Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah – Controversial, then and now
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah has and will probably always be a controversial figure. In our time, he is used by our Salafi brothers to justify certain opinions and ideas, even if those ideas that the Shaykh espoused were not in accordance with orthodoxy. It is through reading about Ibn Taymiyyah that I came to know of the word ‘heterodoxy’, that is neither orthodox nor heretical, and Ibn Taymiyyah epitomises heterodoxy from an Islamic viewpoint. Although most of which he taught was in accordance with his Hanbali school of fiqh, there were certain things that were rejected by his contemporaries. (For a list of his opinions that were in contradiction to the four Imams, there is the following poem in Arabic: http://www.hanbali.org/wiki/mufradat_ibn_taymiyyah). However with some of the Saudi based publishers, as is their general practice, when printing the works of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah quite deliberately leave out certain things they themselves disagree with. Here’s a taste of some the stuff you won’t find in their versions:
“To celebrate and to honour the birth of the Prophet (s) and to take it as an honoured season, as some of the people are doing, is good and in it there is a great reward, because of their good intentions in honouring the Prophet (s).” (“Majma’ Fatawi Ibn Taymiyya,”) Vol. 23, p. 163:
I have worn the Sufi cloak of a number of shaykhs belonging to various tariqas, among them the Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir Jilani, whose tariqa is the greatest of the well known ones. Further on he says: The greatest Sufi Way is that of my master, `Abd al-Qadir Jilani, may Allah have mercy on him. ms. al-Hadi, Princeton Library Arabic Collection, fols. 154a, 169b,171b 172a; and Damascus University, copy of original Arabic manuscript, 985H.; also mentioned in at Talyani, manuscript Chester Beatty 3296 (8) in Dublin, fol. 67a
Ibn Taymiyyah was asked of the prayer of mid-Sha’ban, he answered: ‘If a person prays the night of mid Sha’ban on his own or in a group specifically as was done by a group of the Salaf then it is good (hasan). And he said in another place: As for the night of mid Sha’ban its virtues have been reported in ahadith and athar, and it is reported from a group of the Salaf that they would pray in it. So the prayer of a person in it on his own, and the Salaf have preceded him in it and he has a proof in it, and the likes of this is not condemned’. Refer to Majmu al-Fatawa. More info on mid-Sha’ban.
Arguably the Shaykh’s greatest contribution was to tasawwuf or Islamic spirituality, this can be seen by the following quote:
“…Nevertheless, Ibn Taymiyah was praised by the Sufi Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Qawwam, who said: Our Sufism became sound only at the hands of Ibn Taymiyah, implying that Ibn Taymiyah was not an outsider to Sufism. Recently discovered evidence shows that Ibn Taymiyah belonged to the Sufi order of the Qadiriyah, named after the Hanbali Sufi Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, whom he praised and preferred to the other Hanbali Sufi, al-Ansari al-Harawi.”
Further evidence to show that the Shaykh was a Sufi can be seen in the fact that he was buried in The Cemetery of the Sufis in Damascus. Now the only reason I can think of why you would bury someone who is considered to be an enemy or critic of tasawwuf in that particular cemetery would be as one last final insult, but I highly doubt that was the case. (This is a very well written and interesting article on Ibn Taymiyyah’s final resting place). The Shaykh was a keen admirer on his master of his spiritual chain Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani (May Allah have mercy on him), this cannot only be seen by the preceding quotes, but further solidified by the fact that he was moved to write commentaries on some of Shaykh Jilani’s books.
Shaykh Abu Ja’far al-Hanbali summarised it best, “Ibn Taymiyyah was a Shaykh al-Islam in everything, except Aqeedah”. When it comes to some of the works of Ibn Taymiyyah his stuff on Aqeedah is absolutely unacceptable, and this is what makes certain proponents of Salafism quite dangerous, to put it one way, when they teach common people the ideas espoused by Ibn Taymiyyah as being from the accepted orthodoxy, when it couldn’t be further from the truth. Ibn Taymiyyah was severly criticised and suffered greatly because of the ideas he espoused in Aqeedah. The majority of Muslims accept that he most likely repented from his mistakes, as we have certain narrations that tell us this, and it is general practice to accept what can be considered best of our brothers and sisters in faith. Today you will find Salafis hanging the Shaykh up as the be all and end all of Islamic scholars, then you have extreme Sufis who completely disregard him and accuse of him things I will not mention. Muslims are encouraged to follow ‘the middle path’, this is a teaching that has many diverse sides and meanings, and it can also be applied to how we see the scholars of our faith. Neither to completely reject them, nor overly love them, as this is how I believe we should approach Shaykh al-Islam Abu ‘l-Abbas Ahmad ibn Taimiyyah, may Allah have mercy on him.
And to Him is our return.