Lesssons On Lessons From The Pages Of Ibn Taymiyyah

It’s kind of hard to learn from the living cause it’s almost impossible to take into account the weight of a moment as it unfolds. It’s only after we look back and examine their lives as whole and not in bits and portions when we realize the tremendous impact they actually hold. I’ve been into biographies lately and… most of the figures I look up to are long dead at the moment. Bummer. It’s a good thing they say you die twice though. The first time is when they lay you in your grave and the second time is the last time somebody ever mentions your name. This is about one such names that we’ll never get to escape; Sheikhul Islam ibn Taymiyyah (Rahimahullah).

Ibn Taymiyyah was born in Harraan in the toughest times for the Muslim ummah. During the Mongol invasion. It’s said that a Mongol woman could tell a Muslim man to wait for her to go get her sword so that she could come back and kill him and the Muslim man would actually wait. That was the extreme degradation that the Muslims had been brought down to. It was also a time filled with innovations in religion. From them Ibn Taymiyyah was born, hailing from a long line of Hanbali scholars. His father was a scholar and it’s said about him that he never taught from a book, everything he taught was from the back of his memory. His grandfather, also a great scholar of fiqh. We clearly shouldn’t be surprised that a scholar of the caliber of Ibn Taymiyyah was born from them. A family deeply rooted in knowledge. That was their legacy. If he would’ve had children they clearly by the aid of Allah would have followed suite but Ibn Taymiyyah was too busy with religion that he did not get married.

Due to the fear and oppression of the Mongols, his family fled to Damascus where his father immediately took to teaching. He would do these halaqas and ibn Taymiyyah used to see him teach everything from his memory. His father pushed him to memorize the Qur’an at a very young age and he never forgot it after that. He did not stop there, he put in great effort to take on a feat that most scholars take their lifetime to actually accomplish. He memorized books of fiqh, nahw, tafseer and all sorts of knowledge. There wasn’t a page of black and white that he hadn’t committed to memory. All this he did before he was even 17 years old. When he was 20, his father died and immediately he knew that it was his turn to take on his seat. At a time when the Muslim world was filled with great scholars, the young Ibn Taymiyyah took on his father’s seat.

All this is attributed to the great taqwa and tawakkul he had on Allah(S.W). Allah says in the Qur’an {Fear Allah and He will teach you}(Q2: 282). This was Ibn Taymiyyah’s secret. Azzamlakani who was one of the rivals of Ibn Taymiyyah said, “Ibn Taymiyyah was never asked about a topic or a matter of religion except for that the one who was watching or listening would think that he knew nothing else but that and ruled that no one knew more than him.” You would think that he had spent his entire life just specializing on just that one matter. He was by the word, a jack of all trades and a master of them all.

He was forever engrossed in dhikr. One of his students Ibn Qayyim Rahimahullah when he talked about him one day he said, they prayed fajr and he just sat there doing dhikr, never stood up till mid-day and that was when he turned to Ibn Qayyim and said,” this dhikr is my meal, if I do not take it, I lose my strength.” Subhaanallah.

No one likes people who speak out boldly against their affairs and when it came to speaking the truth Ibn Taymiyyah believed that he would be held accountable for every little knowledge he withheld. He was the most knowledgeable and eloquent of the people. When the Mongols were about to attack Damascus and he went to Egypt to speak to Nasir Al-Qalawuun to bring an army to defend the Muslims. Ibn Daqiiq (A great scholar) was there and heard from Ibn Taymiyyah. When he finished, the people asked the respected Sheikh if he wanted to say anything. Ibn Daqiiq said,” By Allah, I don’t have anything to say. I saw a man who Allah placed all knowledge before his eyes. He takes what he wishes and leaves out what he does not need for now.”

With the increase of Ibn Taymiyyah’s prominence, so did the number of his enemies.  Scholars gave fatawa to have Ibn Taymiyyah killed due to some of the fatawa he made, like those doing with travelling long distances just to visit graves. These controversies made him spend most of his life in prison but still they would take him out to come debate with him. It is said, no one ever debated with him and he (Ibn Taymiyyah) ran out of things to say. When his students visited him in prison, he was the one who consoled them not to worry about him. Despite spending a huge portion of his life in prison, those who knew him said he was the most optimistic person. He would be heard saying, “What can my enemies do to me? My Jannah is in my heart. If you take me to jail, I’ll make dhikr, if you exile me I will go contemplate on the creations of Allah. If you execute me I’ll be a martyr. What can you do with me?” And regarding the debates, his students asked him if he feared, he would say,” they’re just like flies on my nose and I just do this” and he passed his palm past his face.

When Naasiruddin Qalawuun came back to power after stepping down for a while and personally requested to have Ibn Taymiyyah taken out of prison, he waited for him outside his castle. Two friends reunited. Naasiruddin showed Ibn Taymiyyah the fatawa that had been given to have him killed and asked him what he wanted done to those sheikhs. Clearly hoping he’d order for their deaths since he had the upper hand right now. Instead, this is what Sheikhul Islaam said, “These are people of knowledge, whether I agree with them or not. If you kill them, who are you going to replace them with.” This clearly was a person who knew where to draw the line. Nothing was personal for him. It was all for the sake of diin. And it comes to show the high regard this ummah should have for Muslim scholars.

When one of sheikhul Islaam’s greatest rivals Ibn Makhluf al Maliki died and people came to him giving him glad tidings, Ibn Taymiyyah turned to them and said,” Are you giving me glad tidings on the death of a Muslim.” He stood up and went to the children of this man and said to them, “from today I am your father.” Subhaanallah.

The last moments of his life were spent in prison. Still when innovators gave accusations, being in prison did not stop him from writing books to refute them. They realized that this man was a threat as long as he could hold a pen. So they seized all this writing material. Ibnul Qayyim said I was in prison with him and he read the Qur’an from memory 81 times till he came to the final verses of suratul Qamar(Q54:54&55){Surely those who shun disobedience will dwell amidst gardens and running streams. Where they will be honourably seated in the presence of a King, Mighty and Power}. Just like that, he died and the whole of Damascus came to a standstill on news of his death. It is documented that he had the second largest janaza in history, first one being Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal’s. His students; Imam adh-Dhahabi, Ibn Qayyim, Ibn Kathiir among others, scholars, and respectable people of his time all took part in his janaza.

That is just a tip of the iceberg on the great life Ibn Taymiyyah lead. A champion of the truth despite what the ourcomes of it looked like for him. Like one of the most famous episodes from his life was when the first time Ghazaan was going to attack Damascus. The residents started fleeing Damascus and Ibn Taymiyyah gave one of the most touching khutbas on how they should never fear creation over the creator. For that in itself shows a deficiency in your faith. Ibn Taymiyyah took a few of those who were willing and they confronted Ghazaan saying they were the scholars of Damascus and they demanded to be heard. When they were granted council, Sheikhul Islaam went straight to Ghazaan and sat so close to him that their knees were almost touching and he talked to Ghazaan at the top of his voice on how wrong his actions were. The company who came with Ibn Taymiyyah on narrating the incident said that they lifted their clothes up for fear that at any time, Ibn Taymiyyah’s blood would spill on them.

As I look at the biography of Ibn Taymiyyah, I see a man who this ummah owes a great deal to in terms of the amount knowledge he imparted; the books he wrote, the scholars he produced and just being a great example of a life well lived. A life of faith, optimism, courage and standing for the truth no matter what the outcomes of it appear to be. Another thing is to destroy the notion that just because you do good, everyone will appreciate you for it. The truth is history obliterates with every picture it paints and in the end, we have no control over who tells our stories. Still, have faith and stand for what’s right. That’s something worth being remembered for.


Ibn Taymiyyah, identity, Islam, islamic stories, knowledge, Legacy, Life, Life and Legacy, righteous, sheikh, Sunnah, ulamaa

Hassan Kassim

Hassan Kassim is a Mombasa-based Creative non-fiction writer, recently longlisted for the Toyin Falola prize, blogger and translator of Kiswahili work. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa and the European Union(E.U), and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management. Hassan writes about the ill-documented Communities of Coastal Kenya. His work has appeared in Writers Space Africa; his 2 non-fiction stories published in the anthology 'Twaweza,' a collaborative effort of 12 African writers on the African identity and set to appear in the forthcoming anthology for the Toyin Falola prize.

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Hassan Kassim is a Kenyan-based Creative non-fiction writer, blogger and translator of Kiswahili works with over 2 years of experience. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa, and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management.


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