Ibn Taymiyya

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 great scholars of his time, among them a woman scholar by the name Zaynab bint Makki from whom he learned Hadith.

Ibn Taymiyyah 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 as well as studying mathematics and calligraphy. His scholarly zeal combined with his intense partisanship and hypergraphia led many contemporaries and later observers, most notably Ibn Battuta to consider him mentally unbalanced.[5]

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 decisively mastered, he also acquired an extensive knowledge of the Islamic disciplines of the Qur’an and the Hadith. He also studied theology (kalam), philosophy, and Sufism,[6]. He also refuted the Shia as well as the Christians. His student Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya authored the famous poem “O Christ-Worshipper” which unapologetically examined the dogma of the Trinity propounded by many Christian sects.

His troubles with government began when he went with a delegation of ulamaa to talk to Ghazan Khan, the Khan of the Mongol Ilkhans in Iran, to stop his attack on the Muslims. It is reported that not one of the ulamaa 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.”[7]

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 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 Allah.

In fact, in his book Kitabul Wasitiyyah, Ibn Taymiya refutes the stance of the Mushabbihah (those who liken the creation with Allah: 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 & Attributes of Allah 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).

Often cited is the famous incidence of Imam Malik in which he succinctly responded to a man who inquired: How did Allah rise over (istawa) over the Throne? He responded that rising over (istiwa) is known, “how” is not understood, having faith upon it is mandatory, and inquiring and questioning regarding such matters is a reprehensible innovation (bid’a). So Imam Malik affirms the apparent meaning without likening, establishing howness, and neither resorting to metaphorical explanations.

Ibn Taymiyyah also censured the scholars for blindly conforming to the precedence of early jurists without any resort to Qur’an & 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 Qur’an & Sunnah can lead to ignorance and stagnancy in Islamic Law. Ibn Taimiya likened the extremism of Taqleed (blind conformity to juridical precedence or school of thought) to the practice of Jews who took their rabbis as gods besides Allah.

Due to Ibn Taymiya’s outspokenness, uncompromising deference to the salaf, and utter intolerance for any views other than his own, he was imprisoned several times for conflicting with the ‘ijma of jurists and theologians of his day.

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 Kasrawan Shi’a in Lebanon, (2) the Rifa’i Sufi order, and (3) 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.

Ibn Taymiyyah spent his last fifteen years in Damascus where a circle of disciples formed around him from every social class. The most famous of these, 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 traditionally divorce his wife.

Ibn Taymiyyah was also a staunch critic of veneration of tombs and treating them as place of worship and supplication. He stated that when a Muslim says “La ILAHA ILLA ALLAH” (also known as the Shahadah), he/she testifies that he/she will worship Allah and Allah alone. Therefore, going through intermediaries, invoking them, and seeking their assistance is an act of shirk (associating partners in the worship of Allah). Ibn Taymiya argued that salaf affirmed that belief in Tawheed entails believing in Allah’s Lordship that He alone is the Rabb, and secondly one must worship Him and Him alone. Belief that Allah alone is worthy of worship is central to Islam and it is crucial reason why pagans of Muhammad’s time rejected him even though they believed Allah as Rabb and affirmed His existence. However, they opposed Muhammad when it came to the second point, and that is to worship Allah alone, and repudiate completely worship, supplication, seeking assistance, and deification of any other object.

Ibn Taymiyyah further explains that worship (also known as ibada) has a broad scope in Islam for it requires complete uboodiyah(servitude) to Allah. Therefore, worship in Islam includes conventional acts of worship such as five times daily prayers and fasting along with Dua (supplication), Istia’dha(seeking protection or refuge), Ist’ana (seeking help), and istigatha (seeking benefits). Therefore, making dua to something other than Allah, or seeking supernatural help and protection which is only befitting of a divine being from something other than Allah are acts of shirk and contradict Tawheed. Therefore, he strongly condemned those who excessively venerated graves and saints supplicating to them, invoking them in times of need, and seeking to draw closer to Allah through them. He condemned them for treating the saints who had died as intercessors, protectors, and benefactors for no one deserves to be Loved, Feared, Invoked in times of Need, sought refuge in, and supplicated to other than Allah. He concludes that seeking to draw closer to Allah by means of righteous intermediaries was the practice of pagans of Muhammad’s time for they treated their idols as their intercessors with Allah.

Opponents and critics of Ibn Taymiyah 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 Taymiya rejected was the type not sanctioned by 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 Judgment had indeed disbelieved. He also affirmed that Allah 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 (1) Allah chooses the intercessor, and (2) chooses the people on whose behalf intercession is possible. Therefore, Allah 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 Allah, (2) intercession through one’s good deed, and (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, we ask each other to make dua for the other. Ibn Taymiyyah rejected the notion that saints and prophets should be invoked for intercession while they have departed from this world. He argues that Allah is the Most Merciful, and seeking intercession and intermediaries towards forgiveness implies that a saint or a prophet is more merciful and understanding than Allah.

Ibn Taymiyyah was known for his prodigious memory and encyclopedic knowledge. Al-Subkî said: “He memorized a lot and did not discipline himself with a shaykh.” He taught, authored books, gave formal legal opinions, and generally distinguished himself for his quick wit and photographic memory.[8] And about his encyclopedic knowledge, we learn from Kamaal ad-Deen Ibn az-Zamlakaanee, who debated with Ibn Taymiyyah on more than one occasion, that:

Whenever he was questioned on a particular field of knowledge, the one who witnessed and heard (the answer) concluded that he had knowledge of any other field and that no one possessed such as his knowledge. The jurists of all groups, whenever they sat with him, they would benefit from him regarding their own schools of thought in areas they previously were unaware of. It is not known that he debated anyone whereby the discussion carne to a standstill or that whenever he spoke on about a particular field of knowledge – whether it be related to the sciences of the Sharee’ah or else – that he would not then excel the specialists of that field and those who are affiliated to it.” [9]


Ibn Taymiyyah left a considerable body of work (350 works listed by his student Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya[43] and 500 by other student al-Dhahabi[44]) 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 Taymiyyah include:

  • A Great Compilation of Fatwa—(Majmu al-Fatwa al-Kubra) This was collected centuries after his death, and contains several of the works mentioned below.
  • 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-Jawab as Sahih li man Baddala Din al-Masih (Literally, “The Correct Response to those who have Corrupted the Deen (Religion) of the Messiah”; A Muslim theologian’s response to Christianity)—seven volumes, over a thousand pages.
  • as-Sarim al-Maslul ‘ala Shatim ar-RasulThe Drawn Sword against those who insult the Messenger. Written in response to an incident in which Ibn Taymiyyah heard a Christian insulting Muhammad. The book is well-known because he wrote it entirely by memory, while in jail, and quoting more than hundreds of references.[45]
  • Fatawa al-Kubra
  • Fatawa al-Misriyyah
  • ar-Radd ‘ala al-Mantiqiyyin (Refutation of Greek Logicians)
  • Naqd at-Ta’sis
  • al-Uboodiyyah—(Subjection to Allah)
  • Iqtida’ as-Sirat al-Mustaqim’—(Following The Straight Path)
  • al-Siyasa al-shar’iyya
  • at-Tawassul wal-Waseela
  • Sharh Futuh al-Ghayb—(Commentary on Revelations of the Unseen by Abdul-Qadir Gilani)

Some of his other works have been translated to English. They include:

  • The Friends of Allah and the Friends of Shaytan
  • Kitab al Iman: The Book of Faith
  • Diseases of the Hearts and their Cures
  • The Relief from Distress
  • Fundamentals of Enjoining Good & Forbidding Evil
  • The Concise Legacy
  • The Goodly Word
  • The Madinan Way
  • Ibn Taymiyya against the Greek logicians


  1. ^ a b c “Ibn Taymiyyah: Profile and Biography”. Atheism.about.com. 2009-10-29. http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/islam/blfaq_islam_taymiyyah.htm. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  2. ^ a b “Ibn Taymiyya, Taqi al-Din (1263–1328)”. Muslimphilosophy.com. http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ip/rep/H039.htm. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  3. ^ Mountains of Knowledge, pg 222
  4. ^ Mountains of Knowledge, pg 220
  5. ^ Little, Donald P. “Did Ibn Taymiyya Have a Screw Loose” Studia Islamica No. 41 (1975), pp. 93–111 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1595400
  6. ^ see aqidatul-waasitiyyah daarussalaam publications
  7. ^ “SCHOLARS BIOGRAPHIES \ 8th Century \ Shaykh al-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah”. Fatwa-online.com. http://www.fatwa-online.com/scholarsbiographies/8thcentury/ibntaymiyyah.htm. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  8. ^ Al-Subkî, Fatâwâ cited in his al-I`tibâr (3rd epistle of al-Durra al-Mud.iyya p. 59)
  9. ^ Ar-Radd al-Waafir, pg. 58.


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