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Feryal, Salem, The Emergence of Early Sufi Piety and Sunnī Scholasticism: Abdallāh b. ­al-Mubārak and the Formation of Sunnī Identity in the Second Islamic Century

Mohamed A. Moustafa
p. 381-384
Référence(s) :

Feryal, Salem, The Emergence of Early Sufi Piety and Sunnī Scholasticism: Abdallāh b. ­al-Mubārak and the Formation of Sunnī Identity in the Second Islamic Century, Leiden, Boston, Brill, 2016, 165 p.

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1Ibn Taymiyya lists ʿAbd Allāh b. al-Mubārak (d. 181/797), before big names like al-Šāfīʿī and al-Buḫārī, as an erudite source of the Prophet’s legacy (Minhāǧ al-sunna, 7: 427). Also, he cites him in Masʾala fī al-murābaa bi-l-uġūr (A Query on Stationing in the Front Lines), and mentions his work on zuhd in the course of his refutation of a ṣūfī pole, i.e., al-Šāḏilī. By these notes, I want to relate the domains in which Ibn al-Mubārak distinguished himself in the 2nd century Hiǧrī, and which the book under review is designed to address. I also want to imply that our field is enriched with regular studies that handle aspects of the intellectual authorities mentioned on Ibn ­Taymiyya’s list. Recent contributions include monographs by Jonathan Brown, Scott Lucas, Ahmed El Shamsy, and Suleiman Mourad, which the present book also engages in different places.

2Further to these scholarly contributions, Feryal Salem’s book provides important insights into Ibn al-Mubārak’s socio-historical ambience and his influence on subsequent traditional authorities, drawing heavily on primary sources. Salem documents in detail Ibn al-Mubārak’s biography (chapter 1), scholarly networks and pursuits (chapter 2), his literary and practical ǧihād career (chapter 3) as well as his zuhd in praxis and scholarship (chapter 4), following up with two bibliographies and two indexes. The gist of the book is that Ibn al-Mubārak’s well-off background, his extensive travel in pursuit of traditional Islamic knowledge, combined with his fighting on the front lines, give his ṣūfī piety a special dimension. Grounded in Islamic scripturalism, it departs from the world-renunciation trend of Christian monasticism, which was then prevalent in greater Syria. This might explain, I would say, Ibn Taymiyya’s admiration of him and of mystics with similar ethos from the formative period.

3The aǧǧ season, argues Salem, was crucial for the dissemination of traditional knowledge, such that “Mecca became a central meeting point that facilitated an exchange of ideas, knowledge, and adīs” (p. 45). Scholarly communication was likewise enabled by the travel in pursuit of adī (p. 67). Ibn al-Mubārak’s ǧihād tendencies could be contextualized, following the author’s argument, in the memory of the past ǧihād expeditions that had expanded Islamic territories, thus motivating pious Muslims in later times “to keep guard in what became known as the uġūr or the frontier lands” (p. 77). While discussing the sources, Salem puts Ibn al-Mubārak in conversation with multiple figures. In doing so, she seems to expect readers to be aware of the characters she discusses. Unless readers know, for instance, who “Abū Bakr” (p. 100) and many other undefined figures were, it could be hard for them to sort out the varying historical juxtapositions.

4Salem tells us early in her book how she would deal with the sources (p. 8). ­However, she warns repeatedly against potential inaccuracies in the historical reports she cites. She proceeds with textual inferences in support of her arguments, without attempting to explain any possible errors in the cited reports (see, for example, p. 14, 22, 31, 36, 51, 77, 86, 87, 102, 111, and 126). These unexplained caveats might strike some readers as inessential on the grounds that the author’s early decision is sufficient. Still, the argument that the accuracy of historical reports cannot be ascertained should have been accounted for. Avoiding the sceptical approach does not suffice to draw unquestionably on such reports. Sources could be read against each other to attain, through an examination of conflicting information, a measure of certitude. Contrastive reading would essentially exclude the conspiracy theory, meaning that the sheer volume of historical information contained in the classical sources cannot be the result of fabrication. The huge diversity and technicality of materials, especially those composed over short periods of time, make their invention an impossible scenario. Salem advances this argument in her section on “Ibn al-Mubārak and the adī Networks in the Second/Eighth Century” (p. 63 ff.). Alternatively, an even more rigorous and time-consuming approach would invoke the tools of adī criticism, so as to verify the genealogy and textuality of historical reports, with a view to judging their authenticity. In light of these observations, the author’s claim that “historians cannot determine the accuracy of all of these report” (p. 36) should have been reconsidered. Also, historical details could be inferred from lines of poetry, but they should be supported with primary and secondary sources (e.g., p. 89).

5The author maintains that Ibn al-Mubārak was one of the “major ḥadīth transmitters and essential figures in the network of Sunnī scholars” (p. 138). Also, the author contends that Ibn Maʿīn “linked Ibn al-Mubārak to the most prominent traditionists of the later period, including Muḥammad b. Ismāʿīl al-Buḫārī, Muslim b. al-Ḥaǧǧāǧ, and Abū Dāwūd al-Siǧistānī” (p. 140). However, despite the significance of Ibn al-Mubārak to the development of early Sunnī scholasticism and piety, the author does not engage his works on ǧihād and zuhd with relevant sections in the canonical adi collections. Such a discussion would have sharpened certain elements in chapters 3 and 4. Ibn al-Mubārak was an early transmitter of adī and, as Salem shows, his works are composed of adī materials. Therefore, contextualizing his books on ǧihād and zuhd as precedents to adī canons would have situated these two genera in their proper intellectual history. Such analytical categories as “pre-canonized”, “canonized”, and “post-canonized” would have further developed the presentation. Also, this discussion would have put in a sharper focus the development of essential tropes and terminology, which Salem partially addresses with reference to the subsequent works of al-Qušayrī and al-Ġazālī in chapter 4, and those of other authors in chapter 3.

6Finally, there are some technical notes that might be considered in a future expanded edition of the book. I will indicate them as they first appear in the book. Other occurrences could be found elsewhere in the text, the bibliography, and the indeces. Sometimes, the Arabic definite article “al-” is not used where it should be, and vice versa. For example, firqa al-nāǧiya (p. 3, n. 4), Sirāǧ al-munīr (p. 9, n. 20), ­abaqāt ­al-kubrā (p. 38; rightly used on p. 58, n. 108, and p. 76, n. 2), Ǧāmiʿ al-aġīr (p. 50), Muʿǧam ­al-aġīr (p. 79, n. 11), Tārī al-kabīr (p. 52), and “ʿubbād al-mutaqaššifīn” (p. 131) should have the article “al-” in the first word each. Conversely, al-Risālat al-mustaršidīn (p. 33) and al-tārī Ibn Maʿīn (p. 59, n. 119) should not have the article “al-” in the first word of each. There is no consistency in using “[…] b. Abī” rather than “[…] b. Abū” in the genitive case (p. 52 and p. 60). “Kātib” (p. 62) should be preceded by a comma followed by “the”, for it refers to Ibn Saʿd’s sobriquet as “the scribe/kātib” of al-Wāqidī. Ibn Ḥaǧar al-ʿAsqalānī’s Tahīb al-tahīb does not have “fī asmāʾ al-riǧāl” in the title (p. 9, n. 21). Al-Ḏahabī does not have a book entitled Tahīb al-tahīb al-kamāl fī asmāʾ al-riǧāl (p. 145); his right title reads Tahīb tahīb al-kamāl fī asmāʾ al-riǧāl. Taqdimat al-maʿrifa constitutes the first volume of Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s al-Ǧar wa-l-taʿdīl (p. 11, n. 27), to which references should be made. “[A]l-Risālat al-mustarifa” (p. 50, n. 63) is “al-Risāla al-mustarafa”. In the full title (p. 39, n. 8, and p. 148), “” should be replaced with “li-bayān”. “Al-Šarastānī” (sic) is typed correctly in (p. 29, n. 81). The same is true for “al-Munawī” (p. 16) and “al-Kattanī” (p. 49). “[A] Murǧiʾa” (p. 32) should be “Murǧiʿ” or “one of the Murǧiʿa”.“[A]l-ǧinān” (p. 9, n. 20) is “al-ǧanān”, “al-asan” (p. 23, n. 73) is “al-isān”, “Daʿāma” (p. 46) is “Diʿāma”, “Lahiʿa” (p.) is “Lahīʿa” (p. 59), “yaiǧ” (p. 83) is “yauǧǧ”, “ʿAliyya” (p. 85) is “ʿUlayya”, “al-ʿUqd” is “al-ʿIqd” (p. 88), “al-Buldan” (p. 90, n. 34) is “al-Buldān”, “Ibn Itāhiyya” (p. 89) is “Abū al-ʿAtāhiya”, “Ġayat” (p. 91) is “Ġāyat”, “al-Maīa” (p. 94) is “al-Maṣṣīa”, “Ǧaḥāda” (p. 98) is “Ǧuḥāda”, “al-Banānī” (p. 101) is “al-Bunānī”, “li-akrim ʿarī” (p. 112) is “li-ukrima ʿirī”, “ʿUbayda” (p. 125) is “Abu ʿUbayda”, “al-Maʿāfī” (p. 132, n. 73) is “al-Muʿāfā”. The Arabic lines of poetry need to be revised for typographic precision (pp. 86‒87).

7Finally, despite these marginal notes, the book presents a welcome contribution to the field of classical Islamic studies, especially when read in light of the growing scholarly output on formative figures of Islamic piety and scholasticism.

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Mohamed A. Moustafa, « Feryal, Salem, The Emergence of Early Sufi Piety and Sunnī Scholasticism: Abdallāh b. ­al-Mubārak and the Formation of Sunnī Identity in the Second Islamic Century »MIDÉO, 34 | 2019, 381-384.

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Mohamed A. Moustafa, « Feryal, Salem, The Emergence of Early Sufi Piety and Sunnī Scholasticism: Abdallāh b. ­al-Mubārak and the Formation of Sunnī Identity in the Second Islamic Century »MIDÉO [En ligne], 34 | 2019, mis en ligne le 10 juin 2019, consulté le 28 novembre 2023. URL :

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