Philosophical Thought of Ibn Taymiyyah

Ibn Taymiyyahs principle
         The principle of  Ibn Taymiyyah  is that Islam is a total way of life, taught by God through the message of the infallible Prophet. To exercise  Islam in society in all its aspects requires  sound understanding of the Qur’Én and the Sunnah of the Prophet.  The best interpretation of both the Qur’Én and the Sunnah can be discovered and rediscovered from the belief, thought and practices of the Salaf  generation.  Judgement about succeeding developments  in Islamic thought,  whether correct or wrong, is only possible by referring to the Qur’Én and the Sunnah as interpreted by the Salaf.


In the course of his struggle to vindicate his principles in  Islamic society, he realizes that Muslim theologians and philosophers hold an unacceptable  understanding of Islam. Then, he finds that  they ‘adapt foreign elements that  were from the Greek philosophers. From them the philosophers borrow their  concept of God and its related issues, even though the  Greek philosophers had no known prophet and thus their knowledge on divine matters was not reliable in any sense or way.
Ibn Taymiyyah also understands that philosophy is an effort to obtain the truth by rational methods and it is  based on specific rules that which the philosophers had constructed themselves. The Muslim philosophers attempted to apply these rules for understanding their religion and  ‘manipulated the revelation to support their thought, by which they presumed that reason explains revelation. According to them, revelation is best understood only by reason. Their  principle then is that reason is the basis of revelation,  and therefore  revelation cannot precede reason. In the case of contradiction between reason and revelation reason must be preferred. 
This kind of approach might be the major determinant that awakened Ibn Taymiyyahs extraordinary enthusiasm to criticise the philosophers. His counter-idea is that sound reason can never contradict the revelation, and the revelation can never be wrong since it comes from God. To prefer reason to revelation is logically and religiously unacceptable. If there is a logical argument that is incompatible with revelation, the former must be judged as erroneous rather than the latter. This enthusiasm to expound his counter-idea is reflected in the title of his major and most voluminous work, which he calls The Repulsion of the Contradiction between Reason and Revelation” or  The Agreement between Sound Reason and True Revelation.” Thus, it is only sound reason that agrees with revelation and  that which contradicts revelation is not  sound anymore.

On logic
Since the philosophers give priority to reason, Ibn Taymiyyahs first criticism is directed towards logic. It is from logic that the philosophers developed their knowledge about God or metaphysics. He deems the philosophers theory of logical reasoning which is mainly based on the concepts of definition and syllogism as artificial.  He rejects the philosophers theories of genus (jins) and differentia (faÎl), essence (dhÉt) and accident (arad )  also because of their  artificiality.  

1. On logical definitions: Ibn Taymiyyahs criticism concerns the logicians principles which negate any means of forming concept than definitions,   and their affirmation   that definition lead a true  conception of things.  To him both principles are logically unacceptable and theoretically untenable.  If the concept of reality cannot be formed except by definitions, none of those philosophers have really discovered any reality, since they never define something agreed upon by all. In fact, many scholars have formed many concepts without using definitions and many things cannot be described by definition, such as love, pleasure, and sadness. By definitions alone one cannot perceive the concept of a thing, unless the terms and their meaning are already known.  Moreover, the logicians affirmation that definition leads to a true conception of things is also untenable, as they limit definitions to  genus and differentia, both of which are essences without accidents. On this principle the essence of a thing  is separated from its  existence, and existence become nothing more than an accident added to essence or quiddity. Since Ibn Taymiyyah believes that essence or quiddity is in the mind and existence is outside the mind, he rejects the notion that definition can describe the object defined. He says that its function is really no more than giving names to an object. It is at best similar to an explanation or even a translation which differentiates one thing from another. Quite often a simple noun or title describes reality better than a definition does, and in an obviously less complicated way.
2. On syllogism: as with definition, Ibn Taymiyyah rejects the logicians claim that there is no means to obtain judgement other than syllogism, and their affirmation that syllogism leads to certain knowledge and judgement. Again, to Ibn Taymiyyah this big claim is untenable. Syllogisms are presented as containing universal premises to reach any conclusion, while he believes that to establish a universal proposition with certainty from the external world is impossible.  It is nothing more than intellectualisation of  external realities, which may or may not conform to those realities. He asserts that the universal is only in the mind, as realities are always specific and particular.

Analysis: Ibn Taymiyyahs general criticism of logic does not represent the traditional standpoint of anti-logical discourse.  He emerges as an open-minded scholar compared with his predecessors’ traditionally minded thinkers. In his criticism he demonstrates firsthand knowledge of the writings of Muslim logicians and philosophers, such as al-NawbakhtÊ, Ibn SÊna, al-FÉrÉbÊ, AbË  al-BarakÉt, Ibn Rushd and others. From them he ingeniously and creatively selects the sound ideas and uses them for his criticisms.  As a result of this procedure, he may often seem to be against the opinions of a philosopher in one place, and in favour of his arguments in another. Actually, however, Ibn Taymiyyah approaches the problem within his own intellectual framework. He criticises logic and brings various arguments from a wide range of sources, theology, jurisprudence, philosophy and the like,  and fits them into his own logical framework with some kind of modification. This might be unacceptable to the logicians or the philosophers and even a strange thing in the realm of philosophy, but his stance is strongly supported by his clear understanding of the Qur’Én.

His criticism of metaphysics:
1. On the subject matter: Ibn Taymiyyah criticises the philosophers designation of the subject matter of metaphysics, namely the whole of caused being or the principle abstracted from the whole of caused being and not God. Since he himself holds that metaphysics is knowledge about God, its subject matter is God, Who is the universal being.  His rejection  of positing  the whole of caused being as the subject matter of metaphysics is intended  to rule out any possibility of confusion between God and creatures. This implies that knowing God on the basis of a thing other than God will allow the possibility of applying the same principle both to God and things other than God. If this could be done, God would be subsumed under the principle shared in common with His own creatures and He could not be universal anymore. Alternatively, Ibn Taymiyyah asserts that knowledge about God is attainable by knowing His attributes, which are intrinsic in His essence. However, he does not offer a solution for the difficulty faced by the philosophers, as for them positing God as the subject matter of metaphysics will result in the existence of a higher science as the starting point of demonstration.  

2. On contingent being and Gods existence: He accepts the philosophers postulate that God is Necessary Being and the universe is contingent being, because of its clear distinction between the Creator and the creature.  Yet he does not accept any further application of this concept, because in the philosophers mind it leads to the idea of the eternity of the universe. Furthermore, Ibn Taymiyyah rejects the philosophers argument of movement as proof of the existence of God. The reason is that the philosophers did not regard God as the agent  (fÉil) of the movement of the celestial sphere. God is also not regarded as the innovator and the creator of the movement, neither as the agent of the temporal phenomena (al-hawÉdith) nor the cause of temporally emerging phenomena. This theory to Ibn Taymiyyah cannot properly describe the nature of the Creator of the universe as it against the active Qur’Énic vision of the sovereign creative God.

3. On the attributes of God: Ibn Taymiyyah criticises the philosophers idea of negating Gods attributes. Ibn Taymiyyah regards the philosophers’ argument, which is based on their fear of composition in God’s essence, as baseless, because He has perfect attributes and cannot be discerned in such a way.  He also rejects the philosophers arguments that giving attributes to God would mean that the essence would be the cause of the attributes. To him, God cannot be depicted in terms of cause and effect or subject and object, since the argument on the bases of causality is only applicable for two things, while God is one. The idea of the philosophers is based on their assumption that in God essence is existence, and therefore His essence is His attribute, while Ibn Taymiyyah holds that Gods attributes are intrinsic in His essence; one cannot exist without the other, but God is one.

4. On the origination of the universe: Ibn Taymiyyah rejects the philosophers doctrine of the eternity of the universe and their doctrine of emanation. The idea of the eternity of the universe is based on the argument that  God,  the First Cause ( illah al-ËlÉ ), is  concomitant with the universe, the caused object (al-ma‘lËl). Since God is eternal the universe is also eternal.  Ibn Taymiyyah replies that if the universe exists from a first cause and if such a cause is always concomitant with its object of causation eternally, nothing could occur from the eternal cause, logically or temporally. He also finds contradiction in the idea that on the one hand the philosophers call the universe an object of power and will, but on the other they consider it eternal. 
Ibn Taymiyyah also thinks that the philosophers doctrine of emanation is based on their denial of Gods attributes, which prevent them from conceiving of two actions emanating from Him. To him what they assume as a duality of agent or source, or a multiplicity of actions is nothing more than multiplicity of Gods attributes, and these should be perceived as permanent in God. Their assumption that emanation is like heat, which radiates from fire to him is also irrelevant, for God is subject by volition and choice, and cannot be similar to fire. Thus, the doctrine of emanation is untenable.

Analysis: In his criticism of metaphysics, Ibn Taymiyyah is very alert to any unclear distinction between God and the creature. He rejects the philosophers distinction between essence and existence, because he contends that ‘being has different implication when applied to God and to the world. Therefore, he rejects their concept of ‘being, which is constructed on five types of substance, namely form, matter, body, soul and intellect, and Aristotles concept of ten categories. To him, this is not applicable to God, for it makes Him share in common with the creature or the human being.
Ibn Taymiyyahs main tool for his criticism of the Philosophers idea in both Logic and Metaphysics is his concept of essence or quiddity (mÉhiyyah) and existence (al-wujËd) and his understanding of the universal.  In God essence is intrinsic (lÉzim) to His existence (al-wujËd), meaning one cannot exist without the other, while in others than God essence is in the mind and existence is in the external reality. Regarding his understanding of the universal he insists that the universal is only in the mind, while all realities are particulars. Ibn Taymiyyah maintains these postulates consistently, especially in refusing the philosophers concept of negating Gods attributes,  and their doctrine of emanation.


Philosophical aspects in the thought of Ibn Taymiyyah.
1. His understanding of philosophy: Ibn Taymiyyah understands ‘philosophy in the general sense of the term without questioning its origin and etymological meaning.  Like his understanding of the term Íikmah, philosophy can be understood in negative and positive ways. The aspect that can bring ‘philosophy to a positive meaning is the concept of belief in God, because to him philosophy is the knowledge about God and this is attained from the prophets. Therefore philosophy should rely on the veracity of what is brought by the prophets, for they knew information about God better than philosophers. He deems this kind of philosophy as  true philosophy (al-falsafah al-haqÊqiyyah) or sound philosophy (al-falasafah al-ÎahÊhah), and  those  philosophers who have wrong concepts of  belief  as  infidel philosophers (al-falÉsifah al-mushrikËn). Thus, the term ‘philosophy and Íikmah are general terms that can be Islamic and un-Islamic,  based on  the soundness of the thought and belief.
2.a. On the concept of fiÏrah: Ibn Taymiyyah discerns reasoning as a natural and spontaneous process of  mind in forming a conception. This natural process,  to him, is  fiÏrah  or human instinct.  It is a basic natural capacity of the human being to incline to the truth and to realize the true knowable object (al-haqq al-ma‘lËm). Since it is the basic nature of the human capacity, it needs to be complemented by the faculty of reasoning. Thus, the fiÏrah is like the controlling factor in the human mind for the attainment or rejection of the truth. The fiÏrah  can be developed by remembering God through activities like reading, studying religion and the like, for remembering God is the spring of wisdom,   as knowledge itself is not only the result of human endeavour but also  come  from God. Looking at his concept of fiÏrah,   Ibn Taymiyyah seems more Sufi  rather than rational,  as in some places he exaggerates  in characterising fiÏrah as being able to attain the truth without any way of acquisition. However, examining his concept in general will reveal that fiÏrah  has three stages: the faculty of natural intelligence, the source of a mechanism for acquiring knowledge and the reasoning faculty without the process of reasoning.

2.b. On definition: Definition according to Ibn Taymiyyah is similar to giving a name.  He refers this meaning to his understanding of the Qur’Én,  that when God taught Adam names He actually taught him definitions. It is a single expression signifying a meaning, which is tantamount to a name signifying the named object. This kind of definition can be made by putting the necessary attribute (al-waÎf al-lÉzim) of the named object. This is by finding the exact equivalence between definition and the defined object or by excluding all things that make the defined object different from the definition. By this way definition will then include the entire quality of the object defined and exclude the qualities that do not belong to it.  In this sense he introduces two means of obtaining definition for religious understanding, by verbal definitions (al-hudËd al-lafziyyah) and by convention.  But with reference to the jurists (fuqahÉ) there are three methods, by means of religious law, language and custom. As for obtaining definition by means of language, Ibn Taymiyyah emphasises the importance of understanding the concept of the meaning of a word. To know the concept of the meaning of a word he introduces two methods: equating the definition with the object defined, and giving attributes to the object defined. These ideas, to Ibn Taymiyyah are related closely to the understanding of the Qur’Én and the Prophetic messages, in which he asserts that the intended meaning of the speaker is pivotal. Therefore understanding religious names should rely on the intention and the language of the Qur’Én with the help of the explanation given by the Prophet.

2.c On qiyÉs : Ibn Taymiyyah partly accepts the form of syllogism as a way to obtain truth.  To him, if its universal premise is not really universal, syllogism will be useful to attain knowledge.  Due to this attitude, one might be suspicious that he is applying the syllogistic method of reasoning in his own way. But, in fact, Ibn Taymiyyah realizes that there are some similarities between analogy and syllogism. Analogy consists of the original case (aÎl), the branch case (far‘), the cause (illah) and the judgement (Íukm). The middle term in the syllogism is similar to the cause in analogy, and the major premise in the syllogism is equivalent to the necessary relation between the cause and the case (the original and the branch case). However, in analogy the conclusion is drawn from a single particular, while in the syllogism it is established inductively from a number of particulars. 
However, he contends that the only valid logical reasoning is reasoning by analogy (qiyÉs al-tamthÊl). Analogy does not need a universal in its premise.  It proceeds from particular to particular based on sound comprehension of the point of conformity or disagreement between different facts. It is more natural than demonstration, as the realities are particular and specific. The humankind used analogical reasoning as a natural method of grasping reality. This reasoning is also a valid source of religious understanding after the Qur’Én, the Sunnah and  IjmÉ, and he calls it al-qiyÉs al-ÎahÊh (sound reasoning).
Showing that the concept of analogy is more certain than the syllogism, he often relates the sound analogy to what he calls mÊzÉn or mÊzÉn al-aql (rational balance). This is a means for understanding the common factor between the branch case and the original case in analogy or the middle term in the syllogism. It is also the truth revealed by God with His Book.
Beside balanced reasoning (mÊzÉn) which is related to logical inference by sound analogy (qiyÉs al-ÎahÊh),  Ibn Taymiyyah introduces the other two methods  derived from the Qur’Én to prove the Lordship of God, His unity and  His power. The two methods are inference by means of signs (al- IstidlÉl bi al-ÉyÉt) and a fortiori analogy (qiyÉs al-awlÉ). These two kinds of analogy are, in fact, using the creature as the subject of analogy to attain the knowledge about God.  In these methods he apparently uses the same way as the philosophers in their subject matter of metaphysics, but a close examination does not suggest that. While the philosophers draw the concept of universal from the creature and apply it to God, Ibn Taymiyyah regards the creatures as no more than the signs which prove the Lordship, the unity and the existence of God, and cannot be drawn from them  any universal principle common to God.

His ideas about metaphysics.
3.a. On the existence of God: Having rejected all unsatisfactory delineation about God, Ibn Taymiyyah advances the concept of fiÏrah. FiÏrah is a medium of knowing the existence of God through the necessary sense perception of the Signs (ÉyÉt). Man could know God by fiÏrah, but in a general sense;  the comprehensive knowledge is completed by what he calls the revealed fiÏrah (al-fiÏrah al-munazzalah). In this concept Ibn Taymiyyah seems to construct a valid argument grounded in Islamic metaphysics. Another method of proving the existence of God is using the rational faculty by perceiving the signs ( ÉyÉt ) of God in external reality and employing a fortiori analogy to understand the relationship between the two.
3.b.On Gods attributes: Ibn Taymiyyahs concept of Gods attributes is represented in various principles. The main principle is that the description of Gods attributes is inseparable from the depiction of Gods essence. Moreover, God is characterised as He characterises Himself and as His Prophet characterised Him.  The general principle is the affirmation of the particular attributes and negation of the general, meaning that Ibn Taymiyyah affirms Gods particular attributes and negates the similarity of God with the human being. In other words he says that  “nothing is like Him, whether His essence, his attributes or His action.  By  this  principle he intends to avoid ambiguous between  God and creature. For this he classifies the  expressions of attributes  into three types: the attributes expressed in relation to God,  in relation to human beings,  and in general expressions,  related neither to God nor to the human being.  Gods knowledge is related to God only, mans speech in related to man only, while attributes such as power, knowledge, life are general and would vary in their respective designation. Thus God and His creatures may share common qualities, but it does not means that the essence of God and the human being are the same. In this, Ibn Taymiyyah underlines that the proper relationship between attributes and their essence is pivotal.  Above all, Ibn Taymiyyah attempts to show a harmonic relationship between Gods essence and attributes. They are intrinsic and inseparable, but  are not the same thing. In addition, he maintains the idea of absolute incomparability of God, for He has a unique essence and attributes, and He is impossible to be completely known by man.

3.c. On the creation of the universe: The general principle of Ibn Taymiyyah on the creation is that the universe is everything other than God and this must be discerned as created (makhlËq), come into being  in time (hÉdith) and existing  after it was previously not.  The universe does not exist along with the existence of the Creator and therefore it is not eternal. Moreover, he posits that since the universe is a temporal phenomenon, it  was  created from the particular wills (irÉdÉt juziyyah) and acts of  God, from which the new willed object outflows. This idea responds to  the philosophers who see the impossibility of the eternal will of God  producing   temporal phenomena, like the universe. Regarding the principle of creation Ibn Taymiyyah is  in favour of  the concept of creatio  ex nihilo, meaning that  the universe is created based on the free will of the Creator. 
Analysis: Ibn Taymiyyahs criticism of philosophy was initially influenced by al-Ghazzali, but he was disappointed with al-Ghazzali for the similarity of his concept of the MÊzÉn in the Qur’Én with that of  Greek syllogisms. Ibn Taymiyyah also initially agreed with Ibn Rushd for he rejected the philosophers theory of emanation, but then he was dissatisfied with him too, especially with Ibn Rushds idea that all the creatures are ‘emanated from God at once. Above all, Ibn Taymiyyah is particularly critical of the concept which posits  God as not  creating by His will and action, as without both nothing can occur or be created, let be emanated.
Examining the whole criticisms of Ibn Taymiyyah and looking at his own thought on respective issues, suggest that there appear to be imbalances between his expressed criticisms and the solution he offers as the alternative idea from what he thinks false. If he criticises that A is erroneous he does not say what the correct A is, but he asserts that B is correct instead.
As a matter of fact, we could hardly find a single work of Ibn Taymiyyah where he constructs a system of logic to enable the Muslim to abandon Aristotelian logic and begin using sound logic. We also cannot prove that Ibn Taymiyyah was interested in constructing a systematic discourse on metaphysics to enable the Muslim to quit the influence of the Greek thought, which he deems as hazardous. His ambition is perhaps to construct a set of arguments to undermine the validity of metaphysical postulates that he deems seriously dangerous to the sound concepts of the Qur’Én, by tracing them from logic.
However, the problem is that despite his excellent capacity to criticise and to find out the thought, which is incompatible with Islam, he is not a writer who has a systematic and organised method. When discussing an important issue, he moves away before offering a full treatment of it. So one who hoped to find genuine and Islamic philosophical thought from the criticisms of Ibn Taymiyyah would be disappointed. Nevertheless, his contribution, which we cannot undermine, is that he has shown that better understanding of the Qur’Én and Sunnah is the proper way to develop a sound philosophy, rather than adapting foreign thought. He seems to be suggesting that the Muslim should develop a sound philosophy  (al-falsafah al-ÎahÊhah) independently by referring mainly to the Qur’Én, the Sunnah and the ideas of the Salaf.  
In the context of the development of Islamic philosophy, his attack on philosophy is not as influential as that of al-GhazzÉlÊ, but his mission and his invitation to return to re-understand the Qur’Én has greater influence than al-GhazzÉlÊ. Watt terms his influence as still ‘pregnant in the future. The recent movements that claim to represent the salaf thought are intensely inspired by the message brought by Ibn Taymiyyah, but unfortunately none of them has been significantly inspired by the implicit message to develop a sound Islamic philosophy. This work still remains to be done. The full implication of Ibn Taymiyyahs falsafah al-ÎahÊhah will maybe inspire future disciples of this Muslim master.

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