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Arabica 65 (2018) 597-639

The Islamic Treatises against Imitation (Tašabbuh):

A Bibliographical History

Youshaa Patel
Lafayette College, Religious Studies Department


This bibliographical essay documents for the first time the treatises written on the
Sunni Islamic doctrine of tašabbuh—the reprehensible imitation of others, especially
non-Muslims. Since the formative period of Islam, tašabbuh has played an important
role in shaping both Islamic orthodoxy and Muslim inter-religious relations. But due
to a focus on the doctrine’s historical origins, existing scholarship has yet to identify
the Islamic literary genre that I call “the treatises against imitation,” which was a post-
formative development. To fill this scholarly lacuna, this study traces the genre’s his-
torical evolution by creating an archive of available treatises against imitation, pre-
modern and modern. Chronologically arranged and periodized, the bibliographical
entries include descriptive summaries of each treatise, with references to published
and/or manuscript editions and existing scholarship on the text and its author.


tašabbuh, bibliography, imitation, Muslim identity, non-Muslims, ḥadīṯ, bidʿa, Ibn

Taymiyya, Naǧm al-Dīn al-Ġazzī, Sunni, Salafism


Cette étude bibliographique documente pour la première fois les traités écrits sur la
doctrine musulmane sunnite du tašabbuh—l’imitation répréhensible des autres, par-
ticulièrement des non-musulmans. Depuis les premiers siècles de l’islam, le tašabbuh
a joué un rôle important dans la formation d’une orthodoxie islamique et des relations
interreligieuses des musulmans. Cependant, en raison de la centralité de la question

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des origines historiques de la doctrine, la recherche n’avait pas encore identifié le

genre littéraire islamique que nous appellerons « les traités contre l’imitation », qui
se développa après la période des premiers siècles. Afin de combler cette lacune, cette
étude retrace l’évolution historique de ce genre en proposant une recension des traités
disponibles contre l’imitation, aussi bien pré-modernes que modernes. Classés chro-
nologiquement et par périodes, les entrées bibliographiques comprennent des résu-
més descriptifs de chaque traité, avec des références aux éditions publiées et/ou aux
manuscrits, ainsi qu’aux recherches disponibles sur le texte et son auteur.

Mots clefs

tašabbuh, bibliographie, imitation, identité musulmane, non-musulmans, ḥadīṯ, bidʿa,

Ibn Taymiyya, Naǧm al-Dīn al-Ġazzī, sunnisme, salafisme

1 Introduction

This bibliographical essay catalogues, describes, and evaluates the treatises

written on the Sunni Islamic doctrine of tašabbuh—the reprehensible imita-
tion of others, especially non-Muslims.1 Since the formative period of Islam,
tašabbuh has played an important role in shaping both Islamic orthodoxy and
Muslim inter-religious relations.2 But due to a focus on the doctrine’s textual

1  Edward William Lane defines the Arabic term, tašabbuh, as: “He became assimilated to him
or it. He assumed, or affected, a likeness, or resemblance to him, or it. He imitated him or
it. He made himself to be like, or resemble him or it.” See Edward William Lane, An Arabic-
English Lexicon, London, Williams and Norgate, 1872, IV, p. 1500, s.v. Š.B.H. Western scholars
have translated the multivalent term variously as “conform to,” “assimilate,” “resemble,” and
“imitate,” my preferred translation in most contexts.
2  For a brief introduction on tašabbuh, with some insightful commentary, see Ignác Goldziher,
“Über jüdische Sitten und Gebräuche aus muhammedanischen Schriften,” Monatsschrift
für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, 29 (1880), p. 302-315; and id., “Usages juifs
d’après la littérature religieuse des Musulmans,” Revue des Études Juives, 28 (1894), p. 75-94;
for an important follow up to Goldziher, nearly one century later, see Meir Jacob Kister,
“‘Do Not Assimilate Yourselves …’ Lā Tashabbahū …,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam,
12 (1989), p. 321-353. For the usages of tašabbuh in modern South Asian legal discourses, see
Muhammad Khalid Masud, “Cosmopolitanism and Authenticity: The Doctrine of Tashabbuh
Bi’l-Kuffar (“Imitating the Infidel”) in Modern South Asian Fatwas,” in Cosmopolitanisms
in Muslim Contexts, ed. Derryl N. MacLean and Sikeena Karmali Ahmed, Edinburgh,
Edinburgh University Press (“Exploring Muslim Contexts”), 2012, p. 156-175; and its usages
in medieval Sufi discourse, see Arin Shawkat Salamah-Qudsi, “The Idea of Tashabbuh in Sufi
Communities and Literature of the late 6th/12th and early 7th/13th century in Baghdad,”

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origins in the ḥadīṯ, existing scholarship has neglected its historical evolution
over the longue durée, and has thus yet to identify the the post-formative lite­
rary development that I call “the treatises against imitation.”3 For this reason,
scholars have overlooked a majority of treatises written on tašabbuh, such
as the monumental eleventh/seventeenth century treatise of Naǧm al-Dīn
­al-Ġazzī (d. 1061/1651), Ḥusn al-tanabbuh li-mā warada fī l-tašabbuh—a re-
markable intellectual achievement that took nearly forty years to complete.4
To fill this scholarly lacuna, I have created the first bibliographical ar-
chive of available treatises against imitation, pre-modern and modern. In the
aggregate, this collection helps to define a distinct genre of Islamic literature.
It also illustrates that tašabbuh is not a static or uniform concept, but a dy-
namic Islamic discourse with a history.5 In the prefatory matter that follows,
I evaluate existing scholarship on the doctrine and discuss its complementary
relationship to other Islamic teachings such as the Pact of ʿUmar and the doc-
trine of bidʿa.
Over one century ago, the Hungarian Orientalist, Ignác Goldziher, identi-
fied the scriptural roots of Muslim discourses against imitation in the collec-
tions of ḥadīṯ. He noted that a substantial number of traditions urge Muslims
“Be different (ḫālifū)” from and “Do not imitate (lā tašabbahū)” non-Muslims
(especially Jews) in both ritual and everyday life.6 These ḥadīṯ define or-
dinary practices such as dress and hairstyle, as well as specific gestures and
movements—from how to wrap a turban and grow a beard, to the proper way
to kneel during prayer and behave during a funeral procession.7

al-Qanṭara, 32/1 (2011), p. 175-197. Also, see my article, “‘Their fires shall not be visible’: The
Sense of Muslim Difference,” Material Religion, 14/1 (2018), p. 1-29; and id., “‘Whoever imitates
a people becomes one of them’: A Hadith and its Interpreters,” Islamic Law and Society, 25/4
(2018), p. 359-426.
3  By contrast, scholars have documented the treatises against innovation (bidʿa). See Maribel
Fierro, “The Treatises against Innovations (Kutub al-Bidaʿ),” Der Islam, 69 (1992), p. 204-246.
4  Naǧm al-Dīn al-Ġazzī, Ḥusn al-tanabbuh li-mā warada fī l-tašabbuh, ed. Nūr al-Dīn al-Ṭālib,
Beirut, Dār al-nawādir, 2011.
5  This bibliography is inspired by Maribel Fierro’s groundbreaking article on early Islamic
treatises against bidʿa, reprehensible innovation: Fierro, “The Treatises against Innovations,”
p. 204-246. I conceptualize “discourse” as a rationalized and coherent (though possibly con-
tradictory) set of concepts, forms of reasoning, and genres mediated through social relations;
it asserts a normative way of knowing and being in the world.
6  Goldziher, “Über jüdische Sitten,” p. 302-315; and id., “Usages juifs,” p. 75-94.
7  Some of these traditions are mentioned in the following studies: Suliman Bashear, “ʿĀshūrā,
an Early Muslim Fast,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 141 (1991),
p. 281-316; Gauthier H.A. Juynboll, “Dyeing the Hair and Beard in Early Islam: A Ḥadīth-
Analytical Study,” Arabica, 33/1 (1986), p. 49-75.

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The number of traditions warning against imitation loaded tašabbuh with

a negative valence; the term came to signal practices that Muslims ought to
shun—a reprehensible kind of imitation. The well-known ḥadīṯ, “Whoever
imitates (tašabbaha) a people becomes one of them,” came to headline this
doctrine.8 Muslim rebukes against imitation gravitated towards Christians and
Jews—their primary rivals to the legacy of monotheism. Many tašabbuh ḥadīṯ
traditions group Jews and Christians together by employing the Qurʾānic label,
People of the Book (ahl al-kitāb), which implicitly acknowledged their shared
monotheistic heritage. Arthur Stanley Tritton nonetheless observed, “It is sur-
prising how little Muslim authors have to say about the Jews.” He continued,
“The law books rarely mention them, speaking only of ḏimmīs or Christians.”9
This conclusion seems to dismiss all the ḥadīṯ traditions that warn against
imitating Jews, which, Goldziher astutely observed, reflect mounting tensions
between Muslims and Jews in Medina.10 Frustrated by Muḥammad’s recalci-
trance, one Medinan Jew even remarked: “This man just does the opposite of
what we do!”11 In fact, Goldziher limits his catalogue of ḥadīṯ traditions only
to admonitions against imitating Jews. Meir Jacob Kister, nearly a half-century
later, expanded Goldziher’s catalogue to include Christians, but devoted the
bulk of his study of tašabbuh to Muḥammad’s curious command: “Pray in your

8  Man tašabbaha bi-qawm fa-huwa min-hum. The ḥadīṯ—as an independent text—is trans-
mitted in the following ḥadīṯ collections: Abū Dāwūd, Sunan (kitāb al-libās, bāb fī libs al-
šuhra); Abū l-Qāsim Sulaymān al-Ṭabarānī, al-Muʿǧam al-awsaṭ, Cairo, Dār al-ḥaramayn,
1995, VIII, p. 179; id., Musnad al-šāmiyyīn, Beirut, Muʾassasat al-risāla, 1984, III, p. 94; Abū
ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Salāma l-Quḍāʿī, Musnad al-Šihāb, ed. Ḥamdī ʿAbd al-Maǧīd al-
Salafī, Beirut, Muʾassasat al-risāla, 1405/1985, I, p. 244; Abū Bakr Aḥmad b. ʿAmr al-Bazzār,
Musnad al-Bazzār, Medina, Maktabat al-ʿulūm wa-l-ḥikam, 1988-2009, VII, p. 368; ʿAbd
al-Razzāq al-Ṣanʿānī, al-Muṣannaf, ed. Ḥabīb al-Raḥmān al-Aʿẓamī, Beirut, al-Maktab al-
islāmī, 19832, XI, p. 453-454. The ḥadīṯ is also transmitted as part of a longer ḥadīṯ, which
I examine in my article: Youshaa Patel, “‘Whoever imitates a people becomes one of
them’: A Hadith and its Interpreters.” Ḥadīṯ critics graded the authenticity of the ḥadīṯ
from authentic (ṣaḥīḥ) to weak (ḍaʿīf); for a summary of these debates, see Muḥammad
Zāhid al-Kawṯarī, Maqālāt al-Kawṯarī, Cairo, al-Maktaba l-tawfīqiyya, n.d., p. 78-80.
9  Arthur Stanley Tritton, The Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects: A Critical Study of the
Covenant of ʿUmar, London-Bombay, H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1930, p. 92.
10  From the French translation: “Que Mahomet, au nom de qui on rapporte ce principe,
l’ait réellement formulé lui-même, ou qu’il lui ait été attribué simplement par quelques
théologiens ou par le consentement tacite de tous les Musulmans, la chose importe peu.”
Goldziher, “Usages juifs,” p. 78.
11  A more literal, but less intelligible translation: “This man will leave nothing out from our
affair except that he will do the opposite.” Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ (kitāb al-ḥayḍ, bāb ǧawāz ġusl
al-ḥāʾiḍ ra‌ʾs zawǧihā).

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The Islamic Treatises against Imitation ( Tašabbuh ) 601

shoes, and do not imitate (lā tašabbahū) the Jews!”12 Although the Prophet
Muḥammad initially modeled his community after the Jewish tribes he en-
countered in Medina—even incorporating them into his “Constitution”—
the Qurʾānic command ordering Muslims to physically turn toward Mecca
away from Jerusalem during prayer symbolically reoriented Islam away from
Judaism.13 The stress on Muslim difference in tašabbuh ḥadīṯ sharpens this
new communal direction.
Albrecht Noth proposed that tašabbuh ḥadīṯ also corroborate content in
the “Pact of ʿUmar”—the political document attributed to the second caliph
ʿUmar (r. 13/634-23/644) that defines social boundaries between Muslims and
their newly conquered Christian subjects. In the canonical version, the Pact
employs the term tašabbuh in its mandate restricting Christian dress: “We shall
not imitate Muslims in their dress,” the Christian residents proclaim.14 Yet, as
Milka Levy-Rubin notes in her exhaustive study of the Pact, the ḥadīṯ and the
Pact issue normative prescriptions to distinct audiences: the Pact seeks to limit
Christian imitation of Muslims, while the ḥadīṯ seek to limit Muslim imitation
of Christians.15 Put differently, the two types of normative texts represent two
different types of authority: the Pact invokes state authority to regulate non-
Muslim behavior and the ḥadīṯ invoke religious authority to regulate Muslim
behavior. Rather than representing an insurmountable disjuncture, however,
this distinction may reflect a gradual evolution in Muslim political sovereignty

12  Meir Jacob Kister, “‘Do Not Assimilate Yourselves,’” p. 338; Ǧalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, Ǧamʿ
al-Ǧawāmiʿ (al-Ǧāmiʿ al-Kabīr), ed. Muḥammad Ibrāhīm al-Ḥifnāwī, Cairo, Dār al-Salām,
2005, V, p. 435.
13  Kor 2, 144.
14  Albrecht Noth, “Problems of Differentiation between Muslims and Non-Muslims:
Rereading the Ordinances of ʿUmar (al-Shurūṭ al-ʿUmariyya),” in Muslims and Others in
Early Islamic Society, ed. Robert Hoyland, Aldershot-Burlington, Ashgate (“The Formation
of the Classical Islamic World”, 18), 2004. For other studies of the Pact of ʿUmar, see
Tritton, The Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects; Antoine Fattal, Le statut légal des non-­
musulmans en pays d’islam, Beyrouth, Imprimerie Catholique (“Recherches”, 10), 1958;
Milka Levy-Rubin, Non-Muslims in the Early Islamic Empire: From Surrender to Coexistence,
New York, Cambridge University Press (“Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization”), 2011;
in Islamic law: Anver Emon, Religious Pluralism and Islamic Law: Dhimmis and Others in
the Empire of the Law, Oxford, Oxford University Press (“Oxford Islamic Legal Studies”),
2012; Maribel Fierro and John Tolan (eds), The Legal Status of Dhimmīs in the Islamic
West, Turnhout, Brepols Publishers (“Religion and Law in Medieval Christian and Muslim
Societies”, 1), 2013; Janina M. Safran, Defining Boundaries in al-Andalus: Jews, Christians and
Muslims, Ithaca-London, Cornell University Press, 2013; on Jews in medieval Islamic his-
tory, see Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages, Princeton,
Princeton University Press, 1994.
15  Levy-Rubin, Non-Muslims in the Early Islamic Empire, p. 127.

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over its subjects, which first encompassed Muslims only, but gradually ex-
tended to non-Muslims after the early conquests.16 Both texts seek to prevent
imitation from blurring social boundaries between Muslims and non-Muslims
in public life.
Despite ongoing efforts among Western scholars to historically authenti-
cate ḥadīṯ traditions, Goldziher nevertheless claimed that the provenance
of tašabbuh ḥadīṯ traditions were of “little importance.”17 The emerging
class of ḥadīṯ specialists circulated oral traditions that increasingly set apart
Muḥammad’s followers, or believers, from those who rejected his spiritual
and political authority, or unbelievers, in order to define who belonged in the
Muslim community. Whether these ḥadīṯs reflect the historical circumstances
of the Abbasid empire or in fact reflect social relations during Muḥammad’s
life, they still avail historians valuable insights into early Islam. After all, the
basic narrative embedded in tašabbuh ḥadīṯ traditions—succinctly summa-
rized by Muḥammad’s cousin, Ibn ʿAbbās (d. ca 68/687-688)—maps onto that
of most historians: the first Muslims initially desired to assimilate Jewish and
Christian religious practices before crystallizing into a distinct confession.18
Yet, the when, how and why of this transition remains a contested field of
historical inquiry. Setting aside empirical questions on this early interplay
between narrative and history for now, this article aims to provide a biblio-
graphical inventory of post-formative treatises against imitation.19

16  Kister quotes Ibn Qayyim al-Ǧawziyya on this point: Kister, “‘Do Not Assimilate
Yourselves,’” p. 348-349.
17  Goldziher, “Usages juifs,” p. 77-78.
18  Ibn ʿAbbās observes: “The Prophet used to love to be in conformity (muwāfaqa) with the
People of the Book.” He later claims that the Prophet changed his behavior to emphasize
his difference from neighboring Jewish and Christian communities through his hairstyle;
al-Buḫārī, Ṣaḥīḥ (kitāb al-libās, bāb al-farq); Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ (kitāb al-faḍāʾil, bāb fī sadl
al-nabī šaʿrahu wa farqihi).
19  Western scholars have long debated when and how Islam became a distinct religion. From
revisionist histories that define the first Muslims as a Jewish messianic movement or an
interconfessional group of believing monotheists, to the standard narrative that Islam
became a distinct confession by Muḥammad’s death, there is no shortage of speculation.
These debates, undoubtedly, will continue, as scholars conceive new theories and stum-
ble upon new evidence. While historians differ on the timeline, they agree that Muslims
gradually developed a collective sense of identity over time. On early Islam as a Jewish
Messianic movement see Patricia Crone and Michael Allan Cook, Hagarism: The Making
of the Islamic World, Cambridge-London-New York, Cambridge University Press, 1977.
Numerous studies have since attempted to revise some of the more skeptical conclusions
of this study. For a thorough overview of the debates, see Robert Hoyland, Seeing Islam
as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian Writings
on Early Islam, Princeton, The Darwin Press (“Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam”,
13), 1997, p. 545-559. For the argument that Muslims began as an interconfessional group

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The canonization of ḥadīṯ laid the foundations for this genre to develop.
Over time, tašabbuh ḥadīṯ traditions snowballed into a comprehensive dis-
course that condemned imitating foreign customs and practices—especially
the distinguishing markers (šiʿār) of a foreign community.20 Goldziher con-
sidered tašabbuh an official “doctrine” and “one of the fundamental laws of
Islam,” concluding: “All Muslim theologians unanimously agreed that their
coreligionists should not follow the customs of other believers, especially Jews
and Christians.”21 Although Muslim discourses on tašabbuh are far more dif-
ferentiated than Goldziher’s observation suggests, discussions of imitation
are found in a range of classical Islamic texts—ḥadīṯ commentaries, com-
pendia of law, and treatises on ethics—suggesting an undeclared consensus
among jurists on its blameworthy status by at least the fifth/eleventh century.22
More recently, Muhammad Khalid Masud has sketched out the doctrine’s his-
torical development, beginning with an excerpt from Abū Ḥāmid al-Ġazālī’s
(d. 505/1111) magnum opus, Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, and concluding with juridical de-
bates in modern South Asian fatwa collections.23 Although Masud’s attention

of believing monotheists, see Fred McGraw Donner, Muhammad and the Believers: At
the Origins of Islam, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2010. Also see Patricia Crone’s
critical review: Patricia Crone, “‘Among the Believers’: Review of Donner’s Muhammad
and the Believers,” The Tablet (August 10, 2010)
politics/42023/among-the-believers/, accessed 03/17/2017.
20  This constraint is discussed in many of the treatises discussed below. Also see my analy-
sis of the term, šiʿār, in my article, “‘Their fires shall not be visible’: The Sense of Muslim
21  Goldziher, “Usages juifs,” p. 77.
22  Ibid., p. 78. By the fifth/eleventh century, all Sunni law schools—even the Ẓāhirī school—
applied tašabbuh to their interpretations of Islamic law. See, for example, the following
medieval compendia of law: in the Ḥanafī school, see Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-Šaybānī
and Muḥammad Šams al-Aʾimma al-Saraḫsī, Šarḥ Kitāb al-Siyar al-kabīr, ed. Abū ʿAbd
Allāh Muḥammad Ḥasan Ismāʿīl al-Šāfiʿī, Beirut, Dār al-kutub al-ʿilmiyya, 1997, I, p. 12-14;
the Mālikī school, Yūsuf b. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Tamhīd li-mā fī l-Muwaṭṭa‌ʾ min
al-maʿānī wa-l-asānīd, ed. Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Kabīr al-Bakrī, Muṣṭafā b. Aḥmad al-ʿAlawī
and Saʿīd Aḥmad al-Aʿrāb, Rabat, Wizārat al-awqāf wa-l-šuʾūn al-islāmiyya, 1967-1992, V,
p. 51; the Ḥanbalī school, Muwaffaq al-Dīn b. Qudāma, al-Muġnī, ed. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd
al-Muḥsin al-Turkī and ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ Muḥammad al-Ḥulw, Riyadh, Dār ʿālam al-kutub,
19973, II, p. 373-374; the Šāfiʿī school, Abū l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Muḥammad al-Māwardī, al-Ḥāwī
l-kabīr, ed. ʿAlī Muḥammad Muʿawwaḍ, Beirut, Dār al-kutub al-ʿilmiyya, 1414/1994, XV,
p. 223-224. We may label tašabbuh a “doctrine” in a general sense—a precept, principle,
or teaching—in light of these sources. Although there is no attempt at a systematic dem-
onstration of its legal necessity until Ibn Taymiyya (see below), an undeclared consensus
appears to have existed among religious scholars that tašabbuh, in some situations, is
23  Masud, “Cosmopolitanism and Authenticity,” p. 156-175.

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to modern South Asia expands the historical and geographic scope of scholarly
inquiry into tašabbuh, the study is not meant to be comprehensive, and dis-
cusses only two of the treatises against imitation included in this bibliography.24
The above studies all share one limitation in common: a singular focus
on imitating non-Muslims to the exclusion of other groups. To define the
ideal Muslim community, the emerging class of Muslim religious scholars,
or ʿulamāʾ, not only attempted to regulate social boundaries with outsiders,
but also with insiders—fellow Muslims. Numerous ḥadīṯ seek to limit the imi-
tation of lower-ranking groups of Muslims such as women, slaves, Persians,
Bedouin Arabs, and young people. Some traditions even forbade imitating
animals and demons. Defining a society along these lines of difference form
the building blocks of identity—what, today, we call religion, ethnicity, age,
gender, and status. Overlooking these elite Muslim aspirations risks misunder-
standing the doctrine’s broader objective, which cannot be simply reduced to
the superiority of Islam and subjugation of non-Muslims. As Anver Emon has
argued, preservation of religious differences was not merely a product of Islam,
but reflected the deeply embedded ethos of empire—the hierarchical orde­
ring of society under a single imperial sovereign.25
Given this intermingling of social differences, it is worth noting that
tašabbuh is a distinctly Sunni Muslim discourse. The term frequently appears
in Sunni collections of ḥadīṯ, but rarely in Shiʿi collections.26 Tašabbuh, which

24  The two treatises, referenced below with full citations, are: Iqtiḍāʾ al-Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm
li-muḫālafat aṣḥāb al-ǧaḥīm by Ibn Taymiyya and Islami Tehẕīb-o-Tamaddun by Qārī
Muḥammad Ṭayyib.
25  Emon, Religious Pluralism and Islamic Law, p. 34-76. Philosopher, Charles Taylor, has
argued that pre-modern societies are “organized around a notion of hierarchy”—a way
of viewing the cosmos that is distinctive from modern societies: Charles Taylor, Modern
Social Imaginaries, Durham-London, Duke University Press (“Public Planet Books”), 2004,
p. 9. I do not mean to suggest that this was the sole reason why Muslims desired to dif-
ferentiate themselves from non-Muslims. The reasons are varied and many—depending
on the specific practice criticized, the identity of the specific groups involved, and the
broader historical context. By differentiating Muslims from others, authorities may have
wished to achieve a number of objectives: uphold the precedence of Islam and Muslims,
especially Arab Muslims; preserve a distinct communal identity; define identity in terms
of group belonging; maintain security and avoid civil discord (fitna); identify members of
specific communities—Jews, Christians, slaves—who were often subject to laws specific
to them; convert non-Muslims to Islam; prevent non-Muslims from converting to Islam;
enable Muslim spiritual and moral development; or ensure Muslim obedience to God’s
sacred laws. These objectives span the primary domains of everyday Muslim life—politi-
cal, economic, social, spiritual, and intellectual.
26  This conclusion is based on an exhaustive study of canonical Sunni and Imāmī Shiʿi col-
lections of ḥadīṯ, which I detail in my forthcoming monograph, Against Imitation.

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The Islamic Treatises against Imitation ( Tašabbuh ) 605

limited imitation, expressed a Sunni vocabulary of difference that, in some

ways, inverts the Shiʿi doctrine of taqiyya, protective dissimulation, which
often required imitation.27 Rooted in the Sunni collections of ḥadīṯ, the trea-
tises against imitation express a Sunni Muslim worldview.
The exclusionary rhetoric of these treatises must be handled with caution,
however. If viewed through a dim analytical lens blind to historical context,
the discourse’s stress on sharpening communal differences may be mistaken
for social reality, where social boundaries actually blurred everyday.28 It also
risks reducing variegated Muslim perceptions of others into a black and white
dichotomy, further warping the historian’s outlook. Muslim representations
of others in Islamic texts are often ambiguous, and Muslim interactions with
others in Islamic history ebb and flow. As Kister demonstrated, for example,
despite ḥadīṯ commanding Muslims to wear shoes in mosques, early genera-
tions of Muslims began to remove their shoes due to transformations in social
and material conditions.29
For many readers, the treatises against imitation bring to mind Maribel
Fierro’s seminal article, “The Treatises Against Innovation.”30 The two parallel
genres actually have much in common.31 As boundary-regulating discourses,

27  Taqiyya is accepted by Sunnis in limited circumstances, but not to the degree most Shiʿis
do. On the significance of taqiyya as a pivotal doctrine of Shiʿism, see Etan Kohlberg,
“Taqiyya in Shīʿī Theology and Religion,” in Secrecy and Concealment: Studies in the History
of the Mediterranean and the near Eastern Religions, eds Hans Gerhard Kippenberg and
Guy G. Stroumsa, Leiden-New York-Köln, Brill (“Studies in the history of religions”, 65),
1995, p. 345-380; id., “Some Imāmī-Shīʿī Views on Taqiyya,” Journal of the American Oriental
Society, 95/3 (1975), p. 395-402; For a different approach that depicts taqiyya as an histori-
cal performance, see Devin Stewart, “Taqiyya as Performance: The Travel of Bahāʾ al-Dīn
al-ʿĀmilī in the Ottoman Empire (991-93/1583-85),” in Princeton Papers in Near Eastern
Studies, 4 (1996), p. 1-70.
28  See, for example, the monumental study of Shelomoh Dov Goitein who argued, based
on the Geniza materials, that Jews and Muslims in Cairo interacted more frequently than
normative texts often suggest: Shlomo Dov Goitein, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish
communities of the Arab World as portrayed in the documents of the Cairo Geniza, Berkeley,
University of California, 1967-1983.
29  Kister, “‘Do Not Assimilate Yourselves,’” p. 346.
30  Fierro, “The Treatises against Innovations,” p. 204-246.
31  There have been many more studies in Western languages of bidʿa than tašabbuh: Fierro,
“The Treatises against Innovations”; Vardit Rispler, “Toward a New Understanding of
the Term Bidʿa,” Der Islam, 68 (1991), p. 320-328; Berkey, “Tradition, Innovation and the
Social Construction of Knowledge in the Medieval Islamic near East,” Past and Present,
146 (1995), p. 38-65; M. Khalid Masud, “The Definition of Bidʿa in the South Asian Fatāwā
Literature,” Annales Islamogiques, 27 (1993), p. 55-75; Ukeles, “Innovation or Deviation:
Exploring the Boundaries of Islamic Devotional Law,” PhD dissertation, Harvard
University, 2006. Also see the following translations: Muḥammad b. Waḍḍāḥ, Kitāb

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their functions overlap and complement each other: both imitation (tašabbuh)
and innovation (bidʿa), unchecked, can disrupt Islamic orthodoxy. Regulating
imitation and innovation in Islam, from the perspective of the ʿulamāʾ, pre-
served and augmented the authority of the Prophet Muḥammad’s sunna;
the textual building blocks of both doctrines, after all, are found in the col-
lections of ḥadīṯ. Evidence of this discursive complementarity is apparent in
the 8th/14th century treatise of controversial Damascene jurist, Ibn Taymiyya
(d. 728/1328), Iqtiḍāʾ al-ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm li-muḫālafat aṣḥāb al-ǧaḥīm, which
draws upon both tašabbuh and bidʿa to demonstrate that Muslims must not
follow the ways of non-Muslims. Although Fierro classifies the Iqtiḍāʾ as
a treatise against innovation, it may also be classified as a treatise against
imitation—and is, therefore, included in this bibliography.32
Tašabbuh, then, helped to preserve a distinct Muslim religious and social
identity—although this impulse was not exclusive to Muslims. Greek, Jewish,
and Christian thinkers preceding the rise of Islam also expressed anxieties
over mimesis.33 Jews established their own doctrine against imitating gentiles,
ḥukkat ha goyim.34 Authorities within the Sasanian and Byzantine empires,
sovereign rivals of the Islamic caliphate in the Late Antique Near East, limited
imitation between groups to preserve communal boundaries.35
In this bibliographical history, I catalog all the treatises against imitation
I could find.36 These treatises, which marshal the vocabulary, scriptural texts,

al-Bidaʿ: Tratado contra las innovaciones, transl. and study Maribel Fierro, Madrid, Consejo
Superior de Investigaciones Científicas-Instituto de Filología-Departamento de Estudios
Arabes, 1988; Abū Bakr al-Ṭurṭūšī, Kitāb al-Ḥawādiṯ wa-l-Bidaʿ: El Libro De Las Novedades
Y Las Innovaciones, transl. Maribel Fierro, Madrid, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones
Científicas, 1993; al-Ġazālī, Within the Boundaries of Islam: A Study on Bidʿah, transl. Aslam
Farouk-Alli, Kuala Lumpur, Islamic Book Trust, 2010.
32  Fierro, “The Treatises against Innovations,” p. 209. Masud includes the Iqtiḍāʾ in his brief
overview of tašabbuh, but never places Ibn Taymiyya’s treatise into a distinct genre of
treatises, as I do here. Masud, “Cosmopolitanism and Authenticity,” p. 163-164.
33  Plato, Republic, transl. Allan Bloom, New York, Basic Books, 1991, p. 73-74. Plato argued that
artists, imitators par excellence, should be sequestered from the Greek polis due to their
potentially corrupting effects upon its citizens. In other words, those who imitated artists
would assimilate their blameworthy character traits. On the Apostle Paul and imitation,
see Elizabeth A. Castelli, Imitating Paul: A Discourse of Power, Louisville, Westminster-
John Knox Press (“Literary Currents in Biblical Interpretation”), 1991.
34  See Lev 18, 3, which states, “You shall not follow their laws (customs).” See Meir Ydit,
“Ḥukkat Ha-goi,” Encyclopaedia Judaica; and Beth A. Berkowitz, Defining Jewish Difference:
From Antiquity to the Present, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2012.
35  Michael Morony, “Religious Communities in Late Sasanian and Early Muslim Iraq,”
Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient, 17 (1974), p. 113-135.
36  I include descriptions of treatises through the year 2000 CE. Treatises published after 2000
are cited in f. 122. Additional treatises may exist in Islamicate languages such as Swahili,

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The Islamic Treatises against Imitation ( Tašabbuh ) 607

and legal opinions associated with the discourse of tašabbuh, are chronologi-
cally arranged and periodized.37 For each historical period, a brief prelude
places the treatises in a broader social and political context. Each entry in-
cludes a descriptive summary of the treatise’s contents, along with footnotes
describing published and/or manuscript editions.
The treatises included in this bibliography originate from a diverse range of
geographic locales, including the Levant, the Arabian peninsula, Europe, West
Africa, North Africa, and South Asia. It includes treatises authored in Arabic—
the majority—Ottoman Turkish, Urdu, and English, with references to trans-
lations into English, Modern Turkish, and Indonesian. It becomes apparent
that the geographic representation of the genre reflects the global footprint of
Islamic civilization itself.

2 Pre-modern Treatises (Islamic Middle Period)

In 656/1258, the Mongols destroyed Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid cali­
phate. This event traumatized the Sunni Muslim community who, for the first
time, lacked a caliph to anchor their political leadership—if only s­ ymbolically.38
At the turn of the 8th/14th century, just decades after the fall of Baghdad, the
Mamluk sultanate, whose sovereignty spanned Syria, Egypt, and the Hijaz,
struggled to resist Mongol aggression. With the events of 656/1258 seared into
Muslim collective memory, some vigilant ʿulamāʾ feared that the Islamic social
order was on the verge of collapse.
The political instability incited by the Mongol menace, a foreign influence,
was symbolized at the local level by unsanctioned ʿīds in their various forms:
funerals, tomb visitations, court ceremonies, holiday celebrations. These com-
memorative public gatherings were a central feature of public life in the sul-
tanate. Although ʿīds were distinguishing markers of specific communities
whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish, they also brought different people to-
gether, blurring social distinctions between Muslims and non-Muslims, men

Indonesian, and Malay that are not included here. Despite my best efforts, new manu-
scripts on tašabbuh may be discovered in the future—expanding this bibliography.
37  I exclude the related but separate genre of treatises on the rules governing non-Muslim
subjects of an Islamic polity (aḥkām ahl al-ḏimma), which seek to regulate the behavior of
non-Muslims. The treatises against imitation, by contrast, seek to discipline the behavior
of Muslims.
38  For an exhaustive and erudite study of Muslim emotional responses to the loss of the
caliphate, see Mona Hassan, Longing for the Lost Caliphate: A Transregional History,
Princeton-Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2016.

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and women, Sunnis and Shiʿis, Arabs and non-Arabs, rich and poor, adults and
children, freepersons and slaves, and even the living and the dead. For many
ʿulamāʾ, ʿīds were dangerous sites of mimetic contagion and social upheaval
that needed to be quarantined.
Softening boundaries between the Mamluk sultanate’s Muslim majority
and its non-Muslim minority intensified anxieties among some religious and
state authorities that ḏimmīs might be collaborating secretly with foreign ene­
mies to undermine the Islamic state, which cast ḏimmīs under a cloud of sus-
picion. In 700/1301, soon after the temporary Mongol occupation of Damascus
in 699/1300, the sultanate revived the application of the Pact of ʿUmar in order
to contain the perceived ḏimmī threat.39 As part of their color-coded regula-
tions on dress, they mandated that ḏimmīs wear different colored turbans:
Christians, blue, Jews, yellow, and Samaritans, red. Muslim men, in contrast,
would continue to wear white turbans.40 Christian, Jewish, and Samaritan
women were required to wear blue, yellow, and red wraps (izār) respectively.
Christians, specifically, were required to wear a distinctive belt (zunnār).41
The decree also forbade ḏimmīs from building houses higher than those of
Muslims, riding on horses, and working in administrative positions.42
However, in 708/1309, the Mamluk sultan al-Nāṣir Muḥammad b. Qalāwūn
(d. 741/1341) considered rescinding the decree. None other than Ibn Taymiyya,
then staying in Cairo, paid the sultan a visit, knelt down deferentially, and
implored him not to do so.43 Around this time, Ibn Taymiyya was also busy
translating his political activism into religious discourse by authoring the
first treatise against imitation.44 His protégé and critic, Šams al-Dīn al-Ḏahabī
(d. 748/1348), followed with a compact digest of his own that repackaged Ibn
Taymiyya’s arguments for a general audience of Sunni Muslims. Both treatises

39  Leo Ary Mayer, Mamluk Costume: A Survey, Geneva, A. Kundig, 1952, p. 65.
40  Subsequent decrees in 755/1354 limited the physical size of ḏimmī turbans: Michael
Chamberlain, Knowledge and Social Practice in Medieval Damascus, 1190-1350, Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press (“Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization”), 2002, p. 100-106.
41  The zunnār belt was listed among the original regulations in the Pact of ʿUmar, becoming
a symbol of Christian affiliation in Muslim societies. Mayer, Mamluk Costume, p. 65.
42  Bernard Lewis translates a passage from the Egyptian historian al-Maqrīzī (d. 845/1442),
describing the decree and the circumstances surrounding it: Bernard Lewis, Islam: From
the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople: Religion and Society, New York,
Harper & Row (“Documentary History of Western Civilization”), 1974, II, p. 229-232; also
see Norman A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book, Philadelphia,
Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979, p. 69.
43  Lewis, Islam, p. 232-233.
44  See f. 50 below, which puts an approximate date on the treatise based on manuscript

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The Islamic Treatises against Imitation ( Tašabbuh ) 609

highlight the dangerous potential of ʿīds.45 They complemented related trea-

tises that aimed to regulate ḏimmī behavior, which also emerged during the
Mamluk period.

1. Title: Iqtiḍāʾ al-ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm li-muḫālafat aṣḥāb al-ǧaḥīm (A Requirement

of [Following] the Straight Path is being different from the Inhabitants of Hell)46
Author: Taqī l-Dīn Aḥmad b. Taymiyya (d. 728/1328)47
Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: Ḥanbalī
Location: Damascus, Syria
Description: Ibn Taymiyya was a prolific scholar who welcomed controversy
and confrontation. Perhaps mistaking his intensity for insanity, even his own
student, al-Ḏahabī, criticized his preoccupation with the “bidʿa of Thursday”—a

45  See below for description of both treatises.

46  Aḥmad b. Ḥalīm b. Taymiyya, Iqtiḍāʾ al-Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm li-muḫālafat aṣḥāb al-ǧaḥīm,
ed. Nāsir al-Dīn al-ʿAql, Riyadh, Maktabat al-Rušd, n.d.; English translation and critical
introduction (that does not discuss tašabbuh): Muhammad Umar Memon, Ibn Taimiya’s
Struggle against Popular Religion, The Hague, Mouton, 1976. For a general summary of
the treatise’s contents, see Jon Hoover, “Kitāb iqtiḍāʾ al-ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm li-mukhālafat
aṣḥāb al-jaḥīm; ‘The necessity of the straight path in distinction from the people of hell’,”
in Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History. (1200-1350) eds Dave Thomas and
Alex Mallet,  Leiden-Boston, Brill (“The History of Christian-Muslim Relations”, 17), 2012,
IV, p. 865-873, including a comprehensive list of manuscripts and published editions
(p. 870-872) with variant titles, such as Iqtiḍāʾ al-Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm li-muḫālafat aṣḥāb
al-ǧaḥīm and Iqtiḍāʾ al-Ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm fī al-radd alā aṣḥāb al-ǧaḥīm; other studies
address specific topics in the Iqtiḍāʾ: on celebrating the Prophet Muḥammad’s birth-
day (mawlid), see Raquel M. Ukeles, “The Sensitive Puritan? Revisiting Ibn Taymiyya’s
Approach to Law and Spirituality in Light of 20th-century Debates on the Prophet’s
Birthday (mawlid al-nabī),” in Ibn Taymiyya and His Times, eds Yossef Rapoport and
Shahab Ahmed, Oxford, Oxford University Press (“Studies in Islamic philosophy”, 4), 2010,
p. 324-325; on bidʿa, see Fierro, “The Treatises Against Innovations,” p. 208, 211, 219, 223-224,
226-229, 239.
47  Primary sources for his biography include: Muḥammad ʿUzayr Šams and ʿAlī b.
Muḥammad al-ʿImrān (eds), al-Ǧāmiʿ li-sīrat Šayḫ al-Islām Ibn Taymiyya (661-728)
ḫilāl sabʿat qurūn, Mecca, Dār ʿālam al-fawāʾid, 1999-2000; Šams al-Dīn Abū ʿAbd Allāh
Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm al-Ǧazarī, Ta‌ʾrīḫ al-zamān, Beirut, al-Maktaba l-ʿaṣriyya, 1998;
Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. ʿAbd al-Hādī, al-ʿUqūd al-durriyya min manāqib šayḫ al-islām
Aḥmad b. Taymiyya, ed. Muḥammad Ḥāmid al-Fiqī, Cairo, Maṭbaʿat al-Ḥiǧāzī, 1958;
Caterina Bori, “A New Source for the Biography of Ibn Taymiyya,” Bulletin of the School of
Oriental and African Studies, 67/3 (2004), p. 321-348; and id., “The Collection and Edition of
Ibn Taymiyya’s works: Concerns of a Disciple,” in The Mamlūk Studies Review, 13/2 (2009),
p. 47-67; Donald Little, “Did Ibn Taymiyya Have a Screw Loose?,” Studia Islamica, 41 (1975),
p. 93-111. A summary with extensive bibliography of biographical sources can be found in
the collection of essays in Rapoport and Ahmed, Ibn Taymiyya and His Times.

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driving force behind his treatise against imitation.48 Ibn Taymiyya’s influen-
tial treatise against imitation belongs to a cluster of polemical treatises he
authored that attacked Christianity and various Islamic ideologies, inclu­
ding speculative theology, Greek logic, Shiʿism, and Sufism.49 According to
Jon Hoover, Ibn Taymiyya authored the Iqtiḍāʾ sometime before 714/1315-
716/1316.50 The treatise’s bold claim is that Muslims must be different from
unbelievers—as a general rule. Tašabbuh, in other words, is not a periphe­
ral teaching, but a fundamental principle of Islam. While jurists prior to Ibn
Taymiyya had condemned specific acts of imitation, they had yet to expli­
citly proclaim a wholesale ban on imitating unbelievers, as Ibn Taymiyya
does here.51 By establishing a theoretical foundation with support from a
wide array of Islamic texts—Qurʾānic verses, ḥadīṯ, and legal opinions—Ibn
Taymiyya transformed tašabbuh from a diffuse concept into a coherent Islamic
discourse.52 In his interpretation of the famous ḥadīṯ, “Whoever imitates a
people becomes one of them,” he draws a comparison to Kor 5, 51, which warns
against befriending or forming alliances with Christians and Jews.53 This gloss
gives the ḥadīṯ a wholly negative valence.
At the same time, he explains that imitation is not a black and white legal
issue. In normal circumstances, the legal rulings governing imitation range
from prohibited (ḥarām) and detested (makrūh) to just permissible (mubāḥ).
In exceptional circumstances, though, such as when a Muslim travels to non-
Muslim lands, imitation may be recommended (mustaḥabb) or even obligatory
( farḍ)—if performed with the proper objectives (maqāṣid) in mind. Intention
thus played a central role in Ibn Taymiyya’s reasoning. The wrong intention
could turn a merely sinful act into an act of apostasy; a noble intention, by con-
trast, could turn a prohibited act into a praiseworthy one that merited reward
in the afterlife.

48  See “Golden Advice to Ibn Taymiyya” written by al-Ḏahabī to his teacher near the end
of his life: Šams al-Dīn al-Ḏahabī, al-Naṣīḥa al-ḏahabiyya li-Bn Taymiyya, in Bayān zaġal
al-ʿilm wa-l-ṭalab, ed. Muḥammad Zāhid al-Kawṯarī, Damascus, Maṭbaʿat al-tawfīq,
1347/1928-1929, p. 32-34.
49  For a list and summary of his polemical works on Muslim-Christian relations, see Thomas
and Mallet, Christian-Muslim Relations, IV, p. 824-878.
50  This manuscript, dated to 715/1315-1316, is held in the Chester Beatty library: MS Dublin,
Chester Beatty, 4160. Jon Hoover, “Kitāb iqtiḍāʾ al-ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm li-mukhālafat aṣḥāb
al-ǧaḥīm,” in Christian-Muslim Relations, IV, p. 866.
51  Whether or not readers agree with Ibn Taymiyya’s muscular definition of tašabbuh, it may
still be called a doctrine. See my discussion in f. 22.
52  See f. 5 for my definition of discourse.
53  Kor 5, 51: man yatawallahum min-kum fa-innahu min-hum (“Whoever among you be-
friends them becomes one of them”).

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The Islamic Treatises against Imitation ( Tašabbuh ) 611

The concept of šiʿār also played a critical role in his analysis. Ibn Taymiyya
does not condemn mimicry in all its forms, but upholds a more nuanced posi-
tion. He argues that imitating the distinguishing markers of a foreign commu-
nity is the main problem, especially when its power and prestige is augmented
at the expense of Islam. Muslim participation at unsanctioned ʿīds is a particu-
larly sensitive matter to Ibn Taymiyya because they are occasions where non-
Muslims make a public spectacle of the symbols that collectively define them.
By imitating non-Muslims during ʿīds, Muslims strengthen the symbols of rival
communities who ought to be subdued, not emboldened.
Although Maribel Fierro classified the Iqtiḍāʾ as a “treatise against innova-
tion,” Ibn Taymiyya is in fact more preoccupied with the dangers of imitation,
which drives his main argument in the treatise. In fact, he takes pains to il-
lustrate the interdependence between the doctrines of bidʿa and tašabbuh for
upholding the Prophetic sunna and regulating the normative boundaries of
Islam. When a jurist judges an act both reprehensible imitation (tašabbuh) and
innovation (bidʿa) at once, he may use two distinct legal justifications (ʿilla) to
interdict the act. In sum, the act becomes even more reprehensible and dan-
gerous. As discussed below, Ibn Taymiyya’s treatise has gained traction in the
last century, inspiring treatises against imitation authored by Salafī Muslims
from Saudi Arabia.

2. Title: Tašabbuh al-ḫasīs bi-ahl al-ḫamīs fī radd al-tašabbuh bi-l-mušrikīn (The

Despicable Person’s Imitation of the People of Thursday: Rejecting the Imitation
of Idolaters)54

54  Šams al-Dīn al-Ḏahabī, Tašabbuh al-ḫasīs bi-ahl al-ḫamīs fī radd al-tašabbuh bi-l-mušrikīn,
ed. ʿAlī Ḥasan ʿAlī ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd, Amman, Dār ʿammār, 1988; id., Tašabbuh al-ḫasīs bi-
ahl al-ḫamīs fī radd al-tašabbuh bi-l-mušrikīn, ed. Muḥammad Ḥasan Ismāʿīl, Beirut, Dār
al-kutub al-ʿilmiyya, 2002; id., Tašbīh al-ḫasīs bi-ahl al-ḫamīs, ed. Mašhūr ʿAlī Ḥasan ʿAlī
Salmān, n.p., 2005?, accessed 03/22/2017,
bih_khasis_thahabi.pdf—downloaded from his personal website, (
books/) which records the upload date as 01/01/2005). ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd and Ismāʿīl rely on
MS 4908 from the Dār al-kutub al-miṣriyya dated to the 10th/16th century, while Salmān
depends upon two manuscript copies for his version: MS 4908 from the Dār al-kutub al-
miṣriyya and MS 4669 from the Asad National Library, dated 878/1473-1474. Salmān says
that with fewer omissions, the Asad manuscript is superior to the Egyptian copy (appa­
rently, he discovered a third manuscript copy, also from the Asad National Library, which
differs slightly from MS 4669. He says that he will incorporate that copy into his updated
edition). The title of Salmān’s edition, Tašbīh al-ḫasīs, also differs from the other two edi-
tions, using the form II (tašbīh) in place of form V (tašabbuh), which is more commonly
used in this context. Al-Ḏahabī, for example, never employs form II in the treatise. Salmān
opts for tašbīh because that is the title preserved in the Asad manuscript, which he deems
more trustworthy. In his 1988 edition, ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd argues that tašabbuh makes more

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Author: Šams al-Dīn al-Ḏahabī (d. 748/1348)55

Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: Šāfiʿī
Location: Damascus, Syria
Description: Šams al-Dīn al-Ḏahabī was a distinguished and prolific scholar,
most famous for his works on prosopography, ḥadīṯ and biography. He also
penned a brief treatise against imitation, which is available in multiple
editions.56 Though less prolix than the Iqtiḍāʾ, Tašabbuh al-ḫasīs nonetheless
recasts key features of Ibn Taymiyya’s argument (without ever mentioning
it) in abbreviated form. First, al-Ḏahabī depends upon ḥadīṯ to demonstrate
that Muslims should not imitate people of the book (ahl al-kitāb)—from well-
known traditions that criticize imitation in general to obscure ones that regu-
late specific acts like dyeing the beard or praying in shoes. He even glosses
the ḥadīṯ, “Whoever imitates a people becomes one of them,” with Kor 5, 51.
Next, he links the vices of imitation (tašabbuh) to innovation (bidʿa) as twin
evils that undermine the sunna. Finally, al-Ḏahabī mobilizes this evidence to
condemn Muslim participation at unsanctioned ʿīds: “What evil is greater than
joining Jews and Christians in their celebrations … while they do not join or
imitate us in our celebrations.”57 “Thursday” mentioned in the treatise’s title
refers to Maundy or Lentil Thursday, which Damascene Christians celebrated
during the final days of Lent, culminating in the Easter holiday. Disgusted by
Muslim mimicry of Christians at these festivals, al-Ḏahabī criticizes seemingly
harmless holiday rituals such as baking flat loaves of bread, painting eggs, dye-
ing hair, wearing special attire, burning incense, and hanging crosses made
of tar. For good measure, al-Ḏahabī censures Good Friday, Christmas, and
Nawrūz as well.

linguistic sense, however. I also incline to this position. Unfortunately, Tašabbuh al-ḫasīs
is not included in the otherwise exemplary Christian-Muslim Relations, IV. The English
translation, Imitating the Disbelievers, is followed by an appendix explaining the ḥadīṯ,
“Whoever imitates a people becomes one of them”: al-Ḏahabī, Imitating the Disbelievers,
transl. Abū Rumaysah, Birmingham, Daar us-Sunnah, 2002.
55  See the comprehensive entry, Caterina Bori, “al-Dhahabī,” EI3, which includes al-Ḏahabī’s
biography, bibliography, and biographical notices, including: Ibn Ḥaǧar al-ʿAsqalānī,
al-Durar al-kāmina fī aʿyān al-miʾa al-ṯāmina, ed. ʿAbd al-Wāriṯ Muḥammad ʿAlī, Beirut,
1997, III, p. 204-205; al-Ṣafadī, Kitāb al-Wāfī bi-l-wafayāt, ed. Sven Dederingd, Wiesbaden,
F. Steiner (“Bibliotheca Islamica”, 6b) 1949, II, p. 163-168; Tāǧ al-Dīn al-Subkī, Ṭabaqāt
al-šāfiʿiyya l-kubrā, ed. Maḥmūd Muḥammad al-Ṭanāḥī and ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ Muḥammad
al-Ḥilw, Cairo, ʿĪsā l-Bābī l-Ḥalabī, 1964-1976, IX, p. 100-122.
56  See my discussion in f. 54.
57  Al-Ḏahabī, Tašabbuh al-ḫasīs bi-ahl al-ḫamīs, ed. ʿAlī Salmān, p. 20; id., Imitating the
Disbelievers, p. 23.

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Yet, despite sharing a disdain for imitation with Ibn Taymiyya, al-Ḏahabī
adopts his own rhetorical style in Tašabbuh al-ḫasīs. Potentially inspired by
his preaching activities, al-Ḏahabī keeps his message concise and simple to
appeal to the common Muslim by focusing on scripture and avoiding the com-
plex discussions contained in commentaries and legal compendia.58 To per-
sonalize the message, he speaks directly to the reader, employing the second
person, “You.” Besides threatening his audience with disgrace in the afterlife,
he reminds them of tašabbuh’s consequences by repeating, “Whoever imitates
a people becomes one of them,” like a poetic refrain from beginning to end.
However, by seeking clarity of expression, al-Ḏahabī also sacrifices concep-
tual nuance. Normally, intention plays an important role in the application of
Islamic law. But al-Ḏahabī diminishes the relevance of intention to tašabbuh;
no matter how noble a believer’s intention may be, a prohibited act of imi-
tation remains prohibited—a hardline legal position that Ibn Taymiyya had
softened in the Iqtiḍāʾ.59

3. Title: Tanbīh al-ġāfilīn al-ḥayārā ʿalā mā warada min al-nahy ʿan al-tašabbuh
bi-l-naṣārā (Awakening the Confused and Careless to what is said about the
Prohibition of Imitating Christians)60
Author: Aḥmad b. Abī Bakr b. Aḥmad al-Qādirī (Ibn Rassām) (d. 844/1441)61
Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: Ḥanbalī
Location: Hama/Aleppo, Syria
Description: Comprising ten folios and twenty pages, the unpublished treatise
of Aḥmad al-Qādirī warns Muslims against imitating Christian ways, based on
textual evidence from the Qurʾān, prophetic ḥadīṯ, sayings of the salaf, and au-
thorities from the Ḥanbalī and Mālikī schools of law. Al-Qādirī also draws from
the treatises against imitation of his fellow countrymen, Ibn Taymiyya and

58  Bori, “al-Dhahabī,” EI3. Also see Linda Gale Jones, The Power of Oratory in the Medieval
Muslim World, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press (“Cambridge Studies in Islamic
Civilization”), 2012, p. 38-100.
59  Ukeles, “The Sensitive Puritan?,” p. 324-325.
60  Aḥmad b. Abī Bakr b. Aḥmad al-Ḥamawī l-Qādirī, Tanbīh al-ġāfilīn al-ḥayārā ʿalā
mā warada min al-nahy ʿan al-tašabbuh bi-l-naṣārā. The manuscript was held in the
Berlin State Library (MS 2105), but later transported to the Jagiellonian Library at The
Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, where it is currently held. See Wilhelm
Ahlwardt, Verzeichnis der arabischen Handschriften der Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin,
Berlin, A. Asher, 1889, VIII, p. 458, no 2105.
61  Al-Qādirī was a jurist who spent most of his life in Syria. Born in Hama, he later served as
a qāḍī in Tripoli and Aleppo, where he died. For a biography of the author, see Šams al-Dīn
al-Saḫāwī, al-Ḍawʾ al-lāmiʿ li-ahl al-qarn al-tāsiʿ, Beirut, Dār al-ǧīl, 1992, I, p. 250.

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al-Ḏahabī. Although roughly one century had passed since Ibn Taymiyya and
al-Ḏahabī had composed their treatises, al-Qādirī still laments the corrupting
effects of “Despicable Thursday (al-ḫamīs al-ḥaqīr)” upon Syrian Muslims, es-
pecially the youth. Even outside Damascus, Muslims in Aleppo were painting
eggs, lighting incense, and playing music on this and other Christian holidays.
Al-Qādirī’s simple and straightforward rhetorical style resembles that of al-
Ḏahabī, indicating that he wrote for a general Muslim audience. Besides in-
voking a number of well-known and lesser-known traditions, he threatens the
reader with punishment in the afterlife, such as having one’s acts of devotion
(fasting, pilgrimage) rejected by God and being denied the honor of drinking
from the Prophet’s sacred fountain (ḥawḍ)—a fitting consequence for displa­
cing the Prophet’s sunna with reprehensible innovations (bidaʿ). The manu-
script was completed in Aleppo, ǧumādā II 831/March-April 1428.

4. Title: Risāla fī l-tašabbuh (A Treatise on Imitation)62

Language: Arabic
Author: Unknown (d. 9th/15th-10th/16th century?)
Maḏhab: Unknown
Location: Greater Syria
Description: Although neither the title nor the author are named in the lone
manuscript copy of this treatise against imitation I could find, its subject mat-
ter is clear: the reprehensibility of imitating unbelievers. The treatise is brief:
three folios and five leaves. The author draws on familiar hadith traditions cen-
suring the imitation of Jews, Christians, and polytheists, although the author is
most troubled by Muslims imitating Christians during their holidays, especially
“Despicable Thursday,” by participating in ritual practices such as gambling,
painting eggs, and buying incense; these imitators should not be dealt with
harshly, however, so they remain receptive to changing their behavior. Rather
than appeal to the opinions of religious authorities or the schools of Islamic
law to persuade the reader to shun tašabbuh, the author prefers to cite source
texts attributed to the Prophet and the salaf.
Some details in the treatise allude to the time and place in which the au-
thor may have lived. The author mentions Christians in Baʿlabak and al-Biqāʿ

62  So named by the Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library because no title could be found,
Risāla fī l-tašabbuh is the fourth treatise in a collection of treatises (al-maǧmūʿa) on a
variety of subjects: šarīʿa-compliant methods of making soap, smoking hashish, perfor­
ming prayer, as well as excerpts from a history of Mecca and al-Ġazālī’s Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn.
See H.L. no 2582/no 2806 in the Catalogue of Arabic and Persian Manuscripts in the Khuda
Baksh Oriental Public Library, Patna, Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library, 1970, XXVII,
p. 1-8.

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valley lighting fires, among other reprehensible practices, to commemorate

īd al-ṣalīb, suggesting that he may have lived near that region. He also men-
tions the Mamluk sultan’s decree of 700/1301, which imposed color-coded tur-
bans upon the realm’s ḏimmī populations, suggesting that the author lived no
earlier than the 8th/14th century; he may have been a contemporary of Ibn
Taymiyya and al-Ḏahabī, or succeeded them by a century or more, before the
demise of the Mamluk Sultanate in 922/1517. The manuscript’s scribe—likely
a resident of Tripoli, Syria (now Lebanon)—Muṣṭafā b. ʿAbd al-Ḥayy, finished
copying the manuscript on 11 ramaḍān 1041/March 22, 1632 for a certain Šayḫ
ʿAbd al-Karīm.63

3 Early Modern Treatises (Ottoman Damascus)

Though considered by some historians as a period bereft of intellectual cre-

ativity, the early modern period gave birth to the most exhaustive and erudite
treatise on imitation ever written.64 For the Arabs, this period was characte­
rized by more political instability. The Ottomans succeeded the Mamluks as
sovereigns of the central Arab-Islamic provinces in the third decade of the
tenth/second decade of the sixteenth century. From the Arab point of view,
however, one foreign Turkish ruler replaced another; although the Ottoman
Turks espoused Islam, they were still called “Arwām (s. al-Rūm)”—a label once
used for the Christian Romans.65
By the turn of the eleventh/seventeenth century, a currency inflation ca-
tastrophe, population swells, peasant lawlessness, and rising power of the
janissaries all contributed to a sense of insecurity and anxiety among Ottoman
religious and state elites. In response to these events, the Ottoman sultan

63  In the account of his travels to Tripoli in 1048/1638, the Damascene writer, Yaḥyā
l-Maḥāsinī (d. 1053/1643), mentions that a certain Muṣṭafā b. ʿAbd al-Ḥayy was a member
of the Šāfiʿī legal school and the ḫaṭīb of al-ǧāmiʿ al-kabīr in Tripoli. Given the correspon-
dence between the date of al-Maḥāsinī’s visit to Tripoli and the copy date mentioned in
the manuscript’s colophon, it is not unreasonable to assume that this was the same ʿAbd
al-Ḥayy who copied the treatise. See Yaḥyā l-Maḥāsinī, al-Manāzil al-maḥāsiniyya fī l-riḥla
l-ṭarābulusiyya, Beirut, Dār al-āfāq al-ǧadīda, 1981, p. 17.
64  Although recent studies by El-Roueyheb and Ahmad have helped to puncture the de-
cline thesis: Khaled El-Rouayheb, “Opening the Gate of Verification: The Forgotten Arab-
Islamic Florescence of the 17th Century,” International Journal of Middle East Studies,
38 (2006), p. 263-281; Shahab Ahmed, What is Islam? The Importance of being Islamic,
Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2016.
65  Bruce Alan Masters, The Arabs of the Ottoman Empire, 1516-1918: A Social and Cultural
History, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 13.

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Murād III (r. 982/1574-1003/1595) revived the sartorial restrictions on Christians

and Jews, who imitated Muslim elites in their styles of dress. To halt the in-
termingling between Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Ottoman urban neigh-
borhoods, the first of these imperial decrees ( firman), issued in 986/1577,
prohibited Jews and Christians from wearing silk and sandals colored red or
white.66 The second decree of 987/1579 ordered that Jews and Christians re-
place their turbans with conical hats: red for Jews and black for Christians.67
The coffeehouse, an institution that had spread throughout Ottoman lands
during the tenth/sixteenth century, became a venue for people of different
religions, classes, and cultures to intermingle—as often happened at ʿīds du­
ring Mamluk times. Ottoman ʿulamāʾ like Naǧm al-Dīn al-Ġazzī of Damascus
viewed this and other cultural developments with suspicion due to their
potentially corrupting influences on society and morality. It was within this
crucible of cultural changes that al-Ġazzī authored his magisterial treatise on

5. Title: Ḥusn al-tanabbuh li-mā warada fī l-tašabbuh (The Virtue of Awakening

to what has been transmitted regarding Imitation)68
Language: Arabic
Author: Naǧm al-Dīn al-Ġazzī (d. 1061/1651)69
Maḏhab: Šāfiʿī
Location: Damascus, Syria

66  Elli Kohen, History of the Turkish Jews and Sephardim: Memories of a Past Golden Age,
Lanham, University Press of America, 2007, p. 103.
67  Ibid.
68  Naǧm al-Dīn al-Ġazzī, Ḥusn al-tanabbuh li-mā warada fī l-tašabbuh, ed. Nūr al-Dīn al-
Ṭālib, Beirut, Dār al-nawādir, 2011. The published edition is a critical edition, based on
the following three manuscripts: the original three volume manuscript is preserved, in
its entirety, in the original handwriting of the author. Two volumes of this manuscript
exist at the Syria’s National Library in Damascus (Maktabat al-Asad). The third volume of
this handwritten version is held by the Chester Beatty library in Ireland. Another manu-
script copy in seven volumes also exists at the Asad National Library; this version was
written by a contemporary of al-Ġazzī. Finally, a third and complete copy of the manu-
script is held in the Süleymaniye library in Istanbul. The copyist as well as its copy date
is unknown.
69  For biographies of al-Ġazzī, see the entries in: Muḥammad al-Muḥibbī, Ḫulāṣat al-aṯar fī
aʿyān al-qarn al-ḥādī ʿašar, Beirut, Maktabat Ḫayyāṭ, 1966, IV, p. 189-200; and Muḥammad
Muṭīʿ Ḥāfiẓ and Nizār Abāẓa, ʿUlamāʾ Dimašq wa-aʿyānuhā fī l-qarn al-ḥādī ʿašar al-
hiǧrī, Beirut, Dār al-fikr, 2000, II, p. 67-81. Also see the introductions to al-Ġazzī, Ḥusn
al-­tanabbuh, I, p. 11-37; and al-Ġazzī, Luṭf al-samar qaṭf al-ṯaman, ed. Maḥmūd al-Šayḫ,
Damascus, Wizārat al-ṯaqāfa wa-l-iršād al-qawmī, 1981, I, p. 11-152.

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Description: Raised in a family of religious scholars, the Sufi-jurist from

Damascus, Naǧm al-Dīn al-Ġazzī, composed approximately fifty works, fewer
than half of which survive in a wide range of subjects including: grammar,
rhetoric, poetry, jurisprudence, medicine, Sufism, ethics, ḥadīṯ, Qurʾānic exege-
sis, history, and travelogue. While he excelled as scholar of ḥadīṯ, he is known
today for his biographies of Muslim notables living in the sixteenth and early
eleventh/seventeenth centuries.70
Al-Ġazzī also authored the most sophisticated and nuanced treatise on
tašabbuh to date, a work that took nearly forty years to complete, a period
spanning nearly half his life. Ḥusn al-tanabbuh is an exhaustive compendium
of knowledge, a weighty tome that spans twelve volumes in the published edi-
tion. Considering its imposing physical size and vast intellectual scope, the
treatise may be considered an encyclopedia of imitation.71
Far from representing the decline Islamic intellectual history, Ḥusn al-
tanabbuh represents the post-classical Islamic tradition at its full maturity. Al-
Ġazzī synthesizes the entire repertoire of Islamic disciplines including ḥadīṯ,
law, Qurʾānic exegesis, ethics, and philology. The bulk of Ḥusn al-tanabbuh,
however, is a compilation of wisdom. As a master of traditions, he complies
a wide range of quotations from multiple literary courses, including poetry
and literature. Yet, remarkably, Ḥusn al-tanabbuh has gone virtually ignored by
Western and Islamic scholarship alike.72 It thus suffers the dubious distinction
of being among the most erudite yet underappreciated treatises in the history
of Islamic thought.
Inflected by al-Ġazzī’s Sufi sensibilities, Ḥusn al-tanabbuh is not simply a
treatise against imitation; it is also a treatise for imitation. From at least the
fourth/tenth century, Sufis had employed tašabbuh in their vocabulary of spiri-
tual transformation—that true aspirants must first outwardly emulate their
Sufi masters in order to truly become like them.73 Al-Ġazzī brings this margina­
lized perspective to the center. His emphasis on tašabbuh’s positive potential

70  Al-Ġazzī, Luṭf al-samar qaṭf al-ṯaman.

71  Elias Muhanna, “Encyclopaedias, Arabic,” EI3.
72  There have been just a few passing references to al-Ġazzī’s work among Western histori-
ans. See Abdul Karim Rafeq, “The Economic Organization of Cities in Ottoman Syria,” in
The Urban Social History of the Middle East, 1750-1950, ed. Peter Sluglett, Syracuse, Syracuse
University Press (“Modern Intellectual and Political History of the Middle East”), 2008;
see references to al-Ġazzī’s treatise in Winter’s translations of al-Nābulusī’s ethnically
charged polemic in Michael Winter, “A Polemical Treatise by ʿAbd al-Ġanī al-Nābulusī
against a Turkish Scholar on the Religious Status of the Ḏimmīs,” Arabica, 35/1 (1988),
p. 92-103. Among Muslims, see the short list of Saudi academic treatises below, which
acknowledge al-Ġazzī’s contribution to the discourse of tašabbuh.
73  Salamah-Qudsi, “The Idea of Tashabbuh in Sufi Communities and Literature,” p. 175-197.

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marks a significant departure from both his predecessors and successors who
concentrate on its negative potential.
Al-Ġazzī’s double identity as Sufi­jurist is reflected in his synthesis of esoteric
and exoteric discourses. In al-Ġazzī’s balanced analysis, imitation is a bipolar
phenomenon that could lead to good and bad consequences for Muslims, in-
dividually and collectively: imitation could either corrupt or illuminate the be-
liever’s soul, and could also bind or unravel the Muslim community. Al-Ġazzī
saw imitation through the lens of love; imitation of someone else is only true
and lasting when motivated by love.
Although al-Ġazzī tried to dissuade Muslims from promiscuously imitating
non-Muslims, he understood that a Muslim’s moral possibilities were not de-
termined solely through religious identity. Muslims inhabited a variegated and
complex social world that spanned a wide range of social relations. Reflecting
this broad social vision, and distinguishing itself from other treatises against
imitation, most of Ḥusn al-tanabbuh examines Muslim imitation beyond its re-
lation to non-Muslims. It explores how imitation mediates relations between
men and women, Arabs and non-Arabs, free persons and slaves, rich and poor,
scholars and commoners, as well as between humans and various non­human
agents (angels, devils, and animals). The treatise engages human identity for-
mation in its varied expressions, encompassing religion, ethnicity, gender,
class, ability and age.
The treatise is divided into two parts: praiseworthy imitation and blame-
worthy imitation, which is slightly lengthier. Part one on praiseworthy imi-
tation begins with a chapter on angels, and continues with four chapters on
human exemplars that follow a Qurʾānic taxonomy: pious exemplars, martyrs,
true servants, and prophets. Part two on blameworthy imitation is divided
into three basic categories: Satan, unbelievers, and corrupt people ( fasaqa).
Unbelievers are subdivided into Jews and Christians, pagans, and non-Arabs;
corrupt people are subdivided into innovators (from a Sunni perspective) like
the Shiʿa and Qadariyya theological sects, and non-innovators like children
and the insane. The final, surprisingly large section (nearly two full volumes)
on animals is something of an outlier. This category, unlike the others, is sub-
divided into chapters on animals worthy of imitation and animals unworthy of
imitation; Muslims should wake up early in the morning for prayer like roos­
ters, but should not usurp someone else’s property like snakes. In the conclu-
sion, al-Ġazzī explains why he organized the treatise in this way: the treatise
begins with angels and ends with animals because these creatures represent
the two antipodes of human moral possibility. Ḥusn al-tanabbuh expresses
al-Ġazzī’s cosmic vision of an ideal moral order.

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4 Colonial Modernity

The rise of European colonialism (12th/18th-14th/20th c.) coincided with the

decline of Muslim political power, and eventual demise of the caliphate in
1924.74 In response to ongoing military conflict between the European West
and the Islamic East where the balance of power tilted decisively away from the
Muslims, ʿulamāʾ wrote treatises against imitation in nations where Muslims
were both the majority and minority: Turkey, Austria, India, Indonesia, Nigeria,
Syria, Morocco, and Egypt—a sprawling list of countries spanning different
regions across Europe, Asia and Africa. Many of these treatises emerged from
the cauldron of political conflict, such as the Spanish-Moroccan war, civil
strife in Nigeria, British Empire in India, and the creation of a secular republic
in Turkey.
These treatises are generally concise, written following the spread of mo­
dern print technologies and mass literacy, which enabled ʿulamāʾ to reach a
wider audience of Muslims beyond elite circles of specialists. The geographic
diffusion of treatises against imitation, East and West, reveals how aping the
West became a global Muslim anxiety. These treatises stress the dangers of
European cultural influence upon Islamic civilization. Its authors wondered
how they could limit the spread of this plague-like epidemic, which had be-
come so pervasive that it inspired the Persian neologism, ġarbzadegī.75
For some of these authors, there was no line dividing religious discourse
from political activism. Two African scholars, Usman Dan Fodio and Aḥmad
al-Ġumārī, fought jihad, while Turkish scholar, Iskilipli Aṭĭf Hoca, authored a
controversial treatise against imitating European hats, which led to his execu-
tion by the newly formed Turkish republic. Other scholars (al-Dimyāṭī, Ġāwuǧī,
al-Tuwayǧirī) also criticized the trend of wearing European-style hats—a vi­
sible sign of Western cultural hegemony—responding (indirectly) to a 1903
fatwa penned by the grand mufti of Egypt and vanguard of Islamic modernism,

74  For a general overview of key topics in modern Islam, see Martin van Bruinessen, Armando
Salvatore, and Muhammad Khalid Masud, Islam and Modernity: Key Issues and Debates,
Boston, Edinburgh University Press, 2009; on modernist trends in Islamic thought, see
Charles Kurzman, Modernist Islam, 1840-1940: A Sourcebook, Oxford-New York, Oxford
University Press, 2002; and on responses of the ʿulamāʾ, see Muhammad Qasim Zaman,
The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change, Princeton, Princeton University
Press (“Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics”), 2002.
75  The term has been translated in English variously as “Westoxification” and “Occidentosis.”
See Ǧalāl Āl-e Aḥmad, Ġarbzadegī, Tehran, Khorram, 2011; id., Occidentosis: A Plague from
the West, transl. Robert Campbell, ed. Hamid Algar, Berkeley, Mizan Press (“Contemporary
Islamic Thought. Persian Series”), 1983.

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Muḥammad ʿAbduh (d. 1323/1905), who permitted Muslims in Transvaal, South

Africa, to wear European hats for utilitarian purposes, like conducting business
with non-Muslims or being shielded from the sun.76

6. Title: Taḥḏīr ahl al-īmān min al-tašabbuh bi-ahl al-kufr wa-l-ʿiṣyān (Warning
the People of Faith against Imitating the People of Unbelief and Disobedience)77
Author: ʿUṯmān b. Muḥammad Fodiye (Usman Dan Fodio) (d. 1233/1817)78
Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: Mālikī
Location: Nigeria (Sokoto)
Description: A scholar-activist, Usman Dan Fodio boldly led jihad, ultimately
establishing an Islamic state in Sokoto. Expressing his utopian ideals, Taḥḏīr
ahl al-īmān may be viewed against this political backdrop. It is the earliest trea-
tise against imitation authored during the colonial-modern period, preceding
the others by nearly two centuries. Just forty pages in length, the treatise is
divided into seven sections, and focuses on the dangers of imitating non-
Muslims, although one section discusses men and women imitating and re-
sembling one other.
Dan Fodio begins Taḥḏīr ahl al-īmān by legally classifying three different
types of social alliances with unbelievers, or wilāya: 1) alliances that turn
a Muslim into an apostate; 2) sinful alliances; and 3) permissible alliances.

76  The original text of ʿAbduh’s fatwa and brief commentary from Egyptian Azharī ʿulamāʾ
can be found in Iršād al-umma al-islāmiyya ilā aqwāl al-aʿimma fī l-fatwā al-transfāliyya,
Cairo, ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd Ḥamrūš al-Baḥrāwī al-Azharī, 1322/1903-1904, p. 7-8, 45-47. For
an English translation and brief commentary on the fatwa, see Charles C. Adams,
“Muḥammad ʿAbduh and the Transvaal Fatwā,” in The Macdonald Presentation Volume,
Freeport, Books for Libraries Press, 1968, p. 13-29. Also see John O. Voll, “Abduh and the
Transvaal Fatwa: The Neglected Question,” in Islam and the Question of Minorities, ed.
Tamarra Sonn, Atlanta, Scholars Press (“South Florida-Rochester-Saint Louis Studies
on Religion and the Social Order”, 14), 1996, p. 27-40; Malcolm Kerr, Islamic Reform: The
Political and Legal Theories of Muḥammad ʿAbduh and Rashīd Riḍā, Berkeley, University of
California Press, 1966, p. 145.
77  ʿUṯmān b. Muḥammad Fodiye, Taḥḏīr ahl al-īmān min al-tašabbuh bi-ahl al-kufr wa-
l-ʿiṣyān, Sokoto, n.d. Copies are held in the Northwestern University Library, John
Hunwick collection of Arabic manuscripts, no 141, and the Center for Islamic Studies
Specialist Library in Sokoto, Nigeria (1/4/54). Manuscripts are located in Sokoto, Nigeria,
at the Center for Islamic Studies Specialist Library (1/4/52-55); State History Bureau
(1/13/50, 1/19/79a, 1/23/99; and Waziri Junaidu Collection (13/87). See John Hunwick and
R.S. O’Fahey, Arabic Literature of Africa: Writings of Central Sudanic Africa, Leiden, Brill,
1995, p. 72.
78  Mervyn Hiskett, The Sword of Truth: The Life and Times of the Shehu Usuman dan Fodio,
Evanston, Northwestern University Press (“Islam and Society in Africa”), 1994.

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According to Dan Fodio, the distinction between the first and second cases
is based solely upon a person’s intention; only in the rare situation where a
Muslim befriends an unbeliever due to his infidelity and rejection of Islam
alone does he become an apostate. Likewise, only during periods of necessity,
such as Muslim social, political, or economic weakness, does wilāya with unbe-
lievers become permissible; in all other circumstances, wilāya is sinful.
Moving from these general guidelines to specific applications of tašabbuh,
Dan Fodio devotes three chapters to examining the legality of sartorial practi­
ces that confound religious, gender, and ethnic identity such as Muslims dres­
sing like infidels, non-Arabs or foreigners, and men and women cross-dressing.
He also concludes the treatise with a homily exhorting moderation in dress.
For Dan Fodio, regulating dress was not a petty matter, but essential to helping
Muslims realize both their spiritual and social ideals.
Dan Fodio was a firm proponent of the Mālikī school of jurisprudence. He
frequently cites Mālikī authorities such as Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795-796), Ibn
al-Ḥāǧǧ (d. 737/1336), Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 543/1148), Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ (d. 544/1149), and
Aḥmad Zarrūq (d. 899/1493). His commitment to the Mālikī school, however,
does not blind him to the opinions of scholars from other maḏhabs. He quotes
liberally from Šāfiʿī scholars such as al-Ġazālī, al-Suyūṭī (d. 911/1505), Zakariyyā
l-Anṣārī (d. 926/1520), Ibn Ḥaǧar al-Hayṯamī (d. 974/1566-1567), al-ʿIzz b. ʿAbd
al-Salām (d. 660/1262), signaling his broad engagement with the Sunni Islamic
scholarly tradition.

7. Title: Rafʿ al-šubha fī l-tašabbuh bi-l-kafara wa-l-ẓalama wa-l-ǧahala

(Removing the Doubt concerning the Imitation of Unbelievers, Wrongdoers, and
Author: Muḥammad Bello (Muḥammad b. ʿUṯmān b. Fodiye) (d. 1253/1837)80
Language: Arabic

79  I accessed two different copies of the treatise from the John Hunwick collection of Arabic
manuscripts at the Northwestern University Library: 1) No 8, a published copy of eleven
pages, Muḥammad Bello, Rafʿ al-šubha fī l-tašabbuh bi-l-kafara wa-l-ẓalama wa-l-ǧahala,
Sokoto, C.I.S., n.d. The cover matter also mentions a second work, ʿAlāmāt ḫurūǧ al-
mahdī, although it has been omitted from the copy held in the Hunwick collection; 2)
No 116, a manuscript of eight leaves, copied by hand in the late 1950’s. For references
to these and other available copies of the treatise, see Hunwick and O’Fahey, Arabic
Literature of Africa, p. 137.
80  On Bello, along with a list of additional sources, see John Hunwick “Muḥammad Bello,”
EI2. Also see, Hiskett, The Sword of Truth, p. 81-104; Paul Ellsworth Lovejoy, Jihād in West
Africa during the Age of Revolutions, Athens, Ohio State University Press, 2016, p. 68-101,
206-233; and for a comprehensive list of his written works, published and unpublished,
Hunwick and O’Fahey, Arabic Literature of Africa, p. 114-149.

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Maḏhab: Mālikī
Location: Nigeria (Sokoto)
Description: Muḥammad Bello not only succeeded his father, Usman Dan
Fodio, as the sultan of Sokoto, but also penned his own treatise against imita-
tion. A shorter work than that of his father, Rafʿ al-šubha is less a catalog of
Islamic proof texts against imitation than an inventory of reprehensible prac-
tices, arranged into three categories that correspond to three classes of people:
unbelievers, wrongdoers, and ignoramuses. Bello criticizes Muslims who copy
unbelievers in practices such as singing verses from the Qurʾān along with a
tambourine, following soothsayers, and wearing unsanctioned headgear such
as the ṭarṭūr, a high conical cap worn by dervishes and clowns. Much of his
criticism of wrongdoers—especially the wealthy and powerful—focuses
on their extravagant tendencies, including their flamboyant dress and large
homes. But for Bello, “The root of corruption in our land—the land of black
people (bilādunā al-sūdān)—is that the educated and learned blindly follow
the ignorant.” Instances of this last type of imitation include the habit of re-
placing the universal Islamic greeting of al-salām ʿalaykum with other local
greetings and barging into someone else’s home without permission while its
women residents are not yet dressed appropriately for public exposure.
Before concluding the treatise, Bello inserts a brief theoretical discussion
on the place of custom in Islamic law. He disagrees with Muslim jurists who
are too accommodating of local custom, arguing that custom is subject to her-
meneutical constraints and cannot abrogate God’s law. He also criticizes reli-
gious scholars who permit a corrupt custom based on the precedent of earlier
scholars who did not condemn it, arguing that they may have remained silent
because the custom had not yet become corrupt, or because they were preoc-
cupied with more pressing concerns. Regardless of past precedent, Bello as-
serts, it remains the responsibility of religious scholars to be “people of their
times (ahl al-zamān)” and to set things right.

8. Title: Adāt al-tanabbuh fī bayān maʿnā al-tašabbuh (The Tools of Awakening

for Clarifying the Meaning of Imitation)81
Author: Mawlawī ʿAbd al-Ḥayy b. Ḥāfiz Aḥmad Kaflītwī (d. 1909-?)82

81  Mawlawī ʿAbd al-Ḥayy, Adāt al-tanabbuh fī bayān maʿnā al-tašabbuh, Delhi, Tuhfa-e Hind,
1326/1909. The only published copy of the treatise I could find is held at the British Library
in their Vernacular Tracts series (VT 3061A).
82  On the treatise’s cover, it is mentioned that Mawlawī ʿAbd al-Ḥayy is Sūratī, or original-
ly from Surat, India. He is also described as ḫaṭīb ǧāmiʿ rangūn, indicating that he was
a preacher in the Sūratī Sunnī Ǧāmiʿ mosque, the oldest mosque in Rangoon, built in
the 1860’s after the original mosque was destroyed in the Second Anglo-Burmese war

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Language: Urdu
Maḏhab: Ḥanafī
Location: Rangoon (Yangon), Myanmar/India
On the front cover of ʿAbd al-Ḥayy’s short treatise on imitation (35 pages),
above the title, is an excerpt from Kor 30, 30: “This is the innate disposition
( fiṭra) God imprinted upon all humanity; for God’s creation shall not be al-
tered.” This verse anticipates the author’s claim that a Muslim’s distinct physi-
cal appearance—especially hairstyle—reflects conformity to this God-given
fiṭra, an in-born predisposition towards the religion of Islam, the Prophet’s
sunna, and the social norms that define proper gender roles. The author be-
gins the treatise by reflecting on the inherent differences between men and
women, namely how the man’s role as caretaker of the household translates
into a rugged physical demeanor that contrasts feminine grace. The šarīʿa aims
to preserve this fiṭra, ʿAbd al-Ḥayy argues, as conveyed in the hadith: “God
curses men who imitate women and women who imitate men.”83 In light of
this tradition, the first three sections of the treatise explain how a Muslim
man should style his hair: how to groom his beard and moustache, and how to
apply hair-dye. In the fourth and final section, ʿAbd al-Ḥayy argues that dres­
sing like an Englishmen, namely wearing a coat, pants, and an “English hat”
(Angrezī topī), contradicts the Prophet Muḥammad’s sunna—a position sup-
ported by Arabic citations from prophetic hadith and authorities in the Ḥanafī
law school, followed by his own Urdu translation and commentary. Dressing
like a non-Muslim is only permissible during times of genuine need—such
as when the Prophet wore a Byzantine-styled robe, despite its foreign origins,
to protect himself from the cold winters. ʿAbd al-Ḥayy claims that members
of other religious communities that do not have strict regulations governing
dress, such as the Burmese Buddhists, still retain their distinctive styles, while

of 1852-1853. Formerly the capital of Burma (now Myanmar), Rangoon once hosted a
large population of Gujarati Indians who left the Surat region to do business, although
they maintained family and commercial ties with their homeland. According to the bio-
graphical dictionary of South Asian ʿulamāʾ, Nuzhat al-ḫawāṭir, ʿAbd al-Ḥayy was buried
in Bombay, India. The same source lists ʿAbd al-Ḥayy’s death date as 1308/1891, which is
nearly two decades before the date Adāt al-tanabbuh was published (1909) and the date
the Amīr of Afghanistan, Ḥabīb Allāh Ḫān, visited India (January 1907)—an event men-
tioned in the treatise. In my view, it is likely the author died after 1909, sometime during
the first quarter of the twentieth century CE. ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Ḥasanī, Nuzhat al-ḫawātir,
Beirut, Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 1999, p. 1266-1267; Nile Green, “Buddhism, Islam and the Religious
Economy of Colonial Burma,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 46/2 (2015), p. 175-204.
Ṣaḥīḥ al-Buḫārī, kitāb al-libās, bāb al-mutašabbihūn bi-l-nisāʾ wa-l-mutašabbihāt bi-l-rijāl;
Sunan Abī Dāwūd, kitāb al-libās, bāb libās al-nisāʾ; Sunan al-Tirmiḏī, kitāb al-adab, bāb mā
ǧāʾa fī l-mutašabbihāt bi-l-riǧāl min al-nisāʾ; Sunan Ibn Māǧa, kitāb bāb fī l-muḫannaṯīn.

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Muslims, who are instructed to observe sartorial regulations, do not.84 Islam

has no need for such fickle believers. For Muslims to be truly worthy of go­
verning themselves, he argues, they must cultivate a spirit of independence
and resilience. The amīr of Afghanistan, Ḥabīb Allāh Ḫān (r. 1901-1919), in ʿAbd
al-Ḥayy’s view, was such a person. He perceived Ḫān as a defender of Muslim
interests against Christian aggression, although Ḫān ironically adopted many
modern reforms, including English dress, and was eventually assassinated for
pandering to the British.

9. Title: Ḥusn al-sayr fī bayān aḥkām anwāʿ min al-tašabbuh bi-l-ġayr (The
Virtuous Journey in Clarifying the Rulings concerning the different ways of
Imitating the Other)85
Author: Muḥammad b. ʿAwaḍ al-Dimyāṭī (d. 1330?/1912?)86
Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: Šāfiʿī
Location: Egypt
Description: Ḥusn al-sayr offers a glimpse of Egypt’s cultural transformations
at the turn of the fourteenth/twentieth century, just preceding the fall of the
caliphate. In the treatise, al-Dimyāṭī, an Azhari scholar from the Egyptian
port city of Damietta (Dimyāṭ), highlights the negative consequences of these
changes—the corruption of Egyptian Muslims resulting from the spread of
foreign cultural practices. Although brief (32 pages), the book’s scope is broad,
as signaled by the ambiguity of the title itself: “Imitating the Other (tašabbuh
bi-l-ġayr).” Like Mawlawī ʿAbd al-Ḥayy, al-Dimyāṭī is most concerned with
mimicry between men and women, and devotes the first two chapters to this
Ḥusn al-sayr is a scholastic treatise that examines tašabbuh through the lens
of the Šāfiʿī school of jurisprudence. Al-Dimyāṭī navigates Šāfiʿī legal herme-
neutics on custom (ʿurf) and presumption of continuity (istiṣḥāb al-ḥāl), de-
fending his positions with citations from established maḏhab authorities

84  In Burma, ʿAbd al-Ḥayy would have encountered many Theravada Buddhists, although he
refers to the Burmese religion, and not Buddhism explicitly.
85  Muḥammad b. ʿAwaḍ al-Dimyāṭī, Ḥusn al-sayr fī bayān aḥkām anwāʿ min al-tašabbuh bi-
l-ġayr, Cairo, Maṭbaʿat al-saʿāda, 1912. I am aware of only one available copy of this text,
in microfilm from the Princeton University Arabic Collection at the Firestone Library
(microfilm 07550). For a summary of the possible legal outcomes of tašabbuh, also see
Muḥammad b. ʿAwaḍ al-Dimyāṭī, al-Qawl al-ǧalī al-wāfir fī ṭahārat al-marīḍ wa-masḥihi
ʿalā l-sātir, Beirut, Dār Ibn Ḥazm li-l-ṭibāʿa wa-l-našr wa-l-tawzīʿ, 2014, p. 237-239.
86  Not much is known about the author’s life. See editor’s short biography in al-Dimyāṭī,
al-Qawl al-ǧalī, p. 6-9. Al-Dimyāṭī’s death date is not known, but he may have lived
through 1912, the year of his last publication.

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like Zakariyyā l-Anṣārī, al-Nawawī (d. 676/1277), Ibn Ḥaǧar al-ʿAsqalānī

(d. 852/1449), Muḥibb al-Ṭabarī (d. 694/1295). Al-Dimyāṭī appears to be indi-
rectly responding Muslim modernists like Muḥammad ʿAbduh, who relaxed
regulations on tašabbuh in light of changing times.
Ḥusn al-sayr is divided into four sections of uneven length: 1) Men imita­
ting women: al-Dimyāṭī decries the practice of Egyptian men dying their hands
with henna, arguing that it is a distinctive marker of women. He rebuts the
claim, made by some Muslim scholars, that the use of henna is no longer dis-
tinctive to women and is therefore permissible for men to use, based on the
Šāfiʿī legal principle, the presumption of continuity, where the established po-
sition, prohibition, prevails over the new position, permissibility. 2) Women
imitating men: in this brief section (just half a page), al-Dimyāṭī declares that
women are forbidden from imitating men, except in intellectual achievement,
which is praiseworthy. 3) Muslims imitating non-believers: in this section, al-
Dimyāṭī glosses the ḥadīṯ, “Whoever imitates a people is one of them,” with
the interpretation of the Egyptian Šāfiʿī authority, al-ʿAzīzī (d. 1070/1659), who
writes that, if a harmless snake resembles a poisonous snake, it should be killed,
which, in eleventh/seventeenth century Egypt, meant that Muslim men should
not resemble unbelievers by wearing yellow or blue turbans.87 For al-Dimyāṭī,
this admonition also meant that Muslims should avoid unsanctioned ʿīds, es-
pecially in Egypt where they were widespread. 4) Dress: al-Dimyāṭī argues that
impious Muslims should not dress like religious scholars or Sufis to appear
pious and deceive the public; they should transform their inward character
before their outward appearance.
Thus, for al-Dimyāṭī, motive plays an important role in defining the theo-
logical and legal implications of an act of imitation. He discusses a number
of different scenarios. First, a coerced act of imitation is not a sin because the
actor did not do it from his own free will. But in other cases, the rulings vary:
1) If a Muslim intentionally imitates an act of unbelief (kufr), seeking to de-
mean Islam, he, too, becomes an unbeliever according to some authorities;
2) unintentionally imitating an act of unbelief is sinful, which includes joking,
although authorities disagree whether wearing a community’s distinctive gar-
ments (i.e. zunnār) is unbelief or merely prohibited; 3) a permissible act done
to intentionally imitate an unbeliever becomes sinful; 4) a sinful act of imita-
tion remains sinful—even if done unintentionally.

87  ʿAlī b. Aḥmad al-ʿAzīzī l-Būlāqī wrote a commentary on al-Suyuṭī’s abridged compendium
of ḥadīṯ, al-Ǧāmiʿ al-ṣaġīr, from which al-Dimyāṭī quotes: ʿAlī b. Aḥmad al-ʿAzīzī l-Būlāqī,
al-Sirāǧ al-munīr šarḥ al-Ǧāmiʿ al-ṣaġīr, Cairo, Maṭbaʿat al-ḫayriyya, 1886-1887, III, p. 325.

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But what happens when a sunna—a normative practice within Islam—is

adopted by a foreign community? Al-Dimyāṭī cites several authoritative legal
opinions: according to al-Ġazālī, Muslims should leave a sunna if it becomes
a distinguish marker (šiʿār) of religious innovators to avoid resembling them.
But, according to al-ʿIzz b. ʿAbd al-Salām, Muslims should not change their be-
havior only because foreigners do it, unless the act is prohibited by the šarīʿa.
According to the author of the authoritative Ḥanafī legal manual, al-Durr
al-muḫtār, ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn al-Ḥaṣkafī (d. 1088/1677), tašabbuh is only blamewor-
thy when the act, itself, is blameworthy. Muslims, after all, eat and drink like
Jews and Christians eat and drink. This last position seems most reasonable to
Because tašabbuh fits into a larger program of Islamic moral reform, al-
Dimyāṭī concludes with a long section—about one-third of the treatise—on
the “Diseases of the [spiritual] heart.” He issues practical advice on a variety of
topics, from rooting out conceit to avoiding suspicion. For example, if an imam
farts during ritual prayer (ṣalāt), he should hold his nose before departing the
prayer area so that witnesses believe he was forced to exit due to a nosebleed
and not due to passing gas.88 As a result of this subterfuge, people avoid com-
mitting the sin of harboring suspicions against the imam. In this situation,
mimicking someone with a nosebleed is not blameworthy; it is a noble deed.89

10. Title: Frenk mukallitliği ve şapka (European Imitation and the Hat)/ Frenk
mukallitliği ve İslâm (European Imitation and Islam)90
Author: Iskilipli Aṭĭf Hoca (d. 1344/1926)91
Language: Ottoman Turkish (Translated into Modern Turkish)

88  Passing gas during ṣalāt nullifies it, so that one must immediately exit the prayer area,
repeat ritual ablutions (wuḍūʾ), and redo the prayer.
89  Kor 49, 12: “Some suspicion is a sin.” (translation Arberry).
90  Âtif Iskilipli Mehmet, Frenk Mukallitliği ve Şapka, Istanbul, Matbaa-i Kader (“Â tif Efendi
kutuphanesi”, 3), 1924; id., Frenk Mukallitliği ve İslâm, Istanbul, 1975; partial English trans-
lation in Ahmet Şeyhun, Islamist Thinkers in the Late Ottoman Empire and Early Turkish
Republic, Leiden-Boston, E.J. Brill, 2014, p. 41-43. Secondary studies that examine aspects
of the hat controversy include: Camilla T. Nereid, “Kemalism on the Catwalk: The Turkish
Hat Law of 1925,” Journal of Social History, 44/3 (2011), p. 707-728; Yasemin Doğaner, “The
Law on Headdress and Regulation on Dressing in the Turkish Modernization,” Bilig, 51
(2009), p. 33-54; Klaus Kreiser, “Turban and türban: ‘Divider between belief and unbelief.’
A political history of modern Turkish costume,” European Review, 13/3 (2005), p. 447-458;
Gökçen Başaran İnce, “‘The Mad Hatters of Angora …’: Representation of ‘Hat Revolution’
in British Collective Memory,” International Journal of Turcologia, 9/18 (2014), p. 39-64.
91  See the biographical entry in Şeyhun, Islamist Thinkers in the Late Ottoman Empire and
Early Turkish Republic, p. 41. His life was made into a movie in 1993, İskilipli Atıf Hoca/
Kelebekler Sonsuza Uçar.

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Location: Turkey
Maḏhab: Ḥanafī
Description: The Turkish religious scholar Iskilipli Aṭĭf Hoca authored a brief
tract in 1924 (32 pages) that condemned the trend of wearing European-style
hats. Styles of headgear had become a flashpoint in intra-Muslim debates over
modernization and civilization. In 1925, the Turkish Republic, led by Mustafa
Kemal Ataturk, issued a law regulating headgear, mandating that men—
excluding the ʿulamāʾ—must wear a European-style hat in place of the tra-
ditional fez cap in public.92 The fez cap had become a visual symbol of Islam
since its introduction into the Ottoman empire by Sultan Ahmed Mahmud II
(d. 1839). For modernizers like Ataturk, however, it symbolized resistance to
everything modern, civilized, and rational. The hat law marked the Turkish re-
public’s incorporation into modern civilization. Riots across Turkey ensued;
the government responded by executing rebels. Iskilipli Aṭĭf, a fierce critic of
the new secular regime, was subsequently arrested and ultimately executed for
(retroactively) violating the law in 1926, despite publishing his booklet before
it was even enacted. Ordinary citizens were also arrested for publishing and
distributing the tract.
In Frenk mukallitliği ve şapka, Iskilipli Aṭĭf’s condemns the blind imita-
tion of European civilization, including its fashions. He echoes other Muslim
scholars by characterizing the West as obsessed with material gain and mo­
rally bankrupt. Wearing a European hat signals that one prefers its values to
those of the Muslim community. This is wrong. Iskilipli Aṭĭf argues that the
Prophet Muḥammad’s historical precedent supports his position. The Prophet
shifted his policy from imitation to difference, the author claims, once he ac-
cumulated enough power to become self-sufficient. Extending this utilitarian
approach to his contemporary moment, Iskilipli Aṭĭf reasons that Muslims
should only shun features of Western civilization (drinking, gambling, materi-
alism, etc.) that are harmful, but should assimilate features that make Islamic
civilization strong and self-sufficient. Appealing to historical precedent once
again, he argues that a strong Abbasid empire encouraged the assimilation
of Greek civilization into Islamic civilization, which then became the source
of the European renaissance. The hat law, protected by the Turkish constitu-
tion, remains in effect until today, although the penalty for wearing the fez was
finally struck down in 2012.

92  See Hamid Algar, “ʿAmāma,” Encyclopaedia Iranica.

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11. Title: Islāmi Tahẕīb-o-Tamaddun (Islamic Culture and Civilization) or al-

Tašabbuh fī l-Islām (Imitation in Islam)93
Author: Qārī Muḥammad Ṭayyib (d. 1403/1983)94
Language: Urdu
Location: North India
Maḏhab: Ḥanafī (Deobandi)
Description: Islāmi Tahẕīb-o-Tamaddun was published in 1929 when India was
still a British colony; it was also the first year Qārī Muḥammad Ṭayyib served
as principle of the famed North Indian Seminary that opposed British colo-
nialism, Dār al-ʿulūm Deoband, where his tenure in this prominent role lasted
over half a century, until 1982. Ṭayyib played a pivotal role in defining a dis-
tinct Deobandi approach to Islam amidst the threats of British imperialism
and reformist Islamic ideologies. Published in this polemical context, Islāmi
Tahẕīb-o-Tamaddun is a comprehensive scholarly work written in Urdu that
investigates tašabbuh from multiple angles, including its textual basis in the
Qurʾān and ḥadīṯ; legal interpretation across the four Sunni schools of juris-
prudence; application in the historical practices of early Muslims; and spiri-
tual impact upon a believer’s inward character (bāṭin) and outward behavior
Inspired by Ibn Taymiyya, and by Indian scholars, Šāh Walī Llāh (d. 1176/
1762) and Muḥammad Qāsim Nānawtvī (d. 1297/1880), Ṭayyib summarizes the
Islamic jurisprudential outlook on imitating non-Muslims as follows: Muslim
imitation of other religious communities is prohibited in ritual practices
(ʿibādāt), in general, and in customary practices (ʿādāt), when supported by
an explicit textual source (i.e. Qurʾānic verse or ḥadīṯ). When otherwise per-
missible practices become distinguishing markers (šiʿār) of a specific foreign
community, then they, too, become prohibited for Muslims to imitate—echo-
ing the Deobandi thinker, Ašraf ʿAlī Ṯānvī.95 Explaining its interdiction, Ṭayyib
reasons that imitating Jewish and Christian practices is tantamount to reviving
old prophetic laws that Islam had abrogated. Because imitation undermines

93  Qārī Muḥammad Ṭayyib, Islāmi Tahẕīb-o-Tamaddun [= al-Tašabbuh fī l-islām], Lahore,

Pakistan, Idārat islāmiyyāt, 1980. The work was first published in 1348/1929. A brief sum-
mary of Ṭayyib’s study can be found in Masud, “Cosmopolitanism and Authenticity,”
p. 166-167.
94  Ebrahim Moosa, “History and Normativity in Traditional Indian Muslim Thought: Reading
Shariʿa in the Hermeneutics of Qari Muhammad Tayyab (d. 1983),” in Rethinking Islamic
Studies: From Orientalism to Cosmopolitanism, eds Carl W. Ernst and Richard C. Martin,
Columbia, University of South Carolina Press (“Studies in Comparative Religion”), 2010,
p. 281-301; see also, Ġulām Nabī Qāsimī and Muḥammad Šakīb Qāsimī, Ḥayāt-i Ṭayyib,
Devband, Ḥuǧǧat al-islām Akaiḍmī, Dār al-ʿulūm Vaqf, 2014.
95  Ašraf ʿAlī Ṯānvī, Ḥayāt al-muslimīn, Karachi, Idārat al-maʿārif, 2005, p. 186-187.

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The Islamic Treatises against Imitation ( Tašabbuh ) 629

differences that define communal identity, the primary objective of prohibi­

ting imitation, in his view, is to protect the Muslim umma from corruption and
destruction, which requires that Muslims neither befriend nor seek assistance
from non-Muslims.
Ṭayyib insightfully observes that the human body is a visible marker of social
reputation and identity. He argues that the šarīʿa aims to refine how Muslims
comport their bodies. For this reason, he spends almost one-third of Islāmi
Tahẕīb-o-Tamaddun explaining how Muslims must publicly distinguish them-
selves through fashion—hairstyle, shoes, hats, and color—subjects arranged
according to a ḥadīṯ-based typology.
Ṭayyib directly engaged Indian Muslims whose views on tašabbuh
contrasted those of Deoband: he defends tašabbuh from critiques in the late
thirteenth/nineteenth century reformist journal, Tahẕīb al-Aḫlāq, published
by Sayyid Aḥmad Ḫān, who disputed the authenticity of the ḥadīṯ, “Whoever
imitates a people becomes one of them,” and proudly wore British attire while
encouraging Muslim assimilation of European cultural norms.96

12. Title: Islam at the Crossroads97

Author: Muhammad Asad (d. 1412/1992)98
Location: Austria (origin)
Language: English
Maḏhab: None
Description: The prominent Austrian Jewish convert to Islam, ideologue for
the foundation of Pakistan, and translator of the Qurʾān, Muhammad Asad
(born Leopold Weiss), completed his first book, Islam at the Crossroads, in the
Autumn of 1933. Asad had recently returned from a six-year journey across the
Middle East where he learned Arabic and encountered prominent Muslim fi­
gures, gaining an intimate view into Islam and the world through their eyes. This
engagement emboldened him to critique the interpretation and application of

96  Sayyid Aḥmad Ḫān, Tahẕīb al-Aḫlāq, ed. Muḥammad Ismāʿīl Pānīpatī, Lahore, Maǧlis-i
Taraqqī-yi Adab, 1984, I, p. 90-94; 335-383; Brannon D. Ingram, “Crises of the Public in
Muslim India: Critiquing ‘Custom’ at Aligarh and Deoband, South Asia,” Journal of South
Asian Studies, 38/3 (2015), p. 403-418.
97  Muhammad Asad, Islam at the Crossroads, Gibraltar, Dar Al-Andalus, 1982.
98  The definitive source of biographical information is his own autobiography: Muhammad
Asad, The Road to Mecca, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1954; also see the following bio-
graphical studies: Muḥammad Ikrām Cug̲ h̲tā ʾī, Muhammad Asad: Europe’s Gift to Islam,
Lahore, The Truth Society, 2006; Florence Heymann, Un Juif pour l’islam, Paris, Stock
(“Un ordre d’idées”), 2005; Günther Windhager, Leopold Weiss alias Muhammad Asad: von
Galizien nach Arabien 1900-1927, Wien, Böhlau, 2003.

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Islam among scholars and common Muslims alike who, he believed, failed to
grasp the true spirit of Islam.
In Islam at the Crossroads, Asad describes a declining Islamic civilization
that must determine its cultural orientation towards the West at a pivotal mo-
ment in its history: blind imitation or dignified difference. The West, in Asad’s
view, was obsessed with material progress, a vision diametrically opposed to
Islam’s emphasis on spiritual and moral progress. Yet, despite this unbridge-
able divide, Muslims were rushing to assimilate Western norms—aesthetic,
intellectual, cultural, and social. Europeans and Americans, on the other
hand, did not care to import Islamic norms. Muslims had been drawn into an
asymmetrical exchange—largely due to the unequal power relations between
the two civilizations. Asad urges Muslims to reclaim their freedom from this
Eurocentric grip.
The book is a brief tour through Islam’s relations with the West. From the
beginning, Asad maintains a defensive posture. In the first chapter, Asad
explains what makes Islam uniquely special among religions—Hinduism,
Buddhism, Christianity (although he remains silent about his native tradi-
tion of Judaism). In the following two chapters, he describes why the West is
essentially different from Islam and how it has exhibited a virulent animo­sity
towards Islam for almost a millennium. After a brief excursus on education,
he follows with a brief but potent chapter on imitation. In this chapter, he
explains why imitating the West in matters big and small undermines Islam.
Taking the example of dress, Asad argues that a civilization’s aesthetic and
moral sensibilities are interrelated. Replacing Islamic attire with Western fa­
shions unwittingly undermines the moral foundations of Islamic civilization.
The final chapter reveals his simple solution for the revival of Islamic civiliza-
tion: following the Prophet’s sunna—a positive type of imitation.
In his foreword to the updated edition, written nearly fifty years later in 1982,
Asad reiterates his purpose for writing the book: “A plea to the Muslims of my
generation to avoid a blind imitation of Western social forms and values, and
to try to preserve instead their Islamic heritage …”99 He nonetheless complains
that Muslims had “misunderstood” his original message by seeking a “mere re-
turn to the social forms evident in the past centuries of Muslim decadence.”100
He hopes that a new generation may embrace the challenge and grasp the true
spirit of his message.

99  Asad, Islam at the Crossroads, p. 7.

Ibid., p. 8.

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13. Title: al-Istinfār li-ġazw al-tašabbuh bi-l-kuffār (Mobilizing for War against
the Invasion of Infidel Imitation)101
Author: Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. al-Ṣiddīq al-Ġumārī (d. 1380/1960)102
Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: None
Location: Morocco/Egypt
Description: The eldest of three brothers, all religious scholars, Aḥmad b.
al-Ṣiddīq al-Ġumārī authored over one hundred works across a range of Islamic
disciplines. An intellectual non-conformist and member of the Ṣiddiqiyya
branch of the Naqšbandī Sufi tarīqa, al-Ġumārī was initially trained in the
Mālikī school in his native Morocco, before he switched to the Šāfiʿī school,
eventually embracing iǧtihād and rejecting blind conformity to a single legal
school altogether. Relying upon his widely acclaimed expertise in ḥadīṯ,
he frequently went against the grain of mainstream traditional Moroccan
Mālikī ʿulamāʾ.
Al-Ġumārī’s scholarship reflected the geopolitical turmoil that afflicted
Morocco and the greater Muslim world during the first half of the fourteenth/
twentieth century. Born in 1902, he was still a child when Morocco became a
protectorate of both France and Spain in 1912, lasting until 1956, shortly before
his death. An outspoken critic of his opponents, al-Ġumārī became entangled
in a number of vitriolic conflicts with a variety of actors across his lifetime,
including Moroccan nationalists, traditional ʿulamāʾ, and the Spanish govern-
ment. Al-Ġumārī fought jihad against the Spanish colonial forces in 1936 du­
ring the Spanish civil war (1936-1939) and again in 1949, for which he served a
prison sentence of three and a half years. In 1956, after Morocco’s liberation, he
was accused of treason by the new nationalist-led government and forced into
exile. He spent his remaining years in Egypt where he eventually died, shortly
after learning that his brother had been sentenced to eleven years in prison for
his involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood.

101  Aḥmad b. al-Ṣiddīq al-Ġumārī, al-Istinfār li-ġazw al-tašabbuh bi-l-kuffār, Beirut, Dār al-
bašāʾir al-islāmiyya, 19892. The first edition of the treatise was published posthumously
in 1964 by the same publisher. Manuscript copies may be held at the Dār al-kutub
al-miṣriyya library in Cairo as part of a collection (maǧmūʿ).
102  For biographical information, see Aḥmad b. al-Ṣiddīq al-Ġumārī, al-Baḥr al-ʿamīq fī
marwiyyāt Ibn al-Ṣiddīq, Cairo, Dār al-kutub, 2007; Muḥammad al-Ḥasan b. ʿAlī al-
Kattānī Aṯarī, Fiqh al-Ḥāfiẓ Aḥmad b. al-Ṣiddīq al-Ġumārī, ʿAmmān, Dār al-bayāriq, 2001,
p. 23-68; ʿAbd Allāh b. Muḥammad Ṣiddīq, Sabīl al-tawfīq fī tarǧamat ʿAbd Allāh al-Ṣiddīq,
Cairo, Dār al-bayān, 1985. For historical context, see Jonathan Wyrtzen, Making Morocco:
Colonial Intervention and the Politics of Identity, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2016.

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In al-Istinfār, al-Ġumārī turns his pen into a sword of jihad. A response

to the violence of the Franco-Spanish colonial enterprise, he delivers a sca­
thing critique of both Western civilization and those Muslims (i.e. Moroccan
nationalists) who imitate it. After citing a scriptural text prophesying Muslim
decline or Jewish and Christian aggression, he often marvels at Muḥammad’s
foresight into the apocalyptic future. Much of his ire is channeled against
Jews and Christians who are portrayed as resolute in their desire to turn
Muslims away from their religion. Al-Ġumārī believes that Western institu-
tions such as newspapers, magazines, hospitals, bars, movie theaters, dance
clubs, and most importantly, schools, have been thrust upon Muslims with
this aim in mind. Schools incubate Muslims who dress, think and behave like
Europeans, cutting them off from their Islamic identity. Education, al-Ġumārī
reasons, becomes the primary means through which corrupt Western values
and ways diffuse throughout Muslim society, transforming it into a shadow of
itself. Citing Ibn Taymiyya, he insists that being different from non-Muslims is
an Islamic virtue in itself.
Despite its indebtedness to Ibn Taymiyya, al-Istinfār lacks the nuance of the
Iqtiḍāʾ; al-Ġumārī never sets any limits on the prohibition of tašabbuh, sug-
gesting that imitating unbelievers, in all its forms, is reprehensible. After ope­
ning with a diatribe against colonial occupation, he cites a number of Qurʾānic
verses that criminalize affection (mawadda) and friendship (muwālāt) with
Jews and Christians, and, according to the author, tašabbuh because it leads
to social intimacy with unbelievers. The bulk of the work (roughly forty pages)
cites ḥadīṯ against imitating unbelievers, accompanied by sparse commen-
tary, on a number of topics, spanning ritual (prayer, fasting, Hajj) and social
life (dress, hairstyle, greeting, hygiene). Al-Ġumārī reinterprets the expulsion
of non-Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula as a deterrent against the cor-
rupting effects of tašabbuh, suggesting that a similar policy of Muslim segre-
gation is needed today. He concludes by recommending the social boycott of
Westernized Muslims until they turn back from their wayward ways. Pleading
with his Muslim audience, he insists that emulating the West will not lead to
progress, only decline.

14. Title: Naǧāt al-muʾminīn bi-ʿadam al-tašabbuh bi-l-kāfirīn (The Salvation of

the Believers by not Imitating the Unbelievers)103

103  Sulaymān b. Ḫalīl al-Ġāwuǧī l-Albānī, Naǧāt al-muʾminīn bi-ʿadam al-tašabbuh bi-l-kāfirīn,
Damascus, al-Maṭbaʿa l-hāšimiyya, 1949. I am aware of only one copy of this text, in mi-
croform from the Princeton University Library’s Arabic collection at the Firestone Library

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Author: Sulaymān b. Ḫalīl Ġāwuǧī l-Arnāʾūṭ al-Albānī (d. 1378/1958)104

Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: Ḥanafī
Location: Damascus, Syria
Description: Sulaymān Ġāwuǧī was a Sunni religious scholar and Albanian
émigré to Damascus, Syria. He fled his native Albania in 1937, after Ahmad
Zog introduced Westernizing reforms similar to those in Kemalist Turkey,
such as a secular civil code (1929) and restrictions on the headscarf and fez
cap (1937).105 But ironically, the country in which Ġāwuǧī sought refuge, Syria,
soon implemented similar reforms. In 1949, Colonel Ḥusnī al-Zaʿīm (d. 1949)
built on Syria’s secular legal code by forbidding ʿulamāʾ from wearing turbans.106
Published that same year, Naǧāt al-muʾminīn is a protest against the spread of
Westernizing political reforms that accompanied the French mandate of Syria
after World War I, and a critical response to modernizers within the Muslim
community who called for progress (taqaddum). Ġāwuǧī states that a people
must preserve its local culture, which is shaped by religion, customs, and lan-
guage. True progress, he insists, is not synonymous with Western modernity,
but with the founding generations of Muslims (salaf).
Ġāwuǧī’s slim volume (59 pages) highlights five problematic cultural trends
gaining traction in mid-twentieth century CE Syria: 1) Wearing foreign head-
gear (al-qubbaʿa), the longest section in the treatise; 2) The increasing pre­
sence of women in public life (al-tabarruǧ); 3) Muslims (men and women)
marrying non-Muslims; 4) The spread of photography; and 5) The abrogation
of Islamic inheritance laws. For each of these disputed topics, he advocates
the more conservative position, arguing, for instance, that Muslims should not

(microfilm 07167). I have removed the definite article from al-Ġāwuǧī because that is the
practice of his biographer and his late son, Wahbī b. Sulaymān al-Ġāwuǧī (d. 2013).
104  Information on his life is sparse. Biographical information is more readily available for
his son, Wahbī b. Sulaymān al-Ġāwuǧī, who was a prominent Damascene scholar of the
Ḥanafī school. A brief biographical entry on Sulaymān al-Ġāwuǧī, however, can be found
here: Muḥammad Muṭīʿ al-Ḥāfiẓ and Nizār Abāẓa, Tārīḫ ʿulamāʾ Dimašq fī l-qarn al-rābiʿ
ʿašar al-hiǧrī, Damascus, Dār al-fikr, 1986-1991, II, p. 700-701; and Muḥammad al-Arnāʾūṭ,
“Hiǧrat al-albān ilā bilād al-Šām wa-musāhamatuhā fī zdihār ʿilm al-ḥadīṯ wa-taḥqīq
al-turāṯ,” al-Ḥayāt, January 28, 2006. It is said that al-Ġāwuǧī struggled to speak Arabic.
For an overview of the relationship between the ʿulamāʾ and Syria’s political context du­
ring the middle of the twentieth century CE, see Thomas Pierret, Religion and State in
Syria: The Sunni Ulama from Coup to Revolution, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
(“Cambridge Middle East Studies”, 41), 2013.
105  Richard J. Crampton, Eastern Europe In the Twentieth Century and After, London,
Routledge, 19972, p. 148-149.
106  Pierret, Religion and State in Syria, p. 18-19.

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wear European-style hats, men should not marry Jewish and Christian women,
and photography of figural images is prohibited. A reflection of his maḏhab
affiliation, Ġāwuǧī embeds his discourse in Šāfiʿī legal hermeneutical con-
cepts such as istiṣḥāb (the presumption of continuity in religious matters). He
also urges the reader to avert the slow descent from reprehensible imitation
(tašabbuh) to reprehensible innovation (bidʿa); imitation of foreign practices
leads to innovation in religious matters, which corrupts Islam, and ultimately
ends in infidelity (kufr).
Not all imitation is bad, of course, depending on one’s choice of exemplars.
In his gloss of the ḥadīṯ, “Whoever imitates a people becomes one of them,”
Ġāwuǧī narrates an admittedly “strange anecdote” about someone employed
by the Pharoah to publicly mock Moses by dressing, talking, and behaving like
him. Miraculously, he was saved from being drowned along with the rest of
Pharoah’s army. When Moses asked God why he saved this man from among
all the others, despite his derision and ill-will, God responded, “We chose not
to drown him because he used to dress like you do. The beloved does not pu­
nish someone who looks like the beloved.” Seeing that the mocker’s mimicry
unwittingly protected him from God’s wrath, the author wonders: “What about
someone who imitates God’s prophets and saints with a noble purpose?”107

5 Late Twentieth Century CE Saudi Arabia

While the ghostly presence of Ibn Taymiyya occasionally appears in twenti-

eth century CE treatises against tašabbuh—Ṭayyib, al-Ġumārī, and Ġāwuǧī all
cite his authoritative opinions—he has enjoyed a renaissance in modern Saudi
Arabia. He, along with his students Ibn Qayyim al-Ǧawziyya (d. 751/1350) and
Ibn Kaṯīr (d. 774/1373), have been anointed the medieval heralds of the Salafī
religious ideology that underpins the Saudi state. The spike in publications of
treatises against imitation in late twentieth century CE Saudi Arabia can be
attributed (in part) to the ḥadīṯ-centric orientation of Salafism, which defines
stringent boundaries around orthodox Sunni Islam against both non-Muslims
and Muslims who disagree with their views.108

107  Al-Ġāwuǧī, Naǧāt al-muʾminīn, p. 10.

108  On the history of Salafism within Saudi Arabia and beyond: Roel Meijer (ed.), Global
Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement, New York, Columbia University Press, 2009;
Stéphane Lacroix, Awakening Islam: The Politics of Religious Dissent in Contemporary
Saudi Arabia, transl. George Holoch, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2011; Henri
Lauzière, The Making of Salafism: Islamic Reform in the Twentieth Century, New York,
Columbia University Press (“Religion, Culture, and Public Life”), 2015.

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15. Title: al-Īḍāḥ wa-l-tabyīn li-mā waqaʿa fīhi al-akṯarūn min mušābahat al-
mušrikīn (The Clarification and Explanation of what has befallen the Majority
concerning the Resemblance of Idolaters)109
Author: Ḥamūd b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Tuwayǧirī (d. 1413/1992)110
Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: Ḥanbalī
Location: Saudi Arabia
Description: A scholar from Riyadh with Salafī leanings, al-Tuwayǧirī authored
nearly fifty books, many of which addressed controversial topics like tašabbuh,
trimming the beard, and whether the earth revolved around the sun.111 He re-
ceived licenses to teach the works of Ibn Taymiyya, who is a strong influence
on this scholarship, including al-Īḍāḥ wa-l-tabyīn. He opposed modernizing
currents among Muslims, including efforts to adapt long-standing Islamic ru­
lings to Western cultural standards and political movements like the Muslim
Completed in 1383/1963 and published in 1384/1964-1965, al-Īḍāḥ wa-l-tabyīn
is a wide-ranging work that explores fifty-four topics on imitating “the enemies
of God”—unbelievers and foreigners, especially Westerners, and closes with a
brief excursus on tašabbuh between men and women. Like many other trea-
tises against imitation, al-Īḍāḥ wa-l-tabyīn is focused on minutia, but is dis-
tinguished for its emphasis on modern political and cultural developments
such as socialism, playing sports, using Western calendars, eating with uten-
sils, wearing pants, and displacing the šarīʿa with foreign legal systems. A critic
of women’s hairstyles, al-Tuwayǧirī expresses his displeasure at Muslim women
who imitate the beehive, which was fashionable in the United States and
elsewhere in the 1960’s. He also encourages Muslims not only to shun using
silverware, but to smash them into pieces when possible.
The style and content of the treatise is ḥadīṯ-centric. In most sections, al-
Tuwayǧirī lists ḥadīṯ traditions, including their variants, letting scripture speak
for itself—a common practice among Partisans of Ḥadīṯ and Salafī scholars

109  Ḥamūd b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Tuwayǧirī, al-Īḍāḥ wa-l-tabyīn li-mā waqaʿa fīhi l-akṯarūn min
mušābahat al-mušrikīn, Riyadh, Muʾassasat al-nūr, 1384/1964-1965; ibid., Riyadh, Maktabat
al-ʿUbaykān, 1405/1985-19862. An abridgement has also been published: ʿAbd Allāh
Āl-Ǧār Allāh, Muḫtaṣar al-Īḍāḥ wa-l-tabyīn li-mā waqaʿa fīhi al-akṯarūn min mušābahat
al-mušrikīn, Riyadh, n.p., 1403/1983-1984.
110  See al-Tuwayǧirī’s biographical entry followed by a bibliographical index of approxi-
mately forty of his publications: Muḥammad Ḫayr Ramaḍān Yūsuf, Takmilat muʿǧam al-
muʾallifīn: wafayāt (1397-1415/1977-95), Beirut, Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 2002, p. 154-156.
111  See f. 110 for a bio-bibliographical source of al-Tuwayǧirī’s publications.

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alike. When additional explanation is needed, he inserts the glosses of authori-

tative medieval texts, especially the Iqtiḍāʾ.

16. Title: Man tašabbaha bi-qawm fa-huwa min-hum (Whoever imitates a people
becomes one of them)112
Author: Nāṣir b. ʿAbd al-Karīm al-ʿAql113
Language: Arabic (translated into Indonesian)
Maḏhab: none
Location: Saudi Arabia
Description: Professor of creed at the Muḥammad b. Saʿūd Islamic University,
prolific author of heresiographies, and editor of Ibn Taymiyya’s Iqtiḍāʾ, al-ʿAql
has focused his scholarship on the Islamic politics of religious identity. In 1991,
al-ʿAql wrote a concise booklet (63 pages) against imitating non-Muslims,
aimed at a general audience. He declares that tašabbuh has never been more
dangerous than it is today. It can suddenly infect any aspect of religious life:
creed, ritual, and customary practices. It is only reprehensible, however, when
the distinctive markers (šiʿār) of a specific group (polytheists, Zoroastrians,
Romans, non-Arabs and demons) are imitated. Al-ʿAql thinks, for example,
that Muslim men should not wear pants in Muslim majority countries because
this style is a distinctive marker of Western civilization.114 The rest of the book-
let draws from ḥadīṯ traditions to classify twenty-three different kinds of re­
prehensible imitation.

6 Academic Studies

The academic studies of tašabbuh published during the last decade of the
twentieth century CE—all in Saudi Arabia—are systematic and comprehen-
sive, though not always objective.

112  Nāṣir al-ʿAql, Man tašabbaha bi-qawm fa-huwa min-hum, Riyadh, Dār al-waṭan li-l-našr,
1991. It has also been translated into Indonesian: id., Tasyabbuh: Sikap meniru kaum kafir,
transl. Aboe Hawary, Solo, Pustaka Mantiq, 1992.
113  Currently, he has over 41.800 followers on Twitter:
114  Nāṣir al-ʿAql, Man tašabbaha bi-qawm fa-huwa min-hum, p. 24-25. See also Hišām b.
Muḥammad and Abū Ibrāhīm al-Kutubī, Lubs al-banṭalūn li-l-marʾa, Cairo, Maktabat
Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, 2005.

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17. Title: al-Sunan wa-l-āṯār fī l-nahy ʿan al-tašabbuh bi-l-kuffār (Prophetic and
Non-Prophetic Traditions on forbidding the Imitation of Unbelievers)115
Author: Suhayl ʿAbd al-Ġaffār
Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: none
Location: Saudi Arabia
Description: Originally a university thesis, al-Sunan wa-l-āṯār is a compilation
of ḥadīṯ traditions against imitating unbelievers. Acknowledging the pionee­
ring efforts of both Ibn Taymiyya and al-Ġazzī, ʿAbd al-Ġaffār arranges the
ḥadīṯ into topical categories such as ritual, dogma, and dress. For each ḥadīṯ,
he provides the following information: a list of collections that contain the
ḥadīṯ; criticism of the ḥadīṯ’s transmitters; evaluation of the ḥadīṯ’s authenticity;
and an explanation of the ḥadīṯ’s contextual indicators and legal application.

18. Title: Muḫālafat al-kuffār fī l-sunna l-nabawiyya (Being Different from the
Unbelievers according to the Prophetic Sunna)116
Author: ʿAlī b. Ibrāhīm b. Saʿūd ʿAǧīn
Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: ?
Location: Jordan
Description: Originally a Master’s thesis written at the University of Jordan in
1996 but published in Saudi Arabia in 1998, Muḫālafat al-kuffār is another sys-
tematic study of ḥadīṯ. Explaining the significance of his study, ʿAǧīn asserts
that preserving a distinctive character (šaḫṣiyya) is essential to communal
identity. In the introductory matter, he offers some general observations on
being different (muḫālafa): its linguistic meaning, general status in the šarīʿa,
to whom it applies, previous studies of the subject, and Prophet Muḥammad’s
approach to differentiating Muslims. For the study’s main contents, he orga-
nizes ḥadīṯ traditions into four topical categories—worship, customary prac-
tices, fashion, belief. For each ḥadīṯ he lists the collection(s) that transmit it,
evaluates its transmitters and authenticity, and explains its content and mea­
ning, including difficult terms.

115  Suhayl ʿAbd al-Ġaffār, al-Sunan wa-l-āṯār fī l-nahy ʿan al-tašabbuh bi-l-kuffār, Riyadh, Dār
al-salaf, 1995.
116  ʿAlī b. Ibrāhīm b. Saʿūd ʿAǧīn, Muḫālafat al-kuffār fī l-sunna l-nabawiyya, al-Dammām, Dār
al-maʿālī, 1998.

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19. Title: al-Tašabbuh al-manhī ʿanhu fī l-fiqh al-islāmī, (Prohibited Imitation in

Islamic Jurisprudence)117
Author: Ǧamīl b. Ḥabīb al-Luwayḥiq
Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: None
Location: Saudi Arabia
Description: Also a university thesis turned book, al-Tašabbuh al-manhī ʿanhu
is the most exhaustive contemporary academic study of tašabbuh’s legal ap-
plications to date. The treatises of Ibn Taymiyya and al-Ġazzī are its two main
sources. Like al-Ġazzī, al-Luwayḥiq not only focuses on the problem of imi-
tating non-Muslims, but takes a more expansive view, examining its applica-
tion to relations between men and women, Arabs and non-Arabs, as well as
humans and non-humans (demons, animals). He classifies his subject matter
according to two main categories: ritual (prayer, fasting etc.) and customary
practices (festivals, dress etc.). For each subject, al-Luwayḥiq summarizes the
differences of opinions among the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence before
offering his own opinion on whether a specific act is permissible, detested,
or forbidden.

20. Title: al-Tadābīr al-wāqiya min al-tašabbuh bi-l-kuffār (Precautionary

[Islamic] Regulations on Imitating Unbelievers)118
Author: ʿUṯmān Dūkūrī
Language: Arabic
Maḏhab: None
Location: Saudi Arabia
Description: This two-volume study of Muslim relations with non-Muslims
was originally a doctoral thesis. Its conceptual scope expands beyond the dis-
course of tašabbuh, which is a heuristic lens through which Dūkūrī examines
how Muslims should interact with non-Muslims in general. Chapters focus on
how Muslim propagandists and government officials (muḥtasib) should ad-
dress a range of issues such as the virtues of worship, the presence of Free
Masons, and non-Muslims living in Muslim lands (dār al-islām).

117  Ǧamīl b. Ḥabīb al-Luwayḥiq, al-Tašabbuh al-manhī ʿanhu fī l-fiqh al-islāmī, Jeddah, Dār
al-Andalus al-ḫaḍrā, 1999.
118  ʿUṯmān Dūkūrī, al-Tadābīr al-wāqiya min al-tašabbuh bi-l-kuffār, Riyadh, Maktabat al-
Rušd, 2000.

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The Islamic Treatises against Imitation ( Tašabbuh ) 639

7 Concluding Remarks

This article has documented the gradual evolution of tašabbuh into a distinct
literary genre. The seeds of this doctrine had been planted in the Sunni collec-
tions of ḥadīṯ by the 3rd/9th and 4th/10th centuries, developed into a literary
genre in Syria during the 8th/14th-9th/15th centuries, and spread across the
globe during the 13th/19th-14th/20th centuries as a result of two historical de-
velopments: colonialism and Salafism. In response to these transformations,
modern treatises anchored Islam in the sunna of Muḥammad and his pious
followers (salaf) through a raw unmediated engagement with the ḥadīṯ—an
interpretive approach patterned on the pioneering treatise of Ibn Taymiyya,
whose religious authority ballooned in modern times.
Al-Ġazzī’s magisterial treatise, Ḥusn al-tanabbuh li-mā warada fī l-tašabbuh,
by contrast, was nearly forgotten, despite surpassing all other studies in erudi-
tion and comprehensiveness.119 This bibliographical essay, then, may provoke
a reappraisal of al-Ġazzī’s contribution to the historical discourse of tašabbuh,
and to Islamic scholarship, more generally. It may also serve as a point of depar-
ture for more specialized studies of tašabbuh in concrete historical contexts,
pre-modern and modern, which will illuminate the dynamic relationship bet­
ween social and intellectual history in the study of Islam. After all, as Muslims
continue to adopt new social practices—imitating others in the process—new
treatises seeking to regulate this behavior will continue to be written.120

119  Or, perhaps, because al-Ġazzī’s treatise was too long.

120  See, for example, the following treatises published after the year 2000: Yaḥyā b. ʿAlī
l-Ḥaǧūrī, Taḥḏīr al-nubalāʾ ʿan al-tašabbuh bi-l-nisāʾ, Cairo, Dār al-imām Aḥmad, 2006.
This treatise, originally a Friday sermon, is distinctive for focusing on forbidden imita-
tion between men and women in the realm of both ritual and everyday practices; ʿAbd
al-Raḥmān al-Šumayrī, Iẓhār al-adilla fī ḥukm al-tašabbuh bi-l-kuffār al-aḏilla, Cairo, Dār
al-imām Aḥmad, 2011. This treatise draws from Ibn Taymiyya but does not offer much
original content.

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