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Biographical Information on
Ibn Taymiyyah, Taqi al-Din Ahmad b. `Abd al-Halim

Category: Biography
[Biographical Notes in 'Reliance of the Traveller', Noah (Nuh) Ha Mim Keller, USA: Sunna Books, 1991 CE, x178 (pg. 1059-60) ]

Ibn Taymiya (p75.23) is Ahmad ibn `Abd al-Halim ibn `Abd al-Salam ibn `Abdullah, Abu al-`Abbas Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiya al-Harrani, born in Harran, east of Damascus, in 661/1263. A famous Hanbali scholar in Koranic exegesis, hadith, and jurisprudence. Ibn Taymiya was a voracious reader and author of great personal courage who was endowed with a compelling writing style and a keen memory. Dhahabi wrote of him, "I never saw anyone faster at recalling the Koranic verses dealing with subjects he was discussing, or anyone who could remember hadith texts more vividly." Dhahabi estimates that his legal opinions on various subjects amount to three-hundred or more volumes.

He was imprisoned during much of his life in Cairo, Alexandria, and Damascus for his writings, scholars of his time accusing him of believing Allah to be a corporeal entity because of what he mentioned in his al-`Aqida al-Hamawiyya, and al-Wasitiyya and other works, such as that Allah's 'hand', foot', 'shin', and face', are literal (haqiqi) attributes, and that He is upon the Throne in person. The error in this, as mentioned above at x174, is that suggesting such attributes are literal is an innovation and unjustifiable inference from the Koranic and hadith texts that mention them, for the way of the early Muslims was mere acceptance of such expressions on faith without saying how they are meant, and without additions, subtractions, or substituting meanings imagined to be synonyms, while acknowledging Allah's absolute transcendence beyond the characteristics of created things, in conformity with the Koranic verse, "There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him" (Koran 42:11). As for figurative interpretations that preserve the divine transcendence, scholars of tenets of faith have only had recourse to them in times when men of reprehensible innovations (bid`a), quoting hadiths and Koranic verses, have caused confusion in the minds of common Muslims as to whether Allah has attributes like those of His creation or whether He is transcendently beyond any image conceivable to the minds of men. Scholars' firmness in condemning those who have raised such confusions has traditionally been very uncompromising, and this is no doubt the reason that a number of the Imams of the Shafi`i school, among them Taqi al-Din Subki, Ibn Hajar Haytami, and al-`Izz Ibn Jama`a, gave formal legal opinions that Ibn Taymiya was misguided and misguiding in tenets of faith, and warned people from accepting his theories. The Hanafi scholar Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari has written, "Whoever thinks that all the scholars of his time joined in a single conspiracy against him from personal envy should rather impugn their own intelligence and understanding, after studying the repugnance of his deviations in belief and works, for which he was asked to repent time after time and moved from prison to prison until he passed on to what he'd sent ahead."

While few deny that Ibn Taymiya was a copious and eloquent writer and hadith scholar, his career, like that of others, demonstrates that a man may be outstanding in one field and yet suffer from radical deficiencies in another, the most reliable index of which is how a field's Imams regard his work in it. By this measure, indeed, by the standards of all previous Ahl al-Sunna scholars, it is clear that despite a voluminous and influential written legacy, Ibn Taymiya cannot be considered an authority on tenets of faith, a field in which he made mistakes profoundly incompatible with the beliefs of Islam, as also with a number of his legal views that violated the scholarly consensus (ijma`) of Sunni Muslims. It should be remembered that such matters are not the province of personal reasoning (ijtihad), whether Ibn Taymiya considered them to be so out of sincere conviction, or whether simply because, as Imam Subki said, "his learning exceeded his intelligence." He died in Damascus in 728/1328 (al-A`lam (y136), 1.144; al-Durar al-kamina (y13), 1.144-55; al-Fatawa al-hadithiyya (y48), 114; al-Rasa'il al-Subkiyya (y52), 151-52; al-Sayf al-saqil (y70), 6; Sheikh Hasan Saqqaf; and n).


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Created: October 1999