Scholar of renown: Saifuddeen Ali Al-Aamidi
Edited by Adil Salahi, Arab News Staff
The scholar is best known as Saifuddeen Ali Al-Aamidi. The first of these names is a title in the long established tradition of honoring scholars with a title expressing their commitment and service to the faith of Islam. His title, Saifuddeen, means literally, “the sword of the faith.” Al-Aamidi was born in 551 AH, corresponding to AD 1157, and his last name defines his home town, Aamid, which is in the north of the area known as Al-Jazeerah, or “the Island”, in northern Iraq and Syria. This area is so called because of its plentiful waters as it is surrounded by the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers. Al-Khabour, another major river, also runs through it.
His early education saw him learning Arabic and Fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, following the Hanbali school of law. This was carried out in his hometown. But pursuing further education required him to travel to Baghdad, the capital of the Islamic state. At the time, Baghdad and the central authority of the Islamic state was in a state of decline and terrible weakness. Yet it retained much of its scholarly leading position. In Baghdad, he learned the different methods of reciting the Qur’an and diversified his study in the Hanbali school of law, but he added the study of Hadith under Ibn Shateel, one of the leading Hadith scholars in Baghdad. Furthermore, he began his studies of debate, and this he read under his Hanbali teacher, Ibn Al-Manni.
However, the most significant development in his pursuit of studies was his new link with Ibn Fadhlan, the leading scholar of the Shafie school of law in Baghdad. Ibn Fadhlan was not only a great Shafie scholar, but he also was master of debate, highly learned in Fiqh methodology, theology and logic. Needless to say, he had a great influence on Al-Aamidi, who changed his school of law so as to follow the Shafie school, and excelled in theology and logic. Indeed, he was best known for his excellence in these latter disciplines.
But this pursuit was not without personal trouble for Al-Aamidi. First, he sought to diversify his logic sources, and started a dialogue with a Christian scholar of philosophy, making several visits to his church. This did not go down well with some Muslim scholars who accused him of harboring un-Islamic beliefs. This led to his departure from Baghdad, traveling to Damascus, where he intended to settle. In that period Damascus was ruled by Salahuddeen Al-Ayoubi.
In 592, Al-Aamidi traveled to Egypt where he lived for nearly 20 years, leading a life full of scholarly activity. He taught at the Nassiriyah school, established by Salahuddeen, and then began his circle in Al-Thafir Mosque, situated in Al-Ghouriyah in Cairo. He wrote extensively on theology, Fiqh methodology and other subjects. He had numerous students attending his circle.
This success earned him wide fame, but also much jealousy. Some upstart students accused him of having un-Islamic beliefs, and wrote a letter which they addressed to the Sultan, stating their accusation and making it clear that he should be sentenced to death. They circulated the document to other scholars for signature, but a learned scholar, instead of signing it, wrote the following words: “They have envied the man because they could not compete with him. Hence, they have lined against him in hostility.” Thus, this scholar was able to foil the plot against Al-Aamidi. Nevertheless, Al-Aamidi felt that it would be safer for him to leave Egypt and he traveled to Syria, heading to Hama in the north.
In Hama, he was well received by the local emir, Al-Mansoor, who was known for his great interest in scholarship and favored the company of scholars. Al-Mansoor received Al-Aamidi well and gave him a high position, but after his death in 617, Al-Aamidi decided to go back to Damascus, where the governor was also keen on scholarship. Although he followed a line different from that followed by Al-Aamidi, he received him well and assigned him to run Al-Aziziyah school, which he continued to do for more than 10 years. This was the period when Al-Aamidi was at the top of his scholarly career. Under him studied many students who were to acquire great reputation for their scholarship and high standing. Perhaps the most famous among these was Al-Izz Ibn Abdussalam, who had great influence on Islamic scholarship and also in the political field. In fact, Al-Izz was instrumental in turning the tide against the Tartars who had destroyed Baghdad. It was due to Al-Izz’s influence that they suffered their first major defeat by the Muslims.
Al-Aamidi lived a life of highly diverse intellectual activity, which brought him several personal crises and unwarranted accusations. However, great scholars came to his defense, acknowledging his great standing and sound judgment. Al-Izz ibn Abdussalam says: “Should an unbeliever raise doubts about Islam and its beliefs, Al-Aamidi would be the best scholar to refute his arguments, for he is the best qualified for such a purpose.” Ibn Taimiyah says about him: “In his time Al-Aamidi was the highest authority on theology and philosophy. Yet he was among the best of such scholars with regard to his strength and purity of faith and commitment to Islam.” Historians describe him as one of the “most intelligent persons in history”, and they say that he was very simple in his life, compassionate and very polite. They also comment on his strong faith.
Al-Aamidi wrote many works, but all of his books have a distinct rational and philosophical approach. They tackle the fields of Fiqh methodology, theology and philosophy. His most important book in the first of these disciplines is known as Al-Ihkam fi Usool Al-Ahkam, which was recently published with scholarly editing in Saudi Arabia. His best works on theology has the title Abkar Al-Afkar fi Usool Al-Deen, which is being edited for publication in Egypt. It is one of the main theology works written by Sunni scholars, outlining the Sunni approach to this discipline which was target of much controversy.
Another book by Al-Aamidi on theology is called Al-Mubeen fi Sharh Maani Alfath Al-Hukamaa wal-Mutakallimeen, which is a specialized dictionary with 223 entries of terms used in theology, logic and philosophy. Al-Aamidi first lists all his terms, and then he explains them one by one in a precise, accurate and comprehensive way that is midway between being too expansive or too short. The book was published in Cairo in 1993. Al-Aamidi died in Damascus in 631. May God bless his soul.