Ibn Aqil’s Retraction

Posted on December 9, 2006. Filed under: 202 - Advanced Asma wa Sifaat |

5. The cause leading to his retractation, as related to me, was as follows: When this scandal had proceeded from him, Sharif Abu Ja’far[1] deemed his blood fit to be shed, and issued, together with his companions, legal decisions to permit the taking of his life. Ibn ’Aqil was in hiding for fear of being killed. One day, while he was on board a ship, he heard a young fellow-passenger say: “I wish that I could find this zindiq Ibn ’Aqil, so that I could advance myself in the favour of God by killing him and pouring forth his blood!” Thus frightened, Ibn ’Aqil disembarked, went to Sharif Abu Ja’far and made his retractation, asking for God’s forgiveness.

6. I shall now relate his retractation and its circumstances, citing the chain of transmitters, so that it be known that those of his works which are found to be in contradiction to the Sunna are to be considered among those for which he has repented. Let no one therefore become deceived by them; let no one follow them, lest he go astray. He who follows them will be like Ibn ’Aqil before he had made his retractation, while still in the state of his zandaqa, and the shedding of his blood will become lawful.

7. I was given the information by the Shaykh and Imam, the trustworthy and competent traditionalist, Abu Hafs ’Umar b. Muhammad b. Tabarzad al-Baghdadi, in the month of Dhu al-Qa’da, in the year 603, at our divinely guarded mosque—may God (exalted is He above all) continue to watch over it— located on the outskirts of Damascus. Reading it back to him, I said: You received the information by written licence (ijaza), if not by having personally heard it, from the most illustrious and learned Qadi, Abu Bakr Muhammad b. ’Abd al-Baqi b. Muhammad al-Bazzaz, who said: On Monday, the 8th of the month of Muharram, in the year 465, I was present when the Shaykh and Imam, Abu al-Wafa’ b. ’Aqil, made his retractation in the mosque of the Sharif Abu Ja’far, located in the quarter of Nahr Mu’alla. A multitudinous crowd was in attendance on that day. Ibn ’Aqil said:

8. ” ’Ali b. ’Aqil states the following:
I declare myself pure before God from the systems of heretical innovators: Mu’tazilism and others; from having associated with its masters, treated its associates with veneration, invoked the mercy of God on their predecessors, and made a great display of their moral qualities. What I had copied, and what has been discovered in my handwriting, of their doctrines and errors, I hereby return to God in penitence for having written them and read them. It is not lawful for me to write them, or to read them, or to believe them.”

Ibn ’Aqil mentions something else here,[2] then goes on to say:
“I beg of God forgiveness and I return to Him in penitence for having mixed with heretical innovators: Mu’tazilites and others; for having sought to imitate them; for having invoked God’s mercy upon them; and for having treated them with veneration. For all of this is forbidden; and it is not lawful for a Muslim to do such things, because of what the Prophet has said: ’He who venerates the author of a heretical innovation helps to bring about the destruction of Islam.’ Our master, Sharif Abu Ja’far, and those Shaykhs and followers with him, my superiors and my colleagues were right in finding fault with me, because of what they had witnessed in my handwriting in those books from which I declare myself pure before God. I hereby affirm that I was wrong in them, not right. Should anything which is inconsistent with this writing and confession become retained against me, the Imam of the Muslims[3] shall have the right to punish me therefore, in accordance with the requirements of the Law, such as retention, exemplary correction, banishment and other forms of punishment. I have called on God, on His angels and on men of learning to be witnesses to all of that which I have confessed, doing so without compulsion or coercion. The inward and outward dispositions of my mind are the same regarding this confession. God has said: ’If anyone repeats the offence, God will take vengeance on him. God is mighty, wielder of vengeance.’ ”

9. Then the witnesses set down their attestations, transcripts of which follow:
“The confessor has asked me to witness his having confessed all that is contained within the scope of this document. Signed: ’Abd Allah b. Ridwan,’ in the month of Muharram, in the year 465.

“He called on me to witness the same. Signed: Muhammad b. ’Abd ar-Razzaq b. Ahmad b. as-Sunni, on the same date.

The confessor has asked me to witness his having confessed all that is contained within the scope of this document. Signed: al-Hasan b. ’Abd al-Malik b. Muhammad b. Yusuf in his own handwriting.

“I heard the utterance of this confession by the confessor himself. Signed: Muhammad b. Ahmad b. al-Hasan.
“The confessor asked me to bear witness of the same against himself. Signed: ’Ali b. ’Abd al-Malik b. Muhammad b. Yusuf.”
This is the end of the retractation.

10. Muhammad b. ’Abd al-Baqi b. Muhammad b. ’Abd Allah” then wrote: On this day, a multitudinous crowd was in attendance at the mosque of Sharif [Abu Ja’far].

11. The present scandal is one of the sum of things for which Ibn ’Aqil returned to God in penitence, admitted that they consist in error and heretical innovation, and stated that if anything for which he repented should be found in his handwriting, punishment therefore will be strictly exacted from him, and God will take vengeance on him. How then can anyone allow himself to adduce these doctrines of his as arguments, or to be deceived by them, or to uphold them, or to attach himself to them, despite the consensus of the learned men of his town to seek a retractation of them from him and, failing this, to allow his blood to be shed because of them and similar doctrines?[4] This indicates, more forcefully than anything else, his transgression and error. Now should these doctrines have proceeded from him after he had made his retractation, this would then be proof of his zandaqa, of his having persisted in his heretical innovation and reverted to his error. For the meaning of zandaqa is to make an outward show of belief in the true religion while inwardly adhering to its contrary. This religious hypocrisy used to be referred to as hypocrisy (nifaq) in the days of the Apostle of God; but today it is called zandaqa.

12. This man has composed a separate tract in condemnation of the allegorical interpretation of the divine attributes, and in refutation of those who thus interpret them. He has also composed a separate work treating of the “letters” and the “voice.”[5] He is furthermore the author of Kitab al-Intisar li al-Sunnah, and other such books, all of which he filled with traditional doctrines and with the refutation of heretical innovators. If he was merely making this outward show of orthodoxy, while secretly adhering to heretical innovations, then he is a zindiq. How then can it be permissible for anyone to adduce his doctrines as arguments, or to approve for himself a condition such as his, or to go astray by following his error? But God preserve us! nor should this be even thought of him! Since, however, he is known to have had two states, a state of heretical innovation and a state of repentance, we ascribe all that has been discovered of his innovating tenets to the state of heretical innovation, nothing more.

13. Now, it is not my custom to mention the faults of our [Hanbali] companions; I would certainly prefer to hide their defects. But it has become necessary to expose the case of this man since some people have been deceived by his doctrines, and a group of our companions have followed him in his heretical innovation. Their good opinion of him, and their conviction that he belonged in the ranks of those who summon to the obedience of the Sunna, caused them to fall into doubt with respect to their belief. It has therefore become necessary to lay bare his case and to remove their good opinion of him, so that their deception by his doctrines will leave them and the disease be arrested by cutting off its cause. For a thing comes to nought only at the source of its subsistence.—Assistance and direction to the right course rest with God. We ask of Him that He keep us steadfast in the path of Islam and the Sunna.

14. At any rate, he has inspired aversion for unquestioning imitation (taqlid) in matters of faith, and disallowed holding a good opinion of the Shaykhs. How then is it possible to entertain a good opinion of him who disallows such an opinion to be entertained of himself? And how is it possible to accept the statement of him who forbids the acceptance of another’s statement? The proper thing for us to do is to accept what he says of himself—which would create a bad opinion of him— but not to accept what he says of another. His case would then be similar to one who confesses something against himself as well as against another: his statement against himself is accepted, but his statement against the other is not.

15. And now I shall give answer to his doctrines—God willing—article by article, and make evident the faultiness of his discourse, in its fundamental principles and in their applications—with God’s direction toward the true course and with His assistance.

[1] ‘Abd al-Khaliq b. ‘Isa, al-Sharif Abu Ja’far b. Abi Musa, from the lineage of al-‘Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet – SallAllahu ‘alaihi wa-sallam – thus the title: al-Sharif; a jurist, a traditionist and a leading Hanbali of his age. After the death of his teacher, al-Qadhi Abu Ya’la, he became recognised as the chief of the Hanbali school. He is remembered as a daring and outspoken critic of both strands of the rationalist movement, the Mu’tazili and the Ash’ari. It was during his life when the troubles between the Hanbalis and the Ash’aris began, known in the annuls of history as fitnat ibn al-qusayri – the troubles of Ibn al-Qushayri. He died in year 470/1077 and was buried in close proximity of Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal.

[2]The omitted text is as follows:

“Among the things which I have transcribed is a disputed issue of ‘night’. Some say it is composed of black bodies. But I said, ‘What I have heard from Shaykh Abu ‘Ali [Ibn al-Walid] is correct,’ he said, ‘It is nothingness, and cannot be considered a body, nor anything else.’ And I believed that. But I repent to God – Exalted is He above all! – in renouncing them [the Mu’tazilites].

I believed in al-Hallaj as a religious man, an ascetic, and a saint; and I maintained that opinion in a fascicle (juz’) which I composed. But I repent to God – Exalted is He! – in renouncing him. I attest that he was put to death as a result of the consensus of the jurists of the time, and that they were right, and he was wrong.” (Ibn Rajab, al-Dhayl ‘ala Tabaqat al-Hanabila 1/322-4, ed. Dr. al-‘Uthaimin, Maktabat al-‘Ubaikan 2005)

George Makdisi suggests that Ibn Qudama’s omission of the aforementioned passage is an indication of his Hallajism. However, this assumption is far from accurate since Hallajism was not singled out with omission. Ibn Qudama had also omitted the paragraph with respect to the question of ‘night’ being ‘black bodies’ where Ibn ‘Aqil favours Mu’tazilism. It would be absurd to assume that this particular omission was due to Ibn Qudama’s Mu’tazilism. Likewise, it is equally absurd to assume Ibn Qudama’s Hallajism on that basis. The most probable reason for Ibn Qudama’s omission is to abridge the original text of the retraction by mentioning only the relevant passages.

[3] The title ‘Imam of the Muslims’ is perhaps referring to the Abbasid Caliph al-Qa’im billah (d. 467/1075)

[4] Here and in similar passages, perhaps, Ibn Qudama is referring to Ibn al-Jawzi and other Hanbalis like him who were influenced by Ibn ‘Aqil’s rationalist inclinations.

[5] The work being referred to here is known as Mas’ala fi al-Harf wal-Sawt. It has been published as al-Radd ‘ala al-Asha’irah al-‘Uzzal wa-Ithbat al-Harf wa’l-Sawt by George Makdisi in Bulletin d’Etudes Orientales, volume XXIV. It was later published with the title ‘Juz’ fi’l-Usul: Usul al-Quran’ by Sulayman b. ‘Abdallah al-‘Umayr in 1413/1993. As the title suggests, the work argues that God speaks with letters and voice; the Quran, which is composed of letters and voice is uncreated; and that the legal texts pertaining to attributes must be viewed literally. Even though, the work is one of his fierce attacks on the Ash’arites, who are described by him as the Mu’tazila, Ibn al-Subki, a known Ash’arite fanatic, does not fail to enlist Ibn ‘Aqil as an Ash’arite in his Tabaqat.

Some of Ibn ‘Aqil’s words in this treatise regarding the Ash’aris include:

“Behold! O Muslims, the Mu’tazili beliefs! How they expressed it in a fashion that negates the reality! Listen to what I tell you of their false claims, and the truth about their erred and misguided doctrine with regards to the Quran, and the fact they believe it is created without doubt!”

He also says of them:

“You feigned to the people that you are from the Ahl al-Sunna and the people of truth. You also titled yourselves as such, and how far you are from this title, while you belie the explicit text of the Quran!”

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