Imam Izz ibn Abd al-Salam_accounting the rulers

HEROES OF ISLAM: Sultan al-`Ulama’

al-`Izz Ibn `Abd al-Salam_Jurist and Politician 

Basic Points:

  • One of the greatest Shafi`ite scholars of this umma.
  • Spent most of his life fighting theological bid`a in his time.
  • Accounted the rulers wherever he was.
  • Was under house arrest and exiled.


  • Contemporary relevance to any da`wa carrier:
  1. To never compromise on the Haqq (‘truth’).
  2. To openly speak out against oppression and injustice.
  3. To account the rulers and their bad policies of peace with the enemies.
  4. To attack the new bid`a in concepts and thoughts inserted in this blessed din.
  5. Sacrifice and reliance upon Allah.


  1. Basic Outline:
  • Abu Muhammad `Izz al-Din `Abd al-`Aziz b. `Abd al-Salam b. Abi ’l-Qasim b. al-Hasan b. Muhammad b. al-Muhadhdhab al-Sulami, al-Dimashqi al-Shafi`i al-Ash`ari.[1]
  • Tribe: Banu Sulaym.[2] – Native of:Damascus.
  • Known shorthand as: al-`Izz Ibn `Abd al-Salam.[3]
  • His titles (laqab): sultan al-`ulama’ (‘the sultan of the religious scholars’) and shaykh al-Islam.[4]
  • He mastered all the religious sciences of his day especially the science of usul (‘Islamic jurisprudence’), fiqh (‘positive law’) and the Arabic language reaching the rank of mujtahid.[5]
  • He was a known adherent and practitioner of a moderate tasawwuf (‘Sufism’)[6] and is attributed with carrying out miraculous feats such supplicating to Allah to turn the strong winds and stormy Nile against the Crusaders which finally defeated them.[7]
  • His teachers included:


Ibn `Asakir


Sayf al-Din al-Amidi


Jamal al-Din Ibn al-Harastani


Al-`Izz Ibn `Abd al-Salam


Al-Dimyati, Ibn Daqiq al-`Id,

al-Yunini, Abu Shama…[8]

  •  Character: pious, devoted, spiritual and humble but also outspoken, fearless and courageous.
  • The latter three aspects of his character are always overlooked but they hold immense significance especially for anyone engaged in the work of da`wa.
  • Some aspects of his life that are extremely useful and exemplary are:
  • Example 1: political stance against the ruler:
  • Al-Salih Isma`il, ruler of Damascus.[9]
  • In 635 the beginning of al-Salih  Isma’il’s rule, petty differences and disunity existed between him and his nephew Najm al-din who ruled Egypt.[10]
  • Najm al-Din sought to re-annex Damascus with Egypt and advanced to do that.[11]
  • Fearing the advance, al-Salih Isma`il entered into alliances with the Crusaders (‘Franks’ [al-afranj]) who were occupying some of the coastal towns of Syria and ceded its areas of Shaqif,[12] Safad,[13] Tyre,[14] Tiberias[15] and the coastal provinces to them. > All strategic and religious areas.[16]
  • al-Salih Isma`il also allowed the Crusaders to purchase arms in Damascus.[17]
  • al-`Izz Ibn `Abd al-Salam was incensed and responded in two ways: [1.] he issued a fatwa forbidding the selling of arms to Crusader enemies[18] and [2.] openly exposed the policy of the ruler even dropping his name from the Friday khutba.[19]
  • Today: [1.] We see governments making policies everyday that assist the enemies of Islam and our scholars remain silent. Aiding, supporting and making treaties with America, Britain and Israel in allowing them to hold strategic positions in Muslim lands, to supply weapons against Muslims and to use Muslim resources against Muslims. None of our senior scholars even dare to issue fatwas against blatant violations of Allah’s laws and the interest of the Muslims. [2.] We see none of our scholars remove the name of the ruler or king from the du`as and sermons nor openly criticise them by alerting the Muslim congregation to their detrimental policies. Thus there is no leadership from our imams/scholars that is effective and critical. [3.] Domestically, the religious scholars here although have the interest of their communities at heart, are either politically naive or political tools. They help, legitimate and call for the government policies of incorrect integration and moderate/liberal forms of Islam. Thus, they are in effect arms of the government agenda.
  • Example 2: exposing the corruption of the ruler:
  • The Islamic lands in the past also had vices and areas of depravity.
  • Often scholars would stay silent and not speak out against the prevalent vice in society.
  • The sense of duty to expose and challenge evil and bad deeds drove al-`Izz Ibn `Abd al-Salam to the very court of the sultan at the time and openly expose him.
  • The style was offensive and stern and offered no pardon or ease.
  • Imam Taqi al-Din al-Subki recounts the event from his Shaykh as follows:

“I heard the shaykh and Imam (Allah have mercy on him) say, I heard our shaykh al-Baji say, our shaykh `Izz al-Din went to the Sultan in al-Qal`a one time on Eid day and saw the army in full array before the court (majlis) of the ruler who does not make an entrance before his people except in splendour as was the custom in Egypt and the officials would begin kissing the floor before the Sultan. The Shaykh [al `Izz Ibn `Abd al-Salam] turned to the Sultan and called out to him saying, ‘O Ayyub! What is your argument before Allah when he asks you, ‘Did I not give you the land of Egypt and yet you permitted alcohol?’’ [The Sultan] asked, ‘is this the case?’ [al `Izz Ibn `Abd al-Salam] replied, ‘indeed, wine is sold in such and such tavern’ – mentioning other evil acts (munkarat) too – ‘while you bask in the luxury of this kingdom!’ He was shouting at the top of his voice in front of the army. [The Sultan] said, ‘my master, I am not the one who did this. It s from the time of my father. [al `Izz Ibn `Abd al-Salam] retorted, ‘what, are of those who say (Lo! We found our fathers following this and we are guided by their footprints)?’[20] The Sultan ordered the tavern be closed.

I heard the Shaykh and Imam say that I heard al-Baji say, I later asked [al `Izz Ibn `Abd al-Salam] when he had returned from the Sultan and had publically done this good, ‘my master how are you?’ he replied, ‘my son, I saw [the Sultan] in that grand state and wanted to humiliate him in case he puffed himself up with pride.’ I then asked him, ‘my master did you fear him?’ He replied, ‘my son, I swear by Allah, when I recalled Allah’s majesty in my heart, the Sultan became like a kitten in front of me!’…”[21]

سمعت الشيخ الإمام رحمه الله يقول سمعت شيخنا الباجي يقول طلع شيخنا عز الدين مرة إلى السلطان في يوم عيد إلى القلعة فشاهد العساكر مصطفين بين يديه ومجلس المملكة وما السلطان فيه يوم العيد من الأبهة وقد خرج على قومه في زينته على عادة سلاطين الديار المصرية وأخذت الأمراء تقبل الأرض بين يدي السلطان فالتفت الشيخ إلى السلطان وناداه يا أيوب ما حجتك عند الله إذا قال لك ألم أبوئ لك ملك مصر ثم تبيح الخمور فقال هل جرى هذا فقال نعم الحانة الفلانية يباع فيها الخمور وغيرها من المنكرات وأنت تتقلب في نعمة هذه المملكة يناديه كذلك بأعلى صوته والعساكر واقفون فقال يا سيدي هذا أنا ما عملته هذا من زمان أبي فقال أنت من الذين يقولون ) إنا وجدنا آباءنا على أمة ( فرسم السلطان بإبطال تلك الحانة.

سمعت الشيخ الإمام يقول سمعت الباجي يقول سألت الشيخ لما جاء من عند السلطان وقد شاع هذا الخبر يا سيدي كيف الحال فقال يا بني رأيته في تلك العظمة فأردت أن أهينه لئلا تكبر نفسه فتؤذيه فقلت يا سيدي أما خفته فقال والله يا بني استحضرت هيبة الله تعالى فصار السلطان قدامي كالقط

  • This is a wonderful example of a true scholar standing up to corruption and depravity!
  • Today: [1.] We see Muslim governments in all different guises allowing for or permitting unlawful modes of behaviour and conduct into Muslim societies and introducing cultural patterns from the West that are passing unnoticed – deliberately – by our scholars. Indeed, some Muslim governments even force or pressurise scholars to issue fatwas that agree with their agenda. [2.] Our scholars turn a blind eye to corruption and depravity in society calling for purification of the heart first and thereafter engaging with social problems without urging political activism and intellectual struggle against the evil (munkar) that goes on.
  • Example 3: Combating bid`a (‘unlawful innovation in the Religion’) and incorrect ideas of his time:
  • In every age of Islamic history, there has always been interaction of ideas and thoughts.
  • New traditions and cultures bring with them their own viewpoints and beliefs. > this gives rise to the possibility of different and un-Islamic thoughts and ideas to be mixed up with Islam.
  • Now, more than ever before, there is an open and direct attack on Islamic beliefs, values, laws, ideas and traditions. This attack is intellectual and political.
  • In the past, intellectual challenges of the day were always refuted (e.g. Imam Ghazzali and Greek philosophy, etc.).
  • [1.] Thus the reality in the West also cannot be ignored. There are some of our scholars who are all too affected by non-Muslim governments and their pressures and attempt to justify (Islamically) official policies and ideas, e.g. incorrect forms of integration, full political participation (e.g. voting for Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem…), unclear adoption of British identity/values, etc. [2.] some of our scholars do not attempt to expose or critique the bid`a in political and philosophical ideas but rather endorse them, e.g. that some try and claim there is no Caliphate, no political aspect to Islam, democracy is Islamic, secularism is correct, etc.
  • Some beautiful quotes from  al-Imam al-`Izz Ibn `Abd al-Salam:

1. “Allah has ordered us to engage in jihad to give victory to His religion. The [difference being that] the scholar’s weapon is his knowledge and tongue just like the ruler’s weapon is his sword and spears. So, just as rulers are not permitted to put down their weapons in the face of atheists and polytheists scholars are not permitted to still their tongues in the face of heretics and innovators.”[22]

ولكن قد أمرنا الله بالجهاد في نصرة دينه إلا أن سلاح العالم علمه ولسانه كما أن سلاح الملك سيفه وسنانه فكما لا يجوز للملوك إغماد أسلحتهم عن الملحدين والمشركين لا يجوز للعلماء إغماد ألسنتهم عن الزائغين والمبتدعين


2. “…every religious scholar must, when he sees the Truth brought low and what is Right undermined, muster all the strength he has in order to assist the Truth and what is Right. He must consider himself more deserving of humiliation and incapacitation than [Truth and Right]. If he raises the Truth and makes manifest what is Right, he may seek their shade and content himself with whatever [gains] may come from elsewhere.”[23]

وعلى الجملة ينبغي لكل عالم إذا أذل الحق وأخمل الصواب أن يبذل جهده في نصرهما وأن يجعل نفسه بالذل والخمول أولى منهما وإن عز الحق فظهر الصواب أن يستظل بظلهما وأن يكتفي باليسير من رشاش غيرهما

  • These quotes indicate:
  1. Jihad through the sword, pen, tongue and wealth.
  2. Scholars must not acquiesce to pressure and force but stand firm on the Truth.
  3. Atheism, polytheism, heresy and bid`a must be fought by those who have the knowledge to refute it.
  4. Scholars must be committed to upholding the Haqq/Truth and what is right. > even if this means scholars are humiliated in its cause.
  5. Truth must be raised high and be victorious.

Additional points: 

  • The da`wa carrier must realise that:

Islam is under attack on all levels – popular (e.g. TV, films, news, documentaries, print press, etc.) and academic and that our ulema have to address these levels of attack. Thus, she should remind the scholar of his duty.

 Islam has had a history of scholars who have engaged with the political ruling class and so the urgency of speaking out politically against corruption, evil, vice and bid`a were an established part of the work of our noble scholars of the past. So, she should remind our scholars today of maintaining this duty and work like the scholars of the past.

The most serious casualty could be Truth. It can never be acceptable to make Truth the casualty – it is too important and is above everyone. Our scholars have to be reminded that there can be no compromise with the Truth.


peace and blessings upon our Prophet,

his family

his companions

and all who follow them until the Last Day.


[1] S. R. Ali, Sultan al-`Ulama’ Al-Izz ibn Abdussalam, p.10.

[2] Ibid, pp.10-11.

[3] Ibid, p.10.

[4] G. F. Haddad, The Belief of the People of Truth, p.3.

[5] Ali, Sultan al-`Ulama’ Al-Izz ibn Abdussalam, pp.29-74. A mujtahid is someone who is able to understand and directly extract a rule or law from the Qur’an and Hadith.

[6] Haddad, The Belief of the People of Truth, pp.9-14.

[7] Ali, Sultan al-`Ulama’ Al-Izz ibn Abdussalam, pp.77-80.

[8] All masters of the Islamic sciences in their own right.

[10] Ali, Sultan al-`Ulama’ Al-Izz ibn Abdussalam, p.125.

[11] Ibid, p.125.

[16] Ali, Sultan al-`Ulama’ Al-Izz ibn Abdussalam, p.125.

[17] Ibid, p.126.

[18] See al-Yunini, Dhayl Mir’at al-Zaman, 2:173 and al-Maqrizi, al-Suluk fi Ma`rifat Duwal al-Muluk, 1:303.

[19] See al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyyat al-Kubra, 5:100:

“I say, al-Shaykh `Izz al-Din remained inDamascusa few days where [the ruler] al-Salih Isma`il known as Abu ’l-Khayth who allied and sought help with the Franks and ceded to them the cities of Sayd, Qal`a and al-Shaqif. al-Shaykh `Izz al-Din rejected this and omitted the praise and supplication for [the ruler] in the Friday sermons. He was supported by the shaykh Abu `Amr ibn al-Hajib al-Maliki. The Sultan was angry with both of them and exiled them to a prison within the fort of Damascus around 639…”

قلت واستمر الشيخ عز الدين بدمشق إلى أثناء أيام الصالح إسماعيل المعروف بأبي الخيش فاستعان أبو الخيش بالفرنج وأعطاهم مدينة صيدا وقلعة الشقيف فأنكر عليه الشخ عز الدين وترك الدعاء له في الخطبة وساعده في ذلك الشيخ أبو عمرو ابن الحاجب المالكي فغضب السلطان منهما فخرجا إلى الديار المصرية في حدود سنة تسع وثلاثين وستمائة

[20] See Q. 43:22.

[21] al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyyat al-Kubra, 8:211-212.

[22] Al-Mulha fi I`tiqad Ahl al-Sunna of Ibn `Abd al-Salam as fully cited in al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyyat al-Kubra, 8:228.

[23] Ibid, p.228.


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