The Sultan of Scholars: Al-lzz ibn Abdus-Salam

Pioneers of Islamic History
Al-Izz did not keep his learning for himself, since he actively participated in the scholarly activities of his time.

Al-lzz Ibn Abdus-Salam is a shining name in the list of the great scholars of Islam.

Many attributes had propelled him to the prominent place he occupies in that glorious list.

Characters like the profoundness of his knowledge of the Shari'ah; his obsession with the issues and problems of the nation at that time; but the most important characteristic that gained him the reputation he has, was his exemplary and notable valor and candor in facing up to the perversion and corruption of the rulers of the Muslim world at that time. He was not intimidated by the power of those rulers, nor lured or cowed by the many compelling temptations they possessed.

Confrontations with those authorities over matters related either to religious or worldly affairs were abound, but most outstanding were his skirmishes with the Ayubite regime in Egypt. Specifically his confrontations with Najmuddin Ayub who was known for his austere and awesome personality, despite the fact he was very decent and bashful. It is reported that even his princes would not dare talking to him (out of awe) unless he asked them to do so.

Who was Al-Izz Ibn Abdus-Salam who dared to confront a fearful and powerful king of his time?

Birth and Education

Al-Izz was born in Damascus in the year 577 or 578 A.H. to a poor and obscure family.

As a young man, he used to live in a place provided for poor students next to the Damascus Mosque. Because of his diligence and intelligence, he reports:

"I never needed to finish my study with a teacher. For as soon as I got to the middle of my study, my teacher would say to me, 'You have digested the subject, hence, you have no need for me, and you can depend on yourself to finish it.'

But I would not leave my teachers until I completed studying the specified course of study in that field."

Because his thirst for learning and knowledge couldn't be quenched by the education he got from the Damascus scholars, he traveled to Baghdad in 597 (at the age of twenty) to learn from its scholars. We are told that even at the age of sixty, when Al-Izz had already become a very well known scholar in his own right, he would not hesitate to attend sessions conducted by some reputable Egyptian scholars in Cairo.

Teaching and Courage

Upon his release in 639 A.H., Al-Izz Ibn Abdus- Salam moved to Egypt where he was warmly welcomed by its King Najmuddin Ayub.

Naturally, Al-Izz did not keep his learning for himself, since he actively participated in the scholarly activities of his time. He taught at Damascus schools as well as in Cairo, where he spent the last twenty years of his life in teaching and writing.

At Damascus, he was involved in the prestigious activity of giving religious consultation and views, sometimes in contradiction and defiance to officially supported ones.

An example of this was his view on the Quran, which contradicted that of the Sultan in Damascus, Al-Ashraf Musa ibn Al-Adel. This caused the Sultan to issue decrees that Al-Izz stop giving religious rulings and verdicts and be confined to his house. The response of Al-Izz to the minister who conveyed the decree to him were expressions of gratitude to the Sultan for relieving him of that difficult task and for giving him the opportunity to be free to himself in order to concentrate more on his studies and devotions.

Al-Izz also delivered sermons in the principal mosques in both Syria and Egypt. It was in the mosque of Damascus that he denounced the Sultan's alliance and confederation with the enemies of the faithful against his own brother. In addition, in Damascus Al-Izz defied the authorities by issuing a religious ruling that people should not sell arms to the crusaders, who were allies to Sultan Al-Saleh Ismail, an action that aroused the wrath of the Sultan against Al-Izz who was then imprisoned.

From Syria to Egypt

Upon his release in 639 A.H., Al-Izz ibn Abdus-Salam moved to Egypt where he was warmly welcomed by its King Najmuddin Ayub, and was appointed Judge, then Chief Judge and preacher in the central mosque in Egypt. It was in his post as Chief Judge in Egypt that Al-Izz Ibn Abdus-Salam defied the ruling authorities in the most daring acts of his life. The first act was the public sale of the ruling Mamleek princes.

History tells us that upon his appointment as Chief Judge, he noticed that the Mamaleek princes (who were originally purchased by Sultan Najmuddin Ayoub with money from the public treasury) acted like free men in transactions not permitted by the law for men of their status as bondsmen. Al-Izz would not validate those transactions. When they talked to him, he pointed out that they should be sold and that their price be returned to the Public Treasury, and then they could be officially freed. It was only then that their transactions would be valid. Naturally, those princes and army commanders were enraged by the idea. When the Sultan heard of this encounter he remarked that was none of the business of the chief Judge.

Al-Izz resigned the post and started to leave the country. However, thousands of people from all spheres of the Egyptian society followed him in a huge march, which forced the Sultan to apologize to him and to ask him to return to his post. Al-Izz agreed to return to his job provided that the religious ruling regarding the princes be implemented, a provision that the Sultan accepted.

However, the Mamaleek princes were infuriated and attempted to assassinate Al-Izz Ibn Abdus-Salam, but by the grace of God, their leader was awestruck when he raised the sword to strike Al-Izz. He was mesmerized upon seeing the defenseless old man courageously facing him, and the sword dropped from his hand. The assistant leader wept and asked for forgiveness, and the auction took place (a unique auction in history where ruling Mamaleek princes were sold in public).

Those glorious achievements of Al-Izz should always be remembered by us, for we live in a time riddled with problems similar to those experienced by Al-Izz. We are in a dire need for scholars with the same level of knowledge, courage and desire to move the teachings of Islam from the convenience of theory to the toils and trials of practice, and to seek nothing but the pleasure of God.
Source: Islamic Awakening - http://www.islamicawakening.com
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