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Ibn Taymīyah


IBN TAYMĪYAH (ah 661728/12631328 ce), more fully, Taqī al-Dīn Abū al-ʿAbbās Amad ibn ʿAbd al-alīm ibn ʿAbd al-Salām al-arrānī al-Dimashqī, was a jurisconsult, theologian, and ūfī. He was born in Harran, and at the age of six he fled with his father and brothers to Damascus during the Mongol invasions. Ibn Taymīyah devoted himself from early youth to various Islamic sciences (Qurʾān, adīth, and legal studies), and he was a voracious reader of books on sciences that were not taught in the regular institutions of learning, including logic, philosophy, and kalām.

Early Career

Ibn Taymīyah studied law under the direction of his father and Shams al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Ramān al-Maqdisī (d. 1283). Under several teachers of adīth he studied a number of works, in particular the Musnad of Amad ibn anbal, (a adīth collection that he read several times), the "six books" of adīth, and the biobibliographical Muʿjam of al-abarānī. He studied Arabic grammar and lexicography for a brief period under Sulaymān ibn ʿAbd al-Qawi al-ūfī (d. 1316); then, on his own, he mastered Sībawayh's text on grammar. He became qualified to issue legal opinions before the age of twenty; at twenty-one, upon the death of his father in 1283, he succeeded him as professor of adīth and law at Dār al-adīth al-Sukkarīyah, a ūfī monastery and college of adīth founded around the middle of the thirteenth century in Damascus. Ibn Taymīyah was a prolific writer, described as "fast to learn and slow to forget": It was said of him that once he learned something, he never forgot it.

Ibn Taymīyah also succeeded his father at the Umayyad Mosque, where he gave lectures on Qurʾanic exegesis. His biographers record that, lecturing without notes, he would give materials for two or more fascicles. On one of these Fridays of Qurʾanic exegesis in the Umayyad Mosque in 1291, Ibn Taymīyah lectured briefly on the divine attributes. This was his first known public venture into controversial dogmatics. The reaction was quick among his opponents, who tried to prevent him from lecturing further in the mosque but failed in their attempt. Ibn Taymīyah's treatment of the divine attributes was given as part of his profession of faith, the ʿaqīdah. The Shāfiʿī chief qāī Shihāb al-Dīn al-Khuwayyī declared: "I am in agreement with the creed of Shaykh Taqī al-Dīn [ibn Taymīyah]." When he was reproved, he continued: "because he has sound intelligence, speaks from extensive knowledge, and says only what he knows to be sound."

In 1292 Ibn Taymīyah went on the pilgrimage to Mecca, where he gathered materials for his work Manāsik al-ajj (Rituals of the pilgrimage), denouncing a number of practices in the rituals of the pilgrimage as condemnable innovations.

The Shāfiʿī historian Ibn Kathīr, in the events of the year 1293/4, treats of the affair of ʿAssāf al-Narānī ("the Christian"), who was reported by witnesses to have cursed the Prophet. Ibn Taymīyah and a companion, al-Fāriqī, apparently implicated in the affair for encouraging the assault and battery to which ʿAssāf and his bedouin protector were victims, were flogged and put under house arrest. This was the episode behind Ibn Taymīyah's work Kitāb al-ārim al-maslūl ʿalā shātim al-rasūl (The sharp sword drawn against the reviler of the messenger [of God]).

In 1296, at the death of his professor Zayn al-Dīn ibn Munajjā, Ibn Taymīyah succeeded to the chair of law thus vacated in the Madrasah anbalīyah. His biographer Ibn Rajab said that he read an autobiographical note in Ibn Taymīyah's own hand to the effect that Ibn Taymīyah was offered, before the year 1291 (thus before the age of thirty), the post of shaykh al-shuyūkh, or head of the ūfīs, and the post of chief qāī, but he refused them both. Refusals to assume such posts usually meant that the scholar wished to stay aloof from the central power, out of desire for a private scholarly life, or in order to pursue the ascetic life, or to remain free to criticize practices he deemed not in keeping with the tenets of Islam. When Ibn Taymīyah's subsequent life is taken into consideration, his refusal clearly appears to have been based on the last of these reasons.

Opposition to the AshʿarĪyah

Ibn Taymīyah lived in a period between those of two notable propagandists of the rationalist Ashʿarī movement in theology: Ibn ʿAsākir (d. 1176) and Subkī (d. 1370). The attempt of the Ashʿarī movement to obtain legitimacy by infiltrating the Shāfiʿī madhhab (school) of lawan attempt that surfaced in the eleventh centurywas still developing and had to face two implacable forces blocking its goal. The traditionalist movement was represented particularly by two madhhabs of law: the anbalī and the Shāfiʿī. The former was the obvious obstructive force, while the latter included the Ashʿarī faction, which was hard at work to gain the adherence of fellow Shāfiʿīs to Ashʿarī thought, an effort destined to fail in the face of the alliance between the traditionalists of the two madhhabs.

Already in the days of Ibn ʿAsākir the traditionalists had introduced an institution that was conceived to correct, among other things, the detrimental consequences of the exclusory principle in the madrasah, according to which only those students who chose to belong to the madhhab represented by the madrasah were admitted. This policy tended to be divisive, separating members of the traditionalist movement who belonged to all the Sunnī madhhabs, while allowing the Ashʿarīyah to stay within one madhhab, the Shāfiʿī. The new institution that helped to correct the situation was the Dār al-adīth, wherein the principal subject of instruction was adīth rather than law, and students of any of the four madhhabs could attend. Thus a anbalī professor, such as Ibn Taymīyah, could have students belonging to the Shāfiʿī madhhab, such as al-Birzālī, Mizzī, and al-Dhahabī. The first Dār al-adīth was founded in Damascus by the Zengid ruler Nūr al-Dīn (d. 1173).

To the philosophical theology of the Ashʿarīyah, Ibn Taymīyah opposed his famous professions of faith (ʿaqīdah ; pl., ʿaqāʾid). His first full-length ʿaqīdah, written at the request of the people of Hama in the year 1299 and therefore known as Al-ʿaqīdah al-amawīyah, was very hostile to the Ashʿarīyah and their kalām- theology. According to Ibn Rajab, Ibn Taymīyah wrote this ʿaqīdah in one sitting. His other important profession of faith is the ʿAqīdah wāsiīyah, written for a group of religious intellectuals in Wāsi (Iraq) before the arrival of the Mongols in Damascus. Both professions of faith were attacked by his enemies, and he was taxed with anthropomorphism. In a meeting in the house of the Shāfiʿī qāī Imam al-Dīn ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-Ramān al-Qazwīnī (d. 1299) the ʿAqīdah amawīyah was studied; Ibn Taymīyah was questioned regarding various points, and it was deemed to be satisfactory. Regarding the Wāsiīyah, even the Ashʿarī-Shāfiʿī afī al-Dīn al-Hindī (d. 1315) found it to be in conformity with the Qurʾān and sunnah. Nevertheless, his enemies tried hard to keep him in prison, even to have him executed, but failed on both counts.

Ibn Taymīyah's polemic activity extended to the philosophers, especially the logicians, against whom he wrote a refutation, Al-radd ʿalā al-maniqīyīn. He wrote extensively against the monistic (ittiādīyah ) and incarnationist (hulūlīyah ) ūfīs and condemned as heretical innovations many of the ūfī practices of his day. Nevertheless, Ibn Taymīyah was praised by the ūfī Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muammad ibn Qawwām, who said: "Our Sufism became sound only at the hands of Ibn Taymīyah," implying that Ibn Taymīyah was not an outsider to Sufism. Recently discovered evidence shows that Ibn Taymīyah belonged to the ūfī order of the Qādīriyah, named after the anbalī ūfī ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī, whom he praised and preferred to the other anbalī ūfī, al-Anārī al-Harawī.

On the theological question of the divine attributes, Ibn Taymīyah held that God should be described "as he has described himself in his book and as the Prophet has described him in his sunnah." This classical traditionalist doctrine goes back to al-Shāfiʿī (d. 820) and to Amad ibn anbal (d. 855), the two great leaders of the movement, in whose works Ibn Taymīyah was thoroughly versed. Ibn Taymīyah and his famous disciple Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah (d. 1350) drew much of their inspiration from the works of al-Shāfiʿī and Ibn anbal. From the genesis of the traditionalist movement the principal message has always been that the basic sources for belief and practice are the book of God and the practice (sunnah) of the Prophet.

Ibn Taymīyah, in the title of one of his numerous works, emphasized the place of the Prophet in relation to the two fundamental sources: The Steps Leading to the Knowledge That the Messenger of God Has Already Made a Clear Exposition of the Roots and Branches of Religion. For the Prophet, as messenger, brought the book of God and was himself a living example of what should be followed. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah quotes from the introduction to al-Shāfiʿī's Risālah : "Praise be to God who is as he has described himself, and who is exalted above all the attributes given to him by those among his creatures who have described him." And again: "No event shall befall an adherent of God's religion but that there is a guide in the book of God showing the right way to be followed." These two statements were quoted against the Ashʿarīyah, the rationalist movement of the period of Ibn Taymīyah and Ibn Qayyim, as al-Shāfiʿī had said them some five centuries before in condemnation of the Muʿtazilah, the rationalist movement of his day.

Under Attack

Ibn Taymīyah's troubles came chiefly from his opposition to Ashʿarī thought working from within the Shāfiʿī madhhab, and also from his criticism of extremist ūfī thought and practices. His troubles (mian ; sg., minah ) were treated extensively by his Shāfiʿī disciples al-Birzālī, al-Dhahabī, and Ibn Kathīr, and by the anbalī biobibliographer Ibn Rajab.

Ibn Taymīyah's enemies finally succeeded in removing him from the scene. The opportunity was presented by one of his legal opinions (fatwā s) titled "Travel to the Tombs of the Prophets and Saints," in which Ibn Taymīyah prohibited such travel. His opponents pounced on this fatwā and charged him with demeaning the prophets and with unbelief (kufr ). Eighteen jurisconsults, led by the Mālikī qāī al-Ikhnāʾī, wrote fatwā s condemning him. The four chief qāīs of Cairo issued their decision that he be imprisoned in the citadel of Damascus. Other jurisconsults, including the two sons of the leading Mālikī jurisconsult Abū al-Walīd, had issued fatwā s condemning that decision. They stated that it had no valid basis against Ibn Taymīyah because he had simply cited the divergent opinions of the jurisconsults on the subject of the visiting of tombs (ziyārat al-qubūr ) and had given preponderance to one side of the question, a choice that was legitimate to make. But the decision stood without appeal. Ibn Taymīyah was never to leave the citadel alive; he died there some two years later. Three months before his death, his enemy al-Ikhnāʾi, against whom he had written a refutation, complained to the sultan, who ordered that Ibn Taymīyah be deprived of the opportunity to write; his ink, pen, and paper were taken away from him. But to the very last, his enemies could not quite get the better of him.

The biographers cite a number of statements made by Ibn Taymīyah during his imprisonment that show the man's stature and state of mind. "A prisoner is one who has shut out God from his heart." "A prisoner is one whose passions have made him captive." "In this world there is a paradise to be entered; he who does not enter it will not enter the paradise of the world to come." "What can my enemies possibly do to me? My paradise is in my breast; wherever I go it goes with me, inseparable from me. For me, prison is a place of retreat; execution is my opportunity for martyrdom; and exile from my town is but a chance to travel." In reference to his enemies who strove to have him imprisoned: "If I were to give all the gold it takes to fill the space of this citadel, I could not possibly reward them for the good they have done me." And he often repeated the following prayer: "O God! Help me to move my tongue incessantly in your praise, to express my gratitude, and to serve you in perfect worship."

On 20 Dhū al-Qaʿdah 728 (September 26, 1328), Ibn Taymīyah died in the citadel at the age of sixty-five. The populace turned out in the hundreds of thousands for the funeral procession, which was compared to that of Amad ibn anbal. He was buried next to his brother, Sharaf al-Dīn ʿAbd Allāh, in the ūfī cemetery where other ūfī members of his family were buried.

Ibn Taymīyah's influence has reached modern times. His teachings, first followed by Muammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb (d. 1792), became the basis of the Wahhābī movement in the nineteenth century and the guiding principles of the Wahhābī state of Saudi Arabia. Again, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, through Muammad ʿAbduh and Rashīd Riā, they influenced the modernist Salafīyah movement.


Arabic Sources

Ibn al-ʿImād al-anbalī. Shadharāt al-dhahab fī akhbār man dhahab. Vol. 5. Cairo, 1931. See pages 8086.

Ibn Kathīr, Ismāʿīl ibn ʿUmar. Al-bidāyah wa-al-nihāyah fī al-taʾrikh. Vol. 14. Cairo, 1937. See pages 135141.

Ibn Rajab. Dhayl ʿalā tabaqāt al-anābilah. Vol. 2. Edited by M. āmid al-Fiqī. Cairo, 1953. See pages 387408.


Laoust, Henri. Essai sur les doctrines sociales et politiques de Taki-al-Dīn Amad b. Taimiya. Cairo, 1939.

Laoust, Henri. "La biographie d'Ibn Taimīya d'après Ibn Kathīr." Bulletin d'études orientales 9 (1942): 115162.

Laoust, Henri. "Le anbalīsme sous les Mamlouks Bahrides." Revue des études islamiques 28 (1960): 171.

Laoust, Henri. "Ibn Taymiyya." In The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed. Leiden, 1960.

Laoust, Henri. "L'influence d'Ibn Taimīyya." In Islam: Past Influence and Present Challenge, edited by Alford T. Welch and Pierre Cachia. Edinburgh, 1979.

Makdisi, George. "Ashʿarī and the Ashʿarites in Islamic Religious History." Studia Islamica 17 (1962): 3780.

Makdisi, George. "Ibn Taimīya: A ūfī of the Qādirīiya Order." American Journal of Arabic Studies 1 (1973): 118129.

Makdisi, George. "The Hanbali School and Sufism." Humaniora Islamica 11 (1974): 6172.

George Makdisi (1987)

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