In 656/1258, Baghdad was drowned in red blood and black ink. Hulagu and his Mongol armies splattered the streets of Baghdad with mutilated corpses and clogged its rivers with thousands of books. As one reads the accounts of history, fact and fiction mix in a complex stream, but the unadulterated pain remains very real. That year, those who could understand no discourse sought to extinguish all discourse. Today, it is substantially the same. Today, those who can barely understand any discourse try to control all discourse (see Qur’an 4:78). The Mongols had no use for thought or people, so they tried to destroy both. Today’s tormentors are Mongols of thought. Rather than exterminate people, they exterminate their intellects. A Conference of the books tells the story of the death of so many other Conferences, and the awareness creeps up upon you that in order to kill a people, one must kill off their ideas.
At times, grief numbs the senses and knots the heart and mind. You supplicate with that ever so beautiful prayer: “Lord, lift the burdens of my chest, ease my way, and unravel the knot of my tongue that they may understand my words” (20:25-28). The Mongols were barbarians; they did not censor or distinguish, but destroyed all without discrimination. In doing so, they gave Muslims the benefit of notice—Muslims clamored to hide and protect their sources. Eventually, with Mahmud Ghazzan (who ruled until 704/1304) coming to power in 658/1259, the Mongols converted to Islam and the destruction of texts stopped, although the slaughter of people continued. Today, Muslims are still slaughtered around the world, and it is Muslims themselves who slaughter their texts.
Today’s book massacres do not normally take the form of book burnings or mass drownings in a river. Today’s massacres are far more insidious and effective. They take the form of quiet editing or banning of texts—texts that had survived the Mongols and many other invaders only to be censored today. No notice is given and the reader has no idea that he or she is reading a “cleansed” text. Somehow, the puny mind of the censor imagines that it is qualified to judge the cumulative discourses of the centuries and define Islamic authenticity. Feeble intellects threatened by complexity tend to censor it.
The Fatawa of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) has been edited by today’s censors and offending text has been removed. The only uncorrupted edition of the Fatawa Ibn Taymiyya is the one published in Cairo in the 1960s. All editions published after that have been “cleansed”. In a yet-to-be published edition, further “cleansing” has been ordered. Ten pages have been quietly deleted from Ibn Taymiyya’s al-Jawab al-Sahih li Man Baddala Din al-Masih and when a publisher tried to print the full text, he was arrested and his printing house was burned down. It seems that although Ibn Taymiyya survived the Mongols of yesterday, it is unlikely that he will survive the Thought Mongols of today.
After a four-year search, you find Bihar al-Anwar but only without three offending volumes. Furthermore, you realize that only in the past ten years have these three volumes been “cleansed” from the text. The Tafsirs of Zamakhshari (d. 538/1144) and Muqatil (d. 150/767) have been banned in some Muslim countries for years. The works of Muhyi al-Din Ibn ‘Arabi (d. 638/1240), Ikhwan al-Safa, Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi (d. 414/1023) and al-Qadi al-Nu‘man (d. 363/974), to name a few, are likewise banned in some Muslim countries. The Fatawa of Rashid Rida (d. 1935) although printed in the 1970s are now considered un-Islamic and are quite rare. Unless you buy the full text of al-Manar, you must be willing to pay a few thousand dollars for a six-volume set. In one Muslim country, the works of the Maliki jurist, Ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 543/1148) were banned because he was confused with Ibn ‘Arabi (d. 638/1240), the Sufi master. The absurdity has reached the point that even the age-old stories of A Thousand and One Nights have been “cleansed”.
For centuries, those who tried to destroy Muslims targeted their intellectual heritage. The problem is far worse when those who declare themselves the protectors of Islam seek to destroy their own heritage. For centuries, Muslims, saturated with the morality instilled in them by the Qur’an, preserved both agreeable and offensive texts alike. The Qur’an reminded the Prophet that he is neither a warden nor a guardian over people (4:80 and 88:22). It is baffling that the Thought Mongols of today claim a position higher than the Prophet. The Mongols of medieval times were barbaric and ignorant and so they sought to be vanquishers and conquerors. The Thought Mongols of today are civilized, ignorant, and arrogant, and so they seek to be gods.