Ibn al-Jawzi

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Imam Ibn al-Jawzī
PARSONS(1808) p008 View of Bagdad on the Persian side of the Tigris.jpg
A depiction of Baghdad from 1808, taken from the print collection in Travels in Asia and Africa, etc. (ed. J. P. Berjew, British Library); Ibn al-Jawzī spent his entire life in this city in the twelfth-century
Jurisconsult, Preacher, Traditionist;
Shaykh of Islam, Orator of Kings and Princes, Imam of the Hanbalites
Venerated in Sunni Islam, but particularly in the Hanbali school of jurisprudence (Salafi Sunnis honor rather than venerate him)
Major shrine Tomb of Ibn al-Jawzī, Baghdad, Iraq
Ibn al-Jawzī
Title Shaykh al-Islam[1]
Born c. 510 AH/1126 CE
Baghdad, Iraq
Died 597 AH/14 June 1200 (aged 74)
Baghdad, Iraq
Ethnicity Arab
Era Islamic golden age
Religion Islam
Denomination Sunni
Jurisprudence Hanbali[2][3]
Creed Ash'ari[4]
Main interest(s) History, Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAlī b. Muḥammad Abu ’l-Faras̲h̲ b. al-Jawzī (1126 – 14 June 1200),[8] often referred to as Ibn al-Jawzī (Arabic: ابن الجوزي, Ibn al-Jawzī; 1126 – 14 June 1200) for short, or reverentially as Imam Ibn al-Jawzī by Sunni Muslims, was an Arab Muslim jurisconsult, preacher, orator, heresiographer, traditionist, historian, hagiographer, and philologist[8] who played an instrumental role in propagating the Hanbali school of orthodox Sunni jurisprudence in his native Baghdad during the twelfth-century.[8] During "a life of great intellectual, religious and political activity,"[8] Ibn al-Jawzi came to be widely admired by his fellow Hanbalis for the tireless role he played in ensuring that that particular school – historically, the smallest of the four principal Sunni schools of law – enjoy the same level of "prestige" often bestowed by rulers on the Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanafi rites.[8]

Belonging to a wealthy family,[8] Ibn al-Jawzi received a "very thorough education"[8] during his adolescent years, and was fortunate to train under some of that era's most renowned Baghdadi scholars, including Ibn al-Zāg̲h̲ūnī (d. 1133), Abū Bakr al-Dinawarī (d. 1137-8), and Abū Manṣūr al-Jawālīkī (d. 1144-5).[9] Although Ibn al-Jawzi's scholarly career continued to blossom over the next few years, he became most famous during the reign of al-Mustadi (d. 1180), the thirty-third caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate, whose support for Hanbalism allowed Ibn al-Jawzi to effectively become "one of the most influential persons" in Baghdad, due to the caliph's approval of Ibn al-Jawzi's public sermonizing to huge crowds in both pastoral and urban areas throughout Baghdad.[10] In the vast majority of the public sermons delivered during al-Mustadi's reign, Ibn al-Jawzi often presented a stanch defense of the prophet Muhammad's example, and vigorously criticized all those whom he considered to be schismatics in the faith.[10] At the same time, Ibn al-Jawzi's reputation as a scholar continued to grow due to the substantial role he played in managing many of the most important universities in the area,[10] as well as on account of the sheer number of works he wrote during this period.[10] As regards the latter point, it is important to note that part of Ibn al-Jawzi's legacy rests on his reputation for having been "one of the most prolific writers" of all time,[8] with later scholars like Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328) studying over a thousand works written by Ibn al-Jawzi during their years of training.[8] As scholars have noted, Ibn al-Jawzi's prodigious corpus, "varying in length" as it does,[8] touches upon virtually "all the great disciplines" of classical Islamic study.[8]

Ibn al-Jawzi was also a noted polemicist,[8] and often attacked with great zeal the works of all those whom he deemed to be heretical innovators in the religion.[8] His criticisms of other schools of thought appears most prominently in Talbīs Iblīs (The Devil's Delusion), "one of the major works of Hanbali polemic,"[8] in which he staunchly critiqued not only numerous sects outside Sunni Islam, such as the Mutazilites and the Kharijites, but also particular schools of thought within Sunnism whom he believed had strayed from the right path.[8] Due to some of Ibn al-Jawzi's remarks against some of the "wayward Sufis" of his time in this work, contemporary Muslim movements opposed to traditional Sufism, such as Salafism and Wahhabism, often cite the work as evidence of their position in the present-day.[8] Despite this, scholars have noted how Ibn al-Jawzi never actually attacks Sufism as such, but always makes a clear distinction in his works between "between an older purer Sufism" and what he deems to be corruptions in Sufi practice.[4] Furthermore, it is evident from Ibn al-Jawzi's major work on the lives of the early Muslim saints entitled Sifat al-ṣafwa (The Characteristic of a Sincere Friend) – actually an abridgment of Abu Nu`aym's (d. 1038) Ḥilyat al-awliyāʼ (The Adornment of the Saints)[8] – that Ibn al-Jawzi actually held the vast majority of Sufism in high regard; as he explicitly praises such important Sufi saints as Hasan of Basra (d. 728), Ibrahim ibn Adham (d. ca. 782), Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 778), Rabia Basri (d. 801), Maruf Karkhi (d. ca. 820), and Bishr the Barefoot (d. ca. 850), among many others,[8] it is clear that Ibn al-Jawzi never intended his attacks on certain Sufi groups contemporaneous with him to constitute a condemnation of Sufism as a whole.[8]


Ibn al-Jawzi was born in 1126 to a "fairly wealthy family"[8] in Baghdad.[11] His parents proceeded to give their son a "thorough education"[12] in all the principal disciplines of the period,[12] whence Ibn al-Jawzi had the good fortune of studying under such notable scholars of the time as Ibn al-Zāg̲h̲ūnī (d. 1133), Abū Bakr al-Dinawarī (d. 1137-8), Abū Manṣūr al-Jawālīkī (d. 1144-5), Abu ’l-Faḍl b. al-Nāṣir (d. 1155), Abū Ḥakīm al-Nahrawānī (d. 1161) and Abū Yaʿlā the Younger (d. 1163).[12][13] Additionally, Ibn al-Jawzi began to be heavily influenced by the works of other scholars he read but whom he had never met personally, such as Abu Nu`aym (d. 1038), a Shafi'i Ashari mystic, al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 1071), a Hanbali who had changed to Shafi'ism, and the prominent Hanbali thinker Ibn Aqil (d. ca. 1120), whom Ibn al-Jawzi would both praise and criticize in his later writings.[12] Although it is evident from the early works of Ibn al-Jawzi that he was a critic of overt speculation in theology, it is nevertheless important to note that he personally chose to adhere to the Ashari school of dialectical theology,[4] which was an aspect of his thought that would later distinguish him from many of his fellow Hanbali thinkers.[4]

Ibn al-Jawzi began his career proper during the reign of al-Muqtafi (d. 1160), the thirty-first caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate, whose Hanbali vizier, Ibn Hubayra (d. 1165), served as a patron of Ibn al-Jawzi's scholarship.[12] Beginning his scholarly career as a teaching assistant to his mentor Abū Ḥakīm al-Nahrawānī, who taught Hanbali jurisprudence in two separate schools, Ibn al-Jawzi succeeded al-Nahrawānī as "master of these two colleges" after the latter's death in 1161.[12][14] A year or so prior to this, however, Ibn al-Jawzi had already begun his career as a preacher, as Ibn Hubayra had given him free reign to deliver his passionate sermons every Friday in the vizer's own house.[15] After al-Muqtafi's death, the succeeding caliph, al-Mustanjid (d. 1170), called upon Ibn al-Jawzi to preach his sermons in the ruler's Palace mosque – one of the most prominent houses of worship in the whole of Baghdad – during the three military interventions of the Fatimid caliphate in the city.[12] In these sermons, Ibn al-Jawzi is said to have "vigorously defended the prophetic precedent and criticized, not only all those whom he considered to be schismatics, but also the jurists who were too blindly attached to their own schools of law."[12]

During the reign of the succeeding Abbasid caliph, al-Mustadi (d. 1180), Ibn al-Jawzi began to be recognized "as one of the most influential persons in Baghdad."[12] As this particular ruler was especially partial to Hanbalism,[12] Ibn al-Jawzi was given free reign to promote Hanbalism by way of his preaching throughout Baghdad.[12] The numerous sermons Ibn al-Jawzi delivered from 1172-1173 cemented his reputation as the premier scholar in Baghdad at the time; indeed, the scholar soon began to be so appreciated for his gifts as an orator that al-Mustadi even went so far as to have a special dais (Arabic dakka) constructed specially for Ibn al-Jawzi in the Palace mosque.[12] Ibn al-Jawzi's stature as a scholar only continued to grow in the following years.[12]

By 1179, Ibn al-Jawzi had written over one hundred and fifty works and was directing five colleges in Baghdad simultaneously.[8] It was at this time that he told al-Mustadi to engrave an inscription onto the widely-venerated tomb of Ibn Hanbal (d. 855) – the revered founder of the Hanbali rite – which referred to the famed jurist as "Imām."[16] After the ascendancy of the new caliph, al-Nasir (d. 1235), to the Abbasid throne, Ibn al-Jawzi initially maintained amicable relations with the state power by way of his friendship with the caliph's Hanbali vizier, Ibn Yūnus (d. 1197).[8] However, after the latter's dismissal and arrest – for unknown reasons – the caliph appointed as his successor the Shia Ibn al-Ḳaṣṣāb (d. ca. 1250).[8] Although the reasons for the matter remain unclear in the historical record,[8] al-Nasir eventually sentenced Ibn al-Jawzi to live under house arrest for five years.[8] One of the possible reasons for this may be that Ibn al-Jawzi's relationship with the caliph had soured after the scholar had written a direct refutation of the ruler's policy in a particular matter.[8] After five years in exile, Ibn al-Jawzi was eventually set free due to the pleading of al-Nasir's mother, whom the various chronicles describe as "a very devout woman" who pleaded with her son to free the famous scholar.[8] Soon after his return to Baghdad, however, Ibn al-Jawzi died, being seventy-four years old.[8]



Ibn al-Jawzi was an avid supporter of using the relics of Muhammad in personal devotion, and supported the seeking of blessing through them in religious veneration. This is evident from his approved citing of a tradition narrated by Ibn Hanbal's son Abdullah, who recalled his father's devotion towards the Prophet's relics thus: "I saw my father take one of the Prophet's hairs, place it over his mouth, and kiss it. I may have seen him place it over his eyes, and dip it in water and then drink the water for a cure."[17] In the same way, Ibn al-Jawzi also commended Ibn Hanbal for having drunk from the Prophet's bowl (technically a "second-class" relic) in order to seek blessings from it.[17]


Ibn al-Jawzi supported the orthodox and widespread classical belief in the existence of saints, as is evident from his major work on the lives of the early Muslim Sufi saints entitled Sifat al-ṣafwa (The Characteristic of a Sincere Friend) – actually an abridgment of Abu Nu`aym's (d. 1038) Ḥilyat al-awliyāʼ (The Adornment of the Saints)[8] – in which he explicitly praises such important Sufis as Hasan of Basra (d. 728), Ibrahim ibn Adham (d. ca. 782), Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 778), Rabia Basri (d. 801), Maruf Karkhi (d. ca. 820), and Bishr the Barefoot (d. ca. 850), among many others.[8] While Ibn al-Jawzi did criticize charlatans who masquerade as holy men, he unreservedly states that true "saints do not violate" orthodox belief, practice, and law.[18] Regarding saints, Ibn al-Jawzi said:

“The saints and the righteous are the very purpose of all that exists (al-awliya wa al-salihun hum al-maqsud min al-kawn): they are those who learned and practiced with the reality of knowledge... Those who practice what they know, do with little in the world, seek the next world, remain ready to leave from one to the other with wakeful eyes and good provision, as opposed to those renowned purely for their knowledge."[19]


Ibn al-Jawzi is famous for the theological stance that he took against other Hanbalites of the time, in particular Ibn al-Zaghuni and al-Qadi Abu Ya'la. He believed that these and other Hanbalites had gone to extremes in affirming God's Attributes, so much so that he accused them of tarnishing the reputation of Hanbalites and making it synonymous with extreme anthropomorphism. Ibn al-Jawzi stated that, "They believed that He has a form and a face in addition to His Self. They believed that He has two eyes, a mouth, a uvula and molars, a face which is light and splendor, two hands, including the palms of hands, fingers including the little fingers and the thumbs, a back, and two legs divided into thighs and shanks."[3]

And he continued his attack on Abu Ya'la by stating that, "Whoever confirms that God has molars as a divine attribute, has absolutely no knowledge of Islam."[20]

Ibn al-Jawzi's most famous work in this regard is his Bāz al‐ašhab al‐munqadd 'alà muhālifī al‐madhab (The Gray Falcon Which Attacks the Offenders of the [Hanbalī] School).[3]

God is neither inside nor outside of the Universe[edit]

Ibn Jawzi states, in As-Sifat, that God neither exists inside the world nor outside of it.[21] To him, "being inside or outside are concomitant of things located in space" i.e. what is outside or inside must be in a place, and, according to him, this is not applicable to God.[21] He writes:

Both [being in a place and outside a place] along with movement, rest, and other accidents are constitutive of bodies ... The divine essence does not admit of any created entity [e.g. place] within it or inhering in it.[21]

Front cover of Al-Radd 'Ala al-Muta'assib al-'Anid published by Dar ul Kutoob Al Ilmiyah.


Ibn al-Jawzi is perhaps the most prolific author in Islamic history. Al-Dhahabi states: “I have not known anyone amongst the ‘ulama to have written as much as he (Ibn al-Jawzi) did.[5] Recently, Professor Abdul Hameed al-Aloojee, an Iraqi scholar conducted research on the extent of ibn al Jawzi's works and wrote a reference work in which he listed Ibn al Jawzees's works alphabetically, identifying the publishers and libraries where his unpublished manuscripts could be found. Some have suggested that he is the author of more than 700 works.[7]

In addition to the topic of religion, Ibn al-Jawzi wrote about medicine as well. Like the medicinal works of Al-Suyuti, Ibn al-Jawzi's book was almost exclusively based on Prophetic medicine rather than a synthesis of both Islamic and Greek medicine like the works of Al-Dhahabi. Ibn al-Jawzi's work focused primarily on diet and natural remedies for both serious ailments such as rabies and smallpox and simple conditions such as headaches and nosebleeds.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Al-Dhahabi, Siyar A'lam al-Nubala'.
  2. ^ A.C. Brown, Jonathan (2014). Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy. Oneworld Publications. pp. 251, 321. ISBN 978-1780744209. 
  3. ^ a b c Holtzman, Livnat. ""Does God Really Laugh?" – Appropriate and Inappropriate Descriptions of God in Islamic Traditionalist Theology" (PDF). Bar‐Ilan University, Ramat Gan. p. 188. 
  4. ^ a b c d Boyle, J.A. (January 1, 1968). The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 5: The Saljuq and Mongol Periods (Volume 5). Cambridge University Press. p. 299. Talbis Iblis, by the Ash'ari theologian Ibn al-Jauzi, contains strong attacks on the Sufis, though the author makes a distinction between an older purer Sufism and the "modern" one, 
  5. ^ a b c IslamicAwakening.Com: Ibn al-Jawzi: A Lifetime of Da'wah[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ Robinson:2003:XV
  7. ^ a b "Ibn Al-Jawzi". Sunnah.org. Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Laoust, H., “Ibn al-D̲j̲awzī”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs.
  9. ^ Ibn Rad̲j̲ab, D̲h̲ayl ʿalā Ṭabaḳāt al-ḥanābila, Cairo 1372/1953, i, 401
  10. ^ a b c d Ibn Rad̲j̲ab, D̲h̲ayl ʿalā Ṭabaḳāt al-ḥanābila, Cairo 1372/1953, i, 404-405
  11. ^ Ibn Rad̲j̲ab, D̲h̲ayl ʿalā Ṭabaḳāt al-ḥanābila, Cairo 1372/1953, i, 399-434
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Laoust, H., “Ibn al-D̲j̲awzī”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs.
  13. ^ Ibn Rad̲j̲ab, D̲h̲ayl ʿalā Ṭabaḳāt al-ḥanābila, Cairo 1372/1953, i, 401
  14. ^ Ibn Rad̲j̲ab, D̲h̲ayl ʿalā Ṭabaḳāt al-ḥanābila, Cairo 1372/1953, i, 404
  15. ^ Ibn Rad̲j̲ab, D̲h̲ayl ʿalā Ṭabaḳāt al-ḥanābila, Cairo 1372/1953, i, 402
  16. ^ Ibn Kat̲h̲īr, Bidāya, Cairo 1351-8/1932-9, xii, 28-30
  17. ^ a b Ibn al-Jawzī, The Life of Ibn Hanbal, XXIV.2, trans. Michael Cooperson (New York: New York University Press, 2016), p. 89
  18. ^ Jonathan A. C. Brown, “Faithful Dissenters: Sunni Skepticism about the Miracles of Saints,” Journal of Sufi Studies 1 (2012), p. 162
  19. ^ Ibn al-Jawzi, Sifat al-safwa (Beirut ed. 1989/1409) p. 13, 17.
  20. ^ Holtzman, Livnat. ""Does God Really Laugh?" – Appropriate and Inappropriate Descriptions of God in Islamic Traditionalist Theology" (PDF). Bar‐Ilan University, Ramat Gan. p. 191. 
  21. ^ a b c Swartz, Merlin. A Medieval Critique of Anthropomorphism, pg. 159. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2001.
  22. ^ Emilie Savage-Smith, "Medicine." Taken from Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, Volume 3: Technology, Alchemy and Life Sciences, pg. 928. Ed. Roshdi Rasheed. London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0-415-12412-3
  23. ^ Swartz, Merlin. A Medieval Critque of Anthropomorphism. Brill, 2001


External links[edit]