The attack on history and historians! Featured

By Dr. Mahmoud Al-Tanahi March 18, 2024 2936

The Islamic history and Muslim historians have been subjected to much unfairness and aggression. One of the most striking statements made is: "History is made for rulers and kings, and it does not reflect the pulse of the people and their aspirations." With such dazzling yet deceptive words, they entice the youth and lead them into a dark decision of false admiration and detrimental doubt.

This issue should be discussed properly. It seems that many of our opposing writers have confused between general history books as covering events and biographies, and books of virtues. General history books record events and occurrences in a comprehensive manner, inevitably including news about caliphs and kings. This approach is clearly evident in history books arranged chronologically ("Al-Hawliyat") and in general biographical dictionaries. Take, for example, "Siyr A'lam Al-Nubala" by Al-Dhahabi, "Al-Wafi bi al-Wafayat" by Al-Safadi, and "Wafayat Al-A'yan" by Ibn Khallikan. You will see that the biographies of caliphs and ministers are presented in alphabetical order, sometimes appearing brief and concise compared to the biography of a contemporary scholar, such as Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, whose biography fills many pages. This is not to represent this or that, but rather to point out the severe criticism and precise enumeration of errors and faults faced by some of these caliphs or ministers.

As for books of virtues, they are specialized books revolving around a single personality, whether a caliph or a minister, and there is no harm in that nor denial. It is the right of any writer to favor a ruling and influential figure dedicating a book to them, documenting their history and actions. This is what we see until today; we accept it with no rejection. Furthermore, what is written in individual biographies and their virtues is not exclusive to rulers and caliphs alone. I have mentioned to you before: the virtues of Abu Hanifa, the virtues of Al-Shafi'i, the virtues of Ahmad, and the biography of Omar ibn Omar Al-Aziz.

It also seems that some who engaged in the issue of "creating history for rulers and kings" were deceived by those titles bearing the names of kings and ministers. Such as the book "Al-Sahibi fi Fiqh Al-Lughah" by Ibn Faris, attributed to Al-Sahib ibn Abbad, the famous minister, and "Al-Izah Al-'Adadi fi Al-Nahw" by Abu Ali Al-Farisi, attributed to 'Adud Al-Dawlah ibn Buya, the ruler of Fars, Mosul, and Jazira, and "Al-Lami' al-Azizi"; a commentary on the Diwan of Al-Mutanabbi - by Abu Al-Ala Al-Ma'arri, attributed to Aziz Al-Dawlah Fatik ibn Abdullah Al-Rumi, who was a man of the Fatimid Al-Hakim bi Amr Allah, and "Al-Mustazhiri"; which exposes the Batiniyya by Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, attributed to the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mustazhir bi-llah, Ahmad ibn Abdullah.

Neither Sahib ibn Abbad, nor Adud al-Dawla, nor Aziz al-Dawla, nor al-Mustazhir bi-Allah are mentioned in those books except for passing references in the introductions, praising these prominent figures of authority because they provided tangible support to the authors, as we might say now: "This book by so-and-so was published with the support of such-and-such university or organization." Consider the books published under the series title "Gibb Memorial Series" and similar ones because these universities and organizations sponsored the books and covered the printing costs. Suppose someone rich, like a prince or a wealthy merchant, offered to fund the printing of one of my books. I would undoubtedly name my book after them, even putting their name before mine, and then lavish them with praise and admiration, both in prose and verse. It's worth noting that these kings and ministers, whose names became titles for books, had a genuine interest in language, literature, and various branches of knowledge. It suffices to know that the renowned Islamic historian Al-Dhahabi described Adud al-Dawla as a grammarian.

Perhaps one of the most deceptive titles is that of the book authored by Ibn al-Jawzi, titled "Al-Misbah al-Mudhia fi Khilafat al-Mustadhi'a". while appearing to be about the virtues of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mustadi', is not solely about him, as Ibn al-Jawzi delved into numerous biographies of the companions and Abbasid caliphs, with a noticeable emphasis on admonition and reminder. He presents these biographies to the sultan or ruler, so that they may be enlightened in dealing with political and social matters, as mentioned by the book's editor and Iraqi publisher, Dr. Najia Abdullah Ibrahim.

Similarly, the book "Al-Durr al-Fakhir fi Sirat al-Malik Nasir" by Ibn Ayyub al-Dawadari, one of the Mamluk historians in the eighth century Hijri. Although Ibn Ayyub was biased towards Sultan Muhammad al-Nasir ibn Qalawun because he worked in his court, his book is considered an important document in the history of Egypt and the Levant at that era. It serves as a diary of these two major regions and their struggle against the remnants of the Franks and Mongols.

The issue of "purifying Islamic history from errors and exaggerations" remains, and it is also one of the issues that people address with a lot of levity, ease, and follow-up.

There is no doubt that some of our early historians have misconceptions and errors in observing, recording, and analysing events. These misconceptions and errors should be noted and highlighted. However, it should be clear that all our sciences and knowledge are prone to error and illusion from the beginning. Criticism, in our tradition, goes hand in hand with authorship, step by step. This method, known among the scholars of Hadith, of acceptance, rejection, modification, and criticism, has extended its influence to all other sciences as well. The door of criticism in our cultural heritage and knowledge is very wide and significant. It must be evident that this nation has not disregarded its heritage throughout these lengthy preparations, even as contemporary philosophers arrive to criticize, critique, and occasionally make mistakes. Yes, no one, after the prophets, is infallible, so criticize what you want, analyze what you want, and deduce what you want, but only after gathering its evidence and taking it seriously, with careful consideration and proper examination, refraining from pursuing it until the proof is established. As the Arabs said in their wise words: "Establish lineage and seek inheritance," and as Abu al-Fath Ibn Jinni said: "So whoever deviates from a correct cause and a righteous path, his soul becomes his companion and Abu Amr of his thought... However, despite what we have seen and approved of its perpetrators, we do not allow them to contradict the consensus that has been extensively researched and advanced in its view... except after opposing it with mastery, proves it with recognition, without being swayed by emotions or succumbing to impulsive thoughts" (Al-Khasa'is 1/190).

In other word he says: Those who guide themselves by a valid critique are akin to Khalil ibn Ahmad and Abu Amr ibn al-Ala. No one should oppose the predecessors in their views merely out of a desire for dissent. No one has the right to oppose them unless he reaches their level or surpasses it in knowledge, research, and insight, without rushing to opinions based on fleeting thoughts or momentary intellectual whims.

This is the discourse of the scholars. Meanwhile the imaginative approach and practical thinking, to attack the mistakes of the ancients, whether right or wrong, is not from knowledge or reason, nor is it from literature. It is not in accordance with the history of the nation for a contemporary writer to refer to the Imam, the exegete, the historian Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari as "the foolish historian"!

If you were to ask this great writer about the translation of Tabari; his life, knowledge, classification, and death, you would get nothing. Even if you asked him about the number of editions of his book "History of Nations and Kings" and the differences between these editions, he wouldn't answer you with anything! And people read this and remain silent! Despite the contempt of the past upon them, and the lightness of heritage in their balance, and say: "Glory be to my Lord!"

If anyone were to criticize some of our contemporary writers and thinkers, the earth would tremble beneath them, and you would hear a tremendous noise and uproar about our great symbols that should not be tarnished, and the beacons of enlightenment that should not be touched. But regarding the attack on the pioneers, the mockery of them, and the disrespect towards them, there is neither denial nor anger about it; because "there is no one to weep for Hamzah.":

Would it anger you if Qutaibah's ears were affronted,

Yet remained unmoved at Ibn Khazim's blood?


Read the Article in Arabic