Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-'Arabi
by Abdalhaqq Bewley
A youth is shipwrecked off the North African coast. He struggles ashore with his father and a few fellow survivors, more dead than alive. They clothe themselves in some oily skins which have been washed ashore with them and make their way with great difficulty to a nearby town. In the principal residence they find a chess game in progress between the governor of the place and his nephew. The youth quickly sizes up the situation on the board, comments on it and, despite his bizarre appearance, is invited to advise the governor. With his help the governor soon wins the game. A dispute arises about some lines of poetry which the young man skilfully resolves by eloquently explaining their true meaning. The governor is so impressed that he immediately invites the youth and his father to stay with him. He feeds and clothes them sumptuously and then sends them on their way with all their needs provided.
This is not the synopsis of a scene in a romantic film of one of the more unlikely stories from the Thousand and One Nights, it is an actual occurrence from the life of one of the most illustrious sons of the city of Seville, the great scholar Qadi Abu Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi, whose life saw the glorious revival of al-Andalus under the Murabitun in the first half of the 11th Century.
To properly understand and appreciate the life of Qadi Abu Bakr it is necessary for us to know the historical context within which it took place. The great Western Umayyad khalifate, which had been governing al-Andalus from Cordoba for almost three hundred years, finally came to an end in 1031, some forty years before the birth of Qadi Abu Bakr. Deprived of its centre of gravity, Al-Andalus disintegrated into pieces, as regional cities, which had become more or less self-governing during the chaotic last years of the khalifate, claimed complete independence for themselves and their provinces.
There were originally about thirty of these breakaway mini-states, which were known as taifas, but by the time Qadi Abu Bakr was born, this had been reduced, by a process of internecine warfare and political consolidation, to nine – namely Albarracin, Almeria, Alpuente, Badajoz, Granada, Majorca, Zaragoza, Seville and Toledo. Unfortunately this consolidation did not bring strength. The integral nature and unified power structure of the khalifate had kept the growing Christian threat from the north at bay but its break-up gave the Christians the opportunity they had been waiting for, since none of the taifas was individually strong enough to withstand the Christian onslaught.
The people of al-Andalus were increasingly harassed, both militarily and economically, by the Christians to the north who took every opportunity to exploit the divisions between the Muslims, playing off one taifa against another. The result was that the Muslim rulers ended up paying crippling amounts of tribute to the Christians to preserve their power bases and even this did not prevent the crucial loss of Toledo which was never retaken. With the fall of Toledo the Muslim grip on the heartland of the Iberian peninsula was broken and from then on the end of Muslim rule in Spain was only a matter of time.
During this time power in Seville was in the hands of the 'Abbad family. Isma'il ibn 'Abbad had come into prominence late in the 10th century under al-Mansur. His son and grandson, who took the names al-Mu'tadidand al-Mu'tamid, became the taifa rulers of Seville, turning it into the strongest of the taifa states. Seville took over from Cordoba as the principal city of Muslim Spain and became, therefore, arguably the greatest centre of civilisation and culture in the world at that time. It was into this environment that Abu Bakr ibn al-'Arabi was born as the scion of one of the most influential families of the city. His father 'Abdallah was a man of great learning and a close advisor of the ruler al-Mu'tamid and so his son Abu Bakr was brought up in an atmosphere of privilege and culture.
Qadi Abu Bakr's early education was devoted to the Qur'an. He became hafidh by the age of nine and then spent three years deepening his knowledge of the Qur'an, amplifying it by studying Arabic and mathematics. At sixteen he knew ten different qira'at with all the rules of recitation associated with each of them. This was the bedrock upon which his future great knowledge was based.
When Abu Bakr was about eight years old Alfonso VI, the king of Leon/Castile, penetrated far into Sevillian territory, reaching right to Tarifa before withdrawing back to his northern stronghold. When he took Toledo two years later and then went on to lay siege to Zaragoza, it was clear that outside help was needed. Al-Mu'tamid had already been in communication with Yusuf ibn Tashfin, the leader of the Murabitun, who had by this time consolidated Murabitun control over the whole of the Maghrib. Following a meeting with his neighbouring rulers al-Mutawwakil of Badajoz and Abdallah of Granada, he somewhat reluctantly agreed to send a delegation to North Africa to ask for Ibn Tashfin's support against the Christians. He realised that to do so might well endanger his own position as ruler of Seville. He expressed this sentiment in the memorable words: "Better to pasture camels – referring to the desert origins of the Murabitun – than to be a swineherd – referring to Christian domination."
Yusuf ibn Tashfin responded immediately and arrived with an army of 12000 men who, together with the troops raised by the other three rulers, won a resounding victory over Alfonso at Zallaqa in October 1086. Ibn Tashfin returned straightaway to Morocco, leaving a quarter of his army to help in the defence of al-Andalus, but in no time at all the beleaguered taifas were begging for his help again as Alfonso bounced back from his defeat at Zallaqa with renewed vigour. Ibn Tashfin returned again in 1088. He was once more joined by al-Mu'tamid and Abdallah but this time was also supported by Ibn Sumadih of Almeria and Ibn Rashiq of Murcia. On this occasion, however, the Taifa rulers showed themselves in their true colours and squabbled continually among themselves. They turned the campaign into a fiasco, making it impossible to make any headway against the Christians.
In an attempt to try and bring some order to the situation, Ibn Tashfin asked the fuqaha to adjudicate concerning an acrimonious dispute which was causing hostility between al-Mu'tamid and Ibn Rashiq of Murcia. This was going on during the Muslim siege of the Christian held fortress of Aledo. The incident, while reflecting dreadfully on the state of the Muslims, is at the same time a typical example of Ibn Tashfin's respect for the processes of the deen and of the taqwa that governed and informed everything he did. The fuqaha found in favour of al-Mu'tamid upon which Ibn Rashiq withdrew all his support, leaving the Muslim besiegers without any of the vital supplies they needed to continue their campaign. Ibn Tashfin returned once more to Marrakech but now he was fully aware of the hopeless state of the Taifa rulers and alive to the fact that if he returned again, he would have to take things completely into his own hands.
Realising his responsibility to prevent al-Andalus falling rapidly into Christian hands, Yusuf ibn Tashfin returned again in 1090 and took direct control of Malaga and Granada. Very stupidly al-Mu'tamid, feeling his grip on power slipping away in the face of Murabitun dominance, allied himself with his old enemy Alfonso, thus, in the end, preferring pigs to camels. Within a very few months he was forced to surrender to the Murabitun, although Yusuf ibn Tashfin magnanimously spared his life, banishing him to Marrakech where he died four years later.
Within less than ten years all of al-Andalus, with the exception of Toledo, was once more firmly under Muslim control. Under their slogan "da'watu'l-haqq wa raddu'l-madhalim wa qat'u'l-magharim" (call to the truth, remove injustices and abolish taxes), the Murabitun re-established the justice and mercy of true Islamic governance and ensured the continued existence of Islam in the Iberian Peninsula for a further 400 years.
But let us now return to Qadi Abu Bakr whom we left aged sixteen, replete with knowledge of the Book of Allah, at the court of Seville. The ignominious end of al-Mu'tamid left his close associate Abdallah ibn al-'Arabi in a somewhat invidious position. Uncertain of what the future might hold, he decided to take his son Abu Bakr, now aged seventeen, on a journey to the eastern lands of Islam to gain experience and knowledge.
Their first port of call was Bougie, then an important western Mediterranean centre, where Abu Bakr spent a month or so studying. That the primary purpose of the journey of father and son was a search for knowledge is shown by the assiduousness with which they sought out the men of learning in every place they visited. Their journey is also eloquent testimony to the great wealth of knowledge which existed at that time in every part of the Muslim World.
They embarked again and sailed along the coast as far as al-Mahdiya where again they stayed for some months. From the Tunisian coast they set out for Egypt and it was at this juncture that the incident I referred to at the beginning occurred. A violent storm blew up and the ship they were travelling in sank near the Egyptian coast. I will let Qadi Abu Bakr himself take up the narrative at this point. His voice coming down to us over the centuries gives us a vivid awareness of him as a living human being rather than a lifeless historical figure. He says:
Allah already knew that the sea would be hard on us and that our ship would sink. We emerged from the sea like corpses from the grave and, to cut a long story short, we eventually reached the houses of the Banu Ka'b ibn Sulaym, almost dead from hunger and exposure and dressed in the ugliest possible kind of clothing. The sea had cast up skins used for transporting oil which had been ripped open by the rocks and which we used as cloaks, so that our hair and skin were covered in grease and oil. At first our appearance caused people to shy away from us and look down on us but in the end their amir was very kind to us and received us most hospitably. Allah fed us and watered us and gave us a most comfortable place to rest, and He did this by means of a weak and indigent boy with some very superficial knowledge.
We were at the gateway of the amir's house and found him playing chess. I approached the game and the guards let me through, in spite of my ragged appearance, because I looked so young. I stood there watching the progress of the game since, being still a youth, I was not averse to spending some time in frivolous pursuits. Also having the bravado of youth, I did not hesitate to say to those watching the game, "The amir's position is better than his opponent's."
They started to look at me with more respect, since I clearly knew the game, and told the amir what I had said. He called me to him and asked me if I could think of a move for him to make. I said, "I have thought it over and it will soon be clear to you too. Move that piece there." He moved it and his companion moved in reply. I showed him the next move and in a few moves his opponent was defeated. The people said of me, "He must be older than he looks."
During the game the amir's nephew had recited some lines of poetry which went:
is the passion which, in separation, does not doubt it will reach its
It is Time which should be the focus of our hopes and fears.
Someone said, "Allah curse Abu't-Tayyib! Is it possible for a man to have doubts about his Lord."
I riposted immediately, "It is not what your companion thinks, amir. By "lord" in this instance, the poet is simply referring to the object of desire. The sweetest passion of the lover is that yearning for the beloved which does not doubt its eventual consummation. He fears Time because it is Time alone which allows him to fulfill his hopes or cuts him off from achieving his goal. It is as the poet says:
were no separation in the course of love,
Where would the sweetness of letters and messages be."
This explanation moved the amir to stand to his feet out of respect for me and he asked me my age and who I was. This gave me the opportunity to tell him everything that had occurred and I informed him that my father was also present. He called for him and the three of us went to the amir's private quarters, where he gave me his own robe to wear and expressed his great sorrow at the situation in which we found ourselves. He made us comfortable and ordered all kinds of food and drink to be brought for us.
Look at what happened on this occasion. I utilised a small amount of a sort of learning, which is in fact closer to ignorance than knowledge, and accompanied it with a minimum amount of adab and yet it was enough to rescue us from death. This incident made us all the more determined to pursue our quest for the benefits of true knowledge.
Abu Bakr and his father enjoyed the hospitality of their generous host, the amir of the Banu Ka'b ibn Sulaym, for some time and then went on to the still new Fatimid capital of al-Qahira (Cairo). This time their search for knowledge was impeded by the fact that there were very few Sunni scholars to be found in the city. They eventually found a well-known Shafi'i shaykh, who was teaching outside the city near the tomb of Imam Shafi'i, and Abu Bakr studied with him and three other scholars while he remained in Egypt. The pair then went on to Jerusalem where they met the great Maliki scholar at-Tartushi who, like themselves, had travelled from Al-Andalus to the east in search of knowledge. From Jerusalem they went on to Damascus where Abu Bakr continued his search, studying various branches of knowledge under at least six shaykhs.
The whole journey so far had only been a prelude to the real goal of the two travellers which had always been the seat of the 'Abbasid khalifate and great centre of Islamic knowledge, the khalifal capital of Baghdad. Abu Bakr ibn al-'Arabi and his father stayed in Baghdad for several years and Abu Bakr is recorded as having studied deeply under more than a dozen shaykhs, covering every shade of the spectrum of Islamic knowledge from the perspective of every madhhab. He even had one Shi'a shaykh. Given his firm Qur'anic foundations and his outstanding ability, there can be no doubt that he utilised his time in Baghdad to become one of the most learned men of his time, both in the breadth of his scholarship, which covered all the sciences, and also in the depth of his understanding. All of this was later expressed eloquently in his many books and, equally importantly, in his work as the Qadi of Seville.
Another important aspect of the time Abu Bakr ibn al-'Arabi spent in Baghdad was his close contact with the political power centre of Eastern Islam at that particularly crucial time. It was the absolute zenith of the Seljuk turkic power under Malik Shah and he was on the point of expelling the then 'Abbasid khalif, al-Muqtadi, from his ancestral capital. This was prevented by his sudden death but must nevertheless have made for exciting times in Baghdad. While all this was going on Abu Bakr was a frequent visitor at the majlis of the khalif's wazir, 'Amid ad-Dawla al-Jahir, who was the pivotal figure in the affair, being the go-between between the khalif and the sultan.
There are three further factors which we should mention in connection with the Ibn al-'Arabi stay in Baghdad, all of which have a strong link with Qadi Abu Bakr's subsequent life in al-Andalus. One is his meeting with Ibn Tumart, the second is his relationship with al-Ghazali and the third his mission on behalf of Yusuf ibn Tashfin.
Ibn Tumart was the future founder and first leader of the Muwahhidun who were to play an extremely significant part in the last days of Abu Bakr's life. He was a fellow student of Abu Bakr in Baghdad and studied with several of the same teachers so there is no doubt that they must have met, although there is no particular evidence that they had much to do with one another. However, as events unfolded of the next half century Abu Bakr must have had reason to think back over his acquaintance with Ibn Tumart.
There are several records of contact between Abu Bakr ibn al-'Arabi and Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, the great sufi and author of Ihya Uluma'd-Din. When Abu Bakr arrived in Baghdad, al-Ghazali was still teaching to great acclaim in the Nizamiyya Madrasa and he attended his lectures along with countless others. The great change in al-Ghazali's life, when he left his academic post and became a sufi, happened the next year and it was after that, while al-Ghazali was writing his great work Ihya 'Uluma'd-Din, that Abu Bakr really got to know him. Abu Bakr's final meeting with al-Ghazali took place when he and his father were returning from hajj in 1096. They met in the desert between Iraq and Syria.
Qadi Abu Bakr says: "I saw al-Ghazali in the desert. He had a staff in his hand a coffee pot on his shoulder and was wearing a patched cloak. I had seen him in Baghdad with 400 turbaned men from the great and good attending his classes and taking knowledge from him. I went up to him and greeted him and said, "Imam, isn't teaching in Baghdad better than this." He looked hard at me and said, "When the moon of happiness rose over the horizon of my will, I set out for the sun of arrival."
This relationship between Qadi Abu Bakr and Imam al-Ghazali is extremely interesting in the light of the controversy which was to develop in al-Andalus regarding al-Ghazali's teachings, where at one point there was a public burning of al-Ghazali's works. From what we have seen of the relationship between the two men, it was clear that Abu Bakr respected al-Ghazali and did not reject either him personally or his teaching. To understand why what happened happened, it is necessary to look at the difference between the situation in Iraq and that in al-Andalus.
Imam al-Ghazali was reacting against the arid, rigid orthodoxy of the Islam of Iraq and attempting to breathe new life into it by restoring an inward reality to practices which had become a lifeless outward forms. In al-Andalus and the Maghrib the situation was entirely different. There, rather than becoming rigidified, the shari'a had been eroded almost to the point that it was in danger of being lost. What was needed in the Maghrib was the revival of the shari'a itself.
What the Murabitun brought was an unadulterated version of pure Madinan Islam which harked back to the time when the deen was in its original unified state, when inward and outward were undifferentiated, when the spirituality of the Muslims was one with their establishment of the deen. This strong fresh breeze, redolent with direct contact with the very sources of the shari'a and sunna, swept through the maghrib with the Murabitun, purifying everything it touched, driving out the decadence and corruption that had eaten away at the deen.
In such circumstances there was no need, indeed no room, for the teachings of Imam al-Ghazali. To introduce them would in fact hinder rather than help in the task of re-establishing the basic Madinan paradigm, and what we find is that the enemies of the Murabitun, Ibn Tumart in North Africa and certain groups in al-Andalus, took advantage of the great prestige of Imam al-Ghazali, making political capital out of his teaching by using them to subvert the simplicity and purity of the Murabitun message. This is what forced the amir to take the action he took.
There is also an important historical lesson in this. The situation of the Muslims in the world today is far more comparable to that pertaining in al-Andalus in the 11th century than that in Baghdad at that time. The kafirs have made great inroads into the deen everywhere and on every front. This means that those who, as it were, take the al-Ghazali position, striving to breathe life back into the deen, whether they call themselves sufis or salafis, are bound to fail because the corpse of the Dar al-Islam as traditionally constituted is now corrupted beyond the point of possible resuscitation. What is now necessary is the successful Murabitun approach, cutting through the excessive red tape of accumulated, over sophisticated Islamic scholarship and reconnecting with the rough-hewn, pristine energy of primal Madinan Islam. The tree of Islam must be grown again from seed if the life-giving fruits of Allah's deen are to be made available to the bereft people of the 21st century.
The third and final factor connected with the Ibn al-'Arabi sojourn in the east is something of an historical riddle. It is known that in 1098 Yusuf ibn Tashfin sent a delegation to the 'Abbasid khalif, al-Mustazhir, who had succeeded al-Muqtadi, in order to give him his oath of allegiance and to gain legitimacy for his rulership over the Maghrib – another example of Ibn Tashfin's meticulous scrupulousness regarding all matters of the deen. It is also known that the leaders of this official delegation were 'Abdallah and Abu Bakr ibn al-'Arabi. The mystery lies in how this could have come about. We know that 'Abdallah had left Seville with his son six years previously, immediately after the fall of al-Mu'tamid, and know of no contact taking place between them and Yusuf ibn Tashfin after that. Yet here they are as ambassadors of the great Murabitun leader, undertaking a vital diplomatic mission on his behalf. One fact which does emerge clearly from it is that Abu Bakr and his father were unequivocally in the Murabitun camp.
Immediately following this, father and son set off on their journey back to the west. They passed quickly through Syria and Palestine, briefly renewing their contacts with those they had met on their journey to Iraq, and soon arrived in Alexandria where the great Maliki 'alim Shaykh at-Tartushi, whom they had met in Jerusalem, had gone to live. He was proving a thorn in the side of the Fatimid authorities there, as he was uncompromising in his determination to revive the path of the Sunna, and hundreds of students and murids were gathering around him. Sadly, 'Abdallah ibn al-'Arabi, who was by this time quite old, fell ill and died before they could leave for al-Andalus and was buried in Alexandria.
The remainder of Abu Bakr ibn al-'Arabi's journey back to his homeland seems to have passed without any untoward incident but it is known that he began the first of his many books, 'Arida al-Ahudhi, a commentary on the hadiths of Imam at-Tirmidhi, during this journey. This incidental fact is very interesting in that it shows how compendious and self-contained the knowledge of the great 'ulama of Islam was. A commentary on Imam at-Tirmidhi requires access to a vast reservoir of independent sources and cross references and there is no way that Abu Bakr ibn al-'Arabi could, while travelling, have had access to the texts necessary for such an undertaking. The only conclusion is that he had already internalised all the material he needed. He and those like him were their own walking data banks and their research was largely simply having access to the vast contents of their own memories.
On his return home Abu Bakr was received with great acclaim and students flocked to him from all over al-Andalus. He held study circles in various mosques which were attended by every Andalusian aspiring to knowledge of the deen. He became the intellectual father of a whole generation of great 'ulama, foremost among whom was Qadi 'Iyad, the author of the Shifa. His great knowledge and experience made him not only a focal point for learning but also an authoritative source of judgements and long before he became Qadi, he was appointed as a legal advisor to the authorities. A scholar was only permitted to give fatwas in the Andalusia of the Murabitun if he knew the Muwatta' and the Mudawwana by heart. He was also distinguished by wearing a certain sort of tall felt hat. The fez clearly has a long and noble pedigree!
As the teaching circle of Abu Bakr ibn al-'Arabi grew, producing a whole generation of new men of knowledge and action in al-Andalus, the Murabitun consolidated their hold on the country, driving back the Christians and confining them for a time to their northern fastnesses. Al-Andalus was once more a unified whole, governed by a successful partnership of Murabitun military governors and Andalusian 'ulama. Abu Bakr played an important part in this process, teaching, giving fatwa, advising and writing many books, and he was eventually appointed Qadi of Seville in 1134 at the age of fifty-nine.
The position of qadi in the major cities of al-Andalus, and indeed in other parts of the Muslim World, went far beyond being a mere judicial appointment. Its holders were among the most powerful and influential men in the land. In the absence of any effective military command, qadis frequently became the political leaders of their cities. This happened in several cases in al-Andalus on the break-up of the khalifate. Isma'il ibn 'Abbad of Seville, the grandfather of al-Mu'tamid, had previously been its qadi and the same was true of the taifa rulers of Toledo and Silves. Under the Murabitun al-Andalus was divided into three main military commands and corresponding judicial areas based at Seville, Cordoba, and Murcia. The military governors were Lamtuni Berbers appointed from Marrakech and the qadis were from old Andalusian families. In many respects the government of al-Andalus was a partnership between the Murabit governor and the Andalusian qadi.
In everyday administration, the qadi headed his own hierarchy of officials, including lesser judges and also the muhtasib, who oversaw the markets and matters of public order. It was also the qadi, rather than the governor, who gave the khutba at main jumu'a Mosque. He also, crucially, controlled the bayt al-mal where the zakat was held, dictating to the governor the specific purposes for which zakat funds could be used. The governor's wazir was instructed to consult with the qadi at least twice a day before presenting ideas and projects to his superior. In all it is clear that the qadi exercised wide-ranging control over the everyday affairs of city and country and was closely involved in executive decision-making. As a consequence when Abu Bakr became qadi, he became simultaneously one of the most powerful men in al-Andalus.
Contemporary and later chroniclers are agreed that Qadi Abu Bakr was a model of justice and uprightness and that he was ideally suited to carry out the duties of his position. The exigencies of his work, however, meant that he was no longer able to teach because his duties as qadi took up so much of his time. Qadi 'Iyad, speaking of this period in the life of Qadi Abu Bakr, said, "Allah gave much benefit to the people of Seville by him through his incisiveness, sternness, and effective rulings. He came down heavily on all who practised any kind of oppression or injustice, while showing kindness towards the poor. He fulfilled all the duties of the qadiship and also continued to write, though he had so little time over that even his close student, Imam Abu 'Abdallah al-Ishbili, had to break off his studies, saying that whenever he went to the qadi for a class, he would find him about to leave to undertake his official duties."
From this it can be seen that he took his work as qadi very seriously and was clearly determined to see the deen implemented in every sphere of life. One task he undertook was that of repairing and rebuilding the walls of Seville. In the new atmosphere of security engendered by the Murabitun success in keeping out the Christians and unifying the warring Muslim factions, the city authorities had allowed the city's defences to fall into disrepair, preferring to spend money on projects which would increase their personal prestige. However, Qadi Abu Bakr galvanised the general population into undertaking this vital task, financing it by means of his personal wealth and those funds which were under his control. This is an interesting example of the coming together of inward and outward. The qadi's task is to ensure the safety of those under his jurisdiction in both the deen and the dunya, in this world and the Next. The physical walls of the city in the outward correspond to the limits of Allah in the inward. One is reminded of the incident when Imam Malik smiled upon handing down the death sentence in respect of one of the hududs. When asked why he did this, he made his famous statement about the city being made safe by it.
Qadi Abu Bakr's insistence on being even-handed in his dispensation of justice and his refusal to curry favour with vested interests did not go down well with the wealthy elite of the city and his enemies, both among scholars who envied his superior learning and business people who found their malpractices being thwarted and punished, started to stir up trouble against him. They were joined by the licentious who found their vices far more difficult to indulge under the regime of Qadi Abu Bakr. Apparently Seville had something of a reputation for riotous living, even in those days! Eventually the enemies of Qadi Abu Bakr were successful in their campaign and, through their slanderous allegations, managed to incite the people against him, to the extent that one day he found himself under siege in his house in a similar situation to that faced by the Rashid Khalif, 'Uthman ibn 'Affan, in Madina. On this occasion Qadi Abu Bakr's house was ransacked and his library looted.
He, himself, later explained what happened, saying: "I judged between people and made them do the prayer. I commanded the right and prohibited the wrong so that there would be no corruption in the land. I made strong speeches against those who exploited others and was severe against the dissolute, so that they conspired against me and incited a mob to attack me. I put myself in the Hands of Allah and ordered those around me not to defend my house. I went out onto the roof alone and the mob hurled abuse at me. Were it not that Allah had decreed otherwise, I would certainly have been murdered in my own house. Three things moved me to adopt this course of action. The first was the advice of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, 'Refrain from fighting in times of civil unrest.' The second was imitation of 'Uthman ibn 'Affan. And the third was the example of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, when he refused to fight the hypocrites when they defamed him, an action confirmed by the Revelation."
These words come from Qadi Abu Bakr's book, Defence Against Disaster, which he wrote shortly after this incident occurred, and it is certain that what happened to him was one of the factors that caused this vital book to be written. Its expressed intention is "to accurately determine the position of the Companions after the death of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace," and by doing so to correct a number of misconceptions which, through 'Abbasid and Shi'a propaganda, had crept into the general Muslim understanding of what had occurred in the very early days of Islam. However, it must be understood, that this supremely important book is far more than simply a setting straight of the historical record.
If the distorted received picture were correct, it would mean that the first community had in fact failed to establish Islam in the way intended by Allah and his Messenger, because, according to the Shi'a thesis, what in fact took place was an aberration based on a lie. But the Companions were, as Allah himself confirms, the best community ever to arise on the surface of the earth and if they were unable to implement the deen, it is certain that no future community would be able to. So what this false view of history is really saying is that Islam is not practicable, realisable divine guidance for ordinary human beings but an unrealisable ideal which can never in fact be achieved. In his book, Qadi Abu Bakr proves conclusively that this Shi'a view is a lie and shows that the Companions did indeed fulfil their duty of establishing Islam completely.
Unfortunately, the same misconceptions and untruths so brilliantly exposed and demolished by Qadi Abu Bakr are just as prevalent today, or perhaps even more deeply rooted, as they were in his time, and it is precisely this false view of the original Islamic phenomenon which has stood in the way of the actual re-implementation of Islam in our own time. So, far from being a dry historical text, Defence Against Disaster is essential reading for true Muslim activists today, in order that we can realign our beings with that original, true picture of Islam, as fully realised and realisable Divine guidance for every human situation.
In all thirty-five books are recorded as having come from the pen of Qadi Abu Bakr, encompassing every aspect of his abundant knowledge and showing how profound it was in every field of learning. Unfortunately, very few of them are still in existence and they are mostly known about from references being made to them by other authors. The subjects covered fiqh, usul, 'aqida, hadith, and grammar but the core of them were devoted to the core of his own knowledge, the Book of Allah. He is known to have composed a huge tafsir of the Qur'an, which took him twenty years to write, was in eighty volumes, and which was still in existence several centuries after his death. Two of his books on the Qur'an, however, are still used daily by thousands of Muslims throughout the world – the Ahkam al-Qur'an and the Nasikh and Mansukh in the Qur'an. These two books show us the nature of Qadi Abu Bakr's relationship with Allah's Book.
It is clear from them that he saw the Qur'an, as did the Companions and all the great Muslims before him, primarily as a source of action. He did not view it as something to be studied in an academic way but rather as a practical source of guidance, to be constantly applied and practised in the everyday affairs of the Muslim community. So both these texts are completely action orientated, telling us how the Qur'anic ayats can and should be implemented in our lives and giving us discrimination regarding those ayats which should not be acted upon because they have been replaced by others which should be.
He remained true to the position he had adopted in the Defence Against Disaster, when the Murabitun were ousted by the Muwahhidun and Abdal-Mumin, the successor of Ibn Tumart, took Marrakech in 1146. Once it was clear that the Muwahhidun were there to stay, Qadi Abu Bakr accepted the accomplished fact of the new power structure and, despite his age – he was now over seventy years old – led the delegation sent from Seville to formally acknowledge the new ruler. For some reason the Seville delegation were detained in Marrakech for about a year. When they were finally permitted to return, Qadi Abu Bakr's health had deteriorated and he died on the way back, a day's journey short of the city of Fes. His companions carried his body to the great city of learning and he was buried there outside the Bab al-Mahruq on the 7th day of Rabi' al-Awwal 543 AH, which corresponds to the 25th July 1148. May Allah have mercy on him and fill his grave with light and baraka and grant him an elevated station in the Garden.
There is a huge amount that we can take from the life of this great Muslim, not least of which is to study deeply those works he left us. The vital and direct relevance they have, to all Muslims striving to implement Allah's deen in the world today, is plain to see. But apart from that, the example of his life reveals to us a man who, although devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, never allowed his knowledge to become theoretical. His life was dedicated to putting into practice the knowledge he acquired, to the point that it put his own life in danger, brought about the loss of his most treasured possessions and in the end actually contributed to his death.
So the best possible way to remember him is to emulate him in learning the deen to the maximum amount of which we are capable and then in putting it into practice with all the vigour and energy we can muster. If we do that the city which gave birth to him and which was the focus of so much of his life's work will be once more infused with the justice and might that are only attainable when the deen of Allah is fully established. Then and only then will this land of al-Andalus regain the splendour which once made it the lighthouse of the whole world.