbāl and Pakistan’s Moment of Truth.  (Article) See Under: ‘Iqbāl rejects belief in the advent of Imam al-Mahdi’.

[31] See Saḥīḥ Muslim bk 41, ḥadīth no. 7015:  … ‘he [Christ, son of Mary] will descend at the white minaret in the eastern side of Damascus’…

[32] Encyclopedia Judaica – Eschatology – Messianism cited in Hosein, I. N. (2010).  Iqbāl and Pakistan’s Moment of Truth.

[33] Iqbāl and Pakistan’s Moment of Truth. Cited from: 1 Qumran Scrolls 9:11 (Encyclopedia Judaica – Yahad – Eschatological Hope)

[34] Hosein, I. N. (2010).  Iqbāl and Pakistan’s Moment of Truth.  Hosein here believes that Iqbal here is referring to the Mahdī and assumes a ‘dual’ nature in Iqbalian thought.

[35] Ghamidi, J. A. Principles of Understanding Hadith.  Accessed online [29.04.2011]:


[36] ibid.

[37] ibid.

[38] Ghamidi, J. A. (2009).  Islam: A Comprehensive Introduction – An English Rendering of Mīzān by Shehzad Saleem.  (p. 67)

[39] Ghamidi, J. A. (2009).  Islam: A Comprehensive Introduction – An English Rendering of Mīzān by Shehzad Saleem.  (p. 174)

[40] ibid., (p. 175)

[41] Mālik, A. (2000).  Muwaṭṭa’ Imām Mālik: Narrated by Yaḥyā ibn Yaḥyā ibn Kathīr al-Laithī al-Andulusī.  (p. 421)

[42] Ahmad, H. (1420H).  ‘Imaam Maalik ibn Anas’.  ‘Al Jumuah’ Magazine Volume 11 – Issue 9 – Ramadhan 1420 H.  Accessed online [27.04.2011]:


[43] Accessed online [30.04.2011]: cited from Ibn ‘Abdu’l Barr, Al-Istidhkar, Ist ed., vol. 26, (Cairo: Darul Wa‘i Halb, 1993), p. 236 : http://www.renaissance.com.pk/Septresp2y4.html

[44] Qutb, S.    فی ظلال القراٰن

Arabic Text accessed online (26.04.2011):


[45] Khaldūn, I.  Complete Text of The Muqaddimah: [Accessed online: 06.01.2011]: http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ik/Muqaddimah/ and Specific Chapter III under subheading No.51 (The Fatimid. The opinions of the people about him. The truth about the matter. Sufi opinions about the Mahdi): http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ik/Muqaddimah/Chapter3/Ch_3_51.htm

[46] Kamali, M. H. (2008).  Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence. (p. 228)

[47] Thomson, A. (2007).  Dajjal: the Anti Christ. 8th ed. (p. 6)

[48] ibid.

[49] Brook, K. A. (2006).  The Jews of Khazaria.  2nd ed. (pp. 1-18)

[50] Kashmīrī, A. S. (No date).  (فیض الباری علی صحیح البخاری).  (Vol. 4, p. 23)

[51] Gilani, M. A. (1425 A.H.). سورہ٘ کہف کی تفسیر کے تناظر میں ؛ دجالی فتنہ کے نمایاں خط و خال Sura-e-kahf ki tafsir ke tanazur me: dajjali fitne ke numaya khatt aw khal. (p. 265)

[52]  Kashmīrī, A. S. (No date).  Faiḍ al-Bārī ‘alā Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (فیض الباری علی صحیح البخاری).  (Vol. 4, p. 23)

[53] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, (Book 52, Hadith 177) .  Accessed online [01.05.2011]:


[54] Cook, D. (2005).  Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature.  (pp. 98-125) – Under Chapter: ‘Qur’ān 17:4-8 ,  From Banū Isrā’īl to Israel’.

My Thoughts on a Muslim Response to ‘Secularism’ and the Role of Islamic State in the Faith and Creed of the ‘Ummah.

My Thoughts on a Muslim Response to ‘Secularism’ and the Role of Islamic State in the Faith and Creed of the ‘Ummah.


 (Hamid Mahmood)

(Note: I wrote the following at university some years ago)

In giving the Muslim response to ‘secularism’, I will focus my attention on the traditional trend in Islamic ideology.  I will begin by illustrating the traditional Muslim view regarding the harmony and necessity between ‘Church and State’, I will do so by examining the ‘creed’ of Muslims taught by Abu Hafs Umar al-Nasafi in his ‘aqeedah al-Nasafiyyah’.  I will try to elaborate the significance of Islamic governance and how this impacts the belief of a Muslim.  I will then explore Muhammad Iqbal’s understanding of‘spiritual’ governance, and that the Muslim himself is responsible for the struggle, hence resulting in Iqbal’s rejection of any ideology which further stagnates or comes in the way of this struggle.  I will then examine Iqbal’s comparison of Lat and Manat to modern secularism and how the notion of shirk comes in through these comparisons.  I will look at metaphors of ‘ishq and faith used by Iqbal for Ataturk prior to his secular reform and how Iqbal transfers his notion of ‘ishq versus ‘ilm into governance.  I will conclude by briefly looking at the three trends that have developed over the past sixty years of the creation of Pakistan, an ideological state based on the revival of Islamic governance.

In defining secularism for the specific purpose of this essay I tend to focus my attention on the actual translation of the word into Urdu, as it was the language used by Iqbal and now the national language of Pakistan.  Maulana Abu Tahir Muhammad Siddiq in his ‘mazahib-e-‘alam ka jami’ encyclopaedia’ translates secularism as ‘la deeniyyat’, this is a composition of two words ‘la’ (No) and ‘deeniyyat’ (Religiousness), and this is usually taken in reference to government. However, why is secularism so problematic for the Muslim mind?  I believe governance according to the spiritual and moral teachings of the Qur’an is part of the collective Muslim faith.  In understanding the significance of a non-Secular / religious / Islamic state from traditional Islamic sources illustrates it to be part of the ‘faith’ or specifically ‘creed’[1] of a Muslim and collectively the ‘ummah – [The Arabic term used for ‘creed’ is ‘aqeedah’.  Sa’id Foudah defines and illustrates its significance, “Aqidah comes from the word `aqd, which means that which binds or knots. In this sense, `aqidah is sought in and of itself and sticks with the person completely. `Aqidah is sought after for itself, not only because it is a condition for the validity of actions. Even if an action is not obligatory, `aqidah is still necessary for it is the foundation of everything.” Translated from ‘Four Points from al-`Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah’. [Accessed online 09.12.2010]: http://marifah.net/articles/tahawiyyah-foudah.pdf].  Abu Hafs Umar al-Nasafi in his ‘aqeedah al-Nasafiyyah’ exclaims,

“The Muslims, for them a leader (imam) is indispensable, who stands for the enforcement of their commands, maintaining their borders, guarding their ports, equipping their armies, receiving their donation… the maintaining of the Friday services and the festivals, the elimination of disputes between creatures, the admittance of evidences produced for [legal] rights, the marrying off of minors – and minors are those who have no [legal] guardians – and the distribution of spoils.

It is not stipulated that he be infallible and nor that he be the most excellent of those of his time, but it is stipulated that he be of those with complete unrestricted authority, a statesman with the ability to the enforcement of decrees, the safeguarding of the boundaries of the Muslim state (Dar al-Islam) and execute justice of the oppressed against the oppressor.”[2]

1 2

However, there is a disagreement between the ulema as to the implementation of the Islamic state.  Is it to be a divine intervention or a struggle that the collective Muslim body (ummah) must undertake?  Already, here I believe there is an extremely important divide, as Iqbal I believe would favour the ummah’s struggle for the establishment of an Islamic state as being part of their faith in contrast to the divine intervention notion. Iqbal’s understanding of the separation of Church and State is expressed in a famous Urdu poem, which is quite often quoted in political discussions, ‘جدا ہو دیں سیاست سے تو رہ جاتی ہے چنگیزی’ ,which literally means, ‘separate religion from politics, what then remains is mere ‘genghisism’, he terms that form of secularist governance  ‘genghisism’ after the person and tyranny of Genghis Khan.  The main reason for Iqbal’s rejection of divine intervention, I believe is the notion of rejecting any idea which further stagnates the unified Muslim body (ummah).  It would hence keep the ummah in a state of stagnation whilst they wait for divine intervention.  Hence, due to this I believe Iqbal was not fond of the ideas of mujaddidiyyat and mahdiyyat – which is opposed to ‘mainstream’ Muslim opinion – he further believes it to be a Magian ideology, he explains, “the hope of a Messiah, very clear in Isaiah, but also bursting out everywhere during the next centuries, under pressure of an inner necessity. It is the basic idea of Magian religion, for it contains implicitly the conception of the world-historical struggle between Good and Evil, with the power of Evil prevailing in the middle period, and the Good finally triumphant on the Day of Judgement.’ If this view of the prophetic teaching is meant to apply to Islam it is obviously a misrepresentation”.[3]       However, on the contrary the following verse exclaims,

وَعَدَ اللّٰهُ الَّذِيْنَ اٰمَنُوْا مِنْكُمْ وَ عَمِلُوا الصّٰلِحٰتِ لَـيَسْتَخْلِفَـنَّهُمْ فِىْ الْاَرْضِ

‘God has made a promise to those among you who believe / have faith and do good deeds: He will make them successors to the land’ (Quran 24:55).  From a literal reading of this text it confirms the notion of divine intervention.  This debate is relevant till this day for many Islamic countries and is also the main topic for movements such as the ‘Hizb al-Tahrir’ and their offshoots, and the very sect/s within Muslim minorities who classify ‘voting’ in a democracy an act of shirk. However, in the above verse ‘making a promise’ and ‘those who believe’ we move onto another notion, which is also felt in Sayyid Qutb’s understanding of this verse.  Qutb explains, “God’s promise was fulfilled once, and remained effective for as long as the Muslims continued to meet His conditions: “They will thus worship Me alone and associate with Me no partners whatsoever.” (Verse 55) This includes any partners, whether in the form of deities to which worship is addressed or desires and ambitions”.[4]  It is generally assumed that ‘shirk’ (associating partners with God / Polytheism) is the worship of ‘other’ external physical entities alongside the Supreme One God.  However, this is not the case with the understanding of Qutb and also other verses of the Qur’an, ‘Think [Prophet] of the man who has taken his own passion/desire as a god’ Q. 25:43.  From here Iqbal moves into the concept of painting ‘secularism’ as an ideological ‘deity’ if one accepts ‘surely’ could diminish his ‘faith’.

Iqbal elaborates how secularism within the governance model is unacceptable and explains using powerful metaphor, which includes the ka’bah (Muslim Temple) and Lat and Manat (Major significant idols in the jahiliyyah period),

‘Mustafa Kemal, who sang of a great renewal,

Said the old images must be cleaned and polished;

Yet the vitality of the kaba cannot be made new

If a new Lat and Manat from Europe enter its shrine’.[5]

[For full text of poem and context see below:]

Picture iqbal attaturk

Lat and Manat were the most significant pre-Islamic pagan idols that were kept in the sanctuary of the ka’bah, they were revered throughout the Arabian Peninsula.  However, they were physical entities, which Prophet Muhammad (saw)  rejected and similarly Prophet Ibrahim  too ridiculed and destroyed the idols of the Temple.  Here, Iqbal transforms the notion of Lat and Manat to mean ‘secularism’ and ‘non-spiritual’ democracy.

However, prior to Mustapha Kemal Ataturk’s secular reform of Turkey, Iqbal revered him for his ‘ishq and compared it similar to that of Muhammad (saw) and his struggle in Makkah.  It is also here that Iqbal shifts his idea of ‘ishq into governance due to it being a vital part of the ‘ummah’s faith.  Fazlur Rahman  here explains,

‘To use a metaphor Iqbal often used in his poetry, while the Sultan behaved like a fox or a pigeon, Kemal conducted himself like a tiger or a falcon, and thus we see the contrast between reason and all-absorbing love. Actually, Ishq, according to Iqbal, is a force which generates its own reason, which subserves it. Borrowed rationality cannot subserve the purposes of ‘Ishq, but, rather, destroys it. Thus while ‘Ishq perfects self-hood, borrowed rationality negates it and becomes suitable only to the slave mentality. The rise and decline of Islam further illustrates this concept. It was an unlettered prophet who had taught Muslims ‘Ishq, transforming a primitive, unsophisticated Arab people into a world power which at once conquered, ruled, and civilized. But later, falling into the crafty artfulness of reason, the Muslims lost hold of initiative and creativity and the “Shaikh of the Haram” himself, i.e., the Shaikh al-Islam, lost ‘Ishq. With ‘Ishq, Muslims conquered the world for Islam with a minimum of military force. When they lost ‘Ishq and fell into the trivialities of reason, they lost everything; above all, they lost selfhood. It was men like Mustafa Kemal who once again blazed the trail for Muslims that they might regain their selfhood through a re-cultivation of ‘Ishq’.[6]

[to read full article please refer to: http://www.geocities.ws/islamic_modernist/FR_Iqbal_and_Ataturk.pdf]

Here it is significant to understand how Iqbal’s notion of ‘ishq (love / spirituality / feelings) versus ‘ilm (pure rationality) has been transferred to governance of the Islamic state.  As it is equally significant to learn from Iqbal’s two famous works ‘asrar-e-khudi’ and ‘rumuz-e-bekhudi’ , from the former the role of the individual and latter the role of that individual amongst other ideal individuals to form the basis of the Islamic concept of ‘ummah.  Iqbal, however had these thoughts regarding Kemal prior to his reforms, which Iqbal would explain as ‘borrowed rationality’ in contrast to ‘ishq, which creates it’s own rationality.  This is seen beautifully expressed in Iqbal’s poem,

ہے ابن الکتاب، عشق ہے ام الکتاب علم

Literally, ‘ilm as ibn al-kitab (son of the book) and ‘ishq as umm al-kitab (mother of the book), in which he emphasises the creative function of ‘ishq and is later transferred into his ijtihadi model of governance in contrast to the secular model.

However, despite Iqbal’s feelings regarding secularism and his struggle for an Islamic state (Pakistan), academics and intellectuals are divided on the governance Iqbal and Jinnah actually fought for.  Javed Iqbal, Muhammad Iqbal’s son, in a speech on Iqbal day highlighted the major differences of thought regarding governance ideologies in connection to ‘The Islamic Republic of Pakistan’.  Javed Iqbal argues that there are three trends; (1) that Iqbal and Jinnah idealised a ‘completely’ secular state; (2) that Iqbal and Jinnah desired a ‘modern’ secular state, which encompassed the positive aspects of exemplary secular states.  Javed Iqbal terms these two as the modernist approaches.  The former he describes as a the approach which is totally in agreement with the Western notion of ‘secularism’ and the latter an ‘ijtihadi’ approach, which would encompass the positive aspects of Western secular democracies.  The third (3) approach to an Islamic state is that of the traditional conservative ulema’, who in contrast to the latter ‘ijtihadi’ approach succumb to a ‘taqlidi’[7] notion.  Iqbal, however sides with the ijtihadi model.  Javed Iqbal explains the ideal governance vision of Iqbal for an Islamic state as ‘ruhani jumhuriyyat’ a ‘spiritual’ democracy.  Javed Iqbal further states that at the time his father was expressing his views, he had in mind the constitution of Madinah, in which Muslim, Jew and Christian under the written constitution were regarded as ‘ummah wahidah’ One Nation.

I conclude here by providing a page from Iqbal’s ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ and ask the reader to leave comments and their critiques below:



The Qur’an: A New Translation. By M. A. S. Abdel Haleem

Iqbal, M. (1934).  The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.  Accessed online [07/03/2010]:  http://www.ziyaraat.net/books/ReconstructionOfIslamicThought.pdf

Iqbal, M. [No date].   Kulliyyat-e-Iqbal: Zarb-i-Kalim.  Sheikh Muhammad Bashir & Sons: Lahore, Pakistan

Iqbal, M. [No date].  Javid Nama: Versified English Translation. Trans. by Arther J. Arberry.

[Accessed online: 07.12.2010]:


Qutb, S. [No date].  In the Shade of the Qur’an. Vol. XII, Surahs 21-25. [Pdf Version]

Rahman, F. (1984).  ‘Muhammad Iqbal and Ataturk’s Reforms’. Journal of Near Eastern Studies.  Volume 43, No. 2 (pp. 157-162). University of Chicago Press: USA

Siddiq, M. A. T. (2001).  Mazaahib-e-‘aalam ka jami’ encyclopaedia: mazaahib-e-aalam aur asr-e-haazir ki fikri jamaatein.  Idaratul Qur’an: Karachi, Pakistan

Siddiqui, A. R. (2008).  Man and Destiny: some reflections on Iqbal’s concept of khudi and the perfect man.  The Islamic Foundation: Leicestershire, UK

al-Nasafi. The Nasafi Creed. (p.5). Trans. Tahir Mahmood Kiani.  [Accessed online 09.12.2010]: http://marifah.net/articles/matnalnasafiyya.pdf

http://www.allamaiqbal.com/  [Accessed on:  07.12.2010]

http://www.brasstacks.pk/  [Accessed on:  07.12.2010]





[1] The Arabic term used for ‘creed’ is ‘aqeedah’.  Sa’id Foudah defines and illustrates its significance, “Aqidah comes from the word `aqd, which means that which binds or knots. In this sense, `aqidah is sought in and of itself and sticks with the person completely. `Aqidah is sought after for itself, not only because it is a condition for the validity of actions. Even if an action is not obligatory, `aqidah is still necessary for it is the foundation of everything.” Translated from ‘Four Points from al-`Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah’. [Accessed online 09.12.2010]: http://marifah.net/articles/tahawiyyah-foudah.pdf

[2] Al-Nasafi. The Nasafi Creed. (p.5). Trans. Tahir Mahmood Kiani.  [Accessed online 09.12.2010]: http://marifah.net/articles/matnalnasafiyya.pdf

[3] Iqbal, M. (1934).  The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.  Chapter: The Spirit of Muslim Culture, p.179

[4] Qutb, S.  In the Shade of the Qur’an. Vol. XII, Surahs 21-25. Surah Nur (24) V.55, (p. 278)

[5] Iqbal, M.  Javid Nama: Versified English Translation. Trans. by Arther J. Arberry. Chapter: East and West, Verse No. 1120

[6] Rahman, F. (1984).  ‘Muhammad Iqbal and Ataturk’s Reforms’. (p. 158)

[7] Taqlid in this case would mean the staunch ‘blind-following’ of previous Islamic modes of governance.

How the Qur’an was Collected

How the Qur’an was Collected

(Hamid Mahmood) 

‘We have sent down the Qur’an Ourself and We Ourself will guard it’ (Qur’an 15:9).

Linguistically in English the word Qur’an has been used for both the oral and written (manuscripts), on the contrary, Arabic distinguishes between the written as Mus-haf and oral as Qur’an.  Hence, the concept of the ‘Qur’an’ being collected could be examined in its oral and written forms.  Francois Deroche explains this as a “precise distinction, which demonstrates the simultaneous existence of two realities: transmission in written form and transmission in spoken form.  Islam strongly emphasises the oral nature of the Qur’an and the particular importance of this feature should not be overlooked.  The role of the written word cannot, however, be ignored” (p. 172).  The Qur’an, was collected, gathered and transmitted in aural and written format.  It is therefore important to examine both notions of the collection of the Qur’an experienced over time.  I will initiate with the analysis of the oral collection and the emphasis the Prophet made towards the memorisation of the Qur’an and thereafter examine its collection in written format, which took place over three overlapping periods. The collection of the Qur’an was initiated in the Prophet’s era followed by the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and fully collected as a complete manuscript and codex in the third period under the authority of Uthman, the Third Caliph and son-in-law of the Prophet.

The primary and most effective collection of the Qur’an was its spoken form (jam’), which the Prophet himself instigated and also urged his companions to engage with.  At the time of Wahi (divine revelation) the Prophet rushed in its memorisation in-order to safely collect it letter by letter, thus he was commanded by Allah: “[Prophet] do not rush your tongue in an attempt to hasten [your memorization of] the Revelation: We shall make sure of its safe collection and recitation” (Q. 75:16-17).  Allah assured Muhammad of two critical elements within its oral transmission, its safe ‘collection’ and ‘recitation’.  Hence the pioneering institute for the fulfilment of this notion was the Prophet’s Mosque at Medina, where at times Muhammad had even rebuked his companions on the strident clamour they created whilst diligent on its memorisation.[1]  Many female companions of the Prophet were reluctant of materialistic dowry and instead wedded men, who in return would teach them the Qur’an, so they too could form a part of the oral collection of the Qur’an.  It is important to note how the collection through memorisation and recitation had become an integral part of the lives of the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet), which gives the observer an insight to the oral transmission of the Qur’an.

The other aspect of the oral collection, which has totally been ignored by contemporary Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, is the ‘recitation’.  To understand this notion, it is crucial to examine examples from the lives of the Sahabah, in this case I think it sufficient to observe one:  Sa’eed ibn Mansur in his Sunan relates:[2] A man was reciting the Qur’an to Abdullah ibn Mas’ud and he recited, “InnamasSadaqaatu lil-Fuqara-i wal-Masaakeen, Ibn Mas’ud said, “This is not how the messenger of Allah recited it to me!”, so the man inquired, “how did he recite it to you?” so he said, “lil-Fuqaraaaa-i wal-Masaakeen”, he prolonged the vowel, though not to do so constitutes a lahn al-Khafi.[3] It is evident from this incident that the collection and preservation of the Qur’an was not merely a written or spoken phenomenon, but rather transmitted phonetically and linguistically in accordance with the recitation of the Prophet and ultimately the Divine.

The oral transmission of the Qur’an has its significant and logical reasons.  Allah had promised Muhammad: “I am to reveal such a book upon you [Prophet], which water cannot obliterate”,[4] clearly evident from this, is the notion of the protection of the Qur’an in the hearts of men, which could not be obliterated or distorted.  In Arabia education was not widespread, only a minority could read, from among them only some could write and the majority were illiterate[5], but on the contrary they all had astonishing potential to memorise.  Muhammad’s youngest wife Aa’isha, had memorised 70,000 poems.  Montgomery Watt (1970) emphasised this phenomenon: “For one thing, knowledge of the Qur’an among the Muslims was based far more on memory than on writing” (p. 47).  The Prophet urged his companions to memorise the Qur’an as it was being revealed by promising them in return lofty palaces, streams of Rayyaan, high status in paradise and radiant crowns for their parents.  As this was a crucial task for the primary Muslim community.

Besides the oral collection, the Qur’an was written at the time of the Prophet.  At the death of the Prophet, it is traditionally recognised by al-Suyuti (Itkan, i. 71), ‘that there was not in existence any collection of revelations in ‘final’ form, because, so long as he was alive, new revelations were continually being added to the earlier ones’.[6]  However, there is substantial evidence to prove that the Qur’an was written during the life of the Prophet in its entirety, according to a statement made by Zaid ibn Thabit: “The Prophet was taken [from his life] whilst the Qur’an had not yet been ‘gathered’ into a book”.  The Arabic word used is jumi’a, which refers to the Qur’an not being ‘gathered’ rather than it being written.  Al-Khattabi commentates, “This quote refers to [the lack of] a specific book with specific traits”.[7]  Hence the Qur’an had been ‘written’ in its entirety during the life of the Prophet, but not collected together, nor the surahs arranged systematically between two covers.

The Qur’an was revealed over an approximate period of twenty three years, in which Muhammad ordered scribes to write the aayaat and surahs as they were being revealed.  A typical example of this:  ‘There was revealed, “Not equal are those who sit [at home] and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah” (Q. 4:95).  The Prophet said, “Call Zaid and let him bring the board, the ink pot and the scapula bone.” Then he said: “Write: ‘Not equal are those believers’… (‘Asqalani, n.d., 9:22).[8]  The scribes according to Azami (cited in Esack. F.) were up to forty eight in number, the most prominent among them were Zaid ibn Thabit and Ubayy ibn Ka’b, and the four caliphs have also been counted among the many scribes.  It is also evident from Fathul-Bari (cited in Uthmani, T. 1996), that the Prophet also ordered the scribes to place a specific verse in so and so surah, before or after so and so verse (p. 179).  It therefore becomes evident that the written collection of the Qur’an had already been instigated during the life time of the Prophet, though not in the form of a complete systemised codex.  But on fragments of writing material such as paper, skin, papyrus and bone, which were termed as suhuf, and later the collected suhuf were termed mus-haf.


Under the reign of Abu Bakr, the Muslim empire had experienced a flood of ridda wars, in which many qurraa’[9] were martyred and there was a dire need for a further systemized and authoritative collection of the Qur’an.  In the Yamamah battles many qurraa’ had been martyred. Umar ibn al-Khattab, fearful of the Qur’an being lost if further more qurraa’ were to be matyred, urged Abu Bakr, the caliph, to initiated this task. After acceptance, together they approached Zaid ibn Thaabit, the most prominent of the scribes and ordered him to collect the Qur’an from the scattered suhuf and from the hearts of men.  Zaid ibn Thabit himself describes this difficult task:  “By Allah, had they asked me to move a mountain it could not have been weightier than what they requested of me now”[10].  Zaid ibn Thabit along with many other scribes, including Umar ibn al-Khattab himself were instructed to embark on the task under rigorous conditions.

Abu Bakr had instructed Umar and Zaid, “Sit at the entrance of the [Prophet’s] Mosque.  If anyone brings you a verse from the book of Allah along with two witnesses, then record it”[11].  Ibn Hajar commentates on the meaning of two witnesses, were memory backed by written word, or two witnesses to prove that the verse had been written in the presence of the Prophet. The analogy of the two witnesses must have been from verse dealing with writing a contract, “…Call in two men as witnesses (Q. 2:282).  According to Professor Shauqi Daif (cited in Al-Azami, 2006),  Bilal ibn Rabah paced the streets of Madinah requesting the attendance of any companion who possessed verses recorded by the Prophets own dictation” (p. 80).  After receiving such suhuf in the presence of the aforementioned witnesses, Zaid and Umar would confirm from memory such verses and thereafter have it written.

In this new collection, the verses of the Qur’an were written on paper, but every surah had been written on a separate sahifa[12].  Therefore this collection was scattered between many suhuf and termed ‘Umm’.  The specifications of this collection were; that, the ‘verses’ were systemised according to the Prophet’s dictation, but every surah had been written on a separate sahifa yet to be systemised.  The seven ahruf were all collected in this collection, and the abrogated verses were taken out.  The purpose of this collection was, that, under the collective witnessing of the ummah a systematic collection could be made, which could later be used to refer to as a primary source.[13] During the caliphate of Abu Bakr, he kept this collection under his possession and after his death it was passed down to Umar, the second caliph. Upon Umar’s death in 644 C.E the collection came into the possession of his daughter and widow of the Prophet, Hafsa.

The third and final of the overlapping periods of the collection of the Qur’an was the caliphate of Uthman.  During his reign, Islam had spread far and wide, and many qurraa’ had spread throughout the Islamic empire to teach the Qur’an.  Until knowledge of the sab’ah huruf[14] prevailed among the Muslims there were no problems. However, the problematic circumstances erupted as the teachers of  the Qur’an had spread far and wide teaching their students the different modes they had acquired from the Prophet, that when they heard the differences, they began accusing each other of heresy.   The situation worsened as witnessed by Hudhayfa ibn al-Yaman, who had led the Muslim forces against the Armenians in Azerbaijan, he experienced arguments break out between the Muslims from different areas.  Upon his return to Medina, he urged Uthman to solve this bewildering dilemma.  After hearing such news and delivering orations, Uthman consulted the high ranking Sahabah and they consented on collecting the suhuf of Abu Bakr as a single manuscript and codex.[15]

Once again, Zaid ibn Thabit was instructed to collect the suhuf under a single mus-haf (manuscript) alongside twelve other companions.  The suhuf of Abu Bakr were taken from Hafsa and the following tasks were undertaken in its final written collection as a complete codex:  The surahs, which were gathered on separate suhuf, were now systematically ordered and written under a single manuscript.  The text was written in such a way that it included all seven modes of recitation, which meant the absence of all diacritical signs, including the dots.  Up until now there was only one consented collection that had been made, but Uthman had prepared according to Abu Hatim Sijistani seven such manuscripts, which were distributed in the Muslim world, and one copy was kept in Medina.  Finally, Uthman burnt all other individual manuscripts that belonged to other companions, so to diminish the differences.  This was done after consulting the companions.  There are various views among the Shi’i scholars regarding a manuscript, which Ali had in his possession, but there is consensus among the Sunni and Shi’i schools that the difference between the Uthmanic codex and that produced by Ali was the arrangement of the surahs.[16]

I examined the collection of the Qur’an firstly from the notion of its two realities: Oral (jam’) and secondly transcript (tadween).  I mentioned it’s oral collection from its memorisation perspective followed by its recitation.  Thereafter, how the Qur’an was collected into written format from the time of the Prophet, followed by the collection of the surahs on suhuf and its final world wide accepted collection under the caliphate of Uthman and the difference between the second and third collections.



The Qur’an. A new translation by M.A.S Abdel Haleem, (2005). (O.U.P)

Al-Azami, M. Mustafa, The History of the Quranic Text: from Revelation to        Compilation, U.K., Islamic Academy 2003.

Deroche, F., 2006. ‘Written Transmission’.  In: Rippin, A.  The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’an, Blackwell, 2006

Esack, F., the Quran: A Short Introduction, pp. 78-99.

Rashed, M.,  Reach the Goal Via Tajweed Rules


Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an.  Karachi: Maktaba Darul U’lum. [Urdu]

article Koran , Encyclopaedia of Islam (p. 1063-1076)

Watt, W. Montgomery, (1970). Introduction to the Qur’an. EdinburghUniversity Press (2005)

[1] Manaahil al-I’rfan (Vol. 1 – p. 234) cited in: Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an.  Karachi: Maktaba Darul U’lum. (p. 175) [Urdu]

[2] Cited from:  Rashed, M.,  Reach the Goal Via Tajweed Rules. (p. 2)

[3] In the science of Tajweed (Correct recitation of the Qur’an), the Qari (the one reciting) must abstain from Lahn Jali (clear/obvious/major mistakes) and Lahn Khafi (not so obvious- minor mistakes).  Ibn Mas’ud rebuked his student even on the minor mistakes.

[4] Sahih al-Muslim cited in: Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an. (pp. 173-174) [Urdu]

[5] article Koran , Encyclopaedia of Islam (p. 1067)

[6] Cited in: article Koran , Encyclopaedia of Islam (p. 1067)

[7] All cited in: Al-Azami, M. Mustafa, The History of the Quranic Text: from Revelation to        Compilation, U.K., Islamic Academy 2003 (p. 77)

[8] Cited in: Esack, F., the Quran: A Short Introduction, (pp. 78-97).

[9] Qurraa’ (sing. qari) [literally ‘reciters], thoses who had memorised the entire Qur’an.  Due to their piety, they fought on the front lines of the battles, hence suffered great losses.

[10] Sahih al-Bukhari (hadith no. 4986), cited in Al-Azami (2006) (p. 78)

[11] Ibn Abi Dawud cited in Al-Azami (2006) (p. 80)

[12] Sahifa (sing. of suhuf)

[13] See Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an (pp. 185-187)

[14] There were seven modes in which the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet.  See Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an (pp. 97-156)

[15] Esack, F., the Quran: A Short Introduction, (pp. 78-97).

[16] Uthmani, T., (1996).  U’lum al-Qur’an (pp. 187-192)

Hasidism and Sufism: Spirituality in Judaism and Islam


Hasidism and Sufism: Spirituality in Judaism and Islam

(Hamid Mahmood)


In an era when media and politics over-shadow relations between Muslims and Jews, maybe there is a solution – spirituality. I will initiate by defining Ṣūfism and Ḥasidism, alongside the definition process I will analyse and contrast between the two. Thereafter, I will focus my attention on the Pīr (sheikh) / Tsaddik and murīd / ḥasidim, and examine their centrality in both spiritualities using Arabic, Persian and Urdu poetry. I will examine the notion of the Tsaddik through four channels as approached by Rachel Elior. I will conclude by briefly analysing individuals, Abraham Maimonides and Baṣīr, who in the medieval period were inclined towards Islamic mysticism – taṣawwuf. And alongside the medieval, I will also look at similar examples in the contemporary modern period – Pīr Ināyat Khan and Rabbi Zalman Shalomi.

Defining Ṣūfism and Ḥasidism

Jonathan Brown and Martin Lings simply explain Sūfism as: the ‘the art of knocking’ on the door of the divine.[1] Brown further quotes a famous Sūfi saint Abū Bakr al-Shiblī as describing Sufism as, ‘comforting the heart with the fan of purity, clothing the mind with the cloak of faithfulness, acquiring generosity and rejoicing in meeting God’.[2] Pīr Dhul-Fiqār of the Naqshbandī ṭarīqat (order) illustrates how one is to acquire taṣawwuf, he quotes Hasan al-Basrī, ‘hum ne taṣawwuf qīl wa qāl se nahī balke tark-e-lazzāt se sīkhā’ – we acquired taṣawwuf not through argumentation and debate, but by casting aside materialistic and worldly desires.[3] Junaid al-Baghdādī once said in a poem:

الصوفی من لبس الصوف علی الصفیٰ ۔ و لزم طریق المصطفیٰ

و جعل الدنیا علی العفا ۔ و الا کلب الکوفی احسن من الصوفی[4]

A Sūfī is he: who dons al-ṣuf (woollen clothing) with the purity of heart

who holds firmly to the ṭarīq (path) of the ‘chosen one’ (Muḥammad) [5]

who leaves behind and transcends the world

if not, then a kūfī [6] dog is superior to the ṣufī.

I believe Ṣūfism is very similar to Ḥasidism in the way that it initiated and transformed into diverse number of ṭuruq (pl. of ṭarīqh – paths). For instance the chishti ṭarīqa, despite claiming silsila to the Prophet, is named after the place in contemporary Afghanistan called Chisht, and similar reasons for other ṭarīqas. However, when defining and analysing Ḥasidism, Rachel Elior presents four factors that umbrella all the ḥasidic groups: (1) A relationship to the Ba’al Shem Tov; (2) Tsadik and community; (3) Being and nothingness; and (4) The ḥasidic congregation.[7]

I will focus my attention on the second and fourth points. It is evident that if the tsadik is viewed so highly, then the master and founder of this spiritual path is bound to be central. The second notion, Tsadik and community, will be dealt with in depth and throughout the essay. But, in simple words Elior assesses, ‘The tsadik links the terrestrial world of his followers with the supernal worlds… the link between the tsadik and his followers is intimate, based on charismatic leadership of the community in a spirit of holiness. All members are of the community are equal in their relationship to the tsadik, which fosters a strong sense of brotherhood’.[8] The third, being (Yesh) and nothingness (Ayin)’ is a ḥasidic idea of the unity and meeting of opposites. Elior elaborates as, ‘this two-way process takes place continuously from the ayin to the yesh and from the yesh to the ayin: every limited element strives to expand, to divest itself of corporeality, and to return to its abstract source, and every abstract element strives to contract, to clothe itself, and to be revealed in its limited expression’.[9] This notion is similar to Muhammad Iqbal’s idea of the Prophet Muhammad and his ascent to the source, he believes, ‘Muhammad of Arabia ascended the highest Heaven and returned. I swear by God that if I had reached that point, I should never have returned’.[10] Finally, the ‘ḥasidic congregation’ is similar to the second notion, but I view it as a result of the powerful bond between the tsadik and the follower. As Elior stresses that there was a relation from both channels, tsadik was the sole channel of divine mercy and sustenance for his followers…[on the other hand] the tsadik also depended on the recognition and support of his followers’.[11] In the ṣūfism of the sub-continent, the masters at times stress the importance of murāqaba (meditation) of the master despite it being repudiated by the ulema’. Similar to this is the incident of Junaid al-Baghdādī and his murīds who claimed to have walked on water by calling the name of their master, Oh Junaid instead of Oh Allah: and once they said, ‘Oh Allah’ they began to sink. Interestingly, Junaid explained, “You are trying to reach Allah and yet you haven’t even reached Junaid!”.[12] However it is ‘tales’ of these kind that the wahhābī and orthodox Islamic mind is forced to reject ṣūfism, and at times in its entirety.

The Pīr (master) and the murīd (follower) | The Tsaddik and the Hasidim

I believe, in both spiritual paths within Judaism and Islam, the relationship between the master and follower is central. The utmost significance in this relation is the deeper and real experience of the holy letters: in ṣufism the sheikh is seen as someone who has attained a higher status; he has survived temptation and reached the maqām (station) where he now stands. However, now he must pass his experience of reaching that maqām to his murīds and the silsila of the previous sheikhs must continue till the Last Day. I will later look at the difference between the ‘master’ in ṣūfism and ḥasidism – the silsila. The sheikh in ṣufism provides the murīd with esoteric knowledge, which is believed by the ṣufī to be such ‘ilm ladunnī that cannot be acquired through extensive study. The story of Rūmī’s conversion to ṣufism is an interesting one, in which a contrast between ‘ilm al-kasabī (acquired knowledge) and ‘ilm-e-ladunnī / kashf (spiritual esoteric knowledge) is given:

‘One day Mawlana Rumi was sitting with his students and disciples near a pond which was in the middle of his garden giving them a lesson in one of the Islamic ‘intellectual sciences’. The Mawlana was surrounded by a large pile of handwritten books and scrolls and was teaching from them when suddenly a strange fellow approached him and, smiling, pointed to the pile of books and asked, “What is this?”

Taking the man to be a wandering dervish and illiterate, Rumi smiled and said, “This is something which you do not know!” [exoteric knowledge].

Still smiling, the dervish picked up the pile of books and threw them into the pond. Rumi was horrified and cried out, “You ignorant fellow! What have you done? You have ruined all my precious books!”

The dervish continued to smile and, nonchalantly approaching the pond and putting his hand into the water, retrieved all the books. Amazingly, all the books instantly became dry and as good as new!

Astonished at this charismatic miracle Rumi cried out, “What is this?”

“This is something which you do not know!” [referring here to esoteric knowledge]. answered Shams of Tabriz.[13]

Subsequent to Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī’s struggles through the maqāmāt (stations) he said what is now quoted by ṣūfī’s throughout the ṭarīqa in Persian:

مولوی ھر گز نشد “مولاے روم”

تا غلامِ شمس تبریز نشد [14]

Mevlawī could never have become the Maula (Master) of Rūm,

till he became the slave [15] of Shams Tabrez

However, even for the famous jurist of Islam, al-Shāfi’ī, the acquiring of exoteric knowledge depended upon a spiritual state of taqwā and tark al-ma’āṣī. Imām al-Shāfi’ī once complained to his teacher regarding his weakness in memory and expressed this incident in a poem:

شکوتُ الیٰ وکیع سوءَ حفظی ۔ فاوصانی الیٰ ترک المعاصی

فان العلمَ نور من الاھی ۔ و نور اللہ لا یُعطیٰ لِعاصی[16]

“I complained to [my teacher / my sheikh] Waqī’ regarding the weakness of my memory. He prescribed for me the abstinence from sins. For indeed al-‘ilm [sacred knowledge] is a nūr (light) from my Lord. And the light of Allah is not given to a sinner”.

Interestingly, when Thānwī was asked the definition of a ṣūfī, he replied with determination, ‘عالم با عمل’ ‘ālim bā amal’ – ‘A scholar, who implements his knowledge’.[17] Hence, it is bringing to life the letters of the sacred texts and becoming the embodiment of the sacred knowledge that is the spiritual aim of Islamic spirituality. Iqbal expresses this notion in his poem, of how a mu’min (believer) is not the one who merely recites the sacred text, but is in reality the sacred text.

ہمسایۂ جبریلِ امیں بندہ خاکی

! ہے اس کا نشیمن‘ نہ بخارا نہ بدخشان

یہ راز کسی کو نہیں معلوم کہ مومن

[18]! قاری نظر آتا ہے‘ حقیقت میں ہے قرآن

With Gabriel trusted and steadfast
this clay-born man has kinship close
a dwelling in some land or clime
for himself Muslim never chose.
This secret yet none has grasped
that a mu’min by appearance is a reciter [of the Qur’an],

But in reality he is the Qur’an.[19]

There is a similar approach to the Pīr of Ḥasidism, and his relation to his ḥasidim.

As the rabbi of Rizhyn once said,

“Just as the holy letters of the alphabet are voiceless without the vowel signs, and the vowel signs cannot stand without the letters, so zaddikim and ḥasidim are bound up with one another. The zaddikim are the letters and the ḥasidim who journey to them are the vowel signs. The ḥasidim need the zaddik, but he has just as much need of them. Through them he can be uplifted. Because of them he can sink – God forbid! They carry his voice, they sow his work in the world…’[20]

But, the reason for the ḥasidim’s need to go to the tsaddik I believe is similar to the ṣūfī idea, of reaching the ultimate source, the reality of God and the tsaddik is the intermediary for that. Rabbi Mordecai elaborated the need for the ḥasidim to come to the tsaddikim, which is homogeneous to the ṣūfī idea of transferring ‘ishq (Love) from ‘fānī’ (the mortal) to ‘bāqī’ (the immortal). He once said, “people go to the tsaddikim for many different reasons. One goes to the tsaddik to learn how to pray with fear and love; another to acquire strength to study the Torah for its own sake. Still another goes because he wants to mount to a higher rung of spiritual life, and so on. But none of these things should be the true purpose of going, for each of them can be attained, and then it is no longer necessary to toil for it. The only, the true purpose, should be to seek the reality of God. No bounds are set to this, and it has no end’.[21]

Rābi’ah Baṣriyyah, a famous female ṣūfī of her era, emotionally expressed the very notion:

“O my Lord, if I worship you from fear of hell, burn me in hell.

If I worship you in hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.

But if I worship you for yourself alone,

grant me then the beauty of your Face”.[22]

However, I believe, the most significant contrasting difference between the tsaddik and the pīr is the silsila (the chain of narrators), which the Ṣūfis believe leads back to the Prophet himself. An idea which, I believe is influenced by principles of ḥadīth tradition likewise shi’ite belief of connecting the imams to the genealogy of the Prophet. But at times these silsilas seem to be problematic when one finds unauthentic sources in the chain of transmission. For instance, when figures like Khidr [23] are mentioned in the chain they become dubious. I present an example of a silsila of my own ṣūfī lineage, where one could see how the methodology used in ṣufism are assumed to be taught down the ages from the Messenger himself, but alongside that I will point towards a problem within the silsila:

Hazrat Mufti Moosa Badat Khalifah of > Hazrat Mufti Mahmood Hasan Gangohi (died 1417 AH) > Shaikhul Hadith Maulana Zakaria Kandhelvi (died 1402 AH) > Hazrat Maulana Khalil Ahmed Saharanpuri (died 1346 AH) > Qutbul Alam Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (died 1323 AH) > Hajee Imdaadullah Makki (died 1317 AH) > Hazrat Miajee Noor Muhammad (died 1259 AH) >Shaikh Abdur Raheem (died 1246 AH) >Shah Abdul Bari Siddiqi (died 1226 AH) >Shaikh Abdul Haadi (died 1190 AH) >Shah Adhduddin (died 1170 AH) >Shah Muhammad Makki Ja’fari (diedAH) >Shaikh Sayyed Muhammadi (died 1107 AH) >Khwaajah Muhibullah Ilahabadi (died 1058 AH) >Shah Abu Saeed Nu’mani (died 1040 AH) >Shaikh Nizaamuddin Thaneseri (died 1024 AH) >Shaikh Jalaaluddin Thaneseri (died989 AH) >Shah Abdul Quddus Gangohi (died944 AH) >Khwaajah Muhammad bin Shaikh Aarif (died898 AH) >Khwaajah Aarif (died882 AH) >Khwaajah Ahmad Abdul Haq Radolvi (died837 AH) >Khwaajah Jalaaluddin Kabirul Auliya (died765 AH) >Shaikh Shamsuddin Turk Panipatti (died718 AH) >Khwaajah Alaauddin Sabir Kalyeri (died690 AH) >Shaikh Fareeduddin Shakar Ganj (died668 AH) >Hazrat Shaikh Qutbuddin Bukhtiyaar Kaki (died633 AH) >Khwaajah Muinuddin Chishti (died632 AH) >Khwaajah Uthmaan Harooni (died597 AH) >Khwaajah Shareef Zandani (died584 AH) >Khwaajah Maudood Chisti (died527 AH) >Khwaajah Sayyed Abu Yusuf (died459 AH) >Khwaajah Abu Muhammad (died411 AH) >Khwaajah Abu Ahmad Abdaal Chishti (died355 AH) >Khwaajah Abu Ishaaq (died329 AH) >Khwaajah Alawi Mumshaad Dinywari (died298 AH) >Khwaajah Abu Habeerah Basri (died287 AH) >Khwaajah Huzaifah Mur-ashi (died202 AH) >Hazrat Sultan Ibraahim bin Adham (died 162 AH) > Khwaajah Fuzail bin Ayaaz (died187 AH) > Khwaajah Abdul Waahid bin Zaid (died176 AH) > Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (died110 AH) > AMMERUL MU’MINEEN SAYYIDINA HAZRAT ALI radiyallahu anhu (died 40 AH) > SAYYIDINA MUHAMMAD RASULULLAH [The Messenger of Allah] Sallallahu alaihi wasallam (died 11 AH). [24]

Here the silsila ends at the Prophet through his cousin Ali: the ṣūfīs from the chishtī ṭarīqa claim that their teachings and methods have been acquired through the time which lead back to the Prophet. So henceforth there is a spiritual connection between the pīr and the murīd, which is acquired directly from the Prophet through this chain. However, towards the end of the silsila we have the famous Hasan al-Basrī acquiring his ṣūfī teachings from the Prophet’s cousin Ali, but it is still debated whether Hasan al-Basri had actually met Ali and heard from him let alone acquired the complete ṣūfī ṭarīqat.

Within ṣufism there still lies the question of learning from the ‘other’ master, whom one has not pledged an allegiance (bai’at) to. Thanwi, interestingly explains this in his ṣūfī exegesis of the Qur’an:

قولہ تعالی وَٱلَّذِينَ يُؤۡمِنُونَ بِمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيۡكَ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ مِن قَبۡلِكَ وَبِٱلۡأَخِرَةِ هُمۡ يُوقِنُونَ اسی پر یہ قیاس کیا جاوے گا کہ اعتقاد تو تمام مشاءخ اہلِ حق کے ساتھ ایسا ہی رکھنا چاہے جیسے اپنے شیخ کے ساتھ البتہ اتباع صرف اپنے شیخ کا ہوتا ہے۔ جیسا بعینہ یہی حکم ہے انبیاء علیھم السلام میں ۔ [25]

‘those who believe in the revelation sent down to you [Muhammad], and in what was sent before you, those who have firm faith in the hereafter’ (Qur’an 1:4). It will be deduced [from this verse] that belief will be on all mashā’ikh ahl al-ḥaq (the masters of the true path) just as i’tiqād (belief) with one’s own master, however ittibā’ (following the ṣūfī path) is only of one’s own sheikh. Just as the identical command regarding the following of Prophets. It is evident from this exegesis that the ṣūfī’s, despite their silsilas, have resorted to deducing uṣūl (principles) of taṣawwuf from interpretations of the Qur’an.

The Tsaddik

Rachel Elior has systematically explained the role of the Tsaddik in Hasidism through four notions; (1) Charisma; (2) Mutual devotion and responsibility; (3) Embodiment of the divine dialectic; and (4) linking the divine and the material. Elior explains the notion of Charisma, ‘The Tsadik derives his authority from the charisma of divine election, a sense of divinely inspired mission and a consciousness of revelation through immediate contact with higher worlds. [26]

The ṣūfī sheikh, in this notion, is one with the Tsaddik, but as elaborated earlier the difference between both in this context would be the silsila, which is believed to reach back to the Prophet himself. However, there is a distinction between the function of the ulemā’ and the ṣufī masters, similar to that of the tzaddikim and the normative rabbis. However, it is clear that both do merge, so there will certainly be ‘ulemā who are also ṣūfī masters, and this I believe to be the normative practice now in the Muslim world. For instance the madrasa (Islamic Seminary) of Bury is famously known for its ṣufī influence on traditional subjects and methodology. Sūfī mystic-jurists of the sub-continent, such as Mufti Taqī ‘Uthmānī, call for a merging of the sciences of taṣawwuf and fiqh. However, at times it is felt that ṣufism begins to influence jurisprudence and vice versa. But this is then rebuked by jurists by differentiating the status of taqwā (تقویٰ) and fatwā (فتویٰ).

Elior further explains the notion of ‘Mutual devotion and responsibility’, The relationship between the tsaddik and his Hasidim is based on an all-embracing nexus of spiritual brotherhood and social responsibility’. [27] This relationship is termed hitkasherut vehitkalelut (affiliation and absorption), it could be seen as the two wheels of the same cycle, as they both need each other for this spiritual movement on a difficult path. ‘Embodiment of the divine dialectic’, Elior elaborates as, the tsaddik embodies the dialectical tension between transcendence and sublimation, the process of emanation from nothingness so as to bring abundance into the world. He moves between different states of consciousness so as to confront both divine nothingness and physical being.[28] This notion I believe is quite unique to Hasidism.

Lastly the idea of ‘Linking the divine and the material’, Elior understands as, the tsaddik devotes himself simultaneously to God and to the world. In an attempt to reunite the divine element in the material world with its source in the heavenly world, he strives to elevate the mundane; at the same time he attempts to draw down the divine abundance from on high for the benefit of the world’.[29] This idea is similar to Rūmī’s dervish, when he circles in the ṣūfī dance, with one hand up towards the divine and the other lowered towards the world: it is where he takes from the divine and distributes to the world. Further to this point at the death of Umar ibn Abd al-Azīz (Umar II), the Byzantine emperor exclaimed, ‘If a man subsequent to Jesus Christ had the miracle to bring people back from the dead, it would have been Umar ibn Abd al-Azīz. I dislike the monk, who escapes from the world and resides in his abode of worship. That monk amazes me, who kept the material world beneath his feet and even then lived a life of an ascetic’ [referring here to Umar II].[30]

It is interesting to note all the similarities in the tales; poetry; purposes and above all the belief in One God; and a belief system that leads back to Prophet Abraham: surely there must be some inclination of both towards the other. Recently, when the ‘kosher’ phone came into the market designed for the needs of the Hasidim, the Muslim was the first to say, ‘right, I am certainly buying that for my child’.[31] And delightful is what Dr Jonathan Gorsky believes, that despite differences in theology, the Abrahamic faiths come together in spirituality.[32] In the medieval period there are many examples of Jews, who were inclined towards ṣufism such as Abraham Maimonides who once said,

“Thou art aware of the ways of the ancient saints of Israel, which are not or but little practiced among our contemporaries, that have now become the practice of the Sufis of Islam, on account of the iniquities of Israel.” [33]

Goiten has written an article ‘A Jewish Addict to Sufism’ focusing on a Jewish Sūfī Baṣīr, and a letter from his wife to the Rabbi urging the Jewish community to bring him back from the mountain.[34] Similarly Pīr Ināyat Khān has also confirmed the idea of Abraham Maimonides by giving form to an innovative ṭarīqa called the ‘Ināyatī-Maimūnī ṭarīqat’, and also once stated,

“The Sufi is an Israelite, especially in his study and mastery of the different names of God. The miraculous powers of Moses can also be found in the lives of the Sufis both past and present. In fact the Sufi is the master of the Hebrew mysticism; the divine voice heard by Moses on Mount Sinai in the past is audible to many a Sufi today”.[35]

Also in contemporary times Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi too has spent time in the Zāwiya with Sūfī masters in the ‘Holy Land’. From an article by Rabbi Zalman he explains how the Sufī master began discussing whether it was kosher for a non-Muslim to do dhikr. Rabbi Zalman recalls the incident when asked by the Sūfiīs:

“Why don’t you go with your own people?”

I said, “I davened this morning with my own people.”… and I’d like to be able to say dhikr with you.”

“Are you a Muslim?”

I say, “La. Ana Mu’min.” I’m a believer. I’m not a Muslim, I’m a believer.

“What do you believe in?”

And I say, “Ash-hadu.” I bear witness. “La illaha ill Allah al-ahad.” There is no G-d but G-d, and that G-d is one.

… [subsequent to being asked what sharī’ah he follows]

“Then why not follow the Shariya of Islam?”

I say, “Because it is not fitting, it isn’t ‘Adab [respectful],’ it’s not fitting for a son to go in paths different than his father. So I come from the banī Yitzhak and banī Yakub and not from the banī Ismail, and so I have to follow the Shariya of my parents.”

“What about Ṭarīqat?”

So we were talking about the higher levels of the Sufi. I said, “With that, I’m with you at one.”

Then somebody gives a kick on the side and says, “Ask him! Ask him! What about rasuliyat [prophethood]?” What has he got to say about Muhammed? Ah, they got me, ah!

So I say, “Ash-hadu.” I bear witness. “La illaha il Allah, wa Muhammed rasul Allah.” There is no G-d but Allah. And Muhammed is His messenger.

So they say to me, “Then you’re a Muslim!”

And I say, “La. Ana Yahudi.” No, I’m a Jew.

“Then how could you say, how could you say such a thing?”

So I said, “Allow me to go back with you in your history. There was Ismail [Ishmael], the son of Ibrahim ha-lililai, Abraham the friend of G-d. Ismail – his children – Ismail still had the Tawḥīd – the knowledge of the oneness of G-d, but his children fell into the dark ages, into the jāhiliyya, into the unknowing. And so, they had lost their way to the oneness of G-d. So, Ya rahim, Ya rahman, the merciful, the compassionate, sent out a messenger to the children of Ismail to bring them back to Tawḥīd – to the oneness . I believe that he was a true messenger.”

The Imam said, “I don’t want to talk anymore. I want to say dhikr with this man!”

And they brought in the drums, and we start to say dhikr.[36]

It seems that at the end of this essay one possibly could conclude that there is light at the end of the tunnel when relations between Judaism and Islam are approached through spirituality and mysticism. I initiated by defining the two spiritualities and in the process compared and contrasted the two through diverse tales and poems. I then analysed, what I believed to be the most significant aspect of Ṣūfism and Ḥasidism, the role of the Sheikh and Tsaddik. I found that the outlook of both notions very similar, but the only real difference was the silsila in Sūfism. I thereafter analysed medieval and the continuation up to the modern period of a merge between both spiritualities within Judaism and Islam.


The Qur’an: A New Translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem

Ahmad, Z. F. (2003). Majālis-e-Faqīr (مجالسِ فقیر), Vol. 1. 3rd edition. Maktabatul Faqīr: Faisalabad, Pakistan [Urdu]

Badāt, M (2003). Nisbat wa Iḥsān aur A’māl – e – Qalbiyyah (نسبت و احسان اور اعمالِ قلبییہ). Majlis – e – Maḥmoodia: Bately, UK

Badāt, M (2006). An Introduction to the Science of Tasawwuf: A Translation of Nisbat wa Iḥsān aur A’māl – e – Qalbiyyah (نسبت و احسان اور اعمالِ قلبییہ) by Khalil Ahmed Kazi.

Accessed online [29.04.2011]:


Buber, M. (1991). Tales of the Hasidim. Schocken Books: New York, USA

Brown, J. A. C. (2009). Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. Oneworld Publications: Oxford, England

Brown, J. A. C. (2011). Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK

Elior, R. (2008). The Mystical Origins of Hasidism. English ed. The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization: Portland, USA

Elior, R. (No date). Chapter: ‘The Infinity of Meaning embedded in the Sacred Text’.

Accessed online [08.05.2011]:


Goitein, S. D. (1953). ‘A Jewish Addict to Sufism: In the Time of the Nagid David II Maimonides’. The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series. Vol. 44, No. 1 (July 1953), pp. 37-49.

Iqbal, M. (2008). The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. 10th ed. Kitab Bhavan: New Delhi, India.

Iqbal, M. (No date). کلیاتِ اقبال؛ متن، اردو ترجمہ اور تشریح Kulliyyat-e-Iqbal: matan, urdu tarjumah, tashreeh. Sheikh Muhammad Bashir & Sons: Lahore, Pakistan [Urdu]

Iqbal, M. ḍarb-e-kalīm (ضرب کلیم): The Rod of Moses.

Accessed online [08.05.2011]:


(search under prose works, translation of ḍarb-e-kalīm)

McAuliffe, J. D. (2003). Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān. Vol. 3. Brill: Leiden, Boston

‘Reb Zalman Among the Sufis’. Transcribed by Reuven Goldfarb with the assistance of Eliyahu (Khaled) McLean.

Accessed online [18.04.2011]:


Rūmī, J. (2009). Ḥikāyāt-e-Rūmī (حکایات رومی). Trans. by Sufi Asif Mahmood. Book Corner Show Room: Jehlum, Pakistan [Urdu]

Sajjad, Z. A. and Shahabi, I. A (1991). Tārīkh-e-Millet (تاریخِ ملت). Vol. 1. Idara Islāmiyyāt: Lahore / Karachi, Pakistan

Thānwī, A. A. (1424H). Bayān al-Qur’ān (بیان القراٰن: رفع الشکوک اردو ترجمہ مساءل السلوک من کلام ملک الملوک وجوہ المثانی مع توجیہ الکلمات والمعانی). Idārah Tālīfāt e Ashrafiyyah: Multan, Pakistan [Urdu]

Thānwī, A. A. (1425H) . Tuḥfa al-‘Ulemā’ (حضرت حکیم الامت تھانوی رحمہ اللہ کی سینکڑوں تصانیف کا نچوڑ: تحفۃ العلماء) Idara-e-taleefat-e-Ashrafiyya: Multan, Pakistan. [Urdu]


Accessed online [27.04.2011]


Accessed online: [10.05.2011]

‘Inayati-Maimuni Tariqat of Sufi Hasidim | The Desert Fellowship of the Message’

Accessed online [10.05.2011]: http://www.zimbio.com/Judaism/articles/144/Inayati+Maimuni+Tariqat+Sufi+Hasidim+Desert

[1] Brown, J. A. C. (2009). Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. (p. 184).

[2] ibid.

[3] Ahmad, Z. F. (2003). Majālis-e-Faqīr (مجالسِ فقیر), Vol. 1. (p. 196)

[4] ibid.

[5] In all instances of a Muslim’s speech and traditional writings the phrase ‘Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH)’ (صلی اللہ علیہ و سلم) is followed by the name of the Prophet, but in this article I intend the phrase, hence on the understanding that it is intended and assumed no disrespect is intended.

[6] Kūfī refers to the resident of Kūfa

[7] Elior, R. (2008). The Mystical Origins of Hasidism. (pp. 2-4)

[8] ibid., (p. 2)

[9] Elior, R. (No date). Chapter: ‘The Infinity of Meaning embedded in the Sacred Text’, p. 39. Accessed online [08.05.2011]: http://members.ngfp.org/Courses/Elior/EliorNave_Mil-Ch2.pdf

[10] Iqbal, M. (2008). The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. (p. 124) – Iqbal, here has quoted a mystic from Gangoh, pointing towards the difference between the experience between the Prophet and a mystic.

[11] Elior, R. (2008). The Mystical Origins of Hasidism. (p. 3)

[12] Naqshbandi, A. Three Tales of Sufi Wisdom.

Accessed online [09.05.2011]: http://www.chowk.com/Views/Three-Tales-Of-Sufi-Wisdom

[13] Accessed online [07.05.2011]: http://www.chowk.com/Views/Three-Tales-Of-Sufi-Wisdom also in Urdu: Rūmī, J. (2009). Ḥikāyāt-e-Rūmī (حکایات رومی). Trans. by Sufi Asif Mahmood.

[14] Rūmī, J. (2009). Ḥikāyāt-e-Rūmī (حکایات رومی). Trans. by Sufi Asif Mahmood. (p. 21)

[15] Slave here refers to murīd (follower).

[16] Thānwī, A. A. (1425H) . Tuḥfa al-‘Ulemā’ حضرت حکیم الامت تھانوی رحمہ اللہ کی سینکڑوں تصانیف کا نچوڑ: تحفۃ العلماء – (p. 41)

[17] ibid., (p. 159)

[18] Iqbal, M. ḍarb-e-kalīm (ضرب کلیم): The Rod of Moses. Accessed online [08.05.2011]: http://www.allamaiqbal.com/

(search under prose works, ḍarb-e-kalīm.)

[19] ibid., (search under prose works, translation of ḍarb-e-kalīm)

[20] Buber, M. (1991). Tales of the Hasidim. (p. 54)

[21] ibid., (p. 164)

[22] Rābi’ah Baṣri’s (717-801) Ṣūfism. [Accessed online 27.04.2011]:


[23] There are a multitude of interpretations as to who Khiḍr. Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an (vol. 3) states that Al-Zamakhsharī asserts that Khiḍr lived from the time of Dhū l-Qarnayn to that of Moses; Sayyid Qub sets that tradition aside, calling him only “the righteous servant.” However, some ṣūfī tradtions believe that Khiḍr is still alive and witnessed by some mashā’ikh.

[24] Silsila taken from: Badāt, M (2003). Nisbat wa Iḥsān aur A’māl – e – Qalbiyyah (نسبت و احسان اور اعمالِ قلبییہ). Also available online from the English Translation:

Badāt, M (2006). An Introduction to the Science of Tasawwuf: A Translation of Nisbat wa Iḥsān aur A’māl – e – Qalbiyyah (نسبت و احسان اور اعمالِ قلبییہ) by Khalil Ahmed Kazi.

Accessed online [29.04.2011]:


[25] Thānwī, A. A. (1424H). Bayān al-Qur’ān (بیان القراٰن: رفع الشکوک اردو ترجمہ مساءل السلوک من کلام ملک الملوک وجوہ المثانی مع توجیہ الکلمات والمعانی). (p. 4)

[26] Elior, R. (2008). The Mystical Origins of Hasidism. (p. 130)

[27] ibid.

[28] ibid.

[29] ibid.

[30] Sajjad, Z. A. and Shahabi, I. A (1991). Tārīkh-e-Millet (تاریخِ ملت). Vol. 1. (p. 668)

[31] Article ‘Is that cell phone Kosher’ on BBC. Accessed online [10.05.2011]: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7636021.stm

[32] Lecture at Heythrop College.

[34] Goitein, S. D. (1953). ‘A Jewish Addict to Sufism: In the Time of the Nagid David II Maimonides’. The Jewish Quarterly Review, (pp. 37-49)

[35] Cited from article, ‘Inayati-Maimuni Tariqat of Sufi Hasidim | The Desert Fellowship of the Message’

Accessed online [10.05.2011]: http://www.zimbio.com/Judaism/articles/144/Inayati+Maimuni+Tariqat+Sufi+Hasidim+Desert

[36] For full article refer to:

‘Reb Zalman Among the Sufis’. Transcribed by Reuven Goldfarb with the assistance of Eliyahu (Khaled) McLean.

Excerpt from an audio tape of the Farbrengen with Rabbis Zalman Schachter-Shalomi at the Hillel Foundation, Berkeley, California, March 19, 1994. Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi is speaking.

Accessed online [18.04.2011]: http://www.sufi-tariqah.de/tarchiv/rebzalman.html

An Understanding of Abrahamic Spirituality and Mysticism: Through the Tales of the Hasidim and Sufis.


An Understanding of Abrahamic Spirituality and Mysticism: Through the Tales of the Hasidim and Sufis.

                                                                                                                                ~  (Hamid Mahmood)

Toward the One,

The Perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty,

The Only Being,

United with All the Illuminated Souls,

Who Form the Embodiment of the Master,

The Spirit of Guidance .[1]

One way of understanding spirituality and mysticism in the Abrahamic faiths is by comparing and contrasting stories in the faith traditions. Hence I intend on exploring stories and experiences from both Jewish and Islamic spiritual sources. I will however focus my attention on Hasidic and Sufi sources, for the former I will evaluate ‘The Penitent’ from Martin Buber’s ‘Tales of the Hasidim’, and latter ‘Learning Humility from Bāyazīd al-Bistāmī’ taken from “Memorial of the Saints” of Farīduddīn Aṭṭār. I will creatively explore the Hasidic and Sufi story side by side comparing and contrasting the two alongside highlighting the differences between normative and Hasidic / Sufi notions of Judaism and Islam. I will thereafter conclude by exploring the fusion between Hasidism and Sufism by briefly looking at an order that combines both spiritual paths, ‘the Ināyatī-Maimūnī ṭarīqat’.

The Penitent

For six years and then for another six years, Rabbi David of Lelov had done great penance: he had fasted from one Sabbath to the next, and subjected himself to all manner of rigid discipline. But even when the second six years were up, he felt that he had not reached perfection and did not know how to attain what he still lacked. Since had heard of Rabbi Elimelekh, the healer of souls, he journeyed to him to ask his help. On the evening of the Sabbath, he came before the zaddik with many others. The master shook hands with everyone except Rabbi David, but from him he turned and did not give him a glance. The rabbi of Lelov was appalled and left. But then he thought it over and decided that the master must have taken him for someone else. So he approached him in the evening, after prayer, and held out his hand. But he was treated just as before. He wept all night and in the morning resolved not to enter the zaddik’s House of Prayer again, but to leave for home at the end of the Sabbath. And yet – when the hour of the holy third meal had come, the meal at which Rabbi Elimelekh spoke words of teaching, he could not restrain himself and crept up to the window. There he heard the rabbi say:

Sometimes people come to me who fast and torment themselves, and many a one does penance for six years and then for another six years- twelve whole years! And after that, they consider themselves worthy of the holy spirit, and come and ask me to draw it down to them: I am to supply the little they still lack. But the truth of the matter is that all their discipline and all their pains are less than a drop in the sea, and what’s more: all that service of theirs does not rise to God, but to the idol of their pride. Such people must turn to God by turning utterly from all they have been doing, and begin to serve from the bottom up and with a truthful heart.”

When Rabbi David heard these words, the spirit moved him with such force, that he almost lost consciousness. Trembling and sobbing, he stood at the window. When the Havdalah was concluded, he went to the door with faltering breath, opened it in great fear, and waited on the threshold. Rabbi Elimelekh rose from his chair, ran up to to his motionless visitor, embraced him and said: “Blessed be he that comes!” Then he drew him toward the table and seated him at his side. But now Eleazar, the zaddik’s son, could no longer restrain his amazement. “Father,” he said, “Why, that is the man you turned away twice because you could not endure the mere sight of him!”

“No, indeed!” Rabbi Elimelekh answered. That was an entirely different person! Don’t you see that this is our dear Rabbi David!”[2]

Learning Humility from Bayazid al-Bistami

There was ‘a certain ascetic’ who was one of the great saints of Bestam. He had his own followers and admirers, and at the same time he was never absent from the circle of Bayazid al-Bistami (or Abu Yazid al-Bistami). He listened to all his discourses, and sat with his companions.

One day he remarked to Abu Yazid, “Master, for thirty years I have been keeping a constant fast. By night too I pray, so that I never sleep at all. Yet I discover no trace of this knowledge of which you speak. For all that I believe in this knowledge, and I love this preaching.”

If for three hundred years,” said Abu Yazid, “you fast by day and pray by night, you will never realize one atom of this discourse.”

Why?” asked the disciple.

Because you are veiled by your own self,” Abu Yazid replied.

“What is the remedy for this?” the man asked.

“You will never accept it,” answered Abu Yazid.

“I will so,” said the man. “Tell me, so that I may do as you prescribe.”

“Very well,” said Abu Yazid. “This very hour go and shave your beard and hair. Take off these clothes you are wearing, and tie a loincloth of goat’s wool about your waist. Hang a bag of nuts around your neck, then go to the marketplace. Collect all the children you can, and tell them, `I will give a nut to everyone who slaps me.’ Go round all the city in the same way; especially go everywhere people know you. That is your cure.”

“Glory be to God! There is no god but God,” cried the disciple on hearing these words.

If a non-believer uttered that formula, he would become a believer,” remarked Abu Yazid. “By uttering the same formula you have become a polytheist.”

“How so?” demanded the disciple.

Because you count yourself too grand to be able to do as I have said,” replied Abu Yazid. “So you have become a polytheist. You used this formula to express your own importance, not to glorify God.”

“This I cannot do,” the man protested. “Give me other directions.”

“The remedy is what I have said,” Abu Yazid declared.

“I cannot do it,” the man repeated.

“Did I not say you would not do it, that you would never obey me?” said Abu Yazid.[3]

There are many significant and diverse points one could deduce from both stories, but I will focus my attention on two notions; where both spiritual traditions differ from their normative religious understandings. Alongside that, I will compare and contrast Hasidism and Sufism from the two tales mentioned.

Rabbi David and ‘a certain ascetic’, in both stories, are equally religious figures yet they feel there is ‘something’ missing from their mystical lives; and to attain ‘complete’ fulfilment in their spirituality they feel they must approach ‘a spiritual guide’. In Hasidism this guide is referred to as ‘zaddik’ and in Sufism to ‘sheikh’, ‘sīdī’ or ‘pīr’ (Persian, mostly used in Asia). It is interesting to note that in both Judaism and Islam the position of a zaddik and pīr is contrary to that of the normative understanding of ‘rabbi’ or ‘imam’. In normative religious understanding the leader is to guide the follower through ‘sacred texts’ and the teachings of Prophets, yet this is not the case in both, for fasting lengthy periods is virtuous when considering external worship, one may not judge the internal form of worship.[4] In the Hasidic story Rabbi David is to reach his full spiritual potential through that sudden ‘realisation’ and ‘regret’ after his feelings and thoughts are completely shattered, on the contrary the ‘ascetic’ was told, contrary to normative Islamic teaching, to shave his beard, be covered only in loin-cloth and give nuts to children who slap him in the presence of those who are familiar with his piety. They were fasting so that they may become pious for the sake of becoming pious, an unwittingly self-centred approach to worship and God, and if this was the mere goal then Bulleh Shah, a South Asian ṣūfi mystic, rightly exclaims:

“If the divine is found through ablutions [5]
surely frogs and fish would find him first
if the divine is hidden in jungles
the cattle would have discovered him by now
O Bulleh, the divine is found by those
with pure and true heart.” [6]

On the contrary if attaining virtues or salvation from hell and admittance into paradise was the sole intention, then this too is contrary to being one with God and the fulfilment of the spirit. This notion is well illustrated by an early Islamic female mystic Rābi’ah Baṣriyyah:

“O my Lord,
if I worship you
from fear of hell, bur n me in hell.
If I worship you
from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.
But if I worship you
for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face”. [7]

With rabbi David he attains his goal following a shattered self through ‘realisation’ and ‘regret’ whereas the ascetic is to gain salvation through a shattered self but by literally annihilating the self of desires through physically defaming the self. This is contrary to normative Judaism whereby the adherent draws nearer to God through the study of the Torah. However, it is significant to note from both stories the critique of both normative Judaism and Islam and a critique of what religion at times can become, whereby fulfilling all acts of worship alongside supererogatory ones would ‘seem’ to one as being on the right track, but on the contrary through self-centeredness could lead someone in the opposite direction completely. This notion is further emphasised in both stories, in the former Rabbi Elimelekh points towards this self-centeredness and explains, ‘twelve whole years (of fasting and penance)… after that… their pains are less than a drop in the sea, and what’s more: all that service of theirs does not rise to God, but to the idol of their pride’.[8] With the ascetic, he is told by Bāyazīd al-Bistāmī that his ‘own self’ stands between him and ‘ilm-e-ladunnī (supernatural knowledge in contrast to ‘ilm-e-kasabī, earned knowledge) and after being exposed to the cure the ascetic ‘praises God’ in astonishment, upon which al-Bistāmī rectifies him, “If a non-believer uttered that formula, he would become a believer… by uttering the same formula you have become a polytheist.” [9] This was due to reciting and praising God in astonishment of his own humiliation, which is similar to reciting God’s name in vain, however this is similar to ‘the idol of their pride notion’, which is also explained in the Qur’ān, ‘[Prophet], consider the one who has taken his own desire as a god, whom God allows to stray in the face of knowledge, sealing his ears and heart and covering his eyes – who can guide such a person after God [has done this]? Will you people not take heed?’ (Q. 45:23). Another significant point to note is the supernatural power of the Rabbi, as he is able to express things not yet told to him. This I believe again is very similar to the ṣūfī notion of kashf in which the sheikh is able to read right through the heart and mind of his murīd (student). This leads on to the point that the zaddik and sheikh are to know ‘all’ the feelings in particular problems of their followers in order to help them and rightly guide them.

I believe that the ‘ināyatī-Maimūnī ṭarīqat’ is an order in which Sufi and Hasidic mysticism is fused and merged together. This idea would be highly controversial for normative teachings in both faith traditions. However, this movement claims to bring together the spirituality of pīr Hazrat Inayat Khan, the ṣūfī who first brought Sufism to the West, and Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Ba’al Shem Tov. However, the origin of the latter part of the name ‘mainūnī’ comes from Rabbi Avraham Maimuni of Fustat, who was the son of Moses Maimonides, who is to have merged Sufi and Hasidic ideas. Although the use of such concepts could already be found in the Jewish writings of Bahya ibn Pakuda (ca. 1040), but Avraham Maimuni openly acknowledges his debt to Sufism, even going so far as to call the Sufis the ‘true lineal descendants of the Hebrew prophets’.[10]


Buber, M. (1966). Tales of the Hasidim: The Later Masters. (3rd ed.). Schocken Books: New York, USA.

Buber, M. (1994). Tales of the Hasidim. Schocken Books: New York, USA.

Naqshbandī, Z. A. (2003). Majālis-e-Faqīr (مجالسِ فقیر). Vol. 1 (3rd ed.). Maktabatul Faqeer: Faisalabad, Pakistan [Urdu]

Schachter-Shalomi, Z. & Miles-Yepez, N. et.al (2009). A Heart Afire: Stories and Teachings of the Early Hasidic Masters. Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, USA


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[Accessed: 11.01.2011]


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[1] A prayer of the ‘ināyatī-Maimūnī ṭarīqat’ a Sufi Hasidic order, written by pīr Inayat and also adopted by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi:

Schachter-Shalomi, Z. & Miles-Yepez, N. et.al (2009). A Heart Afire: Stories and Teachings of the Early Hasidic Masters. (p. 142)

[2] Buber, M. (1994). Tales of the Hasidim. (pp. 255-256)

[3] Story taken from “Memorial of the Saints” of Fariduddin Attar. [Accessed online 26.01.2011]: http://www.haqq.com.au/~salam/sufistor/sufi05.html

[4] Here I have used the terms ‘external’ and ‘internal’ for I believe all worship encompasses these two notions. When one fasts, him avoiding food, drink and other necessities is the external form, and on the contrary the inner fulfilment and growth is considered the internal. It is more likely that the latter notion is easily corrupted.

[5] Ablution here refers to ‘wudhū’, the act of cleansing certain parts of the body with water before each ṣalāh (prayer)

[6] Bulleh Shah’s (1680-1758)poem. [Accessed online 01.02.2011]:


[7] Rabi’ah Basri’s (717-801) sufism. [Accessed online 01.02.2011]:


[8] Buber, M. (1994). Tales of the Hasidim. (p. 255)

[9]Memorial of the Saints” of Fariduddin Attar. [Accessed online 26.01.2011]: http://www.haqq.com.au/~salam/sufistor/sufi05.html