‘Ulama (Scholars) South Asia

What have India’s Islamic scholars said about Ibn Taymiyyah?

Written by Hassam Munir

Generations of Indian Muslim scholars, from Shah Wali Allah to Allama Iqbal, have offered mixed praise for Ibn Taymiyyah’s personality and works.

Shaykh al-Islam Taqī ad-Dīn ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1327) was a truly outstanding scholar in Islamic history. He was a mujaddid (reformer), a person who spent his entire life making an effort to clarify and emphasize the essential teachings of Islam. At the same time, he fended off political persecution and faced intellectual opposition from movements inside and outside the Muslim community. The legacy he left behind was one that has inspired Muslims in a many ways right up to our present day. One unexplored area of his legacy, however, is its impact in South Asia. For centuries Indian scholars have taken note of Ibn Taymiyyah, generally choosing to either respectfully disagree with him or actively propagate and implement his views. In this post, we revisit some of these scholars and learn what they’ve thought of this famous theologian and jurist of Damascus.

Sāfī ad-Dīn al-Hindī (1246-1315)

Sāfī ad-Dīn al-Hindī was born in Delhi in 1246 and received his Islamic education there before he moved on, travelling throughout the Muslim world before finally settling in Damascus, where Ibn Taymiyyah also lived at that time. He was recognized as a leader of Shāfi’ī madhab. He publically debated with Ibn Taymiyyah several times as they held different views on certain issues, but the debates remained respectful. Ibn al-Qayyim, one of the famous students of Ibn Taymiyyah, was also a lifelong student of Sāfī ad-Dīn.

Sultān-e-Delhi Muhammad ibn Tughluq (r. 1325-1351)

Sultan Muhammad ibn Tughluq of the Delhi Sultanate came to power in 1325. A pious and scholarly man himself, he was very impressed by the views of Ibn Taymiyyah. He generally liked to keep himself up-to-date with the latest ideological and intellectual movements across the Muslim world, but his interest in Ibn Taymiyyah’s ideology may have strengthened especially by a scholar who visited him Delhi, ‘Abd al-Azīz Ardbaylī, who was one of Ibn Taymiyyah’s students. We know that Muhammad was very impressed because Ibn Battuta, the famous Muslim traveller, was there to record the interaction. Throughout his reign, Muhammad supported many of Ibn Taymiyyah’s ideas in speech and actively enforced them in action. Ibn Taymiyyah’s influence on him (and through him onto his realm) included matters such as strong leadership, taking care of non-Muslim minorities, spending generously, and subduing deviant Sufi practices. Even though Ibn Taymiyyah’s views would continue to have an influence in South Asia, that influence would never again be as strong as it was during Muhammad ibn Tughluq’s reign.

Shaykh Nasīr ad-Dīn Chirāgh of Delhi (d. 1356)

Shaykh Nasīr ad-Dīn Chirāgh was a mystic (i.e. Sufi) who was clearly influenced by Ibn Taymiyyah. Ibn Taymiyyah generally asserted the un-Islamic nature of many Sufi practices and Nasīr ad-Dīn recognized the truth in this. “The ways of a spiritual mentor cannot be cited as justification for any action,” he affirmed. Instead, “one can justify his action only on the basis of the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Prophet.” Two common Sufi practices of the time that Nasīr ad-Dīn forbade his followers to perform were making sajdah (prostration) in front of a Sufi master and reverence at graves. However, Nasīr ad-Dīn did have his disagreements with Ibn Taymiyyah on certain issues, which he expressed respectfully. Nasīr ad-Dīn was a respected scholar himself, to the extent that he was popularly known as Abu Hanīfah at-Thāni (“the Second”). This was probably because he dealt with religious issues with the same intelligence the Imam Abu Hanīfah had. He was especially careful to follow a practice advocated by Abu Hanīfah, Ibn Taymiyyah, and his own teacher Shaykh Nizām ad-Dīn Awliya: direct referral to the Qur’an and ahādīth in resolving religious issues.

Shah Walī Allah (1702-1763)

There isn’t much digging to do, alhamdulillah, if we want to know the opinion that Shah Walī Allah, one of the foremost Islamic scholars in South Asian history, had to say about Ibn Taymiyyah. Makhdūm Muhammad Mu‘īn Sindhī, another scholar of the time, once wrote a letter to Shah Walī Allah asking him about Ibn Taymiyyah. This was his reply:

“My approach about all Muslim religious thinkers is that they are ‘udūl, that is, they possess correct faith and proper conduct. This is as the Prophet has said: ‘In every age people with piety and faith will represent [interpret] the religion.’ They may believe in certain things on which there may not be unanimity, but if such matters of their belief are not against the clear Qur’anic injunctions, the sunnah of the Prophet and the consensus of the community (ijmā‘), [criticism of them is not justified]. Our assessment of Ibn Taymiyyah after full investigation is that he was a scholar of the Book of God and had full command over its etymological and juristic implications. He remembered by heart the traditions of the Prophet and accounts of elders (salaf) and understood well their etymological and juristic purpose and meaning. He was a recognized scholar of syntax (nahw) and semantics (lughat). He was an authority on the Hanbali jurisprudence and its principles and branches. He excelled in intelligence and brilliance. He argued in defence of Ahl as-Sunnah with great eloquence and force. No innovation or irreligious act is reported about him. Only certain matters on which he was harassed by his contemporaries have been reported to us. But there is not a single matter on which he is without his defence based on the Qur’an and the sunnah. So it is difficult to find a man in the whole world who possesses the qualities of Ibn Taymiyyah. No one can come anywhere near him in the force of his speech and writing. People who harassed him [and got him thrown in prison] did not possess even one-tenth of his scholarly excellence… In this matter the differences of the ‘ulamā resemble the differences of the Companions of the Prophet and it is necessary to abstain from making any comments on such matters.”

Shah Walī Allah then listed the objections generally raised against Ibn Taymiyyah and addressed them one by one, emphasizing that although many of Ibn Taymiyyah’s views were debateable, no one was in a position to disrespect Ibn Taymiyyah, much less charge him with blasphemy.

Nawāb Muhammad Siddīq Hasan Khan (1832-1890)

After Shah Walī Allah, Nawāb Muhammad Khan was probably the most passionate advocate of Ibn Taymiyyah’s teachings in South Asia. He himself was a prolific scholar from Bhopal. He strove to clarify the common misunderstandings people had about Ibn Taymiyyah’s views on certain issues. In many of his works, Nawāb Muhammad Khan eloquently praised Ibn Taymiyyah, and he considered Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim to be the outstanding reformers of Islamic history. “The efforts of these two elders towards reform and resurrection,” he wrote, “have no equal among the preceding or the following generations. A vast number of Islamic literary works, particularly historical and biographical, are full of references to him (i.e. Ibn Taymiyyah).”

‘Ulamā-e-Amritsar

Amritsar, a city located in the Punjab today, is considered the spiritual and cultural heartland of Sikhism. In the 1800s, however, Amritsar was also a famous center for Indian Muslims for the study of Ibn Taymiyyah’s teachings. Maulana Muhammad, Maulana Abd al-Jabbār, Maulana Abd ar-Rahīm and Maulana Abd al-Wāhid were just a few of the many scholars who settled in Amritsar and studied, published, and taught the works of Ibn Taymiyyah here. They all belonged to the Ghaznavi sub-school of thought, and established connections with the scholars of Najd (in Arabia) through merchants who frequently travelled there from Mumbai. Through these connections they received a steady flow of the original works of Ibn Taymiyyah and the analysis of them that was being done in Arabia and beyond.

Maulana Shibli (d. 1914)

In 1908, Maulana Shibli published an article titled “Allāma Ibn Taymiyyah as the Mujaddid (Reformer) of His Century.” Shibli identified the three qualities of a mujaddid (reformer): 1) he should lead a purposeful revolution in religion, learning and/or politics, 2) his reformist ideas should be the outcome of ijtihād (re-interpretation of original sources) and not taqlīd (limited to a school of thought) and 3) he should have endured physical suffering in the pursuit of his ideals. Shibli found Ibn Taymiyyah to have all of these characteristics and considered him to be a truly outstanding figure in Islamic history. Shibli also expressed a desire to include Ibn Taymiyyah in his Heroes of Islam series but for certain unclear reasons he was unable to do so.

Maulana Abu’l Kalām Āzād (1888-1958)

Maulana Abu’l Kalām Āzād was a prominent figure alongside Gandhi, Jinnah and Nehru in the India’s movement for independence from British rule. He was clearly and expressly inspired by Ibn Taymiyyah’s religious and political views, and especially echoed Ibn Taymiyyah’s call for the need of a strong imām to organize the Muslim community in times of political hardship. He cited Ibn Taymiyyah as his ideal, and pointed out the parallels between the situation at the time of Ibn Taymiyyah and the situation of Indian Muslims in the early 1900s. Āzād even established Dar al-Irshād to train Muslims leaders as per Ibn Taymiyyah’s model of reform, and in 1919 he praised Ibn Taymiyyah’s efforts in this Thadkirah. Āzād revived interest in the ideology of Ibn Taymiyyah and many of his students and others went on to translate Ibn Taymiyyah’s works into Urdu and propagate them.

Allāma Muhammad Iqbāl (d. 1938)

Of all the South Asian scholars in this list, Allama Iqbal is most likely to not need any introduction (but if you happen to need one, it’s coming soon to IHR, inshaAllah!). Iqbal referred to Ibn Taymiyyah as “one of the most indefatigable writers and preachers of Islam” and was interested in Ibn Taymiyyah’s multiple roles in Islamic history, including the philosophical, legal and reformist. Iqbal was also interested in Ibn Taymiyyah’s emphasis on ijtihād, which he considered the basis for the desperately needed reconstruction of Muslims’ religious thought.

‘Ulamā-e-Deoband (est. 1860s)

The founders of Dār ul-Ulūm Deoband do not seem to have expressed much interest in the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah (though this is no way conclusive evidence their interest didn’t exist). Anwar Shah Kashmiri (d. 1933) was the first known student of Deoband who expressed an interest in the thought of both Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim. Blessed with an amazing memory, he would cite passage after passage of their teachings to his own students. Many of his students from Deoband, such Maulana Muhammad Manzūr Nu’manī and Maulana Sa‘īd Ahmad Akbarābādī, inherited their teacher’s enthusiasm for studying Ibn Taymiyyah’s works. Kashmiri had called Ibn Taymiyyah a “jabal al-‘ilm” (mountain of knowledge) and cited him in many of his own works, though he did not agree with Ibn Taymiyyah on certain issues. Other Deobandi scholars who referred to Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim in their own works were Maulana Khalīl Ahmad Sahāranpurī and Maulana Shabbīr Ahmad Uthmāni. Maulana Ashraf Alī Thanwi expressed his general disagreement with Ibn Taymiyyah but very respectfully.

‘Ulamā-e-Nadwa (est. 1894)

From the scholars of Nadwa t’ul-Ulamā, Maulana Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi was one of the first to express his enthusiasm for studying the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim, to the extent that, in his own words, when he got hold of the works by these scholars “every other impression disappeared from his heart” and “every other colour completely faded away.” Maulana Sayyid Abd al-Aliy used to urge his younger brother Maulana Abu’l Hasan Ali to study the works of Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim carefully. Maulana Shah Halim ‘Ata, an esteemed teacher at Nadwa t’ul-Ulamā, also encouraged his students to study Ibn Taymiyyah’s works, especially his Fatāwa and Majmu‘āt ar-Rasā’īl. Maulana Abu’l Hasan Ali Nadwi, who is perhaps the most famous student of Nadwa t’ul-Ulamā, encouraged young people to read Ibn Taymiyyah’s Tafsīr Sūrat an-Nūr and Ibn al-Qayyim’s Jawāb al-Kāfī. In 1957 he also included a biography of Ibn Taymiyyah in his Tārīkh-i Da’wat wa Azīmat, focusing on Ibn Taymiyyah’s efforts to revive the religious zeal of the Muslim community.

Maulana Akbar Shah Khan Najībabādi, Afzāl al-‘Ulama Muhammad Yusuf ‘Umari and Maulana Abu al-‘Alā al-Mawdūdī

All three of these are recent South Asian scholars who have clearly been inspired by Ibn Taymiyyah’s thought. Maulana Akbar Shah Khan Najībabādi, an eminent Islamic historian, has popularized Ibn Taymiyyah’s views and emphasized his role in Islamic history. Afzāl al-‘Ulama Muhammad Yusuf ‘Umari of Madras was the first known South Asian scholar to publish a comprehensive biography of Ibn Taymiyyah, which he did in 1959. And Maulana Abu al-‘Alā al-Mawdūdī, though rarely ever citing Ibn Taymiyyah directly, clearly expressed Ibn Taymiyyah’s “approach in his interpretation of Islamic history, rejection of taqlīd, bridging the gulf between religion and politics and in his criticism of the Sufi ways of life.”

Source: Nizami, K. (1990). The Impact of Ibn Taimiyya on South Asia. Journal of Islamic Studies, 1(1), 120-149.

About the author

Hassam Munir

Hassam is a university student, blogger, and independent researcher of Islamic history based in Toronto, Canada. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of iHistory. He enjoys looking at the past from fresh and diverse perspectives. His work has also been featured in other outlets, including The Link Canada, Mvslim, and Excalibur.

Leave a Comment