Introduction to a series on Ibn Taymiyyah

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.

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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.

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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.

2 Responses to Introduction to a series on Ibn Taymiyyah

  1. Charles Cameron says:

    If Natana DeLong-Bas in Wahhabi Islam From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad is to be believed, there has been a similar filtering and skewing of ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s thought by his more recent jihadist readers.

  2. Ibn Siqilli says:

    She basically transfers blame for contemporary jihadi-takfiri thought from Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab to Ibn Taymiyyah and Sayyid Qutb. Her book has been widely critiqued for being hagiographical and going to great lengths to “prove” Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab was a “reformer” and “tolerant” as opposed to a reactionary. As the best reviews of her book have pointed out, the truth probably lies somewhere between the two extremes: the image of the reactionary, sectarian preacher and the “tolerant, reformer.” Delong-Bas also argues that Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab is not as important to contemporary Saudi Salafi ‘ulama as many think. I interviewed her for an article when I was in undergrad and worked at my alma mater’s student newspaper. I remember her saying that Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah and Ibn Kathir, to take but two examples, are cited much more than Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab. As some reviewers have pointed out, studying Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab in an academic biography, which is what Delong-Bas did in her book, is of limited use in understanding contemporary Saudi Salafism and the Saudi state or AQ and similar movements. When I interviewed her dissertation supervisor, he told me that the last chapter on “global jihad” in the book was added at the insistence of the publisher.

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