Niall Christie and Abdalrahman Aboelmajd on Paradise and Hell in the Kitāb al-Jihād of ʿAlī b. Ṭāhir al-Sulamī (d. 500/1106).
We have a fresh opportunity to reflect on Paradise and Hell in the Kitāb al-Jihād of ʿAlī b. Ṭāhir al-Sulamī (d. 500/1106).
At this point Niall Christie, who who translated it into english, isn’t going to speak about his views on the paradise in the Kitāb al-Jihād only, but he also speaks about hell too.
He's an Instructor in History at Langara College in Vancouver, Canada. He's also the Assistant Editor of the journal Folklore.
His research focuses on interactions between the Middle East and Europe in the Middle Ages, including the preaching of the Muslim jihad against the crusaders, Middle Eastern images of mediaeval Europe, women and the crusades, and reception of religious imagery in modern popular culture.
The Book of the Jihad of 'Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami (d. 1106): Text, Translation and Commentary.
Muslims and Crusaders: Christianity's Wars in the Middle East, 1095-1382, from the Islamic Sources.
Q: First of all, I know you are a specialist in history. I wonder what made you focus on the Kitāb al-Jihād?
NC: I first came across al-Sulamī’s work when I was conducting my PhD research on eastern responses to the early crusades (11th-12th centuries). At the time only a small part of the manuscript had been edited and translated, and it struck me that it was immensely important that the whole work be made available to scholars for study. After I finished my PhD, I began working on this, and the book that I published last year was the eventual result.
Q: Could you elaborate on the Kitāb al-Jihād, please?
NC: This is a treatise on jihād that aims to call the Muslims to fight in the holy war against the crusaders. Al-Sulamī publicly composed his work in the mosque of Bayt Lihyā, in the Ghūṭa around Damascus, over the course of the year 1105, and as such it represents the earliest example we have of preaching of this type in the crusading period. Unfortunately, we only have four parts of the manuscript (Parts 2, 8, 9 and 12), and it is the only copy of the manuscript that exists, so much of what al-Sulamī had to tell us has been lost.
It seems likely that al-Sulamī’s efforts were mostly ignored by the political authorities of the time, who were by then already finding it more expedient to form alliances with the crusaders against other Muslims, other crusaders, or even both. However, ideas similar to his are also apparent in the works of later writers, so it is also likely that his work had an influence in the development of later jihād preaching.
Q : No doubt you examine the ḥadīth. I'd like to know how to find the paradise in the ḥadīth.
NC: Much of al-Sulamī’s text consists of quotations of ḥadīth, including some that discuss paradise. Most of these are drawn from the works of other scholars, such as Ibn al-Mubārak (d. 797), al-Bukhārī (d. 870), and Ibn al-Athīr (d. 1233). In general, he presents the same sort of views about paradise as the earlier authors do in their own collections of ḥadīth. With his Kitāb al-Jihād he was not trying to present an original perspective; if anything, he wanted to create a work that very much reflected mainstream thought, in order to show that his call to the jihād was a conventional one that Muslims should therefore feel obliged to obey.
Q : In a forthcoming article, you note that al-Sulamī mentions paradise 21 times in his work, and hell only 9 times.
NC: That is correct. The distribution of the references is also interesting. Al-Sulamī mentions hell often in the early part of his work, as a way of threatening the Muslim rulers of the Levant, whom he regards as having neglected their obligations to take up arms against the crusaders. However, as his work proceeds, he places an increasing emphasis on paradise rather than hell, aiming to encourage his listeners to take action by showing them the rewards that await them after death.
Q : I read the ḥadīth of the first three men to be thrown into Hell on the Day of Resurrection. Could you elaborate on other ḥadīths that you think that had a great effect on fighters?
NC: The ḥadīth that you are referring to, which appears early in al-Sulamī’s work, seeks to make the point that those who follow God’s commands (including fighters in the holy war) must do so with pure intentions to serve God, and not from any desire for worldly wealth or renown. Given that war is a risky business, with very real danger of death, the four ḥadīths that he cites later, in which he describes the heavenly joys (riches, beautiful dwellings, heavenly maidens, etc.) that await those who are martyred in battle, were also undoubtedly very important to both al-Sulamī and his listeners.
Q : Heavenly maidens you mean "houris" heavenly virgins, it's known there're the seven paradises mentioned in the Qur’an, I wonder how many paradises al-Sulamī mentioned in his work and what they're.
NC: Al-Sulamī does not provide clear indications of how many paradises there are. He usually refers to paradise in the singular, but does make one reference to “paradises.” Two of his references are specifically to jannat al-na‘īm (the garden of delights, associated with the giving of rewards) and jannat al-ma’wā (the garden of rest, seen by some as the part of paradise reserved for martyrs), but he does not provide more specific information than that.
Q: What about ḥadīths of hell and their impression on fighters?
NC: As I noted, al-Sulamī uses ḥadīths about hell to frighten his listeners into action. It is also striking how they also seek to reinforce correct action. Thus in the ḥadīth about the first three men to be thrown into hell, one of them, a warrior, claims that he fought in order to serve God’s cause, but it is revealed that in fact he fought for the reputation that it would gain him. Likewise, we are told in a different ḥadīth of a man who fought bravely on the battlefield, but was then injured and so fell on his sword. In it the Prophet tells us that this man’s having committed suicide in battle led to him being condemned to hell. Killing oneself is forbidden in Islam, and so the man had committed a grave sin. Ḥadīths like this one obviously have modern relevance too…
Q: In your opinion do you think paradise and heavenly virgins enough for them to sacrifice their spirits easily in fighting enemies.
NC: I do not think that this on its own would have been enough. Probably the thing that had the greatest impact on fighters in the counter-crusade was the fact that their homes and livelihoods were threatened, and so they felt the need to defend them. However, we must not go to far and disregard the importance of their religious piety too; many undoubtedly felt that the obligation to defend their homes was also one that was placed upon them by God, and the fact that they were fighting for Islam, and the rewards that its teachings offered them in this life and the next, must have been immensely reassuring in the face of adversity.
Abdalrahman: Thank you very much.
Niall: You’re very welcome. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk with you.
 Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami (died 1106)
He was a Damascene jurist and philologist who was the first to preach jihad against the crusaders in the aftermath of the First Crusade .
He published his treatise Kitab al-Jihad (Book of Jihad") and preached his ideas from the Great Mosque in Damascus.
He recognized the dangers of the Christian invaders connected with the ongoing Christian reconquests of Sicily and Al-Andalus Spain.
Please write: COMMENT in this box to verify that you are human