Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam, Darul Iftaa, Leicester , UK
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
Before answering the question, it is imperative to understand that extremism and immoderation is disapproved of in the Shariah. Islam is a religion of moderation and teaches its followers to be moderate in all spheres and walks of life. Being extreme in one way or another would entail going against the pristine teachings of Allah Most High and His beloved Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace).
Allah Most High says:
“Thus, have We made of you an Umma justly balanced, that you might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves…” (Surah al-Baqara, V: 143)
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said in a Hadith:
“Beware of extremism in religion, since those before you were only destroyed by extremism.” (Sunan Nasa’i, Musnad Ahmad and others)
Hence, Islam is a middle way between excess and laxity. It is a path that is between the harshness found in the Shariah of Moses (peace be upon him) of killing one’s self as a form of repentance, paying one quarter from one’s wealth as Zakat and other such matters, and the laxity found in the Shariah of Jesus (peace be upon him) of the permissibility of alcohol, clothes not being considered impure with filth and other such matters.
It is a path that is in between the extremism and neglect found amongst the various deviated sects. It lies in between the belief of those who rejected destiny altogether (qadariyya) and those who considered destiny to have sole control over human actions (jabariyya). The path lies in between the ideologies of the Khawarij (who considered sinners to be out of the fold of Islam) and the Murji’a (who believed committing sins to have no consequence at all), and in between the position of the anthropomorphist (mushabbiha) who likened the attributes of Allah to His creation and those who completely rejected the attributes of Allah Most High (Mu’tazila).
It is also a religion that lies between law and spirit, between intellect and love, and between theology and spirituality. It rejects the concept of the Jews of everything being based on intellect and reasoning and the concept of the Christians of everything being based on love and affection. Rather, Islam teaches its followers to combine between the paths of Iman and Ihsan, and the paths of law and spirit. This is the straight path mentioned in the opening Surah of the Qur’an which we recite daily in our prayers:
“Show us the straight way” (Surah al-Fatiha, V: 6)
(See: Mulla Jiwun, Nur al-Anwar ala matn al-Manar, P: 5-6)
Thus, it is vital to have a balanced approach in all aspects of our Deen. Unfortunately, some people become extreme in one way or another. Some only take consideration of the outward meaning of the Sacred Law in that they reject the spiritual and inner dimensions of Islamic rulings, whilst others, on the other hand, believe love and spirit to be everything. Both these approaches are incorrect as explained earlier.
With regards to Imam Ibn Taymiyya (Allah have mercy on him), certain Muslims consider him to be the greatest thing to have happened in Islamic history. He is regarded as the Shaykh al-Islam giving his views precedence over the views of all other Mujtahid Imams. They consider him to be immune from committing any errors and mistakes, hence his opinions are considered to be the final and absolute understanding of Islam. On the contrary, some Muslims consider him to be severely deviated and completely out of the fold of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah. Some even go to the extent of considering him to be out of the fold of Islam!
Once a brother asked me what I thought of Imam Ibn Taymiyya (Allah have mercy on him) and I replied by saying that I acknowledge his works and have respect for him, although I disagree with certain views of his. Then he asked me what I thought of Shaykh Ibn al-Arabi (Allah have mercy on him) and I replied by saying that he was one of the greatest authorities of Islam in terms of spirituality and Ihsan. The brother said:
“How is it possible for you to respect both these personalities. You either like Imam Ibn Taymiyya and reject Shaykh Ibn al-Arabi, or you agree with the views of Shaykh Ibn al-Arabi and dislike Imam Ibn Taymiyya.”
“I am sorry to say that I like and respect both these personalities, whether you like it or not.”
There are not two camps here for me to be included in, I explained, and that if I belong to one camp, I automatically come out of the other.
The fact is that there are certain Muslims who make Takfir of Shaykh Ibn al-Arabi and consider Imam Ibn Taymiyya to be the greatest scholar in history, whilst others consider Imam Ibn Taymiyya to be Kafir and Shaykh Ibn al-Arabi to be the greatest authority in all aspects of Islam. Both these approaches are unbalanced and incorrect.
The position of the majority of this Umma’s scholars, both past and present, with regards to Imam Ibn Taymiyya (Allah have mercy on him) is that they respect him as a scholar and acknowledge his works, but disagree with certain views of his wherein he chose to go against the mainstream understanding of the scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah Wa al-jama’ah. This viewpoint is held by most of the contemporary scholars, both from the Indian Subcontinent and the Arab and Muslim world.
Imam Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiyya al-Harrani was a famous Hanbali scholar of Qur’anic exegesis, Hadith and jurisprudence. He was endowed with a compelling writing style and a keen memory and was an eloquent writer whose works numbered many. His legal verdicts (fatawa) are printed in many volumes and his works in refutation of the Shi’as and other subjects are second to none. Many Ulama, such as Imam Dhahabi and others, have great words of praise for him.
Despite this, the Imam made grave errors in certain matters concerning tenets of faith (aqida) and jurisprudence (fiqh). He chose certain positions in Fiqh that went against the mainstream understanding of the Ulama from the four Sunni Schools of Islamic law. He was mainly a follower of the Hanbali School, but he held certain opinions that went against the mainstream Hanbali position also, hence the Ulama did not consider him to be the final authority in that School.
Similarly, some of his positions with regards to the tenets of faith, mentioned in his works such as al-Aqida al-Wasitiyya, were a cause of a lot of controversy and he was rightfully refuted by Scholars such as Imam Subki, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami and others. He differed with the other Ulama on many issues such as the permissibility of Tawassul, travelling specifically to visit the grave of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and other such maters. His position with regards to the attributes of Allah Most High caused him to be imprisoned in Cairo and Damascus, and the Ulama pointed out his erroneous approach.
One of the great scholars of Hadith and Islamic Creed from the Indian Subcontinent, Imam Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri (Allah have mercy on him) has refuted Imam Ibn Taymiyya in many of his works including his commentary of Imam al-Bukhari’s Sahih, Faydh al-Bari. In one of his Urdu works, he states:
“Ibn Taymiyya and others came close to anthropomorphism, in that they took the literal meaning of certain verses of the Qur’an.”
(Malfuzat Muhaddith Kashmiri (Urdu), P: 242)
He further states that, Imam Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn al-Qayyim (his student) at times rejected authentically proven Hadiths when they went against their positions. There are many examples of this. Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani has also condemned Ibn Taymiyya for rejecting authentic (sahih) Hadiths when they go against his position. Shaykh Abd al-Aziz al-Dehlawi (Allah have mercy on him), after studying Ibn Taymiyya’s Minhaj al-Sunnah, was immensely distressed by his undermining of the Ahl al-Bayt (members of the Prophet’s family) and the Sufis.
Imam Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri then mentioned that his teacher Shaykh Mawlana Husayn Ahmad al-Madani (Allah have mercy on him) was quite unsympathetic towards Imam Ibn Taymiyya. He even disliked the title of “Shaykh al-Islam” being used for him, hence he became upset when Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandahlawi (Allah have mercy on him) used this title for Imam Ibn Taymiyya in one his works.
He then goes on to say that the most balanced approach with regards to Imam Ibn Taymiyya is the approach of Imam Dhahabi, Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani and others, in that one may benefit from his great and extensive works, but be wary of his isolated positions that number many in matters of Creed (usul) and particulars of Islamic jurisprudence (furu’). This is the position of our (Deobandi) scholars. (Malfuzat Muhaddith Kashmiri, P: 413-414)
Shaykh Taqi Usmani (may Allah preserve him) has also mentioned a similar stance with regards to Imam Ibn Taymiyya.
“As far as the opinions of Allama Ibn Hazm, Allama Ibn Taymiyya and Allama Ibn al-Qayyim are concerned, with due respect to their lofty status and rank, they have chosen certain positions that go against the mainstream scholars of this Ummah…”
(Fiqhi Maqalat, 2/21)
One of the renowned scholars of the world over, Shaykh Abul-Hasan al-Nadwi (Allah have mercy on him) dedicated an entire chapter from his work covering the life and achievements of Imam Ibn Taymiyya. The respected Shaykh’s renowned work in Arabic Rijal al-Fikr Wa al-Da’wa looks at the lives and achievements of figures such as Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz, Hasan al-Basri, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari, Imam al-Ghazali, Jalal al-Din al-Rumi and others and also Imam Ibn Taymiyya. This takes us back to the aspect of having a balanced approach; hence Shaykh Nadwi reflects on the lives and works of great luminaries in the field of Islamic spirituality (tasawwuf) and also has space in his work for Imam Ibn Taymiyya.
The same attitude has been taken by many Arab scholars also. The late renowned scholar of Hanafi Fiqh and principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, Imam Muhammad Abu Zahra (Allah have mercy on him) of Egypt states in his Tarikh al-Madhahib al-Islamiyya:
“The founder of the Wahhabi movement, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, studied the works of Imam Ibn Taymiyya in depth and became more extreme. He put Ibn Taymiyya’s views into practice rather than keep them in theory. Thus, they (Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and his followers) destroyed many graves of the Companions (Sahaba) and extended the meaning of innovation in a manner that was not heard of before…”
(Tarikh al-Madhahib al-Islamiyya, P: 199)
Having said the above, the same author (Imam Abu Zahra) then dedicated a whole volume mentioning the life and works of Imam Ibn Taymiyya. He first compiled a series of four books shedding light on the lives and works of the four Mujtahid Imams (Abu Hanifa, Shafi’i, Malik and Ahmad), and thereafter, he compiled another series of four books that covered the biographies of other Imams, including Imam Ibn Taymiyya.
Imam Zahid al-Kawthari (Allah have mercy on him) is renowned for his Hanafism, Sunni-ness and his refutation of the Wahhabis, yet one of his main students Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda (Allah have mercy on him) not only relates and quotes from Imam Ibn Taymiyya in many of his works, rather he edited and published one of his works titled “Risalat al-Halal Wa al-Haram” (Book of the lawful and unlawful and some principles of monetary transactions) and on the cover of the book (and also inside) he mentioned the name of Ibn Taymiyya with the title Shaykh al-Islam.
Many other major contemporary scholars of the Arab world, from Damascus and elsewhere, have also taken the same stance. Scholars such as Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id Ramadhan al-Buti, Shaykh Wahba al-Zuhayli, Shaykh Mustafa al-Bugha, Shaykh Mustafa al-Khin, Shaykh Abd al-Latif al-Farfur and many others often quote Imam Ibn Taymiyya in their respective works, but with caution and discernment, and they warn others of Ibn Taymiyya’s isolated and controversial opinions.
Therefore, in conclusion, the balanced approach concerning the figure of Imam Ibn Taymiyya is that we acknowledge his extensive services to the Din. We acknowledge his accomplishments and benefit from his works that are in accordance with the mainstream Ahl al-Sunnah Wa al-Jama’ah and Sunni Islam, and reject that which is not in accordance with the majority of this Umma’s scholars. We respect him as a scholar, hence avoid condemning him totally, but we do not consider him to be an authority in matters of faith, Creed and jurisprudence. We leave his controversial views and opinions in tenets of faith to Allah Most High and concentrate on that which we need to learn and know of. This is the fair and balanced approach maintained by the majority of the scholars concerning controversial personalities.
And Allah knows best