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IBN IDRIS, AHMAD (1749/50-1837), Moroccan Sufi and teacher and founder of the Idrisiyah tradition. Despite his importance within nineteenth-century Islamic history, very little is known of the life of Ibn Idris, and contemporary accounts are sparse.

Ibn Idris was born near Larache in Morocco into a family of Idrisi sharifs. He studied for some thirty years at the Qarawyyin mosque/school inFez. Among his teachers there fn the formal Islamic sciences was Muhammad ibn Suda (d. 1795), while his principal Sufi master within the Shadhiliyah tradition was `Abd al Wahhab al-Tazi (d. 1792). Ibn Idris leftMoroccoin 1798 and spent the next thirty years in and aroundMeccaandMedina, also making several extended visits toLuxorinUpper Egypt. He was inMeccaduring its occupation by the Wahhabis (1803-1813), only leaving forUpper Egyptwhen the town was conquered by the Egyptians. In 1828 he was forced by the hostility of the Meccan `ulama’ to leave theHejaz, although the exact circumstances are unclear. He moved to theYemenand after a period of travel along the coast came to Asir, where he settled in Sabya at the invitation of the local ruler. He died and was buried at Sabya.

Ibn Idris’s importance lay in his role as a Sufi spiritual master (murshid) and teacher. Apart from prayers, litanies, a few sermons, and letters, he wrote little himself. His teachings are known mainly through the lecture notes and other writings of his principal students. The main compilation of his teachings is Al-`iqd al-naffs ft nazm jawahir al-tadris . . . Ahmad ibn Idris (Cairo, AH 1315/1896-97 CE, and many later editions).

Previous scholars have regarded Ibn Idris as a leading figure of the “neo-Sufi” movement, described as a reformulation of the Islamic mystical tradition in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by such figures as Ibn Idris and Ahmad al-Tijani (d. 1815), the founder of the Tijaniyah tariqah. [See Tijaniyah.] Some of the assumptions about the teachings of the neoSufis-that they rejected the teachings of Ibn al-`Arabi (d. 1240), especially his doctrine of wahdat al-wujud, and opposed “popular” Sufi practices like dancing and saint worship, or a revival of hadith studies-are questionable, especially as applied to Ibn Idris. Nevertheless, neo-Sufism usefully describes the new orders inspired by figures like Ibn Idris that were to dominate much of Muslim Africa and elsewhere.

Doctrinally, Ibn Idris vehemently opposed the madhhabs and all forms of philosophy or reasoning; the pursuit of chains of transmission and the like was useless. The individual Muslim must rely on God alone to grant him an understanding of the Qur’an and sunnah: “Knowledge is acquired by learning, namely from God; he who fears Him will know Him, and, contrarily, he who does not fear Him, will not know Him” (Ibn Idris, Risalat al-radd `ala ahl al-ray). Ibn Idris was as much opposed to ijtihdd as he was to taqlid. His teaching was antiauthoritarian, emphasizing the individual believer’s duty to seek God, by whom he will be guided so long as he relies on taqwa (“godfearingness”). Although Ibn Idris’s teaching may be regarded as “fundamentalist,” his mystical apprehension of his religion marked him off sharply from those following the teachings of, for example, Ibn Taymiyah (d. 1328).

As a Sufi Ibn Idris stood foursquare within the orthodox Sufi tradition. The object of the mystical path was union with God. The assertion made by several scholars (H. A. R. Gibb and Fazlur Rahman among others) that he substituted a union with the spirit of the Prophet for the union with God seems without foundation. The mystic on the path may come to meet the Prophet, from whom he may receive direct revelation (wahy), the highest form of knowledge. Both his prayers and other as pects of his teachings show considerable traces of the influence of Ibn al `Arabi (d. 1240), a fact brought out by later commentators on his prayers. Although the dhikr of the later Idrisiyah tradition is usually silent, Ibn Idris in Kunuz al jawahir al-nuraniyah t qawa’id altariqah al-Shadhiliyah describes a dhikr of movement.

Contrary to previous assertions, there is no evidence that Ibn Idris attempted to establish his own tariqah. It was as a spiritual master that he exercised such extraordinary influence, establishing a tradition that was to spread to the Balkans and Istanbul, Syria, Cyrenaica and the central Sahara, Egypt, the Sudan, Somalia, and across to Indonesia and Malaysia. His principal students included Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Sanusi 0787-1859), founder of the Sanusiyah; Muhammad `Uthman alMirghani (1793-1852), founder of the Khatmiyah (from which derived the breakaway Isma’iliyah in theSudan); Ibrahim al-Rashid (1813-1874), from whom stemmed the Rashidlyah, Salihiyah, and Dandarawiyah orders; and Muhammad al-Majdhub (d. 1832). Also among his students were numerous lesser figures who established local schools, for example `All `Abd al-Haqq al-Qusi (1788-1877), an Egyptian who settled at Asyut, founded a school, and wrote extensively on the taqlidl ijtihad debate, and Ahmad al-Dufari, a Sudanese who taught Ibn Idris’s prayers to Muhammad Ahmad ibn `Abd Allah, the Sudanese Mahdi (d. 1885). A second generation of students spread Ibn Idris’s teachings across the Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia, where his prayers were translated into Malay languages, as well as along the East African coast as far asZanzibar. It was only some forty years after his death that a son, `Abd al’Al (d. 1878), worked to establish a formal Ahmadiyah Idrisiyah tariqah; this has remained a local order in Upper Egypt and the northernSudan. His descendants, the Adarisa, still live inEgyptand theSudan, where the present head of the order is Sayyid Muhammad alHasan al-Idrisi.

[See also Idrisiyah; Khatmiyah; Sanuslyah.]


Ibn Idris, Ahmad. The Letters of Ahmad ibn Idris. Edited by Einar Thomassen and Bernd Radtke.LondonandEvanston,Ill., 1993. Texts and translations of all the extant letters.

O’Fahey, R. S. Enigmatic Saint: Ahmad ibn Idris and the Idrisi Tradition.LondonandEvanston,Ill., 1990. First monograph devoted to Ibn Idris; contains an extensive bibliography.

O’Fahey, R. S., and Bernd Radtke. “Neo-Sufism Reconsidered.” Der Islam 70 (1993): 52-87. Critical reexamination of neo-Sufism. Vol], John O. “Two Biographies of Ahmad ibn Idris al-Fasi, 1760-1837.” International journal of African Historical Studies 6 (1973): 633-646. Translations of two early hagiographies.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/ibn-idris-ahmad/

  • writerPosted On: April 5, 2014
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