Islamic Studies Ibn Taymiyya
by
Jon Hoover
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0150

Introduction

Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (also Taymiyah or Taymiyyah) was born in 1263 in Harran—in modern southeastern Turkey—but in 1269 his family fled Mongol incursions from the east and settled in Damascus. He was a firm supporter of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria, especially in its resistance to the Mongol invasions of Syria in 1299–1303, but his reformist views and activism at times disconcerted the scholarly community and the political authorities. Ibn Taymiyya’s attacks on Ashʿari theology and Ibn al-ʿArabi’s philosophical Sufism, as well as attempts to quell Sufi antinomian behavior, resulted in public trials over his creed and seven years of exile in Egypt (1306–1313). Back in Damascus after his exile, Ibn Taymiyya’s views on divorce and the cult of the saints led him into conflict with the authorities on several occasions. He was imprisoned in the Citadel of Damascus in 1326 and died there in 1328 after having been deprived of his pen and paper. Ibn Taymiyya was one of the most incisive and prolific Muslim religious scholars of his time. His reform impulse derived from his conviction that Muslims had lost their way through sectarian division, theological irrationalities, Sufi antinomianism, and legal formalism. The way forward was to return to the belief and practice of the first few generations of Muslims, that is, the Salaf. Ibn Taymiyya thus strove to elucidate what he believed to be the rational religion of the Salaf and explain where later generations had gone astray. He wrote against Kalam theology, Aristotelian-Neoplatonism philosophy (falsafa), philosophical Sufism, and legal innovations of the Sunni law schools. In the same spirit of sifting true Islam from deviant religion, he also composed major refutations of Christianity and Twelver Shiʿism. Ibn Taymiyya’s writings had little impact within his immediate context. However, some of his ideas gained currency during Ottoman times, and he has become a major source of inspiration to a wide spectrum of reform-minded Muslims in the modern period, from the Wahhabis to the present day.

General Overviews

The study of Ibn Taymiyya is unfortunately plagued by the lack of an up-to-date, scholarly synthesis of his life and thought. Laoust 1939, the seminal modern study on Ibn Taymiyya, is encyclopedic and remains the most extensive introduction to the man and his influence. Makari 1983 surveys much the same ground in much shorter compass. However, both Laoust 1939 and Makari 1983 should be read with caution in light of later research. While not a synthetic overview, the edited volume Rapoport and Ahmed 2010 provides reasonably comprehensive treatment of Ibn Taymiyya through a series of specialized studies on his life, thought, and legacy, and the introduction helpfully draws together recurrent themes. The articles in the Encyclopedia of Islam (Laoust 1971) and the Encyclopedia of Religion (Makdisi 2005) provide valuable if older introductions to Ibn Taymiyya.

  • Laoust, Henri. Essai sur les doctrines sociales et politiques de Taḳī-d-Dīn Aḥmad b. Taimīya, Canoniste ḥanbalite né à Ḥarrān en 661/1262, mort ą Damas en 728/1328. Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, 1939.

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    Covers Ibn Taymiyya’s life, theology, and legal thought, as well as his reception by later Hanbalis and the Wahhabis. Remarkably insightful over seventy years on, even though some aspects have been surpassed by later research.

  • Laoust, Henri. “Ibn Taymiyya, Taḳī al-Dīn Aḥmad.” Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed. Vol. 3. Edited by B. Lewis, V. L. Ménage, Ch. Pellat, and J. Schacht, 951–955. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1971.

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    An older but still very useful introduction to Ibn Taymiyya’s life, thought, and literary production.

  • Makari, Victor E. Ibn Taymiyyah’s Ethics: The Social Factor. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983.

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    A survey of Ibn Taymiyya’s life and thought that is to some extent derivative from Laoust 1939.

  • Makdisi, George. “Ibn Taymīyah.” Encyclopedia of Religion. 2d ed. Vol. 6. Edited by Lindsay Jones, 4276–4279 Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

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    A brief overview of Ibn Taymiyya’s career with some attention to his thought.

  • Rapoport, Yossef, and Shahab Ahmed, eds. Ibn Taymiyya and His Times. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    An edited collection of twelve articles treating Ibn Taymiyya’s biography, theology, hermeneutics, law, legacy, and anti-Shiʿi and anti-Christian polemics. The editors’ introduction identifies several fundamental themes in Ibn Taymiyya’s thought, including his claim that reason and revelation agree, his appeal to the Salaf (the early Muslim community) to support his unique doctrines, and his thoroughgoing pragmatism.

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