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 Yusif 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 fairly a recent a 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
- At the moment, i forget the third issue
In order for us to outline the basic features of this phenomenon, it becomes imperative where it was developed regionally and 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 regime and the egyptian region. It is important to note that the socio-political climate of these regions and the time frame there of 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 single 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.
And 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 took place in creating asharized atharis.
The growth of microperenialism 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 bis basic poem and in his sharh he explains it. This this idea began floating around in his time period, and usurping his speech on it, later figures began distoring the intent of the speaker (safarini) to then claim that ahlu-sunnahc which are the “saved sect” are in fact three theological schools, a concept Safarini himself opposes.
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 game, this period of revisionist atharism in post 900 hijrah does not take off until 1200 najdi hanbalism comes on the scene. And its 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 im 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 no 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 marriage between the two as a mainstream construct was a development that took place later on 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 “im hanbali in creed”. Others would call others as “salafi”.
This was primarily a stable uniform paradigm up until 900 hijrah. 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. 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 hanbalis-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 hanbali-atharis, 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 a ibn taymiyyan salafist authority.
Thus this category of “ibn taymiyyanism” which is primarily used as a 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.
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 it was developing in this period. 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.