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Miriam Ovadia (Alumna BGSMCS)


Late Hanbali Polemic Theology by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah: al-Sawa'iq al-Mursalah.

Late-Ḥanbali Discursive Theology by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah: al-Ṣawāʽiq al-Mursalah

Research conducted in recent years about the late-Ḥanbali scholar, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (d. 751/1350, hereinafter: Ibn al-Qayyim), assert the importance of his writings within the Islamic intellectual sphere of Mamluk Damascus. Nonetheless, only few studies deal with his theological thought, including his approach towards God's attributes and anthropomorphism in the Quran and the Hadith literature.

The issue of the attributes of God led to theological debate concerning numerous attributes, which may be interpreted as anthropomorphic descriptions of God, such as His ability (qudrah), His knowledge (ʽilm) and even His face (wajh; for example, Quran 55:26-27). These human-like descriptions of God are problematic as they imply of the assimilation of God with his human creation, or anthropomorphism (tashbīh). Such assimilation is categorically forbidden in Islam, since God is perceived as absolute transcendent – "There is nothing like Him" (Quran 42:11).

The interpretive issue of God's attributes became a crucial point of disagreement between different theological schools, especially between those who adhered to the traditional strict approach of literal reading of the Holy Scriptures (naql), and those who permitted the usage of rationalist methods of proof and demonstration relying on the human reason (ʽaql). The two schools in Islamic theology of most relevance to the current research are the Ḥanbalite and the Ashʽarite of the 14th century, both of which can be generally considered as traditionalist (ahl al-sunnah wa-l-ḥadīth). However, while the Ḥanbalite School demanded a literal understanding of the scriptures, the Ashʽarite School had absorbed some rationalist ideas, and thus permitted more rationalistic argumentations.

The theological debate concerning the attributes of God is discussed in Ibn al-Qayyim's magnum opus: al-Ṣawāʽiq al-Mursalah (The Unleashed Thunderbolts) and in its abridgement (mukhtaṣar). In these two texts Ibn al-Qayyim firmly rejects several fundamental rationalistic ideas of the Ashʽarite theological School. In the course of current research, I intend to examine in depth Ibn al-Qayyim's theological concepts regarding God's attributes as they appear in al-Ṣawāʽiq and its abridgement. In a broader sense, I wish to attain a better understanding of Ibn al-Qayyim as a theologian: What is theology for him? What is his methodology in the work al-Ṣawāʽiq? What objectives did he try to achieve through his theological writing? In addition, I would like to see in which manner Ibn al-Qayyim's discursive discussion on the divine attributes was a contributing factor to the sharpening of this theological debate in his time.

Methodologically, I suggest a close reading of Ibn al-Qayyim's above mentioned texts and their analysis as primary sources. Moreover, there is a great importance to an inter-textual reading of al-Ṣawāʽiq, which is based on consultation with other relevant primary texts of significance. In this manner, I aim to contextualize the work al-Ṣawāʽiq both historically and intellectually. By focusing on the complex text of al-Ṣawāʽiq I wish to look at Ibn al-Qayyim's unique position in the inter-traditionalist theological debate regarding anthropomorphism. This research will hopefully shed more light on Ibn al-Qayyim as an independent intellectual in medieval Islamic thought.