By Emdad Rahman
BOOK LAUNCH: : Toynbee Hall in East London was the venue as Professor Yahya Michot from the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies launched his much awaited and debated book on Ibn Taymiyyah.
For leading enlightened Western academics, Muslim modernists and 'progressives', Ibn Taymiyyah is considered the godfather of uncompromising violent Jihadism. For the modern day 'Jihadi', the life and works of Taqi-Uddin Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728/1328) are regarded as sources of inspiration. Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misquoted scholars, he and those claiming to follow his school of understanding today, have been accused of anthropomorphism, enmity towards people of spirituality or Tasawwuf, and creedal deviation from mainstream Sunni Islam.
Ironically, Ibn Taymiyyah lived at a time very similar to ours, where Muslims in certain regions lived under non-Muslim rule, i.e. lands occupied by the Mongols and the Crusaders, and with various Muslim factions vying with one another to gain credibility with the Establishment.
In his book 'Ibn Taymiyya: Muslims under non-Muslim Rule", Professor Michot overturns this conventional and somewhat simplistic picture of Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah.
During the book launch he examined the life, work and jihad, and present close and
careful translations of the four 'Mardin fatwas' issued by Ibn Taymiyyah on how Muslims should respond when they come under non-Muslim rule. Should they fight or quit such rule? If they have to adjust to it, what form should this take and to what extent should this be? The inconsistent and oft unfair accusations of deviancy levelled against Ibn Taymiyyah were also addressed in a scholarly manner.
“I developed an interest in researching Ibn Taymiyyah through my research of Ibn, whereby I discovered many similarities between these two great personalities,” he said.
He added, “ Ibn Taymiyyah did not just split the world up into two parts; namely Darul Islam and Darul Kufr/Harb, but recognised a third type, and as in the case of Mardin.
He further addressed the audience and elucidated the reasons why Ibn Taymiyyah’s words are often taken out of context and used the assassination of Sadat and the Fatwa against Mongol invaders as examples.
“Ibn Taymiyyah was more open minded and as a progressive and broad thinker than he is given credit for.” Professor Michot exhorted the audience and those who study the works of Ibn Taymiyyah to broaden their readings rather than focussing on selected chapters.
The book will be of huge benefit to a wide range of people, including those who adopt the Salafi methodology, those who subscribe to the Ash'ari school of theology, Muslims who consider themselves to be part of other 'groups' or none, secularists, Neocons, apologists, people involved in policy-making bodies and think tanks, and all people who would just like to understand what the fuss is all about. The Foreword by James Piscatori draws out the political implications of this stunning correction of the image of Ibn Taymiyya. It means that Islamic political activism need not be unintelligible, and response to it therefore needs to be more intelligent and nuanced than it usually is.
Copies of the book were also made available for sale and signing during the free event.
* Professor Yahya M. Michot is one of the world's leading experts on Ibn Taymiyyah. He was director of the Centre for Arabic Philosophy at University of Louvain in Belgium where he has delivered courses in Arabic, History of Arabic Philosophy, History of Muslim Peoples and Institutions of Islam, and Commentary on Arabic Philosophical Texts. His main field of research is the History of Muslim Thought with special reference to Avicenna (Ibn Sina), his predecessors and his impact on Sunni thought and Ibn Taymiyyah. Professors Michot's interests also encompass the history of Muslim thought during the Mamlūk and Ilkhān periods, as well as modern Islamic movements. He is currently a Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Oxford Centre for
Islamic Studies and a Lecturer in the Faculty of Theology at Oxford University. He serves as member of various international scholarly societies, and is founder and director of the collection 'Sagesses Musulmanes'. Professor Michot held the position of president of the Conseil Suprieur des Musulmans de Belgique between 1995 and 1998.
His numerous publications include several volumes on Ibn Sina and Ibn Taymiyyah.
Research Interests: Classical Islamic theology and philosophy (Ibn Taymiyya, d. 1328; Avicenna, d. 1037; Ikhwnal-Saf,10thc.;Rashdal-DnFadlAllah,d.1318).ContemporaryIslamicthoughtandinter-religiousdialogue.
30 March 2007
The father of Islamic radicalism?
Muslims Under Non-Muslim Rule, by Yahya Michot, Oxford: Interface Publications, pp. 190, 2006, HB.
Born in 1263 in Harran (located close to Damascus) into a family of Islamic scholars and Hanbali jurists, Ibn Taymiyyah received his early education in Arabic and traditional Islamic sciences at home under the tutelage of his pre-eminent father. According to Yahya Michot, the author of the book under review, Ibn Taymiyyah was around seven when his family was forced to flee to Damascus due to an imminent threat of Mongol invasion.
In Damascus he studied under the guidance of some of the city’s leading theologians and jurists, and was barely seventeen when Shams al-Din, the city’s Chief Justice, granted him ijaza (certification) to issue fatwa. As an omnivorous reader, he claimed to have read more than two hundred different tafâsir (commentaries on the Qur’an) and became a leading authority on tafsir, hadith (Prophetic traditions), fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and ‘ilm al-kalam (dialectic theology). He knew the Qur’an and hadith literature probably better than any other scholar of his generation so much so that his books and treatises on Islamic sciences, philosophy, logic, comparative religion and heresiography are replete with references to the Qur’an, Prophetic traditions and the sayings of the early Islamic scholars.
Ibn Taymiyyah was not only an outstanding Islamic scholar and jurist, he was also a prolific writer and critic. According to Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi, the author of Tadhkirat al-Huffaz, he ate little and did not marry, and remained a confirmed bachelor all his life. This enabled him to read extensively and write prolifically on a wide range of subjects. Indeed, according to some of his biographers, he authored as many as five hundred books and treatises on all aspects of Islam and also actively participated in jihad (military struggle) against the Mongol invaders. However, to understand Ibn Taymiyyah, his religious ideas and thoughts, one has to thoroughly examine the social, political and intellectual condition of his time.
He was born five years after the Mongol sack of Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate. It was a time of considerable socio-political uncertainty and upheaval as the Mongols threatened to overwhelm the entire Islamic East. Likewise, most of the prominent Islamic scholars and jurists of the time were in the service of the ruling elites and this created a culture of blind imitation (taqlid) rather than promote intellectual creativity and fresh thinking. To make matters worse, the Sufis, he felt, had deviated from the original, pristine Prophetic norms and practices (sunnah). Thus, living as he did at a challenging and unpredictable period in Islamic history, it is not surprising that Ibn Taymiyyah’s life and thought also reflected the difficulties and contradictions of his time.
That is why it is imperative to study and explore his writings in the existential condition in which they were produced otherwise one is not only likely to misunderstand but also misinterpret them. His Mardin fatwa (which is the subject-matter of the book under review) is a good example. Mardin, as the author explains, is a Turkish town which “occupies a strikingly strategic location. It is dominated by a fortress reputed to have been unassailable, from which the view reaches deep into the vast plain of upper Mesopotamia.” (p1) And although the precise date of this fatwa is not known, Ibn Taymiyyah issued it in response to a request to clarify whether Mardin was a domain of peace (dar al-salam) or domain of war (dar al-harb).
In his own words, “Is [Mardin] a domain of war or of peace? It is a [city of a status] composite (murakkab), in which both the things signified [by those terms are to be found]. It is not in the situation of a domain of peace in which the institutions (ahkam) of Islam are implemented because its army (jund) is [composed of] Muslims. Nor is it in the situation of a domain of war, whose inhabitants are unbelievers. Rather, it constitutes a third type [of domain], in which the Muslim shall be treated as he merits, and in which the one who departs from the Way/Law of Islam shall be combated as he merits.” (p65)
Ibn Taymiyyah’s refusal to say whether Mardin was a domain of war or peace is most significant, not least because in the West he is increasingly considered to be the real inspiration behind many radical groups including al-Qa’ida.
In addition to Western writers like Gilles Kepel (Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, Cambridge, 2002) and Malise Ruthven (A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America, London, 2002), the US 9/11 Commission Report identified him as an intellectual champion of contemporary Islamic radicalism/militancy. But is he the real inspiration behind these radical groups? His refusal to say whether Mardin was a land of war or peace proves, if proof was required, that his religious ideas and thoughts were far from being black and white. Indeed, according to Michot, “Crass howlers about Ibn Taymiyyah have long been in circulation – one might think as far back as the tittle-tattle about him hawked around by Ibn Battuta. Since 9/11, however, the situation has worsened. The most ignorant untruths are reproduced apace, not only in the media but even in supposedly serious studies.” (p123) He then takes prominent academics and writers like N J Delong-Bas (Georgetown University); Bernard Haykel (New York University); Menahem Milson (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Guy Sorman (University of Paris) to task for disseminating untruths about Ibn Taymiyyah.
If Ibn Taymiyyah is grossly misunderstood by Western scholars and writers, then many contemporary Islamists have also failed to understand and appreciate his ideas and thoughts, argues Michot. He proves his case by examining six modern Muslim readings of Ibn Taymiyyah’s Mardin fatwa; he shows how five of the six writers and activists (namely, Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj, Abdullah Azzam, Muhammad al-Mas’ari, Abd al-Aziz al-Jarbu and Zuhayr Salim) have singularly failed to understand the full thrust and complexity of his religious ideas and thought. A closer examination of Ibn Taymiyyah’s vast corpus of writing demonstrates, argues Michot, he was in favour of resisting foreign invaders but completely rejected internal rebellion and insurgency. So, far from being a champion of religious radicalism, he was a sophisticated and pragmatic Islamic scholar and thinker, argues Michot. If this is true, why is he so readily misunderstood and misinterpreted – both by the Western scholars as well as the Islamists?
Michot, who is a lecturer at Oxford University and prominent authority on Ibn Taymiyyah, argues both the Western scholars and the Islamists have advertently or inadvertently emphasised his political thought at the expense of his moral and ethical teachings. This has led to the increasing politicisation of his complex and sophisticated writings on Islamic moral, ethical and legal thought. This raises an interesting question, namely, were there two different Ibn Taymiyyahs, an “Islamic reactionary and jihadist” or Islamic thinker and pragmatist?
Michot has no doubt that he was a pragmatist who carefully examined the ideals and realities of his time before he authorised military action or issued a legal decree to the contrary. To him, Ibn Taymiyyah was a multi-dimensional Islamic scholar and thinker, whose writing needs to be studied and explored in their totality if one is to understand and appreciate them fully. Although I could not agree more, it may nevertheless be possible to argue, for instance, that Ibn Taymiyyah the jurist was very different from Ibn Taymiyyah the critic. The reason for this is because his Islamic moral, ethical, legal and economic thoughts are much more polished and restrained in their tone than, for instance, his refutation of the Sufis, falasifah, mantiq’in, qadariyyah, the Christians, etc. Thus, as a polemicist, he was not only uncompromising but also very dogmatic. This naturally led to his incarceration on more than one occasion, but Michot is right to say Ibn Taymiyyah bore all his trials and tribulations with great patience and dignity. He eventually died in prison in 1328.
Having said that, Yahya Michot should be congratulated for writing this book; it is a powerful and cogent defence of Ibn Taymiyyah against the charge of radicalism/militancy. Originally written in French and meticulously translated into English by Jamil Qureshi, Ibn Taymiyyah’s Mardin fatwa is rigorously referenced. The author’s commentary and exploration of the fatwa is both extensive and enlightening, even if at times one feels he is all too eager to give Ibn Taymiyyah the benefit of the doubt.
The Muslim News: Issue 215, Friday 30 March 2007 - 11 Rabi' al-Awwal 1428
M Khan is author of The Muslim 100: The Life, Thought and Achievement of the Most Influential Muslims in History (forthcoming).
A profile of Imam Taqi al-Din al-Dimashqi, popularly known as Ibn Taimiyya
(AH 661-728/1263-1328 CE)
By Motiur Rahman
(first published in The Muslim Weekly newspaper)
Taqi al-Din Abu al-Abbas Ahmad ibn Abd al-Halim ibn Abd al-Salam al-Harrani al-Dimashqi; the famous jurist, theologian, and Sufi was born in Harran, north-west of Iraq. During the Mongol invasions he fled with his father and brothers to Damascus at the age of six. More popularly known as Ibn Taymiyah, devoted himself from childhood to the sciences of Quran, hadith, and fiqh, also learning logic, philosophy, which was not so common at the time.
Ibn Taymiyah studied law from his father and from Shams al-Din Abd al-Rahman al-Maqdisi (d. 1283). He studied hadith from several different teachers, including the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Mujam of al-Tabarani. Under Sulayman ibn Abd al-Qawi al-Tuft (d. 1316) he studied Arabic grammar and lexicography for a brief period.
Before the age of twenty he became qualified to issue fatwas and at twenty-one, upon the death of his father in 1283, he succeeded him as professor of hadith and law at Dar al-Hadith al-Sukkariyah, a Sufi monastery and college of hadith founded around the middle of the thirteenth century in Damascus. Ibn Taymiyah was a prolific writer, described as "fast to learn and slow to forget".
In 1292 Ibn Taymiyah went on the pilgrimage to Mecca, where he gathered materials for his work Manasik al-hajj (Rituals of the Pilgrimage), denouncing a number of practices in the rituals of the pilgrimage as condemnable innovations.
In 1296, at the death of his professor Zayn al-Din ibn Munajja, Ibn Taymiyah succeeded to the chair of law thus vacated in the Madrasah Hanbaliyah. His biographer Ibn Rajab said that he read an autobiographical note in Ibn Taymiyah’s own hand to the effect that Ibn Taymiyah was offered, before the year 1291 (thus before the age of thirty), the post of shaykh al-shuyukh, or head of the Sufis, and the post of chief qadi, but he refused them both.
To the philosophical theology of the Ashariyah, Ibn Taymiyah opposed his famous professions of faith (aqidah; pl., aqaid). His first full-length aqidah, written at the request of the people of Hama in the year 1299 and therefore known as Al-aqidah al-hamawiyah, was very hostile to the Ashariyah and their theology. According to Ibn Rajab, Ibn Taymiyah wrote this aqidah in one sitting.
Ibn Taymiyah’s polemic activity extended to the philosophers, especially the logicians, against whom he wrote a refutation, Al-radd ala al-mantiqiyin. He wrote extensively against the monistic (ittihadiyah) and incarnationist (hululiyah) Sufis and condemned as heretical innovations many of the Sufi practices of his day. Nevertheless, Ibn Taymiyah was praised by the Sufi Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Qawwam, who said: "Our Sufism became sound only at the hands of Ibn Taymiyah," implying that Ibn Taymiyah was not an outsider to Sufism. Recently discovered evidence shows that Ibn Taymiyah belonged to the Sufi order of the Qadiriyah, named after the Hanbali Sufi Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, whom he praised.
The evidence of Ibn Taymiyyas affiliation with the Qadiri tariqat by a chain through three shaykhs named Ibn Qudama has been given by his disciple Ibn Abd al-Hadi. Further evidence of Ibn Taymiyya’s sufi inclination can be seen in his hundred-page commentary on Sheikh Jilani’s "Futooh al-Ghayb", showing that he considered the sufi path a salutary effort and even essential within the life of the community.
The commentary is found in volume 10:455-548 of the first Riyadh edition of the "Majmoo` fatawi Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya".
In a manuscript of the Hanbali alim, Shaikh Yusuf bin Abd al-Hadi (d. 909H), entitled Bad al-ula bi labs al-Khirqa [found in Princeton, Sorbonne and Damascus], Ibn Taymiyya is found in a Sufi spiritual genealogy with other well-known Hanbali scholars. The links in this genealogy are, in descending order:
1. Abdul Qadir Jilani (d. 561 H.)
2.a. Abu Umar bin Qudama (d. 607 H.)
2.b. Muwaffaq ad-Din bin Qudama (d. 620 H.)
3. Ibn Abi Umar bin Qudama (d. 682 H.)
4. Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728 H.)
5. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 751 H.)
6. Ibn Rajab (d. 795 H.)
Further affirmation of two links separating him from Abdul Qadir Jilani comes from Ibn Taymiyya himself, quoted in al-Masala at-Tabriziyya (manuscript, Damascus, 1186 H):
"labistu al-khirqata mubarakata lish-Shaikh Abdul Qadir wa bayni wa baynahu than"
"I wore the blessed Sufi cloak of Abdul Qadir, there being between him and me two."
Ibn Taymiyya is quoted by Yusuf ibn Abd al-Hadi, affirming his Sufi affiliation in more than one Sufi order:
"have worn the Sufi cloak [khirqata at-Tasawwuf] of a number of shaikhs belonging to various tariqas [min turuqi jamaatin min ash-shuyukhi] , among them the Shaikh Abdul Qadir al-Jili, whose tariqa is the greatest of the well-known ones."
Further on he continues: "The greatest tariqa [ajallu-t-turuqi] is that of my master [sayyidi], Abdul Qadir al-Jili, may Allah have mercy on him."
[found in "Al-Hadi" manuscript in Princeton Library, Collection fol. 154a, 169b, 171b-172a and Damascus University, copy of original Arabic manuscript, 985H.; also mentioned in "at-Talyani", manuscript Chester Beatty 3296 (8) in Dublin, fol. 67a.]
Ibn Taymiyah’s difficulties came mainly from his opposition to Ashari thought working from within the Shafii madhhab, and also from his criticism of extremist Sufi thought and practices.
Ibn Taymiyah’s enemies finally succeeded in removing him when the opportunity was presented by one of his fatwas entitled "Travel to the Tombs of the Prophets and Saints," in which Ibn Taymiyah prohibited such travel. His opponents took this as a chance to charge him with demeaning the prophets. Jurits led by the Maliki qadi al-Ikhnai, wrote fatwas condemning him, deciding that he be imprisoned in the citadel of Damascus. Other jurists, including the two sons of the leading Maliki jurist Abu al-Walid, had issued fatwas condemning that decision.
Ibn Taymiyah was never to leave the citadel alive; he died there some two years later. Three months before his death, his enemy al-Ikhnai, against whom he had written a refutation, complained to the sultan, who ordered that Ibn Taymiyah be deprived of the opportunity to write; his ink, pen, and paper were taken away from him. But to the very last, his enemies could not quite get the better of him.
The biographers cite a number of statements made by Ibn Taymiyah during his imprisonment that show the man’s stature and state of mind. "A prisoner is one who has shut out God from his heart." "A prisoner is one whose passions have made him captive." "In this world there is a paradise to be entered; he who does not enter it will not enter the paradise of the world to come." "What can my enemies possibly do to me? My paradise is in my breast; wherever I go it goes with me, inseparable from me. For me, prison is a place of retreat; execution is my opportunity for martyrdom; and exile from my town is but a chance to travel." In reference to his enemies who strove to have him imprisoned: "If I were to give all the gold it takes to fill the space of this citadel, I could not possibly reward them for the good they have done me." And he often repeated the following prayer: "0 God! Help me to move my tongue incessantly in your praise, to express my gratitude, and to serve you in perfect worship."
On 20 Dhu al-Qadah 728 (26 September 1328), Ibn Taymiyah died in the citadel at the age of sixty-five. The populace turned out in the hundreds of thousands for the funeral procession, which was compared to that of Ahmad ibn Hanbal. He was buried next to his brother, Sharaf al-Din Abd Allah, in the Sufi cemetery where other Sufi members of his family were buried.
Ibn Taymiyah’s influence has reached modern times. His teachings, first followed by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792), became the basis of the Wahhabi movement in the nineteenth century and the guiding principles of the state of Saudi Arabia. Again, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, through Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida, they influenced the modernist Salafiyah movement.
Ibn Taimiyah’s Writings
In spite of all the turbulence in his life, as discussed earlier, Ibn Taimiyah was able to write many books and pamphlets on all branches of Islamic knowledge. His pupil; Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah, compiled a list of the works of Ibn Taimiyah which contains 350 works subjects include:
Quranic Studies and Tafsir, Fiqh (Islamic Law), Tasawwuf (Sufism) (e.g, al-Furqan baina Awliya al-Rahman wa-Awliya al- Shaitan, Amrad al-Qulub wa-Shifauha, al-Tuhfah al-Iraqiyah fi Amal al-Qulub, Ibtal Wahdat al-Wujud, Darajat al-Yaqin), Usul al-Din and Ilm al-Kalam, Al-Radd ala As-hab al-Milal: (Responding to other religion’s followers), Al-Akhlaq wal-Siyasah wal-Ijtima: (Manners, Administration and Sociology) and Hadith.