Ibn Taymiyyah

From New World Encyclopedia

Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah (1263 - 1328) (Arabic: ابن تيمية) was a Sunni Islamic scholar born in Harran, located in what is now Turkey, close to the Syrian border. He lived during the troubled times of the Mongol invasions. As a member of the school founded by Ibn Hanbal, he sought the return of Islam to its sources: The Qur'an and the sunnah (the prophetic tradition of Muhammad). He did not consider the Mongols to be true Muslims and encouraged war against them. He believed that legitimate Islam is based on the opinions of the earliest Muslims, the salafa. He was critical of Shi'a and of Sufi Muslims for venerating their Imams and Sheikhs and for teaching that God dwelt within them. He was also critical of venerating and visiting the shrines of dead saints.

He was intolerant of Christians, arguing that Christianity as practiced was a corruption of what Jesus has taught, which was the message of Islam. He was also critical of Islamic philosophy and accused Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina, and al-Frabi of being unbelievers for teaching that the world is eternal, which makes God redundant. At times employed by the authorities he was at other times imprisoned by those same authorities, who disagreed with his views. However, he attracted a large following and about 100,000 people, including many women, are said to have attended his funeral. He did much to revive the popularity of the Hanbali legal school. He is cited with approval by Islamist Muslims. His belief that Muslims who did not live under the Sharia lived in ignorance (jahilia) was taken up by such twentieth century thinkers as Sayyid Qutb and Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi.

Full name

Taqī ad-Dīn Abu 'Abbās Ahmad bin 'Abd as-Salām bin 'Abd Allāh Ibn Taymiya al-Harrānī (Arabic: أبو عباس تقي الدين أحمد بن عبد السلام بن عبد الله ابن تيمية الحراني)


Ibn Taymiya was born in 1263, at Harran into a well known family of theologians. His grandfather, Abu al-Barkat Majd-ud-deen ibn Taymiya Al-Hanbali (d. 1255) was a reputed teacher of the Hanbali School of Fiqh. Likewise, the scholarly achievements of Ibn Taymiya's father, Shihabuddeen 'Abdul-Haleem Ibn Taymiya (d. 1284) were well-known.

Because of the Mongol invasion, Ibn Taymiya'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 Taymiya followed in his footsteps by studying with the great scholars of his time, among them a woman scholar by the name Zaynab bint Makki, from whom he learned hadith.

Ibn Taymiya was an industrious student and acquainted himself with the secular and religious sciences of his time. He devoted special attention to Arabic literature and gained mastery over grammar and lexicography in addition to studying mathematics and calligraphy.

As for the religions sciences, he studied jurisprudence from his father and became a representative of the Hanbali school of law. Though he remained faithful throughout his life to that school, whose doctrines he had decisively mastered, he also acquired an extensive knowledge of the Islamic disciplines of the Qur'an and the Hadith. He also studied dogmatic theology (kalam), philosophy, and Sufism, which he later heavily critiqued.

In 1282, he was appointed professor of Hanbali jurisprudence, also preaching in the Grand Mosque. He started to denounce both Sufis and the Mongols, whose Islam he did not accept as genuine. The Mongol's preference for their own Yasa code over the Sharia meant that they lived in ignorance (jahilia) and it was a Muslim's duty to wage a jihad of the sword against them. Following the Mongol defeat of the Abbasids in 1258, the Muslim world had disintegrated into smaller political units. Ibn Taymiya wanted to re-unite Islam. In 1299, he was dismissed from his post following a fatwa, or legal opinion that annoyed other jurists. However, the following year he was again employed by the Sultan, this time to recruit support for an anti-Mongol campaign in Cairo, a task for which he was well suited. However, no sooner had he reached Cairo than he fell foul of the authorities there because of his literal understanding of verses in the Qur'an that describe God as possessing body-parts, and he was imprisoned. Released in 1308, he was quickly re-imprisoned for denouncing Sufi prayers to saints. He spent time in jails in Cairo and in Alexandria. In 1313, he was allowed to resume teaching in Damascus. In 1318, the Sultan forbade him from issuing any opinions on the subject of divorce, since he disagreed with the popular opinion that a divorce with only one repudiation was valid. When he continued to pronounce on this subject, he was imprisoned. Released again in 1321, he was re-imprisoned in 1326, but carried on writing until pen and paper were denied him. His arrest in 1326 was earned by his condemnation of Shi'a Islam at a time when the political authorities were trying to build bridges with the Shi'a community. In 1328, he died while still in prison. Thousands, including many women, are said to have attended his funeral.

Ibn Taymiya was an activist as well as a scholar: In 1300, he was part of the resistance against the Mongol attack on Damascus and personally went to the camp of the Mongol general to negotiate release of captives, insisting that Christians as “protected people” as well as Muslims be released. In 1305, he took part in the anti-Mongol Battle of Shakhab and fought various Shi’a groups in Syria.


Ibn Taymiya engaged in intensive polemic activity against: (1) The Kasrawan Shi'a in the Lebanon, (2) the Rifa'i Sufi order, and (3) the ittihadiyah school, a school that grew out of the teaching of Ibn 'Arabi (d. 1240), whose views he denounced as heretical and against Christianity.

Ibn Taymiya was known for his prodigious memory and encyclopedic knowledge.



Ibn Taymiya 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 Prophetic example (sunna). He strove to:

  1. Revive the Islamic faith's understanding of "true" adherence to "Tawhid" (oneness of God)
  2. Eradicate beliefs and customs that he held to be foreign to Islam
  3. To rejuvenate correct Islamic thought and its related sciences.

Ibn Taymiya 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 Sunnah, or practice, together with the Qur'an, constituted a seemingly infallible guide to life. Any deviation from their practice was viewed as bidah, or innovation, and to be forbidden.

Qur'anic literalism

Ibn Taymiya favored an extremely literal interpretation of the Qur'an. His opponents charged that he taught anthropomorphism—that is, that he took metaphorical reference's to Allah's hand, foot, shin, and face as being literally true—even though he insisted that Allah's "hand" was nothing comparable to hands found in creation. He is known to have famously remarked once, "Allah will descend from the heavens on the Day of Judgment just like I descend from the pulpit." Some of his Islamic critics contend that this violates the Islamic concept of tawhid, divine unity.


Ibn Taymiya was a stern critic of antinomian interpretations of Islamic mysticism (Sufism). He believed that Islamic law (sharia) applied to ordinary Muslim and mystic alike.

Most scholars (including Salafis) believe that he rejected the creed used by most Sufis entirely (the Ash`ari creed). This seems supported by some of his works, especially al-Aqeedat Al-Waasittiyah, wherein he refuted the Asha'ira, the Jahmiyya, and the Mu'tazila—the methodology of whom latter day Sufi's have adopted with regards to affirming the Attributes of Allah.

Some Non-Muslim academics, however, have contested this point. In 1973, George Makdisi published an article, “Ibn Taymiya: A Sufi of the Qadiriya Order,” in the American Journal of Arabic Studies, which argued that Ibn Taymiya was a Qadiri Sufi himself, and only opposed antinomian versions of Sufism. In support of their views, these Ibn Taymiya scholars cite his work, Sharh Futuh al-Ghayb, which is a commentary on the famous Sufi Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani’s work, Futuh al-Ghayb “Revelations of the Unseen.” Ibn Taymiya is cited in the literature of the Qadiriyyah order as a link in their chain of spiritual transmission. He himself said, in his Al-Mas'ala at-Tabraziyya, "I wore the blessed Sufi cloak of Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, there being between him and me two Sufi shaikhs."


Since he was a strong proponent of Tawheed, Ibn Taymiya was highly skeptical of giving any undue religious honors to shrines (even that of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa), to approach or rival in any way the Islamic sanctity of the two most holy mosques within Islam, Mecca (Masjid al Haram), and Medina (Masjid al-Nabawi).[1]


He is known for this saying: “What can my enemies possibly do to me? My paradise is in my heart; wherever I go it goes with me, insepa­rable from me. For me, prison is a place of (religious) retreat; ex­ecution is my opportunity for martyrdom; and exile from my town is but a chance to travel.[2]

On Christianity

Ibn Taymiyyag wrote a lengthy response to a letter by Bishop Paul of Antioch (1140-1180) which had circulated widely in the Muslim world. He replied to an edited version of the original letter. He dismissed the much cited hadith that "he who harms a dhimmi (member of a protected community) harms me" as false, arguing that that this hadith amounted to "absolute protection to unbelievers; moreover, it would make it a travesty of justice, for, just as in the case of Muslims, there are times when they deserve punishment and physical harm" (Michel: 81). Christians should, in this view, "feel themselves subdued" when they pay the jizya tax (Q9: 29). Muslims should separate and distance themselves from other communities; dissimilitude should exist in every aspect of life, practice, dress, prayer, and worship. He cited an hadith that said, “whoever cultivates resemblance with a people is one of them” (82). Some Muslims, it seems, were actually joining in certain Christian festivals, at least to the extent of walking with them in their processions and "coloring Easter eggs, fixing a special meal, wearing new clothes, decorating houses, and lighting fires" on feast days (82). Not only must Muslims not participate in any way in Christian festivals, he said, but they must not even sell them “anything needed for the feast” or “give them presents” (82). He supported the dress regulations that prohibited Christians from wearing the same style of dress as Muslims. He also supported collecting the jizya from monks who were engaged in agriculture or business, whereas some jurists exempted all monks and priests (81).

When the dress code was re-introduced in 1301, Christians complained to the Sultan. Some Christians lost their posts at the same time. Ibn Taymiyya ruled that they must “return to the prescribed code” (81). He was emphatic that Muslims must not enter alliances with Christians, and some Muslims had during the wars against the Mongols. Anything which might contaminate Islam’s strict monotheism must be repudiated. Christians also complained that the closure of Churches was a breach of the Pact of Umar, but Ibn Taymiyya ruled that if the Sultan “decided to destroy every Church” within the Muslim territory he would be entitled to do so (79). Much blame fell on the Shi'a Fatimids, who had been far too lenient in their treatment of Christians. They had “ruled outside the Shari’ah” (79). It was not a surprise, he said, that the Fatimids failed against the Crusaders (79). It was better, Taymiyya advised, to employ a less able Muslim than a more able Christian, although the opposite had been practiced by many Caliphs. Muslims did not need Christians and should “make themselves independent of them” (80). Practices such as visiting the tombs of saints, praying to them, preparing "banners," forming processions for the leaders of Sufi orders, all represented innovation (bida) possibly in imitation of Christians. Trinity, the crucifixion and even the Eucharist were Christian inventions. He accepted that the Bible had been corrupted (known as tahrif). He denied that a verse such as Qur'an 2: 62 could give Christians any comfort, arguing that the Christians referred to in this verse were those who believed in Muhammad's message. Only those who accept Muhammad as prophet could expect to be among the righteous.


Works written by Ibn Taymiyyah

Ibn Taymiya left a considerable body of work that has been republished extensively in Syria, Egypt, Arabia, and India. His work extended and justified his religious and political involvements and was characterized by its rich content, sobriety, and skillful polemical style. Extant books and essays written by ibn Taymiya include:

  • A Great Compilation of Fatwa(Majmu al-Fatwa al-Kubra)
  • Minhaj as-Sunnah an-Nabawiyyah—(The Pathway of as-Sunnah an-Nabawiyyah)—Volumes 1-4
  • Majmoo' al-Fatawa—(Compilation of Fatawa) Volumes 1-36
  • al-Aqeedah Al-Hamawiyyah—(The Creed to the People of Hamawiyyah)
  • al-Aqeedah Al-Waasittiyah—(The Creed to the People of Waasittiyah)
  • al-Asma wa's-Sifaat—(Allah's Names and Attributes) Volumes 1-2
  • 'al-Iman—(Faith)
  • al-Uboodiyyah—(Subjection to Allah)
  • Iqtida' as-Sirat al-Mustaqim'—(Following The Straight Path)
  • at-Tawassul wal-Waseela
  • Sharh Futuh al-Ghayb—(Commentary on Revelations of the Unseen by Abdul Qadir Jilani)

Students and intellectual heirs

  • Ibn Kathir (1301 C.E.-1372 C.E.)
  • Ibn al-Qayyim (1292 C.E.-1350 C.E.)
  • al-Dhahabi (1274 C.E.-1348 C.E.)
  • Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab (1703 C.E.-1792 C.E.)

al-Aqeedah Al-Waasittiyah, one of Taymiyyah's more famous books, was written in response a request from one judge from Wasith. He asked Ibn Taymiyyah to write his views about theology in Islam. This book contains several chapters. In the first chapter Ibn Taymiyyah defines one group which he called Al Firq An-Najiyah (the group of survival). He quoted one hadith that Muhammad promised that there will be one group of his followers to stay on the truth until the day of Resurrection. This chapter also contains the definition of jamaah and states that only one sect from the seventy-three Muslim sects will enter jannah (heaven).

Chapter two contains the view of Ahlus-Sunnah wa'l Jamaah regarding the attributes of Allah based on the Qur'an and Sunnah without ta'teel (rejection), tamtsil (anthropomorphism), tahreef (changes His Attribute), and takyif (questioned His Attribute).

This book also contains the six parts of faith for Muslims, namely believing in Allah, His Angels, His Messengers, His Books, the Day of Resurrection, and the Predecree.

Shi'a view

Ibn Taymiyyah holds Shi'as in a negative light, which makes Shi'as have an extremely negative view of him. They are known for labeling him a nasibi, for example "Imam of the Nasibis, Ibn Taymiyya."[3]

Sunni view

Throughout history, Sunni scholars and thinkers have praised Ibn Taymiyyah for his works, they include:

  • Ibn Taymiyyah's student, Ibn Kathir, who stated:

    He (Ibn Taymiyyah) was knowledgeable in fiqh. And it was said that he was more knowledgeable of fiqht of the madhabs than the followers of those very same madhabs, (both) in his time and other than his time. He was a scholar of the fundamental issues, the subsidiary issues, of grammar, language, and other textual and intellectual sciences. And no scholar of a science would speak to him except that he thought the science was of specialty of Ibn Taymiyyah. As for hadeeth, then he was the carrier of its flag, a hafidh, able to distinguish the weak from the strong and fully acquainted with the narrators.[4]

  • Ibn Taymiyyah's other student, Al-Dhahabi, stated:

    Ibn Taymiyyah… the matchless individual of the time with respect to knowledge, cognizance, intelligence, memorization, generosity, asceticism, excessive braveness and abundancy of (written) works. May Allah rectify and direct him. And we, by the praise of Allah, are not amongst those who exaggerate about him and nor are we of those who are harsh and rough with him. No one with perfection like that of the Imams and Tabieen and their successors has been seen and I did not see him (Ibn Taymiyyah) except engrossed in a book.[5]</blockqoute>

More modern Sunni thinkers include the 18th century Arab reformer, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who studied the works of Ibn Taymiya and aimed to revive his teachings. Disciples of al-Wahhab took control of what became Saudi Arabia in 1926, where only Ibn Hanbal's school of law is recognized. Ibn Taymiyyah's works became the basis of the contemporary Salafi. He has been cited by Osmama bin Laden.[6]

Others include the Islamist thinker Sayyid Qutb, who used some of Ibn Taymiyyah's writings to justify rebellion against a Muslim ruler and society.

Ibn Taymiya is revered as an intellectual and spiritual exemplar by many Salafis.


  1. Charles D. Matthews, "A Muslim Iconoclast (Ibn Taymiyyeh) on the 'Merits' of Jerusalem and Palestine," in American Oriental Society (New Haven, 1936).
  2. MuslimPhilosophy.com, Ibn Taymiyyah. Retrieved June 17, 2007.
  3. Revealing the Truth, Placing the Hanifa Imam of the Deobandis Nasibs under the microscope. Retrieved June 17, 2007.
  4. "Mountains of Knowledge," (14/118-119).
  5. "Mountains of Knowledge"
  6. Bid Laden, Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Two Holy Places. Retrieved June 16, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Kepel, Gilles. Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh. Translated by Jon Rothschild. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. ISBN 9780520056879.
  • Little, Donald P. Did Ibn Taymiyya Have a Screw Loose? Studia Islamica, 1975.
  • Makdisi, G. Ibn Taymiyya: A Sufi of the Qadiriya Order. American Journal of Arabic Studies, 1973.
  • Michel, Thomas F. A Muslim Theologian's Response to Christianity: Ibn Taymiyya's Al-Jawab Al-Sahih (Studies in Islamic Philosophy and Science) Delmar, NY: Caravan Books, 1985. ISBN 978-0882060583.
  • Sivan, Emmanuel. Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics. London: Yale University Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0300038880.
  • Sivan, Emmanuel. Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985. ISBN 9780300032635.

External links

All links retrieved January 25, 2018.


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