To understand the ideological foundations of religious extremism, one has to track-down influential personalities in history. Whose works had either been manipulated or have ignited difference among Muslims and served as a resource to justify violence. One of the medieval Islamic Scholar: Ibn Taymiyyah who, through his writings, has played an influential role in today’s extremist wave. To better grasp the roots of ideological foundation of religious extremism one needs to study the events that have played an important part in the life of Ibn Taymiyyah, and ultimately have affected the contemporary world as well.
Ibn Taymiyyah born in 1263, Harran, Mesopotamia – modern day Turkey. Genghis Khan’s invasion forced Taymiyyah’s family to flee from Harran and take refuge in Damascus which was then one of the intellectual capitals of the Muslim world. His father and grandfather were also well-known scholars of Hanbali School. Ibn Taymiyyah, however, studied and was raised in Damascus to become a scholar himself. After the death of his father, he took over his teaching place in the Masjid at a very young age and mastered all the sciences of Islam.
What set him apart from his predecessors of the Hanbali School was that they never read any books of their opponents, arguing that it will pollute the mind, therefore, they remained conservative about it. Whereas, Ibn Taymiyyah went against the trend and spent years reading many books from different schools of thought i.e. from Greek philosophers. By doing that he stayed sincere to the Hanibali cause but in a style or way that was unprecedented. Because he exposed his mind to the ideas around him and he became a harsh polemicist in his writings. He was unforgiving towards any other group because he truly believed that there’s just one correct Islam and every other ideology, theology and methodology was waded, according to the grand scale of Quran and sunnah as understood by the early generations of Islam. He further argued (referring to Quran) that; truth of the scripture does not depend upon reasoning or rationale because it is the ultimate truth and it will remain as such. What he said was that “whether one’s reasoning does not accept something that Allah or its Prophet has said, it will still remain what it is and that’s Kalamullah,” the ultimate truth.
He also asserted that what other scholars – through their interpretations – claim as truth of the scripture, for them it is dependent upon their reason and intellect. Therefore, it’s not truth of the scripture per-se. What he concludes in his writings mostly is that any conditional belief in Quran and Prophet is not acceptable. Meaning one cannot pronounce that he will believe or have belief in a certain part because it makes sense to one’s intellect and will not accept the other part of Hadith or Quran because it does not make sense to him, in today or tomorrow’s world. He rejected many of famous scholars of that time by saying that they all give different versions or different intellect based meanings to Islam. Hence, it’s not complete submission to Islam; it’s conditional beliefs coming from different schools and different people. So whom shall one consider being the right one with each of them either contradicting with the other or not submitting to the kalamullah or Quran?
However, he claimed that the very role of ‘Prophet’ was to explain and make us understand the scripture. If religious scholars or intellectuals argue that they cannot accept the provided explanations against any issue or matter then it’s a conditional belief. Thus, this conditional belief is not really belief at all, and it’s not Islam because it requires complete submission to the words of God.
Today we see many organizations including one of the most influential Daesh, in their magazine, Dabiq, justifying their acts – destruction of tombs and religious shrines with fatwas and following the ideology of Ibn Taymiyyah. His major claim was about, who to choose when there are different intellectuals with different sects overlapping and compromising the belief of the Holly Book and the Prophet. What could be done to counter this narrative is that; all the religious scholars of sects shall come together and workout with a unanimously accepted set of beliefs and interpretation of the Quran. Making the claims of Ibn Taymiyyah void, thereby putting an end to the terrorism associated with it or manipulated by some groups.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.
The author is a lecturer in the Department of International Relations at Shah Abdul Latif University, Pakistan. He is currently an M.phil scholar at National Defence University, Islamabad – Pakistan.