SHEIKH-UL-ISLAM IMAM IBN TAIMIYAHA–BRIEF BIOGRAPHY


Imam Ibn Taimiyah’s full name is Taqi ud-Din Ahmad bin ‘Abdul-Halim. He was born in Harran on
22 January, 1263 AD (10 Rabi’ Al-Awwal, 661 AH). His family had long been renowned for its
learning. His father ‘Abdul-Halim, uncle Fakhr ud-Din and grandfather Majd ud-Din were great
scholars of Hanbalite school of jurisprudence and the authors of many books. His family members
were forced to leave their native place in 1269 AD before the approach of the Mongols and to take
refuge in Damascus. At that time, Ibn Taimiyah was seven years old. His father ‘Abdul-Halim was
appointed as Professor and Head of the Sukkariyah Madrasah. Endowed with a penetrating intellect
and a wonderful memory, Ibn Taimiyah studied, at an early stage, all the disciplines of jurisprudence,
Ahadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him), commentaries of the Quran, mathematics and philosophy,
and in each he was far lead of his contemporaries. Among his teachers, was Shams ud-Din AlMaqdisi, first Hanbali Chief Justice of Syria following the reform of the judiciary by Baibars. The
number of Ibn Taimiyah’s teachers exceeds two hundred. Ibn Taimiyah was barely seventeen, when
Qadi Al-Maqdisi authorized him to issue Fatwa (legal verdict). Qadi remembered with pride that it
was he who had first permitted an intelligent and learned man like Ibn Taimiyah to give Fatwa. At the
same age, he started delivering lectures. When he was thirty, he was offered the office of Chief
Justice, but refused, as he could not persuade himself to follow the limitations imposed by the
authorities.
Imam Ibn Taimiyah’s education was essentially that of a Hanbali theologian and jurisconsult. But to
his knowledge of early and classical Hanbalism, he added not only that of the other schools of
jurisprudence but also that of heresiographical literature, in particular of philosophy and Sufism. He
had an extensive knowledge of Quran, Sunnah, Greek philosophy, Islamic history, and religious books
of others, as is evident from the variety of the books he wrote. Though he preferred the Hanbali school
of jurisprudence, he was never biased in favor of it. In his writings, he frequently quoted the opinions
of all four of the well-known schools of jurisprudence, even others. In a number of matters, he himself
held opinions different from those of the four schools. In fact, he was an original thinker (Mujtahid)
who merely drew upon the wisdom of the four established schools.
In all his reformative efforts, Ibn Taimiyah accepted the Our an and the Sunnah (traditions of the
Prophet (peace be upon him)) as the basic criteria. In matters where there was no clear guidance from
the Quran and the Sunnah, he never hesitated to venture into rational thought and took the path of
Ijtihad or creative originality an initiative.
The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries AD have a distinguished place in Islamic history. Ibn AlAtheer described the political and military conditions prevailing in the Muslim world during Ibn
Taimiyah’s lifetime in the following words:”Islam and Muslims had during that period been afflicted by such disasters that no other nation had
experienced. One such affliction was the invasion by the Tatar. They came from the east and inflicted
overwhelming damages. Another was the onset of the Prankish people (the Crusaders) from the West
to Mesopotamia and Egypt, they occupied its ports, and nearly subjected all of Egypt to their rule, had
it not been from Allah’s Mercy and victory over them. But another affliction was that the Muslims
themselves had been divided, and their swords lifted up against their fellows.
“In addition to such horrid conditions facing the Muslims on the political and military front, Islam as
practiced and preached by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and As-Salaf As-Salih (the
righteous predecessors) was being seriously challenged by various deviant sects. The Sufi movement
which was spearheaded by the teachings of Al-Ghazali had won over many converts and was
exercising a firm hold on the intellect and patterns of thought of many people. Along with this AlAsh’ari system of creed had been widely accepted by the majority of the scholars of Ibn Taimiyah’s
day. Al-Ash ‘ari system of doctrine was a mixture of the Salafi methodology which is based on
revelation centered theology and the Mu’tazilah methodology which is based on a rationalist thought
system. Taqleed was practiced widely. Even though information on the Deen, Fiqh, Ahadith, etc., was
abundantly available, only a handful of scholars and ordinary people took up the task of investigating
the sources of the knowledge and its vehicle. Most people blindly accepted the teaching of their
Sheikh or Imam without questioning or investigating the sources from where the knowledge had
come.”
Imam Ibn Taimiyah’s struggles and persecutions
Ibn Taimiyah’s life was not confined to the world of books and words. Whenever circumstances
demanded, he took part in political and public affairs too, distinguishing himself not only through his
writings and speeches but also with the sword as a brave warrior.
Participation in Jihad
1300, the Mongols under their king Ghazan, invaded Syria and defeated the Sultan’s army. Ibn
Taimiyah, by this time well-known, flung himself into the stream of affairs, while the religious divines
and saints were leaving Damascus to take refuge in Egypt. When Mongol threat arose for a second
time, Ibn Taimiyah exhorted people to Jihad and encouraged them to confront the Mongols boldly. He
toured the cities, called the people to a holy war and fired them with zeal. After a pitched battle at
Shaqhab in which Ibn Taimiyah fought bravely, the Syrian-Egyptian army won a glorious victory that
turned the tide against the Mongols. This victory, which was to a great extent due to Ibn Taimiyah’s
efforts and
commitment, stopped the Mongols advance.
Apart from the battle of Shaqhab, he took part in some other expeditions with the Mamluk authorities,
and also undertook a few expeditions without them.
Opposition of rival Ulama
Because of his brilliant performance on the battlefield and his radical thinking, Ibn Taimiyah’s fame
spread throughout the realm, and he became a highly distinguished celebrity. This made a number of
jurists jealous. Ibn Kathir has pointed out this fact, saying that: ‘A group of jurisprudents were jealous
of Ibn Taimiyah, as the people paid heed to him. To enjoin good and forbid evil was his vocation, and because of this he became very popular among the people. His followers were countless. His religious
zeal, learning and actions made them jealous of him.’ For the complaint of rival Ulama, he was
imprisoned several times.
His last imprisonment began on 13 July, 1326 and lasted until his death. His opponents dug up an old
Fatwa, related to tomb visits, given by him some seventeen years before, which could be
provocatively interpreted. In his treatise on the subject (Risalah Ziyarah Al-Qubur) Ibn Taimiyah had
questioned the legality of visiting tombs, even the tomb of the Prophet (peace be upon him). His
opponents distorted the sense and context of this Fatwa to make it objectionable in the eyes of the
public and the Sultan. A great dispute arose and Ibn Taimiyah was imprisoned in the citadel of
Damascus along with some of his pupils including Ibn Al-Qaiyim.
While in prison, Ibn Taimiyah spent all his time teaching and writing. Many of his works were
produced in this period. In 1328, he was deprived of all means of writing, his pen and papers were
taken away.
But this did not stop him from writing; he wrote many letters and booklets with coal. He never
complained to anybody about his persecution. Only when all reading and writing materials were taken
away from him, did he say: ‘Now they really have put me into prison.’ He breathed his last on 26
September, 1328 (20 Dhul-Qa’dah 728 AH) having endured harsh conditions for five months. The
whole country mourned. Schools, shops, hotels and markets were closed to mark his death. His burial
was attended by the great numbers of Damascans; eyewitnesses confirm that, excepting some invalids,
all turned out for his funeral prayer, both those who had been for him and those against. This is a clear
testimony of his place among the people, of their appreciation of his sacrifices for public purposes and
just cause. Including the two years and three months of his last imprisonment, Ibn Taimiyah spent
about five years in different prisons.
A great reformer
In the Islamic perspective, ‘reform’ is understood quite differently than in Christian terminology. In
Islam, ‘reform’ means purification of the original Islamic teachings, and the removal of UN-Islamic
new practices (Bid’at) and misconceptions. In this sense of the word, Ibn Taimiyah was a great
reformer.
The main aspects of his reforms
The most important elements of Ibn Taimiyah’s reforms were: (a) to bring about a revolution against
UN-lslamic practices (Bidht) that had crept into Islam and to emphasize the concept of Tauhid with all
its implications; (b) a return to the fundamental priorities of Islam and its original spirit, instead of
disputing over secondary and nonfundamental problems.
Attack on philosophy and logic
Another target of Ibn Taimiyah’s criticism was Greek philosophy and logic. He knew that unless the
crippling falsehood of Greek philosophy was removed, the people would not be able to grasp the
Divine truth of Islam. He studied critically all the great Muslim philosophers and their works in this
regard, and then he opposed it extremely.
Rejection of Sufism and deniers of SifatHe abhorred the Sufi ideas of pantheism, gnosticism, and deterministic view of total religious
resignation. According to him the implication of these ideas upon the Muslim community were
devastating, because they led to political apathy, religious misconceptions, and withdrawal from an
active community life. A major portion of his intellectual energies was spent refuting the doctrine of
the Sufis.
The Shi ‘ah were also subjected to harsh criticism by Ibn Taimiyah because of the many flaws in their
doctrines and beliefs. He strongly denounced their falsification of the historical facts and forging of
the Sunnah to support their own political views.
Ibn Taimiyah also attacked Al-Jahmiyah and Al-Jabariyah — the determinists — who denied the
human being’s responsibility for any of his actions. He also denounced Al-Mu’tazilah and AlQadariyah — the rationalists — who held human free will as the basis of human action. He also did
doctrinal battle with the followers of Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari on various issues including
determinism/free will, the Names and Attributes of Allah, and other issues of the Islamic creed.
As a result of his confrontation with the Sufis and the scholasticists, he made many enemies among
them. Many of their leaders who exercised political clout used it against him, and as a result, he was
once exiled in Alexandria and imprisoned on three different occasions.
Ibn Tamiyah gave himself relentlessly to pointing the way to the knowledge which, in his own words,
means: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) shown the fundamentals and applications of religion, its
intent as well as its expression, its (intellectual) knowledge and its action. This fact is the foundation
of all fundamental knowledge and belief; and he who most adheres to this foundation is most worthy
of the truth — both, to know it and to do it.”

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