Friday, November 16, 2012

Taqi ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah

Taqi ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (January 22, 1263–1328 CE), was an Islamic scholar (alim), theologian and logician born in Harran, located in what is now Turkey, close to the Syrian border. He lived during the troubled times of the Mongol invasions. He was a member of the school founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal and sought the return of Islam to what he viewed as earlier interpretations of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.

Ibn Taymiyya was born in 1263 at Harran into a well-known family of theologians and died in Damascus, Syria, outside of the Muslim cemetery. His grandfather, Abu al-Barkat Majd ad-deen ibn Taymiyyah al-Hanbali (d. 1255) was a reputable teacher of the Hanbali school of law. Likewise, the scholarly achievements of ibn Taymiyyah's father, Shihab al-deen 'Abd al-Haleem ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1284) were well known. Because of the Mongol invasion, ibn Taymiyyah's family moved to Damascus in 1268, which was then ruled by the Mamluks of Egypt. It was here that his father delivered sermons from the pulpit of the Umayyad Mosque, and ibn Taymiyyah followed in his footsteps by studying with the scholars of his time. Although some claim that he was of Kurdish origin there seems to be no evidence indicating such claim.
Ibn Taymiyyah acquainted himself with the secular and religious sciences of his time. He devoted attention to Arabic literature and lexicography as well as studying mathematics and calligraphy.
As for the religious sciences, he studied jurisprudence from his father and became a representative of the Hanbali school of thought. Though he remained faithful throughout his life to that school, whose doctrines he had mastered, he also acquired a knowledge of the Islamic disciplines of the Qur'an and the Hadith. He also studied theology (kalam), philosophy, and Sufism. He was known for his refutations of the excesses of many Sufis,and the Christians. His student Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya wrote the famous poem "O Christ-Worshipper" which examined the dogma of the Trinity propounded by many Christian sects.
His troubles with government began when he went with a delegation of ulama to talk to Ghazan Khan, the Khan of the Mongol Ilkhans in Iran, to stop his attack on the Muslims. It is reported that none of the ulama dared to say anything to the Khan except Ibn Taymiyyah who said:
"You claim that you are Muslim and you have with you Mu'adhdhins, Muftis, Imams and Shaykhs but you invaded us and reached our country for what? While your father and your grandfather, Hulagu were non-believers, they did not attack and they kept their promise. But you promised and broke your promise."
Ibn Taymiya was imprisoned several times for conflicting with the ijma of jurists and theologians of his day. He spent his last fifteen years in Damascus. The most famous of his students, Ibn Qayyim, was to share in Ibn Taymiyyah's renewed persecutions. From August 1320 to February 1321 Ibn Taymiyyah was imprisoned on orders from Cairo in the citadel of Damascus for supporting a doctrine that would curtail the ease with which a Muslim man could divorce his wife.

When he was ultimately banned from having any books, papers and pens during the latter stage of his final imprisonment, Ibn Taymiyyah devoted all of his time to worship and reciting the Qur'an. Ibn Taymiyyah died in prison on 22 Dhu al-Qi'dah, 728 AH (27 September 1328). Al-Bazzar says, 'Once the people had heard of his death, not a single person in Damascus who was able to attend the prayer and wanted to, remained until he appeared and took time out for it. As a result, the markets in Damascus were closed and all transactions of livelihood were stopped. Governors, heads, scholars, jurists came out. They say that none of the majority of the people failed to turn up, according to my knowledge - except three individuals; they were well known for their enmity for Ibn Taymiyyah and thus, hid away from the people out of fear for their lives."


Ibn Taymiyyah rejected the recourse to kalam towards understanding the Asma Wa Sifat (Divine Names and Attributes of God) as that was not the precedence established by the salaf. He argued that the companions and the early generations didn't resort to philosophical explanations towards understanding the Divine Names and Attributes. He further argued that had Salaf, the first three generations of Muslims whom all Muslims must strive to emulate, found any benefit in resorting to kalam they would have done it and encouraged it. Therefore, Ibn Taymiyyah was accused by his opponents that he was anthropomorphic in his stance towards Names and Attributes of God.
However, in his celebrated work Al-Aqidah Al-Waasitiyyah, Ibn Taymiyyah refutes the stance of the Mushabbihah (those who liken the creation with God: anthropomorphism) and those who deny, negate, and resort to allegorical/metaphorical interpretations of the Divine Names and Attributes. He contends that the methodology of the Salaf is to take the middle path between the extremes of anthropomorphism and negation/distortion. He further states that Salaf affirmed all the Names and Attributes of God without tashbih (establishing likeness), takyeef (speculating as to "how" they are manifested in the divine), ta'teel (negating/denying their apparent meaning) and without ta'weel (giving it secondary/symbolic meaning which is different from the apparent meaning). Iby Taymiyyah's highly intellectual discourse at explaining "The Wise Purpose of God, Human Agency, and the Problems of Evil & Justice" using God's attributes as a means has been illustrated by Dr. Jon Hoover in his work "Ibn Taymiyyah's Theodicy of Perpetual Optimism". Although famous for polemic against Islamic philosophy, theology and rationalizing mysticism, Ibn Taymiyyah's positive theological contribution has not been well understood. Exposition and analysis of Ibn Taymiyya's writings on God's justice and wise purpose, divine determination and human agency, the problem of evil, and juristic method in theological doctrine show that he articulates a theodicy of optimism in which God in His essence perpetually wills the best possible world from eternity. This sets Ibn Taymiyya's theodicy apart from Ash'ari divine voluntarism, the free-will theodicy of the Mu'tazilis, and the essentially timeless God of other optimists like Ibn Sina and Ibn Arabi.

What has been called Ibn Taymiyyah's "most famous" fatwā was issued against the Mongols (or Tatars), in the Mamluk's war. Ibn Taymiyyah declared that jihad upon the Mongols was not only permissible, but obligatory. He based this ruling his argument that the Mongols could not, in his opinion, be true Muslims despite the fact that they had converted to Sunni Islam because they ruled using what he considered 'man-made laws' (their traditional Yassa code) rather than Islamic law or Sharia. Because of this, he reasoned they were living in a state of jahiliyyah, or pre-Islamic pagan ignorance.
Apart from that, he led the resistance of the Mongol invasion of Damascus in 1300. In the years that followed, Ibn Taymiyyah was engaged in intensive polemic activity against:
  1. the Rifa'i Sufi order,
  2. the ittihadiyah school, a school that grew out of the teaching of Ibn Arabi, whose views were widely denounced as heretical.
In 1306 Ibn Taymiyyah was imprisoned in the citadel of Cairo for eighteen months on the charge of anthropomorphism. He was incarcerated again in 1308 for several months.
In 2010 a group of Islamic Scholars in Mardin argued that Ibn Taymiyya's fatwa was misprinted into an order to "fight" the ruler who is not applying Islamic law, but rather it means to "treat". They have based their understanding on the original manuscript in the Zaheer Library, and the transmission by Ibn Taymiyya's student Ibn Muflih.


Ibn Taymiyyah censured the scholars for blindly conforming to the precedence of early jurists without any resort to the Qur'an and Sunnah. He contended that although juridical precedence has its place, blindly giving it authority without contextualization, sensitivity to societal changes, and evaluative mindset in light of the Qur'an and Sunnah can lead to ignorance and stagnancy in Islamic Law. Ibn Taymiyyah likened the extremism of Taqlid (blind conformity to juridical precedence or school of thought) to the practice of Jews and Christians who took their rabbis and ecclesiastics as gods besides God.
Ibn Taymiyyah held that much of the Islamic scholarship of his time had declined into modes that were inherently against the proper understanding of the Qur'an and the Sunnah. He strove to:
  1. revive the Islamic faith's understanding of true adherence to Tawhid,
  2. eradicate beliefs and customs that he held to be foreign to Islam, and
  3. to rejuvenate correct Islamic thought and its related sciences.
Ibn Taymiyyah believed that the first three generations of Islam – Muhammad, his companions, and the followers of the companions from the earliest generations of Muslims – were the best role models for Islamic life. Their practice, together with the Qur'an, constituted a seemingly infallible guide to life. Any deviation from their practice was viewed as bid‘ah, or innovation, and to be forbidden. He also praised and wrote a commentary on some of the speeches of Abdul-Qadir Gilani. He criticized the views and actions of the Rafaiyah.

 Ibn Taymiyyah strongly opposed borrowing from Christianity or other non-Muslim religions. In his text On the Necessity of the Straight Path (kitab iqtida al-sirat al-mustaqim) he preached that the beginning of Muslim life was the point at which "a perfect dissimilarity with the non-Muslims has been achieved." To this end he opposed the celebration of the observance of the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad or the construction of mosques around the tombs of Sufi saints saying: "Many of them [the Muslims] do not even know of the Christian origins of these practices.

Opponents and critics of Ibn Taymiyyah claim that he rejected intercession completely as proved in Qur'an and Sunnah. However, his proponents argue citing evidence from his writings that the type of intercession Ibn Taymiyyah rejected was the type not sanctioned by the Qur'an or Sunnah and neither by the conduct of Salaf. In fact, Ibn Taymiya upheld that anyone who rejected the Intercession of Muhammad on the Day of Judgement had indeed disbelieved. He also affirmed that God will allow the martyrs, scholars, memorizers of Qur'an, and angels to intercede on behalf of the believers on the Day of Judgement. However, what he condemned was asking them while they are no longer alive for their intercession since two conditions of Intercession are that God chooses the intercessor, and chooses the people on whose behalf intercession is possible. Therefore, God should be asked when intercession is sought.
Furthermore, Ibn Taymiyyah states that types of intercession that are legal are:
  1. Intercession through the Names and Attributes of God,
  2. Intercession through one's good deed,
  3. Intercession through requesting the righteous people who are alive for dua. He further explains that on the day of Judgement, Muhammad and everyone else will be alive and therefore, their intercession can be sought just like in this world, people ask others to make a supplication for them. Ibn Taymiyyah rejected the notion that saints and prophets should be invoked for intercession while they have departed from this world.

Ibn Taymiyyah opposed giving any undue religious honors to shrines (even that of Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque), to approach or rival in any way the Islamic sanctity of the two most holy mosques within Islam, Mecca (Masjid al-Haram) and Medina (Al-Masjid al-Nabawi).
Ibn Taymiyyah duly eulogized the Ghaznavid ruler, stating that:
He commanded that Ahlul Bidah be publicly cursed on the minbars, and as a result the Jahmiyyah,, Hulooliyah, Mu'tazilah, and Qadariyah were all publicly cursed, along with the Asharites.