About ibn Taymiyya


Ibn Taymiya is Ahmad ibn Abd al-Salaam ibn Abdullah, Abu al-Abbas Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiya al-Harrani, born in Harran, east of Damascus, in 661/1263. A famous Hanbali scholar in Qur'anic exegesis (tafsir), hadith and jurisprudence, Ibn Taymiya was a voracious reader and author of great personal courage who was endowed with a compelling writing style and a keen memory. Dhahabi wrote of him, "I never saw anyone faster at recalling the Qur'anic verses dealing with subjects he was discussing, or anyone who could remember hadith texts more vividly." Dhahabi estimates that his legal opinions on various subjects amount to three-hundred or more volumes.  

He was imprisoned during much of his life in Cairo, Alexandria, and Damascus for his writings, scholars of his time accusing him of believing Allah to be a corporeal entity because of what he mentioned in his al-aqida al-Hamawiyya and al-Wasitiyya and other works, such as that Allah's 'hand', 'foot', 'shin' and 'face' are literal (haqiqi) attributes, and that He is upon the Throne in person. The error in this is suggesting such attributes are literal is an innovation and unjustifiable inferance from the Qur'anic and hadith texts that mention them, for the way of early Muslims was mere acceptance of such expressions on faith without saying how they are meant, and without additions, subtractions, or substituting meanings imagined to be synonyms, while acknowledging Allah's absolute transcedence beyond the characteristics of created things, in conformity with the Qur'anic verse "There is nothing whatsoever like unto him" [Qur'an 42:11]. As for figurative interpretations that preserve the divine transcendence, scholars of tenents of faith have only had recourse to them in times when men of reprehensible innovation (bid'a), quoting hadiths and Qur'anic verses, have caused confusion in the minds of common Muslims as to whether Allah has attributes like those of His creation or whether He is transcendently beyond any image conceivable to the minds of men. Scholars' firmness in condemning those who have raised such confusions has traditionally been very uncompromising, and this is no doubt the reason that a number of the Imams of the Shafi'i school, among them Taqi al-Din Subki, Ibn Hajar Haytami and al-Izz ibn Jama'a, gave formal legal opinions (fatawa) that ibn Taymiya was misguided and misguiding in tenents of faith, and warned people from accepting his theories. The Hanafi scholar Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari has written "Whoever thinks that all the scholars of his time joined in a single conspiracy against him from personal envy should rather impugn their own intelligence and understanding, after studying the repugnance of his deviations in beliefs and works, for which he was asked to repent time after time and moved from prison to prison until he passed on to what he'd sent ahead."  

While few deny that ibn Taymiya was a copious and eloquent writer and hadith scholar, his career, like that of others, demonstrates that a man may be outstanding in one field and yet suffer from radical deficiencies in another, the most reliable index of which is how a field's Imams regard his work in it. By this measure, indeed, by the standards of all previous Ahl al-Sunna scholars, it is clear that despite voluminous and influential written legacy, ibn Taymiya cannot be considered an authority on tenents of faith ('aqida), a field in which he made mistakes profoundly incompatible with the beliefs of Islam, as also with a number of his legal views that violated the scholarly consensus (ijma) of Sunni Muslims. It should be remembered that such matters are not the province of personal reasoning (ijtihad), whether Ibn Taymiya considered them to be so out of sincere conviction, or whether simply because, as Imam Subki said, "his learning exceeded his intelligence." He died in Damascus in 728/1328.  

Quoted from Reliance of the Traveller ['Umdat as-Salik] by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller