Abdelwahab Meddeb: The Malady of Islam (5)


The Malady of Islam

by Abdelwahab Meddeb

translated from the French by
Pierre Joris and Charlotte Mandell

(5th installment)


A Genealogy of Fundamentalism


To throw light on the genesis of Saudi Arabia and the formation of its ideology, it is necessary to go far back in the course of history. Before returning to the eighteenth century, one has to go as far back as the ninth. When I evoked above such a sequence of events from the Middle Ages, I suggested that I might try to illuminate further the figure of Ibn Hanbal, one of the protagonists who took part in the events in Baghdad during the first quarter of the ninth century.

As discussed earlier, Ibn Hanbal created one of the four law schools of Sunni Islam. His doctrine insists more than any other on a return to the purity of the letter and on the imitation of the salaf, the “Ancients of Medina”, which amounts to trying to apply to every person and to each century the idealized model of the Prophet’s city. What is omitted is that from its very beginning — only a few years after the Prophet’s death — Medina, which in the seventh century experienced the birth of the Prophet’s politics, was historically scarred by a bloody civil war. Three of the first four Caliphs (whom myth called the “well-guided Caliphs”) were assassinated. A great part of the history of Islam took place in the violence of civil war, and at regular intervals it has been rocked by factional disputes concerning legitimacy. Ibn Hanbal covered over the issues and enmities that had divided the early community by promoting the adversaries and enemies of those first days of discord to the hierarchy of the Ancients; he tried to reconcile the greatest number in order to win a large consensus favorable to rallying the community to the one and incontestable truth of the Qur’an and the tradition (the sunna). So as not to trouble the horizon of such a truth, he advised against recourse to personal opinion (al-ra’y) as recommended by other schools of law. He therefore recommended that the reading of the Qur’an be literal, and should avoid any allegorical exegesis.

Between the time of Ibn Hanbal (the early ninth century) and the eighteenth century, which saw the birth of Saudi ideology through the intermediary of Mohamed Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), there was the intermediary link constituted by Ibn Taymiyya (1263- 1328). This Syrian theologian was a radical disciple of Ibn Hanbal who lived through an uneasy period for Islam (this kind of radicalism, by the way, comes to the fore only when the entity to which one belongs is under major threat). Ibn Taymiyya lived during the time of the Mongol invasions, the sacking of Baghdad and the end of the Caliphate, with the perils posed by the Crusades barely overcome. This was an extremely dangerous, even apocalyptic situation for Islam, which felt threatened in its very being. Ibn Taymiyya, gifted with exceptional intelligence and energy, spent his life lying in wait for any protrusion that might mar the smooth surface of the letter, and he set himself the task of polishing that letter, by ridding it of the variety of meanings that decorated its profile. He indiscriminately hunted down the effects of philosophy on theological discourse and its contaminations by Greek thought; he fustigated any number of esoteric sects, decreeing them to be heretic by virtue of the privilege they accorded to hermeneutics; he denounced the theory and the experience of the uniqueness of Being as preached and lived by the Sufis, whom he considered far more dangerous than the Christians for a belief based on absolute monotheism. While, among the Christians, God became man on one single occasion (through the Incarnation), with the Sufis, the human disposition towards the reception of the divine is open and universal. In every day life this constitutes an attack on the idea of the One God. Ibn Taymiyya also denounced pilgrimages and visits to the tombs of saints by condemning every manner of intercession, identified with the detestable survivals of paganism and idolatry that deserved nothing but eradication [1].

Ibn Taymiyya also wrote a short book, a sort of manifesto, which, since its composition at the beginning of the fourteenth century, constitutes the breviary that delights the eyes and the hearts of each and every suitor of the pure letter. This book is called Politics in the Name of Divine Law for Establishing Good Order among the Affairs of the Shepherd and the Flock [2]. Its many small, popular one-hundred page editions, bear witness to this text’s wide diffusion. The book sets out the charter which links the prince and his subjects in their submission to the Sharia, Islamic law. The radicalism emanating from such a book totally fulfills the expectations of the fundamentalists. This text alone is worth an exhaustive analysis to help us delineate the symptoms of what I call the malady of Islam. I will, however, cite only a few characteristic passages, sufficient for the purposes of the book at hand.

To begin with, the author makes corporal punishment as set out by the Qur’an the very criterion of the law. These punishments, very few in number, involve stoning for adultery, flagellation for false accusation of adultery, flagellation of the wine drinker, the chopping off of the hand of the thief, chopping off of the hands and feet or crucifixion for highway banditry (depending on whether or not homicide is involved). These rudiments of a penal code are called hudud, the plural of hadd, a word which in the common vocabulary means “interval, obstacle, extremity, end, point or edge, limit, border.” They constitute God’s claim, the inalienable share of justice that belongs to God and that cannot be called into question or paid for in any other way. Ibn Taymiyya adduces an anecdote concerning the Prophet asked by a plaintiff who wanted to withdraw his accusation against a thief in order to spare the latter the amputation of his hand; the Prophet grows angry, arguing that nobody, not even he, can intervene in what he has called “God’s share”: the latter separates God and humans by an unbridgeable border, made tangible through the prescriptions which distribute bodily punishments according to the offence. The Prophet then told the plaintiff to think twice before accusing someone, because once the machinery of law has been put into motion, it is impossible to go back. It is that share of the law which is not negotiable, and with which neither rank nor fortune can interfere.

This vision, which locates the share of the law in the untouchable region of transcendence, seems to echo Kant’s perception of penal law. In the section devoted to “the right to punish and pardon” contained in the “Doctrine of law,” the first part of the Metaphysics of Morals,” he writes: “Penal law is a categorical imperative, and woe onto him who would slip into the serpentine rings of eudemonism in order to discover something which, by the advantage it promises him, would deliver him from punishment or diminish the latter.[3]” 

In Kant’s mind law is thus outside the world, beyond any empirical consideration or human feeling; here too one is inside a logic of purity that rids the law of any utilitarianism, that relieves it of any compromise: “For justice ceases to be justice as soon as it puts a price on itself.[4]” Let us remember that the passage in Kant leads to a defense of capital punishment and a refutation of the theses developed by one of his early critics, the Marquis di Beccaria, in his Dei delitti e delle pene (1764) [5].

But is it necessary to insist that a world separates Kant and Ibn Taymiyya? For the German philosopher, the purity and absoluteness of law aim at considering man as an end and not as a means. In his company, and in the context of the Enlightenment that is his, we remain inside the horizon of freedom. With the Syrian scholar, we do not leave the theocentrism that submits man to the order of the Divine. For the one the purity and absoluteness of law are attained by recourse to divine transcendence, for the other, law is its own foundation. This law will become, during the nineteen twenties, transcendence itself, if one follows the theories of the Kantian jurist Hans Kelsen[6].

Concerning the application of corporal punishment, many other schools of law show themselves much more adaptable. Out-of-court settlement is permitted by certain jurists for false accusations of adultery as well as for theft, for these are offenses that violate a human right. Active repentance is also taken into account in relation to theft and banditry. And recourse to shubba, the “resemblance” of the committed act to a licit act, can merit the accused a presumption of innocence. The jurist has set up many ruses to soften the approach of the hudud. Further, the establishment of proof is made very difficult. Finally, it is considered more praiseworthy to pass over in silence faults involving corporal punishment rather than adducing proofs[7]. In fact, there is a wide range of “liberal” procedures which Ibn Taymiyya does not mention.

[1] These polemics can be found in his Fatwas, all of which have been published under the auspices of the Saudi State in an edition of more than twenty volumes, the whole of which their Embassies offer as presents!  See also his epistles and controversies, assembled in Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu’at al-Rasa’il wa’l-Masa’il, edited by M. Rashid Ridha in five parts distributed over 2 volumes, Cairo, nd. Rashid Righa (1865-1935) is Mohammed ‘Abduh’s Syrian student, who deviated from his master’s horizon by given a more restrictive meaning to the salaf, which ‘Abduh had extended from the first Muslims in Medina to include the great traditional thinkers up to Ghazali (d. in 1111). Add to this his suspicions against sufism and you will understand the belated interest he developed in Ibn Taymiyya. As a consequence of this adherence to the Hanbalite doctor from Damascus, he repudiated an early text in which he assimilated Wahhabism to a bid’a, a “blamable innovation;” towards the end of his life he will shower praise on this same Wahhabism, just before the definitive triumph of Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia (in 1932).

[2] Ibn Taymiyya, as-Siyasa ash-Shar’iyya fi Islah ar-Ra’i wa’r-Ra’iyna, Cairo, n.d.

[3] Immanuel Kant, La Metaphysique des moeurs, Doctrine du Droit, trad. A Philonenlo, (Vrin, Paris, 1993, p. 214).

[4] ibid. p. 215

[5] ibid. p. 217. Hegel also showed how such a purity resulted in revolutionary terror: see the section entitled “Absolute Freedom and Terror” in the Phenomenology of Mind, 599-610.

[6] Hans Kelsen, La théorie pure du droit, translated from the German by Charles Eisenmann, LGDI Bruylant, Paris-Bruxelles, 1999.

[7] Encyclopédie de l’Islam, art. Hadd, ed. By B. Carra de Vaux and J. Schacht.


In his siyasa,Ibn Taymiyya makes jihad, holy war, one of his privileged themes. He gives it the same importance as prayer, and seems to situate it above the other four canonical prescriptions (the confession of faith, fasting, charity to the poor and the pilgrimage). To indicate its high status, he associates it with the image that is meant to represent religion: a column with the base representing submission to God, the shaft representing prayer and the capital representing jihad. Thus he makes the fight against the infidel one of the two functions of the prince, who must devote his energies to the service of religion, by insuring on one hand the triumph of virtue inside the polis (through the rigor of corporeal punishments), and on the other hand by waging holy war beyond the borders.

At the end of his manifesto, Ibn Taymiyya concludes that by putting all the means of the empire (the financial and military capacities) in the service of religion, Islam will complete its religious edifice: it works toward the conquest of the benefits of the world here below and confirms those of the hereafter. He thinks of this as Islam’s achievement of the greatest possible political and religious victory; through this accomplishment such a community avoids a double peril: The first peril is produced by the two forms of separation between the political and the religious – political power that does not take religion into account. The second danger is religion that is only preoccupied with itself, divesting itself of power and grandeur to reduce itself to humility and compassion. This double peril is what happened to the two other religions, which grew impotent, unable to perfect the religious edifice.  They took two erroneous paths: the one that asserts religion without being able to put political, financial and military power at its disposal, and the one that does possess the power, money and military might but without any plan to put these in the service of the establishment or the strengthening of religion. The first path is the one of those “who will incur divine anger”; the second is the one of those who “went astray”[2]. The Jews take the first, the Christians the second of these paths.

We realize how much the consubstantiality of the political and the religious (which so many believe to belong to the essence of Islam) is just the elaboration of one theologian transformed into a warrior of his faith (I’ll return to this question later in the book). This consubstantiality is presented as an ideality (or utopia) and as a galvanizing slogan in the framework of an ideology that is now being reactivated by contemporary fundamentalists.

And I cannot pass over in silence how wrong Ibn Taymiyya turns out to be when we compare his words with the facts of his era and the historical memory that formed it. Thus when it comes to the Jews denied political and military power, many of the poems written by the Spanish Jew Yehuda Halevi (circa 1075- circa 1141) bear witness to that privation stressing the pathos of the situation:

The son of the slave robes me with terror
and throws his dart with a high hand…
I have been stripped of the light of love
And a proud foot presses on me like a yoke.

I suffer from the cruelty of his customs
In exile, in prison, in sadness, revolted
Without leader or minister of state.
The enemy approaches and the rock steps aside.[3]

A like dispossession– sign of exile – was represented in Christianity. Witness the allegory of the Synagogue shown under the south porch of Strasbourg cathedral (middle of the thirteenth century). The synagogue is represented as a beautiful lady with bandaged eyes (to signify that her gaze remains darkened to the new light emitted by the New Testament’s grace) and carrying a broken lance (to recall her exclusion from active statecraft and from the use of arms). But what about Christianity? On the same gothic porch, facing the synagogue, haughtily steps the allegory of the Church as a noble Lady proudly exhibiting the attributes of power (crown and intact lance) together with the ecclesiastical symbols. Ibn Taymiyya couldn’t help remembering the Crusades, a chapter barely closed when he was born, and which were nothing but the adaptation of jihad in Christianity. Either the Syrian theologian was well appraised of the latest episodes in the conflict between the pope and the emperor concerning the sharing of power between the temporal and spiritual realms, or he simply dismissed the words of the Gospels that separate the realm of God from that of Caesar.

It is in the long run that Ibn Taymiyya’s words turn out faulty. Taking into account historical evolution, every reasonable person will conclude that our theologian’s judgment is only contingent, even if it did take the long periplos of the centuries to prove him wrong. As far as I know, humanity’s greatest political achievement took place in Europe, originating from a Christian genealogy, even if it was formed precisely on the separation from religion, through the effects of an intellectual negation that neutralized the inherited belief. With the return of Israel to statehood (Yehuda Halevi’s desire come true more than eight centuries after its poetic expression), the Jews’ re-appropriation of the military has known its times of glory as well as its hours of decay. Today, it is the condition of Muslims that seems politically and militarily unhappy and marked by loss and defeat.

But history has more than one trick up its sleeve. It gives the lie yet again to Ibn Taymiyya while simultaneously derailing a stereotype dear to common sense. If I have to weigh the contributions of the one and the other on the scales of history, I would say without fear of error that the most precious legacy that may be ascribed to Islam consists in the profusion and intensity of its body of spiritual texts. This legacy owes as much to the ardor and intensity of its poetic and lyrical sayings as to the exalted tenor of its speculations. The success of Islam took place was achieved in the Sufi corpus – denounced by Ibn Taymiyya, whereas the defeat of Islam occurred in the political sphere – exactly where our theologian had situated the privileged space of his faith. In contrast, according to a current credo, only in Christianity (since it is far from the political) can the mystical experience come to its full realization, as Christianity is supposed to be the religion of love and not of law. And yet spiritual success recognizes itself as Islamic while political success recognizes itself as Christian. In truth the lesson of these observations is that the matter of history cannot be satisfied with an essentialist vision, either of the men or the ideas that create such a vision.

To come back to Ibn Taymiyya, in his day he represented only one opinion among many. Though his radicalism pleased the crowd, it worried his colleagues in theology and in law, and he was a source of dissension within the polis. Accordingly he endured trials and long years of imprisonment (which he devoted to writing). His literalism, his anthropomorphic, “corporist” dogmatism is derided by the traveler from Tangiers, Ibn Battuta (1304 – c. 1369) who claims to have met him:

In Damascus there lived among the great Hanbalite jurists one Taqi as-Din Ibn Taymiyya, a man held in great esteem and who could discourse on the various religious sciences, though he was slightly deranged [4]. The people of Damascus highly venerated this man who exhorted them from his pulpit. On one occasion he proffered words that the jurists contested, and the latter referred his case to al-Malik an-Nasir who ordered him to be taken to Cairo. (…) Al-Malik an-Nasir commanded that he be thrown in jail. Our man remained imprisoned for several years and in jail he wrote an exegesis of the Qur’an he entitled al-Bahr al-muhit (“The Ocean”) which ran to forty volumes…. Ibn Taymiyya’s mother went to complain to the sovereign and that is when al-Malik an-Nasir ordered him released from prison. But Ibn Taymiyya continued to behave the same way. I was in Damascus at that time and one Friday I witnessed one of his exhortations from the mosque’s high chair. Among other things he said: “God descends toward the sky from the world here below as I now descend,” and he took one step down from the high chair. A malekite jurist called Ibn as-Zahra confronted him and contested what he had said. The crowd rose up and beat the jurist with fists and sandals so hard that his turban fell off, revealing a silken skullcap [5]. The people criticized that piece of hairdress… (Ibn Taymiyya was then taken to the Hanbalites’ judge, or kadi)… who had him imprisoned and flogged… The condemned man died in jail [6].

Such testimony shows the theologian as excited agitator, rousing the crowds, scandalizing his Sunni peers, even those who belonged to his – the Hanbalite – legal school. His attitude and provocation exasperated the good will of the political authority. He represents an ideological voice that embarrasses the state power without being unanimously backed by the scholars. On the other hand it would seem that he had the vox populi behind him, the voice of the people who seem to put up with simplifications and prefer the effortless adhesion to the apparent sense of the letter. It is that voice – bellicose, theatrical – that will be the voice listened to centuries on by the firebrands of fundamentalism. And above all, by the founder of Wahhabism.

[1] “Submission” is the primary meaning of the word islam, in conformity with the instinct of natural religion; it is the return to this first principle of adoration that characterizes Islam as a religion.

[2] Two expressions taken from the last verse of the Qur’an’s opening Sura, called al-Fatiha. The interpretation proposed here by Ibn Taymiyya, which identifies the Jews with “those who (reap) divine anger” and the Christians with those who have “lost the way,” is traditional, though not shared by all.

[3] Yehuda Halevi, Le Diwan, trans. Into French by Y. Arroche and J.G. Valensi (Montpellier, Editions de l’Eclat, 1988. p. 91-93)

[4] The Arab text says: “illa anna fi ‘aqlihi shay’un,” literally “but something was perturbing his mind.” [Translator’s addendum: Meddeb suggests that this Arabic expression, translated “into good French, means precisely ‘mais il avait un grain’” –  which could be Englished as “but there was a grain of folly in him.”]

[5] According to tradition, men are not supposed to wear silk.

[6] Ibn Battuta, Voyages et périples, in Voyages Arabes (Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, 1995), p. 454-455.


Mohamed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) is at the origin of the ideological strain that will be named Wahhabism for him. In the very interior of the Arabian Peninsula he preached a cross between the theory of Ibn Hanbal and that of Ibn Taymiyya. In his native Nejd, he established ties with the tribe of the Saud which strove to take over power by conquering the deserts of Arabia. Thus was launched – at the very heart of the eighteenth century and contemporaneous with the European Enlightenment – the puritanical movement that brought forth today’s Saudi Arabia two centuries later.

Through the contemporaneity of these two phenomena belonging to very separate mental spaces, a new era for the world opens. Since that time, the differential between co-existing human cultural modes has increased rapidly: we will find peoples living in the same century who illustrate the multiple states that humanity has known, from the immemorial pre-Neolithic to the child engendered by the latest technological revolution. The Marquis de Sade’s reaction to the events in Arabia can be situated in the framework of this phenomenon which thereafter will be ever more exacerbated, until at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it manifests itself in the cohabitation on this single planet of that immemorial being and of the cosmonaut setting off to conquer space. Here is how a post-religious man at the end of the eighteenth century judges, in his new wisdom, his fellow man who is regressing towards the all-religious:

And once again wars of religions are ready to devastate Europe. Boheman, leader and agent of a new sect of “purified” Christianity, has just been arrested in Sweden, and the most disastrous plans were found among his papers. The sect to which he belonged is said to want nothing less than to render itself master of all the potentates of Europe and their subjects[1]. In Arabia new sectarians are emerging and want to purify the religion of Mahomet. In China even worse troubles, still and always motivated by religion, are tearing apart the inside of that vast empire. As always it is gods that are the cause of all ills[2].

The words are by the divine marquis, who had understood the danger of that sect at the very moment of its emergence. Note Sade’s discernment in associating this peril of purification not just with Islam: he makes it into a universal problem that poses its threat as soon as a zealot tries to create a revolutionary and insurrectional movement in the name of the letter, whatever the specific religion may be.  To demand that human affairs be conducted in the name of God can only engender fanatics and their attendant disasters.

If we examine Ibn Abd al-Wahhab as a doctrinaire writer (by reading, for example, his most famous book, Kitab at-Tawhid, “The Book of the Unicity of God”) we will discover a scribe without an ounce of originality. We don’t even dare give him the status of thinker. The book I have just mentioned is stuffed with citations, revealing its author as a copyist more than a creator. His numerous other briefer works confirm that his short breath doesn’t bestow the dignity of a genre on the short form. The pages he has covered with writing confirm his obedience to strict Hanbalite thinking. He seems to be even more rigid than the founding master. Ibn Hanbal, as it turns out, revealed himself to as rather tolerant on the question of excommunication; Ibn Taymiyya himself acknowledged that the Baghdadi scholar was extremely exigent in relation to cultural obligations (the ‘ibadat) but rather liberal when it comes to matters of custom (the ‘adat).

In the wake of this remark one can see how the cult of the saints could be tolerated by Ibn Hanbal, even if in his day the brotherhoods had not yet been constituted. On that question, as on many others, we witness an increase in the scale of intensity between the three links: we go from the relative tolerance of the master from Baghdad (ninth century) via the radical critique (though it remains theoretical) by the theologian from Damascus (ninth century) to the violent actions and the destructions of century-old mausoleums by the Arabian disciple (eighteenth century). In fact, there isn’t a single saint’s tomb left in all of Arabia today, except for the Prophet’s in Medina[3]. To safeguard his faith, the Wahhabite does not hesitate to destroy the vestiges of civilization with the sole aim of preventing the redoubtable confrontation of the myth he propagates with actual historical documents.

An entire world separates the two early masters from Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, though he claims to follow their teachings. It is important to recall that Ibn Hanbal also had a Sufi lineage that included some great masters. Certain concepts he introduced are not incompatible with inner experience – for example, the concepts of tafwidh (to trust to God in what concerns the ultimate mystery) and of taslim (conscious surrender to the word of God and his prophet in one’s acts as well as in one’s words). Such dispositions can favor the fideism of an Ansari (1006-1089), the great spiritual master from Herat, whom I remember with deep emotion at this very moment when bombs are raining on what remains of his beautiful city[4]. This master combined Hanbalite rigor with the incandescence of inner experience as manifested in the fireworks of his Qur’anic meditations[5]. Here is the fragment of Qur’anic verse that captured his gaze and converted him to Sufism: “Those who believe are the most ardent in their love for God”[6].

Here is the result of his meditations, one of his “Cries from the Heart”: “My God! I have water in the head and fire in the heart; inside I feel pleasure, outside I feel desire. I have foundered in an ocean without shores; there is a pain in my soul for which there is no remedy. My gaze fell on something that no language can describe.[7]”

Ibn Taymiyya shows exceptional constructive abilities when he turns away from invectives and anathema. His Refutation of the Logicians, a work full of subtleties, offers perspectives that allow its thought to throw light on certain zones defined by modern logic[8]. We need to point out some of the nuances that make for the complexity of both Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyya’s work, if only to distinguish it from that of their rough disciple from the Nejd, Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, whose work, given its poverty, could well have been consigned to oblivion.

The mediocrity and doctrinal illegitimacy of ‘Abd al-Wahhab have often been denounced, at times by unknown or very ordinary sheikhs who thought themselves more competent than he in matters of traditional sciences and gave themselves permission to condemn him.  This is the case of Dawud al-Baghdadi, who demolishes the doctrine of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab in a booklet containing two refutations of Wahhabism (these treatises were completed in 1293 AH / 1875 CE and they were published in Istanbul in 1305 AH / 1887 CE)[9]. Al-Baghdadi recalls a fatwa that had been argued in 1195 AH. /1780 CE by a contemporary of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, the Shafiite sheikh Mohamed Ibn Sulayman al-Madani. The latter had received a query submitted to him accusing Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab of having opened the road to ignorance and of having authorized uncultivated men to extinguish divine light. How could such a personage pretend to the interpretation of the dogma (al-Ijtihad) when he did not fulfill the conditions that scholarly tradition demanded of anyone exercising this art? Doesn’t he need to submit himself to the scholars instead of continuing to attribute the imamate (Prophethood) to himself and to exhort the community to follow in the path he is laying out? Why does he call anyone who contradicts him impious and demand his death?[10]

Suppose, Baghdadi said, that the conditions of Ijtihad were gathered in one person who would by, his own wits, elaborate a doctrine. Does that mean that he has to impose it on all and everyone, when the doctrinal domain is vast and the roads through it multiple, as established by the hermeneutic tradition, and corroborated by the scholars?[11] The critic asked for elucidations concerning Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s prohibitions of visits to the tombs of the saints, of vows, intercessions, offerings, sacrifice, the invocation of the prophet or of one of his companions in moments of distress, petitions addressed to someone else than God. The unknown querent who formulated this juridical consultation is also asking himself by what right the man from Nejd accuses the believer who makes use of such practices of being a renegade.  The Shafiite scholar applies himself to the task of deconstructing one after the other all the prohibitions invented by Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab. His very technical answers rely on some of the greatest names in Islamic theology, chosen among the most orthodox and exoteric Sunnites[12]. He ends up by revealing the author of those prohibitions as an illegitimate pretender to science, an ignorant sectarian, whose prescriptions wreck the complex edifice of law built up over the centuries[13].

[1] This Boheman is sort of a European equivalent of today’s bin Laden.

[2] D.A.F. Sade, Cahiers personnels, (Oeuvres Completes, XIII, JJ Pauvert, Paris, 1966) p. 9-10.

[3]  My friend, the poet Salah Stétié, has told me that when visiting Arabia he learned that whenever the smallest archeological item relating to the history of early Islam and even to later Islamic periods is discovered, it is immediately covered in concrete.

[4] Concerning the Hanbalism the master from Herat was an adept of, see the preface by his translator, Serge de Laugier de Beaurecueil, in: Ansari, Chemin de Dieu, p. 24-30 (Paris Sindbad, 1985. [translator’s note: Also see A. G. Ravan Farhadi, Abdullah Ansari of Herat: An Early Sufi Master (London, New York: RoutledgeCurzon Sufi Series, 1996).]

[5] He was a redoubtable polemicist against intellectualist theologians.

[6] Qur’an, II, 165

[7] Ansari, Cris du Coeur, translated by Serge de Laugier de Beaurecueil (Sindbad, Paris, 1988) p. 82.

[8] Ibn Taymiyya, Ar-Radd ‘alâ al-Mantiqiyyîn (Bombay, 1949).

[9]  Dawud al-Baghdadi, al-Mihna al-Wahbiyya fi Radd al-Wahhabiyya, followed by Ashaddal-Jihad fi Ibt’al Da’wa al-Ijtihad, [1305 A.H. /1887 C.E.), (reprint Istanbul: Ikhlas Vkfi Yayinidir, 1986.)

[10] The Arab expression Haddara dammahu means exactly: “to suffer, to permit that the blood of a man be spilled without the author of that act being susceptible to being pursued” (used for a prince or a judge). Fundamentalists use this expression a lot, which constitutes a call for murder exonerating in advance the one who executes it.

[11] al-Baghdadi, al-Mihna al-Wahbiyya fi Radd al-Wahhabiyya, p. 40-41.

[12] Such as the Cordoban zhahirite Ibn Hazm (994-1063) and Ibn Qudama (1147-1223), the Hanbalite from Jerusalem.

[13] al-Baghdadi, al-Mihna al-Wahbiyya fi Radd al-Wahhabiyya, p. 41-44.

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