On the Life and Legacy of Shaykh ul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah

On the Life and Legacy of Shaykh ul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah
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Owais Manzoor Dar

Islamic history stands witness to a great number of scholars, reformers and jurists who followed the footsteps of the pious-predecessors in belief and action, in valour and bravery, in perils and struggle and in devoting their lives wholeheartedly towards Allah. Amongst these outstanding and remarkable personalities is Prominent Syrian thinker, theologian, jurist, and political figure, Al-Allamah, Al-Imam, Shaikhul-Islam Taqi ud-Deen Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah. Ibn Taymiyyah’s memoirs adorn the pages of Islamic history with their perpetual achievements and exceptional influences and his intellectual activities, preaching, and politics resulted in persecution and imprisonment. He opposed blind following (taqlid) and favoured ijtihad.
Taqi ud-deen Ahmad bin Abdul Haleem, famously known Ibn Taymiyyah was born in 1263 at Harran (now Turkey) into a well known family of theologians. His grandfather, Abu al-Barkat (d. 1255) was a reputed scholar of the Hanbali School and his famous work “Muntaqa al-akhbar” and its commentary by Imam Shukani “Ninul authar” is among the world famous books. Likewise, the scholarly achievements of Ibn Taymiyyah’s father, Shihab ud deen (d. 1284) were well-known. There are many discourses about his name ‘Taymiyyah’ among them the reliable source is that his grandmothers name was Taymiyyah. He was an industrious student who memorized Holy Quran at an early age of 12 or 16 and acquainted himself with the secular and religious sciences of his time. He was an outstanding student, who mastered many fields of Islamic learning, devoted special attention to Arabic literature and gained mastery over grammar and lexicography in addition to studying mathematics and calligraphy.
As for the religions sciences, Ibn Taymiyyah studied jurisprudence from his father and also acquired an extensive knowledge of the Islamic disciplines of the Quran and the Hadith. He also studied dogmatic theology (kalam), philosophy, and Sufism. In 1282, he was appointed professor of Hanbali jurisprudence, and began preaching in the Grand Mosque of Syria. He lived in an era of much political, social and religious upheaval. During his time, Muslims faced many threats; both from within and beyond – the most crucial of which were: the invasions of the crusaders from the west, the Mongols oppression from the east, and their senseless massacres and destruction, corruption of kings and rulers, the spread of rigid blind-following of different schools of fiqh was also prevalent. It was during this time of tribulations, Ibn Tamiyyah confronted these challenges and defended the pure religion against the tidal wave of misconceptions, deviations, innovations and heresies.
In 1300, Ibn Taymiyyah was part of the resistance against the Mongol attack on Damascus and personally went to the camp of the Mongol general to negotiate release of captives, insisting that Christians, as “protected people” as well as Muslims be released. In 1305, he took part in the anti-Mongol Battle. However, no sooner had he reached Cairo, he was imprisoned because for the refutation of those who claim that God possessed body parts. Released in 1308, he was quickly re-imprisoned for denouncing Sufi prayers to saints. He spent time in jails in Cairo and in Alexandria. In 1313, he was allowed to resume teaching in Damascus. In 1318, the Sultan forbade him from issuing any opinions on the subject of divorce, since he disagreed with the popular opinion of divorce. When he continued to pronounce on this subject, he was imprisoned. Released again in 1321, he was re-imprisoned in 1326, but carried on writing until pen and paper were taken from him. Ibn Taymiyyah’s arrest in 1326 was earned by his condemnation of heretical communities. In 1328, Ibn Taymiyyah died while still in prison. Thousands, including many women, are said to have attended his funeral.
In order to describe his position as a prominent scholar and his status among scholars let’s have a glimpse upon the views of some great scholars below:
Imam al-Dhahabi said: “He is our Shaykh, the Shaykh of Islam, unrivalled in our time in terms of knowledge, courage, intelligence, spiritual enlightenment, generosity and sincerity towards the ummah. He put a great deal of effort into seeking Hadith and writing these down, and he examined the different categories of narrators and acquired knowledge that no one else acquired. His good qualities are many, and he is too great for a man like me to talk about his life. If I were to swear an oath between the Corner of Kaaba and the Maqaam –Ibrahim, I would swear that I have never seen anyone like him, and that he has never seen anyone like himself”. (Dhayl Tabaqaat al-Hanaabilah by Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali)
Al-Haafiz ‘Imaad al-Deen al-Waasiti said: “By Allah, there was never seen under the canopy of heaven anyone like your Shaykh Ibn Tamiyyah in knowledge, righteous deeds, attitude, manner, adherence to the Sunnah, generosity, forbearance and carrying out duties to Allah when His sacred limits were transgressed, he was the most sincere of people, the most sound in knowledge, the most effective, the most serious in supporting the truth, the most generous, the most perfect in following the Sunnah of Muhammad (PBUH). (Al-‘Uqood al-Durriyyah).
Jalaal al-Deen al-Suyooti said: Ibn Taymiyyah is the Shaykh, imam, Hafiz, critic, jurist, mujtahid, mufassir, the Shaykh of Islam, the leader of ascetics and the unrivalled in our time” (Tabaqaat al-Huffaaz).
Shaykh Ibn Naasir al-Deen al-Dimashqi said: “The fame and position of Shaykh Taqi al-Deen as an imam is brighter than the sun, and his title as the Shaykh al-Islam of his own era has lasted until today and will continue tomorrow. Nobody rejects that except one who is ignorant of his position, or is unfair “.(al-Radd al-Waafir).
Ibn Taymiyyah was an activist as well as a scholar and left a considerable body of work that has been republished extensively in Syria, Egypt, Arabia, and India. His work extended and justified his religious and political involvements and was characterized by its rich content, sobriety, and skilful polemical style. His achievements in the fields of Fiqh, Hadith, tafseer, comparative religions, socio-political issues and refuting Greek philosophers are too well known. His books and writings, knowledge and Fiqh are extant and bear witness that no one can deny. Perhaps there is not a single sphere in Islam in which his work is not known. He wrote over 900 books many of which are more than one volume among the Majmoo’ al-Fatawa (Compilation of Fatawas) is in 36 volumes, Dar Ta‘arud al-Aql wa-l-Naql (The Refutation of the Contradiction of Reason and Revelation’ or ‘Reconciliation of explicit script and correct reason’) in 11 volumes and ar-Radd’ala al-Mantiqiyyin (Refutation of the Greek Logicians) remained his magnum opus. Among his students and intellectual heirs were Ibn Kathir, Ibn al-Qayim, al-Dhahabi and ibn Rajab.

The author is pursuing masters in Islamic studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at: owaismanzoor188@gamil.com


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