THE THREE-VOLUME book Madârij Al-Sâlikîn (Ranks of the Divine Seekers) is one of Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s most well known and, arguably, his most developed, spiritual works.[1] Madârij is best understood as an expanded commentary on a terse Sufi classic, Manâzil Al-Sâ’irîn, authored by the renowned Ḥanbalite Sufi master, Abû Ismâʿîl ʿAbd Allâh Al-Harawî Anṣârî (d. 481/1089).

Widely read and admired among contemporary Arabic readers for its piercing spiritual and psychological insight, literary charm and its potential to bridge the Sufi and Salafi divide, Madârij has received little attention in Western scholarship, the most comprehensive treatment of it (prior to Livnat Holtzman’s excellent edited volume A Scholar in the Shadow), being Joseph N. Bell’s monograph on Ḥanbalite spirituality, which establishes Madârij as one of Ibn Al-Qayyim’s last and most mature spiritual writings.[2]

Given its liminal location in Sufi as well as Salafi tradition, Madârij offers valuable insights into the conceptual history of Sufism, and sheds light on some elusive debates on the nature of Islamic spirituality. The purpose of this Introduction is to delineate the main project of the Madârij, reflect on the nature of the well-known relationship of Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s spiritual vision to that of his teacher, Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728/1328), and on the nature of the much-debated relationship of these figures to the historical discourse of Sufism.

Ibn Rajab (d. 795/1392), Ibn Al-Qayyim’s student, an eminent scholar in his own right, and our author’s chief biographer, introduces him as “Mu ḥammad ibn Abû Bakr, of Zurʿah, then of Damascus, the exegete, the grammarian, the knower (of God, ʿârif), Shams Al-Dîn, Abû ʿAbd Allâh ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah, who studied kalâm and grammar (naw), and mastered the spiritual science (ʿilm al-sulûk), the discourses of the Sufis, their allusions and subtleties (kalâm ahl al-taawwuf wa ishârâtihim wa daqâ’iqihim).”[3] Particularly noteworthy is his biographers’ emphasis on Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s qualifications as a knower (ʿârif), a master of the science of spiritual discipline (sulûk), which nonetheless does not make him a Sufi. He was a man, Ibn Rajab notes, given to

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outstanding devotions and night vigils, exceptionally long prayers, deep and constant remembrance, repentance, humility and complete surrender before God, the likes of which I have not seen; nor have I seen any greater in knowledge, in the knowledge of the meanings of the Quran and the Sunnah, and the realities of faith. He was not infallible, of course, but I have not seen the likes of him in this respect. He faced and firmly withstood persecution several times. He was imprisoned with the Shaykh Taqî Al-Dîn [Ibn Taymiyyah] during his last imprisonment in the citadel. During their imprisonment, they were separated from each other, and Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah was released from captivity only after the death of the Shaykh [Ibn Taymiyyah]. While in prison, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah occupied himself with the recitation of and reflection on the Quran, which provided him with tremendous spiritual insights and discoveries. This experience also earned him mastery of spiritual discourse (ʿulûm ahl al-maʿârifah) and entry into its depths, which he infused into his writings.[4]

In Madârij, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s exceeding reverence and love for his teacher, Ibn Taymiyyah, is reflected perhaps more than in any other work.

Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Al-Qayyim

Bell’s overall assessment that the primary spiritual and intellectual influence on Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah remains that of Ibn Taymiyyah seems to be correct.[5] Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah often mentions Ibn Taymiyyah’s spiritual virtues and opinions to cap off or decide between the words of the greatest early Sufi masters. He reserves his choicest invocation, qaddasa Allâhu rû ḥah (may God sanctify his soul), almost exclusively for “Shaykh Al-Islâm” or “Shaykhunâ” Ibn Taymiyyah, while it is accorded to others only sparingly, as if to leave his readings in no doubt about his extraordinary love and reverence for his teacher.[6] In contrast with the common view of Ibn Taymiyyah’s irascible temper, his view of his teacher’s disposition is different. He writes, “An eminent associate of [Ibn Taymiyyah] said [regarding him], ‘I wish we treated our friends like he treats his enemies!’”[7]

This is not to suggest that Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah was an uncritical or slavish disciple: He differed with Ibn Taymiyyah on several jurisprudential issues, although I have not come across any spiritual or theological issue on which he flatly rejected Ibn Taymiyyah’s opinion. His allegiance to Ibn Taymiyyah does not negate Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s originality and contribution. The agreement between Ibn Taymiyyah’s and Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s teachings seems to be a result of their extraordinary spiritual and intellectual accord.[8] Moreover, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah fully shared his teacher’s reformist mission—and his share in promoting it has been no less than his teacher’s.

As demonstrated below, although the fundamental ideas in Madârij are shared with Ibn Taymiyyah, the development, argumentation, and deployment are Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s. His extraordinary discernment, organization, compassionate and elegant, but unpretentious, literary style, and ability to patiently engage intricate texts like Anṣârî’s—all virtues which complemented his teacher’s difficult writing and sharp temper—make Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah indispensible for us to understand the nature and potential of the two scholars’ spiritual and juristic contributions.[9]

Both Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah consistently praised Al-Junayd (d. 298/910), the acknowledged first master of the Sufi path (sayyid al-â’ifah), and other early spiritual masters of Baghdad, who later became known as “sober” Sufis. These Sufis embraced spiritual practices and psychological discourses without promoting antinomian practices or utterances (that is, the belief that divine grace releases them from moral accountability for their behavior or religious observances). Furthermore, both Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah were willing to countenance even ecstatic outbursts (shaaât) as a sign of weakness or immaturity, rather than outright heresy.[10]

The Divers Streams of Sufism

Labeling someone a Sufi or not depends naturally on how one defines Sufism. Historically, however, Sufism has been a diverse movement in terms of its theory, practice, conformity to the Sharîʿah, and the types of ontology (belief in the nature of divine being) and epistemology (belief in the nature of knowledge) its adherents have claimed.[11] Indeed, the “sober” Sufism of Al-Junayd, which attempted to contain mystical ecstasy within the Sharîʿah discourse, has been quite influential in Sufi history.[12] Thus, rather than equating Sufism with mysticism, it is more appropriate to understand mysticism as being essentially concerned with experiential knowledge and invested in the validity and authority of that knowledge, while allowing that as a historically diverse movement, Sufism had been mystical in some of its manifestations and not others.

Mystical Sufism often challenged the exoteric scriptural tradition. Michael Cooperson defines mysticism (which he, like most others, unproblematically equates with Sufism) as “a mode of cognition that treats the objects of belief as objects of experience: What the Sufis call taqîq or ‘realization.’ The result was not ʿilm but maʿrifah, that is, ‘not new knowledge of any facts or doctrines, but rather the perception of an overall meaning in the world.”[13] Such circumscription of mysticism or mystical Sufism, however, is questionable, because many such Sufis consciously opposed maʿrifah (gnosis, or inner, spiritual knowledge)[14] to ʿilm (knowledge), of which Cooperson’s own account gives many examples. Abû Yazîd Al-Bis ṭâmî (d. 261/875), for example, declared that “some people are unworthy of mystical knowledge (maʿrifah), and so God has preoccupied them with worship (ʿibâdah)”—worship clearly being a scriptural prescription.[15] Cooperson also writes:

A renunciant might commune with a dead prophet and call the resulting ‘prenatural communication’ a adîth mursal, that is, one known well enough to be cited in an incomplete isnâd. Similarly, he might commune with God and label the result a adîth qudsî….Such claims provoked dismay among the scholars, not only because the attributions seem disingenuous, but also—one may guess—because the notion of continuing revelation of God’s will negated the historical mission of the ahl al-adîth. If any pious believer would receive messages from God or the prophets, and if such messages could assume the apodictic authority of Ḥadîth, there could be little point in preserving the historically authenticated practice of the Prophet.[16]

These examples suggest, contrary to Cooperson’s own definition, that many Sufis did not merely limit their experience to the “objects of belief” given in the scripture, but rather made their experience add to, interpret, and often challenge that knowledge. For the purpose of this study, I will therefore define mysticism as a mode of cognition which does not merely experience ecstasy or divine illumination (kashf or mukâshafah) of scriptural knowledge, but also turns that experience into discursive knowledge independent of scriptural knowledge.[17] Mysticism does not necessarily oppose the scripture, but the crucial point is that it may, for mysticism claims a separate, often superior, epistemological authority.

Any inquiry about one’s attitude towards Sufism must take these nuances into account. Going beyond documentary evidence, Thomas Michel’s brief study of Ibn Taymiyyah’s commentary on some statements from the famous Sufi master ʿAbd Al-Qâdir Al-Jîlânî’s (d. 561/1166) Futû ḥ Al-Ghayb focuses on Ibn Taymiyyah’s substantive attitude towards Sufism and asks what role Sufism played in Ibn Taymiyyah’s vision of Islam.[18] Michel confirms what many scholars have observed, that “Ibn Taymiyya teaches no doctrinaire rejection of the Ṣûfî tradition,” and concludes that Ibn Taymiyyah “integrates the Ṣûfî striving for aqîqa into the total Islamic response to God.” In addition, Ibn Taymiyyah fuses his “activist and voluntarist” approach to “the cherished Ṣûfî concepts of private inspiration and intuitive perception,” culminating into a system like that of Al-Ghazâlî in its scope, but different in its nature.[19] Michel’s study judiciously focuses our attention on the pertinent questions and is generally persuasive. He does not, however, directly address whether Ibn Taymiyyah may be categorized as a Sufi, nor the nature of his system.

Madârij, the most developed spiritual discourse by Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah and arguably an authentic development of Ibn Taymiyyah’s ideas as well, allows us the unique opportunity to explore the vexed question of their relationship to Sufism. To fully appreciate the point, one cannot avoid exploring the breadth and depth of Madârij itself, yet the consistency of the general strategies and the conceptual apparatus that Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah employs to explain and critique Anṣârî’s work allow us to make some useful generalizations.

Ansârî and the Manâzil

During his lifetime, Shaykh Al-Islâm Abû Ismâʿîl Al-Harawî Anṣârî (less commonly known as Al-Hirawî; henceforth, Anṣârî) had reached the status of a celebrity, albeit a controversial one.[20] He became well loved by the spiritually inclined in the Arabic west for his Manâzil and in the Persian east for his Munâjât (Supplications) and abaqât Al-Ṣûfiyyah, but also disliked by theologians for his relentless opposition to kalâm.

The sheer number of commentaries that have been written about Manâzil is sufficient to establish its place as canonical in the history of Sufism. Anṣârî’s three most important Sufi works are, in chronological order, ad Maydân (One Hundred Fields; in Persian), Manâzil, and ʿIlal; the last is an appendix to Manâzil.[21]

The two main treatises, Manâzil and ad, have much in common, both being terse, mnemonic manuals to help Sufi novices commit to heart and adhere to the Sufi path. Both treatises divided the Sufi journey into one hundred levels (maydân, field, or manâzil, stations) before reaching the ultimate level.

Each of the hundred stations is further subdivided into three stages: Commoners or novices (Al-ʿammah), the elite (Al-khâ ṣ ṣah), and the elite of the elite (khâ ṣ ṣat Al-khâ ṣ ṣah). While this tripartite distinction of the Sufis seems to have emerged in the generation following Al-Junayd (d. 298/910), Anṣârî’s treatises are unique in their extensive application of it to every spiritual station.[22]

The two main treatises, ad and Manâzil, have many stations in common, the style of exposition is almost the same, privileging, one may observe, the splendor of expression over precision of meaning or argument.[23] The general tenor of both works strongly privileges the state of being lost in God as the ultimate goal and leaves many ambiguities about its modality.

Differences, however, may also be detected; the later work in Arabic, Manâzil, emphasizes the theme of annihilation of one’s entity in God and union with God (fanâ) to an appreciably greater degree.[24]

Anṣârî belonged in the line of ecstatic Persian Sufism, whose Ḥanbalite commitment nonetheless seems to have kept him from thoroughgoing antinomianism. His abaqât Al-Ṣûfiyyah shows that he had profound knowledge of the early Sufi tradition.[25] Particularly noteworthy is his preference, against the general trend among Sufi writers, of Abû Saʿîd Ibrâhîm Al-Ḥarrâz (d. 286/899) over Al-Junayd (d. 298/910), Al-Bis ṭâmî and others.[26] This preference of the erotic symbolism and ecstatic non-conformity of Al-Ḥarrâz, known as Lisân Al-Taawwuf (the Tongue of Sufism) for his eloquence, over the sober, contained, discourses of Al-Junayd is significant in understanding Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s commentary on Manâzil.

Among his contemporaries, Anṣârî’s meeting with a semi-literate Persian Sufi Ḥaraqânî (or Ḥirqânî) at the age of twenty-seven had a profound influence on the burgeoning mystic, which is visible in his works, although he himself avoided antinomian practices.[27] Like Ḥaraqâni, Anṣârî’s discourses are composed in rhymed prose, marked by a preference for intensity of expression over precision of meaning, and a disregard for theoretical self-reflection.[28] Some scholars have suggested that Anṣârî was a major influence on subsequent ecstatic Sufism in Persia, in particular on Jalâl Al-Dîn Rûmî (672/1273).[29]

Anṣârî’s Ḥanbalism and aversion to Ashʿarî kalâm were at least as significant commitments as his Sufism.[30] It is difficult to see how he reconciled these divergent commitments, given the Ḥanbali emphasis on an exoteric understanding of the scripture. It is possible that Anṣârî was aware of this difficulty, for we find some references to it in his abaqât, where he writes about himself that he spoke stronger words than the mystic martyr Al-Ḥallâj, but that he was not spurned by the commonality because the meanings of his utterances remained hidden from those who were not suited to receive them.[31] More work on Anṣârî is needed to understand this aspect of his thought. Given the limited scope of this article, I will focus only on how Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah addresses Anṣârî’s divergent commitments.


Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s career as an author began in 728/1328, nearly three centuries after Anṣârî’s death. His first engagement with Anṣârî began in arîq Al-Hijratayn,[32] in which he commented on Anṣârî’s Manâzil, as well as on Ibn Al-ʿArîf’s (d. 535/1141) Maâsin Al-Majâlis.[33] Bell suggested that the arîq was “essentially a commentary on the Maasin Al-Majâlis”, but this observation is not entirely accurate. arîq Al-Hijratayn is an independent treatise, which systematically comments on some of Anṣârî’s statements in Manâzil, while only one large section of the arîq is devoted to a critique of Maâsin.

Madârij, as Bell further suggests, was prompted by Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s desire to distance Anṣârî from his monist interpreters [the monists believed that no duality existed between God and the world] and to refute Anṣârî’s position that all stations, including love of God, are defective, with the single exception of taw ḥîd—by which Anṣârî means annihilative union, not the usual Islamic monotheism.[34]

Sharaf Al-Dîn, the author of a modern biography of Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah, notes that Madârij criticizes the Sufis on: (1) the doctrine of monism (wadat Al-wujûd), (2) antinomianism (suqû ṭ al-taklîf), (3) the separation of the Sufi idea of ultimate reality (aqîqah) from the Sharîʿah, and (4) the preference for subjective inclination (dhawq) or experiential knowledge over (discursive) knowledge (ʿilm), and finally, (5) the implementation of techniques and ways of worshipping not found in the Sharîʿah.[35] The first four points are mutually related and are indeed major concerns in Madârij, and I address them in the following; the fifth, however, hardly appears to be a priority in Madârij.

Anṣârî’s brief original treatise consists of one hundred spiritual stations (maqâmât), each treated in a paragraph or so. Madârij, on the other hand, comprises three weighty volumes. While formally written as a commentary, Madârij’s extensive prologue, critique, reordering, and reorientation of Anṣârî’s work suggests that it can be more appropriately seen as an independent work rather than a mere commentary.

Madârij begins with an eloquent and impassioned exhortation underscoring the unparalleled superiority and virtues of God’s Speech, the Quran; it is “the separator between guidance and misguidance, conjecture and certitude,” for God “revealed it so we may recite it and ponder it, seek its wisdom and its felicity through remembrance, interpret it in the best way (namiluhu ʿalà asani wujûhihi wa-maʿânîhi), testify to its truth and strive to establish its commandments and prohibitions.” Lest the reader consider the Quran the source merely of exoteric knowledge, Sufi vocabulary is used seamlessly to emphasize the equally total dependence of inner knowledge on the Quran: “It is the book that guides to Him whoever seeks His gnosis (maʿrifatahu). It is His path that leads the one who treads it (sâlik) to Him.”[36]

With deep regret, Ibn Al-Qayyim laments time and again in Madârij, in the name of pursuing the divine path, that men have not been shy to neglect the divine scripture under the pretext that its usefulness was limited to ritual worship, the minutia of Law, and other related matters that were the concern of only the superficial, the externalist. Ibn Al-Qayyim wishes to emphasize the scripture’s unrivaled place in guiding the lovers and seekers of God in spiritual matters and not only in resolving legal issues. In a poignant passage, he writes:

They have reduced the sacred texts to the level of the caliph of our times: His is the mint and ritual mention in the sermons, but no authority or actual say in ruling. One who adheres to the Book and the Sunnah is to them ‘externalist’: A bit lacking in intelligence, while the follower of mutually contradicting and incoherent opinions of men is to them accomplished and learned….Do such men think that they can salvage themselves from their Lord by using opinions of men? Or by the abundance of their discourse and disputation? Or by their analogies and suppositions? Or by their allusions, ecstatic outbursts (shaaât), or fanciful imaginations?[37]

The overall message is that the word of God is to be seen as an active medium through which the Living God guides, and not a passive recipient of men’s preconceived interpretations. Sufism is not alone in incurring this criticism: Trends in jurisprudence (an “orthodox” science), kalâm (the most guilty of all) and siyâsah (rulers’ policies) are also seen as guilty of the same neglect of the scripture.[38]

Anṣârî too made references to the Quran in his Manâzil, often beginning every station with a reference to a Quranic verse. Anṣârî was indeed considered an accomplished exegete (he was called an âyah fî Al-tafsîr, a “sign in the science of exegesis”), his interpretation of the Quran in his Sufi discourse is almost completely subservient to the prefabricated notions of that discourse. Ibn Al-Qayyim’s implied criticism of Anṣârî, with both reverence and disappointment, is difficult to miss.

In keeping with his commitment, Ibn Al-Qayyim begins Madârij not with the esoteric wisdom of great Sufis as Anṣârî did, but with an extended exegesis of the opening chapter of the Quran. The very title, Madârij Al-Sâlikîn bayna manâzil iyyâka naʿbudu wa iyyâka nastaʿîn (“Ranks of Seekers among the stations of ‘Thee we worship and thy help we seek’” [1:4]) indicates Ibn Al-Qayyim’s change in focus and source of authority, in conscious contrast with Anṣârî.[39] However, Ibn Al-Qayyim does not explicitly target Anṣârî on this issue, frequently offering in his commentary the missing link between the traditional discourse on the Quran and Anṣârî’s use of it, correcting it rather politely and reconcilably.[40] Having set out to save Anṣârî from both the interpreters who twisted his writings for their monistic projects and the charges of heresy by others, Ibn Al-Qayyim’s overall attitude is conciliatory, as well as an expression of disagreement that is cautious and reverential, as expressed in the following statement:

Shaykh Al-Islâm [Anṣârî] is beloved to us, but the truth to us is more beloved! Shaykh Al-Islâm Ibn Taymiyyah, God’s mercy be on him, used to say, “His practice was better than his knowledge.”[41]

Madârij is a voluminous and complex work, with a myriad of contentions. It takes several careful readings of it to realize that the fundamental project of the book Ibn Al-Qayyim presents faithfully in its opening discourse. Truth is not known by the greatness of saints, it contends, but by a patient, loving, and reasoned encounter with the scripture available to all believers. The spiritual domain is no exception to this general rule. Mystical knowledge, therefore, cannot be set up as superior or equal to the scripture.


[1] The complete title is Madârik Al-Sâlikîn bayna manâzil iyyâka naʿbudu wa-iyyaka nastaʿîn (Ranks of Divine Seekers between the Stations of ‘Thee we worship and Thy succor we seek’; the last phrase being the Quranic verse, 1:4). Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s earliest biographers, in particular Ibn Rajab, identify his commentary on Manâzil as Marâ ḥil Al-sâ’irîn (Stages of the Travelers) instead of Madârik Al-Sâlikîn; I have not been able to discover how the current title came to be. The primary edition used here is Madârik Al-Sâlikîn, ed. ʿImâd ʿĀmir, 3 vols., Cairo, Dâr Al-Ḥadîth, 1996; all references here are to this edition. This edition is based on Mu ḥammad Ḥâmid Al-Fîqî’s edition of 1972-3, and reproduces Al-Fîqî’s gloss. Madârik Al-Sâlikîn bayna manâzil iyyâka naʿbudu wa-iyyaka nastaʿîn, ed. Mu ḥammad Ḥâmid Al-Fîqî, Beirut, Dâr Al-Kitâb Al-ʿArabî, 1392-3/1972-3. Al-Fîqî’s edition is available online: (last accessed April 2010). In addition, I have used an excellent edition, ed. Mu ḥammad Al-Muʿta ṣim Al-Baghdâdî, Beirut, Dâr Al-Kitâb Al-ʿArabî, 1994, for cross checking. This edition claims to be based on three manuscripts, one in Dâr Al-Kutub Al-Mi ṣriyya, MS. 5899 (dated 823/1420); two others, MS. 20523 and 20531. The latest edition to the best of my knowledge is by ʿAbd Al-ʿAzîz ibn Nâ ṣir Al-Julayyil, Riyâḍ, Dâr Ṭaybah, 2002, which I have not seen. Another edition I have enjoyed reading is a two-volume abridgement for lay readers shorn of polemical issues: Tahdîb Madârik Al-Sâlikîn, ed. ʿAbd ’l-Munʿim âliḥ Al-ʿAlî Al-ʿIzzî, 4th edition, Beirut, Mu’assasat Al-Risâlah, 1412/1991. Rashîd Riḍâ (d. 1934) declared Madârij to be the finest work on Sufism and ethics that he had known, and edited the first modern edition, Cairo, Ma ṭbaʿat Al-Manâr, 1912-15.

[2] Joseph N. Bell, Love Theory in Later Ḥanbalite Islam, Albany, State University New York, 1979, p. 98-101; for an excellent recent article with more comprehensive bibliographical information, see Livnat Holtzman, “Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah,” in: Essays in Arabic Literary Biography, Joseph E. Lowry and Devin J. Stewart (ed.s), Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 2009, p. 202-223. In Arabic, see ʿAbd Al-ʿAẓîm ʿAbd Al-Salâm Sharaf Al-Dîn, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, ʿa ṣruhu wa-manhajuhu, [Cairo], Al-Dâr Al-Duwaliyyah li’l-Istithmârât Al-Äaqâfiyyah, 2004; originally published in Cairo, 1955.

[3] ʿAbd Al-Ra ḥmân ibn A ḥmad ibn Rajab, Al-Dhayl ʿalà ṭabaqât Al- ḥanâbilah,ed. Sulaymân ibn Mu ḥammad Al-ʿUthaymîn, Mecca, Maktabat Al-ʿAbîkân 1325/[2004], vol. 5, p. 170-179, here p. 172. The last entry of Ibn Rajab’s massive work is Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah; the editor of Dhayl informs us that Ibn Rajab lived for four decades after his teacher, but found no better person with whom to bless the ending. For other biographies, see: Ibn Ḥajar Al-ʿAsqalânî, Al-Durar Al-kâminah, Haydarabad, Dâr Al-Nashr,1392/1972, vol. 5, p.137 ff.; Ibn Al-ʿImâd, Shudhurât Al-dhahab, Damascus, Dâr Al-Nashr-Dâr Ibn Kathîr, 1406/[1985], vol. 6, p. 168; Ibn Kathîr, Al-Bidâyah wa’l-nihâyah, Beirut, Dâr Al-Nashr-Maktabat Al-Maʿârif, n.d., vol. 14, p. 234; Al-afadî, Al-Wâfî bi’l-wafayât, Beirut, Dâr Al-I ḥyâ’ Al-turâth, 1420/2000, vol. 2, p. 195-196; and Holtzman, 222-223, for a more comprehensive list.

[4] Ibn Rajab, Al-Dhayl, vol. 5, p. 172-173.

[5] Bell writes, “Throughout the evolution of the scholar’s thought the fundamental theological positions remain the same, faithfully reflecting the doctrine of his teacher. It is, for the most part, only the style and the scope of his writings which set them apart from the compositions of Ibn Taymiyya.” Bell, Love Theory, p. 103.

[6] In Madârij alone, this invocation appears dozens of times after each time Ibn Taymiyyah’s name is mentioned, but only thrice for Anṣârî, and twice for the venerable Al-Shâfiʿî. Furthermore, the invocation raḍiyallahu ʿanhu (God be pleased with him), which is typically reserved for the Companions, is accorded to Ibn Taymiyyah about half a dozen times, particularly in compassionate moments. One such occasion might help illustrate the point. In a different work, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah writes, “Shaykh Al-Islam, God be pleased with him, said to me, when I presented to him one objection (îrâd) after another, ‘Do not make your heart like a sponge for objections and doubts, such that it cannot ripen but with them, but rather like polished glass, so doubts may pass over its surface but do not stay within: its purity makes you see them, and its firmness allows you to repel them’. Or something to this effect. I do not know of any other advice that has helped me repel doubts like this one”. Sharaf Al-Dîn, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, p. 102; see Miftâ ḥ dâr Al-saʿâdah, Cairo, Ma ṭbaʿat Al-Saʿâdah, 1905, vol. 1, p. 148.

[7] Madârij, vol. 2, p. 328.

[8] I suggest, in fact, that the relationship between the two may be best understood as perhaps the type of intense spiritual affection that we have become familiar with in the case of Rumi and Shams-i Tabrizi; see Shams-i Tabrizi, Me and Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-i Tabrizi, William Chittick (trans. and ed.) Louisville, Fons Vitae, 2004.

[9] Ibn Kathîr, a student of both men, mentions Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s compassionate and courteous nature, and beautiful handwriting. This description contrasts with what we know of Ibn Taymiyyah’s sharp temper and illegible handwriting- a trifle which helps shed light on the two scholars’ personalities. Ibn Kathîr, Al-Bidâyah wa’l-nihâyah, vol. 14, p. 235.

[10] For Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah’s apology for the sha ṭa ḥât of several righteous Sufis, see Madârij, vol. 2, p. 38-39. For the various ways in which Sufi masters addressed this issue, s.v. «Sha ṭa ḥât or Sha ṭ ḥiyyât» (Carl Ernst), in: EI2. For Ibn Taymiyyah’s complicated view on the intoxicated mystic Al-Ḥallâj (d. 309/922), see Yahya Michot, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Commentary on the Creed of Al-Ḥallâj”, in: Sufism and Theology, Ayman Shehadeh (ed.), Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2007, p. 123-136. These studies establish at the minimum that a simple assignment of mystical, ecstatic, essence to Sufism and then opposing it with the externalist Sharîʿah is fraught with difficulties.

[11] For a critique of essentialist understandings of Sufism in modern scholarship, see Alexander Knysh, “Sufism as an Explanatory Paradigm: The Issue of the Motivations of Sufi Resistance Movements in Western and Russian Scholarship”, in: Die Welt Des Islam, New Series, 42 (2002), 2, p. 139-173.

[12] For the argument that Baghdadi Sufism was socially conformist, and that it eventually dominated the intoxicated Khurasani one, see Ahmet Karamustafa, Sufism: the Formative Period, Edinburgh and Berkley, Edinburgh University Press and University of California Press, 2007, p. 23-6 and Melchert, Christopher, “The Transition from Asceticism to Mysticism at the Middle of the Ninth Century C.E.”, in: Studia Islamica, 83 (1996), p. 51-70.

[13] Michael Cooperson, Classical Arabic Biography: the Heirs of the Prophets in the Age of Al-Ma’mûn, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 156, drawing on Max Weber.

[14] The possessor of maʿrifah, gnosis, will be translated heretofore as “knower” rather than “gnostic” because of the misleading Neoplatonic connotations “Gnostic” may infer.

[15] Cooperson, Classical Arabic Biography, p. 159.

[16] Cooperson, Classical Arabic Biography, p. 169-170.

[17] This characterization of mysticism is in accord with William James’s classic definition which maintained that the mystic’s experience of the ultimate reality is both “ineffable” as well as “noetic.” William James, “Religious Experience as the Root of Religion,” in: Philosophy of Religion: Selected Writings (3e), Michael Peterson et. al. (ed.s), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 36.

[18] Thomas Michel, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Shar ḥ on the Futû ḥ Al-Ghayb of ʿAbd Al-Qâdir Al-Jîlânî”, in: Hamdard Islamicus, 4 (1981), 2, p. 4.

[19] Thomas Michel, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Shar ḥ on the Futû ḥ Al-Ghayb”, p. 9, 12.

[20] See Appendix I-A.

[21] See Appendix I-B.

[22] Jonathan AC Brown, “The Last Days of Al-Ghazali and the Tripartite Division of the Sufi World,” The Muslim World, 96 (2006): 104.

[23] See Appendix I-B.

[24] See Appendix I-B.

[25] Farhadi (see Appendix I-A) notes that Anṣârî’s Ṭabaqât Al- ṣûfiyah was compiled from his student’s notes on his commentary on Sulamî’s work of the same title, and that “no adequately edited text of the compilation has reached us,” the best being Mu ḥammad Sarwar Mawlâyî, (n.d.: n.p., 1983). A. G. Ravan Farhadi, ʿAbdullah Ansari of Herat (1006-1089 C.E.): an early Sufi master, Richmond, Surrey, UK: Curzon Press, 1996, p. 44.

[26] On Al-³arrâz, see Alexander Knysh, Islamic Mysticism: A Brief History, Leiden, Brill, 2000, p. 56, and on Anṣârî’s view of him, Ibid. p. 135. Al-³arrâz was credited by Anṣârî for the elaboration of fanâ’/baqâ’ theory, a concept which is often credited to Al-Junayd. Anṣârî reportedly said, “If only Abû Saʿîd Al-³arrâz were a little lame. For no one was able to accompany him due to his pace in the Sufi path. If only Al-Wâsi ṭî had a little compassion (for his novices). If only Junayd were a little sharper (spiritually). For he was too scholastic (ʿilmî).” Farhadi, ʿAbdullah Ansari, p. 49. Elsewhere he says, “The sign for humanity (nishân-e âdmiyân) was A ḥmad the ʿArab (the Prophet Mu ḥammad), blessings and peace be upon him, while the sign for the (Sufi) wayfarers (nishân-e râhiyân) was Abû Saʿîd Al-³arrâz. The earth was filled with Al-³arrâz and could not contain him.” Elsewhere he indicates, “Al-³arrâz would have been a prophet because of his greatness. He is the leader of this affair.” Farhadi, ʿAbdullah Ansari, p. 51.

[27] Farhadi, ʿAbdullah Ansari, p. 8, 15.

[28] See Appendix I.

[29] Chittick writes, “In a broad historical context, it is not difficult to discern two relatively independent currents within Sufism, without denying cross-fertilization. Ibn ʿArabî brings to fruition several centuries of spiritual ferment in Andalusia, North Africa, and Egypt. Rûmî brings to a climax a tradition of Persian Sufism going back to such figures as Anṣârî …. The influence of Anṣârî was especially widespread because of Kashf Al-asrâr (written in 520/1126), a lengthy Persian Koran commentary by his disciple Rashîd Al-Dîn Maybûdî and a rich source of Sufi teachings.” William Chittick, “Rûmî and wa ḥdat Al-wujûd”, in: Amin Banani, Richard G. Hovannisian, George Sabagh (ed.s), Poetry and mysticism in Islam, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 95.

[30] Anṣârî was averse to the Sufi biographer Al-Qushayrî (465/1072) due to latter’s Ashʿarism. This aversion was not a passing phase, because even after Anṣârî became blind at the age of eighty, years after composing Mânâzil, he continued to wage war against kalâm and was persecuted for it. Farhadi, ʿAbdullah Ansari, p. 144.

[31] Bell, Love Theory, p. 243; n. 42, p. 270-271. Bell notes that the earlier translators of this passage, Massignion and Beaurecueil, were less than accurate due the difficult nature of this passage. For Massignon’s detailed discussion of Anṣârî’s views, La passion d’Al-Hosayn-ibn-Mansour Al-Hallaj, Paris, Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1922, p. 368, and its translation by Herbert Mason, The Passion of Al-Hallaj, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1982, vol. 2, p. 222-223.

[32] I have two editions of this work available: Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah,Ṭarîq Al-hijratayn wa-bâb Al-saʿâdatayn (The Way of Two Migrations and the Door of Two Felicities), ed. ʿUmar ibn Ma ḥmûd Abû ʿUmar, Al-Dammâm, Dâr Al-Nashr-Dâr Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah, 1414/1994 (available electronically through Al-JâmiʿAl-Kabîr, 1426/2005), also, idem., ed. Ṣaliḥ Aḥmad Al-Shâmî (Beirut: Al-Maktabah Al-Islâmiyyah, 1414/1993), in print.

[33] Ibn Al-ʿArîf’s work has been characterized as an unoriginal, indeed, “slavish” commentary on Anṣârî’s ʿIlal . On Ibn Al-ʿArîf and his relationship to Anṣârî’s works, see Bell, Love Theory, p. 98, 242-243 n. 39 and 40.

[34] See Appendix I-C for a note on commentaries on Manâzil, and a refutation of the suggestion that Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah may not have had the text of Manâzil itself and relied solely on Al-Tilimsânî’s commentary for it. On Anṣârî’s dim view of all stations, including love, Bell writes, “ʿIlal was probably dictated in response to a question concerning a statement made in Manâzil. At issue was Anṣârî’s pronouncement that all states and stations other than taw ḥîd are accompanied by deficiencies (ʿilal), or traces of the mystic himself. In the ʿIlal, the Shaykh substantiates his earlier claim by selecting ten of the most typical stations, among them ma ḥabba and shawq, and showing how each, although necessary to the commonality, is a shortcoming in the elite. Love to God, the object of our concern here, is the ‘pillar of faith’ among the commonality, but it is the ‘particular blight (ʿilla) of fanâ’’ among the elite, since it implies the continued existence of the mystic.” Bell, Love Theory, p. 172.

[35] Sharaf Al-Dîn, p. 381.

[36] Madârij, vol. 1, p. 9-10.

[37] Madârij, vol. 1, p. 12-13; The same discourse is almost verbatim later in his discussion of repentance from hypocrisy. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 314.

[38] “One group says: when reason and revelation contradict, we give preference to reason. Others say: when analogical reasoning and revelation contradict, we give preference to analogy. The second group, those advocating esoteric taste, spiritual disclosure, and inspiration (Al-dhawq wa’l-wajd wa’l-kashf) say: when the esoteric taste, spiritual disclosure and inspiration contradict the outwardly Law of God, we prefer the former. The third group, the men of politics say: when our policies and revelation contradict, we give preference to our policies. Thus each group has made a mockery of God’s religion turning instead to their false gods ( ṭâghût).” Madârij, vol. 2, p. 68-69.

[39] This title was most likely inspired by Ibn Taymiyyah’s words that Ibn Al-Qayyim quotes in Madârij, vol. 1, p. 79; Ibn Taymiyyah, in fact, was particularly fond of this Quranic verse, building his entire theology on the twin foundations of offering service to God and seeking his succor and grace. MamûʿFatâwà, ed. ʿAbd Al-Ra ḥmân b. Mu ḥammad b. Qâsim, 37 vol. Cairo: Dâr Al-Ra ḥma, n.d., 1:29-36; 8:73 ff.; 14:329; 14:421. That Ibn Al-Qayyim chose to write his most extensive spiritual work as an exegesis of this verse, comes as no surprise: it is a result of his deep resonance with his beloved master’s teachings.

[40] For instance, Anṣârî begins his station of tajrîd (divestment) with a Quranic verse which speaks of God’s command to Moses in the Sinai desert, “So put off (ikhlaʿ) thy shoes” (Q. 20:12). Anṣârî then immediately defines divestment on this basis: “Tajrîd is to dissociate oneself (inkhilâʿ) from witnessing all forms (shuhûd Al-shawâhid). It has three levels. …” Ibn Al-Qayyim begins by explaining this odd association of meaning: “The reason for allusion to the verse—and what is given is not its explanation (tafsîr) but implication (murâd)—that God Almighty commanded Moses to put off his shoes when entering the holy vale so that his feet might receive the blessing of that ground … or for other such reasons. The point of the author’s allusion here, however, is that divestment is the condition to enter into a sacred state in which one may not enter except through divestment.” Madârij, vol. 1, p. 384. This statement is only one example of the great lengths to which Ibn Al-Qayyim went to connect traditional discourse with Anṣârî’s use of the Quran.

[41] Madârij, vol. 3, p. 364. I have been unable to find this statement in Ibn Taymiyyah’s writings, although it is certainly implied.

Originally posted 2016-03-29 11:00:20.

Dr Ovamir Anjum

Uwaymir Anjum is the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Toledo. He is also professor of Islamic Intellectual History at Qatar University. He studies the connections between theology, ethics, politics, and law in classical and medieval Islam, with a subfocus on its comparisons with western thought. Related fields of study include Islamic philosophy and Sufism. His dissertation, published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press, is entitled Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment. His translation of Ibn al-Qayyim's Madârij Al-Sâlikîn is forthcoming.


  • Ayaz Siddiqui

    January 7, 2015 - 4:18 am

    As salaamu alaykum,
    When will the translation of Madarij as salikeen be published? I can’t wait!

  • p4rv3zkh4n

    January 10, 2018 - 5:33 pm

    As salaamu alaikum Dr,

    Can you please do articles on the first three steps according to Abdullah ansari’s work?

    Thank you


    June 23, 2020 - 2:47 am

    Mashaa Allah, very good work

  • Abdul M

    September 7, 2020 - 2:25 am

    i am eager to read the translation of Madarij al-Salikin. Please notify me if this becomes available

  • Nafisa mustapha haruna

    September 18, 2020 - 12:51 pm

    Masha Allah wajazakumullah khair if someone want translate it to the native language can give go ahead to him/her

  • Abdul-Dayyaan Atale

    January 28, 2022 - 12:23 am

    Jazakallahu khayran

  • Yussuf Alhassan

    April 1, 2022 - 6:39 am

    I need the of step of the seekers

  • Abubakar Suleiman

    September 28, 2022 - 10:47 am

    Good material for spiritual upliftment.

  • Isiyaku Bello

    February 18, 2024 - 7:06 am

    Assalamu Alaikum
    I read the content and I made to understand that by now the translation is out. Please help me the web address,
    Thank you

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