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Taawwuf and Reform in Pre-Modern Islamic Culture: In Search of Ibrhm al-Krn

Author(s): Basheer M. Nafi


Source: Die Welt des Islams, New Series, Vol. 42, Issue 3, Arabic Literature and Islamic
Scholarship in the 17th/18th Century: Topics and Biographies (2002), pp. 307-355
Published by: BRILL
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TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC


CULTURE: IN SEARCH OF IBRAHIM AL-KURANI
BY

BASHEER M. NAFI
Oxfordshire

Early mentions of Ibrahim ibn Hasan al-Kufrani(1025 AH/16161101 AH/1689) in modern scholarship on Islamic intellectual history
characterized him as a suifi teacher.1 Investigating the significance
of a treatise on tasawwuf, al-Tuhfa al-Mursala ild Ruh al-Nabi, written
by the Indian sufi Muhammad Fadl-Allah al-Burhanbfiri (d. 1619),
A. H. Johns found that the Madina-based al-Kurani was closely associated with Southeast Asian Islamic revival in the seventeenth century, particularly with the Achehnese teacher 'Abd al-Ra'uf (d. 1690).
Later, Johns located a manuscript of al-Kufrani'soriginal commentary on al-Tuhfa, in which he defended the suifi principal of wahdat
al-wujud (the unity of existence).2 Another twist in our understanding of al-Kuirani came to the surface when John Voll published a
short but highly important article,3 identifying a group of revivalist
culama' centered on the Hijazi holy city of Madina during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, with an extensive network
of associates and students in other parts of the Muslim world. Most
Alfred Guillaume, ed., "Al-Lam'atal-Saniyafi Tahqaqal-Ilqa'f-l-Umniya by Ibrahim al-Kurani", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 20 (1957): 291303; A. H. Johns, The Gift Addressedto the Spirit of the Prophet (Canberra: Centre of
Oriental Studies, The Australian National University, 1965), 8, and footnote 7 on
the same page; EI 2, s. v. "Ibrahim al-Kurani", by idem. See also: Alexander Knysh,
"Ibrahim al-Kurani (d. 1101/1690), An Apologist for wahdat al-wujud,"Journal of
the Royal Asiatic Society, 3rdSeries, 5,1 (1995): 39-47.
2 A. H.
Johns, "Islam in Southeast Asia: Problems of Perspective", in C. D. Cowan
and 0. W. Walters (eds.), SoutheastAsian History and Historiography(Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1976), 304-20.
3 John Voll, " Muhammad Hayya al-Sindi and Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab:
An Analysis of an Intellectual Group in Eighteenth-Century Madina", BSOAS, 38,
1 (1974): 32-9. See also idem., "Hadith Scholars and Tariqas: An 'Ulama' Group in
the 18thCentury Haramayn and their Impact in the Islamic World", Journal of Asian
and African Studies, 15, 3-4 (1980): 264-73.
? Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2002
Also available online - www.brill.nl

Die Welt des Islams 42, 3

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BASHEER M. NAFI

prominent among the first generation of this group of 'ulama' were


Ahmad al-Qushashi and Muhammad al-Babili; the second included
their students Ibrahim ibn Hasan al-Kurani, 'Abdullah ibn Salim alBasri and Hasan b. 'All al-'Ujaymi, who in turn were teachers of a
larger group that comprised, among others of the third generation,
Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Kurani (Ibrahim's son) and Muhammad
Hayat al-Sindi. While members of this circle of 'ulama' originated
from various regions of the Muslim world, their students and
disciples came from and spread to Persia, Algeria, the Arabian Peninsula, India, Syria, Algeria and elsewhere. These 'ulama', who belonged to various Sunni schools of fiqh, were almost all affiliates of
sufi tariqas, including Khalwatiyya,Naqshbandiyya, Shadhiliyya, Suhrawardiyya,Shattariyyaand Qadiriyya, and were universally interested
in hadith scholarship.
Since several of the late-eighteenth-century Islamic reformists,
most prominently Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92) and
Wali-Allah Dihlawi (1703-62), had been associated with scholars of
the Madinan circle, the implication of Voll's findings was that the
origins of the eighteenth-century Islamic revivalism had much deeper
roots and were the culmination of a long process of intellectual
evolution and change. This should raise some questions about the
position of Ibrahim al-Kurani in this process of intellectual evolution. The most vexing of all questions is how it could have been
possible that a scholar of profound sffi affiliation and belief in wahdat
al-wujud be genealogically related to a robust salafi and anti-sufi like
Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab. Although Voll did not study the intellectual
making of al-Kfrani or any of his numerous treatises and books,4
basing his conclusions on the study of chains of authority, he suggested that al-Kfrani, and the whole phenomenon of revivalist tasawwuf in the eighteenth century, was influenced by and influential in
a rising interest in hadith scholarship.
As an intellectual development in the intellectual history of Islam,
"sufi revivalism/reformism", or "neo-sufism", was first proposed by
4 For a list of al-Kurani's works, which exceeded
perhaps fifty books and short
treatises, see Isma'il al-Baghdadi, Hadiyat al-'Ariftn, Asma' al-Mu'allifin wa-Athar alMusannifin (Istanbul: n p., 1955-57), vol. 1, columns, 35-6; C. Brockelmann, Geschichte der ArabischenLitteratur (Leiden: Brill, 1943-49), II, 505, and Supp. II, 520.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE 309

Fazul Rahman.5 Subsequently, both "neo-sutfism"and the late-eighteenth-century Islamic revivalism have been the subject of several
studies.6 But whereas some of the earlier assessments of the reformist/revivalist trends of eighteenth-century Islam have been sweeping
and unqualified, recent doubts about the reality of "sufi revivalism"
were not less sweeping, dismissing the phenomenon altogether or
explaining it as a mere expansion in tariqa's activities and organization. Relying on a small body of evidence, De Jong, and O'Fahey
and Radtke, questioned the whole assumption of an intellectual
change and reform in eighteenth-century sulfism.7 The problem, of
course, is that if the dismissal argument is accepted, how exactly can

5 Fazul
Rahman, Islam (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966), 206. An
earlier identification of the phenomenon was made by Hamilton Gibb, Muhammedanism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953), 117.
6
See, for example, E. Bannerth, "La Khalwatiyya en Egypte", Melanges de l'Institut
Dominicaine des Etudes Orientales,8 (1964-66): 1-7; C. Brockelmann, "Mustafa Kamal
al-Din", El 2, 1: 965-6; Rudolph Peters, "Idjtihad and Taqlid in 18th and 19th Century Islam", Die Weltdes Islam, 20 (1980): 132-45; J. M. S. Baljon, Religion and Thought
of Shah Wali Allah Dihlawi (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1986); R. S. O'Fahey, Enigmatic Saint:
Ahmad Ibn Idris and theIdrisi Tradition (London: Hurst and Company, 1990); Ahmad
Dallal, "The Origins and Objectives of Islamic Revivalist Thought, 1750-1850",Journal
of the American Oriental Society, 113, 3 (1993): 341-59; Stefan Reichmuth, "Murtada
az-Zabidi (d. 1791) in Biographical and Autobiographical Accounts: Glimpses of
Islamic Scholarship in the 18th Century", Die Welt des Islams, 39,1 (1999): 64-102.
7 F. De Jong, "Mustafa Kamal al-Din al-Bakri (1688-1749), Revival and Reform
of the Khalwatiyya Tradition?," in Nehemia Levtzion and John Voll (eds.), Eighteenth-CenturyIslamic Renewal and Reform(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1987),
117-32. For an emphasis on the organizational aspects of the phenomenon known
as neo-sufism, see O'Fahey, Enigmatic Saint, 1-9; R. S. O'Fahey and Bernd Radtke,
"Neo-sufism Reconsidered", Der Islam: Zeitschriftfur Geschichteund Kultur des Orient,
LXX, 1 (1993): 73-81. One of the main problems of De Jong's evaluation of alBakri's convictions was his reliance on a small sample of al-Bakri's writings, which
makes his findings highly inconclusive. O'Fahey and Radtke, on the other hand,
dismissed the "neo-sufism" hypothesis by analyzing textual evidence of a small
number of African and Middle Eastern sufis. Later, however, Professor O'Fahey
qualified his earlier conclusions. In an unpublished paper, indicating the jointly
written paper he published with Radke in which they rejected the neo-sufism thesis, he wrote " In our enthusiasm to demolish the neo-suifi discourse of the colonial
scholar/administrator uncritically inherited by such scholars as Hamilton Gibb,
Fazlur Rahman and Anne-Marie Schimmel, I believe we went a little too far." (R.
S. O'Fahey, "Pietism, Fundamentalism and Mysticism: An Alternative View of the
18th and 19th Centuries Islamic World", unpublished article, based on a public lecture given at Northwestern University on 12 November 1997. I am grateful to Prof.
O'Fahey for providing me with a copy of this article.)

310

BASHEER M. NAFI

we explain the making of Ahmad Sirhindi and Wali-Allah Dihlawi,


whose suifi roots and powerful reformist tendencies cannot be denied? When a scholar like Ibrahim al-Kfurani is perceived by a
succession of students and 'ulama' in reformist terms, even two
hundred years after his death, can we still dismiss his reformist credentials?
Besides attempting to provide some answers to these questions,
this article will endeavor to project the intellectual profile of Ibrahim
al-Kurani and seek to pinpoint his sources of inspiration. An ubiquitous 'alim/teacher with a long-lasting impact, al-Kurani's life and
career provide a vital key to the complex relationship between tasawwuf and reformist thought. Although the main aim here is to explore the making and some of the influential works of al-Klurani,
this study is also about mapping out the intellectual environment
of the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries Haramayn,
which, as a major Islamic crossroad, seem to have become a melting
pot for ideas and intellectual currents originating elsewhere. The
significance of al-Kiuraniis not, therefore, only seen in his own words
but also in the vocations of his students and disciples.
In the light of the continuing debate among students of eighteenth century Islam about "sufi revivalism" and "neo-suifism",however, it is perhaps important to mention that this article is not about
any specific sufi tariqa, but rather about individual 'ulama' (some
may have been more committed to tasawwuf than others), who were
loosely linked in informal, traditional educational relationships.
Whether the phenomenon of "neo-suifism" did exist in the eighteenth century Muslim world or not, the assumption underlining
this article is that dominant intellectual modes were being reformulated within certain 'ulama' circles. Reformist and/or revivalist, the
terms used here to describe these trends, are interchangeable and
indicate in principal intellectual change and transformation. This
article is, thus, not particularly concerned with whether this phenomenon resulted in broad social, organizational and political changes,
which De Jong and O'Fahey assumed, in various degrees, to be associated with revivalist tasawwuf in the eighteenth century, although
some of these changes were no doubt closely related to cases of
intellectual transformation. In addition, throughout this article the

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE 311

term "traditional" is used to denote the dominant Islamic cultural


mode in the pre-modern era. Generally speaking, "traditional" here
indicates an intellectual orientation that is based on adherence to
the established fiqhi madhhabs, Ash'ari or Maturidi theology and
tasawwuf.
Seventeenth-Century Madina and its 'ulama'
Al-Haramayn, the two grand mosques of the two holy cities of
Makka and Madina, have always been centers of Islamic learning,
attracting established, as well as aspiring, 'ulama' from all parts of
the Muslim world. The yearly Hajj season, the holiness of the two
cities and the slow and arduous means of communication, encouraged seekers of knowledge to stay at the Haramayn for various periods of time; some would even settle there permanently. Being the
seat of the ashraf, the local rulers of the Hijaz, Makka was a more
recognized centre of learning during the period following the Ottoman conquest of the Arab East in the sixteenth century. Significant improvements in the security of the Hajj routes, brought about
by strong Ottoman rule, together with the increase in the number
of waqfs dedicated for the maintenance of the Haramayn,8 engendered a period of prosperity in the Hijaz. The move of the eminent
Egyptian Shafi'i 'alim Ahmad ibn Hajar al-Haythami (909/1504-974/
1567) from Cairo to Makka in the thirties of the sixteenth century
coincided with the rising position of the city, and helped to establish
a school of learning that influenced a wide range of 'ulama', not
only in the Arab East but also in areas as far as the Indian subcontinent.9 During the seventeenth century, however, the political instability, caused by the ongoing conflict within ranks of the ruling
8

On the Ottoman effort to improve the security of the Hajj routes and places,
see Suraiya Faroqhi, Pilgrims and Sultans: The Hajj under the Ottomans (London: I. B.
Tauris, 1994).
9 On al-Haytami, see Muhyi al-Din 'Abd al-Qadir ibn 'Abdullah
al-'Aydarusi, alNur al-Safir 'an Akhbar al-Qarn al-'Ashir (Cairo: n.p., n.d.), 287-92; Khayr al-Din alZirikli, al-A'lam, 8th.edn. (Beirut: Dar al-'Ilm lil-Malayin, 1989), vol. 1, 234; 'Abdullah
ibn Hijazi al-Sharqawi, "al-Tuhfa al-Bahiyya fi Tabaqat al-Shafi'iyya", ms. 149, Tarikh,
Institute of the Arab Manuscript, The Arab League, Cairo, plates 204-5.

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BASHEER M. NAFI

ashraf, contributed to the emergence of Madina, with its relative


stability, as a rival centre of learning.
The first renowned 'alim to be associated with Madina in the
second half of the seventeenth century was shaykh Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Qushashi (also known as al-Qushash; 991/1583-1071/
1661).10 Al-Qushashi hailed from the Badris of Jerusalem, a family
with sharifian descent, whose roots in the city went back to the seventh Hijri century.11It was his father, an 'alim as well, who first moved
from Jerusalem to Madina for unclear reasons. Ahmad al-Qushashi
received his early education from his father, accompanying him to
Yemen in 1011/1602-3, where he joined several circles of its eminent 'ulama' at the time. An unpleasant experience led him to leave
his father behind and return to Madina where he encountered the
prominent sufi shaykh Ahmad b. 'Ali al-Shinnawi (known also as alKhami; 975/1568-1028/1619),12 who initiated al-Qushashi into the
sutfiway. Al-Hamawi reported, perhaps with some exaggeration, that
al-Qushashi accompanied more than a hundred stfi shaykhs, and
following the ethos of his times was an associate of several tariqas,
including the Qadiriyya, Shattariyya and the Shadhiliyya, establishing himself firmly in the dominant sufi milieu of the seventeenth
century and becoming the successor of al-Shinnawi in Madina.13 AlQushashi seems to have been extremely charismatic, humble, pious
and an immensely effective teacher, traits that explain the large
10 Muhammad Amin al-Muhibbi, Khulasat
al-Atharfi A'y n al-Qarn al-Hadd'Ashar
(Beirut: Maktabat Khayiat, n. d.), vol. 1, 343-6; Yfisuf IlliyasSarkis, Mu'jam al-Matbu'at
al-'Arabiyyawal-Mu'araba (Cairo: Maktabat al-Thaqafa al-Diniyya, n. d.), vol. 2, column, 1513; Yusuf al-Nabahani, Jami' Karamat al-Awliya', ed. Ibrahim 'Awad (Beirut:
al-Maktaba al-Thaqafiyya, 1991), vol. 1, 559; 'Abdullah al-'Aiyashi, al-Rihla al-'Aiydshiyya (Rabat: Dar al-Maghrib, 1977), vol. 1, 407-24; 'Abd al-Rahman al-Ansari, Tuhfat
al-Muhibbinwal-AshezbfliMa'rifatma lil-Madanyytnmin Ansab, ed. M. A. al-Mitwi (Tunis:
al-Maktaba al-'Atiqa, 1970), 391.
11 The Badris, from whom the other
major Sharifian families ofJerusalem originated, are the descendents of Badr al-Din b. Muhammad b. Yusuf b. Badran who
died in Wadi al-Nusur, near Jerusalem in 650AH. Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali, al-'Uns
bi-Tarzkhal-Quds wal-Khalal (al-Najaf: al-Maktaba al-Haydariyya, 1966), vol. 2,
al-Jaldl
146-7.
12 Al-Muhibbi, Khuldsat al-Athar, vol. 1, 243-6.
13 Mustafa Fathallah al-Hamawi "Fawa'id al-Irtihal wa Nata'ij al-Safar fi Akhbar
al-Qarn al-Hadi 'Ashar", Cairo, The Arab League, Institute of Manuscripts, ms. 755,
Tarikh Taymur, vol. 1, pp. 640-67.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

313

number of students and disciples who flocked into Madina to join


his circle. The problem, however, is how to define Ahmad al-Qushashi's position in the course of Islamic reformist currents of the premodern period.
Intellectual reform implies renewal, breaking of cultural impasse,
challenge to dominant intellectual modes and instilling vitality into
a stagnant cultural situation. By the seventeenth century, Islamic
culture had already succumbed to the pervasive influence of sufi
tariqas and madhhabi fiqh, where middle Islamic traditions eclipsed
the founding Islamic texts of the Qur'an and hadith, imitation in
the form of commentary and glosses replaced the creative enterprises
in fiqh and theology, and sufi popular beliefs and practices became
normative even among the highest class of the 'ulama'.14 Moreover,
wahdat al-wujud, the doctrinal edifice of sufi theology, which had
been accepted with reservations by some 'ulama' in earlier periods,
was now widely held and defended. Although a systematic assessment
of Islamic intellectual reformism is still lacking, students of early
modern Islamic history largely agree that Islamic reformists expressed themselves in terms of ijtihad, re-assertion of the position of the
Qur'an and hadith, upholding the tenets of high religion and affirmation of tawhid, either by re-interpreting the doctrine of wahdat
al-wujad or by totally rejecting it.15 An emphasis on one or more of
these themes would, thus, indicate the presence of reformist tendencies.
Ahmad al-Qushashi was, as al-Muhibbi put it, "the imam of all those
who believed in wahdat al-wujiud",and his writings were mainly glosses
and commentaries on major sufi tracts. He was certainly regarded
as one of the greatest safis of his times, but what he struggled to
bequeath to his students was an extension of what he inherited from
14
Rahman, Islam, 153. For a study of the incorporation of popular tasawwuf
into the major sufi tariqa during the thirteenth to sixteenth cenuries, see Ahmet
T. Karamustafa, God's Unruly Friends (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press,
1994).
15 For various
aspects of the discussion of these issues, see Rudolph Peters,
"Idjtihad and Taqlid in 18th and 19th Century Islam", Die Welt des Islam, XX, 3-4
(1980): 132-45. See alsoJ. S. Trimingham, The suffiOrdersin Islam (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1971), 106-7; B. G. Martin, Muslim Brotherhoodsin 19^-CenturyAfrica
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 71-2.

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M. NAFI

his great teacher, shaykh Ahmad al-Shinnawi. Al-Qushashi sought,


to the best of his abilities, to maintain traditions of tasawwuf and to
safeguard a line of learning and mystical vocation. Yet, he was also
greatly and unusually interested in theology, on which he compiled
three treatises discussing the question of kasb, or acquisition, one of
the principal concepts of the Ash'ari doctrine, which exercised deep
influence on his students, and on the account of one treatise, at least,
he invited some controversy.16
The Azhari shaykh Muhammad b. 'Ala' al-Din al-Babili (1000/
1592-1077/1666),17 was a no less celebrated 'alim, though in a different manner and capacity. Al-Babili arrived to al-Azhar from his
village of Babil, near Cairo, at four years of age, and was fortunate
to receive his early education of fiqh, hadith and the Arabic language from some of the most eminent 'ulama' of Cairo at the time,
including al-Nfural-Zayyadi, 'All al-Halabi, 'Abd al-Ra'uf al-Munawi,
al-Burhan al-Laqqani and Abu al-Naja Salim al-Sanhuri. With more
than twenty teachers behind him, 1-Babili was recognized by his
contemporaries as a highly established 'alim with extensive knowledge; yet, it was his undisputed erudition in hadith that attracted to
him a wide range of students from various parts of the Arab mashriq.
His ascetic mode of life and avoidance of worldly attractions, available to scholars of his stature, took him to several pilgrimage journeys and to a ten-years sojourn in Makka where he again became a
focal point for seekers of learning, particularly hadith scholarship.
It was most likely during his stay in Makka that al-Babili came in
touch with the vibrant group of Madinan 'ulama'. The question is
what role could al-Babili have played in the making of the Madinan
circle?
A keen teacher rather than a writer, al-Babili left only one treatise, Kitab al-Jihad, which he was encouraged to compose by the
Ottoman wali of Egypt at the time. The sort of book that an 'alim
would write when the Ottoman state was at war or the local administration fighting against dissidents, Kitdb al-Jihad cannot provide a
window to the intellectual affinities of Muhammad al-Babili. Voll's
16

Al-'Aiyashi, al-Rihla, vol. 1, 429.


Al-Muhibbi, Khulasat al-Athdr,vol. 4, 39-42; al-Hamawi "Fawa'id al-Irtihal", vol.
1, pp. 399-406; al-Sharqawi, "al-Tuhfa al-Bahiyya", plate 207.
17

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

315

motivation to include al-Babili in the revivalist group of the lateseventeenth-early-eighteenth century was partly due to his relation
with the Haramayn intellectual milieu and partly to his renowned
erudition in hadith scholarship; both, in fact, are interconnected
credentials. Had he not been a scholar of hadith, a fundamental
criterion in the assessment of Islamic revivalist currents, al-Babili's
association with the Haramayn cultural environment would have
been an insignificant event, at least in the context of pre-modern
Islamic revivalism. Later ijazas of Ottoman 'ulama' confirm the position of al-Babili in the chains of hadith transmission. These ijazas,
however, indicate that hadith scholarship was a vibrant pursuit in
Cairo from the time of Ahmad b. Hajar al-'Asqalani (d. 1449) onward, with uninterrupted chains of transmission,18 a fact which made
Cairo a major centre of hadith learning, perhaps well into the midnineteenth century. It is, therefore, necessary to distinguish between
two types of hadith scholarship: the transmission of hadith collections, and the textual study of hadith (the study of matn), or the
direct return to the hadith (besides the Qur'an) as a source of the
shari'a, an approach that had been validated by al-Shafi'i and Ahmad
ibn Hanbal in the third Hijri century.
It is clear that the late eighteenth century reformists, including
Wali-Allah Dihlawi, Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhab, and the less
known Muhammad Murtada al-Zabidi, were all interested in hadith
scholarship, not only in its dissemination and transmission but principally in its substantive study as a primary textual source of religion
and shari'a. In his biography of al-Zabidi, al-Jabartiwas unequivocal
in depicting his teacher's textualist approach to hadith as revolutionary and refreshing, an approach that set al-Zabidi apart from
18
See, in historical order, Ahmad ibn Hajar al-Haythami, "Masasid al-Haythami",
ms. 2014, Tarikh, Institute of Arab Manuscripts, The Arab League, Cairo; several
ijazas granted from Cairene 'ulama' to shaykh Sharaf al-Din ibn 'Usayla in the late
sixteenth century, ms. 3490, Majmu'at, Dar al-Kutub, Cairo; eight ijazas granted to
Shaykh Salih ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazzi al-Tamartashi, ms. 23839 B, Dar
al-Kutub, Cairo; Ijaza from Muhammad ibn Sultan al-Shafi'i al-Walidi to Isma'il alJarahi al-'Ajluni, ms. 97, Hadith Taymur, Dar al-Kutub, Cairo; "Twenty one Ijazas
Granted to Isma'il al-Jarahi al-'Ajluni", ms. 97, Hadith Taymur, Dar al-Kutub, Cairo;
'Ali ibn Ahmad al-Sa'idi al-'Adawi, "Thabt al-'Adawi", ms. 23328 B, Dar al-Kutub,
Cairo.

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the rest of the 'ulama' of Cairo.19It was this common denominator


in the orientation of the well-known late-eighteenth century reformists that suggested the close association between the rising interest
in hadith scholarship and the emergence of reformist tendencies.
Al-Babili was one of a few scholars who committed themselves to the
study of hadith as a text since Ahmad b. Hajar al-'Asqalani and alSuyuti. Al-Muhibbi, opening his biography of al-Babili, wrote, "He
was the most knowledgeable of all his contemporaries in the matns
of hadith."20Although there was nothing conspicuously clear about
his reformist tendencies, al-Babili was, in a subtle manner, critical
of the intellectual mode of his time. When asked why he was not
interested in writing, like the rest of his prominent fellow 'ulama',
he said "one should only compile a book in something that has never
been tackled before, or in something incomplete that he seeks to
conclude, or in something ambiguous in order to clarify it, or in
something that is so expansive in order to summaries it without
blemishing its meaning, or in something so sundry in order to reorganize it, or in something mistaken in order to correct it, or in
something so disperse in order to bring it together."21
The third of this group of 'ulama', who came to shape the Madinan intellectual environment in the late seventeenth century, was
a polymath, hadith scholar and a sifi. Muhammad b. Sulayman alMaghribi (1037/1628-1094/1683)22 was born in a village near Slus
of the Far Maghrib and studied in Marrakech and Algeria with some
of the most prominent Malikis, including the renowned shaykh Sa'id
b. Ibrahim,23 the mufti of Algeria. Subsequently, al-Maghribi traveled to Cairo where he joined the circles of al-Ajhfiri, Sultan alMazahi and the hadith scholar, Ahmad al-Shubari. He then moved
to the Hijaz where, as he began to teach, he continued to study with
'9 'Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, Tarrkh'Aja'ib
al-Athdrfi l-Tardjimwal-Akhbdr(Beirut:
Dar al-Jil, n. d.), vol. 2, 103-14.
20
Al-Muhibbi, Khuldsat al-Athdr,vol. 4, 39. See also al-Hamawi "Fawa'idal-Irtihal",
vol. 1, pp. 399-400.
21
Al-Muhibbi, Khuldsat al-Athar, vol. 4, 41.
22
Al-Muhibbi, Khulasat al-Athdr, vol. 4, 304-8.
23 On him, see Muhammad b. Muhammad Makhluf,
Shajarat al-Nur al-Zakiyya
fi Tabaqat al-Malikiyya (Cairo: Dar al-Fikr, n. d.), 309.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE 317

other more senior 'ulama', residing first at Madina before taking an


official position in Makka. His pronounced suifi affinities were first
nurtured by Muhammad b. Nasir al-Dir'i,24who revived the fortunes
of the Shadhiliyya ttariqain seventeenth century Morocco. Besides
his acclaimed scholarly knowledge of hadith and fiqh, as well as mathematics, geometry, astrology and music, shaykh Muhammad b.
Sulayman al-Maghribi was a goldsmith, inventor and bookbinder,
skills that helped him earn his living and maintain a detached mode
of life. In 1668, a year of severe drought and hardship in the Hijaz,
he, along with the other Maghribi 'ulama' of Madina, 'Isa b. Muhammad al-Tha'alibi and 'Abd al-Rahman al-Maghribi, took the initiative
to raise funds from the wealthy in order to support the badly off
and the impoverished.25 Three years later, Muhammad b. Sulayman
al-Maghribi was invited to Istanbul to meet with the grand vezir,
Ahmad Pasha Koprullu (grand vezir from 1661-76),26 the second of
the great K6prfillu ministers of the Ottoman Sultanate, after befriending a brother of his during the pilgrimage season.
Al-Maghribi stayed a whole year as a guest of Ahmad Pasha, striking a profound relationship with the enlightened grand vezir who
admired the wisdom, erudition and reformist outlook of the shaykh.
His visit to Istanbul and his closeness to Ahmad Pasha, the second
most powerful man in the sultanate, enabled him to realize three
main objectives. First, against a background of chaotic political situation in Makka, al-Maghribi intervened on behalf of sharif Barakat
ibn Abi Nummayy (ruled 1672-82), who was apparently well known
to al-Maghribi, to replace his relative Sa'd b. Muhsin, as the sharif
of Makka. Second, he obtained an order from the Ottoman sultan
to ban several practices in Makka and Madina, which were associated with popular tasawwuf, including the use of musical instruments
and drums in sufi zawiyas and the women's joining of processions
24
25

Ibid., 313.

For a detailed, though fragmented, description of his career in the Hijaz, see
the account of his contemporary, 'Abd al-Malik al-'Isami, Samt al-Nujum al-'Awal ft
Anba' al-Awa'il wal-Tawalz (Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Salafiyya, n.d.), vol. 4, 502 ff.
26
On his period as a grand vezir, a position he rose to from the governorship
of Damascus, see Stanford J. Shaw, History of the OttomanEmpire and Modern Turkey.
VolumeI: Empire of the Ghazis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 2113.

318

BASHEER M. NAFI

during the celebration of the Prophet's birthday. Although a sufi


and adherent to the Shadhiliyya tariqa, al-Maghribi was uncompromising in his opposition to sufi excesses, an attitude that reflected
a continuous tension within sffi circles between two frames of meaning, the popular ways of tariqas' saints and the suffi'ulama's struggle
to uphold the tenets of religion.27 But while most of the 'ulama' felt
swamped by the popular sentiments and the huge following of the
saints, a few had enough sense of confidence and authority to speak
out.
Third, was his appointment to the guardianship of the Haramayn waqfs, immediately after his return from Istanbul in 1672. This
powerful position and the large resources that come with it, together
with the deep understanding between him and sharif Barakat, made
shaykh al-Maghribi one of the most influential officials in the Hijaz
and enabled him to embark upon a period of public construction
in the Haramayn and to become an effective agent in directing the
government affairs of the Hijaz. An 'alim, however, was not supposed
to cross the long-established line separating the men of knowledge
from the men of the sword and to come so close to the circles of
power. Moreover, al-Maghribi was a kind of puritan and an idealist
calim who was described by a sympathetic observer of the period as
"unacquainted with his times",28an allusion to his unpreparedness
to compromise with opponents and detractors. For his reform-oriented management of the waqfs, al-Maghribi seems to have antagonized many quarters in the Haramayn. Hence, immediately after the
death of his patron, Ahmad Pasha Koprulu, Kara Mustafa Pasha,
the new grand vezir, removed him from the guardianship of the
Haramayn waqfs in 1087/1676 and ordered him "not to interfere
in matters of the state". Al-Maghribi, however, continued from behind the scene to influence the running of the Hijazi affairs through
his friend, sharif Barakat. Late in 1682, following the death of sharif
27 A similar
response to sufi excesses was raging in Istanbul at the time, expressed
the
Kadizadeli movement. On the Kadizadelis, see Madeline C. Zilfi, The Politics
by
of Piety: The OttomanUlemain the PostclassicalAge, 1600-1800 (Minneapolis: Bibliotheca
Islamica, 1988), 3840.
28 Al-Hamawi "Fawa'id al-Irtihal", vol. 1, p. 473. Al-Hamawi's detailed biography of al-Maghribi is in pp. 471-80.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE 319

Barakat, and upon the instigation of his successor, sharif Sa'id, alMaghribi was forced into exile in Damascus, where he died a year
later.29
Al-Maghribi's demise resonated within the circles of his colleagues
and students throughout the Hijaz and Syria, and must have been
a grim warning for any 'alim who thought to follow in his footsteps.
Yet, the temptations of power would always be strong for those 'ulama' with a reformist drive, and would recurrently be manifested in
their attempts to reshape the world in their own image. Al-Maghribi's
influence, however, transcended that brief period of his involvement
in public affairs, for he was essentially a teacher with a large number of students who sought him not only for learning hadith and
fiqh but also mathematics and astrology. His written works were
equally influential, the most important of which was Kitab al-Jam'
Bayn al-Kutubal-Khamsawal-Muwatta',where he attempted to present
the six major Sunni sources of hadith in one book, an endeavor that
reflected his mastery of hadith scholarship and his view of his own
mission.
The uncompromising, puritanical style of al-Maghribi was in sharp
contrast with his fellow Moroccan and hadith scholar, 'Isa b. Muhammad al-Tha'alibi (1020/1611-1080/1669),3? the affable fourth of the
most influential Haramayn 'ulama' at the time, and resident of Madina. His educational background, largely similar to al-Maghribi's,
was particularly shaped by two great scholars of hadith matns, 'Ali
al-Siglmasi,31whom he accompanied for ten years, and Muhammad
al-Babili, whom he met in Makka. Although his earlier training in
hadith scholarship was impeccable, it was in Madina that al-Tha'alibi's interest in hadith was to grow to a new height,32 emerging as
29
For the event of his removal and exile, see al-'Isami, Samt al-Nujum al-'Awdal,
vol. 4, 538-9 and 543-4; Dahlan, Khulasat al-Kaldm, 102-3. Dahlan's account, however, is the less accurate, and being a strong advocate of tasawwuf, was obviously
biased against al-Maghribi.
30 Muhammad 'Abd
al-Hayy al-Kattani, Fihris al-Fahdris,ed. Ihsan 'Abbas (Beirut:
Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1982), vol. 1, 500-3 and vol. 2, 806-9; Abuf al-Qasim Muhammad al-Hifnawi, Ta'rif al-Khalaf bi-Rijal al-Salaf (Tunis: al-Maktaba al-'Atiqa, 1982),
82-9; al-Muhibbi, Khulasat al-Athdr, vol. 3, 234-5; al-Zirikli, al-A'lam, vol. 5, 108.
31
Makhlutf, Shajarat al-Nfr, 308.
32
According to al-Hifnawi (Ta'rif al-Khalaf bi-Rijal al-Salaf, 84), who left the most
detailed biography of al-Tha'alibi.

320

BASHEER M. NAFI

one of the most sought scholars of hadith in the Haramayn. AlTha'alibi, although he belonged to an environment that was
dominated by Shadhiliyya sufi traditions, joined the NaqshbandiyyaMujaddidiyya through Muhammad al-Ma'sfm, son of Ahmad Sirhindi,33 with whom the Mujaddidiyya branch of Naqshbandiyya
is associated, during al-Ma'sufm's stay in the Hijaz for the Hajj.
Al-Tha'alibi was perhaps one of the first of the Madinan group of
'ulama' to espouse the reformist vision of the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya. In Madina, al-Tha'alibi closely identified with al-Qushashi
and shared with him a number of students.
Each of these four 'ulama' brought to the Haramayn intellectual
milieu a peculiar strand of thought and experience. But all shared
a suifibackground, although expressed in different styles, a common
interest in hadith scholarship, and all were aware of each other's
experience and ideas, communicating between themselves and within a pool of disciples and students. All, too, were motivated by
embryonic reformist elements, either of theological, social or sufi
outlook. The importance of al-Qushashi, however, lay in his highly
charismatic influence, which enabled him, out of his peers, to rise
above the traditional affiliations to fiqhi madhhabs and sufi tariqas,
and to emerge as a teacher of shari'a and theology as well as a leading sutfishaykh in his own right. Devotion and charismatic influence,
combined with the power of traditional knowledge, helped al-Qushashi to leave behind a school with a strong sense of belonging, "companions of al-Qushashi" as an observer called them,34 in which loyalty
was no longer to a specific tariqa or madhhab but rather to the
memory and authority of the founder. Yet, despite his charismatic
command, profound sufi credentials and large following, attributes
that would usually give rise to a new sufi brotherhood or at least a
branch of an established tariqa, al-Qushashi's circle did not evolve
as such. This was either because of his emphatic projection of his
role as a mere guide rather than sufi leader, or because the shift in
33

Al-'Aiyashi, al-Rihla, vol. 1, 207-8.


A visitor to Madina in the twelfth Islamic century noted how al-Qushashi's
companions, led by Ibrahim al-Kurani, behaved as an exclusive group during a religious festival in the city. See al-Husayn ibn Muhammad al-Warthilani, Nuzhat alAnzarfl Fadl 'Ilm al-Tdarkhwal-Akhbar (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-'Arabi, 1974), 478.
34

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

321

the orientation of his immediate heirs was so great that the founding of a tariqa became irrelevant to their vocations.
The Formation and Emergence of al-Kurani
Disciples of al-Qushashi were numerous, but it was Ibrahim ibn
Hasan al-Kturaniwho was the most outstanding amongst them all.35
A Shafi'i 'calim,al-Kiuraniwas born in the Kurdish town of Shahrazur
where he also received his early education. Apparently at a young
age, he left his hometown for Baghdad, the point of attraction for
aspiring Kurdish 'ulama' during the Ottoman period. Al-Kfurani
stayed in Baghdad for two years, then moved to Damascus where he
spent a further four years, and to Cairo in 1061/1650 for a shorter
period of time, attending various circles of learning in the three
cities. Among the most prominent of his teachers in the formative
period were Muhammad Sharif al-Kfuraniin Baghdad, 'Abd al-Baqi
al-Hanbali and Najm al-Din al-Ghazzi in Damascus, and Sultan
al-Mazahi in Cairo. Al-Kfuranibecame fluent in Ottoman Turkish
through his association with Turkish 'ulama' in Baghdad, butJohns'
suggestion that he also attended learning centers in Istanbul is doubtful. Al-Kfuranireached Madina at the end of a pilgrimage journey,
where he eventually met Ahmad al-Qushashi, the most influential
of all his teachers, and where he finally settled. Al-Kfurani'saccount
of al-Qushashi, as well as al-Muhibbi's biography of him, speaks of
special affinity between the two men that went beyond the typical
teacher-student relationship, leading to al-Kurani's marriage to the
daughter of his teacher and to his designation as al-Qushashi's heir.
It was certainly a relationship that combined both sufi and traditional
learning elements. Yet al-Kirani's close association with al-Qushashi
did not preclude him from seeking knowledge with other 'ulama'
in Madina, especially Muhammad al-Babili and 'Isa al-Thacalibi.
35 Muhammad Khalil al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar ft A'yan al-Qarn al-Thanz 'Ashar
(Baghdad: Maktabat al-Muthanna, n.d.), vol. 1, 5-6; Muhammad ibn 'All al-Shawkani,
al-Badr al-Tali' bi-Mahasin man Ba'd al-Qarn al-Sabi' (Cairo: Matba'at al-Sa'ada, 1348
AH), vol. 1, 11-13; al-'Aiyashi, al-Rihla, vol. 1,320-8; al-Hamawi "Fawa'id al-Irtihal",
vol. 1, pp. 44-66; al-Kattani, Fihris al-Faharis, vol. 1, 116-8, 208, 493-4; al-Zirikli, alA'ldm, vol. 1, 35; EI 2, s. v. "Ibrahim al-KuranLi",by A. H. Johns.

322

BASHEER M. NAFI

Al-Kfurani'sthabt,or index, of his teachers and chains of learning,


although not comprehensive and written eleven years before his
death, illustrates the unusual breadth of his erudition.36 His studies
of hadith comprised all major, in addition to a large number of the
minor, collections of hadith, the Arabic language, fiqh, theology,
sufism, and even history. There are some peculiar aspects to his
educational background that would not appear in many other ijazas
and indexes of his times. First, for a Shafi'i 'alim, his study of fiqh
was not limited to Shafi'i texts, not even to Shafi'i and Hanafi, the
two dominant madhhabs in the region, but also to Maliki and Hanbali schools of fiqh. Furthermore, his study of Hanbali texts in Damascus included also the works of Ibn Taymiyya and his student Ibn
al-Qayyim.37Second, in addition to studying the common Ash'ari
and Maturidi texts, his training in theology covered Kitab ftiqdd alShd'fi' of 'Abd al-Ghani al-Maqdisi, and Khalq Af'al al-'Ibad of alBukhari, both regarded as salafi books of theology, expressing ideas
that are not necessarily in accord with the dominant Ash'ari-Maturidi
modes of theology among the Sunni culama' at the time.38Although
'ulamatic indexes are not usually the sort of books in which specific
arguments are advanced, al-Kurani, when listing sources of his study
of theology, made a clear mention of his belief in "following the
righteous salaf of the umma, and avoiding (in relation to God's attributes) metaphorical interpretation (ta'wl) and anthropomorphism
(tashbih)", a statement that fits a salafi/Hanbali rather than a stfi/
Ash'ari discourse. Third, in a diversion dealing with the meaning of
a hadith in which the Prophet is relayed to have said, "Seeking the
truth is alienation (talab al-haqqghurba)", al-Kfirani referred approvingly to Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani and his attack on the extreme sufi
interpretation of the Prophet's statement. By and large, suifis projected the Prophetic hadith as indicating that self-annihilation is a
pre-condition for reaching the stage of divine revelation, which is
the gate to proper knowledge.39 By rejecting the esoteric approach
36
Ibrahim ibn Hasan al-Kuirani, "al-Imam li-Iqaz al-Himam", ms. 504, Majmu'at
Tal'at, Dar al-Kutub, Cairo.
7 Ibid., plate, 43.
38 Ibid., plates, 10-12 and 16.
39 Ibid.,
plate 51.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

323

to the text, an essential part of the suifi methodology, al-Kuiranidefined the side on which he stood in the cultural divide between
orthodoxy and esoteric sulfism
Later assessments of al-Kuirani'sintellectual affinities reveal a highly complex career and varying achievements. Nu'man al-Alusi, the
Iraqi salafi 'alim, writing in the late nineteenth century, spoke of alKurani as an eminent salafi, a defender of Ibn Taymiyya and of salafi
beliefs.40 In contrast, 'Abd al-Mut'al al-Sa'idi, in his classic study of
the renewers of Islam, while not denying the notable achievements
of al-Kulrani,expressed strong misgivings over his salafi affinities and
characterized him as an apologist for tasawwuf and the doctrine of
The conflicting appraisals of al-Kuirani, also imwahdat al-wujutd.41
in
and
Voll's studies, emanate from the complexity of
Johns'
plied
his legacy and the position he occupied in the development of the
pre-modern Islamic revivalist thought.
Throughout the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Ibn
Taymiyya was the subject of ferocious attacks from sufi and traditional 'ulamatic circles, the last of which came from Ibn Hajar alHaythami in Makka,42which seemed to have sealed the fate of Ibn
Taymiyya's legacy for the next hundred years at least. For his own
opposition to Ash'ari theology and many aspects of suifism, Ibn Taymiyya's ideas were particularly anathema to sifis and Ash'ari 'ulama'.
Al-Kurani's main Damascene teacher was shaykh 'Abd al-Baqi Taqi
al-Din al-Hanbali (d. 1070/1660), the Hanbali mufti of the city and
the most eminent Hanbali 'alim of Damascus in the middle of
the seventeenth century. 'Abd al-Baqi al-Hanbali's index of teachers and authoritative lines of transmission,43 which he compiled in
1064/1654 upon al-Kurani's insistence, profiles an 'alim with formi40 Nu'man
Khayr al-Din al-Alusi,Jald' al-'Aynaynft Muhdkamatal-Ahmadayn(Cairo:
Matba'at al-Madani, 1981), 29.
41
'Abd al-Mut'al al-Sa'idi, al-Mujaddidun ft al-Islam (Cairo: Maktabat al-Adab,
1962), 407-8.
42
Ahmad ibn Hajar al-Haythami, al-Fatawa al-Hadithiyya (Cairo: Mustafa Babi
al-Halabi, 1989), 114-7 and also 331-6.
43'Abd al-Baqi al-Hanbali, "Thabt",
among a collection in ms. 97, Hadith Taymur,
Dar al-Kutub, Cairo. On al-Hanbali, see also al-Hamawi "Fawa'id al-Irtihal", vol. 3,
92-5; MuhammadJamil al-Shatti, Mukhtasar Tabaqdtal-Handbila (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab
al-'Arabi, 1986), 120-1.

324

BASHEER M. NAFI

dable knowledge who combined Damascene learning with a powerful Azhari training. In addition to the notable list of 'ulama' with
whom he studied in Cairo, 'Abd al-Baqi joined the circle of shaykh
Mar'i b. Yulsufal-Karmi (d. 1033/1624)44 to study Hanbali fiqh. One
of the rare Hanbali 'ulama' to build a recognizable reputation in
early Ottoman Cairo, Mar'i al-Karmi was also a biographer and admirer of Ibn Taymiyya with detailed and thorough knowledge of his
life and works. That 'Abd al-Baqi al-Hanbali was introduced to Ibn
Taymiyya's works through Mar'i al-Karmi is almost certain, for the
latter was an active exponent of the grand salafi scholar. Although
al-Kurani never listed the specific books of Ibn Taymiyya he studied
under 'Abd al-Baqi al-Hanbali, the Damascene scholar, as we shall
see, would continue to influence al-Kfurani'sview of Ibn Taymiyyya,
even after al-Kturanihad settled permanently in Madina.
Al-Hamawi, himself a student of al-Kuirani,who came to Madina
in 1083/1672,45 about ten years after the passing of al-Qushashi and
his succession by al-Kulrani, relays an incident that apparently had
taken place prior to his arrival and that left a deep impact on the
cultural milieu of the Haramayn. According to al-Hamawi, a fierce
debate over the teachings of the Indian Naqshbandi reformer, Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624), erupted in the Haramayn in the late
eleventh Hijri century and led to dividing the 'ulama' of Makka and
Madina into two opposing camps. The distribution of copies of Sirhindi's maktubdt(Letters;the form in which he laid out his views) in
the Hijaz, and the dissemination of his ideas by followers of his school
of thought, engendered an unprecedented polemics in the Haramayn, especially among the Persian-speaking 'ulama' who had the
opportunity to read Sirhindi's writings in its original form. Muhammad al-Barzanji (1040/1630-1103/1691),46
another Kurdish 'alim
and a main figure among al-Qushashi's students, vehemently attacked Sirhindi, compiling several treatises in refuting his beliefs,
of which the most known is Qadh al-ZindfiJahalat Ahl Sirhind.47The
44Al-Muhibbi, Khuldsat al-Athar,vol. 4, 358; al-Shatti, Mukhtasar, 108-11; al-Zirikli,
al-A'lam, vol. 7, 203.
45
Al-Hamawi, "Fawa'id al-Irtihal", vol. 1, p. 459.
46
Al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar, vol. 4, 65; al-Zirikli, al-A'lam, vol. 6, 203-4.
47 For a
fairly comprehensive list of al-Barazanji's works, see al-Baghdadi, Hadiyat
al-'Arifin, vol. 2, columns 302-3.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

325

argument for Sirhindi's position was forcefully made by the Egyptian


'alim, sojourning in Makka at the time, shaykh Ahmad al-Bashbishi
and the Naqshbandi 'alim, Muhammad
(1041/1632-1096/1685),
Bek b. Yar al-Bukhari (b. 1041/1632), a new comer to the Haramayn.48Al-Hamawi speaks of al-Kurani's position in this episode in
highly ambiguous terms; other clues, however, indicate that al-Kuirani
was far from being an ambivalent observer of the debate. Although
the Kurdish Islamic environment was, during most of the Ottoman
period, dominated by the Qadiriyya tariqa, and it was not until
the appearance of Mawlana Khalid al-Shahrazuri (1776-1826) 49that
Naqshbandiyya would establish a foothold in the Kurdish region,
al-Kuranijoined the Naqshbandiyya tariqa-among others-through
al-Qushashi. Yet, the Naqshbandiyya chain he was affiliated with was
not a Mujaddidiyya chain, and thus was unrelated to Sirhindi.50 The
fact that al-Kufrani,at a later stage of his career, was initiating his
students into the Naqshbandiyya tariqa through the Sirhindi's chain
of authority, the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya,51is an indication of
change of outlook, at least at the level of al-Kufrani'sview of this
specific tariqa.
The crux of Sirhindi's teachings was his attack on the syncretism
of the Mogul emperor Akbar, and his challenge to the 'ulama's
complacency towards Akbar's attempts to create a universal religion.
By undertaking such a position against the powerful emperor, Sirhindi's endeavor unfolded in a logical sequence, from his denunciation of bid'a (illicit innovation) to his intolerance of the customs
of dance (raks) and sama' (session of singing and music-playing)
associated with popular tasawwuf. Still committed to the essence of
48For details of this
controversy, see al-Hamawi, "Fawa'id al-Irtihal", vol. 1, pp.
338, 667-8. On al-Barazanji and al-Bukhari, see pp. 336-40 and 468-94 respectively;
on al-Bashbishi, see al-Muhibbi, Khuldsat al-Athar, vol. 1, 238-9.
49
On him, see Albert Hourani's "sufism and Modern Islam: Mawlana Khalid
and the Naqshbandi Order", first published in 1972 and reprinted in Hourani's,
The Emergenceof the Modern Middle East (London: Macmillan, 1981), 75-89.
50
Al-Kurani, "al-Imam li-Iqaz al-Himam", plates 47-8.
51
See, for example, the account of one of his eminent students in Muhammad
al-Budayri al-Dumiyat.i, "al-Jawahir al-Ghawali fi al-Asanid al-'Awali", ms. 23038 B,
Dar al-Kutub, Cairo, plate 61. See also al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar, vol. 1, 5, where he
describes him as al-sufi al-Naqshbandi, without even mentioning his adherence to
other tariqas.

326

BASHEER M. NAFI

tasawwuf, Sirhindi also sought to replace the doctrine of wahdat alwujud, which he saw as pantheistic, with the doctrine of wahdat alshuhud (the unity of witness) in determining the sufi experience.
For Sirhindi, wahdat al-shuhud offered an explanation of the suifi
experience of elevation that conforms to shari'a.52Sirhindi, however,
was not the first in the seventeenth century to object to the identification of tasawwuf with wahdat al-wujud. During the same period,
Mulla 'All b. Muhammad ibn Sultan al-Qari al-Harawi (d. 1014/
1606),53 the eminent and controversial Makkan scholar of hadith,
wrote a caustic polemic against the excesses of suffi tariqa and Ibn
'Arabi.54Yet, Sirhindi was the first to advance a comprehensive (that
is both legalist and socio-intellectual) reformist challenge to traditional sufi tariqas, laying out an alternative system of thought that
aimed at reconciling tasawwuf with shari'a. The context of his endeavor, being a response to the highest political authority, and his
employing of the powerful vehicle of the Naqshbandiyya tariqa to
propagate his ideas, added more weight and authority to Sirhindi's
reformist message, attributes that al-Harawi lacked.
Al-Kufrani's embrace of Naqshbandiyya would, therefore, have
certain implications for his view of shari'a and tasawwuf, as well as
for his understanding of his own mission as a teacher and scholar.
52On Sirhindi and his teachings, see Ahmad Sirhindi, Maktubatal-Imdmal-Rabbdan
Mujadid al-Alf al-Thant (Istanbul: Enver Baytan Kitabivi, n.d.), vol. 1, 41-4, 56-8, 679, 192-5, 254-6, 260-80, 342-6, vol. 2, 3-8, 25-6, 45-57, 89-92; Aziz Ahmad, An Intellectual History of Islam in India (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1969), 4;
Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi, The Muslim Communityof the Indo-Pakistani Subcontinent, 6101947 (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1960), 151-2; Abul Hasan Nadwi, Saviours of Islamic
Spirit: Shaikh Ahmad Mujadid Alf Thant (Lucknow: Academy of Islamic Research and
Publications, 1983); Yohanan Friedmann, ShaykhAhmad Sirhindi: An Outline of His
Thought and a Study of His Image in the Eyes of Posterity (Montreal: McGill-Queen's
University Press, 1971); Muhammad 'Abdul Haq Ansari, Sufism and Shari'a: A Study
of Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi's Effort to Reform Sufism (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1986).
53On his life and work, see Muhammad 'Abd al-Hayy al-Luknawi, al-Fawa'id alBahiyyafi Tarajim al-Hanafiyya (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-Islami, n.d.), 8-9; al-Muhibbi,
Khulasat al-Athar,vol. 3, 185-6; al-Shawkani, al-Badral-Trli', vol. 1, 445; Sarkis, Mujam
al-Matbu'at, vol. 2, column, 1791-2; al-Zirikli, al-A'lam, vol. 5, 12-3.
54 See, for
example, Mulla 'Ali ibn Sultan al-Qari, "Risala fi al-Radd 'ala Ibn
'Arabi", ms. 199, Tasawwuf, Institute of Arabic Manuscript, the Arab League, Cairo.
For the long history of Islamic polemics over the legacy of Ibn 'Arabi, see Alexander
D. Knysh, Ibn 'Arabi in Later Islamic Tradition: The Making of a Polemical Image in
Medieval Islam (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1999).

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

327

Equipped with profound training in hadith and theology and never


relinquishing his adherence to the suffi way of Islam, al-Kfrani's
transformation was, nonetheless, intricate and subtle. Besides witnessing the controversial debate over Sirhindi's ideas, he was certainly conscious of the ferocious confrontation between al-Harawi
and his contemporaries, and sought, perhaps, to avoid falling into
a similar situation. Yet, there was still another controversial episode,
related to a Yemeni revivalist 'alim, which seems to have contributed to the shaping of al-Kurani's vocation.
Salih b. Mahdi al-Maqbali (1047/1637-1118/1696)
was born in
the Yemeni village of Maqbal where he was raised and educated as
a Zaydi 'alim. But as he grew older, al-Maqbali developed an independent and critical outlook to the established Zaydi culture and to
the dominant modes of Islamic culture in general.55 Following on
the footsteps of another Zaydi revivalist, Muhammad b. Ibrahim alWazir (known also as Ibn al-Wazir; 775/1373-840/1436),56 who was
influenced by Ibn Hazm, the Andalusian Zahiri scholar, and by Ibn
Taymiyya, al-Maqbali rejected the rigid confines of the Zaydi madhhab and embraced a broader view of Islam, a non-madhhabi Islam.
What infuriated conservative Zaydi circles of San'a' even further was
al-Maqbali's uncompromising attack on the tradition of taqladand
his call for unrestricted and unhindered ijtihad.Al-Maqbali, obviously
influenced by the salafi school, called for the return to the Qur'an
and the Sunna as the direct sources of shari'a at all times, was unreserved in his refutation of Ash'ari and Mu'tazali theology and
spared no effort in his opposition to tasawwuf and sufi tariqas. This
powerful message of puritan and reformist Islam incurred the wrath
of not only Zaydi circles but also traditional Sunni 'ulama' in Makka
to which he escaped the highly emotional charges against him in
San'a'. So heated was the debate in Makka that an Ottoman official
had to be dispatched from Istanbul in order to resolve the entangled
situation. The most ferocious response to al-Maqbali came, again,
55 Al-Hamawi "Fawa'id
al-Irtihal", vol. 2, pp. 662-3; al-Sa'idi, al-Mujaddidun ft 1Islam, 410-14.
56
Al-Sa'idi, al-Mujaddidun ft al-Islam, 344-6; al-Shawkani, al-Badr al-Tali', vol. 2,
81-93; al-Zirikli, al-A'lam, vol. 5, 300-1; Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sakhawi,
al-Daw' al-Lami' li-Ahl al-Qarn al-Tasi' (Cairo, al-Kitab al-Islami, n. d.), vol. 6, 272;
al-Kattani, Fihris al-Faharis, vol. 2, 1124-5.

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BASHEER M. NAFI

from Muhammad al-Barazanji, provoking a counter-response from


al-Maqbali.57 But while al-Barzanji, faithful to the dominant traditions, opposed al-Maqbali, al-Kurani took him under his wings, as a
teacher and student at the same time. An intellectual bifurcation
was, thus, developing among disciples of al-Qushashi.
Al-Maqbali's ideas, nonetheless, could have only reinforced alKurani's convictions, for these ideas were too confrontational and
too rapturous to be embraced in full by al-Kurani. In the last decades of the seventeenth century, traditional Islamic culture was so
powerful that it could only be challenged from within and gradually. Al-Maqbali, of course, was not the only route to the reformist
legacy of Ibn Taymiyya, for al-Kurani had already been initiated into
that route. His prompt, and perhaps risky, support of al-Maqbali,
indicates that al-Kfrani's view of Ibn Taymiyya had been formulated
before meeting the controversial Yemeni 'alim. The question, however, is what system of idea could have been constructed by a lateseventeenth-century 'alim with profound sufi and Ash'ari training
and an admiration for Ibn Taymiyya?
On Sufism and Theology
Ibrahim ibn Hasan al-Kfrani was an 'alim who lived between two
worlds, a world enveloped in unionist sufism and the late Ash'ari
theology, which reached the zenith of its cultural dominance in the
seventeenth century and could no longer go any further, and another world, undefined yet, which was struggling to emerge from
underneath the ceiling of the established intellectual modes. In a
role not unlike that of Sirhindi, al-Kurani came to contribute to
defining the features of the new world. 'ulama' and suifis, such as
Sirhindi, al-Harawi and al-Maqbali, with different concerns and cultural stratagems, posed serious challenges to the ideology of wahdat
al-wujud and to Ash'ari theology. Conscious of his position as an
influential teacher, the profound sufi traditions he inherited and
the significance of the Madinan centre that he was associated with,

57

al-Shawkani, al-Badr al-Tali' vol. 1, 288-92.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE 329

al-Kiurani,on the other hand, had to chart his way in the middle of
currents that began to collide intensely and vociferously. For alKutrani,a reformist project that aimed at a total rupture with suifism
and Ash'arism was undoubtedly futile and dead ended. Moreover,
his intellectual, social and educational ties with the traditional circles
were too powerful to be severed without painful human costs that
he seemed unprepared to bear. Instead, he appears to have opted
for a third way, the way of reconstructing suffism and Ash'arism to
render them more consistent with what he saw as the original Islamic
view. His means were the invocation and restoration of the Hanbali/
Taymiyyan legacy and the re-introduction of it as the standard Islamic theological vision. What is important to underline, however,
is that al-Kuirani'schoice was not solely the result of personal contemplations, but rather of an objective situation in which the recourse
to the Hanbali/Taymiyyan vision became a way out of a stagnant
cultural milieu that seemed to threaten the bonds between the community and the high values of religion.
The writings of Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani were perhaps the last to
project a favorable view of Ibn Taymiyya outside of the strict and
evidently small Hanbali circles.58 By the mid-fourteenth century, it
did seem that the salafi view of Islam, as was expressed by Ibn Taymiyya, was largely eclipsed by the suifi/Ash'ari 'ulama' establishment.
Even in Hanbali circles, the writings of Ibn Taymiyya were exercising no significant influence, while Hanbali 'ulama' subscribed in
large numbers to sufi tariqas, whether popular or less popular, which
became a necessary route for gaining position and privilege in the
'ulama' institution.59 Hence, the early-sixteenth century's treatise on
the virtues of Ibn Taymiyya, written by Mar'i al-Karmi in Cairo,60was
58

See, for example, Ahmad ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani, al-Durar al-Kamina fi A'iyan
al-Ma'a al-Thamina, ed. M. Jad al-Hak (Cairo: Umm al-Qura lil-Tiba'a, n. d.), vol.
1, 154-70.
59 For a view of the
pre-Wahhabi Najd, one of the strongholds of Hanbalism,
see Husayn ibn Ghannam, TdrikhNajd, ed. N. al-Asad (Beirut: Dar al-Shuruq, 1985),
13-6; 'Uthman ibn Bishr, 'Unwan al-Majdft TdarkhNajd, ed. A. Al al-Shaykh (Riyadh:
Wizarat al-Ma'arif, 1391 AH), 19-20. On the Hanbalis of Damascus, during the
eighteenth century, see John 0. Voll, "The Non-Wahhabi Hanbalis of EighteenthCentury Syria", Der Islam, 49 (1972): 277-91.
60Mar'i ibn Yusuf al-Karmi, al-Kawdkibal-Durriyyaft Mandqib al-Mujtahid Ibn Taymiyya, ed. N. Khalaf (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1986).

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BASHEER M. NAFI

a rare and exceptional work. Against this background, the choice


made by al-Kurani should be seen as a critical choice, both in terms
of its nature and implication, reflected, thus, in a discursive inner
tension pervading his text.
Despite receiving a substantial training in hadith, both as a text
and chains of authority, and his presence in a highly active milieu
of hadith learning, al-Kfirani was not a scholar of hadith in the literal sense; rather he employed his vast knowledge of hadith as a
means for re-reading the major issues of suifism and theology, influenced perhaps by al-Qushashi who too was highly interested in theoretical sufism and theology. In one of the first works he finalized in
1071/1660-61, immediately after the passing of his teacher, al-Kurani
discussed one of the most problematic issues of Islamic theology,
the Qur'an and the divine speech.61 Although it is not particularly
clear why he found it necessary to treat this issue, it seems that the
ever-persisting question of the nature of the Qur'an was raised again
during the controversy that accompanied the arrival of Salih alMaqbali in the Haramayn. Both al-Hamawi and al-'Aiyashi relay that
al-Kurani's writings in theology followed an extensive research, including correspondences with his former teacher in Damascus, 'Abd
al-Baqi al-Hanbali. Al-Kurani requested that al-Hanbali provide him
of "his firm and thorough opinion" of the Hanbali/Taymiyyan position on the principal issues of kaldm, and to supply him with the
relevant works of Ibn Taymiyya.62Other tracts that al-Kurani completed afterwards indicate that he developed close knowledge of and
familiarity with the opinions of Ibn Taymiyya and his devout disciple
Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (691/1292-751/1350).
Abf al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (260/875-324/939), from whose ideas the
AshCarischool evolved, concluded his career with a declared adoption of the Hanbali theological position;63 the development of the
Ash'ari theology and its ultimate domination of the Sunni thought
were, therefore, the function of the late Ash'ari school and the
61
Ibrahim b. Hasan al-Kurani, "Ifadat al-'Allam bi-Tahqiq Mas'alat al-Kalam",
ms. 689, Majmu'at Tal'at, Dar al-Kutub, Cairo.
62
Al-'Aiyashi, al-Rihla, vol. 1, 399; al-Hamawi, "Fawa'id al-Irtihal", vol. 2, p. 58.
63 Abu al-Hasan 'Ali
al-Ash'ari, al-Ibdna 'an 'Usul al-Diydna, ed. F. H. Mahmud
(Cairo: Dar al-Ansar, 1977), vol. 2, 20-21.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

331

writings of al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111), al-Razi (d. 606/1210), al-Amidi


(d. 631/1233), al-Iji (d. 756/1355), al-Jurjani (d. 816/1413) and
the numerous subsequent commentaries and glosses on their
works.64In respect to the nature of the Qur'an, both the Ash'ari and
the Hanbali schools agree on considering the Qur'an as the divine
speech, yet, the late Ash'aris went a step further in their interpretation of what the term speech (kaldm) means. For the Ash'aris, the
Qur'an is the divine speech not in the literal sense but in the sense
of the mental speech (al-kaldmal-nafs) ,65 the inner kalam, unuttered
in words, exactly like the Qur'anic narrative of the Prophet Yusuf
speaking to himself {But these things did Joseph keep locked in his
heart, revealing not the secret to them. He said (to himself): 'Ye
are the worse situated"; and God knoweth best the truth of what ye
assert.}.66In this instance, Yfisuf made a defined and clear statement,
yet without utterances. The principal motivation behind the Ash'ari
proposition of the "mental speech" concept is the attempt to solve
the dilemma arising from the related question of the nature of man's
reading of the Qur'an. Necessities of transcendentalization, tanzfh,
require accepting that man, including his voice, is the creation of
God, which invites the question of whether regarding the Qur'an,
when recited in human voice, as the divine speech, amounts to attributing to man what is essentially an attribute of God. The Ash'aris,
by and large, saw in the "mental speech" concept a solution of what
they perceived as a vexing problem, where the Qur'an is defined as
"the mental speech" of God before it descended on His Prophet and
was thus revealed in words, utterances, and written in books, which
are all creations of God.
Al-Kfirani adopted the "mental speech" concept and defended it
64 On the late Ash'ari school, see El 2, s. v. "Ash'ariyya", by M. Montgomery
Watt.
65
On the concept of the "mental speech", see Bernard Weiss, "Exotericism and
Objectivity in Islamic Jurisprudence.," in Nicholas Heler, Islamic Law and Jurisprudence (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990), 53-71, especially, 53-55. For
a detailed discussion from a late Ash'ari point of view, see Abu 'Abdullah ibn Yufsuf
al-Sanusi, Sharh Umm al-Barahin, ed. M. M. al-Ghamari (Algiers: al-Mu'assasa alWataniyya lil-Kitab), 37-8.
66The Qur'an, Sura XII, 77. 'Abdullah Yusuf 'Ali, The Holy Qur'dn: Text, Translation and Commentary(Jeddah: Islamic Education Centre, n. d.).

332

BASHEER M. NAFI

on several levels. He first tried to assert that not only the Ash'aris
but also Ibn Hanbal accepted the idea of "mental speech",67 implying that the latter's acceptance of it is in itself an indication of its
validity. But conscious of the well known Hanbali (especially of the
neo-Hanbali-Taymiyyan line) rejection of the "mental speech" concept, al-Kutraniinvokes a statement made by Ibn 'Aqil (431/1040513/1119),68 one of the most controversial Hanbalis, in which he
said that "the Qur'an is the divine speech before it is recited to us,
when it is still in the hearts, not uttered in voice and letters", as
an implied recognition of the "mental speech".69 Al-Kurani also attempts, with little success, to find in Shifa' al-'Alld, Ibn Qayyim
al-Jawziyya'smajor work of theology,70 what might refute his own rejection of the "mental speech" idea.71 Al-Kuiranithen proceeded by
augmenting his argument for the "mental speech" with evidence
from the Qur'an and hadith, and with a detailed linguistic analysis
of the term kaldm.72From his perspective, however, if al-kalam alnafsl (the mental speech) was an attribute of God, it is in Him not
like it is in man, for God is unique in His essence and attributes,
and His words are, thus, "mystical, free of all elements, whether
materialistic, imagined or spiritual, and are eternal."73
The problem of al-Kfurani'sattempt to reconcile the Ash'ari and
the Hanbali views on the nature of the Qur'an lies mainly in the
fact that he, firstly, failed to furnish any evidence to the effect that
Ibn Hanbal approved of the "mental speech" concept, and that,
secondly, he made no distinction between the late Ash'ari school
and al-Ash'ari himself. Al-Kutrani'ssource for al-Ash'ari's opinions
is Ibn 'Asakir's book, TabyyfnKadhibal-Muftari,74in which Ibn 'Asakir
67
Al-Kurani, "Ifadat al-'Allam", plate 6.
68On Ibn 'Aqil and his position in the development of the Hanbali school, see
George Makdisi, Ibn 'Aqil et la resurgencede 17slam traditionaliste au XIe siecle (Damascuss: PIFD, 1963); EI 2, s. v. "Ibn 'Aqil", by idem.
69AI-Kurani, "Ifadat al-'Allam", plate 21.
70 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Shifa' al-'Alal (Beirut: Dal al-Ma'rifa, n.d.).
71 Al-Kurani, "Ifadat al-'Allam", plate 43.
72
Ibid., plates 10-12.
Ibid., plate 14.
74 Abu
al-Qasim ibn 'Asakir, Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftarifima Nusiba ila al-ImdmAbi
al-Hasan al-Ash'arz, ed. M Z. al-Kawthari (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-'Arabi, 1984).

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

333

(Abfu1-Qasim 'Ali, 499/1105-571/1176), the staunch Ash'ari scholar


of hadith, refers profusely to al-Ibana of al-Ash'ari. Al-Ibdna, the last
of al-Ash'ari's works, was highly praised by Ibn Taymiyya, a fact of
which al-Kfuraniwas fully aware.75Yet, like Ibn Hanbal, and contrary
to Ibn 'Asakir's report, al-Ibdna makes no reference to the "mental
speech" idea or to al-Ash'ari's belief in its validity. Al-Kfurani,therefore, was trying to reconcile a late Ash'ari concept by employing the
authority of al-Ibana, in which al-Ash'ari is generally believed to have
been more in accord with the Hanbali-salafi school than with his
late followers. What is important here is that al-Kfurani'shighlighting of al-Ibana (to which he would refer directly in later works) and
considering it the principal source of the Ash'ari theology, would
subsequently lead him to a closer identification with the salafi-Hanbali position.
Where he addressed the whole issue of the attributes of God, alKufrani parted company with the late Ash'ari dogma altogether,
taking the side of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn al-Qayyim. Ash'ari scholars,
by and large, divided God's attributes into four categories. The first
is the attributes of Being, such as the existence and knowledge, which
they affirmed and described as part of God's essence; the second is
the attributes of action, such as the creating and providing, which
they equally affirmed but defined as extraneous to the essence; the
third is the attributes of meaning, such as the hearing and seeing,
which they also affirmed but refrained from discussing their relation to the essence of God. All late Ash'aris, although in various
manners, including al-Ghazali, al-Iji, al-Amidi and al-Razi, however,
denied the fourth category, comprising the corporeal attributes (alsifat al-khabariyya,or the attributes relayed to us in the scripture),
such as the hand and the ear of God, and interpreted them allegorically.76While the Mu'tazilis accepted only the attributes of Being
75See, for example, Ahmad ibn Taymiyya, Dar' Ta'drud al-'Aqlwal-Naql:Muwafaqat
Sahzh al-Manqul li-Sah.h al-Ma'qul, ed. Muhammad Rashad Salim (n.p.: Dar al-Kunuz
al-Adabiyya, n. d.), vol. 2, 16-7, 25 and 28.
76
See, for example, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, al-Iqtisadd
ft al-I'tiqdd, ed. 'Uthman
'Ulaysh (cairo: Maktabat al-Azhar, 1973), vol. 1, 107; Sayf al-Din 'All al-Amidi, Ghayat
al-Maramfi 'Ilm al-Kalam,ed. Hasan M. 'Abd al-Latif (Cairo: al-Majlis al-A'la lil-Shu'un
al-Islamiyya, 1971), 135-8; Abu Bakr Ahmad b. al-Husayn al-Baiyhaqi, Kitab al-Asma'
wal-Sifat, ed. M. Z. al-Kawthari and A. Sa'd (Cairo: Matba'at al-Sa'ada, 1358 AH/

334

BASHEER M. NAFI

and allegorically interpreted all others, the salafis, including ahl alhadlth (the traditionists), Ibn Hanbal and the majority of the Hanbalis, most prominently the neo-Hanbalis, Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn
al-Qayyim, affirmed all attributes, rejected ta'wil (allegorical interpretation) at any level, and refrained from defining the relation
between the attributes of God and His essence by resorting to the
"without how" principle.77
Repeatedly, al-Kufranideclared his adherence to the salafi position, and at the end of his treatise, he staged a powerful defense of
Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyaand their theological views,
especially against the accusations, widely circulating in the Ash'arn
circles, of their corporealistic (tajsim) tendencies. After a detailed
treatment of the salafi scholar's ideas, as were laid out in his influential al-Risala al-Tadmuriyya,78al-Kurani concluded that Ibn Taymiyya "affirmed to God what God affirmed to Himself, and denied
what God denied Himself, affirmation without anthropomorphism
(tashbih) and transcendentalization without divestation (ta'tfl)."79
This vindication of Ibn Taymiyya is extended to Ibn al-Qayyim, "for
the latter followed always his teacher in what they believed to be the
salafi doctrine". Notwithstanding the real outcome of al-Kurani's
attempt to reconcile the Ash'ari and the Hanbali views on the nature
of the Qur'an, his understanding of the attributes of God was an
indication of the extent to which he would go to rehabilitate the
Taymiyyan legacy within the sufi-Ash'ari circles.
Al-Kfirani's second field of inquiry related to the sufi experience
and the principal of wahdat al-wujud, which he dealt with in two
treatises, Ithaf al-Dhak,80 and Tanbth al-'Uqul,8' written respectively
in 1072 and 1073/1661-63. The first of these two works was meant
1939), 95 ff.; al-Fakhr al-Razi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir:Mafatzh al-Ghayb (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr,
1981), vol. 29, 39.
77For a full discussion of the issue, see El 2, s. v. "Allah", by L. Gardet.
78 Ahmad ibn
Taymiyya, "al-Risala al-Tadmuriyya", in Majmu' Fatdwa Shaykh alIslam Ahmad ibn Taymiyya,ed. 'Abd al-Rahman al-'Asimi (Makka: Maktabat al-Nahda,
1404 AH), vol. 3, 1-128.
79Al-Kurani, "Ifadat al-'Allam", plate 62.
80 Ibrahim ibn Hasan al-Kurani, "Ithaf al-Dhaki bi-Sharh al-Tuhfa al-Mursala ila
al-Nabi", ms., tasawwuf 228, al-Azhar Library, Cairo.
81 Ibrahim ibn Hasan al-Kurani, "Tanbih al-'Uqul fi Tanzih al-Sufiyya 'an al-Tajsim
wal-'Ayniyya wal-Ittihad wal-Hulul", ms., 28210 B, Dar al-Kutub, Cairo.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

335

as a commentary on the short sui tract of al-Burhanburi, al-Tuhfa


al-Mursala,82which became popular in Southeast Asian Islamic seminaries, exercising a great influence on the Javanese Muslims' views
of Islam and tasawwuf. It is clear, however, that Ithaf al-Dhaki was
more than a commentary, since al-Kurani's independent introductions to the actual commentary covered about two thirds of his treatise. It is, therefore, in the long introductory part that we should
search for a frame of reference for al-Kirani's conceptualization of
sufism and the sufi experience.
Al-Kurani began by explaining that his decision to write a commentary on al-Burhanburi's treatise was a response to Javanese students' apprehension over the spread of deviated sui books in their
country, compiled by poorly learned and unscrupulous writers, and
harming the peoples' beliefs and pulling them away from the
correct understanding of Islam. Al-Kurani's goal, therefore, was to
convey the sufi knowledge in "a comprehendible manner and in
agreement with the Qur'an and the Sunna."83He then proceeds by
laying out his definition of the science of truths ('ilm al-haqa'iq;or
tasawwuf), which he believed to be the science "searching in the
modes of existence from the perspective of its essence and its appearance in forms". Tasawwuf is, thus, not a mere way of, or guidelines for, leading an ascetic life, but is rather a philosophical pursuit,
a position that implies al-Kurani's adherence to wahdat al-wujud.Yet
conscious of the discursive consequences of his statement, al-Kurani
followed by asserting that if it was understood that the "science of
truths" is the science dealing with the inner (baitin) truth, this level
of truth cannot be "realized without grasping the rules of the outer
(zdhir, shari'a) in accordance with the righteous predecessors (alsalaf al-salih, the favorite Hanbali term)."84 This approach, reflecting an affirmation of an intertwined association and interdependency
of shar'i obligations and sui vision, becomes the revolving point of
the whole introductory part of al-Kurani's work, expressed repeatedly in various forms and fashions.
82 For a full Arabic text of
al-Tuhfa, with English translation, see Johns, The Gift
Addressedto the Spirit of the Prophet.
83
Al-Kurani, "Ithaf al-Dhaki", plates 3-4.
84
Ibid., plates 11-14.

336

BASHEER M. NAFI

The first introduction carries the first principle of al-Kfirani's


system of thought: "The Qur'an is the criterion of all criteria, judges
all books and judged by no book ... and the Sunna of the Prophet
is its elaboration."85 What is meant by this assertion is not only an
announcement of commitment to the Islamic consensus, but mainly setting the background against which the entire field of sufism
should be assessed. It, thus, follows that any claim made by the
esotericists (ahl al-kashf), which transgresses the boundaries of the
Qur'an and the Sunna, should not be considered a correct knowledge and should be rejected. Recalling al-Junayd, to whom as well
as to Ibn 'Arabi he would frequently refer, al-Kurani wrote, "our
science is bound by the Qur'an and the Sunna." Further elaborations on his understanding of the sufi approach to the Qur'an are
outlined in the second introduction, where he recognizes, as any
sufi 'alim, that the Qur'an has an inner and an outer aspect, and an
isthmus connecting the two. He does not, however, seek, like most
sutfis, to establish dual, separate fields of knowledge, but commits
himself to a holistic approach in which the divine text is to be understood simultaneously as inner and outer.86 What is equally important is al-Kurani's assertion that knowledge of the inner does not in
any way entail freedom from the outer, for the suifi experience is
not a license to release oneself from the shari'a and its obligations.
The third introduction deals with the same concern from a theological angle. For al-Kfrani, in order to approach the reality of things,
as they exist in the divine knowledge, one should hold to the belief
of al-salaf al-salihwho were totally free of the ills of corporeity, anthropomorphism and the deviation of allegorical interpretation (ta'wil).87
Doubtless, al-Kurani was very much aware of the difficulties surrounding any attempt to rationally reconcile the belief in the oneness of
God and the necessities of exaltation on the one hand, and, on the
other, the many ambiguous verses of the Qur'an, inferences of which
could be incomprehensible to human mind. It is, of course, in this
entangled area of meanings that the field of the sufi inquiry lay, and
where the main motivations for the different sufi theories, from
85

Ibid., plates 14-16.


Ibid., plate 19.
87 Ibid., plate 32.
86

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE 337

wahdat al-wujfd to wahdat al-shuhfd, arose. By rejecting corporeity,


anthropomorphism and allegorical interpretation, al-KCuraniis in
effect constructing a salafi foundation for suffism, exactly as the
Hanbali ascetics of the classical Islamic period tried to accomplish.
His objective becomes even clearer in the following two introductions, where he re-emphasizes the notion that every thing that the
devout people of the way (the sufis) achieve is the result of their
adherence to the shari'a. Only those who fully follow the shari'a,
inwardly and outwardly, can be trusted, since the belief in the unity
of existence should not be taken as being against the exaltation
and transcendentalization of God. In other words, " the justifying
of (reaching the stage of) certainty by revealing (kashf) and then
making a claim (justified by kashj) as to the lifting of the shar'i
obligations is a plain apostasy (ilhdd)."88
Although al-Kurranipresents, in Ithdf al-Dhaki, a powerful intellectual and theological apology for the principle of wahdat al-wujiud
and its accordance with the Islamic orthodox view, it is in Tanbzh
al-'Uq1u89 that he discusses the issue in full. This short, but highly
effective, work begins with a conventional defense of sulfism, based
on the idea that the misunderstanding of the sutfi discourse and
accusing sutfis of unitarianism (ittihadiyya), corporeity and anthropomorphism, arise from unfamiliarity with their terms and from the
failure to assess their discourse according to their founding assumptions. Al-Kiurani's attempt to secure a niche for the principle of
wahdat al-wujfd in the heart of Islamic culture, an attempt for the
sake of which his profound knowledge of theology, hadith and stfi
traditions are all called upon, rests on the following points:
1. God is the only Being that is unchangeableand unalterable;everyother
existence is imagined.

2. The belief in corporeityis mistaken,for the adherence to "Heis unlike


any other thing"negates any illusion of corporeity,and that the "righteous predecessors" stated that all ambiguous verses of the Qur'an
should be taken as they are, with the affirmation of God's attributes
and without searching for the "how".
3. God is defined by His essence not by any extra-definer to Himself,
while all contingent entities are defined by a definer extraneous to
88
Ibid., plate 57. See also
89 Al-Kurani,"Tanbih

plates 42, 45 and 56.


al-'Uqfil",14 pp.

338

BASHEER M. NAFI

their beings. His (i.e. God) appearance in appearances does not negate transcendentalization, for the realities have different self-abilities
(corresponding to their functions or the purposes of their existence)
that are like mirrors for the appearance of God. While the looker into
the different mirrors sees himself in them, the mirror images are not
in fact the real beings of the reflected entities, which are externally
sustainable. So is the revealing of God in the mirrors of the realities;
although God did not move into them or was transfigured in them,
since He is defined by Himself for Himself and the images are defined according to their different abilities.
4. Again, the revealing of God in the created should not be taken as
corporeity or anthropomorphism, for it is, as Ibn 'Arabi indicated, like
the revealing of the sunlight on the moon, where it is rationally understood that the moon has not in itself anything of the sunlight, nor
did the sun transpose into the moon. Similarly, the created is a reflection of God, an appearance of Him.
5. Thus, for al-Kurani, wahdat al-wujud means that the world is not the
essence of God ('ayn al-Haqq), but what appeared in the essential
existence (al-wujud al-haqq); God is the absolute existence, as is explained by the beginning and the end of the Qur'anic verse, {To God
belong the East and the West; whithersoever ye turn, there is the
presence (the face) of God. For God is All-pervading, All-Knowing}.90
The vast, absolute Being is not limited by other than Himself, even
when perceived as revealed in confined forms. This what makes alHallaj's declaration that he was the Haqq mistaken, because the essence of man is not the essence of God.
Al-Kurani's thesis offers neither a critical nor an analytical reading of Ibn 'Arabi and the principle of wahdat al-wujud, but rather a
selective reading, an interpretive reading with a priori agenda. It is
a reading that does not search for the inner contradictions of Ibn
'Arabi's system of thought, as a typical salafi 'alim might be expected
to do, nor does it seek to highlight the superiority of the esotericof the scripture; it is rather a conciliatory,
mystical understanding
syncretic reading. Informed by the great questions underlining the
Islamic conceptual approach to the oneness of God and the multiplicity of the world, al-Kfrani's text is an attempt to legitimate wahdat
al-wujfud, not only in the eyes of the strict Muslim but even in the
eyes of the stricter, the salafi. One may infer from the first point of
al-Kiurani's argument an affinity to the Hallajian wahdat al-shuhfd
(testimonial unity), despite his criticism of al-Hallaj, a result perhaps
90The Qur'an, Sura II, 115 ('Ali's translation).

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

339

of being influenced by the writings of Sirhindi; yet, ultimately, alKurani's real aim was to affirm the credentials of the sufi experience
as sober and totally committed to the tenets of Islam. While the concept of wahdat al-wujudmay seem to imply a permanent associational
relationship between the divine and the contingent, al-Kurani sought
to separate the two realms by affirming the limits of man and the
transcendence of God. Whether in Ithaf al-Dhakior in Tanbzhal-'Uqul,
al Kurani's text evinces growing doubts over the validity of the experiential dimension of sufism and its impact on the spiritual making
of the community. Although he never dismissed the individualistic
experience altogether, he appears to admit to its sheer subjectivity,91
seeking thereby to hedge it in multiple orthodox restrictions.
This tendency in al-Kurani's intellectual pursuit would reach another height in a tract he dedicated for the discussion of the concept of kasb (acquisition), which seems to have been written in the
mid-1070s AH/1661, and to have been held in high regard by his
students and disciples to the extent of being copied in full in the
first volume of al-'Aiyashi's travelogue.92 In this work, al-Kurani's
discord with the established Ash'ari dogma becomes clear, holding
instead to views of the salafi school and of al-Juwayni, especially in
the latter's al-'Aqida al-Nizamiyya.93Al-Kurani's target is Sharh al-Maqasid of al-Taftazani (d. 792/1390), the late Ash'ari-Maturidi scholar,
who contributed significantly to the final formulation of the Ash'ariMaturidi dogma in the pre-modern Islamic period.94 Throughout
91For a discussion of the validity of the experiential aspect of tasawwuf, see Oliver
Leaman, "Philosophy vs. Mysticism: An Islamic Controversy", in M. McGhee (ed.),
Philosophy, Religion and the Spiritual Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1992), 177-88.
92 Ibrahim ibn Hasan al-Kurani, "al-Ilma' al-Muhit bi-Tahqiq al-Kasb al-Wasat bayn
al-Ifra' wal-Tafrit", published in full in al-'Aiyashi, al-Rihla, vol. 1, 429-43. It was al'Aiyashi, whose encounter with al-Kurani occurred in the mid-1070s AH, who suggested that this treatise was compiled during his sojourn at Madina and upon
requests from al-Kurani's students.
93Abu l-Ma'ali 'Abd al-Malik ibn 'Abdullah al-Juwayni,
al-'Aqadaal-Nizamiyya,ed.
M Z. al-Kawthari (Cairo: Matba'at al-Anwar, 1367/1948).
94
Al-Kurani, "al-Ilma' al-Muhit", 430. Sa'd al-Din al-Taftazani, Sharh Maqdsid alTalibin fi Usul al-Din (Cairo: al-Matba'a al-Azhariyya, 1912). On al-Taftazani, see
Sarkis, Mu'jam al-Mu'allifin, vol. 1, columns 635-8; EI2, s. v. "Maturidiyya", by W.
Madelung. Originally, especially in his Sharh al-'Aqd'id al-Nasafiyya (Cairo: Matb'at
Shakir, 1913), al-Taftazani adheres strictly to the Maturidi theological method, which

340

BASHEER M. NAFI

its history, the Ash'ari school was particularly concerned with responding to the Mu'tazilis' emphasis on man's responsibility and
his total freedom to determine his course of action, categorizing the
Mu'tazili position as a flagrant contradiction to the Islamic belief in
the omnipotence of God. The Ash'ari view on predestination and
man's responsibility is posited in the notion of kasb (acquisition),
which was also accepted, in a slightly different version, by the Maturidis.95Although the notion of kasb can be found in a primitive and
unclear form in Abfu 1-Hasan al-Ash'ari's works, it was mainly developed by his followers. In its later and refined conceptualization, kasb
entails the belief that the contingent (human) power has no actual
effect over the accomplished actions resulting from the act, for the
actions are, like the actor, the creation of God and cannot be intrinsically attributed to human power.96 In order to justify man's
reward and punishment in the Day of Judgment in proportion to
man's kasb in the world, and keep faithful to safeguarding the belief in an omnipotent and transcendental God at the same time,
Ash'ari scholars struggled to draw a line between man's responsibility and his concomitantly accidental power. One of the main consequences of the Ash'ari fideism was the total denial of causation in
nature. Late Ash'aris, including the Andalusian Maliki scholar, Ibn
al-'Arabi, as well as the highly influential al-Sanfisi, held that "one
who believed that fire intrinsically burns... is an infidel (kafir), and
one who believes that it (the fire) burns by the power endowed in
it by God (which is the salafi view) is an ignorant, grave sinner
(fasiq)."97 Described by Gardet as a "negation of human freedom in

differs slightly, from its more influential Ash'ari counterpart. Gradually, however,
he moved closer to Ash'arism, especially in his later works, such as Sharh al-Maqasid,
and is widely seen as a main figure in the rapprochement of the two schools.
95 On the differences between the Ash'ari and Maturidi theologies, see W. Montgomery Watt, The FormativePeriod of Islamic Thought (Oxford: Oneworld, 1998), 3146.
96
See, for example, 'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Jurjani (al-Sharif), Sharh al-Mawdqif
li-'Adud al-Dzn al-Iji, ed. M. Badr (Cairo: Matba'at al-Sa'ada, 1907), vol. 8, 48; alRazi, Mafat.h al-Ghayb,vol. 2, 286; al-Sanfusi, Sharh Umm al-Bardhin, 53-4 and 76-8.
97
Muhammad ibn al-Shafi'i al-Fadali, Kifayat al-'Awdmfimd Yajib 'Aliyhim min
'Ilm al-Kaldm, on the margin of Ibrahim al-Bayjuri, Hashiyat Tahqiqal-Maqdm (Cairo:
Matba'at Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1849), 45.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE 341

its ontological reality",98the Ash'ari definition of kasb was certainly


at the core of the later fusion of the Ash'ari theology and the principle of wahdat al-wujud. To its Muslim opponents, however, the
Ash'ari kasbwas no more than a failed mental exercise, a disguised
predeterminationism (jabriyya). After the demise of Mu'tazilism, it
was left to the Hanbalis of the salafi school to lead the opposition
to the late Ash'ari dogma, especially its notion of kasb.99
For al-Kfrani, the understanding that human power is concomitant to, but has no effect on, the acts makes kasb a name without
meaning; the correct belief is that human power is effective, not
independently but by God's will.100Invoking the virtue of the middle
way, in a community that is deeply imbued with the notion of being
the media\n umma, al-Kiuraniexpresses a profound conviction that
his position does neither contradict the belief in the unity (tawhid)
of actions, nor does it lead to anthropomorphism, corporeity, immanentism or unitarianism. God is the necessary Being, His existence
and perfection is indebted to no other agent, while the existence
and perfection of the contingent is indebted to God; it is essential
for the human perfection to acquire the power to choose and to
act. From al-Kurani's perspective, whereby the late Ash'ari view is
implicitly predeterminstic and falls short of the Islamic moderation,
the Mu'tazili view amounts to total human independence of God
and rises above the moderate level. In al-Kurani's words,
"Man'sacquisition through his effective power, willed by God ... entails a
clear distinction from predetermination (jabr),the permission (of God),
and that human will is contingent upon God's will, not the belief in (human) independence, which is the saying of the people of Mu'tazilismwho
advanced that God may will what they would not do and they do what He
may not will."101

Although al-Kfuraniseeks to justify his conversion to the salafi view


98

El, 2, s. v. "Allah", by L. Gardet.


99An example of which is Ibn al-Qayyim, Shifa' al-'Alzl. This book, in 307 pp.,
is entirely dedicated to the discussion of will and predestination from a salafi perspective, and though not widely known, is more succinct and lucid than the Ibn
Taymiyya's similar works, although the influence of the great master, Ibn Taymiyya,
on Ibn al-Qayyim is profound.
100Al-Kurani, "al-Ilma' al-Muhit", 431.
101Ibid., 437.

342

BASHEER M. NAFI

of kasb by referring extensively to al-Nizamiyyaof al-Juwayni (Imam


he is also keen to project the
al-Haramayn, 419/1028-478/1085),
work
of
through the exceptional praise that
al-Juwayni's
significance
Ibn al-Qayyim bestowed on it in his Shifa` al-'All, the most comprehensive study of predestination by the salafi-Hanbali student of Ibn
Taymiyya. In fact, one has the feeling that al-Kuiranimay have never
dealt directly with al-Nizamiyya,which was always less circulated than
al-Juwayni's other works, and that al-Kfirani's introduction to alNizamiyya was accomplished through Ibn al-Qayyim's approvingly
long and literal quote from it in Shifa' al-'Alil,102with which he was
certainly familiar. At any rate, once more, if al-Kfirani's interest in
the salafi concept of kasb, in which he seemed to see the way out of
the extremist formulations of the Ash'aris and the Mu'tazilis, was
not to be rejected by his contemporaries, it had to be, or to appear
to be, reconciled with the Ash'ari system of thought. But never in
any of his available works did al-Kfrani come closer to the salafi
position than in his tract on kasb, closer perhaps than any other sifiAsh'ari 'alim since the outbreak of the controversy over Ibn Taymiyya
in the fourteenth century. Al-Kfirani's subtle and intricate transformation, his apologetic approach to the cardinal issues of theological and sufi thought and his tendency to present his views without
entirely parting with the traditional intellectual norms, were bound
to precipitate various effects on his students. Some amongst them
would certainly continue to espouse Ibn 'Arabi's wahdat al-wujudand
defend the Ash'ari theology, while others would take the reformist
message into its logical conclusions. What is significant, however,
was al-Kuirani'semergence as a point of reference for a large number of 'ulama' throughout the eighteenth and the early nineteenth
centuries, replacing in effect the authority of Ahmad al-Qushashi.
This shift of referential authority signified a shift in the intellectual
thrust of those who were linked, directly or indirectly, with the Madinan group of 'ulama'.

102

Ibn al-Qayyim, Shifa' al-'AlIl, 122-5.

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343

Successors and Followers


Al-Kuirani, though the most prominent, was not the only one to
regard himself as student of al-Qushashi, or to be exposed to the
cultural milieu of suifi reformism and the revival of hadith scholarship. Among the others were Hasan ibn 'All al-'Ujaymi (1049/16391113/1702),103 the historian and hadith scholar who was also a relater
of al-Harawi's books; 'Abdullah b. Salim al-Basri (1048/1638-1134/
1722),1?4 editor of the six major Sunni collections of hadith, and
Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Nakhli (1044/1643-1130/1717),105 one
of the most renowned Makkan affiliates of the Naqshbandiyya tariqa;
all of whom were students of al-Qushashi and al-Babili. In the complex Islamic relations of learning and transmission of knowledge,
al-Nakhli was also al-Kfurani'sstudent, reading with him al-Ghazali's
Ihya 'Ulfm al-Din. Together they dominated hadith scholarship and
its chains of authority in the early eighteenth century and influenced
the education of a large number of 'ulama'.
Muhammad (Abtu 1-Tahir; 1081/1670-1145/1733),
Ibrahim alKurani's son, took his father's position as a teacher in the Prophet
mosque of Madina. His rise to assume the muftiship of the Shafi'is
at Madina was a clear indication of his own prominence and of the
influence of the school of thought he belonged to.106 Muhammad
al-Kurani studied with his father and with many others of his father's
103
Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Hadrawi, "Nuzhat al-Fikar fima Mada min al-Hawadith wal-'Ibar", ms. 1281, Tarikh, Institute of Arab Manuscript, The Arab League,
Cairo, vol. 4, pp. 169-70; al-'Aiyashi, al-Rihla, vol. 2, 212; al-Kattani, Fihris al-Fahdris,
vol. 1, 209, 447-9, and vol. 2, 810-3; al-Jabarti, Tdarkh'Aja'ib al-Athar, vol. 1, 123; alZirikli, al-A'lam, vol. 2, 205.
104 Al-Jabarti, ibid., 132-3; al-Hadrawi, ibid., 292-3; al-Kattani, ibid., vol. 1, 95-6,
193-9; al-Zirikli, ibid., vol. 4, 88..
105 Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Nakhli,
"Bughyat al-Talibin li-Bayan al-Mashayikh
al-Mu'tamadin", ms. 89, Tarikh, Institute of Arab Manuscripts, The Arab league,
Cairo; al-Sharqawi, "al-Tuhfa al-Bahiyya"; al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar, vol. 1, 171-2; alKattani, ibid., vol. 1, 251-3; al-Zirikli, ibid., vol. 1, 241-2.
106 When the
Syrian sufi reformist, 'Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi arrived in Madina
in 1105/1694, Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Kurani was already regarded as one of
the most eminent 'ulama' of the city. For al-Nabulsi's account, see his al-Haqiqa
wal-Majaz fl 1-Rihla ila Bildd al-Shim wa-Misr wal-Hijdz, ed. Ahmad Hiraydi (Cairo:
al-Hay'a al-Misriyya al-'Amma lil-Kitab, 1986), 358ff. See also al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar,
vol. 4, 27; al-Zirikli, al-A'ldm, vol. 5, 304.

344

BASHEER M. NAFI

colleagues and associates in Madina and Makka, including al-'Ujaymi,


'Abdullah b. Salim al-Basri, Ahmad Muhammad al-Nakhli, Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Maghribi and Muhammad al-Barazanji. The
young al-Kufrani'sresidence at Madina maintained the legacy of the
circle and contributed to the dissemination of his father's teachings
well into the early eighteenth century. One of his most celebrated
students was Shah Wali-Allah Dihlawi,107whose period of study in
Madina between 1731-2 left a profound impact on him and constituted, according to his son Shah 'Abd al-'Aziz, a turning point in his
career.108

Another Madinan scholar and student of Ibrahim al-Kurani was


Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Hadi al-Sindi (known also as Abu 1-Hasan
al-Sindi the elder; d. 1138 or 1139/1726-1727) .09 Born at Batata of
the Indian Sind region, Muhammad al-Sindi moved to Madina where
he studied with al-Kuirani and al-Barazanji, emerging as a notable
scholar of hadith. Among al-Sindi's long list of writings are six commentaries on the major Sunni six collections of hadith and another
on Musnad Ibn Hanbal (Ahmad b. Hanbal's collection of hadith),
as well as other commentaries and glosses on al-Nawawi's and alHarawi's works. A major undertaking by any standard, al-Sindi's
achievement represented a major revival of hadith commentary and
the re-assertion of the position of hadith as a locus of religious
authority. A Hanafi and Naqshbandi 'alim, Muhammad al-Sindi took
hadith scholarship into a new level, thereby opening the doors for
a clearer and more affirmative approach by the eighteenth-century
revivalists.
Muhammad al-Sindi was later followed to Madina by another of
his countrymen, Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi (d. 1163/1750), who was
107
'Aziz Ahmad, "Political and Religious Ideas of Shah Wali-ullah of Delhi",
Muslim World,LII, 1, 1962, 22. A recent study, however, suggests that Dihlawi, like
Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhab, studied also with Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi. On
this and other aspects of Dihlawi's career, see Syed Habibul Haq Nadvi, Islamic Resurgent Movements in the Indo-Pak Subcontinent (Durban: Academia, 1986), 81.
108
Baljon, Religion and Thought of Shah Walt Allah, 5-6; Zafarul-Islam Khan, alImdm Wali-Allahal-Dihlawi (New Delhi: Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, 1996),
25-6; Hafiz A. Ghaffar Khan, "Shah Wali Allah: On the Nature, Origin, Definition,
and Classification of Knowledge", Journal of Islamic Studies, 3, 2 (1992), 203-13.
109Al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar,vol. 4, 66; al-Kattani, Fihras al-Fahdris,vol. 1, 148; Sarkis,
Mu'jam al-Matbu'dt, vol. 1, cols. 1056-7.

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345

soon to prove that he was one of the elder Sindi's most successful
students.110 Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi received instructions from
Muhammad Ibrahim al-Kurani, Hasan al-'Ujaymi and 'Abdullah Salim al-Basri, resting his reputation on solid foundations of hadith,
tasawwuf and theology, and joining the Naqshbandiyya tariqa as
well."' Replacing his teacher Muhammad al-Sindi as the most sought
scholar of hadith in the Prophet mosque of Madina, Muhammad
Hayat al-Sindi made a significant contribution to the rising interest
in hadith scholarship with, among other works, a major commentary
on al-Mundhiri's collection, al-Targhibwal-Tarhib,another on al-Bukhari's Sahih, as well as a commentary on al-Harawi's and al-Nawawi's
collections of forty hadiths.112During the two and half decades of
teaching in Madina, al-Sindi's circle was joined by countless number of students, the most important of whom was Muhammad b.
'Abd al-Wahhab.113Al-Madhiyala-Li, who left a detailed biography
of al-Sindi, lists a treatise of his in which he refuted Far'un's belief
(the Pharaoh of Moses), entitled Risalafl 'Adam 'Iman Far'un."4 For
the affirmation that Far'un died as a believer was a distinctive point
of Ibn 'Arabi's theosophism, which turned into one of the key issues separating pantheistic tasawwuf from the strict adherence to
Islamic beliefs, al-Sindi's advocacy of the strict Islamic view provides
an important clue to his affinities. His selection of al-Mundhiri's
collection of hadith, with its strict and powerful moralist tone, to
annotate, and his upholding of the supremacy of the Qur'an and
the Sunna as the principal sources of religion, provide additional
clues.
110
Al-Kittani, Fihris al-Faharis,vol. 1, 356-7; al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar, vol. 4, 34; alZirikli, al-A'lam, vol. 6, 111.
111Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi was initiated into the Naqshbandiyya tariqa by
'Abd al-Rahman al-Saqqaf (d. 1124/1712), who was instrumental in spreading the
tariqa in the Hijaz during the early eighteenth century. See, for more details, alJabarti, Tarikh 'Aja'ib al-Athdr, vol. 1, 125-6.
112
Al-Baghdadi, Hadiyat al-'Arifln, vol. 2, column 327.
113 Voll, " Muhammad Hayya al-Sindi and Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab". See
also Ibn Bishr, 'Unwin al-Majd, vol. 1, 20-1; Ibn Ghannam, TarnkhNajd, 82; al-Shatti,
Tabaqat, 153-4.
114Amin ibn Habib
al-Madhiyala-Li, "Tabaqat al-Fuqaha' wal-'Ubbad wal-Zuhhad
wa Mashayikh al-Tariqa al-Sfiya", ms. 726, Tarikh, Institute of Arab Manuscripts,
The Arab League, Cairo, plates 61-2.

346

BASHEER M. NAFI

Careers of other members of this generation shed strong light on


the connections between the Madinan circle and the cultural revival
of Egypt during the early period of the eighteenth century: Ahmad
b. Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Ghani (known also as Ibn al-Banna; d.
1117/1705), and Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Budayri (known
also as Ibn al-Mayyit; d. 1140/1728). Both belonged to a sharifian
family whose ancestor came to the Egyptian coastal town of Dumiyat
fromJerusalem, and both received their early education in the flourishing Islamic learning circles of Dumiyat before moving to al-Azhar.
Ibn 'Abd al-Ghani, who studied hadith with al-Babili and al-Kurani
before being initiated into the Naqshbandiyya tariqa in Yemen by
Ahmad ibn 'Ujayl, is described by al-Jabarti as "the seal of those
who carried the burden of (spreading) the Naqshbandiyya tariqa in
Egypt",115 a remark that implies the later decline of the Naqshbandiyya's fortunes in Egypt. After his period of internship in Madina
and Yemen, Ibn 'Abd al-Ghani settled in Dumiyat for a while, teaching and spreading the Naqshbandiyya tariqa. Despite his apparent
success, he was an 'alim with reclusive slfi tendencies who shunned
the costly exposure accompanying scholarly eminence; he thus returned to the Hijaz where he died at the end of the pilgrimage
season. Al-Budayri, on the other hand, joined al-Kfrani in 1091-92/
1680-81, becoming closely identified with him and reading under
his supervision a wide range of hadith, fiqh and sufi tracts. Following the norms of the time, al-Budayri was an affiliate of several sufi
tariqas, although regarded himself principally as a Naqshbandi.L6
His thabt shows that he first joined the Naqshbandiyya by Ibn 'Abd
al-Ghani through a non-Sirhindi silsila, but then reaffirmed his commitment to the tariqa at the hand of Murad al-Yazbaki al-Bukhari
of Damascus in 1104/1684, who was a deputy for Muhammad al115

Al-Jabarti, 'Aja'ib al-Athdr,vol.1, 141. See also, al-Hamawi, "Fawa'id al-Irtihal",


vol. 1, pp. 587-90; al-Sharqawi, "al-Tuhfa al-Bahiyya", plate 213; 'Ali Mubarak, alKhitat al-Tawflqiyyaal-Jadzdali-Misr al-Qahira wa Mudunihd wa Bilddihd al-Qadima walShahira (Cairo: al-Hay'a al-Misriyya al-'Amma lil-Kitab, 1970), vol. 1, 56; Sarkis,
Mu'jam al-Matbu'at, vol. 1, column 885; al-Zirikli, al-A'lam, vol. 1, 240.
116 On him, see Muhammad
al-Budayri, "al-Jawahir al-Ghawali fi al-Asanid al'Awali", which is his extensive thabt. See also, al-Hamawi, "Fawai'd al-Irtihal", vol. 1,
pp. 484-86; al-Jabarti, 'Aja'ib al-Athar, vol. 1, 139-40; al-Zirikli, al-A'lam, vol. 7, 65-6.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE 347

Ma'sfum,the son of Sirhindi.117Highlighted by al-Budayri in his thabt,


this fact indicates a shift in the line of affiliation to the Naqshbandiyya
into a Sirhindi silsila among some students of al-Kuirani,especially
those who became associated with him at a later period of his vocation. A frequent traveller, al-Budayri's career was divided between
Dumiyat, Cairo, Madina and his ancestors' town ofJerusalem, a mode
of life that acquainted him with the most illustrious circles of 'ulama'
across the Arab mashriq.118
In Cairo, he was closely associated with
the Bakris and the al-Sadat al-Wafa'iyya, the two leading Shadhili
houses that made immense contributions to the city's cultural life
during the eighteenth century, and in Damascus with the circles of
'Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi and his disciples.
Although not influential writers, both Ibn 'Abd al-Ghani and alBudayri were viewed with high regard by their contemporaries as
hadith scholars and suifi teachers. Mustaf-aibn Kamal al-Bakri, who
is reputed of reviving the Khalwatiyya tariqa in the Arab mashriqin
the eighteenth century, studied hadith with al-Budayri in Jerusalem
and was initiated into the Naqshbandiyya tariqa by him.119In fact
two other principal teachers of al-Bakri were students of al-Kfirani: Ilyas al-Kuirani, another of Ibrahim's sons (d. 1138/1724),
who moved from Madina to Damascus, and the Hanbali hadith scholar of Damascus, Muhammad Abut 1-Mawahib al-Hanbali (d. 1126/
1714),12? son of al-Kurani's former teacher and a later renowned
mufti of Damascus. Al-Budayri was also the main teacher of Muhammad Salim al-Hifnawi (d. 1181/1767),121 al-Bakri's devoted agent in
117
Al-Budayri, "al-Jawahir al-Ghawali fi al-Asanid al-'Awah", plates 56 and 624.
On Murad al-Yazbaki al-Bukhari, see al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar, vol. 4, 129-31.
118
Al-Nabulsi, al-Haqiqa wal-Majdz, 111-2 and 287.
119Al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar, vol. 4, 190-200. For two different views on the revivalist nature of the Mustafa al-Bakri's Khalwatiyya, see B. G. Martin, "A Short History of the Khalwatiyya Order of Dervishes", in N. Keddie (ed.), Scholars, Saints and
Sufis: Muslim ReligiousInstitutions since 1500 (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1972), and De Jong, "Mustafa Kamal al-Din al-Bakri (1688-1749), Revival and Reform of the Khalwatiyya Tradition?"
120 On
Ilyas ibn Ibrahim al-Kurani, see al-Jabarti, 'Aja'ib al-Athar, vol. 1, 140. On
Muhammad Abu al-Mawahib ibn 'Abd al-Baqi al-Hanbali, whose father was a teacher
of Ibrahim al-Kurani, see Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Baqi al-Hanbali, "Mashyakhat
Muhammad Abi 1-Mawahib",ms. 803, Tarikh, Institute of Arab Manuscript, the Arab
League, Cairo; al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar, vol. 1, 67-9.
121
On al-Hifnawi's teachers, see Shams al-Din al-Farghali, "al-Turuq al-Muwaddaha

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M. NAFI

Cairo, who was responsible for spreading the Khalwatiyya in Egypt


and introducing it to the Azhari community of 'ulama'. Al-Hifnawi
similarly acquired his Naqshbandi affiliation through al-Budayri. The
careers of Ibn 'Abd al-Ghani and al-Budayri suggest that both the
Khalwatiyyaand Naqshbandiyya tariqas began to penetrate into ranks
of the Egyptian 'ulama' at the same time; however, the principal
commitment of al-Bakri and al-Hifnawi to the Khalwatiyya and their
extensive activities to establish it in Egypt, contributed to the eclipse
of Naqshbandiyya.
Three further lines connect the eighteenth-century Cairene cultural scene with the Hijaz and successors of al-Kuirani.The first was
through shaykh Hasan al-Jabarti (d. 1188/1774),122 the polymath
scholar of mid-eighteenth-century Cairo and father of the historian
'Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti,who met during several Hajjjourneys and
was licensed by Ahmad al-Nakhli, 'Abdullah b. Salim al-Basri, Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi, and Muhammad al-Kfurani.Hasan al-Jabartiwas
also initiated into the Naqshbandiyya tariqa by Abu al-Hasan al-Sindi.
The second line was through Ahmad ibn al-Hasan ibn 'Abd al-Karim
al-Khalidi (known as al-Jawhari; 1096/1685-1182/1768),123 whose
teachers included Ibn 'Abd al-Ghani, Ahmad al-Nakhli and 'Abdullah
b. Salim al-Basri. One of the most eminent Shafi'i muftis of his time,
al-Khalidi is believed to have sat for fatwa for sixty years. He was,
however, more remembered for his treatise, Munqidhdt al-'Abid min
Ribqatal-Taqlid, in which he attempted to renew the bases of Islamic
theology. The third line was through Muhammad Murtada al-Zabidi
(1145/1732-1205/1790),124 the hadith scholar, historian and linguist,
lil-Asanid al-Musahhaha", ms. 1810 Tarikh, Institute of Arab Manuscript, the Arab
League, Cairo, especially plates 25-6. See also al-Sharqawi, "al-Tuhfa al-Bahiyya",
plates 218-20; al-Jabarti, 'Aja'ib al-Athdr, vol.1, 340; al-Muradi, Silk al-Durar, vol. 4,
49; Mubarak, Khitat, vol. 10, 74.
122 Al-Jabarti,
'Aja'ib al-Athar, vol.1, 440-66.
123On his teachers and education, see Ahmad ibn al-Hasan ibn 'Abd al-Karim alJawhari al-Khalidi, "Thabt al-Jawhari",ms. 3503, Majmu'at, Dar al-Kutub, Cairo. Also,
al-Sharqawi, "al-Tuhfa al-Bahiyya", plates 220-1.
124Ijaza from Muhammad Murtada al-Zabidi to Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Kafawi,
"al-Ijaza al-Sharifa bil-Masmfu'at al-Munifa", ms 13 Hadith, Institute of Arab Manuscripts, the Arab League, Cairo; al-Jabarti, 'Ajd'ib al-Athar, vol.2, 103-14; Mubarak,
Khitat, vol. 2, 94; al-Kattani, Fihris al-Faharis,vol. 1, 165-6, 526-43, and vol. 2, 621-3;
al-Zirikli, al-A'lam, vol. 7, 70. Although al-Jabarti's biography of al-Zabidi is the most
known, al-Kattani's is by far the most accurate and detailed.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE 349

whose major commentary on al-Ghazali's Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din, and the


encyclopedic Arabic dictionary, Tdj al-'Arfus,which figures prominently in Peter Gran's assessment of his role,125epitomize the sublime
achievement of the Cairene cultural revival. Born in the Indian town
of Bilgram, al-Zabidi traveled for learning to Delhi, Madina and the
Yemeni city of Zabid, before settling in Cairo. His connections
with the Madinan circle were extensive, listing among his mentors
Wali-Allah Dihlawi, 'Umar b. Ahmad b. 'Aqil (1102/1691-1174/
1760),126 the grandson of al-Basri and one of the most illustrious
students of al-Kurani's associates in Makka and Madina; as well as
'Abdullah al-Sindi (d. 1194/1780),127 student of Muhammad Hayat
al-Sindi. Like shaykh Hasan al-Jabarti,al-Zabidi also joined the Naqshbandiyya tariqa. In his still highly influential commentary on the
Ihya,128 al-Zabidi embarked on an expansive intellectual undertaking to reconcile tasawwuf with the Islam tenets, displaying a rare
familiarity with a wide range of Islamic sources with special regard
to works of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn al-Qayyim.
This picture of extensive and continuous interaction between the
'ulama' of Egypt and the Haramayn suggests that the reformist impulses engendered by the Madinan circle and its associates had a
direct impact on Islamic learning and the linguistic and literary
awakening in Egypt prior to the arrival of the Napoleonic expedition, although this cultural flourishing was a complex phenomenon
that cannot be attributed to a single element.129 During the eighteenth century, relative economic affluence combined with the Mamluk rulers' desire to consolidate their legitimacy, contributed to a
significant surge in the construction of new madrasas and dedica125 Peter
Gran, Islamic Roots of Capitalism:Egypt, 1760-1840 (Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1979).
126
On his life and teachers, see al-Jabarti, 'Aja'ib al-Athdr,vol.1, 320-6; al-Kattani,
Fihris al-Fahdris, vol. 2, 792-6. It was al-Kattani who confirmed that Ibn 'Uqayl was
the grandson rather than the nephew of al-Basri as al-Jabarti wrote.
127Al-Jabarti,
'Aja'ib al-Athar,vol. 1, 551. For a comprehensive study of al-Zabidi's
educational background, see Reichmuth, "Murtada Az-Zabidi", 64-102.
128 Muhammad Murtada al-Zabidi, Ithaf al-Sdda al-Muttaqtn bi-SharhIhya' 'Ulum
al-Din (Beirut: Dar Ihya' al-Turath al-'Arabi, 1994), 13 vols.
129 A
major, though problematic, work on this period of Egyptian modern history
is Gran, Islamic Roots of Capitalism. See also, 'Abdullah 'Azbawi, "al-Haraka al-Fikriyya
fi Misr fi al-Qarn al-Thamin 'Ashar", Ph. D. Thesis, Ain Shams University, 1976.

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BASHEER M. NAFI

tion of waqfs for meeting the requirements of the 'ulama' class. These
favorable objective conditions, nonetheless, could not rekindle a cultural movement without the existence of an intellectual impulse, an
intellectual predisposition for growth and diversification, as well as
a critical spirit of the cultural status quo. If this was true for Egypt,
it should invite further research into the cultural situation, during
the same period, in other parts of the Muslim world.
Yet, the number and range of al-Kiurani'sstudents and disciples
are almost impossible to comprehensively account for. In Yemen,
al-Kurani's students included several members of the Mizjajis,130 one
of the most celebrated families of 'ulama' in eighteenth-century
Yemen, as well as Ishaq ibn Muhammad ibn Ju'man al-Zabidi
(d. 1094/1683), who rose to become the Shafi'i judge of Zabid.131
Among other disciples of al-Kuirani were the renowned reformist
scholar 'Abd al-Ra'uff of Singkel in Southeast Asia;132 the eminent
scholar and traveler, Abu Salim al-'Aiyashi (d. 1090/1679) in Morocco;133 and the Turkish 'alim and judge, Salih b. Muhammad b. 'Abd
al-Karim (d. 1087/1676),"34 who studied with al-Kufraniduring his
service as the Ottoman Hanafi judge of Madina in 1078/1667-8.
Except for 'Abd al-Ra'uff,we know very little about the achievements
of these 'ulama'.
By Way of Conclusion
The reformist impulses of the group of 'ulama' described here
originated partly from developments that had been taking place
within the Naqshbandiyya tariqa and its reformist approach to stafism,
130

On the Mizjajis, see John 0. Voll, "Linking Groups in the Networks of Eighteenth-Century Revivalist Scholars: The Mizjaji Family in Yemen", in Nehemia Levtzion and John Voll (eds.), Eighteenth-CenturyRenewal and Reformin Islam (Syracuse:
Syracuse University Press, 1987), 69-92.
131Al-Hamawi "Fawa'id al-Irtihal", vol. 2, 153.
132Johns, "Islam in Southeast Asia", 314-7; H.J. De Graaf, "South-East Asian Islam
to the Eighteenth Century", in P. M. Holt, A. K. S. Lampton and B. Lewis (eds.),
The CambridgeHistory of Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), vol.
2A, 142.
33Al-'Aiyashi, al-Rihla, vol. 1, 315-6.
134
Al-Hamawi "Fawa'id al-Irtihal", vol. 2, 681-2.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE 351

and partly from the regeneration of the old textualist tradition of


hadith scholarship. Another possible source was a recurrent salafi
trend of Yemeni-Zaydi origins, extending from Ibn al-Wazir to Salih
al-Maqbali (and continued afterwards with al-Shawkani and Ibn alAmir al-San'ani). All these elements fused with a growing Islamic
reaction to the excesses of popular tasawwuf and its domination of
the Islamic cultural and social life during the period between the
fourteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Some of the main features characterizing this multi-generational
network of 'ulama' are: a) The diversity of their madhhab affiliation, which indicates a growing tendency for breaking madhhab
barriers within reformist circles, and the less emphasis that reformist 'ulama' placed on madhhab demarcations in favor of some other
shared ideas and beliefs. b) Although most of the 'ulama' identified
in this study regarded themselves principally as followers of a specific sufi tariqa, largely the Naqshbandiyya, they commonly subscribed to more than one tariqa. This development implies that
tasawwuf for this group of 'ulama', trained in the best traditions of
the 'ulama' class, was becoming more of a cultural outlook than an
exclusive vocation in the literal sense. c) Those with intellectual
affinities among this group of 'ulama' tended to begin to question,
in various degrees, one or more than one aspect of the Ash'ari theology, of the pervasive doctrine of wahdat al-wujfd, and to reassert
the position of Qur'an and the Sunna as the sources of religion and
shari'a. These features, nonetheless, should not be understood as
universally applicable to each single 'alim, student or disciple related to this network, neither in scope nor in intensity. Relations
connecting this group of Madinan 'ulama' with each other, as well
as with their students, were essentially traditional Islamic educational
relations, characterized by free and uncontrolled style of intellectual development. Although we tend to use terms like training, instruction and teaching to describe this type of relations, these terms
should not be understood in modern educational context. Islamic
traditional style of learning, wrote Timothy Mitchell,
"wasremarkablyflexible and free from coercion, when compared to the
modern disciplinaryschooling typified by the Lancastersystem. Learning
occurred as a relationship that, as in every craft, might be found between

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BASHEER M. NAFI

any individualsat almost any point. Beginners learned from one another,
according to their differing aptitudes, as much as from those who were
masters;and even masters continued to learn from those who possessed
other skills, who had mastered other texts. The method was one of argumentation and dispute, not lecturing. The individual was to be deferent
where appropriate, but never passive."135
In such setting, students were not indoctrinated with tightly defined ideologies but were largely left to make their own choices and
form their own convictions over the long and diversified journey of
learning. Not all of those who came in touch with the Madinan circle,
in one form or another, became a Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhab,
for the ideas circulating within this ferment were bound to be conditioned by multiple personal and objective imperatives.
Rather than dismissing the whole proposition of "revivalistsutfism",
this article suggests that the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed the emergence of a series of reformist individual
culama', many of whom were loosely connected and the legacy of
whom had a profound impact on the evolution of Islamic thought
in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. Their critical approaches to the dominant cultural modes of tasawwuf and theology,
and their attempts at reviving hadith scholarship, opened the doors
for the re-emergence of the salafi school of thought in different parts
of the Muslim world. The truth is that reformist impulses in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were sometimes subtle, while
in other times pronounced and assertive; in a few cases they were
manifested in institutionalized forms, while in most other cases they
were individualistic. While some suai figures expressed reformist
ideas, not all newly founded and successfully spread tariqas were
necessarily reformist. For those culama' with a substantial intellectual output, written over a long period of time, it is only by evaluating a tangible volume of this output, and analyzing its historical
135
Timothy Mitchell, Colonizing Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1988), 84. Cf. Dale F. Eickelman, "The Art of Memory: Islamic Education and Its
Social Reproduction", in Juan I. Cole, ComparingMuslim Societies:Knowledgeand the
State in a World Civilization (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1992),
97-132; Sayyed Hossein Nasr, "Oral Transmission and the Book in Islamic Education: The Spoken and the Written Word", Journal of Islamic Studies, 3, 1 (1992): 114.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

353

context, that we can reach a fairly solid assessment of their positions.


The significance of al-Kurani, being a leading scholar and teacher,
was in his attempt to develop a coherent discourse in which the
creative re-appropriation of past theological themes would contribute to reforming the dominant themes, without creating a condition of disruptive conflict with the present. Several centuries earlier,
even a great Ash'ari like al-Ghazali had to recognize the force and
effectiveness of the salafi mode of thinking in safeguarding the religious beliefs of the ordinary Muslim.136Directness, clarity and simplicity, some of the inherent characteristics of the salafi approach
to the cardinal issues of religion, equipped salafism with the power
to engage the ordinary people and learned classes alike, and restore
the position of the high values of the Islamic system of belief. AlKurani's concerns for religious coherence and well being of the
community, as well as the community's sense of responsibility, threatened by dervishes, excessive sufi rituals and customs, radical Ash'ari
fideism, and extreme interpretations of wahdat al-wujud, were translated in the invocation of the salafi legacy. Equally significant was
al-Kurani's attempt at rehabilitating Ibn Taymiyya and his school of
thought. Once more, the salafi choice returned, as it was before and
during the short period after Ibn Taymiyya, to become an Islamic
choice, which could be espoused by a Shafi'i, a Maliki or a Hanafi
'alim, and not necessarily be confined to a small and ineffective
corner of the Hanbali madhhab. This rehabilitation would have
considerable impact on the careers of later associates of the Madinan
circle, including Wali-Allah Dihlawi and Muhammad b. 'Abd alWahhab. Even two hundred years later, al-Kuirani'swork would still
be effective as a source of inspiration for the mid-nineteenth-century Iraqi scholar, Abu 1-Thana' al-Aluisi (1802-54),137 as he began to
move away from his Hanafi-Ash'ari roots to a more salafi position.
Yet, al-Kuirani'sinclusive approach did not inevitably have to lead to
136

Al-Ghazali, al-Iqtisadft al-I'tiqad, 97-8.


Abu 1-Thana' al-Alusi, "Ghara'ib al-Ightirab wa Nuzhat al-Albab fi l-Dhihab
wal-Iqama wal-Iyab", ms, Tarikh 1149, Institute of Arab Manuscripts, The Arab
League, Cairo, plates 130-9. On al-Alusi, see Basheer M. Nafi, "Abu al-Thana' alAlusi: An 'Alim, Ottoman Mufti and Exegete of the Qur'an", International Journal
of Middle East Studies, 44 (2002): pp. 465-94.
137

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BASHEER M. NAFI

the fervent exclusiveness of Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, and one should


look for other political, social, and perhaps subjective, elements to
understand the Wahhabi radical interpretation of Ibn Taymiyya and
the salafi school in general.
It has often been said that al-Ghazali had succeeded in making
"sfifism respectable and acceptable to those in the Muslim community who were suspicious of its antinomian tendencies."138The question that the great sUifis of the classical age had to grapple with was
that if the inner truth is accessible through the mystical path, what
is the need then for the exoteric, formal practices of religion? With
the subsequent rise of suflism and its domination of the 'ulama'
institution, as well as the life of ordinary people, tasawwuf had nothing to fear but itself. Al-Kfirani's age represented the beginning of
the reversal of al-Ghazali's achievement, not by rendering tasawwuf
unrespectable or unacceptable but by constraining its freehold and
reasserting its commitment to the tenets of Islam. Although al-Kurani
did not live in a tense political situation like Sirhindi's Mogul India,
and was not as confrontational as al-Harawi and al-Maqbali, his writings are still imbued with a sense of dedication and urgency that
characterizes endeavors of conscientious reformists. His reformist
concerns would continue to be pursued in the following century,
sometimes in a gentle, sophisticated manner, and sometimes in a
rapturous fashion.
Finally, al-Kfirani's career provides strong evidence that the revival of hadith scholarship in the Madinan learning circles of the
seventeenth century did not become a goal in itself, but rather a
means for reforming fiqh and theology. The study of hadith as a
founding text, manifested in the numerous commentaries on major hadith collections, initiated a movement of reconsideration of
the accumulated traditions of fiqh and theology, and made this
movement possible and legitimate. What al-Kirani, his associates and
disciples, were trying to achieve was to go beyond the now complicated and trivialized 'ulama' discourse and re-establish the meaningfulness of religion to the living experience. It is not clear whether
138
Oliver Leaman, A Brief Introduction to Islamic Philosophy (Cambridge: Polity
Press, 1999), 80-1.

TASAWWUF AND REFORM IN PRE-MODERN ISLAMIC CULTURE

355

this intellectual dynamism had anything to do with the short Ottoman renaissance of the second half of the seventeenth century,
encouraged by the K6prulu ministers. Apart from al-Maghribi's case,
there is still no evidence to indicate any significant degree of association between al-Kurani, and the Madinan group in general, and
the Ottoman state circles. In any event, reformism and politics would
soon discover their point of convergence, as the careers of Dihlawi
and Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab would attest to.