Ibn Taymiyya - Islamic theologian

Ghazan Khan being critized by Ibn Taymiyya
Ghazan Khan being critized by Ibn Taymiyya

Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya was born in Syria and spent most of his life in Damascus. His father was an Islamic scholar and Ibn Taymiyya became a teacher in Islamic law and tradition when he was still a young man. Ibn Taymiyya followed the puritanical Hanbali school, the most conservative of the four major schools of Islamic law.

In direct contrast to Averroës and even al-Ghazzali, earlier Muslim scholars, he rejected rationalism and the study of philosophy. Ibn Taymiyya thought that Islamic schools of law had become too rigid but he also argued that they had been corrupted by outside influences, particularly those of classical Greece and Sufism (Islamic mysticism).

Ibn Taymiyya lived in an era when Islamic society was threatened by external enemies, particularly the Mongols, and internal political divisions. He championed a pure application of Islamic practice based on faith and rejected bid’ah (religious innovation without valid reference).

He also exhorted true Muslims to wage jihad (holy war) to fight internal and external enemies. In The Correct Answer to Those Who Have Changed the Religion of Christ, a huge book of over 1,000 pages, Ibn Taymiyya used textual exegesis to challenge the divinity of Christ.

Because of his more extreme polemics and vocal opposition to many common Muslim practices, for example, veneration of saints’ tombs, authorities jailed Ibn Taymiyya several times and he died in prison in 1328.

However, his numerous writings on the Qur’an and Islamic law (fiqh) continued to influence Muslim scholars and political leaders, including Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of the Wahhabi puritanical sect that emerged in the Arabian Peninsula in the18th century. Modern-day Saudi Arabia is founded on Wahhabism with its strict application of the letter of the law. Ibn Taymiyya is often viewed as the spiritual mentor of 19th and 20th century Islamists.