Biography of Ibn Taimiyah
Taqi ud-Din Abu-l-'Abbas Ahmad Ibn 'Abd al-Halim Ibn 'Abd as-Salam Ibn Taimiyah al-Harrani al-Hanbali, was born on Monday the 10th of Rabi' al-Awwal 66l H./22nd of January 1263 C.E. at Harran. His father fled with his family from Harran to Damascus in the year 667 H./1268 C.E. out of fear of the Tatars who invaded the land of Islam and were very close to Harran. In Damascus, the center of Islamic studies at that time, Ahmad Ibn Taimiyah followed in the footsteps of his father who was a scholar of Islamic studies by studying with the great scholars of his time, among them a woman scholar by the name Zainab bint Makki who taught him hadith.
He completed his studies when he was a teenager and at age 19 he became a professor of Islamic studies. Well versed in Qur'anic studies, Hadith, fiqh, theology, Arabic grammar and scholastic theology, etc., he started giving fatwas on religious legal matters without following any of the traditional legal schools, the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali. He defended the sound prophetic traditions by arguments which, although taken from the Qur'an and the Sunnah, had hitherto been unfamiliar to people of his time. The freedom of his polemics made him many enemies among the scholars of the traditional Orthodox Schools, who falsely accused him, of all kinds of heretical beliefs. Among them was the famous Muslim medieval traveler, Ibn Batutah, who visited Damascus while Ibn Taimiyah was in jail. This did not hinder Ibn Batutah in testifying in his book that "he witnessed Ibn Taimiyah on the pulpit saying, 'every night Allah descends to the lower heaven like my descent', and he descended one step down the pulpit".1 From reading this 'aqidah we learn that Ibn Taimiyah accepted the attributes of Allah without questioning (bi-la kaifa).2
He fought heretical innovations in religion which were wide spread during his time all over the Muslim world, especially certain acts and beliefs of some Sufi orders, like saint worship and visiting saints' tombs, and throwing themselves in the fire. His attack on the sufis caused him a lot of trouble with the authorities whose leaders were under the influence of certain sufi leaders.
Ibn Taimiyah's fight was not limited to the sufis and the people who followed the heretical innovations; in addition, he fought against the Tatars who attacked the Muslim world and almost reached Damascus. The people of Syria sent him to Egypt to urge the Mamluke Sultan, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria to lead his troops to Syria to save it from the invading Tatars. When he realized that the Sultan was hesitant to do what he asked of him, he threatened the Sultan by saying: "If you turn your back on Syria we will appoint a Sultan over it who can defend it and enjoy it at the time of peace". He was present at the battle of Shaqhab near Damascus against the Tatars which took place during the fasting month of Ramadan and gave a fatwa to the army to break their fast in order to help them against their enemy, as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did during the battle of the liberation of Makkah. The Muslims won the battle against the Tatars and drove them away from Damascus and all Syria. Ibn Taimiyah's courage was expressed when he went with a delegation of 'ulama' to talk to Qazan the Khan of the Tatars to stop his attack on the Muslims. Not one of the 'ulama' dared to say anything to him except Ibn Taimiyah who said: "You claim that you are Muslim and you have with you mu'adhdhins, judges, Imam and sheikh but you invaded us and reached our country for what? While your father and your grandfather, Hulago, were non-believers, they did not attack the land of Islam, rather, they promised not to attack and they kept their promise. But you promised and broke your promise."3
All this jihad against the enemies of Islam did not help Ibn Taimiyah with the 'ulama'. The authorities put him in jail many times until he died in jail because of his daring and free progressive opinions on many legal and social issues which angered his opponents, the followers of the Orthodox Schools of law.
However when Ibn Taimiyah had the chance to punish his
opponents among the 'ulama' who caused him all kinds of trouble and put him in
jail many times, he showed the utmost of magnanimity and forgave them when the
Sultan an-Nasir Qalawun gave him the chance to do so. He said: "If you kill
them you will never find 'ulama' like them." The Sultan said: "They
harmed you many times and wanted to kill you!" Ibn Taimiyah said:
"Whoever harmed me is absolved, and who harmed the cause of Allah and His
Messenger, Allah will punish him."4
The Muslim historians, like adh-Dhahabi, Ibn Kathir, Ibn
al-'Imad al-Hanbali and many others praised Ibn Taimiyah and considered him one
of the greatest scholars of Islam of all time.
Ibn Taimiyah died in jail in Damascus on the night of
Sunday-Monday 20th Dhu-l-Qa'dah 728 H./26-27 September 1328 C.E.