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Ibn Taymīyah, Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad

Ronald L. Nettler
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Ibn Taymīyah, Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad

Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Taymīyah (1263–1328), was a prominent, influential, and sometimes controversial thinker and political figure. Born in Harran, a city located in modern-day Turkey, to a family of Ḥanbalī scholars (including his paternal grandfather, uncle, and father), Ibn Taymīyah was himself a Ḥanbalī in many juridical and theological matters, and a Salafī on a wider plane. He has had a strong influence on conservative Sunnī circles and, in the modern period, on both liberals and conservatives.

Ibn Taymīyah 's life was a mix of intellectual activity, preaching, politics, and periodic persecutions and imprisonments. This was in the context of the great disruptions caused by the Mongol invasions. At the age of five in 1268, Ibn Taymīyah was taken with his family to Damascus, in flight from the Mongol threat. He was educated there in the traditional religious sciences and took over for his father as head of the Sukkarīyah mosque and professor of Ḥanbalī law in about 1282. Ibn Taymīyah taught and preached elsewhere in Damascus and in other cities. He incurred the wrath of some Shāfiʿī and other ʿulamāʿ (religious scholars) and theologians for some of his teachings on theology and law. He was persecuted and imprisoned in Syria and Egypt, for his tashbīh (anthropomorphism), several of his rulings derived through ijtihād (independent reason), and his idiosyncratic legal judgments (e.g., on ṭalāq [divorce]). Ibn Taymīyah was also active in anti-Mongol propaganda. His legal and theological definitions used in determining whether the Mongols (particularly Mongol rulers) were Muslims or kāfirs (nonbelievers) proved to be influential in some places. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah and Ibn Kathīr were Ibn Taymīyah 's most important disciples, although in the modern period many have claimed to be spreading his word. Ibn Taymīyah wrote numerous works, most of which have been published and translated.

Ibn Taymīyah 's main doctrine was, in Ḥanbalī fashion, based on the supremacy of Qurʿān and sunnah (received custom) and the salaf (early Muslims)as ultimate authorities. He applied an austere exegetical literalism to the sacred sources. Ibn Taymīyah condemned the popular practice of saint veneration and condemned pilgrimages to the ziyārat al-qubūr (tombs of saints) as bidʿah (innovation) and tantamount to worshiping something other than God. He rejected as alien and an innovation the methods and content of ʿilm al-kalām (discursive theology), falsafah (peripatetic philosophy), and metaphysical Sufism (though he did encourage pietistic Sufism). This conservatism was also, interestingly, the basis of Ibn Taymīyah 's argument against blind obedience to taqlīd (established legal judgments). In his view, the salaf had had to balance the sacred sources with their own ijtihād in order to understand and live according to God's law and that the same was required of modern generations. Ibn Taymīyah thus employed an ijtihād, which also relied more on qiyās (analogical reasoning) than jurists before him.

For Ibn Taymīyah, īmān (a deep pietistic belief) was the source and power of all religion as well as its epistemological foundation. Without it, he thought, doctrine could have no meaning or force. In Ibn Taymīyah 's own life as a pietistic Ṣūfī he exemplified such belief. His treatise on īmān (Kitāb al-īmān) is one of the most profound and subtle treatments of the subject produced in medieval Islam.

A number of Ibn Taymīyah 's ideas have a relevance to society and politics, including his notion of the closeness between religion and state, his defining of the Mongols as kāfirs, in spite of their public Islamic discourse, and his general antipathy toward the ahl al-kitāb (people of the book). Ibn Taymīyah 's significance for modern Islamic thought and culture is considerable and his mark is deep within conservative and Islamist circles. But some liberal trends have also invoked him, especially for his notion of ijtihād and his antipathy to taqlīd. Insofar as modern Islam has been profoundly preoccupied with issues of religion, state, and society, Ibn Taymīyah 's influence is present, whether implicit or explicit, particulary in the Arab world.

For example, the Wahhābī movement and the Saudi state, which emerged from it, have been deeply affected by certain of Ibn Taymīyah 's ideas. The Wahhābī emphasis on Qurʿān and sunnah; a literalistic exegesis; a distaste for speculative strains of theology, the four schools of Sunnī legal thought, and mysticism; a rejection of the visitation of tombs; and a conception of the early ummah (community) in Medina as the model for a modern Islamic state all reflect Ibn Taymīyah 's outlook.

Many of the later Islamist thinkers and trends have drawn heavily from Ibn Taymīyah 's principles for their general worldview, especially in their conception of Islam and the ummah and the close connection between politics and religion. This is clear in the thought of Ḥasan al-Bannāʿ in Egypt, whose insistence on Islam as a synthesis of religion and state (dīn wa dawlah) and his practical religious tendencies owe much to the earlier thinker.

With the Egyptian Sayyid Quṭb (1906–1966), this tendency became pronounced. In his notion of jāhilīyah (ignorance) as the non-Islamic modern culture of moral and intellectual relativism and the absolute conflict between God 's law and that culture, Quṭb exemplified Ibn Taymīyah 's sharp distinction between Islam and non-Islam. For example, Quṭb 's persistent attack on Muslim rulers, regimes, and intelligentsia for allegedly ruling and teaching according to secular principles rather than Islamic teachings seems firmly based on Ibn Taymīyah's far-reaching pronouncement concerning the status of the Mongols. In this view, leaders of modern nation-states are akin to the Mongols in publicly espousing Islam but acting against its principles. They thereby confuse those Muslim subjects whose faith is already weak. Based on Ibn Taymīyah 's assertion, the Muslim identity of these modern rulers must be questioned. Some militant fundamentalist groups, particularly in the Arab world (and Iran), have explicitly argued for takfīr (excommunication), branding them as kāfirs.

A prominent example of the principle of takfīr can be seen in the widely disseminated tractate, Al-farīḍah al-ghāʿibah (The Absent Precept), by Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Salām Faraj. Faraj, the intellectual voice of the group that engineered Anwar el-Sadat 's assassination, cites Ibn Taymīyah 's fatwā (ruling) on the Mongols as a legal precedent in his takfīr of contemporary rulers and religious authorities. This book has been considered by the religious establishment in Egypt to be offensive, doctrinally wrong, and dangerous. Even years after Sadat's death, the Majallat al-Azhar (Journal of al-Azhar) published a special 112-page booklet in July 1993, criticizing Faraj 's tractate point by point. Concerning Ibn Taymīyah 's takfīr of the Mongols as a universal precedent, the al-Azhar booklet argues that Ibn Taymīyah 's fatwā was time-bound, relevant only to that particular case, with no correlation to twentieth-century Egypt: “Can there be any comparison between these people [the Mongols] who did to Muslims [the things] carried within the history books and [modern] Egypt, its rulers and its people? Can one really compare those with these? … These explanations … [which we have given] of the reasons for [Ibn Taymīyah 's] fatwā show that Ibn Taymīyah took his position [solely] with regard to the contemporary situation of the Tartars. [Thus in his view] they were [kāfirs], non-Muslims, even though they spoke the language of Islam in an attempt to lead Muslims astray” (pp. 35–36).

With the polarization of modern Islamic political thought on these issues in the latter half of the twentieth century, Ibn Taymīyah 's influence, through Sayyid Quṭb, the Islamic movements, and others, has become dominant on one side of the political debate.

See also ḤANBALī; SALAFīYAH; and Ṣūfīs and SUFISM, subentry onTHOUGHT AND PRACTICE.]


  • DeLong-Bas, Natana J.Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah, Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr. Asmāʿ Muʿallafāt Ibn TaymīyahDamascus, 1953. Catalogue of Ibn Taymīyah's main works, written by a great disciple.
  • Ibrahim, Ezzedin, ed.The Goodly Word. Islamic Texts Society, 2003.
  • Laoust, Henri. Essai sur les doctrines sociales et politiques de Takī-d-Dīn b. Taimīya (A Study of the Social and Political Thought of Taqī Ibn Taimīya). Cairo, 1939. Standard book on Ibn Taymīyah's social and political thought.
  • Laoust, Henri. La biographie d’Ibn Taimīya (Biography of Ibn Taimīya). Damascus, 1943. The best biography of Ibn Taymīyah.
  • Makari, Victor E.Ibn Taymiyyah's Ethics: The Social Factor. Interesting and valuable discussion of Ibn Taymīyah's theory of social ethics.
  • Memon, Muhammad Umar. Ibn Taymīya 's Struggle against Popular Religion. The Hague and Paris, 1976. Excellent account of Ibn Taymīyah 's ideas on popular religious practices. The book also includes a valuable discussion of Ibn Taymīyah's refutation of Ibn ʿArabī's metaphysical Sufism.
  • Michot, Yahya, trans.Ibn Taymiyya: Un Dieu hesitant? (A Hesitant God?). Paris: Editions Albouraq, 2005.
  • Michot, Yahya, trans.Ibn Taymiyya: Mardin: Hegire, fuite du peche et “demeure de l’Islam”). Paris: Editions Albouraq, 2005.
  • Michot, Yahya, trans.Mécréance et pardon: Ecrits spirituals d’Ibn Taymiyya. Paris: Editions Albouraq, 2005.
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