Sheikh ul-Islam Izz Ud-din Ibn Abdul Salam

Saviours of Islamic Spirit Vol I
By Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi


The heroic endeavours of Salah ud-din who set himself to work in the most earnest fashion with the re-introduction of orthodox doctrines of Islam in place of the Shia’ite creed, the chain of educational institutions started for the purpose all over ahis wide realm and, above all, the personal example set by him and some of the Muslim rulers in following the religious precepts and code of moral conduct redirected the energies of the people towards learning and teaching of the religious sciences. As a result thereof, we find several erudite scholars during the seventh century, who had devoted themselves, body and soul, to the dissemination of Islamic teachings among their compatriots. The most outstanding personage among these savants was Sheikh ul-Islam clzz ud-din ibn Abdul Salam (d. 660 A. H.)- Reputed for profound learning, piety and courage, he never compromised with the corrupting influences of his time and the degenerate ways of the then rulers.

Erudition of ‘Izz-ud-din

‘Izz ud-din ibn Abdul Salam was’ born in Damascus in 578 A.H. He had the honour of being a student of several eminent scholars of those days such as Fakhr ud-din ibn ‘Asakir, Saif ud-din Amedi and Hafiz Abu Mohammad al-Qasim. According to certain annalists, he started education quite late but he soon acquired such a proficiency in the then sciences that his contemporaries have paid glowing tributes to his deep learning and brilliance of mind, Ibn Daqiq al-cId calls him Sultan ul-Ulema (king of scholars) in some of his works. When Izz ud-din

migrated to Egypt in 639 A. H., Hafiz Abdul Azim al-Munziri, the witer of al-Targhib wat-Tarhib, suspended giving legal-opinions. When he was asked the reason for it, he said : “It does not behove any jurist to give legal-opinion where Izz ud-din happens to be present.” Another scholar Sheikh Jamal ud-din ibn al-Hajib was of the opinion that in Fiqah (jurisprudence) Izz ud-din excelled even al-Ghazali,

Al-Zahabi writes in his book entitled al-Ebar:”In his knowledge of Fiqah, devotion to religion and awe of God he had attained that degree of perfection which makes one capable of Ijtihad i. e. of interpreting the revealed law of God and of deducing new laws from it.” ‘Izz ud-din occupied the chair of professor for a fairly long period in the Madrasa Zawiyah Ghazaliyah of Damascus along with holding the offices of Khatib and Imam in the principal mosque of the city called the Ummayyad Mosque. Sheikh Shahab ud-din Abu Shama relates that ‘Izz ud-din vehemently opposed the innovations and later-day accretions like Salat-al-Raghayeb and the special prayers of mid-Shaban which had become so popular in his time that several scholars of note thought it prudent to keep silence about these.

Al-Malik al-Kamil insisted on ‘Izz ud-din for accepting the office of Qadi in Damascus which he accepted reluctantly after imposing a number of conditions. During the same period al-Malik al-Kamil appointed him as his envoy to the court of the then Abbasid Caliph.

Righteousness of Izz ud-din :
Among the religious scholars of Syria, Izz ud-din was held in such a high esteem that he was received by the then King with the most honourable marks of distinction. On his own part, however, Izz ud-din never visited the king unless he was requested to do so. Being dignified, straight-for ward and self-respecting he did not like to curry favour with the king; instead, he insisted always upon the king to follow the course beneficial for Islam and the Muslims.

During his illness Sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf who held the principality of Aleppo after the demise of his father, al-Malik al-cAdil, sent for Izz ud-din. Earlier the Sultan had had some misunderstandings’ with the Sheikh on account of certain views held by the latter but the same were removed as a result of their meeting. The Sultan requested the Sheikh to forgive him for his mistake and also lo let him have a word of advise. “So far as the request for pardon is concerned,” replied Izz ud-din, “I forgive everyone with whom I happen to be displeased ; for, I never allow the sun to go down upon my animus against anybody. Instead of seeking my recompense from the human beings, I desire it from God alone as the Lord has said : But whosoever pardoneth and amendeth, his wage is the affair of Allah.”As for my benedictions for you”, added Izz ud-din “I very often pray to God for the well-being of the Sultan, for this also means the welfare of Islam and the Muslims. God may grant the Sultan insight and understanding of the matters which may be helpful to him in the life to come.

Now, coming to the advice, it is my bounden duty to enjoin the right course since the Sultan has asked for it. I know that the Sultan is reputed for his valour and the brilliant victories he has won but Tartars are making inroads into Islamic territories. They have been emboldened by the fact that the Sultan has pitched his arms against al-Malik al-Kamil and thus he would not have time to face the enemies of God and the persecutors of Muslims. Al-Malik al-Kamil is, however, the elder brother of the Sultan and, therefore, I would request the Sultan to give up the idea of fighting against his own brother, instead I would advise him- to turn his forces against the enemies of Islam. The Sultan should make up his mind, in these critical days of his illness, to fight for the sake of God alone and for restoring the supremacy of His faith-We hope to overcome the infidels with the help of the Sultan, if God restores him his health. This would verily be a great achievement but if God has willed otherwise, the Sultan would undoubtedly be recompensed for his intention to come to the rescue of Islam”.

Al-Malik al-Ashraf thanked clzz ud-din for his sincere advice and immediately issued orders redirecting his forces to face the Tartars instead of al-Malik al-Kamil. As soon as the orders of the Sultan were communicated to the commander of his army, he retreated to Kasirah. On al-Malik al-Ashraf’s further request to counsel him something more, Izz ud-din said, “The Sultan is bedridden but his chiefs and officials are having rounds of pleasure; they are revelling in wine and wickedness while Muslims are being burdened with new taxes and tithes. The most valuable presentation that the Sultan can offer to God is that this cesspool of corruption is cleansed; illegal imposts are abolished, tyranny is stopped and justice is made available to the people.” Al-Malik al-Ashraf not only acted on the advice of ‘lzz ud-din but profusely thanked him saying, “May God give you a goodly reward for performing the
duty enjoined by the religion, on behalf of all the Muslims well-wisher you undoubtedly are. Sire, allow me to be your companion in the Paradise.” The Sultan also presented one thousand Egyptian gold mohurs to Izz ud-din but he refused to accept them saying, “I met you only for the sake of God and I do not want any worldly temptation to be made an additional reason for it.”

Courage of ‘Izzud-Din:
Al-Malik al-Ashraf was succeeded by Saleh Ismail who sought help of the Christians against the impending danger or invasion from Egypt. In lieu of the aid promised by the Christians the cities of Saida, Thakif and few other forts were ceded to them. The friendly relations thus established by Saleh Isma’il encouraged the Christians to purchase arms and ammunition from the Muslim traders in Damascus. Izz ud-din deprecated these deals as the arms purchased by the Christians were likely to be used against the Muslims and, therefore, when the arms dealers asked for his legal-opinion in the matter, he advised that all such bargains were prohibited by the Shariah. This was not all, ‘Izz ud-din gave up benedictions for the King in the Friday sermons and started invoking the wrath of God on the enemies of Islam.1 The matter was brought to the notice of the King who ordered to imprison him. After some time he was transferred to Jerusalem from his Damascus gaol.

In the meantime Saleh Isma’il along with his allies, al-Malik al-Mansur, the King of Hams and a few Christian monarchs converged at Jerusalem with the intention of invading Egypt, Although Saleh Isma’il had imprisoned ‘Izz ud-din, he was feeling guilty in his heart of heart and wanted to set him free provided ‘Izz ud-din was prepared to give him an excuse for the same. He. therefore, gave his handkerchief to one of his trusted councilors with the instruction that he should present it to Izz ud-din and tell him courteously that if he so desired, his previous position would be restored. The councilor was also directed to present ‘Izz ud-din before the King in case he agreed to the suggestion with the highest respect, otherwise to imprison him in a tent beside that of the King. The Councilor did what he had been commissioned ; paid his compliments and related the admiration of the King for the Sheikh, and then said, “Everything will be set right and your previous position will be restored in no time, if you just kiss the hands of the king and show courtesy to him.”

History can perhaps offer few such striking examples of fearless expression, for, Izz ud-din replied, “What a fool you are ! You expect me to kiss the hands of the King while I would not like my own hands to be kissed by him. My friend, you are living in a world other than that of mine. Praise be to Allah that I am not a prey to the temptations which have captured your soul.” The Councilor then told him that in that case he had orders to imprison him again, The Sheikh was accordingly placed under confinement in a tent beside the king’s, who heard him daily reciting the Qur’an. The king one day told his Christian ally that the person whom he heard reciting the Qur’an at the moment was the chief pontiff of Muslims but he had been divested of his post and honours and kept under confinement because of his opposition to the cession of cities and forts to the Christians. The Christian monarch, however, replied that if he were to have such a man as his bishop, he would lave felt honoured to sit at his feet.2
Shortly thereafter Saleh Isma’il was defeated and killed in an encounter with the Egyptian forces, and Izz ud-din was honourably taken to Egypt.

While on his way to Egypt Izz ud-din passed through the principality of Kark. When its Governor requested Izz ud-dln to settle in Kark, he replied, “This small city of yours is not befitting my learning.”

Izz ud-din in Egypt:
Izz ud-din was received by the then Sultan of Egypt, al-Malik al-Saleh Najm ud-din Ayyub, with great reverence and honour. He was appointed Khaiib of the Mosque of ‘Amr ibn al As as well as the grand Cadi of Egypt. He was also entrusted with the task of looking after the rehabilitation of deserted mosques and the professorship of Shafe’i jurisprudence in Madarsa Salihiya founded by the King.

Fearlessness of Izz ud-din :
A man by the name of Fakhr ud-din Uthmaan who was an intendant of the palace had come to wield a great influence over the King. This msn got a drum-house constructed over the roof of a mosque. When Izz ud-din came lo know of it, he ordered the structure of the drum-house to be pulled down.1 He declared Fakhr ud-din cUthman as an unreliable witness for the purposes of tendering evidence in a court of law and also resigned from the post of Chief Justice as a mark of protest against the blasphemous action of Fakhr ud-din ‘Uthman. Izz ud-din continued to enjoy the esteem of the king who, however, did not consider it prudent to appoint Izz ud-din as grand Cadi for the second time. Notwithstanding this decision of the King, juristic-opinions tendered by Izz ud-din were acted upon with the same respect as before. During this period al-Malik al-Saleh Najm ud-din Ayyub sent an embassy to the court of the Caliph in Baghdad. When the Egyptian envoy was presented before the Caliph he enquired of the envoy if the Sultan of Egypt had himself commissioned him to convey the message. On being told that he had been charged to convey the message by Fakhr ud-din Utbman on behalf of the Sultan, the Caliph replied that since Fakhr ud-din Uthman had been declared an unreliable witness by ‘Izz ud-din . no credence could be placed on a message conveyed through him. The envoy had to return to Egypt to obtain the orders of the Sultan afresh.

There is yet another incident which bespeaks of Izz ud-din’s fearlessness. The Sultan who was holding a durbar on the occasion of EId was seated on the throne in a large reception hall, with the princes and chiefs of the State ranged on his right, and the courtiers and dignitaries on the left. In front of the Sultan stood all the people entitled to enter and salute the sovereign, when a voice was suddenly heard addressing the Sultan by his first name: “Ayyub, what would be your reply before God when He would ask you whether the kingdom of Egypt was given to you so that people should openly indulge in drinking-bouts and you should enjoy public receptions?” “Is it,” blurted out the Sultan who was taken aback, “is it a fact ?” “Yes,” came the reply from ‘Izz ud-din, “Wine is being freely sold and consumed in the city while people indulge in other vices’ too”. Surprised as the Sultan was, he replied, “But it is not my fault, Sire, for it has been happening from the time my father held the reigns of this kingdom”. “Then, you are one of those,” admonished ‘Izz ud-din,’ “who say that we found our fathers acting on this wise.”- The Sultan immediately gave orders to Stop the sale of wine in his realm.

While returning from the court one of the pupils of Izz ud-din asked him why he had raised the question on that occasion. Izz ud-din replied, “When I saw the Sultan surrounded by that pomp and show I thought that he might give himself airs and become a slave to his baser-self. I, therefore, thought it necessary to admonish him publicly.” “But were you not seized with fright,” demanded the disciple further. “Oh no,” replied Izz ud-din, “I was so much seized by the awe and glory of God Almighty that the Sultan appeared to me as meek as a cat.”

‘Izz uddin in the Battlefield :
These were the days when the dissensions among the Muslim monarchs had again created a situation favourable to the Crusaders who unsheathed their swords to take an offensive against Mansurah in Egypt. Izz ud-din accompanied the forces sent to retrieve the city from the Christians. A chronicler of the time Ibn al-Subki, writes that Izz ud-din’s prayer for the success of Muslim forces was readily answered by God. The reinforcements of the Crusaders could not reach them as their ships were taken by a gale, which submerged quite a few of them.

The Mongols had also started raiding and plundering Muslim territories by then. Once there was an imminent danger of | Mongol invasion of Egypt but the Sultan and his commanders were so disheartened that they could not muster courage to face the Mongol hordes. Izz ud-din encouraged the Sultan to fight the Mongols, He even assured the Sultan of his success against the Mongols. At last the Sultan agreed to his suggestion but as he was facing paucity of funds he sought the advice of Izz ud-din about raising the necessary finances through loans from the businessmen. Izz ud-din, however, advised: “First bring the ornaments your women-folk and those of your dignitaries and nobles have in their possession. These are all prohibited by the Shairah and should be used for meeting the expenses of this expedition. And, if you still need the money, then you can raise it through loans.” Surprising though it may seem, the king and his nobles brought out without a demur all the jewellery and valuables they possessed as the Sheikh had directed. The riches so brought forth was enough to meet the expenses of raising an adequate force to face the Mongols who were defeated by the Egyptian army as predicted by Izz ud-din.

An still more surprising incident of the Sheikh’s life described by the historians relates to his insistence upon auctioning those dignitaries of the Sultan’s court whom he held to be the property of the State exchequer, since they happened to be slaves who had not been emancipated in accordance with the provisions of the Shariah. These chiefs of the State were recruited as royal levies from the Turkish memluks or slaves but had risen to the positions of authority and wielded great influence on the government of Egypt. One of them even held the post of a minister to the Sultan. Izz ud-din pronounced the juristic-opinion that these chiefs -were still slaves in accordance with the rules of the Shari’ah, and should be treated as such until they were formally emancipated. The population of Egypt immediately ceased cooperating with such chiefs and dignitaries who were placed in such an invidious position that they had to call upon the Sheikh and to enquire what he proposed to do with them. Izz ud-din, however, told them plainly that he would sell them in a public auction on behalf of the State treasury and thereafter they would be emancipated as provided by the Shan’-ah.

They appealed to the Sultan who also tried, as the annalists have recorded, to placate Izz ud-din but he remained adamant. During the discussion on the subject the Sultan told Izz ud-din that he should not concern himself with the affairs of the State and also said something, as it has been reported, which was taken ill by Izz ud-din. The Sheikh returned to his house and announced his decision to leave Egypt immediately. The news spread like a wild fire in Cairo, and an overwhelming majority of its population decided to follow Izz ud-din and migrate with him. The matter was brought to the notice of the Sultan who was also told that if ‘Izz-ud-din went away from Egypt, his kingdom would also come to an end. Extremely worried by the fastly deteriorating situation, the Sultan himself went to bring ‘Izz ud-dm back to the city, who had by then left it with a large section of its inhabitants. The Sultan had at length to give in to ‘Izz ud-din who was allowed to auction the chiefs. The memluk minister, however, still tried to dissuade the Sheikh but, failing in his efforts, decided to slay Izz ud-dm. He went with his entourage, sword in hand, to the house of Izz ud-din, and knocked at the door. The son of Izz ud-din, who came out to answer the call, went in and told his father what he had seen but the Sheikh calmly said, “My son, your father is not lucky enough to be slain in the way of God.”

Izz ud-din came out without the slightest trace of fear on his face. As soon as the minister saw Izz ud-din, he was overtaken by a flutter and the sword fell from his hand. With tears in his eyes he again humbly repeated the question, “My lord, what do you want to do with us.” “I will auction you”, was the Sheikh’s reply. “And where will you spend the sale proceeds,” the minister demanded again. The Sheikh replied crisply, “On the welfare of Muslims”. The minister asked again, “Who will collect the sale-price”. Izz ud-din replied, “Myself”. The minister at last agreed to be sold by the Sheikh who auctioned him along with other memluks. As a mark of respect to the position held by these dignitaries, the Sheikh fixed a higher price for each and asked them to deposit the sale-price. The money thus collected by Izz ud-din was spent on welfare projects while the chiefs were granted their warrant of emancipation. The historian Ibn al-Subki writes: “Such an incident was never heard of earlier about anyone.”1 This is perhaps the only example of its kind recorded by history about the deference and veneration- ever accorded to any scholar.

Izz- ud-din and the Kings of Egypt;
Egypt witnessed quite a few political upheavals during Izz-Uddin’s stay in that country. When he arrived in Egypt, a monarch of Salah ud-din’s dynasty, al-Malik al-Saleh Najm ud-din Ayyub was ruling over the country. He was succeeded by his son al-Malik al-Mu’azzam Turan Shah after whom the Turkish Chiefs seized the reigns of government. They too held Izz ud-din in a high esteem while the celebrated Turk Sultan al-Malik al-Zahir Baibers was especially devoted to the Sheikh. It was on the advice of clzz ud-din that Baibers invited Abul Qasim Ahmad, the uncle of the last Caliph Mustcasim b’illah who had escaped the massacre by Mongols, to Cairo in 659 A.H., and acknowledged him as Caliph under the title al-Mustansir b’illah. The first to take the oath of allegiance was ‘Izz ud-din; next came the Sultan Baibers followed by the Chief Cadi Taj ud-din, the principal Sheikhs and nobles.2

Moral Rectitude
Izz ud-din was as much celebrated for his generosity, kindness and humanity as for his profound knowledge and piety.. The Chief Cadi Badr ud-din ibn Jama’ah relates that when Izz ud-din WAS still in Damascus, a slump in prices once overtook the market. As the prices of groves had suffered a steep fall, the wife of Izz-ud-din gave him an ornament to purchase a grove so that they might spend the summer in it.. Izz ud-din sold the ornament and gave over the sale proceeds in charity. Later, when his wife asked if he had purchased the grove, Izz ud-din replied, “Yes, but in the Paradise. I saw many poor people in great distress and so I spent the money on them.” His wife thanked God for the good act of Izz ud-dln.

Cadi Badr ud-din has also written that ‘Izz ud-din gave as freely when he was poor as when he happened to be rich. If he had nothing to give to a beggar, he would part with a portion of his turban. Izz ud-din was equally courageous and truthful against his own self as against the kings and nobles. Ibn al-Subki and al-Suyuti write that once during his stay in Egypt Izz ud-din made a certain mistake in the juristic-opinion given by him. As soon as he came to know of his mistake, he got an announcement made that the people should not act on that opinion since it was Wrong.

Ibn al-Subki relates that Izz ud-din had also been favoured with the inner enlightenment. His fearlessness, disregard for worldly power, fame and riches and, above all, the unflinching faith and trust in God showed that he had attained the sublime-ness of spirit. As Ibn al-Subki records, Izz ud-din was a disciple of the famous spiritual mentor, Sheikh Shahab ud-dln Suharwardy had authorised him to guide others in the mysiic path. Izz- ud-din had also had the opportunity of meeting and remaining in the company of another reputed mystic, Sheikh Hasan Sazli.

Righteousness :
Izz ud-dtn preached and acted on the Qur’anic dictum commanding to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, no matter what dangers and hardships one might have to face for it. In one of his letters addressed to the Suttan al-Malik al-Ashraf he wrote : “What we claim is that we are partisans, friends and helpers or rather the troopers of Allah, and no one can lay a claim to be a combatant unless he is willing to expose himself to danger.”

In Izz-ud-din’s view the knowledge and eloquence of a scholar constituted his two weapons which should be fully utilized in the fight for righteousness. In his another letter to the Sultan he wrote: “God has enjoined upon us to strive and fight for His religion. Just as you have your swords and lances for your arms, we have our knowledge and parlance; and as it does not befit you to sheathe your sword, similarly we cannot hold our tongue against the innovators and dissenter, apostates and sinners.”

Izz-ud-din considered it imperative for the scholar to be ever willing to face dangers in the discharge of their sacred obligation and enjoin the right course, cost -what may. Thus, he vehemently disagreed with those religious scholars who did not consider it lawful to expose themselves to avoidable dangers. His commentary on the Qur’amc verse : ” and be not east by your own hands to ruin”* amply bears out his point of view in this regard : “To risk one’s life for the honour and dominance of the Faith is permitted by the Shari’-ah; it is rather enjoined on all able-bodied persons to wage war in the way of God and fight the infidels. So it is lawful to expose oneself, to danger, under the provisions of the Skaricak, for enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong. However, if anyone feels that he might lose his life in the venture, the command loses its obligatory character for him but it nevertheless remains a commendable act. Thus, they are definitely wrong who think that it is not lawful to risk one’s life for the purpose. In short, if anybody gives preference to his Self over God, He will give preference to others over him; if anybody seeks the pleasure of God at the cost of offending others, God will not only bless him but also make others to be pleased with him. And if anybody, on the other hand, wants to gratify others by displeasing God, He will be displeased with him and also cause others to be disappointed with him.” .

“An Arab poet has rightly expressed the same idea in this verse:
“I wont care howsoever troublesome my life may be, if I were only to gain your love; may thou be pleased with me even if this annoys the whole world.”

‘Izz ud-din lived up to his ideal and never hesitated to sacrifice his hearth or home, life or honour for what he believed to be the correct and righteous path enjoined by the Shari’-ah,

Writings of Izz ud-din:
He was an erudite scholar, broad-minded jurist and a successful teacher. In penmanship too, he was equally celbrated, his two most well known works being al-Qawa’id al Kubra and Kitab Majaz al-Quran. Ibn al-Subki writes about these books:”These books of clzz ud-din mark him as an outstanding scholar of profound knowledge in religious sciences.”

‘Izz ud-din later summarised both the above mentioned books. Ibn al-Subki has also praised his two other books entitled Shajaratul-Maarif and Ad-dalayel ul-Mut’alikah bil Malaykah was-Irs. In addition to these writings one more book of Izz ud-dln by the name of Maqasid us-Salat was widely read during his own life. time. Thousands of its copies were made out by the people.’ Izz ud-din also left a voluminous collection of the juristic-opinions pronounced by him which is regarded as a valuable collection of legal precepts according to the Shafecite school of jurisprudence.

Izz ud-din was perhaps the next scholar after al-Ghazali in Islam who se-t forth to define and delineate the objectives of the religious observances and the benefits accruing from the performances enjoined by the Shariah.. In the introduction to his famous treatise Hujjat Allah il-Baligha, Shah Wali Ullah Muhad-dith ofv Delhi, the greatest authority on the subject, has acknowledged his debt to the three earlier masters viz. al-Ghazali, Abu Sulaiman Khattabi and Izz ud-din.

Death of Izz ud-din :
Izz ud-din died in the eighty-third year of his age on the 9rh of Jamadi al-Awwal, 660 A. II. Al-Malik al-Zahir Baibers, the then king of Egypt, accompanied the funeral of the Sheikh along with the dignitaries and chiefs. The King was very much aggrieved that the Sheikh’s death was destined to occur during his reign. Witnessing the mammoth funeral procession passing by the side of the royal Castle, the King said to one of his councilor “My kingdom would have been nowhere if this man had decided to oppose me. He had verily won the hearts of the people.”‘


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