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.

“The young often realize the truth before the old and that laymen often recognize the truth ahead of the scholars.” – Adam Gadahn

For the second time in three weeks, Adam Gadahn has released a video message, this one titled “The Arabs And Muslims: between the Conferences of Desertion .. and the individual Duty of Jihād.” In it he uses the Mardin Conference, which was held this past March as a springboard to discuss the importance of jihād as being an individual duty (farḍ al-‘ayn) upon Muslims. I would like to highlight a few points:

From the Ashes of Iraq

Gadahn first directs his attention toward Arabs. Gadahn is trying to refocus Arabs and show them what is at stake: “Return once again to the call … and finish what you started.” Further, he argues that the possibility of mistakes and transgressions by the mujāhidīn is not an excuse to abandon the individual obligation of jihād: “A mistake isn’t treated by an even bigger mistake.” He affirms that these mistakes are not even close to the level of the transgression of the Crusaders and its proxies. This further reiterates the idea that following Abū Muṣ’ab al-Zarqāwī’s bloodlust in Iraq most Arabs were completely revulsed by AQ and they are still digging their way out of that mess.

‘Awlakī and “Lone-Wolfism”

Footage of Anwar al-’Awlakī from a previous AQAP video release appears interspersed with Gadahn’s message. This could suggest that AQSL believes ‘Awlakī has become an asset to their cause. If this is the case, then one has to only look at ourselves, specifically the mainstream media and non-expert pundits who have hyped him up to the point where he could be seen by AQSL as an important tactical tool in their arsenal. It is a sad state of affairs that a guy who was mid-level AQAP at best has in only eleven months become so much more than his actual worth or standing in the wider AQ movement. One should look to J.M. Berger’s take on ’Awlakī’s appearance in the video, which is a valid counterpoint to my above statement.

Gadahn also endorses the “lone-wolf” model that ‘Awlakī and his American pal Samīr Khān, the creator of Inspire Magazine, have called for recently, which was originally postulated by Abū Muṣ’ab al-Sūrī. Gadahn stated: “Don’t wait for some else, to do what you can do yourself.” To embolden potential recruits further, Gadahn continued:  “Here you are in the battlefield.” Gadahn also provided examples of who “lone-wolf’s” should take as an example: Muḥammad Aṭā (9/11), Ṣidīque Khān (7/7), Muḥammad Būyīrī (Theo Van Gogh), Niḍāl Ḥassān (Fort Hood), ‘Umar Fārūq ’Abd al-Muṭallib (Christmas Day), and Faiṣal Shahzād (Times Square).

Veiled Snipe at Recanters

Toward the end of Gadahn’s statement he directs a message to those who have recanted. He does not directly say anyone or a particular group, but one could infer he was speaking to Sayyid ‘Imām ash-Sharīf (Dr. Fadl), the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), or others. He argues that the movement still is in need of their expertise and efforts. He tries to remind them of the good old days by articulating that those involved now are the sons of the second and new generation, which are indebted to their previous efforts. Gadahn concludes: “Finish what you started, and aid your religion and ummah.”

Mardin and Ibn Taymīyyah

Fundamentally, the thing that should be taken away from this video is that the Mardin conference is a thorn in the side of AQ since it delegitimizes the foundation of much their theoretical work and raison d’être. This is the epitomy of the so-called “war of ideas.” Since AQSL is taking this message on they most likely feel threatened by its message and clarification of Taqī ad-Dīn Ibn Taymīyyah’s fatwā (legal opinion/decree) at Mardin (see first conclusions 1-7 here).

As is highlighted by the quote at the top of this analysis, Gadahn and AQ are in an uphill battle since they do not have classically trained religious and scholarly credentials. Gadahn also undermines his argument when he discusses the importance of Ibn Taymīyyah to the AQ movement. He states that those who are carrying out the obligation of jihād are not relying or following Ibn Taymīyyah in the first place in issues of jihād or other things. Instead, they have their own fiqh(jurisprudence), ‘ulamā’ (religious scholars), and books, which they abide by far away from the Ḥanbalī legal school (there are four Sunnī legal schools). For example, Gadahn says the commanders and scholars of the Ṭālibān in AfPak are from the Ḥanafī legal school and would therefore not take their ideas from Ibn Taymīyyah. That is a slight of hand, though. To those who have no background in the madhhab’s (legal schools) then one might take Gadahn’s statement at face value. As the well respected Islamic scholar Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hakīm Murād explained:

It was at that time [circa 11th century], too, that the attitude of toleration and good opinion between the Schools became universally accepted. This was formulated by Imām al-Ghazālī, himself the author of four textbooks of Shāfi‘ī fiqh, and also of Al-Mustasfa, widely acclaimed as the most advanced and careful of all works on uṣūl,uṣūl al-fiqh fīl madhhab. With his well-known concern for sincerity, and his dislike of ostentatious scholarly rivalry, he strongly condemned what he falled ‘fanatical attachment to a madhhab’. While it was necessary for the Muslim to follow a recognised madhhab in order to avert the lethal danger of misinterpreting the sources, he must never fall into the trap of considering his own school categorically superior to the others. With a few insignificant exceptions in the late Ottoman period, the great scholars of Sunnī Islam have followed the ethos outlined by Imām al-Ghazālī, and have been conspicuously respectful of each others madhhab. Anyone who has studied under traditional ‘ulamā’ will be well-aware of this fact.

As such, Gadahn is either way out of his league or he does not recognize this precedent since he articulated that AQ has in effect their own legal school above. From this, one can see that the Mardin Conference caused Gadahn to enumerate apologética for his and AQ’s understanding of Islām. The question is who is winning this battle of ideas, the classically trained ‘ulamā’ or the global jihadist ‘ulamā’? I will have more to say about this at a later date.

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.