Ibn Taymiyya

Ahmad ibn `Abd al-Halim ibn `Abd Allah ibn Abi al-Qasim ibn Taymiyya, Taqi al-Din Abu al-`Abbas ibn Shihab al-Din ibn Majd al-Din al-Harrani al-Dimashqi al-Hanbali (661-728). The most influential scholar of the late Hanbali school, praised by the hadith master Salah al-Din al-`Ala’i as:

“Our shaykh, master, and imam between us and Allah Almighty, the master of verification, the wayfarer of the best path, the owner of the multifarious merits and overpowering proofs which all hosts agree are impossible to enumerate, the Shaykh, the Imam and faithful servant of his Lord, the doctor in the Religion, the Ocean, the light-giving Pole of spirituality, the leader of imams, the blessing of the Community, the sign-post of the people of knowledge, the inheritor of Prophets, the last of those capable of independent legal reasoning, the most unique of the scholars of the Religion, Shaykh al-Islam…

A student of Ibn `Abd al-Da’im, al-Qasim al-Irbili, Ibn `Allan, Ibn Abi `Amr al-Fakhr, Ibn Taymiyya mostly read by himself until he achieved great learning. He taught, authored books, gave formal legal opinions, and generally distinguished himself for his quick wit and photographic memory. Among his most brilliant students were Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, al-Dhahabi, Ibn Kathir, and Yusuf ibn `Abd al-Hadi. His opinions and manner created intense controversy both in his life and after his death, to the point that scholars were divided into those who loved him and those who did not. An illustration of this is the fact that the Shafi`i hadith master al-Mizzi did not call anyone else Shaykh al-Islam in his time besides Ibn Taymiyya; yet the Hanafi scholar `Ala’ al-Din al-Bukhari issued a fatwa whereby anyone who called Ibn Taymiyya Shaykh al-Islam commited disbelief.1 In Bayan Zaghl al-`Ilm al-Dhahabi states: “Ibn Taymiyya was considered by his enemies to be a wicked Anti-Christ and disbeliever, while great numbers of the wise and the elite considered him an eminent, brilliant, and scholarly innovator (mubtadi` fadil muhaqqiq bari`).”2

First Incident of Tashbih

His first clash with the scholars occurred in 698 in Damascus when he was temporarily barred from teaching after he issued his Fatwa Hamawiyya. In this epistle he unambiguously attributes literal upward direction to Allah Almighty. He was refuted by his contemporary, the imam and mufti of Aleppo then Damascus Ibn Jahbal al-Kilabi (d. 733), in a lengthy reply which Taj al-Din al-Subki reproduced in full in his Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Kubra. Ibn Taymiyya then returned to his activities until he was summoned by the authorities again in 705 to answer for his `Aqida Wasitiyya. He spent the few following years in and out of jail or defending himself from various “abhorrent charges” according to Ibn Hajar. Because he officially repented, his life was spared, although at one point it was officially announced in Damascus that “Whoever follows the beliefs of Ibn Taymiyya, his life and property are licit for seizure.” These events instigated great dissension among the scholars in Damascus and Cairo as detailed in Imam Taqi al-Din al-Husni’s Daf` Shubah Man Shabbaha wa Tamarrad wa Nasaba Dhalika ila al-Sayyid al-Jalil al-Imam Ahmad (“Repelling the Sophistries of the Rebel who Likens Allah to Creation, Then Attributes This Doctrine to Imam Ahmad”).3

Ibn Taymiyya at various times declared himself a follower of the Shafi`i school – as did many Hanbalis in Damascus – and an Ash`ari.

Ibn Hajar wrote in al-Durar al-Kamina:

An investigation [of his views] was conducted with several scholars [in Cairo] and a written statement was drawn in which he said: “I am Ash`ari.” His handwriting is found with what he wrote verbatim, namely: “I believe that the Qur’an is a meaning which exists in Allah’s Entity, and that it is an Attribute from the pre-eternal Attributes of His Entity, and that it is uncreated, and that it does not consist in the letter nor the voice, and that His saying: “The Merciful established Himself over the Throne” (20:4) is not taken according to its literal meaning (laysa `ala zahirihi), and I don’t know in what consists its meaning, nay only Allah knows it, and one speaks of His ‘descent’ in the same way as one speaks of His ‘establishment.'”

It was written by Ahmad ibn Taymiyya and they witnessed over him that he had repented of his own free will from all that contravened the above. This took place on the 25th of Rabi` al-Awwal 707 and it was witnessed by a huge array of scholars and others.4

The Hanbali scholar Najm al-Din Sulayman ibn `Abd al-Qawi al-Tufi said:5

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