"Through patience and poverty one attains leadership in religion. The seeker of Truth needs the will that will inspire him and push him upward, and (religious) knowledge that will lead him and guide him."
These words of our hero sum up the personality of this great man, Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, who is better known as Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah or Ibn Al-Qayyim . He was born in 691 AH.
He began his long journey on the road of learning early in his life, moving from one teacher to another to quench his thirst for knowledge. At the age of 21 (in 712 AH), Ibn Al-Qayyim met his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah another great hero of Islam and a revivalist of the faith. Their companionship lasted to the end of the teacher's life. Ibn Al-Qayyim kept close company with Ibn Taymiyyah with whom he suffered the pains of imprisonment and being flogged many times. Apparently, it was from Ibn Taymiyyah that Ibn Al-Qayyim learnt many special qualities such as frankness and courage in defying the falsehood of others, including those in authority. For both, the truth had to be said regardless of the consequences. However, unlike his teacher, Ibn Al-Qayyim was less fierce in his attacks -- in words and actions.
The 8th century AH witnessed a state of ignorance and feuds in the Muslim community. Muslims were fighting each other, and each one was trying to impose his authority in everything, including religious opinion and scholarship, which suffered from stagnation. The majority of religious scholars were acting more like 'recorders' of knowledge rather than true scholars and teachers. To them, their teachers were the main, if not the sole, source of knowledge, and the schools of thought they blindly imitated were the only acceptable ways.
Likewise his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Al-Qayyim spent his life attempting to correct the wrong course the community was following. He fought the exaggerated reverence for the tombs of the pious despite the strong resistance he met from the masses. He tried to show the errors committed by the misled sects and by those who followed them blindly. He considered that the disputes and fights among the Muslims of his time were caused by their sectarian attitude and chauvinistic practices, each one considering himself and his sect or school of thought as the only correct one, and claiming that everyone else was on the wrong path.
Ibn Al-Qayyim spent most of his time and great efforts trying to unite the people, clarifying to them the dangers of blind imitation of the predecessors. He explained that a Muslim should be open-minded; that is, he should accept what is right and good regardless of the teacher, as long as what he or she accepts is consistent with the Quran and the Sunnah, the consensus of the scholars, and the general spirit of the faith. In his view, imitation was wrong in the following cases:
1. If it entails violation of Divine teachings,
2. If it represents an act of blind following of people we are not sure of their knowledge,
3. If it is in defiance of truth after finding it.
It was blind imitation that caused stagnation in scholarship and differences among people. Some so-called scholars, he pointed out, were not really scholars of Islam but rather simple propagators of others' opinions. To those people the words and views of their teachers or leaders were the only correct way of understanding the faith, to the extent that they subjected even the interpretation of the Quran and the prophetic teachings to the views of their teachers, which they wrongly took for the ultimate criteria.
Ibn Al-Qayyim considered that the sources of religious knowledge were to be taken in the following order:
1) ) The Quran, (2) The Sunnah (the teachings of Prophet Muhammad ) and (3) The teachings of the Companions of the Prophet, may Allah be pleased with them. To these, one could add the consensus of Muslim scholars and analogy. Bigotry and prejudice were to him the enemies of knowledge. To propagate his views, he wrote scores of books besides teaching directly to the people.
In his private life, Ibn Al-Qayyim was a very pious and devout worshipper who spent most of his time in prayers and recitation of the Quran. He was, in fact, an ascetic who rejected the unorthodox practices of some Sufis (mystics) who claimed that religious teachings had external and internal sides, implying that religious obligations (such as prayers, fasting during Ramadan etc.) did not apply to them.
As pointed out earlier, our hero was a man of courage and frankness to whom truth was the ultimate goal. His open-minded and flexible attitude is reflected in his views on the correct understanding of religious laws (Sharee'ah), and that these should be interpreted in the light of the circumstances of time and place, because Islam is intended and practicable for mankind at all times. He wrote many books to explain this invaluable principle. Many of his views find their application in the legal system of modern nations, more than six centuries after his death in 751 AH.