Ibn Taymiyyah was born in an era when the concepts of ignorance (Jahiliyyah) in religious matters were taking root . Many so called Islamic philosophers and theologians had introduced various innovations within the Islamic creed. Through his foundations in Quran and Sunnah, Ibn Taymiyyah rebutted all the innovations that had surfaced through the teachings of the many so called scholars. It was because of this work that Ibn Taymiyyah is known to be more of as a “Mujaddid” (one who renews) rather than simply a scholar or jurist. Through his scholarly knowledge and approach, he refuted the various innovations that had surfaced many years after Prophet Muhammad and his companions had died.
He is considered to be one of the leading scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaa and has been accepted as Sheikh-ul-Islam by all major sunni schools. Ibn Taymiyah taught many students who later became great scholars of Islam. One of his famous students was Ibn Qayyim, another great scholar of Islam, who had joined the study circle of Ibn Taymiyah. Ibn Qayyim was a loyal student and disciple of Ibn Taymiyah. He defended his religious opinions and approaches, and he compiled and edited most of his works, and taught the same.
Because of their views, both the teacher and the student were persecuted, tortured by tyrannic rulers, and humiliated in public by the local authorities, as they were imprisoned in a single cell in the central prison of Damascus, known today as al-Qala.
In his introduction of the book “Ibn Taymiyyah Expounds on Islam”, Dr. Muhammad `Abdul-Hagq Ansari, Researcher in the Deanery of Academic Research at Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University (Saudi-Arabia) states the following:
The Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, said: “God will raise, at the head of each century, such people for this ummah as will renew (ujaddidu) its religion for it.” This means that the history of Islam will not be smooth sailing; the forces of ignorance (jahiliyyah) will continue to be at war with Islam. As a result, some far-reaching changes will occur over a century which will disfigure Islam and seriously endanger the faith and life of the ummah. When this happens, God will raise from the community someone or some men who will fight the jahiliyyah, right the wrong which it has caused, restore Islam to its own shape, and give the community a new lease on life.
‘Shaykh al-Islam Taqi ad-Din Ibn Taymiyyah’ was one of those great men whom God raised to renew Islam. He occupies a place of honor among them. To call him an eminent Hanbali jurist and theologian, or an outstanding Salafi scholar, or a great Sunni reformer does not do his achievements justice. He was the mujaddid of Islam par excellence.
This is the work that a mujaddid does on the plane of ideas. On the practical plane, he strives to correct the practices which jahiiyyah has introduced, and revives the ones which it has suppressed. He fights shirk, misguided innovations, and unlawful practices, and promotes true faith and real piety. He [struggles] against the forces that support unbelief, injustice and sin, and strengthens those that work for truth, justice and virtue. He tries to ensure that power is exercised not to secure personal, group, or class interests, but to establish the rule of [Islamic teachings] and promote the good of each and every human being. He also stands up against the external forces which try to subdue the ummah, or check the fulfillment of its mission. In short, he strives to establish the religion of Islam and the rule of God in all its aspects. The mujaddid is the heir (warith) of the Prophet. He tries to do the job of a prophet though he is not a prophet.
Dr. Muhammad `Abdul-Hagq Ansari further writes:
[The] rapid survey of philosophy, theology and Sufism (at the time flourishing during Ibn Taymiyyah’s time] will show what tasks Ibn Taymiyyah had before him. Let us see how he accomplished them.
It is time now to state the bases of Ibn Taymiyyah’s approach to the renovation of Islam. First, he maintains that the Quran and the Sunnah are not only the sources of Islamic law; they are also the sources of Islamic faith and belief… They further show the way (tariqah) Muslims should purify themselves, cultivate piety and serve God best. The basic principles of all these areas have been laid down in the Quran. They have been explained and elaborated further by the Sunnah of the Prophet. Hence, in all these matters one must look to them first; everything else comes next and can only be acceptable if it is consistent with them.
The correct procedure for understanding a Quranic statement is first to refer to other relevant verses of the Quran, for one part of the Quran explains another. Then one should refer to the Sunnah of the Prophet, which is the authoritative explanation of the Quran and should never diverge from it provided its authenticity is established. Third, one should look to the words and the practices of the Companions. In their understanding of the Quran, and in their views on major issues of faith, values and conduct of life they had few differences; their words and practices have a normative value. Last, the comments of their successors (at-tabi`un) on the Quran are also to be taken note of. One should not diverge from agreed-upon views; and where they differ one should adopt that which is closest to the Quran and Sunnah. In their practice, too, the Successors were closest to the ideal of the Quran and Sunnah, and were little affected by foreign ideas, values and traditions.
Besides these two generations, Ibn Taymiyyah also refers to the views of the a’immah (scholars) of Islam, whose knowledge and piety the ummah trusts. Among them he counts the four imams, Abu Hanifah (d. 150 H / 667 CE), Malik (d. 179/795), Ash-Shaf’ee (d. 204/819) and, above all, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 241/855), then the scholars of distinction within their schools, as well as independent thinkers like Al-Awza`i (d. 157/774) and Sufyan Ath-Thawri (d. 160?771), leading critics and scholars of hadith – such as Al-Bukhari (d. 256/870), Muslim (d. 261/875), and the rest of the great compilers of hadith – occupy a place of honor on this list. All the people that we have so far mentioned are referred to by Ibn Taymiyyah as the Righteous Elders. Their understanding of the Quran and Sunnah, as well as their interpretation of Islamic faith and values, he holds, must be honored and followed. The language of the Arabs does have a role in the understanding and interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah, but it only comes after them. Moreover, the language that matters is what was used before Islam or in its early period when the language was not affected by new usage. [End Quote]