A break down of groups within the overall salafi/athari school in detail
There is no shortage of opinions/views floating around about this breakdown between salafis, atharis and even with newly formed sentiments like taymiyanism and najdism. The aim of this post is to break these down in the most ethically explicit way yet cordial and academic. This is mainly done for the purposes of cognitive distinction.
The best route I chose to break this down is through the lense of history, chronologically speaking. This helps the reader to observe where in the time line evolutionary theories developed and to contextualize them as a paradigm in relation to orthodoxy. In this breakdown, most salafis would agree, some atharis would agree and others may disagree. What is contained is obviously not God-sent truth. My aim here is to be as accurate as possible and maintaining a level of decorum bereft of sectarian discourse. Others may have their own specialty breakdowns where they feel that the breakdowns i provide might be general or dont cover other areas. Allah knows best. Yet, for all intents and purposes, I have received an influx of members of the community asking me to format some breakdown between the variances within this broad athari sunni paradigm.
The period of the salaf (from sahabah up to ibnul-majah 295AH.
This is a round about estimate with variances in peoples view. Going into details of this timeline breakdown is irrelevant for the topic being discussed.
This period is hallmarked by a strong anti-kalam paradigm. There is no actual Imam of the salaf who spoke positively of kalam ideology. There can literally be a citation of “ijma” on the prohibition of kalam. Citing a lone sore thumb like al-muhasibi does nothing to curb this overwhelming sunni unity on the central thematic theological demonization of kalam ideology that was a staple feature of every muslim of the Islamic ummah in this period, obviously subtracting the people of kalam.
This period marks thee APEX of orthodoxy for a group known as salafis for very obvious reasons. This paradigm was identified by the kalam paradigm as “tajsim” paradigm by various groups of kalam.
Within this paradigm, the Imam to rise as THEE uncontested Imam, the ambassador, the spokeperson who conveys the prophetic doctrinal ideology in pristine pure orthodox form is Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal رحمه الله . In fact he is identified by everyone in his period and afterwards as “Imam ahlu-sunnah”. That title is given by the people of sunnah and only to him and none other than him acquired this title. The groups of kalam have given that title to abul-hasan al-Ash’ari obviously because that is their Imam. But what is important is context. How did the existing ahlu-sunnah wal-jama’ah accept Imam ahmad and how did the existing ahlu-sunnah wal-jama’ah accept al-Ash’ari? The answers to these are well known and not the subject of this post. Suffice it to say that Imam ahmad was the Imam ahlu-sunnah conveying the doctrine that was held by the Prophet ﷺ and his companions رضي الله عنهم as was intended by Allah. He is identified as “as-Sadiqu-thani” the second sadiq of the ummah after abu bakr as-sadiq رضي الله عنه. And more importantly, that doctrine came to be a fundamental contravention of al-ash’ari’s formative theological years AFTER his departure of the m’utazili school literally in 300AH. Hence why this year is a pivotal year of evolutionary thought and trends.
Technically, there is no person that is to be called a “hujjah”. Yet this technicality becomes skewed in the wake of an existing ijma and collective community sentiment. You will not find not a single jarh of Imam ahmad worth its weight in salt, in fact you’d be hardpressed to find a jarh at all. Imam ahmad became the symbol from which the doctrinal beliefs of the companions, tabi’in, and their later students like abu Hanifa, Imam malik, and Imam ash-Shafi’i. In other words, it has become mainstream that when we say “it is the creed of ahmad” the corollary meaning of that is actually saying
-this is what Allah revealed and intended for us to believe in
-this is what the Messenger ﷺ believed in
-this is what the companions understood
-this is what the generality of the salaf and the aimah understood
This is the theological component that predicates the meaning of declaring a mas’ala as the view of Imam ahmad. Whether this fact accounts as extremism or not is not the point of this post as that can be argued elsewhere. The fact remains the ummah of ahlu-sunnah, the muslim world up until that period of an-Nasa’i and ibnul-Majah and Imam at-Tirmidhi (approaching that 300 hijrah mark) held this conception of sunnah and eman as it relates to Ahmad ibn Hanbal. This overt fame of ijma was so powerful, that it reduced a sectarian cult leader by the name of al-kawthari regarding his criticisms of imam ahmad, much milder than his contemporaries. If Imam ahmad was not who he was, al-kawthari would have called him a mushrik just as he does for every other Imam of the salaf who identified with ahmad’s creed. But because ahmad’s renown was so overt that it would impugn one’s own credibility to orthodoxy and reveal them as a deviant to anyone who can see, his criticism were forced to be much more milder.
Concluding this early period. This doctrinal school of Imam ahmad became known and synonymous with the term “athari” or “ahlul-hadith wal-athar“. When clauses like “creed of the people of hadith” are used in the classical works, it means this hanbali creed and its synonymity is known by everyone in the field of Islamic knowledge.
Post 300AH and up to 600 hijrah:
This is the era of the early classical period. It is in this period that the identification of the creed of Imam ahmad were labeled with the following labels
-hanbali (in others words this creed was called voluminously as the “hanbali creed”
In this period, scholars who identified people’s sound orthodox belief use to identify them as “salafi”. There are various accounts of this and this post does not serve to highlight them here as this is only to report what is already known and confirmed.
This period is essentially understood with synonymity across the board for these labels. There’s a plethora of sources that go into this and this is not the place for this post. We are just outlining and conveying the historical reality.
This period is hallmarked by the polemics and sectarianism between what became known that came out of ibnu-Kullab’s madhab, the Ash’ari madhab versus this classical sunni madhab of Imam Ahmad, the salafi athari school. Since asharism was literally created and formed after al-Ash’ari left the m’utazili school in 300 hijrah, hence the initiation of this dichtomy between the already existing ahlu-sunnah vs the developments created by Abul-hasan al-Ash’ari were staggering. 300AH personally seems to be the best demonstrative distinction and is widely used as well by theologians across the board that make a distinction between the orthodox period in which this period served as a benchmark for orthodoxy versus after this period where authorities was using the merit of this salaf pre-300AH period to substantiate themselves onto orthodoxy.
During this early period, Ash’aris were a fringe minority. They were similar to their kalam predecessors in that they only had several figures as ideologues for the school. It was not an accepted madhab of the scholarly class at the time.
Anyways, many of the sunni salafi scholars from at-tabari and onwards from the shafi’i, maliki, and hanbali schools were most explosive in this period against the Ash’ari school. It is also noteworthy to mention that in this early period, many hanafis still maintained their athari roots from Imam Ahmad and the developments of the maturidi school were topographically remote on the far reaches of the eastern provinces at the time and it did not immediately become widespread. Early atharis like Abu J’afar at-Tahawi and other athari hanafis were more common in this time period. This does not mean that athari hanafis ceased to exist throughout history, only that maturidi theology became thee dominating theological madhab of choice as defacto within the school from around the 5th century onwards.
This period is marked by extreme antagonism. In this period, Ash’aris were viewed by salafi atharis as
-even references to them as a form of atheists were mentioned
-ibnul-qudamah has a view that they are akin to the army of the dajjal
-even likened as the jahmiyya. Meaning the Ash’aris were identified as synonymous with the madhab of the jahmiyyah and the m’utazilah. This becomes crystalized during the jamhification of the madhab which is discussed later on.
Extreme vehemence was the popular sentiment that charactizes this period of existing ahlu-sunnah that predicates its doctrine under the auspices of Imam Ahmad. There are many reasons for this and we are not going to go into them because that is beyond the subject matter and the purposes of what this post is for.
Another characterization of this period was due to the elaborate t’awil posed by the Ash’aris, some of these early figures began initating speech of saying “without meanings” for sifat, many times they would qualify them with “that opposes the dhawahir” meaning that they were NOT opposed to meanings that were inclusive of the dhahir apparent understanding known linguistically by language, they were opposed to meanings that opposed the languge and were distortions of the meanings that were held by the salaf. This is key to keep in mind because these phrasal clauses will be used centuries later by a revisionist madhab, which essentially decontextualized what and why these early atharis said what they said and what they had in mind with them. The primary function for what these early atharis said that was in opposition to the Ash’aris who they were fighting against by saying “we dont give meanings to them” in the way these Ash’aris (who were zanadiqah in their point of view) were explaining the Attributes of Allah. In other words, what they were opposing of with regarding to “giving/offering meanings” to the sifat were meanings that were offered by the Ash’aris, and they were not intending by this that the dhawahir meanings were nullified or not understood, as is well backed up by a colossal of mountain ranges of other affirmatory remarks confirming various sahih sunni meanings to them. This is not the place to go into exhaustive links on the subject. This is only to highlight this critical development in this phase of time in order for us to come back to when identifying a much later development centuries later. Even for someone as righteous as hafidh ibnul-jawzi, he was extremely anti-Ash’ari regarding them and even referring to them as zanadiqa (heretics).
This vehemence is not limited to the hanbalis. The shafi’i and malikis had their share of demonization of Ash’aris as heretics. Even the gnostic sufi ibn arabi was not fond of the Ash’aris for what he himself conceived of as a corrupt doctrine of the Lord.
The point here of all of this is that as a student of history and of theology specifically relating to hanbali atharism or atharism in general, you cannot properly understand hanbali and early atharism WITHOUT understanding the salaf period of why kalam was a condemned heterodox paradigm and why the early atharis were polemical against the Ash’aris as a result of that paradigm. I would even venture to say that you cannot properly understand atharism if you dont comprehend the alien psychology that was engineered to fashion asharism.
Another final characterization that I will end with in this period is that there are certain athari hanbali authorities who, as a result of their extreme vehemence, themselves fell into severe or extreme ithbat by forming arguments that border on asininity if we are to be quite honest. There are certain hanbali-shafi’i early athari authorities that were trying to be so vehement in their rebuttal of the kalam groups, they themselves resulted in making mistaken doctrinal assumptions or asserted arguments that is not sound. Without naming names, this is what the case is.
We could end this period with the beginning and early career of Hafidh ibnul-Qudamah al-Maqdisi’s life around the 600 hijrah
Post 550AH nidhamul-Mulk – 680 hijrah:
This period of atharism is characterized by two epic and I mean EPIC events in history!
A. The policies of nidham-mulk
B. the jahmification of the Ash’ari madhab
If one does not understand or is not acquainted with these two in detail, they will have a crippled understanding of atharism.
As we have mentioned earlier, prior to this phase, the Ash’ari madhab was an extreme minority madhab and quite literally an oddball madhab. Ash’ari scholars could literally be counted by the fingers of both hands. Even up until the time of ibn asakir, the Ash’ari flag bearer and defender of the Ash’ari school, he himself defends the school admitting that they were a minority, but he argued “the truth is with the minority”. In other words instead of arguing what modern Ash’aris attempt to argue that the “saved sect is the majority” Ash’aris back in those times argued with the same arguments salafis today argue in that the truth is with the minority. And ibn Asakir’s time period is roughly around 560AH. Many scholarly commentaries are offered vocalizing these historical facts and its pretty much known by everyone in the scholarly community.
However, when the policies of nidhamul-mulk were implemented, this virtually revisioned the intellectual centers of the muslim scholar elites. The pedestal-ed (for a lack of better terms) the Ash’ari madhab as the political force to be reckoned with. Throughout the centers Seljuk rule, which at the time were the epitome of political power of Islam, making the abassis as a mere ceremonial figure that various sultans simply paid religious homage to, the seljuks ruled a vaste portion of the muslim world and the nidhamul-mulk policies affected the scholarly community the most. Primarily, we can identify this political move as the supplanting of orthodoxy with heterodoxy overnight.
This becomes the fuel for where and why ibnul-qudamah views them as the army of dajjal.
Within this time span between 550 and 680 hijrah, the intellectual orthodoxy of Islam was literally reversed. What was once heterodoxy was now “orthodoxy” and what was once orthodoxy was now tajsim and heterodoxy.
The later atharis of this period were visualizing these events and quite literally interpreted that the end of the world was near. With the rise of the mongols and their entry into the muslim world quite literally happening simultaneously as the seljuks began to loose and eventually were reduced to the seljuks of Rum quarantined in anatolia, the largely sunni scholars were seeing the rise of the zanadiqah in their view (the Ash’aris) and naturally had apocalyptic visions for what was happening.
It is also noteworthy to mention that part of the contribution to the nidhamul-mulk initiation was due to the efforts of Imam al-ghazali against the philosophers. Athari scholarship at the time was more or less centralized on straight blasting athar against what they understood to be deviant zanadiqa without really going to overt detail into the intellectual istidlali deductions of doctrine. There are some, by they generally did not gain traction.
Three primary works of this period that do into detail by athari scholars is an earlier source of this period by shaykhul-Islam of Afghanistan, the sufi salafi regarded as Khawja abu isma’il al-Harawi al-Ansari with his massive vehement attack against the Ash’aris in accute details known as “dham at-t’awil. Full of pure orthodox athari stances, its deemed as a work of tajsim by Ash’aris for affirming the dhahir meanings to them, etc etc.
Another two sources come later by the same individual, shaykhul-islam ibnul-qudamah in a work he titled with the same title (dham at-t’awil) and another risalah he authors regarding affirming sawt and harf for kalam of Allah, pure orthodox atharism at its finest.
Because of these events happening, it emboldened the atharis and hence we must add in the second epic historical feature to this period
-the jahmification of the Ash’ari madhab-
What is understood here connotatively is how the Ash’ari madhab has undergone a transformation into the route of tahajjum. Im not going into detail explaining this. It should be noteworthy here to note that this is not a classification of vilification, and only used for a lack of better terms as most readers may not be familiar with tahajjum. It is simply a depiction of what took place in the sense of harmonization and normalization of the standard ashari school into synonymity with the madhab of the m’utazilah which was generally the formalized version of jahmism. These are not even my own words, this is quite literal the observations made by ibn rushd, and other major mujtahid muhaqiqin besides ibn taymiyya. This is even affirmed by the Ash’ari flag bearer ibn asakir where he identified that the Ash’ari madhab had a split in which he identifies as
Others generally and primarily idrntify this dichotomy as the madhab mutaqadimin versus the muta’akhirin. Without going into utter details as this is. Ot the place for it, the main source that the scholars use to identify where this split occurs is through the figure known as the famous Imam ibnul-juwayni. They said he was the first to introduce the doctrine of negation into the madhab. This is noticed in conjunction with a more pro athari version of the older madhab where Ash’ari scholars like
Were literal affirmationists. They held that Allah’s eyes are ACTUAL eyes, His Hands were actual Hands to be affirmed literally. The same with istawa. They were even anti -mufawwids and al-qushayri has an epistle refuting tafwidh bil-m’ana.
So the later madhab became much more aligned in synchronicity to the jahmiyyah and m’utazilah. This was even admitted to by Imam ibnul-juwayni himself when he asserts
“There is essentially no fundamental difference in that the asha’irah agree with the m’utazilah and the m’utazilah agree with the asha’irah in that the Qur’an is in fact created, and the only difference between them is merely semantical”
This morphological altering of the Ash’ari paradigm along with the simultaneous fact that they were supplanting sunni orthodoxy with their doctrinal ideology was the metaphorical stake at the heart stabbed into the ummah as viewed by the until then sunni orthodoxy at the time that was being marginalized by the Ash’aris via nidhamul-mulk. As this orthodoxy was ending and being supplanted by asharism, we now enter a new phase
680AH Ibn Taymiyyanism -900 hijrah
As a result of classical orthodoxy being subverted for kalam paradigm, ibn taymiyyah was born into this milieu of events. We don’t need to go into detail of his biographical data as I’m sure everyone reading is aware. To put it shortly and bluntly, he was a polymath, a master of polymaths if you will, that has probably ever existed on earth. No matter how extreme the reader might interpret this praise, if you were to read the praises of both his allies and his enemies, this statement of mine is incomparable to their exaggerations. One of them identified ibn taymiyyah as “the Proof of Allah against the creation”.
If we are forced to accept ghazali as hujjatul-islam, we simultaneously are forced to accept Ibn Taymiyyah as hujjatullah.
A denial of one should be a denial of the other and an affirmation of one should be the affirmation of the other.
Regardless of the extremities, his career was certainly outlined as fulfilling such qualities. This is not even factoring in his jihadi efforts as a mujahid warrior and commander of mujahidin platoons fending against the mongols.
Without getting sidetracked into the ehole of his career, what made ibn taymiyyah different was as a by-product of the nidhamul-mulk paradigm, he learned ilmul-kalam and philosophy in depth and him already being established as a hadith master, in fact he was a second “amirul-muminin” on hadith after Imam al-bukhari making him a hadith master. But this master was not just in hadith. He was also a master in usul and fiqh and knowing what everyone of authority said about everything ever said. Even more than that, he even knew the reasonings of why they said what they said.
The title “genius” does not even serve ibn taymiyyah properly. In short, he knew what, when, where, why, and who said what and for what purpose as a commentary analysis of everything related of the religion, either in orthodoxy, or in kalam theology in relation to orthodoxy.
He used his own genius to do one thing. Defending the supplanted sunnism that was overran by asharism. You cannot understand ibn taymiyyah if you do not understand ilmul-kalam and its kalamist positions. Its impossible.
Okay, enough of his merit.
What is ibn taymiyyanism?
This is actually a byproduct of a later phenomenon and development post 900 hijrah. The mainstream hanbali scholars did not view ibn taymiyyah as an anathema. Even as late as 1000AH with Yusuf bin al-Karmi al-hanbali as a reference orthodox hanbali pivot, he identified holistically with ibn taymiyyah’s theology and even adds an intellectual rebuttal of tafwidh bil-m’ana that became more widely developed as a phenomenon of this much later period.
In short, for classical old school hanbali atharis, there is no such thing as an “ibn taymiyyanism”. This identification is predicated more so on a paradigm that developed later on from what becomes known as an asharized revisionist hanbali platform post 900 hijrah and we’ll speak about that later.
However, I would be remiss to overlook certain issues but we will contextualize them
There is ONE, quite literally one difference that emerges between ibn taymiyyah and SOME, key word being “some” of the hanbali atharis during and after his time in this period of 680AH-900 AH
This difference is essentially moot and of no actual credible concern. This difference is the issue correlating with kalam dialectic. Some athari scholars felt that ibn taymiyyah delved into kalam and that he was violating the classic athari stance which was mainly characterized as no-tolerance policy with kalam. What is significant to understand here is the nuance. The classic athari stance was to condemn the usage of kalam as a mode of interpreting doctrine. Not merely arguing against mutakalimin. And this nuance is characterized by Imam Ahmad’s finally rebuttal of the jahmiyyah in his radd alal-jahmiyyah. Imam Ahmad not only used athar to rebuttal the kalam school, he actually used intellectual reasoning (mantiq). As a side note, we follow the more credible research scholars who authenticate the Radd to Imam Ahmad over the often flawed analysis of less credible researchers who contend with its authentication to Imam Ahmad. One will not find the major investigative researchers (muhaqiqun) to doubt the fact that Imam Ahmad did author his rebuttal against the Jahmiyyah. The sheer volume of investtigative researchers as well make it extremely hard to give weight to lone contenders offering their reasons to discredit this attribution.
However, this leads to another folly by later intellectuals who attempted to create some actual madhabal dichotomy between ibn taymiyyah and the rest of the hanbali athari school. This folly is characterized in the conflation between mantiq (formal logic) and kalam. Mantiq is fundamentally different than kalam. Mantiq is simply a logic of a paradigm. So when some scholars like adh-Dhahabi or as-Suyuti author works against mantiq, they were NOT authoring them to refute the use of logic, they were authoring them in the logic pattern that governs kalam. Everything has a “logic” to it. Even a computer program has a “logic” “mantiq” to it. Any form of mantiq is predicated on a paradigm. And what exactly it’s predicated on is what it would be characterized with. So logic itself is not the epicenter of antagonism in atharism, it is what that mantiq is predicated on.
Without elongating this into oblivion for the reader, I’ll demonstrate one issue among a myriad of other issues.
The logic of athari sunnism is fundamentally different than the paradigm created in kalam and the logic it follows in kalam paradigm, on almost every issue of theology.
Lets take the subject of “dhahir meanings to sifat” between the two paradigms.
In kalam paradigm- to accept and believe in the apparent meanings of the Attributes of Allah confirmed in the Qur’an and Sunnah is itself as classified by Ash’aris as “from the principles of kufr (blasphemy)“. In other words, they reasoned by their own “mantiq” that for a muslim to believe in the basic apparent meanings that Allah revealed for Himself is from the pillars of outright kufr and that in order to escape this kufr is to interpret what Allah says of Himself inlight of “definitive intellectual proofs”. And those “intellectual definitive proofs” ARE NOT the Qur’an or the sunnah. They are the rules that were laid down by the m’utazili Imam al-Allaf as the usul of kalam. In other words, the operating system that is governing the logic and function of the systemic belief of such an Islam is not the scriptural sources that are suppose to be thee authoritative benchmark that governs a Muslim’s thinking and theological psychology, rather what is the dominating force is the kalam ideological framework.
Contrary to this “kalam logic”, is the “mantiq” or basic human function of reason and logic found in the intellectual engine of ahlu-sunnah wal-jama’ah. In the view of ahlu-sunnah wal-jama’ah, that is the ahlul-hadith wal-athar, they held that believing the dhawahir meanings of the sifat was BINDING. They did not view that it was from the principles of kufr as the Ash’aris held, they viewed them as the source of guidance. Here was their governing “logic” or logic board if you will, that governed their theological operating system within the orthodox muslim psyche. Ahlu-sunnah believe that Allah did not reveal a book of kufr, rather that would not only be impossible but itself would entail blasphemy of the Lord Most High, but rather a book of guidance. They do not fundamentally believe that Allah revealed at the basic apparent level, revealed a source of kufr and that the reader needed the intellectual paradigm of the developments of philosophical outlooks to be able to “properly assess” what God intended with His Words and thereby “escape” this kufr in order to finally land on what was meant/intended by Allah. Ahlu-sunnah held that the basis of the Qur’an was for the average human on earth, that someone with the most basic minimal IQ can access proper guidance from a basic reading of the Qur’an WITHOUT the need of of some developmental intellectual framework of an entirely different world philosophy predating Islam and that the only thing needed by such human readers was their own embedded Divinely gifted human capacity of reason. The revelation of Allah was primarily intended for this purpose IN SPITE OF also calling to an intellectual class on earth as well. The main point here is that access to the basic conception of God was to be assessed by the entirety of the human civilization, and not a select few. Nor was it meant that the masses were to be in need of a clergy class to understand Allah at a basic theological level. In other words, a pure conception of God can be driven and landed upon by a mere reading of the Qur’an obviously with the context of knowing Arabic rules and guidelines, and that the arrival to this pure tanzih of Allah is NOT dependent upon a highly ideologically driven theosophical dialectic in order to attain such an untainted status of pure upright faith.
Regardless of the inner details of this polemic, this is not the place to go into those details, the point here is only to exemplify the difference between two vastly different antithetical paradigmatic world views. And this is just one issue. And I swear to the average reader reading this, this vast difference is like this for virtually every single theological issue in which the two paradigms diverge. This same vast difference is in everything.
Sunnism believes Allah Speaks. Kalam claims Allah’s incapability to speak
The same with creating. Sunnism claims Allah actually creates. Kalam claims Allah does not actually perform creating. It goes on and on. And for each point, there are counter points and rebuttals of those counter points, and rebuttals those and vice versa and on and on and on virtually ad infinitum. At the end of the day in conclusion to this, it is drastically easy for an orthodox mind to surmise that the developed doctrinal clauses of kalam theology entails blasphemy of the Lord and an anthropomorphic mind that sees everything as anthropomorphic for God can interpret orthodox thinking as itself a blasphemy, because the two logic frameworks are extremely divergent.
Getting back to the main point, ibn taymiyyah is widely misunderstood as a person who delved into “kalam” and using kalam as opposed to simply employing basic fitri common sense logic which is what made ibn taymiyyah so widely popular and accepted by the people of his time and afterwards. Ibn taymiyyah simply argued against kalamist notions and then outlined why those notions made absolutely no sense to anybody with a brain. It’s precisely because of this stark contrast that made him an object of demonization by the asharis.
Defenders of kalam are inclined to paint an impressionable view that it’s okay and praiseworthy if “used to defend orthodoxy” but that is not what is happening and was not what was happening historically. Kalam was not used by the later developments of the asha’irah to defend sunnism, it was used to negate and reject classical sunni stances. This fact is WHY the atharis took such a vehement stance against them. Moreover, this impressionable depiction is even more absurd in application of ibn taymiyyah. He did not “use kalam” to refute heresies, he used logic of the scripture to demonstrate the heterodoxy of kalam for what it actually was.
As was stated above, the period post ibn taymiyyah all the way till 900 hijriyya was maintained as basic classic athari salafism. Ibn kathir and ibn rajab respectively, a shafi’i and a hanbali BOTH report that when ibn taymiyyah won the tribunal the Ash’aris tried to file against him in the court of the sultan and was vanquished as innocent each of the two times, they both conveyed that he relayed the true orthodox way, the aqidatu-salafiyyah. Again, their conception of “salafi creed” was the marker to orthodoxy, as was the general outlook for all ages historically. There was no break in this chain of understanding!
At the MOST, this period of what could be identified as “ibn taymiyyanism” during this historical period can only be characterized between
-most atharis who agreed with IT in arguing against what they understood even in that time as the “heretics” (Ash’aris).
-some hanbali atharis who held he should not have argued against them.
This is thee extant of what “ibn taymiyyanism” is at that time period, which is itself a term that was essentially invented in the 20th century which speaks volumes in and of itself. So simplify, this difference was the only difference the disagreeing hanbalis had of ibn taymiyya, along with a controversial subject in doctrine klnown as tasalsalul-hawadith, which was merely a rebuttal to a point that Fakhru-Deen ar-Razi made. Other than these two issues, hanbalis during this period maintained a view of ibn taymiyyah NOT aas an anomaly that post 900 hijri hanbalis would later develop through their revisionist readings of history, but as a pivotal benchmark of hanbali authorities.
Note that I purposefully left out tafwidh m’anawi differences. Why is that? Well, since this is a chronological outlook, the athari scholars after ibn taymiyyah in this period do not even touch the subject. They dont even contend with ibn taymiyyah on the fact that tafwid was classically neutralized by the salaf as kayfiyyah and not “m’anawi”. This actually comes in the next epoch period. Even hafidh ibn rajab al-hanbali himself has a tract identifying that this practice was a development of the jahmiyyah. Thus Ibn Rajb al-Hanbali contradicts the arguments of the mufawida among later hanbali adherents. Even as late as 1000 hijria with Yusuf al-Karmi, he has a long tract virtually deconstructing the absurdity of tafwid bil-m’ana.
ONE more hall mark feature of this period in contradistinction to the previous period and post period is that this period of identified in this read as “ibn taymiyyanism” was hallmarked by a radical change in blunting the demonization that atharis once had against the Ash’aris. Prior to ibn taymiyyah, atharis were largely known for absolute demonization of the Ash’aris. Some even made takfir of Ash’aris. Primarily, the bulk of the athari school viewed Ash’aris as a zindiq heretic madhab whose goal was to alter the religion of the muslims into heresy and kufr. I am not being sectarian or trying to be partisan here. Anyone who has a simpleton understanding of this period can easily witness this public athari sentiment of the Ash’ari paradigm.
Ibn taymiyyah’s revivalism comes with a few perks in favor of the Ash’aris. He has a much more tolerant approach to them and apparently, the post ibn taymiyyan hanbalis follow suit in not being as scathing and demonizing against the Ash’aris as they once were well known for. I find this change to be rather positive imho yet ironic considering the Ash’ari demonization of the man.
Atharism Post 900AH:
Keep in mind that these dates are not pivot points, these are just markers for the transition of periods or epochs in terms of developmental theories that become cemented among the scholarly class. So when I say for example 900AH, it means that generally a notion began taking off around this time period. It doesn’t mean some sentiments were absent 50 years before and it does not mean that normative conceptions of the old period became extinct at the turn of 900AH. And this applies to all other time periods conveyed above. These are just identifying markers meant to guide us along the chronological time line.
I would even venture to say that the following developments that will be outlined below should be more categorically identified as a post 1000AH phenomenon rather than 900. But they began primarily in this period and became further entrenched post 1000AH. Hence why there is no actual conclusive and definitive year that ideas simply take off and old ideas ditched.
This period is where the divergences of atharism actually take off and newly created ideas begin to be adopted. This period is characterized by many features and I will try to attempt to be as brief as possible considering how long the reading is up until this very point.
The last two mountains of classical atharism, and this classical atharism INCLUDES ibn taymiyyanism as understood by the later revisionist madhab, are Imam as-Safarini and Imam Mar’i bin Yusuf al-Hanbali. By all intents and purposes, these two were the last standing champions of classical athari salafism championed by ibn taymiyyah. This does not mean that later figures simply ditched classical atharism, it just means that a portion of the madhab broke off into a divergent understanding. So I mean here that they are the last flag bearing ibn taymiyyan champions in every aspect of his theological outlook.
It should also be clarified that this “revisionism” is NOT even classified as an outright rejection of ibn taymiyyah. This pattern of outright rejectionism is a fairly recent 13th century hijri development and is not even the norm of the post 900 hijri revisionist athari wave.
Where this departure of classical athari salafism took place, which was for the past 800 years synonymous, were in three distinctive issues.
ahlu-sunnah as a singular salvific group vs ahlu-sunnah as a microperrenialist concept
The promotion of the madhab of the muffawidha i.e. tafwidh bil-m’ana
The neutralizing of classical arabic conceptions of language via the adoption of kalam refinements of language. All asharized revisionist hanbalis caved in to the kalam paradigm of language construction rejecting classical Arabic linguist of early generations.
In order for us to outline the basic features of this phenomenon, it becomes imperative where it was developed regionally and the social climate at the time which helps us contextualize these developments.
The primary region where these views were developed by revisionist hanbalis were centered mainly in two regions, the Syrian (Sham) region and the Egyptian (Misr) region. It is important to note that the socio-political climate of these regions and the time frame there is because these issues were born out of this milieu.
Egypt and Syria (sham region in general) were primarily epicenters of multi-theological schools. Unlike the rest of the muslim regions, most muslim regions were primarily dominated by a singular theological view whatever that theological view was. Not so was the case of these two centers. As centuries of living together in these two regions were Ash’aris and atharis who were living together, it seems that an underpinning atmospheric climate of tolerance was formed subconsciously that became the trigger point for an intellectual revisionism of classic stances, mainly in these three issues.
Even more interestingly, it seems that there was greater subterfuge that Ash’aris managed to insert among the atharis than in the reverse. This helps us understand why figures in this later period began accepting Ash’ari premises but the intellectual cross over was not mutual and hence revisionism was only exclusive to within the atharis. This is why the term I use to refer to this phenomenon is “asharized atharis”. Atharized Ash’aris was an ancient phenomenon of abul-hasan al-Ash’ari and the early Ash’aris like Baqilani where they tried to mimic classic athari sunnism into their madhab of Ash’ari kalam. This atharized asharism was essentially revoked and transformed under the efforts of Imam ibnul-juwayni which was mentioned above. About 700 years later, we come full circle where the opposite reaction takes place in creating asharized atharis.
The growth of micro-perennialism took off over misreadings of Imam as-Safarini who fundamentally opposed that the saved sect could be more than the atharis and can include Ash’aris and Maturidis. When as-Safarini (900 hijri) comments on this topic, he cites this as a saying that was floating around. He quotes it in his basic poem and in his sharh he explains it. That this idea began floating around in his time period, and usurping his speech on it, later figures began distorting the intent of the speaker (as-Safarini) to then claim that ahlu-sunnah which are the “saved sect” are in fact three theological schools, a concept Safarini himself opposes and even argues that it defies the sunnah’s verdict via the hadith of the 73 sects.
This same pattern of revisionism in diverging away from the intended perspective of earlier authorities that took place in the field of tafwid in the rendition of how the topic of Allah’s Attributes were to be understood. In short, what was taking place by this period of hanbali atharis was that they were citing earlier statements of the classical hanbali atharis, but they were thus back-projecting their conceptions of what these earlier authorities meant.
At this stage in the time frame, this period of revisionist atharism in post 900 hijrah does not take off until 1200AH with the rise of najdi hanbalism coming on the scene. And it’s largely neutralized back to these regional spheres of Syria and Egypt.
So najdism explodes in the muslim world around this time frame primarily because of its takfirative ideology that its most commonly known for. Because this topic is mainly rooted about atharism, even more so neutralized within the context of sifat, this aspect of aqida I’m going to largely ignore. I will only discussed this phenomenon in relation to the main topic.
The najdi dawah comes on the scene and it revamps its conception of ibadah mainly for the purposes of applications of direct
-tafkir mutlaq (of regions, not of the entire muslim world)
However, in terms of hanbali madhabi fiqh and athari theology, there is virtually zero revision within the najdi development. To be brutally honest, their puritanical outlook is primarily neutralized within the topic of tawhid as it relates to shirk and the excommunication of a muslim as a result to their violation reduced to actions divorced of any actual intent. Other than this topic, which is itself a monster topic, this topic relates more to the sufi groups more so than Ash’aris, although in modern times the two are merged paradigms. But historically, that was not so. Aside from sore thumbs like ghazali or an-nawawi رحمه الله who are known as both, most Ash’aris historically were not sufi and vice versa. The union between the two as a mainstream construct was a development that took place later on during the ibn taymiyyan era.
The najdi scholars primarily were rudimentary hanbalis who remained ardent adherents to the school as it relates to fiqh. As for athari theology in general, minus takfirative theology, they were pretty much in whole, devout classic athari hanbali salafi adherents which meant their alignment to ibn taymiyyah. Thus when it comes to the Attributes of Allah, generally speaking they did not budge from the classic historical atharism of the classic period or the ibn taymiyyan period.
However, because of the explosive nature of the najdi dawah’s takfirative ideology, this phenomenon thus bolstered the post 900hijri revisionist hanbali playbook in the aftermath of the najdi dawah.
As a summary, we can now begin to understand that for the better part of 900 years, sunnism was primarily identified with the following labels that everyone under the sky construed and understood with synonymity
Sunnism in theology that is, was
Ahlul-hadith, Athari, salafi, hanbali. There are even reports of shafi’is and malikis advertising their madhab and then saying “I’m hanbali in creed”. Others would call others as “salafi”.
This was primarily a stable uniform paradigm up until around 900 hijrah and this dichotomy becomes much more pronounced after the entranbce of the Najdi dawah onto the world stage. After the revisions introduced by asharized hanbalis in this period, the developments of a “difference” began to be pronounced as a result of these revisionary developments.
Another important factor to this are regional cultural norms. Example, even in classical and medieval period, middle east region sunnis would prefer to identify as “hanbali”. Whereas in Africa, the more common reference for them was athari. This is because in Africa, there were large portions of non-hanbalis who identify wholeheartedly as pure sunni atharis but didn’t seek to identify with the label of hanbali. In the central asian region, the more common reference was “ahlul-hadith” or “ashabul-hadith”. These are all synonymous in reporting the genre of sunni orthodoxy. Likewise in the late to modern period, we see the terms being used based on cultural norms. In the sub-continent, the more common term used are “ahlul-hadith” rather than “salafi”. In the middle east, salafi is typically a more widely adopted term.
So no, because of the modern developments and revisionism, these terms began to imprint diverging embedded meanings to them that were for ages, unheard of.
The common breakdown and the meanings embedded in them are as follows, at least according to the new revisionist depiction
Athari- follower of Imam ahmad- predicated on the revisions of tafwid and microperennialism.
Salafi- deviant and variant of athari, adherents found in ahli-hadiz india, some deoband, etc. typically “invented by ibn taymiyyah”
Najdi- kharijite, invented by miaw.
However, a more accurate assessment is as follows imho
Generally speaking, a person of hadith and athar who agrees to the athari paradigm in the classic sense (meaning bereft of later revisions) are regarded as athari, salafi. EVEN IF they dont identify as such. This strand does not even entertain a notion of a strand of ibn taymiyyanism because there is nothing fundamental that hallmarks IT to be at variance with traditional atharism. The “differences” that are argued all come from individuals who follow the next ideological outcome as revisionist or asharized self professed hanbali-atharis.
WITHIN this group, a portion accept the najdi dawah and hence are broken up to either full fledge najdi adherents or are najdi apologists.
Revisionist atharis. In this school that can be equally called asharized hanbalis, this is the strand who create this philosophical difference in their world view. This difference is fictitious in the view of the traditional athari mentioned above. The first group above who either call themselves atharis or salafis, or even nothing at all, identify this group generally as “mufawidha”. However, I feel this term is a bit simplistic and revisionist athari is a bit more accurate given the historical events and issues that arose as highlighted above.
Ibn taymiyyanite is a newly fangled term used by a new modern development of asharized revisionist atharis/hanbalis. For all intents and purposes, this label is the most strangest of all. Frankly, many of the neo-traditional revisionist authorities of the post 900hijri period were ardent ibn taymiyanist defenders. Even the brother of muhammad ibn abdul-wahhab, sulayman, was a hardcore salafist ibn taymiyyanist who primarily uses ibn taymiyyah to refute his brothers takfirative ideology. For all intents and purposes, sulayman ibn abdul-wahhab is literally an ibn taymiyyan salafist authority.
Thus this category of “ibn taymiyyanism” which is primarily used as a derogatory means to perform a function of creating a discourse that ibn taymiyyah “invented heresies” is literally and virtually a very very modern development within this revisionist movement, primarily developed in the 14th century hijri. Literally speaking, the ideaas that are currently circulating that ibn taymiyyah truly had anomalous or deficient conceptions of aspects of theology are literally discourses being developed not even prior to 50 years ago. Even more ironic, is the background of this said group avtively developing this discourse are by people suffering from burnout syndrome discussed here.
Remember, only kalam ideologues were the only people in the religion who attempted to create the allusion that ibn taymiyyah invented heterodox doctrines or ideas. They were proven wrong, twice, in the shariah courts. Not even immediate post 900AH revisionist hanbali atharis succumbed to this fallacy, but yet it is being absurdly developed within the past 30 years. Mainly within the developments of tafwidh bil-m’ana arguments being fostered and written in this time.
Where this idea essentially took off is with a private modernist thinker by the name of hatim al-awni and a group of neo-trad clientele who have swallowed, hook, line, and sinker the Ash’ari paradigm. This particular group was not even in existence even 50 years ago, so this is quite literally a post unipolar world development. This new wave of revisionism is a melting pot of a hybrid of Ash’ari contentions embedded by this revisionist camp of neo-trad revisionist hanbalis. Unfortunately, this strand is being marketed on social platforms as the standard narrative of atharism by various ideologies and defenders of such ideologues.
One final theological revision to tafwidh bil-m’ana takes place in the modern era. Mainly by this modern group but there are sources that go back into the pre and post najdi era. Some mufawwida have wisened up their approach and began to realize that the conception of tafwidh bil-m’ana as it was originally developed post 900AH and marketed as a valid sunni theology was being undermined by the issues of overt meaning-based elaborations given to the theological topics of, for example, nuzul (descending), istawa, wajh, kalam. In other words, the authorities that the mufawidha were appealing to for the substantiation of tafwidh bil-m’ana were backfiring in the sense that these same authorities elsewhere in other works were violating the notion of tafwidh bil-m’ana by offering rather explicit meanings to the Attributes that they were allegedly claimed to be making tafwidh bil-m’ana of, as claimed by the mufawidha that is! So a new development arose where they began to alter this protocol of tafwidh bil-m’ana to less affirmative Sifat like Yad, Ayn, etc. Or areas where the classical authorities spoke less about. As a result of this, they’ve refined their theology by saying that tafwidh bil-m’ana is not a protocol of classical imams of the salaf on those attributes, but on other attributes. Essentially by this deflection of invalidity, they were able to somewhat deflect the rebuttal of classical atharis demonstrating the invalidity of tafwidh bil-m’ana as a protocol, and as a result, they were able to still try to claim someone like Imam Malik رحمه الله was a “mufawwidh” even with his clear cut affirmation of sifat being m’alum (known). Or when for example when hafidh ibnul-Qudamah goes into explicative details of Allah Speech in that it consists of huruf (letters), Sawt (sound), that can even be heard etc etc, then this newly refined revision of this protocol helped the mufawidha to still maintain that hafidh ibnul-qudamah was a mufawwidh in meaning.
This is a new evolutionary tract on this protocol because even when this protocol began to take off post 900AH, this specific clause of this protocol was not even developed or offered.
So these three breakdowns are a much more accurate rendition of the theological divergences in reflection of historical developments drawn up in the modern period.