Militant Or Moderate?
Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed
IBN TAYMIYYA AND HIS TIMES by Yossef Rapoport Oxford University Press, 2011, 400 pp., 595
March 2011, volume 35, No 3

At the time of writing this book review, the scent, or rather, the powerful odour of the Tunisian ‘jasmine revolution’ wafts through the Arab world smiting a country here and there while charging congeries of people with revolutionary fervour. It would be interesting to speculate what Taqî al-Dîn Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328), the thirteenth and fourteenth century Islamic scholar whose durable legacy is controversial, would have made of it. Would his salafi theological approach have endorsed such ostensible moves towards democracy or would his zealous puritanism have supported regimes of the many Arab caudillos. There is no clear answer in this work as it problematizes the already controversial legacy of Ibn Taymiyya while engaging with a variety of questions about the person ranging from his biography to his ideas on theology, hermeneutics, Islamic law and his polemics with Shiite and Christian theology. All this is important as it feeds into the examination of his legacy, which clearly is impressive.

But the first question that needs to be raised is about the reasons for the continued prominence of Ibn Taymiyya in Islamic (intellectual) history. There are several answers to that question but the most important would be the profound effect that his thoughts, constituted by his extensive corpus of work, have had on Muslim political thought, both in the past as well as in the modern historical period. His work has increasingly become necessary to engage with because of the second reason for his prominence. There is currently an active association of the writings of Ibn Taymiyya with the rise of Wahhabi thought in Islam, the eighteenth century resurrection that swept through the sands of Arabia and exploited the events of the World Wars and late colonialism to establish itself officially in Saudi Arabia.

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