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Taymiyyan Influences in an Ottoman-Ḥanafī Milieu: The Case of Aḥmad al-Rūmī al-Āqḥiṣārī

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 July 2014

University of Leeds,


Shaykh Aḥmad al-Rūmī al-Āqḥiṣārī (d. 1041/1632) is one of the most intriguing religious personalities of seventeenth-century Ottoman Turkey: although progress towards disclosing key aspects of his thought has been made recently – such as the association of al-Āqḥiṣārī with the Ottoman puritanical movement, the Qāḍīzādelis – the intellectual world-view of al-Āqḥiṣārī and, in particular, intellectual influences on his thought, are still hazy. This paper aims to make progress in this regard by studying the intellectual spring from which al-Āqḥiṣārī takes his conceptualisation of the religio-legal term bidʿa, the central theme of his seminal work, the Majālis al-abrār. In doing so, the paper finally puts to rest the vexed question over whether Shaykh al-Islām Taqī al-Dīn b. Taymiyya's writings had any influence in Ottoman Turkey prior to the advent of the 19th century reformist movements.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 2014 

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1 Michot, Y., Against Smoking: An Ottoman Manifesto. An introduction, edition and translation of Aḥmad al-Rūmī al-Āqḥiṣārī's al-Risāla al-dukhāniyya (Leicester, 2010).Google Scholar

2 Zilfi, M., Politics of Piety: The Ottoman Ulema in the Post-Classical Age (1600–1800) (Minneapolis, 1988)Google Scholar; Zilfi, ‘The Kadizadelis: Discordant Revivalism in 17th Century Istanbul,’ Journal of Near-Eastern Studies, 45 (1986), pp. 251269 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; N. Öztürk, ‘Islamic Orthodoxy among the Ottomans in the Seventeenth Century with Special Reference to the Qādī-zāde Movement’, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1981; Ș. Çavuşoğlu, ‘The Kadizadeli Movement: An Attempt of Șeri’at-Minded Reform in the Ottoman Empire’, unpublished doctoral thesis, Princeton University, 1990. See also also Von Hammer, Joseph, Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches (Vienna: C.A. Hartleben's Verlage, 1829–1830 Google Scholar; reprint, Granz: Akademischen Druck, 1963), 5: pp. 163–164, 528–531; 6: 5–8, 182–185 (page references are to reprint edition); Hasluck, F.W., Christianity and Islam under the Sultans (New York, 1973), 2: pp. 420423 Google Scholar; Galanté, A., Histoire des Juifs d’Anatolie, vol. I, Les Juifs d’Izmir (Istanbul, 1937), pp. 250252 Google Scholar; Gölpinarli, Abdülbaki, Mevlānā’dan Sonra Mevlevīlik, 2nd edition (Istanbul, 1983), pp. 158168 Google Scholar; Shaw, Stanford J., History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, vol. 1, Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280–1808 (Cambridge, 1976), pp. 206207 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ocak, A.Y., ‘XVII. Yüzyilda Osmanli Imparatorlugun’da Dinde Tasfiye (Püritanizm) Teşebbüşlerine Bir Bakiş: “Kadizādeliler Hareketi”,’ Türk Kültürü Araştirmalari, 1–2 (1983): pp. 208226 Google Scholar; Inalçik, H., The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age, 1300–1600, translated by Itzkowitz, N. and Imber, C. (New York, 1973)Google Scholar.

3 See especially Çavuşoğlu's ‘The Kadizadeli Movement’ and Kafadar, C., ‘The Myth of the Golden Age: Ottoman Historical Consciousness in the Post-Süleymanic Era,’ in Süleyman the Second and His Times, edited by Inalçik, H. and Kafadar, C. (Istanbul, 1993)Google Scholar.

4 For a detailed study on this, see M. Sheikh, “Qāḍīzādeli Revivalism Reconsidered in Light of Aḥmad al-Rūmī al-Āqḥiṣārī's Majālis al-abrār”, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Oxford, 2012.

5 Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥusayn b. Masʿūd b. Muḥammad al-Baghawī, Shāfiʿī jurist and prolific author in ḥadīth. He is most famous for his Sharḥ al-Sunna and Maṣābīḥ al-Sunna. See E. Dickinson, ‘Baghawī’, EI2 .

6 According to K. El-Rouayheb, the influence of Ibn Taymiyya among non-Ḥanbalī Sunni scholars in the centuries subsequent to his death and up until the 19th century has been exaggerated. Regarding Taymiyyan influence in Ottoman Turkey, he says,‘The views of Birgiwī and his Kadizadeli followers may have been rooted, not in the thought of Ibn Taymiyya, but in an intolerant current within the Ḥanafi-Maturidi school’. See his chapter, “From Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī (d. 1566) to Khayr al-Dīn al-Ālūsī (d. 1899): Changing views of Ibn Taymiyya among non-Ḥanbalī Sunni scholars” in Ibn Taymiyya and His Times, (ed.) Y. Rapoport and S. Ahmed (Karachi, 2011), p. 304.

7 For this, see the introduction to the Urdu translation of the Majālis al-abrār by Kifāyatullāh al-Dehlawī (Karachi), p. 36.

8 Y. Michot, L’opium et le cafe, p. 54; Bursalı, M. Ṭāhir, Osmanlı müellifleri, (ed.) Yavuz, A.F. and Özen, İ., 3 vols. (Istanbul: Meral Yayınevi, 1975), Vol. 1, p. 33Google Scholar. On conversions to Islam in the Ottoman Empire, see Krstic, M., Contested Conversions to Islam: Narratives of Religious Change in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire (Stanford, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Baer, Marc, Honored by the Glory of Islam: Conversion and Conquest in Ottoman Europe (Oxford, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Michot, Against Smoking, pp. 1–2.

10 Michot, Against Smoking, pp. 1–2. In MS. Michot 0802, al-Āqḥiṣārī's Risaleh is bound between those of Birgivī and Qāḍīzāde. Michot provides details of other manuscripts in which the three can be found bound together: Istanbul, Yazma Bağişlar 6494; Laleli 2461, 2463, 2468, 2470, 2473, 2474, 2476, 2477, 2478, 2481, 2482. (Against Smoking, p. 2).

11 Michot, ‘Kātib Çelebi's time: some views on the Ottoman society in the Majālis al-abrār of Aḥmad al-Rūmī al-Āqḥiṣārī,’ (unpublished paper delivered at ISAM, Istanbul, 2008).

12 Michot, Against Smoking, pp. 34–35.

13 On Māturīdī doctrine, see Çeric, M., Roots of Synthetic Theology in Islam: A Study of Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (Kuala Lumpur, 1995)Google Scholar.

14 The theological texts taught on the Ottoman madrasa curriculum were Ashʿarī, despite the Ottomans being generally of the Ḥanafī-Māturīdī school. The primary books taught in kalām were the Sharḥ al-ʿaqāʾid of al-Taftazānī (d. 793/1390) and Sharḥ al-maqāṣid and Sharḥ al-mawāqif of Sayyid Sharīf al-Jurjānī (d. 816/1423). To understand the influence of the Ashʿarī school on Ottoman science and thought, see Change and Essence: Dialectical Relations Between Change and Continuity in the Turkish Intellectual Tradition, edited by S. Gunduz and C.S. Yaran (Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change Series IIA, Volume 18, Washington D.C.: 2005). For more on the Ottoman madrasa curriculum, see Robinson, F., ‘Ottoman-Safavids-Mughals: Shared Knowledge and Connective Systems’, Journal of Islamic Studies, 8 (1997), pp. 151184 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Majlis II, f. 6v-7r.

16 On the Ashʿarī-Māturīdī emphasis on the need for founding belief in God's existence upon rational proof, see Shihadeh, A., “The existence of God,” in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, edited by Winter, T. (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 197217 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17 Majlis VI, f. 19r. Elsewhere, al-Āqḥiṣārī takes the view that success and failure on the spiritual path are partly contingent on observance of the law, and partly on learning the essential doctrines as formulated by the mutakallimūn: ‘It is necessary that the worshipper who is compos mentis occupies himself with the formula lā ilāha illallāh so that his heart may find contentment and so that he might prepare himself for [receiving] knowledge of God, the Exalted. Before becoming occupied [with this formula], it is incumbent that he learns from the science of kalām that which will cause his creed to be sound, in accordance with the People of the Sunna and the Communion (Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jamāʿa), such that he can vouchsafe himself from the uncertainty of the heretics. The heart, as long as it is muddied by the darkness of doctrinal heresy, will not be enlightened by the lamps of pious action.” Majlis I, f. 3v.

18 Al-Āqḥiṣārī, Risāla fī l-taqlīd, MSS. Harput 429, f. 35r.

19 See, for example, Majlis XLVII, f. 128r-v and Majlis LXXX, f. 221r-v.

20 See, for example, Majlis LXIX, f. 186v.

21 See Majlis XVIII, XIX, XX, XXIV, XXXII, XXXVII, XXXIX and passim for views on bidʿa.

22 Qāḍīzāde, Qāmiʿat al-bidʿa, Suleymaniye Library, MS. Birinci Serez 3876, f. I.

23 Risāle-i Qāḍīzāde. See especially, ff. 87v-r.

24 Qāḍīzāde, Irshād al-ʿuqūl, Chapter II, f. 124v.

25 See M. Fierro, ‘The Treatises against Innovations (Kutub al-bidaʿ),’ Der Islam, no. 69 (1992), pp. 204–246 and V. Rispler, ‘Towards a New Understanding of the Term Bidʿa,’ Der Islam, no. 68 (1991), p. 323.

26 For full details of each text, see M. Fierro, The Treatises against innovations, pp. 207–209.

27 V. Rispler, ‘Toward a New Understanding of the Term bid‘a’, p. 324.

28 Quoted in Shāma, Abū, al-Bāʿith ‘alā inkār al-bidaʿ wa l-ḥawādith, ed. ʿAnbar, ʿUthmān Aḥmad (Cairo: 1398 /1978), p.12 Google Scholar.

29 Talbīs Iblīs (Egypt, Maṭbaʿat al-Saʿāda, 1921).

30 Kitāb al-ḥawādith wa l-bidʿa, ed. M. Talbi (Tunis, 1959), p. 15.

31 Qawāʿid al-aḥkām wa maṣāliḥ al-anām (Cairo, 1968), Vol. 2, pp. 204–205.

32 Al-Bāʿith, p. 13.

33 Quoted in al-Suyūṭī, , al-Ḥāwī li-l-fatāwā (Cairo, 1959), Vol. 1, p. 296 Google Scholar.

34 Kitāb al-lumaʿ fī al-ḥawādith wa l-bidaʿ, ed. Ṣubḥī Labīb (Cairo, 1986), p. 37.

35 Kitāb al-madkhal (Egypt, 1336/1917), Vol. 2, p. 115.

36 Al-Iʿtiṣām (Beirut, Maktabat al-Āriyya, 2002), pp. 272–278

37 For an alternative perspective on this popular view, see the first chapter of Schacht, J.’s, The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (Oxford, 1979)Google Scholar.

38 Al-Shāfi‘ī is cited by Abū Shāma, al-Bā‘ith, p. 23.

39 See his Qawāʿid al-aḥkām.

40 The five categories of ḥukm according to the legal schools (which the Ḥanafīs divide into seven) are: obligation (wujūb), recommendation (istiḥbāb), permission (ibāḥa), detestation (karāha) and prohibition (taḥrīm). See W. Hallaq, A History of Islamic Legal Theories, pp. 40–41.

41 See al-Lumaʿ.

42 There is a debate over whether Ibn Taymiyya can be considered a Ḥanbalī, or, indeed, whether he deemed himself to be so for this see the study of Matroudi, A.H., The Ḥanbalī School of Law and Ibn Taymiyya: Conflict or Conciliation (London, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Ibn Taymiyya most likely considered himself an independent mujtahid.

43 See for example the assertion of V. Rispler, A New Understanding, p. 325.

44 Rajab, Ibn, Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wa l-ḥikam (Amman, 1990), p. 77 Google Scholar.

45 Ibn Taymiyya makes it very clear that only innovations of a sharʿī kind should be considered pernicious, not those of a social or technological kind: ‘Clearly the Prophet did not intend by his words, “every innovation is error”, every act that was to be done for the first time, because even Islam – nay, every religion brought by a prophet – is a wholly new act. He rather intended those new acts which he had not himself laid down.’ See Memon, Ibn Taimīya's Struggle against Popular Religion (The Hague: Mouton, 1976), p. 235.

46 These are some of the reasons that J.P. Berkey provides in his analysis of bidʿa in Muslim discourse. See ‘Tradition, Innovation and the Social Construction of Knowledge in the Medieval Islamic Near East,’ Past and Present, 146 (1995), pp. 38–65.

47 Memon, Ibn Taimīya's Struggle, p. 6.

48 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidāʾ, p. 292.

49 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidāʾ, p. 281.

50 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidāʾ, pp. 281–282.

51 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidāʾ. pp. 281–282.

52 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidā’, p. 290.

53 Here he alludes to Q.2.219, in which alcohol and gambling are considered prohibited because the evil in them is preponderant over the benefit.

54 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidā’, p. 290.

55 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidā’, p. 289.

56 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidā’, p. 289.

57 Memon, Ibn Taimīya's Struggle, pp. 97–98.

58 Birgivi, The Path of Muhammad, p. 72.

59 Birgivi, The Path of Muhammad, p. 73.

60 Majlis XVIII, ff. 55r-56v.

61 Database search results obtained from <> [last accessed 05/08/2013].

62 See, for example Taymiyya, Ibn, Kitāb ‘ilm al-sulūk in Majmūʿ al-fatāwā (Beirut, 2000), 10: 194 Google Scholar.

63 The expression is in al-Āqḥiṣārī, Majlis XVIII, f. 53r. See also Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidāʾ, p. 267.

64 ʿAbd Allāh Maḥfūẓ Muḥammad al-Ḥaddād has collected a large number of these traditions in his book al-Sunnah wa l-bidʿa (Damascus, 1996).

65 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidāʾ, p. 271. The translation is a modification Memon, Ibn Taimīya's Struggle, pp. 232–233.

66 There is clearly an error in the manuscript at this point: dalīl makhṣūṣ should in fact have been rendered dalīl mukhaṣṣiṣ (see Yazma Bagislar mansucript, f. 64v-r). The translation thus departs from the manuscript at this point in favour of the correct reading.

67 The copyist makes a second error here: the Arabic text, wa laysa ahl al-ijihād mina l-zuhhād wa l-ʿubbād should be read wa man laysa min ahl al-ijtihād min al-zuhhād wa l-ʿubbād (see Yazma Bagislar manuscript for correction, f. 64v-r). The translation thus relies on the correct reading in the Yazma Bagislar manuscript.

68 Majālis, f. 54v-55r.

69 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtdāʾ, p. 271.

70 Majālis, f. 55r.

71 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidāʾ, p. 272.

72 Majālis, f.55r.

73 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidāʾ, p. 277. Here the translated text is highlighted so that it can be matched to its equivalent in al-Āqḥiṣārī in the facing column.

74 Ibn Taymiyya, Iqtidāʾ, p. 278

75 Majālis, f. 55r.

76 Bell, J., Love Theory in Later Ḥanbalite Islam (Albany, 1979), p. 103 Google Scholar.

77 For a survey of this, refer to the author's Ph.D. thesis, “Qāḍīzādeli Revivalism Reconsidered”.

78 The database search using a resource available at <> [last accessed 4/09/2013] included the following texts: Aḥkām ahl al-dhimma, 3 vols. (Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 1997); Iʿlām al-muwaqqiʿīn ʿan rabb al-ʿālamīn, 4 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Jīl, 1973); Ighāthat al-lahafām min maṣāʾid al-shayṭān, 2 vols. (Beirut, 1975); Ijtimāʿ al-juyūsh al-islāmiyya, 1 vol. (Beirut, 1984); al-Amthāl fī l-Qurʾān al-karīm, 1 vol. (Tanta: Maktabat alṢaḥāba, 1986); al-Tibyān fī aqsām al-Qurʾān, 1 vol. (Damascus, Dār al-Fikr); al-Jawāb al-kāfī, 1 vol. (Beirut, Dar al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyyah); al-Rūh fī l-kalām ʿalā arwāḥ al-amwāt wa l-aḥyāʾ bi-l-dalāʾil mina l-Kitāb wa l-Sunna, 1 vol. (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyyah, 1975); al-Ṣalāt wa ḥukm tārikihā, 1 vol. (Beirut, 1996); al-Ṣawāʿiq al-mursala ʿalā l-Jahmiyya wa l-Muʿaṭṭila, 4 vols. (Riyad, Dār al-ʿĀṣima, 1998); al-Ṭuruq al-ḥukmiyya fī l-siyāsat al-sharʿiyya, 1 vol. (Cairo, Maṭbaʿat al-Madanī); al-Furūsiyya (Hā’il, 1993); al-Fawāʾid, 1 vol. (Beirut, 1973); al-Manār al-munīf, 1 vol. (Aleppo, 1983); al-Wābil al-Ṣayyib mina l-kalim al-ṭayyib, 1 vol. (Beirut, 1985); Badāʾiʿ al-fawāʾid, 4 vols. (Mecca, 1996); Tuḥfat al-mawdūd bi-aḥkām al-mawlūd, 1 vol. (Damascus, 1971); Rawḍat al-muḥibbīn wa nuzhat al-mushtāqīn (Beirut, Dar al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyya, 1992); Zād al-maʿād, 5 vols. (Beirut, 1986); Shifāʾ al-ʿalīl fī masāʾil al-qaḍāʾ wa l-qadar wa l-ḥikma wa l-taʿṭī, 1 vol. (Beirut, 1978); Ighāthat al-lahafān fī ḥukm ṭalāq al-ghaḍbān (Beirut, 1986); ʿUddat al-ṣābirīn wa dhakhīrat al-shākirīn, 1 vol. (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyyah); Madārij al-sālikīn bayna manāzil iyyāka naʿbudu wa ʿiyyāka nastaʿīn (Beirut, 1973); Miftāḥ dār al-saʿāda wa manshūr wilāyat al-ʿilm wa l-idāra, 2 vols. (Beirut, Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyyah, Date needed); Hidāyat al-hayārā fī ajwibat al-Yahūd wa l-Naṣārā (Medina, Islamic University).

79 Kātib Çelebi, The Balance of Truth, p. 93.

80 Sivāsī, Durar al-ʿaqā’id, f. 59r, cited in Öztürk, ‘Islamic Orthodoxy’, p. 233.

81 Memon, Ibn Taimīya's Struggle, p. 47.

82 Even some of the titles of Ibn al-Qayyim's spiritual works were based on the titles of well-known Sufī manuals, such as his Madārij al-sālikīn, the commentary on the Manāzil al-sā’irīn of al-Anṣārī, and the Rawḍat al-muḥibbīn. For more on the differences in approach of Ibn al-Qayyim and Ibn Taymiyya in their spiritual writings see Bell, J.'s chapter ‘Love in the Works of Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziīya’, Love Theory in Later Ḥanbalite Islam (Albany, 1979)Google Scholar.

83 Translation in Özervali, M.S., ‘The Qurʾānic Rational Theology of Ibn Taymiyya and his Criticism of the mutakallimūn ,’ in Ibn Taymiyya and His Times, edited by Rapoport, Y. and Ahmed, S (Karachi and Oxford, 2009), p. 82 Google Scholar. It is worth noting that Ibn Taymiyya's theology had at its essence a call to return to the way of the first generation of Muslims and a rejection of foreign, particularly Neoplatonic, influences in the Muslim conception of God. According to him, excessive intellectualism serves only to weaken the faith of the ordinary believer, and leads ultimately to schisms amongst the ʿUlamāʾ. Divine Unity (tawḥīd) must always maintain its simplicity, and it should appeal to the masses as well as to the elite. For Ibn Taymiyya, this was the way of stability; the kalām theologians, on the other hand, were responsible for the corruption of the creed, never firm on a position for long and always adapting doctrines to suit their views. He says, “You will find that the adherents of kalām are the foremost amongst people in shifting from one position to another, certain of a position at one place and then certain of its contrary, [all the while], accusing opponents of disbelief! This is evidence for [their] lack of certainty. Cited in M. Sheikh, ‘Ibn Taymiyya on the Attributes of God’, unpublished MSt thesis, University of Oxford, 2007, pp. 18–19. On Ibn Taymiyya's theology, see also H. Laoust, Essai led doctrines socials et politiques de Taki-d-Din Ahmad b. Taimiya, canoniste hanbalite (Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut d’Archeologie Oriental, 1939).

84 Cited in Özervali, ‘Qurʾānic Rational Theology’, p. 82.

85 For more on this see Hallaq, W., ‘Ibn Taymiyya on the Existence of God,’ Acta Orientalia, 52 (1991), pp. 4969 Google Scholar.