Correcting Tahar Benjelloun
Mr Rachid Laanani
I am writing this essay in English albeit Tahar Benjelloun wrote his article in French, in that nobody sound of mind would doubt the loftiness of English over French; a book is penned in French, but read on the spot in English! Furthermore, a minority in the world reads French, whereas English is the tongue of the great majority. I am not here boasting; I am just stating a fact, for English after all is neither my language nor his. This article is an attempt to lay bare the misconceptions of Benjelloun and hang them out all too clearly as laundry in the sun.
Benjelloun’s article was run on a blog named fr.le360.ma on Sept 26th, 2016 at noon.1 He titled the article: “IBN TAYMIYYA, L’ANCÊTRE DE DAECH”. That is, “Ibn Taymiya is the ancestor of Daesh” or rather “Daesh are the descendents of Ibn Taymiya”. “The occasion is his critique of the head of the government Abdelilah Benkiran, having quoted Ibn Tyamia in one of his intermittent speeches. As Benjelloun sees it, Benkirane should not have cited Ibn Taymia at all, in that the latter had a thirst for violence (soif de violence), has been the father of Jihadist thinking and owned hazardous ideas. Instead, he had better make reference to the wise and to the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment who stood for the principle of making the state and the religion wide apart. It is thus giving free reign to liberalism, secular thinking, individual liberty and religious tolerance as well as scientific advancement far away from the fetters of the church. The unsaid, therefore, is that Ibn Taymia was out of the circle of the sagacious; he was acting randomly, fiercely and dangerously enough as to be ravingly feared.
Politicians have to abstain from doing such things, Benjelloun declared, and have to leave Islam in peace as a religion, a culture and a source of morals. He concluded that Morocco is in need of clarity, intelligence and modernity; It is not by quoting Ibn Taymia that we will make of Morocco a real democratic country open on the world! Alas, Benjelloun projected his resentment of Benkirane, whom I don’t and will not defend, onto the ocean of knowledge, Ibn Taymia, that has flowed through the tongues of most scholars from his era on.
First off, If we are to criticise a great person we ought to be of his caliber, oughtn’t we?! A dwarfish lilliputian creature like me, for instance, can not in any way face a mountain of knowledge and a fountain of scholarship like Ibn Taymia may Allah bless his soul.
It’s chiefly bias that makes one madly and avidly call someone names. Ignoring the real worth of honourable people makes one resent them without a logical reason. Personally, I feel so dwarfish before those high summits of knowledge and piety; how can a dwarf like me dare face a giant?!
Ibn Taymia was born in a family of scholars par excellence; his father, his grandfather, his brothers and sisters were all notable scholars. His life was replete with worship, patience in the face of oppression, dethroning peers, winning debates and learning as well as teaching. He may dictate for a scribe a booklet in answer to one simple question! After the dawn prayer, as his student Ibn Alqayyim the great scholar stated, he keeps remembering his Creator, sitting in his place towards the qibla from dawn until 10 or 11 A.M. Who is able to withstand such a hard moment: one single sitting for hours?! Still, the joy he felt in that worship made him forget all weariness and tiredness.
How can such a man be the ancestor of Daesh as Benjelloun feigned? Is it tolerable to attribute unjustified allegations whenever we wish so?! Haven’t we consciously or unconsciously transgressed people’s rights? Any Tom, Dick and Harry hangs whatever he pretends on a hook dubbed Daesh. Who is called Daesh himself does not know what it means, and who coined it for what purpose! A bearded man is from Daesh and a scholar who sticks to the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition is surely a proponent of Daesh. A woman who wears a veil or covers her face is from Daesh. Even a sort of firecrackers for sale in the markets is named Daesh! Is it just to think so? A man as such is on very good terms with the Creator and so should he be with all creatures.
Fierce though it may be, the blade of such an attack is blunt as defenders over time have been numerous. Attacking exemplary figures, on whose shoes people step, is akin to waging a war on a whole community and routing it. Still, the arrows of injustice and unfairness are easily noticeable and breakable as long as the sword of rightness is unremittingly sharp.
No wonder, Ibn Taymiya is a descendent of scholars and obviously the progenitor of scholars and not of Daesh! A scholar conversant with syntax, grammar, philosophy, prophetic tradition, jurisprudence, myriads of Quran-related sciences and a multiplicity of other things certainly outranks and outsmarts men of letters whose commodity is but narration and fiction.
“He was known for his physiognomy, sharp memory and wittedness which amazed the people of Damascus. Ibn Taymiyyah wrote a large number of books; he wrote more than three hundred books. He had a vast knowledge and wrote many classificatory books and literary works. He used to write up to four notebooks a day”.2 Furthermore, he was so brave that he was not disheartened or dispirited in the face of the foe; “he used to be in the front line, encouraging the warriors and arousing their determination and enthusiasm.”3
When he was captive, he said “If I gave as much gold as that which would fill this citadel, I wouldn’t have been grateful enough for this grace of being imprisoned.”4 The sempiternal jewels Ibn Taymiya iterated which Benjelloun loathed when used by Benkirane are as follows “What can my enemies do to me? My paradise and my garden are in my heart. They are with me wherever I go and they never leave me. If I am imprisoned, then it is seclusion for worship. If I am killed, then it is martyrdom. If they expel me from the land, then it is tourism.” Source: al-Wābil al-Ṣayyib 1/48 5
Ultimately, Ibn Taymiya and his likes are bright suns in our universe chasing gloominess and bigotry wherever they tread. Nobody morally sane would poke fun at him or do him injustice. The positive, fruitful and abundant knowledge he left behind is actually expertly inexpressible and more indelible than a marker pen.