Ibn Taymiyyah

Although much of my current research focuses on the contemporary trends in jihadi intellectual thought, Western jihadi networks, and online jihadi activities; my passion on the side is understanding classical and medieval Islamic intellectual thought as a means to better understand the jihadi phenomenon in the context of the broad sweep of Islamic intellectual history. Therefore, I have taken a keen interest in understanding the life and work of Taqi ad-Din Ibn Taymiyyah since he is viewed by many Western terrorism analysts as well as jihadis as the foundation for jihadi ideology.

While writing my master’s thesis more than year ago, I discovered through the guidance of my graduate advisor as well as reading some of the academic literature that the basis for understanding Ibn Taymiyyah has been skewed as a consequence of much of his thought being filtered through Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, founder of “Wahhabism,” and the state religion of Saudi Arabia. This suggested that it was crucial to further investigate his thought unfiltered.


A group of ‘ulama convened a conference on March 27-28, 2010 in the city of Mardin, Turkey that revisited Ibn Taymiyyah’s famous fatwa on the status of the city of Mardin and whether it was in Balad al-Silm (land of peace) or Balad al-Harb (land of war). This fatwa was also previously examined (along with three other fatawa) in Yahya Michot’s excellent book Muslims under non-Muslim Rule: Ibn Taymiyya, which I reviewed for a forthcoming issue of the academic journal Terrorism and Political Violence. Therefore, I will not get into the substance of it here.

What makes this all important in terms of bridging the gap between the classical and medieval to the contemporary is that as a result of the conclusions made at the Mardin Conference, it irked some jihadis. I am only aware of Dr. Akram Hijazi, Adam Gadahn, and Anwar al-Awlaki’s rebuttal of the conference. If anyone is aware of others please pass the primary literature along.

As such, I believed I could try and fill a gap in the literature by examining the responses of contemporary jihadis to the conference in light of the primary and secondary literature on the actual fatwa. It is the hope of this author that it will help shed more light on the interaction between the historicity of the fatwa and what one could describe as an “imagined history.”

Thus, this author proposes to first blog about it as a way to expound his preliminary thoughts and receive open source peer review prior to submitting it to an actual peer reviewed journal. Not only will this be an innovative way of leveraging Web 2.0 technology with academic pursuits, but it will also hopefully foster a greater discourse and allow more access to this type of information.


Prior to delving into that discussion, I felt it was necessary to read more on Ibn Taymiyyah’s life and thought. During my research I came across a recently published edited volume titled Ibn Taymiyyah and His Times. While reading it I felt it would be worthwhile to share some of its insights on Ibn Taymiyyah.

As a prologue to an examination of jihadi responses to the challenge of the Mardin Conference, I will highlight in forthcoming posts valuable information from the edited volume that may help illuminate the complexities in Ibn Taymiyyah’s thought in a more sophisticated manner than much of the naïve proclamations about him in popular Western and jihadi accounts.

Anṣār al-Mujāhidīn English Forum a popular online jihādī forum has recently translated an essay by Dr. Akram Ḥijāzī, who has written several essays in the past, about the conference in Mardin, Turkey this past March, which condemned Taqī ad-Dīn Ibn Taymīyyah’s fatwā (legal ruling), which condoned the use of takfīr (excommunication). Ḥijāzī’s essay is unedited below, but before I posted a brief description/biography on Ibn Taymīyyah from some of my past research. The footnotes for the research are below Ḥijāzī’s essay.

Ibn Taymīyyah lived in Damascus during the time of the Mongol invasions of Islamic lands. This had a chilling effect because the Mongols sacked Baghdad, which was the seat of the Caliphate. Although the Mongols converted to Islam, Ibn Taymīyyah believed they were not true believers.[1] Ibn Taymīyyah was an ‘alim or religious scholar who followed the teachings of the Ḥanbali Law School, which had the strictest adherence to Islamic law of the four Sunni schools of law.

Ibn Taymīyyah spoke out against the Mongols because, in his view, they did not fully implement the sharī’ah (Islamic law).[2] Instead, they used a dual system that gave more weight to Mongol traditional law, the yassa code, which was a man-made law. The Mongols viewed Chinggis Khan as a sovereign and a prophet,[3] which would directly deviate from the Qur’anic verse 33:40 that states: “Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Apostle of God and the Seal of the Prophets [Khātim al- Nabiyīn], and God has knowledge of all things.” Therefore, Ibn Taymīyyah viewed the Mongols as committing heresy and that they were introducing bid’ah (an innovation) that was perverting Islam.[4]

Ibn Taymīyyah also considered Shi’ism, certain aspects of Sufism and falsafah(philosophy) bid’ah as well.[5] Contrary to popular belief, though, Ibn Taymīyyah was not completely against Sufism. He was a member of the Qādirīyyah Sufi ṭarīqah (order), rather Ibn Taymīyyah took issue with certain aspects of Sufism such as the veneration of saints.[6] Ibn Taymīyyah would have also considered them sins, but not punishable by death like Muḥammad ‘Abd al-Wahhab, who misrepresented many aspects of Ibn Taymīyyah’s thought. For example, Muhammad Ibn Amḭr al-Ṣana’anī, originally a follower of ‘Abd al-Wahhab, once he decided to actually read ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s works he believed they were a “naïve and imperfect repetition of Ibn Taymīyyah’s doctrine.”[7] Further, Hamid Alger points out that: “whatever one makes of the positions assumed by Ibn Taymīyyah, there is no doubt that he was a far more rigorous and careful thinker and an infinitely prolific scholar than was Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab.”[8] Therefore, it could be argued that ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s selective use of Ibn Taymīyyah’s work and then later abridged versions of Ibn Taymīyyah’s works published by the Saudi state have created a misunderstanding of the corpus of Ibn Taymīyyah’s ideas, which is very intellectually sound compared to his caricature in much of the Western scholarship on him.

Drawing on past historical events, Ibn Taymīyyah reinterpreted the idea of jāhilīyyah and applied it to his time period. Therefore, since the Mongols adopted yassa code, they were considered by him to be in a state of jāhilīyyah.[9] This allowed Ibn Taymīyyah to call the Mongols apostates (murtadd) and pronounce takfīr (excommunication) against them from Islam. Ibn Taymīyyah viewed the Mongols as creating fitnah (disturbance, anarchy) within the Islamic community because of their differing beliefs similar to thefitnah during the period following the Kharijites assassination of the forth Caliph ‘Alī Ibn Abū Ṭālib.[10] Therefore, using qīyās (analogical reasoning), Ibn Taymīyyah issued a fatwā(legal ruling) calling for an obligatory jihād (farḍ al-‘ayn) against the Mongols and those who supported them, which stated: “Every group of Muslims [in reference to the Mongols] that transgresses Islamic law [the implementation of the Mongols’ yassa code] … must be combated, even when they continue to profess the credo.”[11]

It is worthwhile to examine two notions that are misrepresented about Ibn Taymīyyah in the literature. First, Ibn Taymīyyah did not promote capital punishment for apostasy as has been interpreted by later jihadists from his thought. As Mohammad Hashim Kamali points out: “[Ibn Taymīyyah] held that apostasy is a sin which carries no ḥadd (fixed) punishment and that a sin of this kind may be punished only under the discretionary punishment of ta’zīr(corporal).”[12] As such, Ibn Taymīyyah does not view apostasy as a capital crime, which jihadists do today. Indeed, Ibn Taymīyyah called to kill the apostate Mongols, but it was only specific to that instance since if one looked to Ibn Taymīyyah’s full collection of work, which jihadists do not do they would realize they are completely taking his work out of context. The other problematic interpretation of Ibn Taymīyyah is that he believed that one should rebel against any leader who did not fully adhere to the Islamic faith. In truth, similar to the orthodox Sunni ‘ulamā’ understanding, Ibn Taymīyyah believed one should be obedient to their leader even if they were unjust. Victor E. Makari explains Ibn Taymīyyah’s views: “To be obedient to those in authority is not only commanded by God, but also is itself an extension of the believer’s obedience to Him and to His Prophet.”[13] Later Makari explains: “Ibn Taymīyyah placed social peace above the exercise of the right to dissent.”[14] Moreover, Ibn Taymīyyah stated: “It is the duty of Muslims to obey their ruler whether he is impious or ignorant,” as long as Muslims are allowed to practice their faith without interference.[15]


[1] Karen Armstrong. Islam: A Short History (New York: The Modern Library, 2002), 104.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Denis Aigle, “The Mongol Invasions of Bilād al-Shām by Ghāzān Khān and Ibn Taymīyah’s Three “Anti-Mongol Fatwas,” Mamlūk Studies Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2007, 114.

[4] Armstrong, 104.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Hamid Algar, Wahhabism: A Critical Essay (Oneonta, NY: Islamic Publications International, 2002), 10.

[7] Hamadi Redissi, “The Refutation of Wahhabism in Arabic Sources, 1745-1932,” (ed.) Madawi al-Rasheed, Kingdom Without Borders: Saudi Political, Religious and Media Frontiers (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 168.

[8] Algar, 9.

[9] Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and the Pharaoh(Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1985), 194.

[10] Aigle, 103.

[11] Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam (Yale University Press, 1985), 128.

[12] Mohammad Hashim Kamali, “Punishment in Islamic Law: A Critique of the Hudud Bill of Kelantan, Malaysia,” Arab Law Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1998, 213; Ibn Taymīyyah, al-Ṣārim al-Maslūl, Muḥayy al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Ḥamid (ed.) (Beirut: Daral- Kitab, 1978), p. 318.

[13] Victor E. Makari, Ibn Taymīyyah’s Ethics: The Social Factor (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983), 154.

[14] Ibid., 156.

[15] Ibid.