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Can You Recommend a Book on Ibn Taymiyya to Read?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: Can you recommend a book on Ibn Taymiyya for me to read? I would like to familiarize myself with some of his positions and place in history because where I live the overwhelmingly predominant orientation is literalism.

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

It is difficult for me to recommend a single book on Shaykh Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiyya given the degree of controversy surrounding him. Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani wrote a biography of him that gathered both the positive and negative attitudes that scholars held in his al-Durar al-Kamina (1:144-160), which is perhaps worth a read. Additionally. Imam al-Dhahabi has a monograph entitled al-Durra al-Yatimiyya fi al-Sira al-Taymiyya. Both these works, however, are in Arabic.

I do not know of many works that comprehensively treat the positions held by Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya in the English language. Shaykh Gibril Haddad’s translation of Ibn Jahbal al-Kilabi’s work entitled “The Refutation of Him Who Attributes Direction to Allah” is perhaps a work you may look into further. The text itself is a refutation of a specific issue, but Shaykh Gibril discusses a number of other controversial positions that Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya held in aspects of creed and law.

Regarding Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya and his relation to the Hanbali school, a detailed work on this issue has been conducted by Abdul Hakim a-Matroudi in his “The Hanbali School of Law and Ibn Taymiyyah: Conflict of Conciliation”. This is a well-researched study, although the biography of Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya in the first chapter tends to read more like a eulogy. and should not be accepted uncritically.

Of course, this study does not go into all of the opinions of Ibn Taymiyya. The only way to really know whether a particular position of Ibn Taymiyya falls within the Hanbali school, any of the Sunni schools, or outside of them, is through asking actual scholars.

A Warning on Polemics

You mention in your question that you would like to study the figure of Ibn Taymiyya because you are in an environment where his thought predominates and you would like to protect yourself from the influences of such an environment.

I would strongly advise you to avoid argumentation with other groups of Muslims. For many people, there is little benefit that accrues from such debate. Rather, scholars have always cautioned against debate stating that it tends to harm people more than contribute to their good. Imam al-Ghazali details the negative effects of debating in his Ihya’ Ulum al-Din and I would strongly advise you to pay heed to his warnings.

While I have suggested some readings relating to Ibn Taymiyya above, the best way to safeguard oneself from problematic opinions is to find and study with trustworthy teachers. Once you learn, things will become clearer to you.

Further, positive and spiritually uplifting companionship is also crucial. Your priority is to yourself and then to others. Continue working on your own personal development. Yes, knowing the correct from the incorrect is part of spiritual development, but be cautious of the slippery slope that is polemics.

A Final Word on Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya

Since there is so much controversy surrounding the figure of Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya it is important to point out that we need to be balanced in our approach to him and his thought.

Polemical literature certainly contains a great deal of embellishment, which we should be careful of. Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya had many critics. Some were fair and correct in their criticism; others were not. It is important for us to recognize this, and also recognize that while Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya did hold certain opinions that were strongly refuted by luminaries during his own time, such Taqi al-Din al-Subki, he was a scholar, learned, and sincere in his scholarship.

This does not excuse his errors in aspects of creed and law – and the former is certainly more serious than the latter – but many people hate the person of Ibn Taymiyya due to the positions he held. This is completely wrong. Rather, we learn of the mistakes of past scholars so as to safeguard ourselves from falling into those mistakes, not out of spite for their persons or to wage battles with our fellow Muslims.

I hope this answer has been of benefit to you.


Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

This answer was collected from Seekersguidance.org. It’s an online learning platform overseen by Sheikh Faraz Rabbani. All courses are free. They also have in-person classes in Canada.

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