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The truth had been mixed with falsehood, the insight had been confused with ignorance, and As-Sunnah had been defeated by Al-Bid'ah. The Muslims were wandering in the matters of their beliefs. Their strength had been enfeebled by the fighting amongst those with astray scholastic opinions, and their personalities had been weakened by straying away from their Deen.
The Muslims found their way into illusions and heresies and considered all of that as part of Ad-Deen. They were an easy prey for the external transgressing invaders, At-Tataar, and the internal oppressing tyrants and their scholastic agents.
It was the seventh century of Al-Hijrah. The era was awaiting a true scholar to reform the social, economical, intellectual, moral, and political life. A true scholar was needed to illuminate for the: Muslims the way out of the darkness of Sufism and scholasticism and to shine the glow of Al-Qur'aan and As-Sunnah on their path. The Muslims were in need of a true scholar who would not only live amongst his books, who would not be only satisfied with his compilations, and who would not look at the people from his ivory tower. But, they were in need of a scholar who would advance to the front carrying the flag of Al-Jihaad and would care little about what he received of torture, imprisonment, or death. The Muslims were in need of a true scholar to dis-illusion them from Al-Bid'ah and reconstruct their personalities in the light of Al-Quraan and As-Sunnah to defend their Deen and their Ummah. They were in need of Ibn Taymiyah!
The family of Ibn Taymiyah had at that time, in the country of Ash-Shaam, a very wide reputation in knowledge and leadership in the different Islaamic sciences. Sheikh Al-Islaam Majd Ad-Deen Abd As Salaam, the grandfather of Ibn Taymiyah, was unique in his era, a leader in jurisprudence and its principles, very talented in the Hadeeth and its sciences, and very knowledgeable in the different recitations of A1 Quraan and its exegesis. Sheikh Shihaab Ad-Deen Abd Al-Haleem, Ibn Taymiyah's father, was a prominent Imaam in the jurisprudence according to the discipline of Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal. He was also a renowned scholar in many other Islaamic sciences. He became the Sheikh of a Hadeeth school in Damascus after he migrated there from Harraan with his family during the tribulation of At-Tataar. He also held a chair in the great Masjid of Damascus during Fridays.
Taqee Ad-Deen Ahmad bin Abd Al-Haleem bin Abd As-Salaam bin Taymiyah, the grandson and the famous scholar was born in Harraan in the year 661 A.H./1263 C.E. He lived there until the age of seven when he fled to Damascus with his family to escape from the horrid aggression of At-Tataar. In Damascus he took up the memorization of the Quraan and an in depth study of Al-Hadeeth. As a young man he was noted for his unusual alertness of mind, quickness of perception, and an acutely sharp memory. To become an Aalim was a natural pursuit for him because he came from a family of many renowned scholars. He astonished his teachers and masters with his great memorization capability and his brightness.
In his early teens he mastered the fundamentals of Ad Deen and gained a great share of knowledge of At Tafseer, Al-Hadeeth, and the Arabic language. In his youth he used to attend the circles of the 'Ulamaa, debate with them, and convince the best of them to his position. He started giving Fataawa (juridical opinions) when he was nineteen. He lectured, relying on his memory, on Tafseer on Fridays as his father used to do.
He inclined towards Al-Hadeeth and its sciences. He heard from more than two hundred of its scholars, and attained a vast knowledge of these sciences. His memory was so great that he would not forget anything even if he passed over it quickly. He also had a great talent and ability of referring to the Quraanic verses and using them to prove his arguments.
Ibn Al-Atheer described the political and military conditions prevailing in the Muslim world during Ibn Taymiyah's lifetime in the following words:
"Islaam and Muslims had during that period been afflicted by such disasters that no other nation had experienced. One such affliction was the invasion by At-Tataar. They came from the east and inflicted overwhelming damages. Another was the onset of the Frankish people (the Crusaders) from the West to Mesopotamia and Egypt, they occupied its ports, and nearly subjected all of Egypt to their rule, had it not been for Allah's Mercy and victory over them. But another affliction was that the Muslims themselves had been divided, and their swords lifted up against their fellows.
"In addition to such horrid conditions facing the Muslims on the political and military front, Islaam as practiced and preached by Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS) and As-Salaf As-Saalih (the righteous predecessors) was being seriously challenged by various deviant sects. The Sufi movement which was spear-headed by the teachings of Al-Ghazali had won over many converts and was exercising a firm hold on the intellect and patterns of thought of many people. Along with this Al-Ash'ari system of creed had been widely accepted by the majority of the scholars of Ibn Taymiyah's day. Al-Ash'ari system of doctrine was a mixture of the Salafi methodology which is based on revelation centered theology and the Mu'tazilah methodology which is based on a rationalist thought system.
"Taqleed was practiced widely. Even though information on the Deen, Fiqh, Ahaadeeth, etc., was abundantly available, only a handful of scholars and ordinary people took up the task of investigating the sources of the knowledge and its vehicle. Most people blindly accepted the teaching of their Sheikh or Imaam without questioning or investigating the sources from where the knowledge had come."
This was the dreary condition of the Muslim world during Ibn Taymiyah's era, and it was this condition that he sought to improve. He was very active in defending the Deen both intellectually and actively. Almost all of his works are a critique or refutation of un-Islaamic ideas which had crept into the Deen or a defense of certain points which he felt needed to be brought to the attention of the Muslim Ummah.
The active role he played in defending the Deen is best exemplified by Ibn Taymiyah's activity during At Tataar invasion of the Muslim lands. During this crucial period in Islaamic history he provided indispensable ideological and military inspiration. He expounded on the virtues of Al-Jihaad, declaring it to be the most urgent duty. Using his gifts of the tongue and pen he bolstered the morale of the Muslims and took this opportunity to bring into focus their conception of unity, their understanding of Islaam and Eemaan, and their view of Allah (SWT) as well as their religious and social self-awareness.
On the military field Ibn Taymiyah persuaded the Egyptians to send support troops to Syria which was then under attack by At-Tataar - telling them that it was their Islaamic duty to do so. Afterwards he joined the battle against At-Tataar and Allah (SWT) granted the Muslims the victory. During the battle Ibn Taymiyah was always to be seen in the front lines fighting the Kuffaar and his valor and bravery during the battle of Shaqhab, 702 A.H./1304 C.E., became legendary.
He defended Ad-Deen not only on the military front but also on the ideological one. Ibn Taymiyah's major enemies on the ideological front were the Sufis and the scholasticists.
He abhorred the Sufi ideas of pantheism, agnosticism, and a deterministic view of total religious resignation. According to him the implication of these ideas upon the Muslim community were devastating because they led to political apathy, religious misconceptions, and withdrawal from an active community life. A major portion of his intellectual energies was spent refuting the doctrine of the Sufis.
The Shee'ah were also subjected to harsh criticism by Ibn Taymiyah because of the many flaws in their doctrines and beliefs. He strongly denounced their falsification of the historical facts and forging of the Sunnah to support their own political views.
Ibn Taymiyah also attacked Al-Jahamiyah and Al Jabriyah - the determinists - who denied the human being's responsibility for any of his actions. He also denounced Al-Mu'tazilah and Al-Qadariyah - the rationalists - who held human free will as the basis of human action. He also did doctrinal battle with the followers of Abu Al-Hasan Al- Ash'ari- on various issues including determinism/free will, the Attributes of Allah (AWJ), and other issues of the Islaamic creed.
As a result of his confrontation with the Sufis and the scholasticists, he made many enemies among them. Many of their leaders who exercised political clout used it against him and as a result he was once exiled in Alexandria and imprisoned on three different occasions. His writings were banned and during the last of his three imprisonments he was forbidden to read, write or communicate with family and friends.
Ibn Taymiyah gave himself relentlessly to pointing the way to the knowledge which, in his own words, means: "The Prophet has shown the fundamentals and applications of religion, its intent as well as its expression, its (intellectual) knowledge and its action. This fact is the foundation of all fundamental knowledge and belief; and he who most adheres to this foundation is most worthy of the truth - both to know it and to do it."
Ibn Taymiyah felt that imprisonment for knowledge constituted alternate freedom, and he welcomed imprisonment as an opportunity to think and to work. But when his books were taken away and he was not allowed to commit to writing his beliefs - as was the case during his last imprisonment - this was the severest punishment for him. As a result he passed away in his cell in Damascus, in 728 A.H./ 1328 C.E.
Commenting on the attacks on him by his enemies, Ibn Taymiyah commented: "In this life is a paradise which must be entered before that of the life to come can be enjoyed: What could my enemies have done to me? My heaven and paradise is in my breast; wherever I go it accompanies me. My imprisonment is only an opportunity to be alone; my murder is only a testimony; my exile from my country is a holiday." During his last imprisonment Taqee Ad-Deen Ibn Taymiyah made this Du'aa to Allah (SWT): "Almighty Allah, assist me to remember Thy goodness, to thank Thee and genuinely to worship Thee, according to Thy will."