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Taqi al-Deen Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya
Mediæval scholar and activist. Progenitor of neo-Hanbalism.

NameTaqi al-Deen Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (1268-1328AD)
Also Known AsIbn Taymiyyah, Ibn Taymya, Ibn Taymiya
Sheikh al-Islam
Long version: Ahmad ibn Abd al-Salaam ibn Abdullah, Abu al-Abbas Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiya al-Harrani
BiographyThe mediæval Hanbali professor Ibn Taymiyya has been the most important inspiration for Sunni radicals of the modern era, and indeed he is respected for his scholarship by many non-radical Sunnis, despite the considerable reservations they express about his radicalism.1 Ibn Taymiyya was more outspoken than Ahmad bin Hanbal2 and lived in a time in which Islam was exposed to unusual pressure, most notably the conquest of the Abbasid Caliphate by the heathen Mongols in 1258 AD.3 These two factors help explain the revival by radicals of Ibn Taymiyya's legacy in the face of secularism, colonialism and the decline of the international prestige of the Umma (Muslim community) during the modern age.1 John L Esposito, Unholy War, p45. Sivan, Radical Islam, p94.
2 Sivan (p99) aptly describes Ibn Taymiyya as straying from the familiar path of sunni pessimistic compromise.
3 Esposito, p45.
4 Barbara Daly Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India, pp352-353.
Elaborating upon the literalism and vigilance against bid'a (innovation) of Imam Hanbal, Ibn Taymiyya was inclined to bypass the madhhabs or traditional schools (including that of Hanbal himself) in favour of direct inspiration from the Qur'an and the early Muslims,4 particularly Muhammad and his Companions (Sahaba). At a time when contemporary practices were demonstrably failing, the example of the 'pure' Islamic society Muhammad established at Medina in 622 AD, which was used as a springboard from which to conquer Mecca, was admired by Ibn Taymiyya. He advocated a close association between society, state and religion, and saw the world as starkly divided between Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb.
This dichotomy was tested when the Mongols converted to Sunni Islam, proclaiming the formula of faith and thus raising the difficult question of whether it was still legitimate for Egypt's Mamluks to wage jihad against them.5 Ibn Taymiyya's response was that the Mongols, by implementing 'man made laws' (the Yasa code) instead of the Shariah, were in fact living in a state of jahiliyya, or pre-Islamic pagan ignorance. Consequently jihad against such heretics or apostates was not only allowed, but obligatory. While welcomed by the Mamluk regime, Ibn Taymiyya's novel reinterpretation of jahiliyya was a double-edged sword: by predicating absolute condemnation of governments on inexactly defined proscriptions, it set a precedent which would haunt Muslim regimes into the modern era.5 Sivan, p96.
6 Sivan, pp97-98.
Ibn Taymiyya's puritanical attitude to new interpretations and methods of practising Islam was paradoxical since it was itself innovative.7 Developments which built upon the original teachings of Islam were sidelined or dismissed as 'superstition' or 'pre-Islamic ignorance'. The still broader interpretation of the concept of jahiliyya (pre-Islamic ignorance) applied by later thinkers has magnified this paradox. For example, while Ibn Taymiyya was a pious Sufi (mystic) who dismissed some Sufi practices (such as the veneration of tombs) as superstition,8 Ibn Wahhab and many Salafis condemned Sufism outright.97 As already outlined, Ibn Taymiyya’s ruling on the Mongols went against a mainstream Sunni reluctance to declare other Muslims takfir. See Esposito, p46.
8 Esposito, p46.
9 Youssef Choueiri, Islamic Fundamentalism, p22. Quintan Wiktorowicz, The Management of Islamic Activism, p115. Esposito, p108.
FAQIs Ibn Taymiyya radical or mainstream?
I have seen a few people attempt to ascribe a view to all Muslims by quoting Ibn Taymiyya. Here are some quotes by Islamic Traditionalist scholars that demonstrate their position on Ibn Taymiyya:

"The lava-stream that flows from Ibn Taymiyya, whose fierce xenophobia mirrored his sense of the imminent Mongol threat to Islam, has a habit of closing minds and hardening hearts."
- Abdal-Hakim Murad, Recapturing Islam from the Terrorists

"Even Ibn Taymiyya, with his frequent divergence from majority positions . . . "
- al-Fatawa al-Kubra, 1.280, cited by Faraz Rabbani, Hanafi Fiqh, 24th November 2003.

"Even great scholars known to depart from mainstream opinions, such as Ibn Hazm and Ibn Taymiyya (Allah have mercy on them), agreed."
- Faraz Rabbani, Sunni Path Hanafi Fiqh, 6th November 2003, referencing Ibn Taymiyya to refute a salafi argument.
Are Today's Islamists Followers of Ibn Taymiyya?
Many of today's Islamic radicals attempt to present their own creeds as continuations of the practices of previous scholars such as Ibn Taymiyya. However, just as Ibn Taymiyya took Hanbal's teachings and remade them, today's Wahhabis and Salafis have reinterpreted Ibn Taymiyya's teachings to suit their requirements. Ibn Taymiyya's own rebellious life and his particular place in Islamic history make him a particularly popular scholar for modern radical 'reformers' of Islam.
Ibn Wahhab modified Ibn Taymiyya's teachings significantly in the late 18th Century. That Wahhabism is not simply a carbon copy of Ibn Taymiyya's teachings is most convincingly demonstrated by the fact that Wahhabism is categorically opposed to all forms of Sufism (Islamic mysticism) whereas Ibn Taymiyya was himself a Sufi.
Salafism, the movement which began at Egypt's al-Azhar University in the latter part of the 19th Century, as an attempt to reconcile modernist ideas with Islam by re-interpreting the teachings of the predecessors, has also made reference to Ibn Taymiyya. Some western observers have incorrectly assumed that Salafism was practiced by Ibn Taymiyya, when in fact Salafism did not exist during his lifetime.
The most important contributor to the present-day appropriation of Ibn Taymiyya by radical Salafis was Pakistani Salafi Maulana Maududi, who in his "Four Technical Terms of the Quran", coined the phrase "new jahiliyya". While Ibn Taymiyya had applied the term jahiliyya to a leader and his state, Maududi's "new jahiliyya" applied to the whole of the Muslim community, as Maududi believed that the gradual linguistic drift in the Arabic language had caused Muslims to move away from the true teachings of the Quran and the pious predecessors (al-salaf al-saleh). This idea was picked up by Sayyid Qutb, Shukri Mustafa and other Jihadi-Salafis right through to Usama bin Laden. Thus, in the mouths of today's terrorists, the words of Ibn Taymiyya are frequently given meanings that Ibn Taymiyya himself would not even have considered.
  • Biography of Ibn Taymiyya excerpted from Reliance of the Traveller
  • Living Islam: A Brief Survey - A lengthy summary of various facts about, and opinions expressed about, Ibn Taymiyya.
  • Who is Ibn TaymiyyaA detailed, albeit one-sided, hagiography of Ibn Taymiyya. By Aisha bint Muhammad. (Jannah mirror
  • Atheism.about: Ibn Taymiyya Profile/Biography A basic biography that concentrates on Ibn Taymiyya's influence on modern political Islam. This article is imprecise in its use of the terms 'radical' and 'conservative'.
  • Publications
  • Enjoining Right and Forbidding Wrong
  • A Principle Concerning Unity and Splitting
  • The Religious and Moral Doctrine of Jihaad This translation is by Abu Suhayb (Adam Gadahn), an al-Qaeda linked convert to radical Islam who is wanted by the FBI. It should be noted that the Quranic translations do not represent mainstream interpretations.
  • Bibliography
  • Youssef M Choueiri, Islamic Fundamentalism, revised edition, Pinter (Cassell), London, 1997.
  • John L Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002.
  • Barbara Daly Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1982.
  • Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics, enlarged edition, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1990.
  • Trevor Stanley, The Quest for Caliphate: Islamist Innovation from Qutb to al-Qaeda, 2003.
  • Quintan Wiktorowicz, The Management of Islamic Activism: Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood and State Power in Jordan, SUNY series in Middle East Studies, State University of New York Press, Albany New York, 2001.
  • AuthorTrevor Stanley
    See AlsoMaulana Maududi, Sayyid Qutb, Shukri Mustafa, Usama bin Laden, Mullah Krekar, The Evolution of al-Qaeda

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