Who is the True Godfather of Islamic Fundamentalism?
Author: Adrian Morgan
Source: The Family Security Foundation, Inc.
Date: July 30, 2007
The next time you hear an uninformed person say we have a problem with fundamentalist Islam because of America’s foreign policy or the Iraq War or Muslim poverty, show them this article. FSM Contributing Editor Adrian Morgan produces another must read for the well informed.
Who Is the True Godfather of Islamic Fundamentalism?
By Adrian Morgan
Analysts and commentators on Islamism often point to two individuals as the “godfathers of Islamism” – Sayyid Qutb and Syed Abul Ala Maududi. It is true that the writings of these two men have been influential upon senior figures in the Islamist and Al Qaeda movements. Sayyid Qutb (1906 – 1966) was spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood from the early 1950s until he was executed by the government of Nasser in 1966. His book Milestones on the Road (Ma’alim fi’l-Tariq) was read by, and influenced, Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy leader of Al Qaeda.
Syed Abul Ala Maududi was born in India in 1903, and was a scholar of Islam at a Deobandi seminary in Hyderabad. In 1941, he founded the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party in India (J-e-I). After the 1947 formation of Pakistan, Maududi moved to the new state. Under the first thirteen months of its existence, Pakistan was governed by Mohammed Jinnah, who oversaw a secular constitution. With pressure from J-e-I, secularism in Pakistan gave way to Islamism. Maududi despised the Ahmadiyyah sect of Islam. This group denounces violence, but holds its founder to be a “prophet”, which Maudidi condemned as heretical in at least one book (The Qadiani Problem).
The offshoots of Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan and Bangladesh have enacted severe persecutions of the Ahmadiyyah. As a result of pressure from J-e-I in Pakistan, any Ahmadiyyah member who preaches can be jailed for three years under the Islamist blasphemy laws. Maududi’s writings were to influence Sayyid Qutb.
Maududi and Qutb both supported the notion that it was every Muslim’s duty to work towards the establishment of Islam on earth as a global political entity. The two groups to which these ideologues had belonged, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, maintained close links. Both groups have been involved in violence and sponsorship of terrorism. When East Pakistan seceded from West Pakistan, leading to the formation of Bangladesh, the local wing of the J-e-I, led by Motiur Rahman Nizami, supervised acts of genocide against Hindus and separatists. Three million died in Bangladesh’s war for independence. Senior figures of the Bangladesh terror group JMB (Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh), which committed suicide bombings in 2005, all had links with the Jamaat-e-Islami party.
The other global fundamentalist Islamic movement, spread from Saudi Arabia, is Wahabbism. This is named after its founder, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703 – 1792), a scholar who preached an austere form of Islam. He regarded anything which deviated from ultra-orthodox interpretations of Islam, based upon the Koran and sunna (deeds) of Mohammed, as shirk or polytheism. Only one of his books, Kitab al-Tawhid (the Book of Monotheism) remains. It orders that no shrines or gravestones should be erected, lest these become places of worship. Such extreme dictates have led to destruction of Islamic historical sites. Recently a fatwa was issued by Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheikh. He has ordered that Shi’ite shrines in Iraq and Damascus, which are revered by Shia Muslims as places of pilgrimage, should be destroyed.
The ideologies of these three individuals – Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Sayyid Qutb and Syed Abul Ala Maududi (or for easier remembering Wahhab, Qutb and Maududi) – are central to the Islamist and terrorist movements which are now plaguing both the Muslim and non-Muslim world. Yet these individuals in turn were influenced by one man who is virtually unknown to most Westerners.
His name is Ibn Taymiyyah, or Taq ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah, and he lived from 1263 to 1328. His name by birth was Ahmad ibn Abdul-Halim ibn Abdas-Salaam. This individual could be considered as the real godfather of fundamentalism. Maududi borrowed extensively from Taymiyyah’s writings.
Ibn Taymiyyah lived in a time of great upheaval in the Muslim world. In the West, the Crusades were still being waged at the time of his birth, ending with the Ninth Crusade of 1271 to 1272. In the East, Mongols from the Steppes had flooded to conquer the towns and cities along the Silk Route and beyond, which had previously been conquered by Muslims. The Mongol Empire, founded by Genghis Khan in 1206, destroyed the Islamic Abbasid Empire in 1258, thus ending the semi-mythical “Golden Age” of Islam, when mathematics, the arts and sciences had been vigorously pursued. The Mongol Empire would continue for 40 years after Taymiyyah’s death. In 1299 in western Anatolia, the Ottoman Empire was formed, which would last until March, 1924.
Ibn Taymiyyah was born in Harran, in what is now Sanliurfa Province in southeastern Turkey, close to the Syrian border. The privations caused by the Mongol incursions caused Ibn Taymiyyah and his family to flee to Damascus in Syria when he was seven years old. He came from a family where Sunni scholarship of the Hanbali school was a tradition. The founder of this school of thought, Ahmad bin Hanbal (780 – 855), had been against any “innovation” (bida) in Islam. Taymiyya became a professor of Islamic studies when he was 19.
Taymiyyah preached extensively, and made numerous fatwas. He broke with tradition by declaring the Mongols, who had converted to Islam, to be heretics because they followed man-made laws, rather than Sharia. To denounce any individual or group, particularly a ruler, as a heretic (takfir) was a role previously confined to a select few, such as the Assassins. Taymiyyah declared that the Islamized Mongols were living in “Jahiliyah”, the state of ignorance that existed before Mohammed. He also argued that Muslims should not follow such rulers, and it was their duty to kill such people. Centuries later, Maududi would write of non-orthodox Muslims living in jahiliyah. Taymiyyah also denounced the worship at shrines, a concept echoed later by ibn Wahhab who also wrote in his book Kitab al-Tawhid (Chapter 36) that that no-one should obey a scholar or ruler if that person contradicts the Qur’an or the Sunnah (actions of the Prophet) in any way.
In 1300, while the Mongols (Tartars) were besieging Damascus, Taymiyyah was part of a delegation sent to the invading king, Ghazan. The other religious representatives were contrite in the king’s presence, but Taymiyyah is reported to have said: “You claim to be a Muslim. I have been told that you have with you a Qadi [Sharia judge] and an Imam, a Sheikh and a mu’adhdhin [muezzin, a caller to prayer]; yet you have deemed it proper to march upon Muslims. Your forefathers were heathens, but they always abstained from breaking the promise once made by them. They redeemed the pledges they made, but you violate the word of honor given by you. You trample underfoot your solemn declarations in order to lay a hand on the servants of Allah!” His forthright manner gained the respect of the Tartar king.
Taymiyyah’s fatwa against the Mongols, declaring them to be infidels, also made mention of a perpetual jihad: “There will always remain a group of people from my nation who establish the truth. They will never be agonised by those who let them down nor by those who disagree with them till the day of judgment.” The fatwa, issued in 1303, was followed by a battle which took place between Taymiyyah’s “authentic” Muslims and Tartars from the Mongol Empire at Shaqhab, south of Damascus. This battle, in which Taymiyyah fought, took place during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. He encouraged the Muslims of the Damascus Sultan, al-Nasir Muhammad, to abandon their fasting following the example of Mohammed, in order to fight jihad more effectively.
The battle of Shaqhab was a victory, commemorated by Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2004: “Make of this month like the month of [the battle of] Badr and the conquest of Makka, [the battle of] Shaqhab and other victories of Islam. We ask of God that he make of this Ramadan a month of glory, victory and consolidation… to lay low polytheism and the polytheists… raise the ensign of monotheism and plant the banner of jihad.”
Taymiyyah’s denunciations of rulers would lead to his gaining enemies. He was imprisoned several times during his lifetime, and some of his most forceful writings were completed during those periods of incarceration. In 1306, three years after the battle of Shaqhab, he was summoned to Egypt and jailed in Cairo. He was accused of viewing Allah as a human-like entity, rather than one without bodily attributes.
This happened again in 1308, when he was deported from Cairo to Alexandria and jailed for 18 months on similar charges. He was jailed again in 1331 for five months, because of verdicts he had made in divorce cases. At the end of his life, on account of his banning visits to grave sites, he was placed in a prison (pictured) in Damascus, where all writing materials were denied him. He succumbed to an illness and died. Though he had offended many with his rebukes, including Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad, his funeral brought large crowds to pay their respects. Though some of his writings have been lost, a large amount have survived. Unfortunately, only a few of these are available in English.
Taymiyyah had an ambivalent relationship with Sufis. The Sufi movement had gained great prominence in the Muslim world at that time. The Sufis were regarded as mystics, who sought a literal connection with Allah. The origin of Sufism is vague, though it is thought that 150 years after Mohammed’s death, Islamic mystics would wear robes of wool (Arabic: suf). Sufis hope to achieve a state of safa or “purity”, which comes from the Arabic word “tasawwuf”.
Ibn Taymiyyah was himself considered by some to have been a Sufi, but he also issued fatwas condemning certain classes of Sufis. One Sufi notion, popular among the masses, concerned the “oneness of existence” or wahdat al-wujud. The belief in oneness is demonstrated physically by the whirling dervishes – when they raise one hand while spinning, they metaphorically draw down the essence of God into themselves. For Taymiyyah, there could be no “oneness” or union of God and the self where there was no difference between God and self. He cited the Koran, 42:11. which states: “There is nothing whatsoever like unto him.”
Taymiyyah’s belief in Allah as having bodily attributes such as “hand”, “face”, “foot” can be found in his writings, such as Al-Aqidah Al-Wasitiyah where he quotes from the Koran and Hadiths. He had been instructed in Hadiths during his youth by a woman scholar, Zaynab bint Makki. Yet in this work he writes: “Do not change words from their context; Do not disbelieve the names of Allah and His Signs; Do not exemplify His Attributes with the attributes of His creatures because Allah, The Exalted, has no likeness: There is none comparable to Him; There is none equal to Him; The Exalted, the Supreme, is not measured by His creatures.”
Taymiyyah is currently popular in the Arab world and in India. In the late 19th century in Egypt, the emergent Salafists, noted for their literalist interpretations of Islam, took inspiration from Taymiyyah. Despite his sometimes ferocious doctrines which have come to influence Islamists, Salafists and even Al Qaeda, Many people slandered him during his lifetime. Ibn Batuta, the famous traveller, falsely claimed to have seen Taymiyyah preaching from a pulpit, saying that Allah would move his foot in a particular manner, and moving his own foot. The visit took place while Taymiyyah was in prison, and could never have been seen by Batuta.
Taymiyyah was capable of generosity and forgiveness. At one point, the Sultan of Damascus offered Taymiyyah a chance to take his vengeance on the religious leaders who had denounced him. Taymiyyah refused, saying: “Whoever harmed me is absolved, and who harmed the cause of Allah and His Messenger, Allah will punish him.”
His relations with Christians were ambivalent. He believed in jihad to remove remnants of crusading venturers from Muslim lands, yet he spoke up in defense of a Christian who had been accused of blasphemy.
Muslim criticism of Taymiyyah generally centers around issues such as his “anthropomorphism” of Allah, rather than his prohibitions against “innovation” or his absolutism. Taymiyyah has been criticized by imams from the Shafi’i school of thought, and by Hanfi jurist Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari who lived at the end of the Ottoman Empire.
Taymiyyah was undoubtedly a complex character, but his injunctions against Muslim figures who are condemned as not being “true” Muslims and his call for a perpetual jihad against unbelievers are aspects of his teachings which have become influential today to fundamentalists and terrorists alike. Taymiyyah lived at a time when the Muslim world was in a crisis, and feeling attacked. In that context, the Islamists who were inspired by him – such as Maududi, Qutb, Al Qaeda, Salafists and Wahhabists – also feel that the Muslim world is in a similar situation of crisis.
The world of Ibn Taymiyyah had lost its Caliphate when the Abbasid Empire was destroyed. The Caliphate from the time of Mohammed’s death had provided a system of spiritual rulership, a central authority for all Muslims. The last Caliphate, that of the Ottomans, was officially disbanded by the secularist Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924. Most Muslim nations are fearful of those who would re-establish a Caliphate, as their local authority would be lost, but for Islamists and terrorists alike, a new Caliphate is sought as the first step towards global control.
Many who now read Taymiyyah’s writings are themselves interpreting his words in ways he may not have even intended. But to understand the essence of Islamism, the “revolutionary” words of 20th century radicals such as Maududi and Qutb are only reworkings of ideas already formulated by Ibn Taymiyyah in the early 14th century. To understand the ideology behind the methodology of modern Islamism, the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah are compulsory reading.