Ibn Taymiyya: Past & Present / Ibn Baz: His Authority and Methodology of Fatwa


[This is the fourteenth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on iftaa and fatwa held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference and represents my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone. Names of participants in the general discussion have been omitted.]

Moderator: Khaled Troudi

“Ibn Taymiyya: Past & Present”
Yahya Michot, Prof of Islamic Studies, Hartford Seminary

Ibn Taymiyya is an important scholar with a very bad reputation in certain circles. He is blamed for takfîr, for dividing the world into Dar-al-Islam and Dar-al-Kufr, and for the permissibility of overthrowing a ruler. I shall focus on three fatwas that will demonstrate that these charges are unfounded and that when you issue a fatwa you should be aware that it could be abused centuries later and give you a bad name:

  1. Fatwa on the Qalandars (“hippies” who went around in defiance of Muslim conventions as late as the 19th century).
  2. The Mardin Fatwas (see the article by Y. Michot in Muslim World).
  3. The 3 anti-Mongol fatwas.

The Qalandars were probably initially gypsies who came from India. The fatwa says they are unbelievers if they let their views become apparent and hypocrites if they do not.  God forgives those who have not been notified, as opposed to those who have been notified. There can be no punishment before justification. You cannot call someone kafir for what he says unless ALL the conditions are established AND all the objections prohibiting a charge of takfîr have been met. For example people born into a time and place when all traces of Prophethood have disappeared or not arrived, or people who may be new to Islam and uninformed, are not kâfirûn. On the contrary he sees such people as being astray and may return to God. In such cases silence, not takfîr is the safe position. I see little difference between the positions of ibn Taymiyyah anmd al-Ghazali.

Mardîn was a satellite city-state of the Mongol empire, which he said was neither part of Dar-al-Islam nor Dar-al-Kufr but of a third status. The Mardin Declaration from the conference, convened by Shaikh Bin Bayyah and attended by worthies as the mufti of Bosnia, has prompted violent refutations on the Internet. It was praised by others including Shaikh Bin Bayyah’s student Hamza Yusef who oversimplifies the issue by saying al-Qaeda is based on a fatwa misprint. At the end of the fatwa the translation says Mardin is a third type of domain in which the Muslim shall be treated as he merits and the one who departs from Islam shall be combated as he merits. But yuqâtil should read yu`âmil and “combated” should be “treated.” In the earliest manuscripts things are unclear. There is a more serious issue demonstrated in Understanding Islam by David Cook, a worthless book by a man who does not know Arabic. Even participants in the conference made serious errors. “The non-Muslim living outside the authority of Islam” is a mistranslation of “the Muslim not living according to the Islamic law.” Ibn Taymiyyah has decided the division of the world into Dar-al-Kufr and Dar-al-Islam is obsolete and he introduces the notion of a place of a composite type. Ibn Taymiyyah’s own students are reluctant to accept these insights. The status of a land is an accident that is a consequence of the nature of its inhabitants, not of the political system ruling the place. Ibn Taymiyyah’s views were complex and the jurists were not up to its complexity. Ibn Bayyah has essentially accused me of being the inspirer of terrorism. If you look at the fan club of Shaikh al-Awlaki you see they have a better understanding than Bin Bayyah, which is important because it turns things into an American affair. Awalaki condemns the Mardin declaration as misrepresenting Islam as a pacifist religion. I am fed up with extremists who make absolutist statements whether they are of Mardin declaration that totally prohibits force or Awlaki’s statement that Palestine cannot be liberated except by force. It is poor scholarship on one side that provokes overreaction on the other. It is diabetes being combated by cancer.

Ibn Taymiyyah wrote fatwas against the Mongel invaders who, even after their conversion to Islam, continued to penetrate deeper into the Muslim world, and perpetuated massacres, as in Damascus. Ibn Taymiyyah declared them non-Muslims because they did not abide by Islamic law, according to Abdus-Salaam Faraj in The Neglected Duty, who uses this as a precedent against the rulers of the Muslim world today not only in Egypt, but Algeria (by Bel Haj), etc. to Usama bin Lain e.g., in his letter to King Fahd who in 1986 calls for his resignation, but unlike Bel Hajj and Faraj, not threatening war even in a follow up letter in 1996, when he calls for war against the far enemy (America). Ibn Taymiyyah never abandoned the traditional position that tyranny and oppression must be fought by total obedience and patience because that was the practice of the Prophet and his companions, but to only speak the truth. Ibn Taymiyyah never called for rebellion against the Mamlukes.  If you are beaten, detained, and subjected to harm for speaking the truth then you must continue to be patient for that is the Sunnah of the Prophet and his companions. The problem is that the anti-Mongol fatwas were applied outside their context. This can be attributed to Ibn Kathir in his commentary on al Maidah: 50. He says the Mongols preferred their own laws to that of God. What was a fatwa calling for resistance to an invasion turned into something completely different. When you issue a fatwa, you should say this fatwa is for this place, this time, and this circumstance, it should not be used in a tafsîr of the Qur’an that creates a general rule. The claim that when you do not rule according to the religion you have to be fought misses Ibn Taymiyyah’s understanding that whoever rules according to justice rules according to the law (shar`). The assassins of Sadat who boasted they had killed pharaoh used a misunderstanding of Ibn Taymiyyah. Ibn Taymiyyah didn’t call for the killing of pharaoh. On the contrary, he mentions that Joseph not only worked for Pharaoh but volunteered his service in honest devotion and the best intentions despite his rejection of their beliefs. Ibn Taymiyyah is a post-Islamist. Fatwas can have a long life after the time they are written.

“Ibn Baz: His Authority and Methodology of Fatwa”
Samy Mutwalli

My paper is about Abdul Aziz ibn Abdullah Ibn Baz, how he gained his authority, his fatwa methodology and his fatwas on minorities. He worked in many positions in academy and in office. He was an agent in the third Saudi state following Ibn Abdul Wahab in support of the Saudi political claim. There are five elements that helped establish his authority academically, politically, or within the Muslim world and the media. He memorized Qur’an while young and interacted with influential descendents and followers of Ibn Abdul Wahab. We was vice president and president of the University at Medina and then chairman of the scholarly researchers. He witnessed the era of five Saudi kings and had good relations with them and was acknowledged by both the rulers and the people. He was a major source of fatwas and counseling for the people. He was highly regarded by Muslim scholars around the world for his knowledge. He helped Islamic institutions in the West to receive funding and guiding. He was influenced by the Wahabi school of thought. He had the trust of the influential family of al-Shaikh. The fifth element was the media. He was a frequent guest on a program (934 broadcasts, all posted on the Internet, all translated into English). A student collected his fataws in a 70-volume set, all of which have been translated. The proliferation and translation of his fatwas show that he had many followers and could not be ignored, especially after he became the mufti of Saudi Arabia. His fatwas were closely read by judges.

He professed to follow the Hanbali madhhab in usûl and in branches. The usûl are the Qur’an, Sunnah, consensus of the companions, and qiyâs. His style is demonstrated in his prohibition of participating or congratulating the People of the Book on their holidays. His approach is essentialist rather than pragmatic. His definition of ijma is the consensus of the Salaf, for him the companions. He was not blind imitator of the Hanbalis but sometimes goes directly to the Sunnah, for example disagreeing with the Hanbalis on pronouncing divorce three times at one sitting. However, most of his ijtihad was within the views of the classical jurists and most of his fatwas were short with no argumentation or indicator of the context, which to me shows his authority was so strong it was not necessary for him to show the evidence.

He did not establish himself as a mufti for minorities but nonetheless became because he was mufti of the guardian of the two holy places and he was in charge of the resources that could be used to support Muslim minorities. Students here adopted his fatwas. Saudi-funded enterprises like the Saudi embassy published and circulated some of his books including fatwa collections including one called “Fatwas Regarding Muslims Living as Minorities.” In this collection he says they must hold onto Islam with patience in order to be a good model for their enemies living around them. There is no mention of social relations or context. When a woman asked him to recommend books for relations with non-Muslims, he only recommended books by Wahabis or classical jurists. He warns of the great danger of traveling to the lands of disbelievers citing the hadith “I am innocent of any Muslim residing among the disbelievers.” He believes such Muslims are living in the Dar-al-Kufr and they must leave it immediately unless they are there for da`wa. There is no indication he distinguishes those here from those than anywhere else. He calls for isolation or detachment from their society. He relies on books written in times when Muslim states were at war with non-Muslim states or in expectation of war absent treaties. Those books were not based on Qur’an or hadith but on contemporary political realities. He never traveled to the West and got little chance to meet with non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Strict on minority issues, he might be lenient in other branches of fiqh.

Discussant: Mahmoud Ayoub

Dr. Michot makes a convincing case against characterizing Ibn Taymyah as an extremist, but the characterization is too well-established to just put away. He was a great scholar and if we can keep him from being limited by extremists he would be more useful as a source of Islamic thought. Bin Baz was the mufti of the balâd, as it were, of the Saudi government, well-known and highly respected by many. His conservatism can be explained by the fact that he did not travel much, compared to Qaradawi who had traveled extensively.

Discussant: Mohamed Adam al Sheikh

I would add only a few points. What has been said about Ibn Taymiyyah may be motivated by envy or a wish to destroy this important reference for students of fiqh. I admire his reasoning, and many of his fatwas could have been written for us today in the West, for example in the area of mortgage discussed in vol. 29. The jihad fought by the Prophet and his companions was a defensive one to remove the obstacle to the propagation of the faith.

Michot: The problem is that Faraj’s critics confuse the Mardin fatwa with the anti-Mongol fatwas. Bin Ladin has made not a single reference to the Mardin fatwa. I have asked Bin Bajjah to document his claim that jihadis are using my book and he has not responded.

General Discussion

The definition of removing an obstacle to the faith as a form of defense is an interesting suggestion. It is reminiscent of the Western assertion that they are not engaged in aggression when they militarily intervene in Muslim countries in the name of freedom of speech or freedom of religion. Perhaps this is correct, but we need to make a rigorous demonstration.

Did you originally translate yu`âmil or yuqâtil? Do you have any insights on the debate between Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Ataullah, if it took place? Did he spend time in prison? The five points about Bin Baz are interesting but I can assure you that he is not highly regarded among the ulama of Morocco. Which classical books of fiqh does Bin Baz cite? What do you think scholastically of his fatawa?

As far as I know Dar al Islam was not defined by majority population. Is Ibn Taymiyyah an exception or was he building on some earlier views? When did Bin Baz write the text published in 1998 which seems like a response to the fiqh al `aqaliyât?

Bin Baz often refers to Ibn Taymiyyah in his fatwas, he gives aggression and not only kufr as the reason for fighting. He was blind and he didn’t even ask for rights of intellectual ownership, perhaps because he felt superior books were written by earlier scholars. The books are the work of his students. He justifies war as a response to muqâtala, which means aggression, not kufr.

Ibn Taymiyyah has a spiritualist approach that sometimes doesn’t necessarily correspond to the fiqh approach. For him there is Dar al Islam as soon as there is a community of Muslims living according to Islam. He doesn’t rust the Mongol army because he knows they have massacred Muslims. Modern Islamists have shifted from ihkâm al islam to hukm al islamiyya which is completely wrong. His approach is not political in the modern sense of the word. We can go for the amendation of the text proposed by Bin Bayyah and I will add it to any future edition of the book, but it doesn’t change the spirit in which I wrote that book. I never found a source relating to a meeting between Ibn Ata and Ibn Taymiyyah. He spent time in jail for various reasons. I prefer people who live in jail for their ideas to those who live in palaces because of their absence of ideas. Even Ibn Taymiyyah often couldn’t read his own writing because it was so bad. Ibn Rushayak was the only student of Ibn Taymiyyah who could read his handwriting. But what role did Ibn Rushayak play in editing?

Does Ibn Taymiyyah compare those before revelation to those with a lack of guidance?

There is hardly a subject that Ibn Taymiyyah didn’t write on and his works are often refutations of others. If we judge him only on his fatwas we have much room for evaluation, but what do we do with books like minhaj as-sunnah, and others that appear to be fairly conservative.

What do you think can be done to facilitate an environment in which scholars do their homework? What do you see as the importance of citing the argument by which one arrives at a fatwa? Cite the importance of learning the Arabic language for this kind of study.

Learning Arabic is much easier than learning Greek. In Judaism you cannot even speak about the religion if you can’t speak Hebrew. We have no historical dictionary of Arabic.

Manzoul does it to some extent.

But what do we have since that? I agree about the importance of giving the reasons. That’s why I like the Ottoman fatwas. More space is given to the question than to the answer. Let’s hope with the Arab revolutions things will Improve, but this kind of approach is not in the interest of dictators. Some Hanbalis accused Ibn Taymiyyah of being masmoum bi falsafa, poisoned by the philosophers. He read and commented on ar-rasâl by Ibn Sina. The idea that he is against philosophy is just wrong. He says if a new Muslim says something against the ijma quoting some shaikh or claiming to be a mujtahid, his opinion must be respected; he cannot be condemned and no one can impose an opinion on him because ikhlâs (sincerity) and niyyah (intention) is what is most important. It is not just extremists who quote Ibn Taymiyyah; even reformers use his ideas with or without citation. Take two extremes and you will find Islam in the middle. I think he is one of the most important sources for the development of a civil democratic Muslim society because of his frequent opposition to the imposition of Islamic law by force; because he always depends on the consent of the individual, because you cannot follow blindly; because at the end of the day everything is between ourselves and God—four centuries before Milton. We are subject to the laws of God; we are not its enforcers.

Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Hazm were rejected by the scholars of their time, but the focused on what is pleasing to Allah.

Bin Baz was mainly concerned with da`wa and taking all his fatwas on minorities together they number no more than fifty.

Speak more about the anxiety of the terrorist and the anti-terrorist that leads them to oversimplify and to seek to depoliticize.

I asked Shaikh Bin Bayyah directly is there a connection between your book and the Mardin conference. He avoided the question, but his student Hamza Yusef in translation added that it was for that reason the Mardin conference was called.

The little I know about Ibn Taymiyyah is he is the model mufti because he was a merchant, a scholar, imprisoned, and he himself gives two qualifications for a mufti that he must know Islam and the condition of his people.

Between the extremes of total passivity and taking up a Kalishnikov against a tyrant there is a middle way, which is to speak the truth. This was the third article of the pledge of the companions. The most important problem we have today is what do we do with our brothers—and they are our brothers—who fall into extremes and take up violence. I do not believe the solution to a minefield is to plant a poppy field next door. We must go into the mine field and remove the mines. If they have read the anti-Mongol texts of Ibn Taymiyyah, the antidote is not give them the writings of the Sufis or al-Ghazali. Rather, force them to learn Arabic and give them a proper library so they can read Ibn Taymiyyah in context. This has been done in some countries. We have to develop such debates BEFORE they become terrorists. If you are going not between the extremes, you are not a Muslim. Allahu a`lam.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

2 Responses to “Ibn Taymiyya: Past & Present / Ibn Baz: His Authority and Methodology of Fatwa”

  1. Ibn Taymiya on the Global Caliphate.

    This discussion of Ibn Taymiyah as a hidden moderate misses his profound role in rejecting the extremists of his day and ours who call for an Islamic State and for its projection by some Salafis into a global caliphate.

    The most articulate and assiduous of the scholars on the meaning of the Islamic caliphate was Ibn Taymiya, who lived at the time of the Mongol invasion. Some Muslims, notably the Hanbalis, claim to honor Ibn Taymiya as their mentor, but they distort his most essential teachings. For example, many Muslims condemn Sufism as inherently un-Islamic, but they seem to be unaware that Ibn Taymiya was a Sufi who condemned the Sufi extremism that was spreading as a populist movement in his day. He also was an ardent supporter of the khilafa but not as an institution of military or even political governance.

    Salafi extremists, among whom Osama bin Laden is the most famous, claim that Ibn Taymiya supports their call for a one-world government under a single Caliph. In fact, Ibn Taymiya developed a sophisticated understanding about the Islamic doctrine of the khilafat that demolishes the extremists of his day and of ours.

    Ibn Taymiya was a political theorist who was imprisoned by the reigning Caliph and died in prison ten years later for opposing the extremism both of tyrants and of their opponents. He was in fact a model of those who both understand the sources of extremism and the means to counter it. His mission was to deconstruct extremist teachings doctrinally in order to marginalize their adherents.

    One of his modern students, Naveed Shaykh, in his book The New Politics of Islam: Pan-Islamic Foreign Policy in a World of States, Routledge Curzon, London, 2002, writes rather poetically that extremism comes when pan-Islamists “operationalize a unity of belief in a human community of monist monolithism rather than in a boundless love for all of God’s creation in a transcendent Islamic cosmopolis.” Extremism comes when people substitute a political institution for themselves as the highest instrument and agent of God in the world, when they call for a return of the Caliphate in its imperial form embodied in the Ottoman dispensation. It comes when they call for what Shah Wali Allah of India in the 18th century called the khilafat zahira or external and exoteric caliphate in place of the khilafat batina or esoteric caliphate formed by the spiritual heirs of the prophets, who are the sages, saints, and righteous scholars.

    In the late Abbasid period of classical Islam, according to Naveed Sheikh, “The political scientists of the day delegitimized both institutional exclusivism and, critically, centralization of political power by disallowing the theophanic descent of celestial sovereignty into any human institution.” In other words, they denied the ultimate sovereignty claimed by modern states since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which elevated states to the ultimate level of sovereignty, in place of the divine, thereby relegating religion to the periphery of public life or excluding it and with it morality altogether.

    The late Abbasid scholars, faced with a gradual process of creeping despotism, denied the divine right not only of kings but of every human institution, and they condemned the worship of power and privilege that had brought corruption upon the earth. For insisting on this foundation principle of Islam, as detailed by Khalid Abou el-Fadl in Chapter 59, “The Scholar’s Road,” of his Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam, University Press of America, Lanham, Md., 2001, the greatest scholars throughout Muslim history were imprisoned, some for years and decades. This is precisely why Muslims traditionally have considered them to be great.

    Ibn Taymiya completed the process of deconstructing the ontological fatalism of caliphatic thought by restricting the role of the caliphate to what perhaps the greatest Islamic thinker of all time, Abu Hamid al Ghazali, had called an ummatic umbrella functioning only to protect the functional integrity of Islamic thought rather than to govern politically. Ibn Taymiya asserted that the unity of the Muslim community depended not on any symbolism represented by the Caliph, much less on any caliphal political authority, but on “confessional solidarity of each autonomous entity within an Islamic whole.” In other words, the Muslim umma or global community is a body of purpose based on worship of God. By contending that the monopoly of coercion that resides in political governance is not philosophically constituted, Ibn Taymiya rendered political unification and the caliphate redundant.

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