On Ibn Taymiyyah’s idea of Crypto-Polytheism

We often see Wahhabis defining polytheism based upon using examples of statements a person might possibly make. They argue in the format of “If someone says “O so and so….“, it is shirk” and if someone said “O so and so….”, then it is not shirk“. Their entire idea of what constitutes polytheism is shifted to statements a person makes. They categorize and explain polytheism by listing out a list of cryptic statements, which itself keeps evolving and growing based on various problems they encounter in putting up a coherent argument. And they disregard or  are in plain ignorance of the belief a person carries when such statements are made, which is essential and core in distinguishing polytheism from monotheism.

This line of argumentation is seen to be emerging from works of the controversial scholar Ibn Taymiyyah. Muhammed al-Massari in his informative book “Kitab-at-Tawheed” provides a critic of one such assertion made by the scholar. He writes:

Problems resulting from this anarchy, once again, appears in a clearer form regarding the definition of worship in another statement of the Sheikh of Islam, Ibn Taimiyah (may Allah have mercy upon him).

As it has been mentioned in Arrisalah As-Saniyyah:

[and if some of those who became members of Islam apostatized from it, despite their great worship, then it should be known that the member of Islam and Sunnah in this time can also apostatize from Islam, by some causes. Among these causes is the exaggeration that the Almighty Allah dispraised in His Book as He said, “O People of the Scripture! do not exceed in your religion.” (An-Nisa, 4: 171) And in the same manner, the exaggeration regarding some Sheikhs, and even regarding Ali bin Abu Talib, and the exaggeration regarding the Messiah (Isa) (peace be upon him). Therefore, anyone who exceeds regarding a prophet or a righteous person and believes a sort of Godhood to be in him, such as to say, O my master so and so! Help me, or succor me or provide me with provision or assist me or I am in your sufficiency, etc. All these are statements of polytheism and error. The pronouncer of these statements should be asked to repent. If he repents, then his life would be spared, otherwise, he should be put to death. For the Almighty Allah only sent the Messengers and revealed the Books so as He should be worshipped Alone, and no one else be asked invoked besides Him. And those who invoked other gods along with Allah, such as the Messiah, the angels and idols did not believe that they could create creatures or cause rain to fall or cause plants to grow. But they worshipped them or their graves or their pictures, as saying, “We do not serve them except that they may bring us nearer to Allah in proximity.” (Az-Zumar, 39:3) They also say, “These are our intercessors with Allah.” (Yunus, 10:18) Therefore, the sending of Messengers by Allah put an end to invoking other than Him, be it invocation of worship or call for help], end.

The Sheikh (may Allah be pleased with him) did well and said a right statement here by saying, “anyone who exceeds regarding a prophet or a righteous person and considers him to possess a sort of Godhood”. He made it clear that the destructive exaggeration, which the Quranic verse dispraised, is to believe a sort of Godhood regarding the one exaggeration is being directed. However, when he gave an explanation to the Godhood by saying, “and believes a sort of Godhood to be in him, such as to say, “O my master so and so! Help me, or succor me or provide me with provision or assist me or I am in your sufficiency,” etc. All these are statements of polytheism and error. The pronouncer of these statements should be asked to repent. If he repents, then his life would be spared, otherwise, he should be put to death“. He considered the mere pronouncement of one of these sentences equivalent to making the one being – called or requested or asked- a god.

If only the Sheikh had thoroughly examined the Quranic verse and considered other verses regarding the same subject, he would have known that the exaggeration of the Christians regarding the Messiah, is that they believed in him other than truth: that he is Allah, or the son of Allah or the third of three (in a trinity), and that he is, in any event, a god, whose godhood is perfect and equal to his father in essence. Therefore, a true god from a true god, a light from a light. Yet, where is that with regard to the sentences “O my master! I am in your sufficiency” or “O Isa! I am in your sufficiency” ?! Yes, this can be a sentence from someone who believes what we have mentioned as disbeliefs in Isa, the son of Maryam (peace be upon them both). In that case, it would be a worshipping of him, disbelief and an association of a partner besides Allah and a manifestation of that evil belief, which is as it is, a belief of mere polytheism and disbelief. This sentence and the like can be without that belief, or using the sound meaning of an expression in a bad way. In that case, it will not be as a matter of polytheism and disbelief, but rather, its study will be as a matter of lawful and unlawful, recommended and disapproved and error and right, etc.

The Sheikh (may Allah forgive him and us) added by saying, “And those who invoked other gods along with Allah, such as the Massih, the angels and idols did not believe that they could create creatures or cause rain fall or cause plants to grow. But they worshipped them or their graves or their pictures“. These are allegations that quite accurate in some ways:

(1) the Messiah, in his capacity as Allah, according to those who believe in him to be so, is the creator who causes rain to fall and plants to grow. And in his capacity as the son of Allah or a part of Allah, or the third of three, is necessarily taking part in one way or the other. And in his capacity as “the Word of Allah”, he is the “god” of the creature. So Allah creates with “the word”. And invocating the Messiah and worshipping him here are performed properly for him, for he is a true god who deserves that, in addition to the fact that it pleases the rest of the parties or the Trinity “hypostases”, for they are three in one and one in three. They are “harmonious blessed association”. They love one another, and approve of each other what each one approve of himself!

(2) The angels for the Quraish tribe were divine entities. They believed them to be the true daughters of Allah, and their mothers to be the elite of the jinn. This is enough as polytheism and disbelief. We do not know for sure whether the Quraish believed that they had a participation in the creation of the creatures or the rainfall or the growing of the plants or not. Yet, we know for sure that they are pampered who intercede an intersession that cannot be refused with their father without asking permission, due to the fact that they belong to the “origin” and the divine “family relationship”. This alone is a belief of polytheism and disbelief. I agree that in all probability here, invocating and worshipping these were for the sake of approaching them to Allah, and so that they intercede an intersession that cannot be refused with Him. An intercession that does not need any permission, for they are the beloved pampered daughters!

(3) according to the Sabians, the worshippers of stars, the angels are reasons, or spirits or astronomical souls; divine beings, intermediaries between Allah (who they call the First Reason or the First Cause), rank after rank till the orbit of moon, which is the lowest of these astronomical reasons, blessed with the divine essence, and the lower world, the world of the creatures, the world of death, corruption and utter destruction, in both directions, whether rising or falling.

The Almighty Allah does not directly act freely, that if He originally has authority to dispose. (According to some of their sects, He does not conceive except His Being, and He does not know except Himself). Furthermore, invocation does not directly ascend to Him, rather, by passing by the lower reasons, rank after rank, and each orbit does it should do, according to its function. And then the rest rises to uppermost. What a hierarchical state! And it is sufficient for to know that this is a dotage, an act of polytheism and disbelief. In this kind of belief, invocating and worshipping these is not only because they make it possible to approach Allah and intercede an intersession that cannot be refused with Allah. Rather, because they have authorities, and there are matters they say their final word on them, without originally submitting them to uppermost. They have a kind of autonomy, which the poor “angels of the Quraish”, who have limited authority, do not have.

(4) there is no grave in the world that people worship, but it is the person who is buried that they worship. This, if he is originally worshipped. And we know for sure that whoever invokes a buried person or asks him for something, having the belief, regarding him, that he is an alive present person who can see and respond, though this, we know that this is not part of having the belief of Godhood in the buried person in any way. However, if there is the belief of Godhood regarding the buried, the invocation and the asking would be acts of worship and polytheism that turns the Muslim to non-Muslim. But if there is no belief that charges its believer with infidelity, there would be no major polytheism that turns the Muslim to non Muslim.

It is possible that there would be a sin or an unlawful innovation in religion, or even a small act of practical polytheism that does not turn a Muslim to non Muslim. Yet, all of these are another subject, which is totally different from the major polytheism, the act of polytheism that annuls Islam completely and turns its doer to non Muslim. In addition to the fact that it causes one to be in the eternal curse and the everlasting hellfire. That is the sole point of our research in this chapter.

(5) there is no one in the world who worships pictures, but worship is performed, if it is truly worship, to the person himself or the being that has been pictured. As for the picture in itself, it has never been worshipped. However, as for the worshippers of idols, which are some special sort of statues and pictures, they believe that the gods live in them, or that they some sort of personally correlate with them. Or that the idol totally represents the god. Therefore, it is allowed here, and only here to say, so and so worships idol, just as the Almighty Allah said in the Quran, and whose words can be truer than those of Allah? (Of course, none)!

You can see how grave is the fault in this short text. Furthermore, it came with misuse of expression in a statement like, “They worship their graves”, or “worship their pictures”. These are unexpected formulations from grand scholars like the Sheikh of Islam!

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