Ibn Taymeeyah Letters from Prison
IBN TAYMEEYAH LETTERS FROM PRISON
- Introduction 1
- Letter One: The letter of Shaykh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymeeyah to his mother
- Letter Two: This is the first of two letters especially written for the benefit of his students and brothers in Damascus
- The letter of Shaykh ul Islam from his prison in Alexandria to his companions
- Letter Seven: The letter of the Imaam of the Muttaqeen, Ibn Taymeeyah to the King of Cyprus
All praises are due to Allaah. We praise Him, seek His help, and ask for (His forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allaah from the evil in our souls and from our sinful deeds. Whoever Allaah guides, no one can misguide.
And whoever Allaah misguides, no one can guide. I bear witness that there is no one worthy of worship except Allaah. And I bear witness that Muhammad (SAAS) is His servant and messenger.
In their search for worthy examples, people tend to look to the past, hoping to resurrect the legacy of those great and honourable men who contributed greatly to the Ummah through their knowledge, wisdom, and courage.
It is said that the people agonise when they find no one of significance to look up to. Fortuitously, society does not solely consist of the living, but also the dead. The greatest of the dead are still alive amongst us.
One of those unique men in lslaamic heritage was the dignified Scholar and valiant Mujaahid: Ahmad bin ‘Abdul-Haleem bin Taymeeyah.
He was one of the most eloquent and truthful men in analysing the lslaamic mentality and methodology.
Yet when we return to the lslaamic heritage, we should not be solely and sentimentally attached to the past, without it materializing and forming the basis and drive for our present and future. This is what we hope to achieve in this book.
Much of the heritage of Shaykh ul-lslaam IbnTaymeeyah has been published; yet it is still worth appreciating the age in which he lived and some of the features that it enjoyed, and crucially, the reasons behind the sending of the letters that are the subject of this book.
The letters are predominantly extracted from two books: Majmoo’ ul-Fatawa, and al-‘Uqood ud-Durreeyah, and, except the letter to the Christian king, are from his time in prison.
Ibn Taymeeyah was born on 10th Rabi al-Awwal 661 AH (1263 CE) in the town of Harran in the province of Jazeerah 1.
He was a descendent of a very well known and established family, characterized by excellent memories and beauty of expression.
His father, the Shaykh ‘Abdul-Haleem was a scholar of hadeeth, and his grandfather was Majdudeen Abul-Barakat, the author of Muntaqa al-Akhbar 2. Says the grandson, “Our grandfather was phenomenal in memorizing hadeeth, narrating them and in knowing people’s schools of thought.”
lbn Taymeeyah was born in an age of great cultural and political upheaval.
It was only five years prior to his birth that Baghdad was ravaged and mercilessly destroyed by the Tatars, and his family had to flee to Damascus when he was young.
The savagery of those invaders had undoubtedly given the boy a deep hatred of oppression, and further instilled in him courage to fight the enemy.
The age of lbn Taymeeyah was also characterized by the rise of many disciplines.
The underlying themes of these sciences, were their depth, breadth, and their authors’ attempts to fuse the rising sciences together.
Indeed, many of the books resembled encyclopaedias. lbn Taymeeyah had benefited from such an environment, but at the same time he did not content himself to that which he was taught.
Instead, he was diligent in learning but maintained an independence of thought.
This meant that he was not restricted to one teacher or school of thought, and thereby he gained from all, and produced novel ideas. This search for knowledge led him to be familiar with many of his age’s cultures and creeds.
He wrote extensively on beliefs, explaining the true one and rebuking those who disagreed; but tafseer (explanation of the Qur’aan) remained the subject that always captivated him.
“I might read a hundred interpretations of one verse, but would still ask Allaah’s guidance in its comprehension saying, ‘Oh teacher of Aadam and lbraaheem teach me!’ I would also go to the deserted masjids and ask Allah, ‘Oh teacher of lbraaheem! Make me comprehend.'”
His contemporaries were quick to recognise his merit, as al-Qadi az-Zamalkaanee gave a true description, “Just as Allaah had made iron soft for Daawood, He made sciences supple for Ibn Taymeeyah’s grasp.”
Why was Ibn Taymeeyah such a distinguished figure, one might ask.
Firstly, there was his constant and unbroken bond with the masses of Muslims, for he was their teacher and mentor, he would resolve their problems and defend their rights in the face of the rulers.
He would try to keep them steadfast when their enemies attacked, he would enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and most especially, he was not diverted by mundane worldly matters.
Therefore, the whole of his time was devoted to attaining knowledge and participating in jihads. Indeed, it was this strong connection that made the general masses of Damascus love, respect and honour him.
Even the most jealous of his enemies were not able to harm him there, but instead they had their chance in Egypt where he was not as well known.
These sincere feelings for the affairs of Muslims can be sensed when Shaykh ul-lslaam spoke regarding politics, “Civilisation is rooted in justice, and the consequences of oppression are devastating.
Therefore, it is said that Allaah aids the just state even if it is non-Muslim, yet withholds His help from the oppressive state even if it is Muslim.” He also said,” There are sincere Muslims who perceive that commanding a high post 3 inevitably leads to love of rule and wealth.
Some common Muslims regard the acceptor of such responsibility, as a turning away from the ‘religion of mercy and humbleness’. However, the correct attitude is that the appointment of the virtuous serves the Ummah far better than assigning posts to the wicked.”
His concern was also with the public in economic problems, attacking those who establish monopolies over foodstuffs, “In times of need, the ruler can force people to sell their goods at their original value!”
As the Tatars were approaching Damascus, fear gripped the population and some thought of fleeing.
Yet Ibn Taymeeyah rejected such defeatist ideas and instead, he appealed for the people not to depart and to be steadfast.
He would say in encouragement to the generals of the army, “Allaah will grant us victory!” and they would respond by asking him to say, “Insh’Allaah,” but he would reply, “I say it in certainty and not in mere hope!”
Indeed, he participated in the jihaad against the Tatars in the battle of Shaqhab after announcing his famous Fatwa declaring the Tatars kaffir, due to their insistence upon the abandonment of some of the rites of Islaam, even though they pronounced the Shahaadah.
When one of the scholars was imprisoned, and the news reached Ibn Taymeeyah, he personally went and managed the scholar’s release, after praising and vindicating him in front of the ruler of Damascus.
In another instance, he heard of a man who blasphemed against the Prophet (salallaahu alayhi wa salam), so he stood to forbid the evil, and with the masses supporting him, he wrote the famous book, as-Sarim al-Maslool ‘ala Shatem ar-Rasool 4.
Furthermore, his deep concern for the Muslims, and his intimate knowledge of their affairs in every country, their conditions, and their nearness or distance to Islaam stands out.
This is illustrated in his description of the Muslims in the lands of Sham 5 and Egypt who, were standing firm at his time, defending their lands. “
lf one is to review the affairs of the world, one would inevitably realise that this group in ash-sham and Egypt are the most staunch group upholding the Deen in knowledge, action and jihads.
They are relieving the Muslims throughout the world of their obligation of jihaad as they struggle against the hardened disbelievers.
The prestige of all Muslims is derived from that group’s glory. . .
“For the inhabitants of Yemen are weak, and unable or unwilling to carry out jihads, subservient to their rulers,
“The Hijaazi peoples are swamped in the depths of innovations and misguidance, and their people of knowledge and faith are weak and subdued.
If that group in ash-Sham and Egypt were to be subjugated – and l seek refuge in Allah from that- then those from Hijaaz would be rendered the most degraded of Allaah’s servants.
“The lands of Africa 6 are led by its Bedouins and they are very wicked, and themselves deserving to be conquered by jihaad.
Further on, the lands of the Maghreb are all but occupied by the Europeans, yet Muslims there do not attempt their jihads.
Had Tatars occupied those regions, they would have encountered timid people.
“Therefore, it is clear that it is that group situated in ash-Sham and Egypt who are the vanguard of Islam, their success is an honour for Islaam, and their defeat is a calamity for it.”
This lengthy quote is included for its importance and to demonstrate lbn Taymeeyah’s up-to-date insight into the affairs of his time, and mistreat ability to interpret the social and psychological condition of the people.
Secondly, next to the Shaykh’s connection with the masses and knowledge of current affairs, he also possessed a depth of understanding and a high level of alertness.
He noticed that, from the end of the second century AH, there existed of a group of Muslims who were fascinated by the philosophies of Plato and the logic of Aristotle 7.
That group tried to instil the theories of the philosophers into the pure creed, thereby disfiguring it, so that beneficial knowledge was turned into sterile debate and idle discussion. The abstract theories had never been able to grant felicity to mankind, which was always granted in the light of Prophethood.
Truly, here is an Imaam uninfected by an inferiority complex that diseased some scholars, past and present.
Thirdly, the letters, which were selected for this book, are another side of Ibn Taymeeyah. A side many people do not know of.
Usually, it is his uncompromising stances and truthful, sometimes harsh retorts that are often remembered.
However, there is a side of his character that writes a letter to his mother full of concern, leniency and respect.
Other letters are for his brothers and students in Damascus, and are characterized by love and advice. He also shows forgiveness towards those who worked to imprison him. Another is a letter full of wisdom, eloquence and firmness to a Christian king.
This is the side of his character unknown to many – that of Ibn Taymeeyah, the benevolent man with a heart full of eemaan and mercy.
These letters were predominantly written in prison. But why was such a Shaykh imprisoned?
He was neither imprisoned by a non-Muslim state nor by an oppressive ruler.
Unfortunately, his gaoling was conspired by some of the envious Shaykhs of his time, “due to his individual distinction in enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, for people’s genuine love and adherence to him, and to the large number of his followers.”8
This is along with their asabeeyah 9 to what they themselves wrote in Fiqh or Beliefs, and although some did it with a good intention, they nevertheless all conspired to provoke the ruler against Ibn Taymeeyah, and as a result he was imprisoned in Cairo, Alexandria and Damascus.
Herein lies a serious problem.
How can a scholar be imprisoned as a result of an ijtihaad, by which he differed from other scholars yet never transgressed beyond the boundaries of ijtihaad, and certainly not outside of Islaam?
How is it that we cannot accommodate another opinion by a scholar noted for his love for Allaah and His Messenger? One says this not to solely dig into the past, but because currently, there are similar incidents and this is indeed a very pitiful state.
Our hearts should be big enough to encompass disagreements as long as they are not in the areas of innovation, deviation or legislation contradicting Allaah’s command.
We should not resort to replies and retorts, which show false piety and bravery, or to using titles to give the mistaken