Sadr ad-Din Abu Al-Hassan ‘Ali Ibn ‘Ala ad-Din ‘Ali Ibn Shams ad-Din Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Sharf ad-Din Abi Al-Barakat Muhammad Ibn ‘Izz ad-Din Abi Al-’Izz Salih, commonly known as Ibn Abi Al-’Izz. Originally his family lived in Adhru’at, today called Dir’a, some seventy miles south of Damascus. From there they moved to Damascus, where the commentator’s great grandfather, Muhammad Ibn Abi Al-’Izz was born in 645/1249.
Ibn Abi Al-’Izz’s father, ‘Ala ad-Din (d. 746/1345), was a scholar of Hanafi fiqh. He delivered sermons at the Mosque of Al-Afram, taught at the school of Mu’azzamiyyah, and served as a judge assisting the chief judge (qadhi al-qudhat) ‘Imad ad-Din At-Tartusi. His grandfather, Shams ad-Din (d. 722/1322) was a very distinguished Hanafi jurist and served as chief judge. And his great grandfather, Muhammad Ibn Abi A1-’Izz, taught at the school of Al-Murshidiyyah. His uncle, Sadr ad-Din Sulayman Ibn Abi Al-’Izz (d. 677/1278), was also a great Hanafi scholar and writer, and served as chief judge in Syria and Egypt. Sulayman’s descendants also distinguished themselves as judges, muftis and professors.
Ibn Abi Al-’Izz was born into this distinguished family of scholars and judges on Dhul-Hijjah 22, 731 A.H./September 25, 1331 C.E. Naturally, he had learned first from his family and seems to have completed his studies with them at an early age. Ibn Qadhi Shuhbah said that he started teaching at Qimaziyyah School at the age of seventeen in the year 748. This school had been built by Sarim ad-Din Qa’imaz, one of the descendants of Salah ad-Din Al-Ayyubi, for teaching Hanafi fiqh. In 771/1369, Ibn Abi Al-’Izz moved to the Rukniyyah School, which was founded in 621 AH by Amir Rukn ad-Din Mankuras. In 784/1382, he started teaching at the ‘Izziyyah School, founded by Abu Al-Fadl ‘Izz ad-Din Aybak (d. 645/1249), replacing Qadhi Al-Hammam after the qadi’s death.
Along with teaching, Ibn Abi Al-’Izz also delivered sermons at the Afram Mosque (west of As-Salihiyyah) founded by Amir Jamal ad-Din Aqush Al-Afram in 720/1320, as well as at Al-Husban. Towards the end of 776/1374, he was appointed judge in Damascus in place of Qadhi Najm ad-Din, his cousin, upon the latter’s transfer to Egypt. But Najm ad-Din resigned three months later and returned to his previous post in Damascus. Ibn Abi Al-’Izz then took over as judge in Egypt, but he also resigned from that post after just two months. Upon returning to Damascus, he resumed teaching at Qimaziyyah and also took classes at the Jawhariyyah School.
Ibn Abi Al-’Izz was born and bred in a family of Hanafi scholars and judges. All of the schools wherein he taught were dedicated to the teaching of Hanafi fiqh, and the judgeship he served was also that of a Hanafi judge. Despite all of that, he was not a blind follower of the Hanafi school; in fact, he was opposed to following one imam exclusively or defending the views of one school uncritically. Absolute faith and obedience, he said, is due to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be on him). No one is above criticism; everyone’s views are to be examined based on the criteria of the Qur’an and Sunnah; if they agree with them, they should be accepted; if they disagree, they are to be rejected. This is the burden of one of his tracts, Al-Ittiba’. In it, he reviewed a letter which a contemporary Hanafi scholar, Akmal ad-Din Muhammad Ibn Mahmud (d. 786/1384) had written, in which he had pleaded for the exclusive following of the Hanafi school. Besides objecting, in principle, to this point of view, Ibn Abi Al-’Izz also noted his observations on various issues which the author discussed. He concluded his discussion by saying:
“The correct course for a student is to memorize Allah’s Book and ponder it. Similarly, he should memorize the ahadith of the Prophet (peace be on him), as much as he can, and reflect upon them. Furthermore, he should learn Arabic and grammar to the extent that he can express himself correctly and understand the Qur’an and Sunnah well as also the writings of the Salaf. After this, he should study the views of different scholars, starting with the Companions and then those who came after them, without making any discrimination between them. When they agree on a point, he should stick to it; but when they differ, he should study all the views with an open mind and examine their arguments. Whoever Allah guides is on the right path and whoever He leaves wandering cannot see the light.”
Ibn Abi Al-’Izz was very critical of the practice of establishing schools and colleges and dedicating them to the study of a particular school of fiqh. It then became the duty of the teachers, he observed, to defend each and every view of that school. The students, too, developed the same attitude and bias. Unfortunately, most of the donors whose contributions led to the establishment of those schools had little knowledge and would explicitly leave conditions in their wills or deeds that would restrict the free exercise of intellect and open pursuit of knowledge. Ibn Abi Al-’Izz was of the opinion that such conditions should not be honored since they violate the spirit of the Qur’an and Sunnah. It was against some similar conditions that the Prophet (peace be on him) once said, “What has happened to the people that they come up with conditions that are not mentioned in the Book of Allah! Know that all the conditions not found in the Book of Allah, even if they be a hundred conditions, are absolutely null and void.” Ibn Abi A1-’Izz also denounced the practice that restricted judges to making rulings only according to a particular fiqh. The tradition, too, of appointing four imarns, one from each school of fiqh, to lead the prayer in the House of Allah at Makkah, he stated, should be discontinued. There should be, he argued, one imam, and everyone, irrespective of the fiqh school he followed, should pray behind him.
Damascus in Ibn Abi Al-’Izz’s time resounded with the ideas which Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728/1328) had expounded a few decades earlier and which his great disciples, like Muhammad Ibn ‘Uthman Adh-Dhahabi (d. 738/1337), Ibn Al-Qayyim (d. 751/1350) and Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1372) had elaborated and defended. Ibn Abi Al-’Izz was deeply influenced by this great upsurge of Salafi thought. This is clear from many things, from the terms he used in his commentary, the concepts he elaborated upon, the method he followed and the scholars he quoted from. Most of the scholars he quoted from belonged to this school. (We will discuss this point greater detail later.)
In the year 784/1382, ‘Ali Ibn Aybak (d. 801/1398-9), a regular poet of Damascus, wrote an ode in praise of the Prophet (peace be on him) in the same meter in which the famous ode “Banat Su‘ad...” was written by Ka’b Ibn Zuhayr. It was a beautiful poem and received general appreciation. It happened that Ibn Abi Al-’Izz read it and wrote a letter to the poet stating his appreciation of the literary aspect of the ode. In a separate paper, however, he also noted down his remarks about some of its ideas. Some people objected to this note and raised their voices against Ibn Abi Al-’lzz. Ibn Aybak referred the note to some jurists who objected to Ibn Abi Al-’Izz’s remarks. The case was brought to the Sultan, who formed a council of scholars and jurists belonging to the different schools and asked for their opinion. The council held many sessions during which it questioned Ibn Abi Al-’Izz and discussed the issue at length, At the end of the fifth session, the council, led by a Shafi’i judge, convicted Ibn Abi Al-’Izz for his views, consigned him to jail, removed him from his post, and fined him. The fine was later withdrawn but he had to spend fourteen months in jail!
In all there were eight issues on which Ibn Abi Al-’Izz was convicted. He was accused, for example, of believing that angels are better than prophets. He discussed this issue at length in this Commentary. He opened his discussion of this topic with the following words:
“People have debated the question as to which is superior: angels or human beings that are pious. It is said that the Ah1 as-Sunnah believe that pious men, or at least the prophets among them, are superior to the angels. The Mu’tazilah, on the contrary, believe in the superiority of the angels. This opinion is also held by a group of the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Sufis. As for the Ash’aris, some have no opinion on this issue and others are inclined to believe in the superiority of the angels. Shi’ah scholars say that all the imams are superior to the angels, and exalted some categories of men over some categories of angels, and vice-versa. However, no one worth mention has said that the angels are superior to some prophets rather than others.”
He then goes on to say:
“I was very reluctant to discuss this issue, for it does not avail much and is quite insignificant... Moreover, the Sh. [At-Tahawi] has not touched upon it, either negatively or positively. Probably he deliberately refrained from entering into its discussion. Imam Abu Hanifah, too, kept silent when he was asked about it... Our duty is only to believe in the angels and the prophets. We are not required to believe that one of them is superior to the other. Had it been a duty, there must have been some text to guide us on this issue.”
However, he does enter into a discussion, cites the arguments of those who exalt the angels and of those who exalt the prophets and then concludes, “In short, this is an unimportant issue and that is why most of the writers on the subject have not discussed it; and Abu Hanifah kept silent concerning it, as we have said before.”
The second issue concerning which he was accused dealt with the possibility of the prophets’ committing minor sins. All scholars are agreed that the prophets committed no mistakes with respect to communicating to their people what God revealed to them. Similarly, they are agreed that prophets did not commit grave sins. But they differ on the question of whether prophets may commit a small sin sometimes. Ibn Abi AI-’Izz has not discussed this issue in his Commentary. In the note which he wrote on the ode of Ibn Aybak, he upheld the possibility of prophets sometimes committing minor sins by mistake. It seems that those who indicted him even negated this possibility. If that was the case, they were going against the majority opinion. Ibn Taymiyyah wrote:
“The view that the prophets do not commit grave sins and that they may commit small sins is the view of most scholars of Islam and most of their followers. One can say that this is the view of the majority of the theologians. Abu Al-Hassan Al-Amidi has noted that this is the view of the majority of the Ash’ari theologians as well as the majority of the scholars of Qur’anic exegesis, hadith, and fiqh. What has come down from the Salaf, the imams, the Companions, the Successors and their successors, is not different from this view.”
Qadi ‘Ayad, the famous Ash’ari theologian and Maliki jurist, wrote in his renowned work, Ash-Shifa’:
“As for small sins, a group of the Salaf as well as others uphold its possibility. This is also the view of Abu Ja’far Al-Tabari and other scholars of fiqh, hadith and kalarn... Another group has refrained from saying anything positive on this issue. Rationally, it cannot be ruled out that they might commit small sins, but as for textual sources, there is nothing definitive either way. A third group of jurists and theologians uphold their absolute infallibility.”
It seems that those who indicted Ibn Abi Al-’Izz on this issue belonged to this third group.
The other points on which Ibn Abi Al-’Izz was indicted were problems such as whether it is correct to say, “The Prophet is sufficient for me,” “Prophet, intercede on my behalf,” or “Had the Prophet not been created, the heavens would not have been brought into being.” Concerning the first statement, Ibn Abi Al-’Izz seems to have been inspired by what Ibn Al-Qayyim wrote on this issue in Zad al-Ma ‘ad. The second point has been taken up in the Commentary under the discussion of intercession. As for the third statement, Ibn Abi Al-’Izz pointed out that such statements can only be made on the basis of textual sources, and since there were no relevant texts, one should refrain from making such statements.
Some time after Ibn Abi Al-’Izz was released from prison, one of his well-wishers pleaded with the emir, Sayf ad-Din Balghuk Ibn ‘Abdullah An-Nasiri, to reinstate him in his position and to restore his stipend. The emir agreed and issued the relevant orders. Ibn Abi Abi al-’Izz resumed teaching at Jawhariyyah and delivered sermons in he Mosque of Afram in the month of Rabi’ aI-Awwal in 791/1389. But this occupation proved to be short-lived. The following year, in the month of Dhul-Qi’dah, death overtook him and he met his Lord. He was buried in the cemetery of Qasiyun. May Allah have mercy on him and shower His blessings on him.
Ibn Abi Al-’Jzz did not write much. Besides the Commentary, which was his magnum opus and which we shall introduce shortly, he is said to have discussed, in a book entitled At-Tanbih ‘ala Mushkilat al-Hidayah, some of the difficult issues of the famous work of Hanafi fiqh, Al-Hidayah by Abu Bakr Burhan ad-Din ‘Ali Al-Marghinani (d. 593/1197). No manuscript of this book seems to be extant at the present time. Another tract, Sihhat al-Iqtida’ bi al-Mukhalif was written to defend the practice of offering prayers behind an imam of a different school. A manuscript of this tract is preserved in the Tatwan Library in Morocco, and a photocopy of it may also be found in the library of Shaykh Hammad Al-Ansari of Madinah. Our sources also mention another book which is no longer present, An-Nur al-Lami fi ma yu‘malu bihi fi al-Jami’. The title implies that the book is about what one should do in the Mosque of Banu Umayyah in Damascus. Finally, we have already mentioned his small but fine book, Al-Ittiba. This was first published in Lahore in 1401 A.H. and then in Oman in 1405 A.H.