This article presents and analyzes Ibn Taymiyya’s views on tawātur in uṣūl al-fiqh and as the basis of a generalized epistemological system. In legal theory, Ibn Taymiyya expands the umbrella of what is “functionally equivalent to the mutawātir,” extending epistemic certainty to a wide range of religious knowledge. More originally, he expands tawātur beyond the realm of transmitted knowledge altogether, making it the final guarantor of all human cognition. Tawātur in this theory reveals the nature of the uncorrupted human intellect, underwriting the integrity even of the basic axioms of reason and the native intuitions of the sound human fiṭra.
In the introduction to his study of Ibn Taymiyya’s (d. 728/1328) refutation of Greek logic, Wael Hallaq observes that “Ibn Taymiyya was first and foremost a lawyer and jurist, and his world-view was considerably coloured by his characteristically juristic thinking.”1 As evidence for this juridical bent of mind in domains extrinsic to the law, Hallaq cites Ibn Taymiyya’s assimilation of the categorical syllogism employed in logic to the analogical reasoning emblematic of the uṣūl al-fiqh tradition, refusing to concede any epistemic superiority to the former over the latter.2 The present article brings to light a further, hitherto unexplored domain in which Ibn Taymiyya’s legal thinking has impacted his larger philosophical—and particularly his epistemological—outlook. The domain in question is that of tawātur, or “recurrent mass transmission,” a concept most at home in the field of legal theory, but which Ibn Taymiyya appropriates and expands dramatically as the final guarantor not only of the authenticity of the transmitted texts of revelation (or indeed of transmitted knowledge more generally3), but as the ultimate basis for guaranteeing the validity of all human cognition and, by extension, all knowledge. Ibn Taymiyya, as far as I can determine, is unprecedented in pressing the concept of tawātur into the service of a more generalized philosophical project in this manner. His appropriation of tawātur from the domain of legal theory and his use of it to underwrite a larger, characteristically Taymiyyan Erkenntnistheorie indeed stands as yet another “striking instance,” to put it in the words of the late Shahab Ahmed, “of the synthetic originality of [Ibn Taymiyya’s] ideas and methods.”4 In addition to mere novelty, however, Ibn Taymiyya’s application of tawātur as a generalized epistemic principle to realms outside the transmission of textual, as well as historical and geographical, knowledge affords us important insights into foundational elements of his thought and methodology writ large. Specifically, it illustrates his marked propensity for identifying certain core principles or insights then applying these throughout his thought with an often surprising degree of consistency.5 His deployment of tawātur for broader epistemic ends, as we shall see, is also evincive of his larger commitment to rationality, or “ʿaql,” as a robust and productive notion of “plain reason” shared by the many over against the—in his view—abstruse, not to say barren, philosophical rationalism of the Muslim falāsifa and many of the mutakallimūn. Finally, Ibn Taymiyya’s institution of a common standard of epistemic certainty, in the guise of tawātur, for both text-based revelational knowledge, on the one hand, and intuitive and discursive rational knowledge, on the other, is eminently representative of the overarching meta-project of reconciling human reason and divine revelation to which he dedicated an important part of his scholarly output.6
The present study offers a comprehensive presentation and analysis of Ibn Taymiyya’s views on tawātur as a topic of legal theory, then demonstrates how he extends the concept of “recurrent mass transmission” to form the basis of a generalized epistemological theory. Ibn Taymiyya’s discussion of tawātur as a topic of uṣūl al-fiqh is contained primarily in a brief four-page section of Vol. 18 (“ʿIlm al-ḥadīth”) of the collected work Majmūʿ Fatāwā,7 as well as in a more extensive treatment contained in the legal theoretical treatise al-Musawwada fī uṣūl al-fiqh.8 Added to this are two mid-length treatises, Maʿārij al-wuṣūl and Rafʿ al-malām, located in Majmūʿ Fatāwā, Vols. 19 and 20, respectively.9 The larger philosophical project of applying the concept of tawātur to human cognition as a whole is reconstructed primarily from discussions scattered throughout the Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa’l-naql, Ibn Taymiyya’s 10-volume magnum opus on the relationship between reason and revelation.10
2 The Epistemology of Tawātur
In his groundbreaking study on the typology of Islamic legal theory, Aron Zysow remarks that, in contrast to legal systems where legitimacy is defined in institutional terms, the authority of law in Islam came to be seen at an early date primarily as a question of epistemology.11 Conceiving of the Sharīʿa as Divine Law, classical Muslim jurists were concerned first and foremost with assessing the textual foundations of the law—Qurʾān and ḥadīth—in terms of the degree of confidence with which these sources could be held to represent faithfully the words uttered by the Prophet Muḥammad in the early 7th century ce. The primary operative terms of this epistemological system are the disjunctive categories of certainty (qaṭʿ) and probability (ẓann). While the conclusive integrity, and therefore the epistemic certainty, of the Qurʾānic text was rarely a question of dispute among Muslim scholars,12 the vast and highly ramified body of prophetic ḥadīth reports gave rise to a rich and variegated discourse concerning the authentication, epistemic value, and proper use of ḥadīth that spanned numerous disciplines over the course of some five to seven centuries.13
The lynchpin of this epistemology of texts, as it came to be formulated in classical works of theology and, particularly, of legal theory, is the concept of tawātur, or “recurrent mass transmission.”14 Based in the intuitive notion that increasing corroboration of a report results in a systematic increase in the probability of the report being true, the theory of tawātur maintains that if a report has reached us through mutually corroborative channels so numerous and varied, at each level of transmission, as to preclude the possibility of error (khaṭaʾ) or of collusion on a forgery or lie (al-tawāṭuʾ ʿalā al-kadhib) on the part of its transmitters, then we are justified in affirming with certainty that the report is authentic and its content, therefore, indubitably true.15 Mutawātir reports, along with sensory data (in which the content of mass-transmitted reports must ultimately originate16) and logical first principles, thus occupy the highest rank on the scale of epistemic warrant, namely, that of certainty (yaqīn).17 A report that has reached us in less than a mutawātir fashion, by contrast, can warrant only a presumption (ẓann) of authenticity (even if this presumption, in many instances, be very strong).
Tawātur as part of a larger epistemic theory thus takes its place as a sufficient, though not a necessary, condition for knowledge.18 Knowledge and certainty in this theory are correlative concepts, such that to have knowledge (ʿilm) of a thing is to be certain of its truth.19 Though theories of knowledge proper are generally treated in works of theology, tawātur as a discrete topic has been dealt with most extensively in works of legal theory, primarily in subsections dedicated to the Sunna of the Prophet or to “reports” (akhbār) more generally.20 Standard uṣūl doctrine divides reports into khabar mutawātir (‘concurrent’ or ‘mass-transmitted’ report) and khabar wāḥid/āḥād (lit., ‘solitary’ report),21 a distinction that is strictly epistemological in nature.22 While mutawātir reports, in this theory, are universally considered to yield definitive knowledge (ʿilm qaṭʿī, or simply ʿilm),23 legal theorists differed as to whether the knowledge produced by tawātur is immediate (ḍarūrī) or acquired (muktasab) by means of investigation and inference (naẓar), with the majority opting for the former view.24 By contrast, āḥād reports are generally considered capable of yielding only a presumption (ẓann) of authenticity,25 though some have held that they too could yield knowledge under certain conditions26 (as we shall discuss further on).
Between mutawātir and āḥād reports stands an intermediate category—particularly among Ḥanafī uṣūlīs—that of the mashhūr (‘well-known’) or mustafīḍ (‘widespread’) report, defined as a ḥadīth that began as āḥād in the generation of the Companions, was “received with acceptance” (tuluqqiya bi’l-qabūl) as of the generation of the Successors (al-tābiʿūn), and mass transmitted thereafter.27 The logic underlying this view is that if a report which is āḥād at the level of the Companions subsequently came to be accepted and widely transmitted among the generation of the Successors, this can only be due to the latter’s knowledge that the report is indeed authentic. Two views emerged regarding the epistemic status of mashhūr/mustafīḍ ḥadīth reports. According to one view,28 mashhūr reports constitute an independent third category between the mutawātir and the āḥād, one which yields neither the certainty of the former nor the mere probability of the latter, but rather engenders “confidence” (ṭumaʾnīna) with respect to the authenticity of the report.29 A contrasting view30 saw the mashhūr as a subcategory of the mutawātir in that it is productive of certain knowledge, albeit through the mechanism of consensus rather than tawātur proper, and acquired inferentially (naẓaran) rather than imposed immediately (ḍarūratan) upon the mind.31
A recurring theme in uṣūlī discussions of tawātur is the number of chains of transmission necessary for a report to be considered mutawātir. Almost all legal theorists agreed that no specific number could be fixed,32 with the great majority also in agreement that four chains or less would necessarily fall short of tawātur (and thus of certainty).33 Minimum suggested numbers for tawātur thus range from as few as five chains of transmission to as many as 313, with intermediate figures proposed at 12, 20, 40, and 70.34 Some jurists, Ibn Taymiyya reports, stipulate that the number for tawātur must be such that it cannot be enumerated or contained within a single region.35 Part of the reason for this variation in number is that circumstantial evidence (qarāʾin al-aḥwāl) available to one person but not to another might affect the number of independent reports at which certainty regarding the reported content is attained.36 Indeed, though number is fundamental to tawātur, it is typically number in conjunction with circumstantial evidence that engenders knowledge in the mind: knowledge-inducing tawātur may obtain sooner through a lower number of reports accompanied by strong circumstantial indicants than through a larger number of reports but with less or weaker concomitant evidence.37
The consideration of circumstantial evidence alongside sheer number in the production of knowledge leads to the question, duly deliberated by legal theorists, as to whether non-mutawātir reports can ever yield certain knowledge as opposed to a mere presumption of knowledge. Though the standard view held that āḥād reports—in the sense of those that are neither mutawātir nor mashhūr/mustafīḍ—can only engender a presumption of authenticity to the exclusion of definitive knowledge, an early minority did hold that such reports could yield knowledge (ʿilm) of an inferential or mediate kind in the presence of sufficient circumstantial evidence.38 One such figure was Dāwūd al-Ẓāhirī (d. 270/884),39 who held that āḥād reports could yield certainty,40 as well as the later prominent Ẓāhirī Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456/1064), who allowed that a report with only two chains of transmission that had met the standard ḥadīth criteria for authenticity could yield certain knowledge if the content reported was of sufficient length as to preclude chance agreement between two unrelated narrators.41 Concurrent with Ibn Ḥazm, Ḥanbalī scholars going as far back as the famous jurist al-Qāḍī Abū Yaʿlā b. al-Farrāʾ (d. 458/1066) advanced the view that the piety and rectitude (ṣalāḥ) of transmitters alone could stand in place of a tawātur level of numbers in yielding certainty.42 Likewise, the later Mālikī jurist and legal theoretician Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī (d. 684/1285) recognized an independent category of reports that could yield knowledge—distinct from the mutawātir due to an insufficient number of transmissions, yet different from āḥād reports in that they nevertheless yield certainty.43 Consideration of non-numeric, qualitative factors in the production (or obstruction) of knowledge also led some Ḥanbalīs subsequently to delineate cases in which even tawātur could fail to yield knowledge with respect to a given individual. Ibn ʿAqīl (d. 513/1119), for instance, lists cognitive and moral shortcomings such as obstinacy (ʿinād), fanaticism (ʿaṣabiyya), and blind following (taqlīd) as subjective factors that can inhibit a person’s ability to gain knowledge from mutawātir reports.44
Suheil Laher has shown that as late as the 6th/13th century, some legal theoreticians retained a tripartite scheme in which tawātur, as well as ḥadīth reports supported by consensus (ijmāʿ) or “reception with acceptance by the community” (talaqqī al-umma lahu bi’l-qabūl), yield certain knowledge (immediate in the case of tawātur, acquired in the case of consensus or widespread communal acceptance), while āḥād reports as a class yield only probability or a presumption of authenticity. Others, however, adopted the more common bipartite division in which all ḥadīth reports are classified as either mutawātir or āḥād, while acknowledging that some āḥād reports can, under certain conditions, yield definitive knowledge. This latter view—originally pioneered by the somewhat idiosyncratic Muʿtazilite Ibrāhīm al-Naẓẓām (d. c. 221/836)—came to be widely supported in uṣūlī circles45 and was quite standard by the time of Ibn Taymiyya. In the field of ḥadīth, al-Naẓẓām’s view seems to have been first adopted into the genre by Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ (d. 643/1245), was subsequently criticized by al-Nawawī (d. 676/1277), but then rehabilitated and promoted once more by Ibn Ḥajar (d. 852/1449).46 It was on the basis of this view that Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ—in a position very close to that of Ibn Taymiyya—claimed certainty on behalf of the vast majority of the (overwhelmingly non-mutawātir) ḥadīth reports contained in the Ṣaḥīḥ collections of al-Bukhārī (d. 256/870) and Muslim (d. 261/875).47
3 Ibn Taymiyya’s Treatment of Tawātur as a Topic of Uṣūl al-Fiqh
The following sections provide a summary of Ibn Taymiyya’s discussion of tawātur as a topic of legal theory as found primarily in the pertinent passages of Majmūʿ Fatāwā vol. 18,48 the lengthy work al-Musawwada fī uṣūl al-fiqh,49 and the shorter treatises Maʿārij al-wuṣūl50 and Rafʿ al-malām,51 foregrounding those aspects most relevant to the larger epistemological considerations that constitute the main concern of this study.52
3.1 The Expansive Umbrella of Tawātur: Verbatim and Thematic, General and Specialized
As had been common for several centuries before him, Ibn Taymiyya upholds the well-recognized distinction between tawātur lafẓī, or verbatim tawātur, and tawātur maʿnawī, referring to the mass transmission of the overall theme or meaning, though not the exact wording, of a ḥadīth.53 Ibn Taymiyya cites Abū Yaʿlā to the effect that tawātur maʿnawī can come about in one of two ways. The first way is by virtue of a common meaning related through diverse narrators with numerous wordings (alfāẓ kathīra). This is the manner in which many of the Prophet’s miracles have been established, as well as the obligation to act on the basis of āḥād ḥadīth reports due to what we know of the Companions’ practice of acting on such reports in various matters.54 The second way in which tawātur maʿnawī arises is through a report having been “received by the community with acceptance” (talaqqat‧hu al-umma bi’l-qabūl) with no one reported to have rejected it.55 As an example of a ḥadīth that is mutawātir lafẓī, Ibn Taymiyya cites the report, “Whoever lies about me intentionally, let him occupy his seat in the Fire.”56 Examples of ḥadīth reports that are mutawātir maʿnawī include narrations relating to the Prophet’s intercession on the Day of Judgement as well as reports about seeing God in the Hereafter. Both categories yield knowledge (yufīdu al-ʿilm) and can conclusively be upheld as true (yujzamu bi-annahu ṣidq) due to their recurrent mass transmission (tawātur). In terms of quantity, however, ḥadīth reports that are mutawātir maʿnawī far outnumber those that can be considered mutawātir lafẓī.57
Besides the division into tawātur lafẓī and tawātur maʿnawī, Ibn Taymiyya lays special emphasis on a further distinction that had also been articulated before him but which he puts to wider use, namely, the distinction between tawātur ʿāmm, or general tawātur, and tawātur khāṣṣ, or specialized tawātur.58 General tawātur refers to the mass transmission of a report among the populace at large, while specialized tawātur is that which obtains specifically among a given group of specialist scholars, such as those of ḥadīth, creed, or fiqh. Specialists in these fields may come to know with certainty through tawātur that which is not mutawātir among the general public.59 Legal examples of specialized tawātur include the rules pertaining to the prostration of forgetfulness, the right of preemption, the penalty of stoning for adultery, and the practice known as ḥaml al-ʿāqila, which involves the compensatory payment for unintentional manslaughter being discharged on behalf of the offender by his extended family of paternal relatives, who are collectively legally responsible to help make the payment.60 Examples of points of creed known definitively through specialized tawātur include, once again, seeing God in the Hereafter, as well as the punishment of the grave, the Prophet’s basin in Paradise, and his intercession on behalf of the believers on the Day of Judgement.61 Applying the two classification schemes—verbatim (lafẓī) vs. thematic (maʿnawī) and general (ʿāmm) vs. specialized (khāṣṣ) tawātur—jointly, Ibn Taymiyya classifies the various miracles reported of the Prophet as enjoying tawātur maʿnawī among the specialists of ḥadīth,62 meaning that we can have definitive certainty of the factual occurrence of such miracles due to their mutawātir status among the relevant body of expert scholars, to whose judgement on the issue the non-specialist community is then bound to defer. In addition to tawātur maʿnawī, a wider application of the category of tawātur khāṣṣ, or specialized tawātur, is thus another means by which the scope of mass-transmitted reports—and thus of definitive knowledge—is significantly extended. Coming under the (expanding) umbrella of tawātur, these reports can now be “upgraded” to the level of communicating definitive knowledge with certainty.
3.2 Qualitative Factors in the Production of Knowledge beyond Numeric Tawātur
In discussing the quantitative side of tawātur having to do with the number of chains of transmission required for mass transmission, Ibn Taymiyya considers all the specific numbers proposed by some legal theoreticians before him63 to be invalid, due to the fact that they are merely conjectural and cancel each other out.64 He maintains the correct position to be that of the majority (al-jumhūr), namely, that tawātur cannot be defined in terms of any specific number.65 Beyond this non-specifiability of number, however, Ibn Taymiyya reports that only a minority of legal theoreticians have, in fact, defined tawātur as “that which has been transmitted by a large number, and which yields knowledge on account of that large number alone.”66 The majority, he maintains, regard the mutawātir simply as “that which yields knowledge” (mā yufīdu al-ʿilm), a position he enthusiastically endorses.67 According to this majority view,68 knowledge gained through reports sometimes arises on account of the large number of transmitters (kathrat al-mukhbirīn), but sometimes on account of various qualitative factors as well.
The first such qualitative factor pertains to the transmitters themselves, primarily as relates to their religious integrity (dīn)69 and accuracy of memory (ḍabṭ). In fact, reports from as few as two or three trustworthy and upright persons could yield knowledge that ten or twenty individuals of dubious religious integrity and/or questionable accuracy of memory might not.70 The second qualitative factor concerns the circumstances surrounding the incident reported and its transmission, that is, its qarāʾin.71 For example, knowledge could arise from the separate reporting of only two individuals if it is known that they did not collude (lam yatawāṭaʾā) in the spreading of a false report, or in cases where it goes against the normal course of things (yamtaniʿu fī al-ʿāda) that they could have agreed mendaciously on such a report. Such would be the case, for instance, if one person were to narrate a lengthy incident with many parts and details while someone else narrated the same without ever having met the first person.72 Such reports, says Ibn Taymiyya, bring about certain knowledge (yūjibu al-ʿilm al-qaṭʿī).73 This occurs often, he affirms, in reports jointly transmitted by Abū Hurayra and Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī, or by Abū Hurayra and ʿĀʾisha, or by Abū Hurayra and either Ibn ʿUmar or Ibn ʿAbbās, where it is known that one of the two in each case did not take the report from the other.74 Additionally, knowledge of the authenticity of an incident might stem from the fact that the incident was reported in the presence of a large group of people who share common knowledge of the event with the reporter and no one in the group declared the report untrue. The reason for this, Ibn Taymiyya explains, is that it “may be just as impossible” (qad yamtaniʿu) for the members of such a group successfully to suppress information as it would be for them to get away with colluding on the propagation of a falsehood. An āḥād report, then, could yield certainty if accompanied by sufficient circumstantial evidence that is itself productive of knowledge (idhā iḥtaffat bihi qarāʾin tufīdu al-ʿilm).75
The third set of qualitative factors beyond sheer number having a bearing on the production of knowledge through reports has to do with considerations relative to the knowing subject.76 When knowledge occurs in the mind through tawātur, Ibn Taymiyya tells us, it does so necessarily (ḍarūratan), just as eating necessarily leads to satiety and drinking necessarily quenches the thirst—states which, of course, inhere not in the food or drink, but in the person himself who has eaten and drunk. Nevertheless, the exact amount of food or drink necessary to satiate one’s hunger or to quench one’s thirst differs from one individual to another. Furthermore, it is not solely the amount of food (or drink) that brings about the desired satisfaction, but also the quality or kind of food, in addition to the specific alimentary needs of the individual. Meat, for instance, satisfies the hunger in a way that less nourishing types of food do not. Similarly, one person may need only a small amount of food to be satiated, while another may require substantially more. Finally, when it comes to gaining knowledge through transmitted reports, one person might be able to glean knowledge readily from a report due to his native intelligence and perspicacity, whereas such knowledge may not be forthcoming for a person of lesser mental acumen.
Ibn Taymiyya’s main point, then, is that knowledge gained through transmitted reports may come about not only through the sheer quantity of narrators (i.e., the conventional notion of tawātur), but also through qualitative considerations that engender peace of mind regarding the impossibility of collusion on a forgery. Such factors include the moral rectitude (ṣalāḥ) and religious integrity of the transmitters, as well as various other circumstantial factors as mentioned above.77 For this reason, Ibn Taymiyya concludes, those who confine knowledge as gained through tawātur to a specific number, equating all types of reports—looking, that is, only to their number and not to any of the other knowledge-inducing factors mentioned above—have indeed committed a grave error.
3.3 Consensus and Widespread Acceptance
Henri Laoust has characterized Ibn Taymiyya’s doctrine of consensus, or ijmāʿ, as a fusion of Ẓāhirī and Shīʿite doctrines78 and remarks that ijmāʿ for him is not a question of the Companions all happening to have agreed, as if by happenstance, on a particular point of doctrine or practice, but rather that the unity of doctrine and action manifest among them represents none other than the teaching already established by the Prophet himself.79 Ijmāʿ in this sense thus has the same infallibility as the authenticated prophetic Sunna, of which it is seen as a faithful expression. No form of ijmāʿ other than that of the Companions, such as the ijmāʿ of the Four Imams, is divinely protected from error (maʿṣūm) according to Ibn Taymiyya.80 As a result, he considers the number of issues subject to bona fide consensus to be relatively few.81 Furthermore, every (valid) ijmāʿ, in his view, presupposes the existence of a corresponding text,82 a view that was also upheld by al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923).83
Ibn Taymiyya confirms the near universal view among Muslim scholars that consensus is a conclusive proof (ḥujja qāṭiʿa) in establishing legal rulings,84 citing Abū Yaʿlā to the effect that we know of this authoritativeness through a type of tawātur maʿnawī.85 Approaching the question from an another angle, Ibn Taymiyya argues that there is no disagreement that we have definitive knowledge of issues such as the amount on which the zakāt tax is due, the amount of the zakāt itself, and the obligatory pillars of the prayer, despite the fact that no mutawātir reports exist with respect to them, but only āḥād narrations from Ibn ʿUmar, Anas b. Mālik, and others. But since they86 have agreed upon such matters and declared their truth conclusively,87 we know definitively that such reports must be accepted as true. Our confidence in their truth, however, comes not from the various āḥād reports taken on their own, but by virtue of ijmāʿ as embodied in the fact that the community has received them with acceptance (talaqqat‧hu al-umma bi’l-qabūl), such that the reports concerning these issues have become as if they were mutawātir (fa-ṣārat al-akhbār fīhā ka’l-mutawātir).88 In other words, consensus is first known to constitute a conclusive legal proof (ḥujja) by virtue, essentially, of tawātur maʿnawī. Āḥād reports that fall short of tawātur proper are then upgraded to the level of yielding definitive knowledge by virtue of their widespread acceptance by the community, which amounts essentially to a type of communal consensus. This consensus, in turn, confers certitude due to the impossibility that the community as a whole should agree upon an error.89
In addition to this general consensus, or what we might refer to as “ijmāʿ ʿāmm,” Ibn Taymiyya speaks of a further category of authentic (ṣaḥīḥ) reports that have been universally accepted not by the community at large, but specifically by the scholars of ḥadīth—generating what essentially amounts to an ijmāʿ khāṣṣ, or the consensus of specialized scholars.90 Included in this category are the majority of the mutūn—that is, instances of discrete ḥadīth content, disregarding the repetition of isnāds—reported in the Ṣaḥīḥ collections of al-Bukhārī and Muslim.91 Ibn Taymiyya affirms that, for the most part, both collections consist of reports that have been transmitted through several channels (min ʿiddat wujūh)—by which he apparently means less than the standard minimum numbers given for tawātur—such as from two different Companions who did not collude (lam yatawāṭaʾā). However, these reports have been widely accepted and their authenticity has been definitively affirmed by the totality of ḥadīth scholars.92 The consensus of the muḥaddithūn in such an issue is conclusive (qaṭʿī), in the same manner in which the consensus of legal scholars over a legal ruling produces conclusive knowledge that a given act is lawful, prohibited, or obligatory—regardless of whether this ruling has been reached on the basis of āḥād ḥadīth reports, a legal analogy (qiyās), or general knowledge of the ruling among the community (ʿumūman).93 The rest of the community (sāʾir al-umma) is then obliged to defer to the specialized ijmāʿ of the relevant scholars, for their consensus, like that of the community at large, is likewise divinely protected from error (maʿṣūm).94 The certainty yielded by such reports renders them, in Ibn Taymiyya’s terms, “fī maʿnā al-mutawātir,” or functionally equivalent to the mutawātir. This certainty derives, as we have seen, from their being subject to consensus, specifically the ijmāʿ khāṣṣ, or specialized consensus, of the scholars of ḥadīth.
In addition to ijmāʿ proper—both in its general (ʿāmm) and specialized (khāṣṣ) variants—Ibn Taymiyya makes frequent mention of various reports yielding definitive knowledge on account of their being “widely accepted” (mutalaqqā bi’l-qabūl), rendering them, too, “fī maʿnā al-mutawātir,” or functionally equivalent to the mutawātir. He points to the well-known ḥadīth, “Verily acts are but by intention,”95 as a prominent example of a report that has been “received by scholars with affirmation and acceptance”96 and is not, in fact, mutawātir in its origin (fī aṣlihi).97 Rather, from the strict point of view of ḥadīth transmission, this report is considered “min gharāʾib al-ṣaḥīḥ.”98 However, given its widespread acceptance and affirmation by ḥadīth scholars, it has acquired the status of indubitable authenticity (ṣāra maqṭūʿan bi-ṣiḥḥatihi).99 A second ḥadīth cited by Ibn Taymiyya as an example of this category is the famous report, “No bequest may be made to an heir” (lā waṣiyyata li-wārith), which “the umma has accepted and put into practice,”100 although it is reported only in Sunan works101 and not in either of the Ṣaḥīḥayn collections.102
3.4 Knowledge through Mashhūr and Āḥād Reports
Further types of ḥadīth reports that are “fī maʿnā al-mutawātir,” or functionally equivalent to the mutawātir, for Ibn Taymiyya include mashhūr or mustafīḍ reports.103 Ibn Taymiyya defines a mashhūr report as “a report that (authoritative) scholars have received with acceptance, either affirming its veracity or acting upon it in practice.”104 Ibn Taymiyya’s definition of the mashhūr thus equates it with the category of what has been “widely accepted,” a phrase which he, in turn, uses interchangeably with “ijmāʿ,” or consensus. Given what appears to be the basic equivalence for Ibn Taymiyya of reports that are mashhūr, those that are widely accepted, and those that have formed the object of consensus, it is only to be expected that mashhūr reports, in his view, should yield knowledge in the same manner as these other two categories, a position he reports to have been held by the majority of both early and later scholars.105 By this definition, Ibn Taymiyya continues, the majority of reports in the Ṣaḥīḥ collections of al-Bukhārī and Muslim are well-known (maʿlūm)—by which he seems to mean mashhūr/mustafīḍ—transmitted with precision (mutqana), and have won acceptance and affirmation by authoritative ḥadīth scholars who have reached a consensus on their authenticity, such consensus being divinely protected from error.106 It follows that these scholars know in a definitive and certain manner107 that the majority of mutūn in the two Ṣaḥīḥ collections represent the authentic words of the Prophet Muḥammad, either due to their being mutawātir for such scholars or due to their having been widely accepted by the community at large (li-talaqqī al-umma lahu bi’l-qabūl).108 Here we observe what appears to be a merging of the category of reports subject to consensus and/or widely accepted, on the one hand, with reports classified as mashhūr or mustafīḍ, on the other. As all three categories of report are capable of engendering certainty, Ibn Taymiyya bills them all equally as being “fī maʿnā al-mutawātir.”
In addition, such ḥadīth reports as are subject to consensus may be mutawātir or mustafīḍ for some individual scholars but not for others. Likewise, an individual scholar may come by knowledge of a report’s veracity on the basis of his knowledge of the characteristics of the transmitters (al-mukhbirīn) or else of the circumstances of the ḥadīth’s transmission that are themselves productive of knowledge.109 We can discern resonances here of Ibn Taymiyya’s earlier discussion of the relative factors that affect the production of knowledge based on conditions specific to the knowing subject who receives the report. This demonstrates, once again, Ibn Taymiyya’s endorsement of an expansive notion of what kinds of different reports, and under what circumstances, can give rise to definitive knowledge (yufīdu al-ʿilm) and thus be considered “fī maʿnā al-mutawātir,” or functionally equivalent to the mutawātir, the original gold standard of epistemic certainty.
The de facto equivalence of consensus and widespread acceptance in terms of both categories being productive of knowledge also holds with respect to reports that are neither mutawātir nor mashhūr/mustafīḍ, but rather āḥād.110 The large majority of scholars (jumhūr al-ʿulamāʾ) among the four schools of law, Ibn Taymiyya tells us, as well as the majority of Ashʿarīs, including figures such as Ibn Fūrak (d. 406/1015) and Abū Isḥāq al-Isfarāyīnī (d. 418/1027–8), affirm that knowledge can be engendered by an āḥād report that has been “received with acceptance” (khabar al-wāḥid al-mutalaqqā bi’l-qabūl).111 While on its own such a report yields only probability or a presumption of authenticity (ẓann), when coupled with the consensus acceptance of it by ḥadīth scholars, it acquires the same definitive probative value as when legal scholars are in consensus about a ruling, whether the ruling be derived from a ẓāhir text,112 analogy (qiyās), an āḥād/non-mutawātir ḥadīth, independent legal reasoning (ijtihād), or considered opinion (raʾy).113 As Ibn Taymiyya says explicitly, “[Such a] ruling becomes definitive (yaṣīru qaṭʿiyyan) according to the large majority (jumhūr), even though it would not be definitive in the absence of consensus,” that is, in its own right.114
In discussing the question of whether āḥād reports both obligate action and yield knowledge or obligate action only, Ibn Taymiyya cites the first view, on the authority of the Andalusian Ẓāhirī-turned-Mālikī judge and legal scholar Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 463/1071), as being that of the majority of legal theoreticians, theologians, and specialists of ḥadīth.115 Indeed all these groups, Ibn Taymiyya reports of Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, relate āḥād reports in matters of belief and use them as a basis for determining communal bounds (yuʿādī wa-yuwālī ʿalayhā) and for deriving legal rulings, this being the practice of “jamāʿat ahl al-sunna.” Ibn Taymiyya remarks that this consensus reported by Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr about using āḥād reports to establish points of theology supports the position of those who hold that such reports give rise not only to an obligation to act, but engender knowledge (yūjibu al-ʿilm) as well.116 Concerning his own view on the matter, Ibn Taymiyya confirms that “the position of our companions is that āḥād reports that have been received with acceptance are valid for establishing the principles of religion.”117 He cites Abū Yaʿlā to the effect that an āḥād report yields knowledge if it is adjudged authentic (idhā ṣaḥḥa), if the narrations of one and the same saying or event do not differ, and if the report in question has received widespread communal acceptance. Ibn Taymiyya, for his part, counters that “our companions” (aṣḥābunā) do not impose the condition of widespread communal acceptance, but rather affirm that āḥād reports that are ṣaḥīḥ engender knowledge even in the absence of acceptance on a community-wide scale.118 “The position of the madhhab,” he concludes, “is what I have related, and none other.”119
Ibn Taymiyya is, in most respects, a faithful inheritor of the legal theoretical discourse on tawātur elaborated over the course of the centuries before him. Most of his views on tawātur reflect positions that had gained broad acceptance among scholars of uṣūl al-fiqh prior to his time, including the division of tawātur into verbal (lafẓī) and thematic (maʿnawī), the principle that tawātur cannot be determined in function of a fixed number, and the notion that non-mutawātir reports can also, under certain conditions, be productive of knowledge. In some cases he adopts less commonly held positions, such as Ibn Ḥazm’s view that definitive knowledge could, under certain circumstances, result from a report with as few as two chains of transmission. In other instances, he adopts pre-existing frameworks but applies them more extensively, as with the distinction between general (ʿāmm) and specialized (khāṣṣ) tawātur. Similarly, while Ibn Taymiyya reports that a majority of uṣūl scholars defined tawātur not in terms of number but of production of knowledge, he makes much explicit use of this principle in extending the mantle of certainty to numerous classes of non-mutawātir ḥadīth reports, which he defines as being either “like mutawātir” (ka’l-mutawātir) or, more commonly, “fī maʿnā al-mutawātir,” which we have been translating as the “functional equivalent of the mutawātir.” Yet in some instances, Ibn Taymiyya goes beyond even the wide latitude afforded by this notion of tawātur equivalence to classify any report that yields knowledge as mutawātir proper. “Tawātur,” we read in Majmūʿ Fatāwā, “does not depend on a specific number (of transmitters). Rather, whenever knowledge occurs through the reporting of transmitters, then the report is mutawātir.”120
From the considerations above, we can discern a trend quite typical of Ibn Taymiyya’s thought, one that we will also observe below in our presentation of his more general epistemological schema and the use he makes of (an even more expanded notion of) tawātur in that framework. As is characteristic of Ibn Taymiyya’s approach, what concerns him most is the end result, which is the occurrence of knowledge (ḥuṣūl al-ʿilm), rather than the specific means by which this result obtains. Mutawātir reports, if they hold any interest at all, only do so because they have the ability to yield definitive knowledge. Since it is precisely this result that counts for Ibn Taymiyya, any other process by which knowledge arises—or, to put it differently, any other means available by which we may arrive at the knowledge of something—is, for him, fī maʿnā al-mutawātir or, pushed to the limits, simply assimilated to the mutawātir itself. Such a capacious conception of tawātur even allows him, returning to the question of the status of the reports in the Ṣaḥīḥayn, to affirm that “many of the mutūn in the Ṣaḥīḥ works of al-Bukhārī and Muslim are mutawātir al-lafẓ among ḥadīth scholars, even if others are not aware that they are mutawātir.”121 Here, the rarefied category of verbatim tawātur—an almost titulary set conventionally held to contain few, if any, actual members—is generously augmented by Ibn Taymiyya’s expansive notion of tawātur to the point of securing the certain authenticity of potentially thousands of the ḥadīth reports most commonly employed in the elaboration of Islamic legal norms and practices.
4 Ibn Taymiyya’s Larger Epistemology: An Aperçu
In a relatively brief passage in Volume VII of his Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa’l-naql, Ibn Taymiyya lays out, in an uncharacteristically explicit and theoretical fashion, the main outlines of a comprehensive epistemological system. This system comprises three fundamental sources of knowledge: (1) sense perception (ḥiss), which comprises both an outer (ẓāhir) and an inner (bāṭin) dimension; (2) reason (ʿaql), including both necessary, a priori knowledge (badīhiyyāt ḍarūriyya), as well as that which can be derived through (valid) rational examination and inference (al-iʿtibār bi’l-naẓar wa’l-qiyās); and (3) report (khabar), or transmission, which includes, but is not limited to, the texts of revelation.122 The current section provides a brief synopsis of Ibn Taymiyya’s discussion of each of these individual sources of knowledge, followed by a summary of his account of the structure and functioning of the rational faculty, his notion of necessity (ḍarūra), and the critical role he assigns to the human fiṭra in the acquisition of knowledge. The following section will then demonstrate how Ibn Taymiyya enlists the notion of tawātur as final guarantor of this overall epistemic system.123
4.1 Sources of Knowledge
Ibn Taymiyya has often been referred to as an empiricist (or otherwise associated with empiricism),124 and indeed he identifies the primary and most fundamental source of human knowledge as none other than perception (ḥiss). Perception, for Ibn Taymiyya, comprises both an external (ẓāhir) and an internal (bāṭin) dimension. It is through external perception—primarily our five senses—that we come to know the objects of the empirical world around us, that aspect of existence known as the visible realm, or ʿālam al-shahāda. It is through our internal perception (ḥiss bāṭin) that we experience various subjective emotive and psychic states, and through which we can also perceive the existence both of God and of our own souls. Our souls, in turn, may perceive through internal perception certain unseen (ghāʾib) realities that are currently veiled to our external senses.
While sense perception, for Ibn Taymiyya, is our most immediate, necessary, and undeniable source of knowledge, it is also, in the final analysis, woefully limited, for it only comprises what each of us has personally witnessed for himself. The vast majority of what we in fact believe we know about the world—indeed, literally everything we know about the objects and events of the world other than those we have personally witnessed, including past eras of human history as well as currently existing lands and peoples in far-off places, not to mention the ontological realm of the unseen, or ghayb, proper—is ultimately based on a second, critical source of knowledge, namely, reporting (ikhbār) or transmission (naql).125 Ibn Taymiyya describes report as being more general and more comprehensive (aʿamm wa-ashmal) than sense perception, although sense perception—particularly that of sight—is more complete and more perfect (atamm wa-akmal).126 Nevertheless, it turns out that even reporting itself is grounded ultimately in sense perception, for anything accurately reported to us concerning any event, person, or place must originally have been experienced by somebody through his senses then subsequently relayed to others in the form of a transmitted report.127 At the other end of the transmission process, it is also through our own senses that we are able to receive said reports, primarily through our sense of hearing, or samʿ.128
4.2 The Structure and Function of Reason (al-ʿaql)
Ibn Taymiyya defines reason (ʿaql) as an “instinct in man” (gharīza fī al-insān)129 essentially endowed with the capacity to perform three vital functions: (1) the universalization of particulars, enabled by the ability of reason to recognize relevant similarities between particular existents and to abstract these into universal concepts,130 (2) issuing judgements (taṣdīqāt/aḥkām) in the form of predicative statements relating to existent particulars,131 and (3) drawing inferences of various sorts, by means of which new knowledge is derived (essentially by applying a given judgement, or ḥukm, to a new subject or entity).132 In addition to the knowledge of externally existing objects appropriated and registered by the mind in the form of universal concepts, the rational faculty also disposes of certain logical axioms and relational principles which are implanted in it in an a priori (badīhī) manner.133 Such a priori axioms include universal rules of logic such as the Law of Non-Contradiction, the Law of the Excluded Middle, and the Law of Identity. Such everyday, obvious, innate principles of the mind lie at the very basis of all thought and the construction of all knowledge and, in fact, Ibn Taymiyya relies on them extensively in the course of his own argumentation against the philosophers and the mutakallimūn. That is, he very often seeks to refute various doctrines they hold134 on the grounds that, when taken to their logical conclusion, such doctrines end up contradicting one or more of these very basic, axiomatic rules of thought and can therefore be known by virtue of pure reason (ʿaql ṣarīḥ) to be necessarily invalid (fāsid) and false (bāṭil).
4.3 Necessity, Innate Knowledge, and Fiṭra
Related to, though not identical with, a priori knowledge is that which Ibn Taymiyya refers to as necessary (ḍarūrī) knowledge,135 a type of knowledge which he often qualifies interchangeably by the term “fiṭrī”136 (roughly ‘innate’), or by the compound term “ḍarūrī-fiṭrī.”137 While all a priori knowledge and axiomatic principles partake of a rational and intuitive necessity (ḍarūra fiṭriyya ʿaqliyya), Ibn Taymiyya identifies other types of necessary knowledge apart from these. In addition to the primary axioms of reason (badīhiyyāt al-ʿaql), he speaks explicitly of an “empirical necessity” or “necessary empirical knowledge” (ʿulūm ḥissiyya ḍarūriyya),138 by which he simply means to affirm the position that our external senses—so long as they are not impaired—yield knowledge of the particulars they perceive in a necessary and immediate fashion, such that our sensory knowledge of the world is as obvious and unreflective as it is indubitable and can only be denied on pain of sophistry.139 He also mentions what we may call “linguistic necessity” or “linguistically necessary knowledge,”140 presumably consisting of a native speaker’s perfect familiarity with the precise linguistic conventions of his speech community. Third, Ibn Taymiyya admits as necessary knowledge the result of any valid process of inference based on necessarily true premises—a process to which he refers as “naẓar ḥasan” or “ḥusn al-naẓar”141—for if the premises are necessary and the induction itself proceeds from premises to conclusion in a valid manner, then the resultant knowledge, once the rational faculty has carried out this inferential process, impresses itself on the mind as being a necessary and undeniable conclusion.142
We have seen above that Ibn Taymiyya classifies certain kinds of knowledge as “ḍarūrī-fiṭrī,” indicating some overlap between necessary (ḍarūrī) and innate (fiṭrī) knowledge. Yet his conception of the fiṭra is a subtle one that goes beyond merely being necessary.143 Ibn Taymiyya’s understanding of the fiṭra is perhaps best represented by the term “original normative disposition.” The word fiṭra as it appears in Ibn Taymiyya’s thought has been translated in various ways—most often by terms such as “nature” or “constitution,” often qualified as being in some sense innate (“natural,” “inner,” “inborn,” etc.).144 Now, while the fiṭra for Ibn Taymiyya is no doubt innate, this term does not fully capture—or at least does not underscore to a sufficient degree—the strong sense of normativity, both moral and cognitive, that Ibn Taymiyya accords to this “innate disposition.” This fiṭrī disposition, in turn, derives its normativity to a substantial degree from the fact of its “originality,” that is, the fact that the fiṭra is that which is “there first,” that which is originally present (at least in potentia) in a person’s constitution and which is ultimately determinative of what a human being is (or ought to be).145 While it is neither possible here, nor directly relevant to our immediate concerns, to provide a full account of Ibn Taymiyya’s understanding of the fiṭra, we may note in passing that, in terms of its relevance to the question of reason (ʿaql) and reasoning (naẓar), Ibn Taymiyya describes “sound fiṭra” (al-fiṭra al-salīma) as the (intuitive) faculty by which one judges the soundness of premises and the arguments based upon them.146 Additionally, he maintains that God has made the fiṭra of people susceptible of perceiving and knowing the realities of things (idrāk al-ḥaqāʾiq wa-maʿrifatuhā)147—by means, it would seem, of a healthy and functioning intuitive capacity.148 Were it not for this inherent susceptibility of the fiṭra, he explains, there could be no theoretical reasoning (naẓar) or inference (istidlāl), nor even any possibility of speech or discourse. Ibn Taymiyya likens this predisposition of the fiṭra to recognize rational and inferential truths to the susceptibility of the body to receive and benefit from nourishment through food and drink. Indeed, just as the body is endowed with an innate capacity to distinguish—“intuitively,” as it were, and with no reflection—between healthy and noxious foods, there similarly exists in the heart/mind (fī al-qulūb) an even greater capacity to distinguish—again, intuitively and unreflectively—what is true from what is false.149 This holds, however, only on the condition that the intuitive functioning of the healthy fiṭra has not been tampered with, perverted, or otherwise rendered defunct. Such deformations of the fiṭra with respect to reason and discursive reasoning can occur, for example, when the intuitive judgements of native sound reason are overridden by unfounded parochial doctrines and faulty modes of thinking to which a person has become conditioned over a long period of time. This faulty reasoning then becomes second nature, distorting or displacing the sound judgements of one’s original normative disposition. The rational fiṭra may also be perverted through various other cognitive and ethical defects, such as a stubborn adherence to one’s opinion regardless of countervailing evidence (hawā), rejecting what has manifestly been proven true due to the presence of an ulterior motive or personal interest (gharaḍ), not recognizing truth due to false conjecture (ẓann), and others.150
Yet in addition to necessary knowledge based on the quaternity of sense perception, linguistic convention, a priori intuitions, and valid rational inference—with these latter two reliant, in the final analysis, on the healthy functioning of the fiṭra—there is yet a fifth major source of necessary knowledge in Ibn Taymiyya’s theory of knowledge, namely, tawātur. We have already explored above the concept and epistemic function of tawātur in detail with respect to our second main source of factual knowledge about the world after sense perception, namely, report. Yet in the course of elaborating his larger epistemology, Ibn Taymiyya surprises us with the insight—seemingly unique to him—that the underlying logic of tawātur is, in fact, operable on a scale much wider than the domain of ikhbār, or reporting, to which it has conventionally been confined. Applying the concept of mass transmission beyond the domain of texts, as discussed in uṣūl al-fiqh, or the transmission of more general historical and geographical knowledge, as theorized by the mutakallimūn, Ibn Taymiyya calls the notion of tawātur into service as the final guarantor of authenticity for practically all the other sources and avenues of knowledge in his epistemological panoply that we have examined above—including the a priori axioms of reason, the normative fiṭra, and even sense perception itself. We turn now to the elaboration of Ibn Taymiyya’s expanded doctrine of tawātur in the following section.
5 Tawātur as the Final Epistemic Guarantor
In a seemingly unprecedented move, Ibn Taymiyya takes the principle of tawātur—well known primarily as the final guarantor of authenticity of the Qurʾānic text and in the ḥadīth sciences—and extends it dramatically, making it into the guarantor of his entire epistemic system.151 Although the category known as ḥadīth reports, as we have seen above, can and does contain errors in the form of falsified ḥadīth,152 we can, according to the theory, nevertheless achieve certain knowledge of a ḥadīth’s authenticity if it has been transmitted through tawātur. Now, empirical and a priori rational knowledge differ, admittedly, from the case of mutawātir reports for the simple fact that knowledge of both categories imposes itself on the mind directly, with no need whatsoever for confirmation through corroboratory reports. Thus, when we say that the principle of tawātur, for Ibn Taymiyya, applies to sensory knowledge and to the axiomatic principles of reason, we must not understand him to be saying that our certainty of such knowledge is dependent on tawātur in the manner in which our certainty of the content of transmitted reports depends on tawātur.153 We are certainly justified in claiming empirical knowledge of that which we ourselves experience empirically without waiting for such knowledge to be confirmed for us by the rest of mankind. Similarly, the intuitive a priori principles lodged in the mind impose themselves as true on each individual mind directly and not through the mutawātir accumulation of confirmatory reports that other minds have likewise recognized them as such. An abandoned child growing up alone on a deserted island—a Ḥayy b. Yaqẓān, for instance154—would certainly still have access both to empirical and to necessary rational certitude. Ibn Taymiyya’s point, rather, is that in the event that such necessary knowledge should somehow fall prey to skepticism or doubt on account of some cognitive impediment, then a sort of tawātur of the human fiṭra as a whole must be summoned to witness as a corrective.155 Such doubt, for Ibn Taymiyya, may be induced by a number of factors. Primary among these is the prolonged exposure to specious philosophical or theological doctrines that are based on dubious, often highly recondite, arguments whose conclusions eventually entail a negation or contradiction of what is ultimately known to be true by necessity. We may illustrate Ibn Taymiyya’s appeal to tawātur in such cases by way of the following theological example.
In his theological treatise al-Arbaʿīn fī uṣūl al-dīn,156 the enthusiastically rationalistic Ashʿarī theologian and polemicist Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1209)157 asserts the well-known Ashʿarī doctrine that God is neither in a direction (jiha) nor in a place (makān), which, on the Ashʿarī view, entails the corollary that He can also be said neither to interpenetrate (yudākhil) or be consubstantial with (sārī fī) the universe, nor to be distinct (mubāyin) and separate from it.158 This doctrine is put forward as a means of avoiding the attribution of directionality or place to God for fear of falling into corporealism (tajsīm), a particularly offensive species of “assimilationism,” or tashbīh.159 Al-Rāzī reports that those who oppose this doctrine, such as the Ḥanbalīs160 and the Karrāmīs161 in his day—and later also Ibn Taymiyya—claim as a matter of self-evident knowledge (ʿilm badīhī) that of any two existing entities, it must be the case either that one inheres in (is sārī fī) the other, as an accident inheres in a substance, or else that the two are distinct and separate (mubāyin) from each other, as in the case of two independent substances. Al-Rāzī counters the claim of self-evident knowledge in this instance with several arguments.162 For one, he argues that if the logical exhaustiveness of the stated disjunction were truly self-evident (badīhī), it would not have been possible for a large number of thinkers to deny it, as do, in fact, all theological schools “save the Ḥanābila and the Karrāmiyya.”163 Second, al-Rāzī argues, while the universal concept of man, for instance, subsumes extant individuals each having a particular location (ḥayyiz) and extension (miqdār), the universal itself is not confined by any location or extension. And while it is true that universal man, or man per se (al-insān min ḥaythu huwa), is a concept existing only in the mind, it is nevertheless not impossible, he concludes, that the mind should conceive of such a thing—a fact which thus prevents the proposition of the opponent from being taken as self-evident. In a further argument, al-Rāzī holds that while the mind readily judges, for instance, affirmation (ithbāt) and negation (nafy) to be contradictory and mutually exclusive opposites, such is not the case with respect to two extant entities being either consubstantial or distinct from one another. In fact it is quite possible for the mind to conceive of yet a third possibility, namely, that the two entities are neither consubstantial nor distinct from one another. Reason, al-Rāzī argues, is unable to form an immediate judgement as to the possibility of this third proposition in the absence of a conclusive argument or proof (burhān),164 a fact which precludes any automatic judgement of its impossibility from being considered truly a priori or self-evident.
In response to these arguments,165 Ibn Taymiyya appeals ultimately to what he argues is innate, axiomatic or self-evident (badīhī), and therefore necessary knowledge on the basis, essentially, of tawātur—widespread transmission among human beings of common basic knowables in the absence of any possibility of “collusion” or conscious agreement (tawāṭuʾ) on their part. Ibn Taymiyya insists that all human beings know—in an innate, immediate, and intuitive (fiṭrī, badīhī) fashion—that of any two existing entities, it must necessarily be the case either that one interpenetrates the other or that they are separate and distinct from each other, on pains of violating the Law of the Excluded Middle. Given that these propositions are both mutually contradictory and logically exhaustive, there exists no third possibility: the “middle” is excluded. This being the case, either one or the other of the two propositions must be true; denying them both simultaneously would entail a logical—and consequently also an ontological—impossibility, akin to holding a thing both to exist and not to exist at one and the same time. Such knowledge is “common to the members of all nations whose innate nature has not been altered.”166 What we have here, essentially, is the theory of tawātur as applied to widespread attestations of what various individuals report to be innate (fiṭrī) and/or necessary (ḍarūrī) knowledge to them. Ibn Taymiyya states explicitly that we may claim “knowledge of the factual reality (thubūt) of what people report in a mutawātir fashion with respect to empirical and necessary knowledge”167—with necessary here seemingly used in the sense of what is innate (fiṭrī) or a priori/self-evident (badīhī). Intentional mendacity (taʿammud al-kadhib) on the part of a large number of disparate individuals absent collusion or deliberate agreement (tawāṭuʾ) is virtually impossible as judged in light of the conventional workings of the world (yamtaniʿu fī al-ʿāda). Ibn Taymiyya further affirms that mere error (khaṭaʾ) is also impossible with respect to a large number in matters of both empirical and necessary (rational) knowledge,168 for it is conventionally impossible that they should all concur fortuitously on one and the same error.
Yet if our knowledge of the Law of the Excluded Middle is innate and self-evident (badīhī), it would seem surprising that it could somehow be overridden, particularly by a disputed premise that is not known by necessity—in this case, the contention that affirming God to be distinct (mubāyin) from the universe entails assimilationism, or tashbīh. Yet we recall that for Ibn Taymiyya, the proper functioning of all our epistemic faculties—including both judging the soundness of the premises of an argument as well as simply retaining a meaningful awareness of the innate rational principles of the mind (i.e., the badīhiyyāt)—is predicated in all cases on the health and proper functioning of the fiṭra. It is precisely in this sense that Ibn Taymiyya, as discussed above, conceives of the fiṭra as undergirding all of our various cognitive and moral faculties and, when healthy, guaranteeing the veracity of their mutually corroborative witness to the truth. But as we saw above, the fiṭra is susceptible to both cognitive and moral corruption, the former induced by longstanding habituation to beliefs that contradict what is intuitively known to be true. In the event that the fiṭra has become cognitively impaired and a person insists on maintaining a doctrine that flies in the face of necessary knowledge, an appeal may be made to the mutawātir agreement among human beings—without collusion or deliberate agreement—on the point in question as definitive proof of the proposition’s veracity, thus acting as a corrective against the erroneous doctrine standing in opposition to it.
We can drive this point home from another angle by stating the relationship between fiṭra and necessary knowledge, as guaranteed through tawātur, in a different way. For Ibn Taymiyya, human minds and intellectual faculties (ʿuqūl/qulūb) are trustworthy so long as they are uncorrupted, that is, so long as they have not deviated from the normative fiṭra. However, individual human beings may use their minds incorrectly and draw false conclusions if they have become accustomed to intellectual errors in the way of specious assumptions and erroneous beliefs. But this raises the following problem: How can we, according to Ibn Taymiyya, correctly identify the content of sound human minds and uncorrupted intellectual faculties? Ibn Taymiyya addresses this problem by carrying out an inductive survey of humankind, observing what cognitive intuitions are common to all human minds. Elements shared by all human intellects (apart from those of idiosyncratic philosophers) are constitutive of a normative (cognitional) human nature or disposition (fiṭra). Thus, just as we can say that it is human nature to have two eyes since all human beings we have ever encountered—apart from those with impaired bodies—possess two eyes, we can likewise assert with the same confidence that it is human nature to recognize the truth of the Law of the Excluded Middle, or to intuit that any two existing entities must either be consubstantial with or else distinct from each other ontologically, etc., on the grounds that all people—apart from those whose intellects have been infirmed by faulty philosophizing—report to us consistently that they instinctively recognize the necessary truth of these propositions. Mass reporting of this type amounts to a kind of pan-human tawātur on the level of rational intuition and proper cognitive function. In this manner, tawātur reveals the nature of the human mind and of the uncorrupted faculties of the intellect. It is precisely through enabling an inductive study of human minds that tawātur allows us to identify shared cognitive intuitions which, in turn, we may take as constitutive of a normative cognitional fiṭra.
In summary, then, it is through this expanded conception of tawātur, tied to the notion of a normative human fiṭra, that Ibn Taymiyya seeks to insulate what he observes to be universally held, innate cognitive intuitions against the corrosive doubt engendered by specious claims put forth in the name of a (in his view, pseudo-)philosophical “reason” that would barter these basic intuitions for abstract mental constructs devoid of any proper philosophical justification, let alone ontological reality. The epistemological significance of Ibn Taymiyya’s vindication, through the mechanism of tawātur, not only of the integrity of human sense perception but, more importantly, of what can be observed to be universally shared innate, intuitive, a priori—and hence necessary—knowledge becomes clear when placed within the context of his larger epistemological framework. Universally shared empirical experiences and innate rational intuitions—guaranteed, in the final analysis, by consideration of some type of pan-human tawātur based in the fiṭra—yield certain knowledge that cannot reasonably be subjected to doubt. Being both immediate and universal, such rational knowledge cannot be overturned or superseded by derivative conclusions reached by way of theoretical reasoning (naẓar). This is particularly so when—as Ibn Taymiyya contends is normally the case—the processes of inference involved, as well as the assumptions and premises upon which they are based, are the province of a restricted number of intellectuals committed to a particular school of thought, the fundamental premises of which they have, more often than not, accepted and propagated on the basis of imitation (taqlīd) and prior conscious agreement (tawāṭuʾ) rather than pure intellection as they may fancy. Even if comparatively large numbers of such thinkers should agree amongst each other on a position that conflicts with necessary knowledge—as al-Rāzī holds to be the case with respect to the possibility of two existing entities being neither consubstantial, nor distinct from, one another169—this would fall short of the overwhelming tawātur by which the truth of the opposite proposition has been established.170 In essence, Ibn Taymiyya insists that immediate and universally shared knowledge—gained through a combination of sense perception (ḥiss), a priori axioms (badāʾih al-ʿuqūl),171 and fundamental rational intuitions grounded in the normative fiṭra—cannot be trumped by what he considers to be parochial conclusions derived speculatively by the adherents of a pre-committed philosophical doctrine.
Yet it is important to underscore that Ibn Taymiyya in no manner intends to delegitimize reason or its (valid) inferential operations per se. In fact, he is concerned precisely to defend and to legitimate the innate and a priori knowledge lodged in the mind against claims that such may be subject to vitiation by the deliverances of a posteriori inference. Simultaneously, Ibn Taymiyya must also not be understood to be privileging the innate knowledge of the mind at the expense of that very same mind’s valid processes of reasoned inference (naẓar). Rather, he is simply affirming that the results of discursive reasoning must be checked against the indubitably true contents of necessary knowledge, the fundamental axioms of reason, and the (healthy) fiṭra, rather than the reverse.172 When the two are thought to conflict, it is the process of reasoned inference and/or the premises upon which it has been built that has somehow gone wrong, not the obvious and widely-shared notions rooted in the innate principles of reason and guaranteed by the fiṭra—as per the maxim that “necessary knowledge cannot be contradicted by discursive inference.”173 Where such a conflict is found to arise, Ibn Taymiyya insists that a critical review of the terms in which the inference is stated, as well as the substantive assumptions underlying its premises, will always reveal that it is the process of discursive reasoning that has somehow gone astray and not the underlying intuitions of the native intellect. In the case of al-Rāzī’s argument presented above, the error involved is an easy one for Ibn Taymiyya to identify, being as it is a classic case of confusing what exists in the mind with what exists in external reality and assuming that the rational judgement (ḥukm) that applies to the former is automatically transferable to the latter. Specifically, al-Rāzī’s error, according to Ibn Taymiyya, lies in assuming that the mere ability of the mind to formulate the proposition that two existent things might be neither consubstantial nor separate from one another translates without further ado into the ontological possibility that such a thing could actually exist in the outside world, making it necessary to go through a process of reasoned inference to determine which of the three possibilities—consubstantial, distinct from, or neither—is correct.
6 The Epistemological Entailments of Ibn Taymiyya’s Expanded Application of Tawātur
As we have discovered over the course of this study, the notion of mass transmission, or tawātur, plays a fundamental role in Ibn Taymiyya’s thought on a number of levels. He first meets the concept of tawātur on its home turf in the uṣūl al-fiqh discourse of the late 7th/13th century to which he was heir and in which the theory of tawātur, as applied to the domain of transmitted knowledge (manqūlāt), occupied the highest rung on the scale of epistemic value. Alone capable of yielding knowledge (ʿilm) in this domain—with ʿilm defined as that which we can claim to know with certainty—tawātur allowed for the identification of a core set of religious texts (the Qurʾān and some ḥadīth), as well as certain widespread communal beliefs and practices, whose authenticity—and hence truth value—stood indefeasibly beyond the realm of any doubt. While the epistemic integrity afforded by tawātur is, in theory, strictly a question of numbers, legal theoreticians nevertheless accounted for qualitative factors that could contribute to the production of ʿilm in the domain of transmitted knowledge. Ibn Taymiyya, as we have seen, makes very liberal use of such considerations, raising many technically āḥād reports to the level of functional equivalence with the mutawātir (fī maʿnā al-mutawātir), thus substantially increasing the quantity of certain religious knowledge the Muslim community can claim to possess. But Ibn Taymiyya does not stop there. Indeed, the most interesting and original move he makes is to expand the theory of tawātur beyond the realm of transmitted knowledge altogether and to consecrate it as the ultimate guarantor of his entire epistemic system. As we have discovered in the preceding section, he grounds the final integrity of this system—and therefore of all human knowledge—in a robust cognitive-moral notion of the fiṭra, or “original normative disposition,” itself guaranteed by an expanded pan-human application of the principle of tawātur against which all sources of knowledge and modes of cognition can ultimately be verified.
In broadening the sources of authentic knowledge, Ibn Taymiyya simultaneously widens the scope of the means and the steps by which knowledge can come to be lodged in a given individual’s mind.174 Though true knowledge itself is perfectly objective, in the sense that it corresponds to what is true and real in and of itself (yuṭābiqu mā huwa thābit fī nafs al-amr), the discrete process by which one acquires knowledge of any given knowable is nevertheless personal, situational, specific, and individual. As is typical of Ibn Taymiyya’s thought, there are no universal rules or necessary order of steps that apply to all cases. The various means of acquiring knowledge—perception (ḥiss), reliable report (khabar ṣādiq), the a priori or self-evident rational axioms lodged in the mind (badīhiyyāt al-ʿaql), sound discursive reasoning (naẓar ḥasan), various incarnations of the mechanism of tawātur, the possession of a sound cognitive-moral disposition (fiṭra salīma)—all stand objectively at every person’s disposal, yet there are often numerous different paths that can be tread, various corroborative combinations of these elements by which knowledge of a given reality can be procured for any given individual. What counts ultimately is the end result, namely, the occurrence of knowledge in the mind/heart (ḥuṣūl al-ʿilm fī al-qalb).175 Some knowledge is gained empirically, some through reporting, some through rational inference, some by intuition, and similar to the case of tawātur, the amount and kind of corroborative evidence necessary to bring about knowledge is not necessarily the same for each and every person. For this reason, Ibn Taymiyya is of the view that confining knowledge generically speaking to a particular order (tartīb muʿayyan) as do the philosophers, or confining the knowledge of God and the authenticity of revelation to a particular order as do the theologians, or confining the means of progressing along the spiritual path to a particular order as do those who theorize Sufism—all this is misleading and abusive, for while there may be a set order in the mind when one theorizes about the acquisition of knowledge, the manner in which knowledge actually comes about in the real world (fī al-khārij) is rarely, if ever, constrained by the theoretical order projected by the mind.176 Indeed, Ibn Taymiyya remarks, the various ways of coming by knowledge and acquiring spiritual states, as well as the means and the ordering of steps by which such knowledge and states can be attained, are too diversified and comprehensive to be confined to only a few discrete pathways or methods.177
Though Ibn Taymiyya does not say so explicitly himself, this idea of variegated yet mutually corroborative paths to knowledge of one and the same fact or reality is itself reminiscent of the transmission process of mutawātir ḥadīth reports, whereby different individuals may have one and the same ḥadīth from a different conglomeration of sources. Each is justified in claiming knowledge of the ḥadīth’s authenticity since he has received it from enough mutually corroborative sources to experience within himself assurance (ṭumaʾnīna) and firm conviction (iʿtiqād jāzim) that the ḥadīth is true. That is, each person has justified and sufficient—though not necessarily identical—grounds to hold that knowledge of the ḥadīth’s authenticity has successfully “occurred in his heart/mind” (ḥaṣala fī qalbihi).
As this study has demonstrated, the idea and method of tawātur run consistently throughout Ibn Taymiyya’s epistemology, whereby he appeals to some notion of tawātur as the final justification—in the face of impaired faculties—even for knowledge that is essentially empirical, as well as knowledge that is of an a priori rational or intuitive nature. It is thus not surprising to discover, in reflecting upon the underlying themes of Ibn Taymiyya’s approach to knowledge, inferences, and proofs, that he conceives of these in very much the same way across all domains. Beyond its thoroughgoing consistency, Ibn Taymiyya’s epistemology represents an attempt to profile the sundry ways in which knowledge is actually engendered in the real world. He presents this epistemology as an alternative—and to his mind, an antidote—to the various methods and categories of the philosophers and rationalistic mutakallimūn. Not only are the methods of these latter, in his view, arbitrarily restrictive—with a heavy, almost exclusive reliance on formal, demonstrative syllogism, or burhān—but they are also anathema to him insofar as he considers them to be based on a purely abstract and idealized notion of what constitutes proof or a reliable indicator of knowledge. In the place of such arcane and precarious methods, Ibn Taymiyya proposes an epistemology grounded in what he considers to be the native rational intuitions of everyday men and women whose fiṭra has not been perverted by longtime habituation to specious doctrines or to faulty modes of reasoning. In the face of skepticism emanating from philosophical quarters, Ibn Taymiyya seeks to guarantee the integrity of these primary rational intuitions, or maʿqūlāt, through the very same mechanism of tawātur that had proved so successful among the uṣūlīs for centuries in underwriting the integrity of the Muslim textual sources.
I would like to thank Suleyman Dost, Maysam al Faruqi, Suheil Laher, Aria Nakissa, Yasir Qadhi, and Mobeen Vaid for reading and commenting on a draft of this article. I am also grateful for the very useful feedback provided by the anonymous peer reviewer.
Wael B. Hallaq, Ibn Taymiyya against the Greek Logicians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), xxxvi.
See ibid., xxxiii–ix.
Beyond the concern of uṣūl al-fiqh primarily for the authenticity of religious source texts, particularly ḥadīth, the epistemology elaborated by the kalām theologians had further applied the principle of tawātur to transmitted knowledge more generally, such as a person’s knowledge of the existence of cities he has never visited or of famous personalities from the past. See A.J. Wensinck [and W.F. Heinrichs], “Mutawātir,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2 ed., VII:781b. For a similar stance among the falāsifa, see Avicenna’s Deliverance: Logic, Translation and Notes by Asad Q. Ahmed (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2011), 89, “On What is Universally Circulated (mutawātirāt).” Ibn Taymiyya, as we shall discover, takes tawātur beyond the realm of transmitted knowledge (manqūlāt) altogether—be it of texts, events, places, or personalities—and appeals to it as the final guarantor even of rational knowledge (maʿqūlāt) and the fundamental axioms of thought, in addition to guaranteeing sound fiṭra and, indeed, the integrity of sense perception itself.
Shahab Ahmed, “Ibn Taymiyyah and the Satanic verses,” Studia Islamica 87 (1998): 68. On Ibn Taymiyya’s “lack of rigidity” (ʿadam jumūd), see also Muḥammad Abū Zahra, Ibn Taymiyya: ḥayātuhu wa-ʿaṣruhu, ārāʾuhu wa-fiqhuhu (Cairo: Dār al-Fikr al-ʿArabī, 1952), 218–19.
Ibn Taymiyya’s penchant for zeroing in on and making maximal use of a few fundamental ideas—whether in a refutative or constructive mode—has been noted in previous scholarship. See, e.g., Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xiv, lii; Yossef Rapoport, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Radical Legal Thought: Rationalism, Pluralism and the Primacy of Intention,” in Ibn Taymiyya and His Times, ed. Yossef Rapoport and Shahab Ahmed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 192; also J. Yahya Michot, “Vanités intellectuelles… L’ impasse des rationalismes selon le Rejet de la contradiction d’ Ibn Taymiyyah,” Oriente Moderno 19, no. 80 (2001): 599–600, citing Ibn Taymiyya’s stupendous erudition and his ability to put his finger on various “implicit components of a doctrine, unprecedented frames, and unsuspected trends” (‘composantes doctrinales implicites, trames inédites et tendances insoupçonnées’).
Jon Hoover remarks that Ibn Taymiyya “frequently claims that knowledge derived from clear reason (al-ʿaql al-ṣarīḥ or ṣarīḥ al-maʿqūl) agrees and corresponds with revealed tradition (naql or samʿ), the message of the prophets and the way of the Salaf,” then goes on to list in a footnote over a dozen spots in almost as many discrete treatises of Ibn Taymiyya where he broaches this theme. Jon Hoover, Ibn Taymiyya’s Theodicy of Perpetual Optimism (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 20 and ibid., n. 7. See also ibid., 29–39 on Ibn Taymiyya’s views regarding the correspondence of reason and revelation. Ibn Taymiyya pursues the project of reconciling reason with revelation not only in the realm of theology, philosophy, and epistemology, but in the domain of law and legal theory as well, as shown in his treatise “Risāla fī al-qiyās,” in Majmūʿ Fatāwā Shaykh al-Islām Aḥmad b. Taymiyya (Riyadh: Maṭābiʿ al-Riyāḍ, 1382/[1962–3]), 20:504–83, in which he strives to prove that no bona fide contradiction can exist between an authentic revealed text and a valid legal analogy. For a summary and analysis of this work, as well as a comparison of Ibn Taymiyya’s application of the principle of non-contradiction between reason and revelation in both the legal and the theological domains, see Rapoport, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Radical Legal Thought,” 192–9. On Ibn Taymiyya’s “Qurʾānic rationalism” more generally—as relevant to the domains of theology, philosophy, and exegesis—see M. Sait Özervarli, “The Qurʾānic Rational Theology of Ibn Taymiyya and his Criticism of the Mutakallimūn,” in Ibn Taymiyya and His Times, ed. Yossef Rapoport and Shahab Ahmed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), esp. 83–9, “The Rejection of Disagreement between Reason and Revealed Knowledge.” Notwithstanding, the major piece of evidence regarding the importance to Ibn Taymiyya of the question of reason and revelation is his 10-volume Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa’l-naql dedicated entirely to this question, on which see n. 10 below.
See Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad b. Taymiyya, Majmūʿ Fatāwā Shaykh al-Islām Aḥmad b. Taymiyya, ed. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muḥammad b. Qāsim al-ʿĀṣimī with the assistance of his son Muḥammad, 1 ed., 37 vols. (Riyadh: Maṭābiʿ al-Riyāḍ, 1381–86 [1961/2–66/7]), 18:48–51, reproduced verbatim in a separate work published as ʿIlm al-ḥadīth (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1405/1985), 40–3. (Majmūʿ Fatāwā is henceforth referenced as MF.) A further section of the Fatāwā relevant to the concerns of the present study is Ibn Taymiyya’s discussion of the epistemological status of non-mutawātir, or āḥād, reports at MF, 18:13–23.
See al-Musawwada fī uṣūl al-fiqh, ed. Muḥammad Muḥyī al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd, authored jointly by Ibn Taymiyya, his father (ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm), and his grandfather (Majd al-Dīn) (Cairo: Maṭbaʿat al-Madanī, 1384/1964), “Kitāb al-akhbār,” 232–305. Also relevant are discrete passages of the section on ijmāʿ (“Kitāb al-ijmāʿ”) at ibid., 315–65. Al-Musawwada is a major work of mature Ḥanbalī legal theory and a useful resource on the opinions of various scholars and schools of law concerning a wide range of uṣūl-related topics. Subsequent citations from the Musawwada list title and page number only (e.g., Musawwada, 24) where Ibn Taymiyya is speaking. Passages belonging to Ibn Taymiyya’s father or grandfather cite the relevant personal name or laqab in parentheses after the page number, e.g., Musawwada, 120 (ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm) or Musawwada, 359 (Majd al-Dīn) for passages authored by Ibn Taymiyya’s father and grandfather, respectively. I operate under the assumption that Ibn Taymiyya endorses his father’s and his grandfather’s views in instances where he does not comment on them or does so by way of amplification and explanation, rather than correction or modification. On Musawwada, see the remarks at Abdul Hakim I. Al-Matroudi, The Ḥanbalī School of Law and Ibn Taymiyyah: Conflict or Conciliation (London: Routledge, 2006), 28.
See Maʿārij al-wuṣūl ilā maʿrifat anna uṣūl al-dīn wa-furūʿahu qad bayyanahā al-rasūl at MF, 19:155–202 and Rafʿ al-malām ʿan al-aʾimma al-aʿlām at MF, 20:231–90. Maʿārij al-wuṣūl also appears in Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad b. Taymiyya, Majmūʿat al-Rasāʾil al-kubrā, 2 vols. (Cairo: Maktabat wa-Maṭbaʿat Muḥammad ʿAlī Ṣabīḥ wa-Awlādihi, 1385–86/1966), 1:173–211 and has been translated twice into French, at Henri Laoust, Contribution à une étude de la méthod- ologie canonique de Taḳī-d-Dīn Aḥmad b. Taimīya (Cairo: Imprimerie de l’ Institut français d’ archéologie orientale, 1939), 55–112 and Abou Ilyâs Mouhammed Diakho, Exposé de scolastique islamique (Maʿârej al-wuçûl ila ʿilm al-uçûl) (Beirut: Dar al-Bouraq, 1417/1996). Rafʿ al-malām has been translated into English by Abdul Hakim Al-Matroudi in “The Removal of Blame from the Great Imāms: An Annotated Translation of Ibn Taymiyyah’s Rafʿ al-Malām ʿan al-Aʾimmat al-Aʿlām,” Islamic Studies 46, no. 3 (2007). A brief discussion of both Maʿārij al-wuṣūl and Rafʿ al-malām can be found at Al-Matroudi, The Ḥanbalī School, 28–9. On Rafʿ al-malām, see also the more extensive discussion in Rapoport, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Radical Legal Thought,” 203–4.
Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad b. Taymiyya, Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa’l-naql, aw Muwāfaqat ṣaḥīḥ al-manqūl li-ṣarīḥ al-maʿqūl, ed. Muḥammad Rashād Sālim, 11 vols. (Riyadh: Dār al-Kunūz al-Adabiyya, 1399/1979). An overview of this work can be found at Michot, “Vanités” and a synopsis at Ovamir Anjum, Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 196–215. The Darʾ taʿāruḍ as a whole has formed the subject of two fairly recent Ph.D. dissertations: Yasir Kazi, “Reconciling Reason and Revelation in the Writings of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328): An Analytical Study of Ibn Taymiyya’s Darʾ al-taʿāruḍ” (Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 2013) and Carl Sharif El-Tobgui, “Reason, Revelation & the Reconstitution of Rationality: Taqī al-Dīn Ibn Taymiyya’s (d. 728/1328) Darʾ Taʿāruḍ al-ʿAql wa-l-Naql, or ‘The Refutation of the Contradiction of Reason and Revelation’ ” (Ph.D. dissertation, McGill University, 2013). For a study and translation of a discrete section of the Darʾ in response to Ibn Sīnā (d. 427/1037), see J. Yahya Michot, “A Mamlūk Theologian’s Commentary on Avicenna’s Risāla Aḍḥawiyya, being a translation of a part of the Darʾ al-Taʿāruḍ of Ibn Taymiyya, with introduction, annotation, and appendices,” Journal of Islamic Studies 14, no. 2 (2003). Other useful studies on reason and revelation in Ibn Taymiyya’s thought include: Binyamin Abrahamov, “Ibn Taymiyya on the Agreement of Reason with Tradition,” Muslim World 82, no. 3 (1992); Nicholas Heer, “The Priority of Reason in the Interpretation of Scripture: Ibn Taymīyah and the Mutakallimūn,” in Literary Heritage of Classical Islam: Arabic and Islamic Studies in Honor of James A. Bellamy, ed. Mustansir Mir (in collab. with J.E. Fossum) (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1993); M. Sait Özervarli, “The Qurʾānic Rational Theology of Ibn Taymiyya and his Criticism of the Mutakallimūn”; Anke von Kügelgen, “Ibn Taymīyas Kritik an der aristotelischen Logik und sein Gegenentwurf,” in Logik und Theologie: Das Organon im arabischen und im lateinischen Mittelalter, ed. Dominik Perler and Ulrich Rudolph (Leiden: Brill, 2005) and idem, “The Poison of Philosophy: Ibn Taymiyya’s Struggle For and Against Reason,” in Islamic Theology, Philosophy and Law: Debating Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, ed. Birgit Krawietz and Georges Tamer (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2013).
Aron Zysow, The Economy of Certainty: An Introduction to the Typology of Islamic Legal Theory (Atlanta: Lockwood Press, 2013), 1, 4.
For an overview, see Jonathan A.C. Brown, Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2009).
For detailed studies on tawātur as a topic of legal theory, see Wael Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration, Probability, and Certainty in Sunnī Legal Thought,” in Islamic Law and Jurisprudence, ed. Nicholas Heer (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990), esp. 9–24; Suheil Ismail Laher, “Twisted Threads: Genesis, Development and Application of the Term and Concept of Tawatur in Islamic Thought” (Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 2014), 77–147 et passim; Bernard G. Weiss, The Search for God’s Law: Islamic Jurisprudence in the Writings of Sayf al-Dīn al-Āmidī, Revised ed. (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2010), 267–86; Zysow, Economy, 7–17; and Bernard G. Weiss, The Spirit of Islamic Law (Athens: University of Georgia Press, c. 1998), 47–51. For a study of tawātur in Ḥanafī legal theory, see Dale J. Correa, “Testifying Beyond Experience: Theories of Akhbār and the Boundaries of Community in Trasnoxanian Islamic Thought, 10th–12th Centuries CE” (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 2014).
Definitions of tawātur in mature manuals of legal theory tend to be quite similar. See, for example: Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī, Sharḥ Tanqīḥ al-fuṣūl fī ikhtiṣār al-Maḥṣūl fī al-uṣūl, ed. Maktab al-Buḥūth wa’l-Dirāsāt (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1424/2004), 273 and Muwaffaq al-Dīn b. Qudāma, Rawḍat al-nāẓir wa-junnat al-munāẓir (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Rushd, 1413/1993), 347, 356. These definitions overlap to a large extent with those in manuals of ḥadīth science, such as: ʿUthmān b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. al-Ṣalāḥ, Muqaddimat Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ wa-maḥāsin al-iṣṭilāḥ, ed. ʿĀʾisha ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (Bint al-Shāṭiʾ) (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, ), 454; Muḥammad b. Ismāʿīl al-Ṣanʿānī, Isbāl al-maṭar ʿalā Qaṣab al-sukkar, naẓm Nukhbat al-fikar fī muṣṭalaḥ ahl al-athar, ed. ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd b. Ṣāliḥ b. Qāsim Āl Aʿwaj Sabr (Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 1427/2006), 197 ff.; Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, Tadrīb al-rāwī fī sharḥ Taqrīb al-Nawāwī, ed. Māzin b. Muḥammad al-Sarsāwī (Riyadh: Dār Ibn al-Jawzī, 1431/), 750, 755. On definitions of tawātur more generally, see Zysow, Economy, 7–13. For the requirement of mass transmission at each and every level, see Musawwada, 235 (ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm). For an important discussion by Ibn Taymiyya of the difference between tawātur and tawāṭuʾ, see Darʾ, 6:271–2.
“min shurūṭ ḥuṣūl al-ʿilm bi’l-tawātur an yakūna mustanaduhu ḍarūriyyan min samāʿ aw mushāhada.” Musawwada, 234 (Majd al-Dīn). See also Ibn Qudāma, Rawḍat al-nāẓir, 356. It was commonly held that knowledge (ʿilm) does not arise from the mutawātir transmission of an affirmation based on rational inference (taṣdīq), such as the widespread transmission of the philosophical view that the world is eternal. This position, we learn, was upheld by the Shāfiʿīs al-Juwaynī (d. 478/1085) and Ibn Burhān (d. 518/1124), as well as by Ibn Qudāma (d. 620/1223), a Ḥanbalī. Musawwada, 234–5 (Majd al-Dīn). See also Zysow, Economy, 9–10 to the effect that tawātur must be based on sense experience and not reason, since this latter is ultimately prone to error in a way that the former is not.
Zysow, Economy, 9. The certainty conferred by tawātur has been extended to domains other than textual transmission. Hallaq, for instance, cites the 19th-century Ottoman Majalla as stating that a tawātur number of witnesses in a court of law leads to an “irrevocably conclusive” conclusion, with the result that any contrary evidence must henceforth be dismissed. See Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 8, n. 13.
Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 4.
Bernard Weiss, “Knowledge of the Past: The Theory of Tawâtur According to Ghazâlî,” Studia Islamica 61 (1985): 100, n. 1.
See, for example, Musawwada, “Kitāb al-akhbār,” 232–305.
Read as an iḍāfa, i.e., khabaru wāḥidin (pl., akhbāru āḥādin), also khabaru āḥādin in the singular, lit., “the report of one (original transmitter).” For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to “mutawātir reports” and “āḥād reports” (using āḥād to qualify “report” in both the singular and the plural). Notwithstanding their name, āḥād reports are not necessarily limited to those with only a single original narrator, but may in fact have several up to the minimum proposed number required for tawātur, namely, five. (See discussion at p. 15 below.)
Zysow, Economy, 8.
“al-khabar al-mutawātir yufīdu al-ʿilm al-qaṭʿī wa-huwa qawl kāffat ahl al-ʿilm.” Musawwada, 233.
Though some, particularly outside of Ḥanafī circles, held mutawātir knowledge to be acquired, while others remained agnostic on the question. See Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 10, 14–18; Zysow, Economy, 9. Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 113 cites the Ḥanafī Muʿtazilite Abū al-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī (d. 436/1044), the Baghdādī Muʿtazila as a group, the Shāfiʿī-Ashʿarī Abū ʿAlī al-Daqqāq (d. 405/1015), and the Ḥanbalī Abū al-Khaṭṭāb al-Kalwadhānī (d. 510/1116) (“reportedly”) as holding the view that tawātur yields mediate/inferential (naẓarī) knowledge only, and cites the Imāmī Shīʿites al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā (d. 436/1044) and Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-Ṭūsī (d. 460/1067), in addition to the Shāfiʿī Sayf al-Dīn al-Āmidī (d. 631/1233) and the Zaydī Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Raṣṣāṣ (d. 621/1224), as being non-committal on the question. Ibn Taymiyya reports that the “majority of legal scholars and theologians” (akthar ahl al-ʿilm min al-fuqahāʾ wa’l-mutakallimīn) hold tawātur to yield knowledge in an immediate (ḍarūrī) sense. Musawwada, 234. See ibid. for a list of those who dissented from this majority view.
See, inter alia, Musawwada, 240 to the effect that “āḥād reports obligate action and [yield] highly probable, though not conclusive, knowledge (ghalabat al-ẓann dūna al-qaṭʿ) according to the majority (al-jumhūr).”
Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (d. 241/855) is reported to have held that an āḥād report “may yield knowledge if it is authentic (qad yufīdu al-ʿilm idhā ṣaḥḥa).” This position, Ibn Taymiyya informs us, was chosen by “a group of our companions (jamāʿa min aṣḥābinā),” i.e., the Ḥanbalīs. Ibid.
See Brown, Hadith, 154–5, 179–80; Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 21–2. For standard Ḥanafī definitions of the mashhūr report, see Zysow, Economy, 17–22. Al-Dabbūsī (d. 430/1038–9), for instance, defines the mashhūr tradition as “mā kāna wasaṭuhu wa-ākhiruhu ʿalā ḥadd al-mutawātir wa-awwaluhu ʿalā ḥadd khabar al-wāḥid.” Abū Zayd al-Dabbūsī, Taqwīm al-adilla fī uṣūl al-fiqh, ed. Khalīl Muḥyī al-Dīn al-Mays (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1421/2001), 1:211. Interestingly, there even existed a view that placed the mustafīḍ in a category superior to the mutawātir. See ʿAbd al-Karīm b. ʿAlī b. Muḥammad al-Namla, al-Muhadhdhab fī ʿilm uṣūl al-fiqh al-muqāran, 5 vols. (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Rushd, 1420/1999), 2:684.
Formulated by the early Ḥanafī scholar ʿĪsā b. Abān (d. 220/835). Cf. Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 22, n. 51.
Zysow, Economy, 18.
Held by the Ḥanafī Abū Bakr al-Jaṣṣāṣ (d. 331/942). See ibid., 17–18.
Although al-Jaṣṣāṣ’s position dominated among Ḥanafīs for some time and even came to be adopted by a number of prominent 5th/11th-century Ashʿarite Shāfiʿīs, including, e.g., Ibn Fūrak (d. 406/1015), Abū Isḥāq al-Isfarāyīnī (d. 418/1027), and ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Baghdādī (d. 429/1037), Ibn Abān’s older position eventually gained ascendancy and established itself as the standard view. See ibid., 18, 20. On Ḥanafī discussions both for and against the conclusiveness afforded by mashhūr reports, see ibid., 17–22 passim.
See Musawwada, 235; Ibn Qudāma, Rawḍat al-nāẓir, 356–9; Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 10–14.
Ibn Taymiyya cites Ibn Burhān, who was a student of al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111), to the effect that there is a consensus (ijmāʿ) that four transmissions alone fall short of tawātur (though Abū al-Khaṭṭāb and Abū Yaʿlā apparently reported a view that two or four were sufficient). Musawwada, 236. The minimal stipulation of four was inferred from the procedural law for testimony, which requires four witnesses in cases of illicit sexual intercourse (zinā) but nevertheless mandates judicial inquiry into the witnesses’ probity (ʿadāla), indicating that number alone, in the case of four witnesses, is insufficient to establish certitude. See Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 10–11. Ibn Taymiyya, incidentally, rejects this justification as unfounded, arguing that the stipulation of probity would apply even if up to ten witnesses were required for substantiating illicit intercourse. Musawwada, 237; Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 7–8.
Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 11. Laher attributes the eventual dominance of the view that no particular number can be determined for tawātur both to the famous Ashʿarite systematizer Abū Bakr al-Bāqillānī (d. 403/1013) and to the preeminent Muʿtazilite theologian al-Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār (d. 415/1025), suggesting that, as each had a major influence on the subsequent development of his school—and, by extension, on uṣūl al-fiqh more generally—they may well have played a major part in promoting this view. Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 26.
“lā taḥwīhim balad wa-lā yuḥṣīhim ʿadad.” Musawwada, 234, 236.
On the notion of qarāʾin in Islamic legal discourse more generally, see Wael B. Hallaq, “Notes on the Term qarīna in Islamic Legal Discourse,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 108, no. 3 (1988), esp. at 478 ff. for “qarāʾin al-aḥwāl.”
Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 13.
See Musawwada, 244, which includes a representative list of names of those supporting each view.
For an in-depth discussion of the Ẓāhirī approach to hermeneutics and legal theory, see Robert Gleave, Islam and Literalism: Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 146–74, as well as Amr Osman, The Ẓāhirī Madhhab (3rd/9th–10th/16th Century): A Textualist Theory of Islamic Law, Studies in Islamic Law and Society (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 148–70, 171–224.
Zysow, Economy, 29.
Significantly, however, Ibn Ḥazm held this view only with respect to Prophetic ḥadīth—and not simply any report with two authentic chains of transmission—due to God’s promise in the Qurʾān to preserve His revelation (as in, e.g., Q. al-Ḥijr 15:9, “Verily We have sent down the Reminder and verily We shall preserve it”), of which the Prophet’s Sunna and ḥadīth are an integral part—interpreting “waḥy” in, e.g., Q. al-Najm 53:3–4, “He (the Prophet) speaks not on whim / It is but a Revelation revealed (in huwa illā waḥyun yūḥā)” as a reference to the Prophet’s own speech (as transmitted to us through ḥadīth) and not to the Qurʾān itself. See Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 108 (and ibid., n. 278), citing Ibn Ḥazm, al-Iḥkām fī uṣūl al-aḥkām, ed. Aḥmad Muḥammad Shākir, 2 ed. (Beirut: Dār al-Āfāq al-Jadīda, 1403/1983), 1:97–9. Ibn Ḥazm’s position on the Prophet’s ḥadīth falling under the waḥy that God has promised to preserve was resurrected and promoted three centuries later by Ibn Taymiyya’s famous disciple, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 751/1350). Cf. Zysow, Economy, 32.
Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 116. See Abū Yaʿlā b. al-Farrāʾ, al-ʿUdda fī uṣūl al-fiqh, ed. Aḥmad b. ʿAlī Sayr al-Mubārakī, 3 ed. (Riyadh: n.p., 1414/1993), 1:855–6.
Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 14, n. 32.
Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 112; see Ibn ʿAqīl, al-Wāḍiḥ fī uṣūl al-fiqh, ed. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-Turkī, 1 ed. (Beirut: Muʾassasat al-Risāla, 1420/1999), 4:338. A century later, Ibn Qudāma maintained further that the occurrence of such knowledge could be inhibited in a person suffering a perturbance in his intellect (man fī ʿaqlihi khabṭ). Ibn Qudāma, Rawḍat al-nāẓir, 348.
Al-Juwaynī apparently tried to resuscitate al-Naẓẓām’s view, holding (or at least strongly suggesting) that āḥād reports could yield certainty with qarāʾin. The Shāfiʿīs al-Ghazālī, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 609/1209), and al-Āmidī, as well as the Mālikī Jamāl al-Dīn b. al-Ḥājib (d. 646/1248), all subsequently concurred with al-Juwaynī. See Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 114–15.
Ibid., 104–5, 115. On Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ’s view regarding the ability of āḥād reports to yield certitude and the critique of this view by al-Nawawī, as well as by the famous Shāfiʿī jurist ʿIzz al-Dīn (also “al-ʿIzz”) b. ʿAbd al-Salām (d. 660/1262), see also Wael B. Hallaq, “The Authenticity of Prophetic Ḥadîth: A Pseudo-Problem,” Studia Islamica 89 (1999): 85–6. Laher (“Twisted Threads,” 115) concludes that “[w]e have almost an emerging latter-day consensus that it is indeed qarāʾin that give knowledge, and numbers are but an example of qarāʾin, albeit a more ubiquitous and definable example.”
On which see Jonathan Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhārī and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunnī Ḥadīth Canon (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 245–55, esp. at 253–4. For Ibn Ḥajar’s view that mutawātir ḥadīth reports “exist in abundance” (mawjūd wujūda kathra), see Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, Nuzhat al-naẓar fī tawḍīḥ Nukhbat al-fikar fī muṣṭalaḥ ahl al-athar, ed. Nūr al-Dīn ʿItr (Karachi: Maktabat al-Bushrā/Al-Bushra Publishers, 1432/2011), 41.
Specifically, MF, 18:13–23 and, especially, ibid., 18:48–51.
See remarks on this work at n. 8 above.
Located at MF, 19:155–202; Laoust, Contribution, 55–112.
Located at MF, 20:231–90; Al-Matroudi, “Removal of Blame.”
For a comprehensive presentation of Ibn Taymiyya’s thought on a range of topics related to law and legal theory, see Al-Matroudi, The Ḥanbalī School. On his uṣūl al-fiqh in particular, see also Abū Zahra, Ibn Taymiyya, 453–508. For an analytical treatment of the underlying themes of Ibn Taymiyya’s legal methodology, see Rapoport, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Radical Legal Thought.”
See, e.g., al-Ṣanʿānī, Isbāl al-maṭar, 198. The articulation of “al-mutawātir bi’l-maʿnā” goes back to Ashʿarī scholars of ḥadīth, like al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī (d. 463/1071), and of legal theory, like al-Ghazālī. Brown, Hadith, 179–80. On tawātur maʿnawī more generally, see Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 19–21 and Wael B. Hallaq, A History of Islamic Legal Theories: An Introduction to Sunnī uṣūl al-fiqh (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 64–5.
Musawwada, 318–19. See also Darʾ, 7:215–16.
Musawwada, 319. Ibn Taymiyya adds that there is a “third way” to establish tawātur maʿnawī, namely, by substantiating the authenticity of the shared element in the meaning (as opposed to the exact wording) of what is reported (thubūt al-qadr al-mushtarak min al-maʿnā). It is not clear how this “third way” is meant to differ from the first way that Ibn Taymiyya cites on the authority of Abū Yaʿlā.
“man kadhaba ʿalayya mutaʿammidan fa-l-yatabawwaʾ maqʿadahu min al-nār.” See Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 1 ed., 1 vol. (Beirut: Dār Ibn Kathīr, 1423/2002), 40, 312, 857, 1546; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 2 ed., 1 vol. (Riyadh: Dār al-Salām, 1421/2000), 1297; al-Tirmidhī, al-Jāmiʿ al-kabīr, ed. Bashshār ʿAwwād Maʿrūf, 1 ed., 6 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Gharb al-Islāmī, 1996), 4:107, 395, 396, 402–3; 5:66; 6:80–1; and Sunan Abī Dāwūd, ed. Shuʿayb al-Arnaʾūṭ and Muḥammad Kāmil Qurabillī, 7 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Risāla al-ʿĀlamiyya, 2009/1430), 5:493–4. (All ḥadīth collections cited in this study are available online in PDF. See bibliography for links.)
Some ḥadīth scholars, including Ibn Ḥibbān (d. 354/965) and the famous Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ, even doubted the existence of any reports (or at most just one, in the case of Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ) that could be considered mutawātir. Zysow, Economy, 20–1; Brown, Hadith, 106; Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ, Muqaddima, 454. For al-Suyūṭī’s (d. 911/1505) “response to Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ’s claim that tawātur is rare and the substantiation of its abundance and those who have written on it (kathrat man ṣannafa fīhi),” see al-Suyūṭī, Tadrīb al-rāwī, 754–5. For an account of the centuries-long debate among ḥadīth scholars as to whether there exist any mutawātir ḥadīth reports or not, see Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 121–32. However the case may be, the number of mutawātir lafẓī reports, as enumerated by some of the most prominent scholars of ḥadīth and uṣūl, seems in general not to have been thought to exceed a mere eight or nine reports (notwithstanding al-Suyūṭī’s collection of 88 purported mutawātir reports in his Qaṭf al-azhār al-mutanāthira fī al-akhbār al-mutawātira, which is an abridgement of his own longer work, al-Fawāʾid al-mutakāthira fī al-akhbār al-mutawātira). See Hallaq, “Pseudo-Problem,” 87–8 and ibid., 88–9, n. 75.
See Zysow, Economy, 22, where he mentions that this division of mutawātir reports into general (ʿāmm) and specialized (khāṣṣ) was “particularly dear to Ibn Taymiyya.” See ibid., n. 88 for references to this division in numerous other works of Ibn Taymiyya. Laher traces the origin of the division of reports into those that are mutawātir for the community as a whole (al-ʿāmma) and those that are mutawātir among specialists (al-khāṣṣa)—with the community obliged to defer to the scholarly class in the latter case—to al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 255/869) in his treatise Ḥujaj al-nubuwwa. Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 28–9, citing al-Jāḥiẓ, “Ḥujaj al-nubuwwa,” in Rasāʾil al-Jāḥiẓ, ed. Muḥammad Bāsil ʿUyūn al-Sūd, 4 vols. in 2 (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2000), 3:169–214 and, in the same collection, “ʿUthmāniyya,” 4:28. A similar taxonomy was adopted by, e.g., al-Bāqillānī, al-Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār, and the Shīʿī Muʿtazilite Ibn Wahb al-Kātib (fl. mid-4th/10th century). Cf. Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 37, 215, and 82, respectively.
Musawwada, 249. Also Darʾ, 7:32 for tawātur as discipline-specific and to be judged according to the most knowledgeable in a given field.
We might describe them, in more technical terms, as being transmitted through “tawātur maʿnawī khāṣṣ.”
Such as, e.g., 5, 12, 20, 40, 70, 313 (see p. 15 above).
“li-takāfuʾihā fī al-daʿwā.” MF, 18:50.
On the impossibility, in the eyes of most jurists, of determining a fixed number for tawātur, see Zysow, Economy, 10–12. The inability to fix a precise number for tawātur likens it to a sorites paradox, similar to our inability to determine just how many individual hairs a man may have until he is no longer considered bald or how many grains of sand must conglomerate before they are judged to constitute a heap. See Dominic Hyde, “Sorites Paradox,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta (Winter 2014 Edition). For examples of such paradoxes cited in the Islamic legal literature, see Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 12.
See ibid., 18:48 ff. In Musawwada, we read that tawātur cannot be determined in terms of a specific number. What is to be taken into account is that which yields knowledge (mā yufīdu al-ʿilm) “in accord with what normally engenders peace of mind and [assures] the lack of collusion on a forgery, either due to [the transmitters’] great number, or to their moral rectitude, religious integrity, and similar factors” (ḥasaba al-ʿāda fī sukūn al-nafs ilayhim wa-ʿadam taʾattī tawāṭuʾihim ʿalā al-kadhib minhum immā li-farṭ kathratihim wa-immā li-ṣalāḥihim wa-dīnihim wa-naḥw dhālika). Musawwada, 235 (Majd al-Dīn).
Majority, that is, among legal theorists. As for the mutakallimūn, the majority of them held that āḥād reports could never yield certainty even with qarāʾin and criticized al-Naẓẓām for having claimed the contrary. They held rather that quantity, though a particular number could not be defined, was the sole criterion that ultimately mattered. Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 113–14.
I take this to mean not on account of the fact that they are Muslims (as opposed to Christians, Jews, or members of any other discrete confessional community), but rather that they are known to be upright and in good religious standing—in other words, possessed of ʿadāla. Regarding the knowledge engendered by tawātur-like numbers regardless of religious status or affiliation, Ibn Taymiyya states: “The knowledge that arises pursuant to a report is sometimes due to the great number of reporters. If they are many, then their report may engender knowledge even if they are disbelievers” (kadhālika al-ʿilm al-ḥāṣil ʿuqayba al-khabar tāratan yakūnu li-kathrat al-mukhbirīn wa-idhā kathurū fa-qad yufīdu khabaruhum al-ʿilm wa-in kānū kuffāran). MF, 18:50.
On the place of qarāʾin in yielding knowledge through textual transmission, see Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 11–15.
Cf. MF, 18:22.
Ibid., 18:40. Similar at ibid., 18:49 (“wa-mā iqtarana bi’l-khabar min al-qarāʾin allatī tufīdu al-ʿilm”), as well as Ibn Taymiyya, “Rafʿ al-malām,” MF, 20:258 (“qarāʾin wa-ḍamāʾim taḥtaffu bi’l-khabar”). In Musawwada, Ibn Taymiyya cites four circumstances mentioned by Abū Yaʿlā under which an āḥād report can yield knowledge. To these categories he adds “what the Prophet has received with acceptance” (mā talaqqāhu al-rasūl bi’l-qabūl) (without explaining what precisely this means). He also mentions a “report transmitted by two individuals who are known not to have colluded and for whom it is impossible, given the conventional workings of the world (yataʿadhdharu fī al-ʿāda), to have agreed upon a lie or an error,” as well as “other [circumstances],” without specification. See Musawwada, 243.
For this discussion, see MF, 18:50.
Musawwada, 235 (Majd al-Dīn).
Henri Laoust, Essai sur les doctrines sociales et politiques de Takī-d-Dīn Ahmad b. Taimīya (Cairo: Imprimerie de l’ Institut français d’ archéologie orientale, 1939), 239. For Ibn Taymiyya’s own detailed treatment of ijmāʿ in his legal theory, see Musawwada, 315–65 (“Kitāb al-ijmāʿ”) and “Maʿārij al-wuṣūl,” MF, 19:176–80, 192–202.
Laoust, Essai, 239.
Abū Zahra, Ibn Taymiyya, 468–9. Ibn Taymiyya in fact dedicated a full treatise, Naqd Marātib al-ijmāʿ, to demonstrating that many of the numerous points of consensus claimed by Ibn Ḥazm in his work Marātib al-ijmāʿ were not, in fact, consensus issues. See Al-Matroudi, The Ḥanbalī School, 27. Also relevant is Ibn Taymiyya’s discussion of ijmāʿ in his treatise “Ṣiḥḥat madhhab ahl al-Madīna” (at MF, 20:294–396), esp. 294–308. On this discussion, see Rapoport, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Radical Legal Thought,” 199–207, esp. 204–6.
“Maʿārij al-wuṣūl,” MF, 19:195–202; Laoust, Contribution, 102–12. See also idem, Essai, 240–1 and Abū Zahra, Ibn Taymiyya, 463–4, 466.
Laoust, Essai, 241. By Ibn Taymiyya’s time, ijmāʿ was, for all intents and purposes, often appealed to over the direct texts of the Qurʾān and Sunna, followed by āḥād ḥadīth reports, then qiyās. Ibn Taymiyya rejects this perceived misprioritization and attempts to put the Qurʾān and Sunna back in the center as the direct material sources of the law. See “Maʿārij al-wuṣūl,” MF, 19:200–2; Abū Zahra, Ibn Taymiyya, 469–71; Laoust, Essai, 242.
See Musawwada, 315, where we read that consensus is a definitive proof (ḥujja qāṭiʿa) since it is not possible for the umma to agree on an error, as per the ḥadīth, “inna ummatī lā tajtamiʿu ʿalā ḍalāla,” found in Sunan Ibn Mājah, ed. Muḥammad Fuʾād ʿAbd al-Bāqī, 1 vol. ([Cairo?]: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Kutub al-ʿArabiyya, n.d.), 1303. See Ibn Taymiyya’s discussion of this ḥadīth also at MF, 18:16–17, 51 and “Maʿārij al-wuṣūl,” MF, 19:176 ff.
See Musawwada, 318–19; Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 21. On ijmāʿ more generally, see Wael B. Hallaq, “On the Authoritativeness of Sunni Consensus,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 18, no. 4 (1986).
It is not clear here whether “they” is meant to refer to people in general, the scholars as a class, the tābiʿūn as a discrete generation, or indeed simply to “Ibn ʿUmar, Anas b. Mālik, and others” from among the Companions.
“ittafaqū ʿalayhā wa-qaṭaʿū ʿalā thubūtihā.” Musawwada, 319.
Ibid. We know through Ibn Fūrak that al-Ashʿarī’s views on tawātur were also strongly correlated with ijmāʿ. See Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 33–5, summarizing Ibn Fūrak, Mujarrad Maqālāt al-Shaykh Abī al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī, ed. Aḥmad ʿAbd al-Raḥīm al-Sāyiḥ (Cairo: Maktabat al-Thaqāfa al-Dīniyya, 1425/2005), 15, 20–1, 201. On the relevance of tawātur to uṣūlī discussions of ijmāʿ, see Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 21–4; Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 140–2.
Hallaq remarks that “[t]he very principle of tawātur then constitutes the rationale for the certitude of consensus,” explaining that this should not be taken to mean that “the argument for the authoritativeness of consensus involves a petitio principii,” since “whereas consensus rests on the notion of tawātur, tawātur, whatever its form, does not derive its authoritativeness from consensus.” See Hallaq, “On Inductive Corroboration,” 23 and ibid., n. 54. Al-Ghazālī avoided circular reasoning by arguing that the ḥadīth, “lā yajmaʿu ’Llāhu ummatī ʿalā ḍalāla,” was not itself guaranteed by consensus, but by “al-ʿāda al-jāriya.” Brown, Hadith, 169.
The division of ijmāʿ into khāṣṣ and ʿāmm, with the populace at large bound to acquiesce in the consensus of the specialists on specialist issues, is also found in al-Ashʿarī. See Laher, “Twisted Threads,” 35, on the basis of Ibn Fūrak, Mujarrad, 21.
MF, 18:17, 22.
“yajzimūna bi-ṣiḥḥat jumhūr aḥādīth al-kitābayn (i.e., the Ṣaḥīḥayn of al-Bukhārī and Muslim)” (ibid., 18:17), though a handful of ḥadīth reports (or discrete parts of them) are of disputed authenticity. Ibn Taymiyya explains that some, for example, may refer to as “ṣaḥīḥ” that over the authenticity of which the scholars of ḥadīth have differed, such as particular words or discrete phrases (alfāẓ) related by Muslim in his Ṣaḥīḥ but whose authenticity has been disputed by other muḥaddithūn—some of whom were more knowledgeable than he, such as al-Bukhārī or Yaḥyā b. Maʿīn (d. 233/848). Ibid., 18:18. Such cases only admit of a definitive affirmation or disavowal of the truth of the report’s content on the strength of additional evidence (lā yujzamu bi-ṣidqihi illā bi-dalīl). In the case, for example, of the ḥadīth related by Muslim which states that God created the soil on Saturday, the mountains on Sunday, the trees on Monday … and Adam on Friday (creating, therefore, on all seven days of the week), Ibn Taymiyya lists the numerous ḥadīth scholars who considered this ḥadīth to be weak. Though he agrees with the assessment of the individual chains of narration as weak, he grounds his principal reasoning for rejection of the ḥadīth’s authenticity in the notion of tawātur: “It has been established on the basis of tawātur that God created the heavens and the earth in six days [and not in seven] and that the last creation took place on Friday …” For the ḥadīth in question, see Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 1216. Ibn Taymiyya also mentions that even the Ṣaḥīḥ collection of al-Bukhārī, who was “more skilled and more knowledgeable (aḥdhaq wa-akhbar) in the art of ḥadīth than Muslim” (MF, 18:19), nevertheless contains three reports whose authenticity has been disputed by other scholars.
MF, 18:17, 22.
“fa-ijmāʿuhum maʿṣūm lā yajūzu an yujmiʿū ʿalā khaṭaʾ.” Ibid., 18:17.
“innamā ’l-aʿmālu bi’l-niyyāti wa-innamā li-kulli ’mriʾin mā nawā.” Al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, 7, 1656, 1722; Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 853; al-Tirmidhī, Jāmiʿ, 3:282–3; Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, 3:526; al-Nasāʾī, Kitāb al-Sunan al-kubrā, ed. Shuʿayb al-Arnaʾūṭ and Ḥasan ʿAbd al-Munʿim Shalabī, 1 ed., 12 vols. (Beirut: Muʾassasat al-Risāla, 1421/2001), 1:101–2, 4:443, 5:267; and Ibn Mājah Sunan, 1413. Cited by Ibn Taymiyya at MF, 18:39. See also Ibn Taymiyya’s extensive discussion of this ḥadīth at MF, 18:246–84.
“talaqqāhu ahl al-ʿilm bi’l-qabūl wa’l-taṣdīq.” MF, 18:49.
Ibid., 18:49, 247. A gharīb, or “isolated,” ḥadīth is defined as one in which there is at least one level, or tier (ṭabaqa), that contains only one narrator. See, for example, Ibn Ḥajar, Nuzhat al-naẓar, 45–6, 48–52. The “acts are but by intention” ḥadīth is considered ṣaḥīḥ by virtue of the strength of its narrators, but nevertheless gharīb by virtue of the fact that it has only been transmitted via a single (sound) chain up until the fourth tier: Yaḥyā b. Saʿīd al-Anṣārī → Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm al-Taymī → ʿAlqama b. Waqqāṣ al-Laythī → ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb → the Prophet. Then from Yaḥyā b. Saʿīd al-Anṣārī, the ḥadīth was transmitted by hundreds of individuals, making it one of the most widely transmitted reports from that time on. MF, 18:39. See also G.H.A. Juynboll, “Tawātur,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2 ed., X:381b.
MF, 18:49. It is important to be clear that, for Ibn Taymiyya, it is not the case that the ḥadīth, once received with acceptance, becomes authentic after not having been so, but simply that we, once having ascertained this acceptance, are now in a position to affirm definitively (naqṭaʿu bi) the authenticity it has always had.
“talaqqat‧hu al-umma bi’l-qabūl wa’l-ʿamal bi-mūjibihi.” Ibid.
al-Tirmidhī, Jāmiʿ, 3:620–1, 621–3; Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, 4:492, 5:417; al-Nasāʾī, Sunan, 6:158, 158–9, 159; Ibn Mājah, Sunan, 905–6.
Furthermore, judged against the canons of the science of ḥadīth criticism, every narration of this ḥadīth contains some type of flaw or other. Brown, Hadith, 156. See ibid. (with slight modifications to Brown’s rendering) for the quote of the Mālikī ḥadīth scholar Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 463/1070) to the effect that “[w]ith reports like this that became well established among all the scholars, it is not necessary to provide an isnād, for their widespread transmission and well-known status among them are stronger than any isnād.”
On the mashhūr (or mustafīḍ) tradition, see Zysow, Economy, 17–22; Brown, Hadith, 154–5.
“al-khabar alladhī talaqqāhu al-aʾimma bi’l-qabūl taṣdīqan lahu aw ʿamalan bi-mūjibihi.” MF, 18:84. Ibn Taymiyya goes on to remark that such a kind of ḥadīth is “fī maʿnā al-mutawātir” though some refer to it as mashhūr or mustafīḍ, classifying it as a third category between the mutawātir and the āḥād. See also the discussion at “Rafʿ al-malām,” MF, 20:257–60. Here too Ibn Taymiyya confirms that an āḥād report that the umma has “received with acceptance” (talaqqat‧hu bi’l-qabūl) yields definitive knowledge (ʿilm) and not mere supposition (ẓann) “for the generality of the legal scholars (ʿāmmat al-fuqahāʾ) and for the majority of rationalist theologians (akthar al-mutakallimīn), although some of the theologians hold that such reports fall short of yielding knowledge.” See, e.g., ibid., 20:257.
“akthar mutūn al-Ṣaḥīḥayn maʿlūma mutqana talaqqāhā ahl al-ʿilm bi’l-ḥadīth bi’l-qabūl wa’l-taṣdīq wa-ajmaʿū ʿalā ṣiḥḥatihā wa-ijmāʿuhum maʿṣūm min al-khaṭaʾ.” Ibid., 18:49.
“yaʿlamu ʿulamāʾ al-ḥadīth ʿilman qaṭʿiyyan.” Ibid., 18:41.
Ibid., 18:49. See also ibid., 18:50 for a more explicit statement of the four or five ways reports can yield knowledge, sheer number being just one of them.
For Ibn Taymiyya’s definition and formal discussion of āḥād reports, see MF, 9:290–6.
Ibid., 18:41, 70.
Defined as a text that “includes words with two or more possible meanings, one of which, the ẓāhir, is deemed, by virtue of supporting evidence, superior to the others.” Hallaq, A History of Islamic Legal Theories, 45. For further on ẓāhir in the legal sense meant here, see Mohamed M. Yunis Ali, Medieval Islamic Pragmatics: Sunni Legal Theorists’ Models of Textual Communication (Richmond: Curzon, 2000), 127–33. For ẓāhir in Muslim interpretive thought more generally, see Robert M. Gleave, “Conceptions of the literal sense (ẓāhir, ḥaqīqa) in Muslim interpretive thought,” in Interpreting Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Overlapping Inquiries, ed. Mordechai Z. Cohen and Adele Berlin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), as well as idem, Islam and Literalism, 49–52, 181–4, et passim.
See MF, 18:41, 44.
“wa-ʿalā dhālika akthar ahl al-fiqh wa’l-naẓar wa’l-athar.” Musawwada, 245. For Ibn Taymiyya’s in-depth discussion of the manner in which āḥād reports yield knowledge (in addition to obligating action), see ibid., 244–8, esp. 245–57.
“madhhab aṣḥābinā anna akhbār al-āḥād al-mutalaqqāh bi’l-qabūl taṣluḥu li-ithbāt al-diyānāt.” Ibid., 248.
“wa-aṣḥābunā yuṭliqūna al-qawl bihi wa-annahu yūjibu al-ʿilm wa-in lam tatalaqqahu [al-umma] bi’l-qabūl.” Ibid.
“al-mutawātir laysa lahu ʿadad maḥṣūr bal idhā ḥaṣala al-ʿilm ʿan ikhbār al-mukhbirīn kāna al-khabar mutawātiran.” MF, 18:40.
See ibid., 18:41: “wa-ʿalā hādhā fa-kathīr min mutūn al-Ṣaḥīḥayn mutawātir al-lafẓ ʿinda ahl al-ʿilm bi’l-ḥadīth wa-in lam yaʿrif ghayruhum annahu mutawātir.” At ibid., 18:69, Ibn Taymiyya identifies eschatological realities such as the path over Hell (al-ṣirāṭ), the scale of deeds (al-mīzān), the beatific vision of God (al-ruʾya), and the merits of the Companions (faḍāʾil al-ṣaḥāba) as items that are known definitively in a mutawātir maʿnawī fashion among the scholars of ḥadīth.
The most important work to date on the logical and epistemological foundations of Ibn Taymiyya’s thought is Wael Hallaq’s Ibn Taymiyya against the Greek Logicians (previously cited, n. 1), which consists of a heavily annotated translation of al-Suyūṭī’s abridgement (Jahd al-qarīḥa fī tajrīd al-Naṣīḥa) of Ibn Taymiyya’s Kitāb al-Radd ʿalā al-manṭiqiyyīn (alternatively titled Naṣīḥat ahl al-īmān fī al-radd ʿalā manṭiq al-Yūnān), preceded by an extensive analytical introduction to Ibn Taymiyya’s metaphysical postulates, epistemology, and approach to Greek logic, particularly the conceptions of definition and syllogism which form its backbone. Other substantial studies include: ʿAfāf al-Ghamrī, al-Manṭiq ʿinda Ibn Taymiyya (Cairo: Dār Qubāʾ, 2001); two lengthy articles by Anke von Kügelgen, “Ibn Taymīyas Kritik an der aristotelischen Logik und sein Gegenentwurf” and “The Poison of Philosophy: Ibn Taymiyya’s Struggle For and Against Reason” (both cited previously, n. 10); and Sobhi Rayan, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Criticism of the Syllogism,” Der Islam 86, no. 1 (2011). Older studies dealing with Ibn Taymiyya’s views on reason, and particularly logic, include: ʿAlī Sāmī al-Nashshār, Manāhij al-baḥth ʿinda mufakkirī al-Islām wa-naqd al-Muslimīn li’l-manṭiq al-arisṭuṭālīsī (Cairo: Dār al-Fikr al-ʿArabī, 1947), 146–219; Serajul Haque, “Ibn Taymīyyah,” in A History of Muslim Philosophy, ed. M.M. Sharif (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1966); C.A. Qadir, “An Early Islamic Critique of Aristotelian Logic: Ibn Taymiyyah,” International Philosophical Quarterly 8 (1968); Robert Brunschvig, “Pour ou contre la logique grecque chez les théologiens de l’ Islām: Ibn Ḥazm, al-Ghazālī, Ibn Taymiyya,” Études d’ islamologie 1 (1976); and Nicholas Heer, “The Priority of Reason in the Interpretation of Scripture: Ibn Taymīyah and the Mutakallimūn” (1988). See more generally also the sources referenced in notes 6 and 10 above and note 143 below. For a discussion of Ibn Taymiyya’s portrayal as a heroic critic of Greek logic and defender of “true reason” grounded in an Islamic epistemology by several contemporary Muslim authors (including S. al-Nashshār and C.A. Qadir cited here), see Georges Tamer, “The Curse of Philosophy: Ibn Taymiyya as a Philosopher in Contemporary Islamic Thought,” in Islamic Theology, Philosophy and Law: Debating Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, ed. Birgit Krawietz and Georges Tamer (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2013), 334–41.
See, e.g., Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xxxi, xxxiii–iv, xlvii–l; Nicholas Heer, “Ibn Taymiyah’s Empiricism,” in A Way Prepared: Essays on Islamic Culture in Honor of Richard Bayly Winder, ed. Farhad Kazemi and R.D. McChesney (New York: New York University Press, 1988), 113 et passim; von Kügelgen, “The Poison of Philosophy,” 296; Roxanne D. Marcotte, “Ibn Taymiyya et sa critique des produits de la faculté d’ estimation (Wahmiyyāt) dans le Darʾ Taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa al-naql,” Luqmān 18, no. 2 (2002):50. See also the useful summary of scholarly views on Ibn Taymiyya’s “empiricism,” followed by her own very pertinent comments and analysis, at von Kügelgen, “Ibn Taymīyas Kritik,” 214–21.
We have examined the epistemological issues internal to the transmission of akhbār in detail in the previous section. My aim here is only to highlight how reports as an epistemological category fit within Ibn Taymiyya’s more general account of the sources of human knowledge.
Darʾ, 7:324. In support of this point, Ibn Taymiyya cites the Arabic saying, “Hearing of a thing is not like seeing it” (laysa al-mukhbar ka’l-muʿāyan). Ibid., 7:325.
We have encountered this principle above in the guise of the condition that mutawātir reports must necessarily originate in some type of sensory experience, that is, the report must be of something witnessed through the senses (as opposed to being inferred through reason).
On the discussion of orality and the ultimately “heard” (samʿī) nature of transmitted knowledge, see Weiss, Search, 252–62.
Darʾ, 6:50. Also ibid., 1:89 for reason as “al-gharīza allatī fīnā” as well as “al-ʿulūm allatī istafadnāhā bi-tilka al-gharīza.”
See, e.g., Darʾ: 6:88 (“sāʾir al-qaḍāyā al-kulliyya allatī mabādiʾuhā min al-ḥiss”); 8:248 (“kamā yuqaddiru [al-dhihn] al-kulliyyāt al-mujarrada ʿan al-aʿyān”); as well as the discussion at 7:317–27. At Darʾ 7:324, for instance, Ibn Taymiyya says, describing rational inference (al-iʿtibār bi’l-naẓar wa’l-qiyās) as the second source of knowledge after internal and external sense perception: “What sense perception yields as a particular, reason and analogical inference yield as universal and absolute. [These latter] do not engender the knowledge of any particular [existent] thing; rather they render the specific general and the particular absolute [i.e., universal], for universals are only known through reason, just as particular existents are only known through sense perception.” (mā afādahu al-ḥissu muʿayyanan yufīduhu al-ʿaqlu wa’l-qiyāsu kulliyyan muṭlaqan, fa-huwa lā yufīdu bi-nafsihi ʿilma shayʾin muʿayyanin lākin yajʿalu al-khāṣṣa ʿāmman wa’l-muʿayyana muṭlaqan fa-inna al-kulliyyāti innamā tuʿlamu bi’l-ʿaqli kamā anna al-muʿayyanāti innamā tuʿlamu bi’l-iḥsās). This universalizing function of the mind is, furthermore, critical for our knowledge of God and our ability to understand who He is as a discrete personal being. See, e.g., the discussion at Darʾ, 7:326 ff.
On the term taṣdīq (judgement) and the related term taṣawwur (conception), see Harry A. Wolfson, “The Terms Taṣawwur and Taṣdīq in Arabic Philosophy and Their Greek, Latin and Hebrew Equivalents,” Moslem World 33 (1943): 114–19. For these terms in Ibn Sīnā specifically, see A.I. Sabra, “Avicenna on the Subject Matter of Logic,” The Journal of Philosophy 77, no. 11 (1980): 757–61. (Cited in Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xv, n. 20.)
See, e.g., Darʾ: 5:259 ff. on al-iʿtibār wa’l-qiyās; 7:317–27 (esp. 322 ff.) on logical principles and rules of inference more generally; 2:218–19 on the burden of proof between rational arguments and revealed texts and the three levels of rational refutation; and 3:264, 3:305–18, 7:352, 7:363, 7:374–80, and 7:388–9 on the use of rational inferences and arguments in the Qurʾān. On the Qurʾān’s pervasive use of rational argumentation more broadly, see Rosalind Ward Gwynne, Logic, Rhetoric, and Legal Reasoning in the Qurʾan: God’s arguments (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004).
See, e.g., Darʾ: 6:267 (“al-ʿulūm al-badīhiyya”); 6:112, 9:161 (“al-qaḍāyā al-badīhiyya”); 3:309 (“ʿulūm badīhiyya awwaliyya yabtadiʾuhā Allāh fī qalb [al-insān]”); 6:16 (“al-badīha al-ṣaḥīḥa”); 8:314 (“al-muqaddima al-badīhiyya al-ṣaḥīḥa al-sharʿiyya”).
We will examine one such doctrine in detail in Section 5, p. 43 ff. below.
See, e.g., Darʾ: 1:185, 3:96; 5:312, 6:268, 7:21 (“al-ʿulūm al-ḍarūriyya”); 3:418 (“al-maʿārif al-ḍarūriyya”); 7:403 (“al-qaḍāyā al-ḍarūriyya”); 6:192 (“al-umūr al-ḍarūriyya”); 3:244, 6:11 (“al-ḍarūriyyāt”); 8:264 (“ḍarūrī fī al-ʿaql”); 6:192 (“ḍarūrāt al-ʿuqūl”); 8:311 (“badīhī ḍarūrī”); 3:230 (“qaḍiyya badīhiyya ḍarūriyya”); 9:360 (“al-maʿālim al-badīhiyya al-ḍarūriyya”); 9:121–2 (“ṭuruq ḍarūriyya”); 6:50: reason as an “instinct in man” (gharīza fī al-insān) or “a kind of necessary knowledge” (nawʿ min al-ʿulūm al-ḍarūriyya); 8:282: knowledge of the existence of the Creator (al-Ṣāniʿ) engrained of necessity in the human constitution (min lawāzim khalqihim ḍarūrī fīhim); 8:438 (and similar at 3:98–9, 8:488–9): knowledge of God “ḍarūriyya”; 9:422–5: on four meanings of ḍarūra and the nature of ḍarūrī knowledge with respect to the knower.
See, e.g., Darʾ: 6:14 (“al-badīhiyyāt al-fiṭriyya”); 3:317 (“al-ʿulūm al-ḥissiyya al-fiṭriyya”); 8:453 (“al-maʿrifa al-fiṭriyya”); 7:404 (“al-qaḍāyā al-badīhiyya wa’l-maʿārif al-fiṭriyya”); 8:314 (“al-ṭuruq al-fiṭriyya al-ʿaqliyya al-sharʿiyya al-qarība al-ṣaḥīḥa”); 8:530 (“al-maʿārif al-awwaliyya al-fiṭriyya”); 7:425 (“irādāt fiṭriyya wa-ʿulūm fiṭriyya”); 4:213 (“ḥukm al-fiṭra awwalī badīhī”); 6:112 (“fiṭar al-nās”); 7:403, 8:463 (“al-fiṭra al-insāniyya”); 7:25: looking upwards when supplicating is “fiṭrī ʿaqlī”; 8:38: human beings are “mafṭūrūn” to recognize the existence of the Creator.
See, e.g., Darʾ: 3:70 (“al-fiṭra al-ḍarūriyya”); 3:317 (“al-ʿulūm al-ḍarūriyya al-fiṭriyya”); 3:288 (“al-ʿulūm al-badīhiyya al-ḍarūriyya al-fiṭriyya”); 6:14 (“al-qaḍāyā al-fiṭriyya al-ḍarūriyya”); 7:133 (“al-umūr al-fiṭriyya al-ḍarūriyya”); 8:489 (“ʿulūm fiṭriyya ḍarūriyya”); 3:309, 6:184 (“muqaddimāt fiṭriyya ḍarūriyya”); 6:72, 9:122: knowledge of God “fiṭriyya ḍarūriyya”; 3:87 (and similar at 8:348): rational proofs for the existence of God intuitive and necessary (fiṭriyya ḍarūriyya); 6:272: false doctrines to which a person has been habituated “contradict his fiṭra and what he knows of necessity” (tunāqiḍu fiṭratahu wa-ḍarūriyyatahu); 8:12 ff.: knowledge of religious matters fiṭrī-ḍarūrī vs. naẓarī; 5:312–13 (“al-fiṭra allatī faṭara Allāh ʿalayhā ʿibādahu wa’l-ʿulūm al-ḍarūriyya allatī jaʿalahā fī qulūbihim”).
Darʾ, 3:314, 3:317.
See, e.g., Darʾ: 3:428 (“min aʿẓam al-mukābara wa’l-safsaṭa wa’l-buhtān”); 9:248 (“mukābara bayyina”); 4:172, 5:196 (“mukābara li’l-ḥiss”); 3:363, 4:192 (“mukābara li’l-ḥiss wa’l-ʿaql”); 5:41 (“mukābara li’l-ḍarūra”); 9:207 (“al-muʿānada wa’l-jaḥd”); 1:182, 1:185, 7:404, 8:219, and numerous others (“al-safsaṭa”); 9:268 (“al-muʿānada wa’l-safsaṭa”).
See, e.g., Darʾ, 7:113, where Ibn Taymiyya prefaces an argument he is making on the basis of the known meaning of a given word with the phrase, “naʿlamu bi’l-iḍṭirār min lughat al-ʿarab.”
See, e.g., ibid., 3:261.
See ibid., 9:28–9, where Ibn Taymiyya states: “Even [with respect to] that knowledge which is acquired (muktasab) and which comes about [for a person] through discursive reasoning (naẓar), [that person] ultimately finds himself compelled to [accept] it (muḍṭarr ilayhi) of necessity. The knowing subject, once knowledge has come about in his mind, either with or without an inferential proof or indicant (dalīl), is unable to repel that knowledge from his mind” (wa-in kāna al-ʿilm alladhī ḥaṣala bi’ktisābihi wa-naẓarihi huwa muḍṭarr ilayhi fī ākhir al-amr, fa-lā yumkinu al-ʿālim al-ʿārif baʿda ḥuṣūl al-maʿrifa fī qalbihi bi-dalīl aw bi-ghayr dalīl an yadfaʿa dhālika ʿan qalbihi).
Ibn Taymiyya deals with the question of the fiṭra extensively at Darʾ, 8:359–535, as well as in his “Risāla fī al-kalām ʿalā al-fiṭra,” in Majmūʿat al-Rasāʾil al-kubrā (Cairo: Maktabat wa-Maṭbaʿat Muḥammad ʿAlī Ṣabīḥ wa-Awlādihi, 1386/1966), 2:332–49 and al-Radd ʿalā al-manṭiqiyyīn, 420–32. Ibn Taymiyya’s notion of fiṭra has been discussed in a number of previous studies. See: Livnat Holtzman, “Human Choice, Divine Guidance and the Fiṭra Tradition: The Use of Hadith in Theological Treatises by Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya,” in Ibn Taymiyya and His Times, ed. Yossef Rapoport and Shahab Ahmed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) on Ibn Taymiyya’s extensive discussion in the Darʾ taʿāruḍ of the “every child is born on the fiṭra” (kull mawlūd yūladu ʿalā al-fiṭra) ḥadīth; Kazi, “Reconciling Reason and Revelation,” 207–313, esp. 250–92 and 309–13 on fiṭra in Ibn Taymiyya generally and in the Darʾ taʿāruḍ in particular; Geneviève Gobillot, “L’ épître du discours sur la fiṭra (Risāla fī-l-kalām ʿalā-l-fiṭra) de Taqī-l-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Taymīya (661/1262–728/1328): Présentation et traduction annotée,” Annales Islamologiques 20 (1984) for Ibn Taymiyya’s Risāla on the fiṭra; Sophia Vasalou, Ibn Taymiyya’s Theological Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 56–105 on the centrality of the fiṭra in Ibn Taymiyya’s ethical thought as presented primarily in Radd (as well as Darʾ and elsewhere); Hoover, Ibn Taymiyya’s Theodicy, 39–44 on the relationship between fiṭra and ʿaql, and the fiṭra as a religious faculty; Anjum, Politics, Law, and Community, 215–65, esp. 215–27, for the role of fiṭra as an alternative foundation for Ibn Taymiyya’s epistemology; Wael B. Hallaq, “Ibn Taymiyya on the Existence of God,” Acta Orientalia 52 (1991), 55–66 on the role of the fiṭra specifically in coming to know the existence of God; von Kügelgen, “The Poison of Philosophy,” 299 ff. and idem, “Ibn Taymīyas Kritik,” 192–9, esp. 194–8 on the overall epistemological function of the fiṭra; and M. Sait Özervarli, “Divine Wisdom, Human Agency and the fiṭra in Ibn Taymiyya’s Thought,” in Islamic Theology, Philosophy and Law: Debating Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, ed. Birgit Krawietz and Georges Tamer (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), 37–60 on Ibn Taymiyya’s appeal to the fiṭra as the basis of an alternative argument to the kalām cosmological argument (based on ḥudūth) for the existence of God and its relation to human free will. See also, more generally: Geneviève Gobillot, La fitra. La conception originelle, ses interprétations et fonctions chez les penseurs musulmans (Cairo: Institut français d’ archéologie orientale, 2000) and Camilla Adang, “Islam as the Inborn Religion of Mankind: The Concept of fiṭra in the Works of Ibn Ḥazm,” Al-Qanṭara 21, no. 2 (2000).
Hoover translates “natural constitution” (Ibn Taymiyya’s Theodicy, 39); Özervarli: “inner nature” (“Qurʾānic Rational Theology,” 91) and “human nature” (“Divine Wisdom,” 38, 45, et passim); Anjum: “constitution” (Politics, Law, and Community, 215, translating Q. al-Rūm 30:30), “natural constitution” (ibid., 185, translating a passage at Darʾ 1:376–7, where he also renders the past participle mafṭūra, qualifying sound intellects (al-ʿuqūl al-salīma), as “naturally inclined,” i.e., to the recognition of truth), “pristine nature” (ibid., 218, translating “fiṭar” in a passage from Darʾ 5:62 [not Darʾ 3:62 as given at ibid., n. 51]); Vasalou: “ ‘the natural disposition’ or ‘constitution,’ ‘our original nature’ ” (Theological Ethics, 2, 36), “nature” (ibid., 67, 70), “our nature” (ibid., 37, 63), “inborn nature” (ibid., 71), “human nature” (ibid., 56, 67), also “naturally formed” (ibid., 37) and “formed by nature” (ibid., 71) for “mafṭūrūn” and “mafṭūra,” respectively; Hallaq: “innate intelligence” (Greek Logicians, xl), “natural intelligence” (ibid., 27), “faculty of natural intelligence” (ibid., 167, n. 1), “sound disposition” (ibid., 110), “instincts” (ibid., 163, translating “fiṭar”); von Kügelgen: “inborn intelligence” (“The Poison of Philosophy,” 298)/“angeborene Intelligenz des Menschen” (“Ibn Taymīyas Kritik,” 195, as a gloss for “ʿaql, fiṭra oder ġarīza”). See Holtzman, “Human Choice,” 184, n. 11 for various other translations found in the secondary literature, the diversity of which she cites (at ibid.) as an indication of “[t]he complexity of the term fiṭra.” Holtzman herself leaves the term untranslated.
Özervarli notes, in a similar vein, that a person’s fiṭra “consists of his or her original and distinctive qualities that would direct activities if left unaffected by his or her family or social environment” (emphasis mine). Özervarli, “Divine Wisdom,” 47.
See Darʾ, 7:37.
See, e.g., ibid., 8:41: “wa’l-qulūb mafṭūra ʿalā an yatajallā lahā min al-ḥaqāʾiq mā hiya mustaʿidda li-tajallīhā fīhā.”
Ibn Taymiyya speaks, instructively, of “ʿuqūl banī Ādam allatī faṭarahum Allāh ʿalayhā” (ibid., 7:38), which is reminiscent of Q. al-Rūm 30:30: “the primordial nature from God upon which He originated mankind (fiṭrat Allāhi ’llatī faṭara ’l-nāsa ʿalayhā).” God is said to have “faṭara” (‘created,’ ‘fashioned’) the “ʿuqūl” (‘minds,’ ‘intellects’) of human beings in a particular manner, a statement which makes it quite evident that fiṭra, for Ibn Taymiyya, closely overlaps with what we might call intuitive or a priori knowledge, and fundamentally with reason (ʿaql) itself. Nevertheless, his conception of the fiṭra goes beyond cognitive faculties narrowly defined to include an important spiritual and ethical dimension, as discussed by, e.g., Holtzman, “Human Choice”; Hoover, Ibn Taymiyya’s Theodicy, 39–44; Anjum, Politics, Law, and Community, 223–7; and Vasalou, Theological Ethics, 65–92.
Ibid., 5:62. See also Hallaq, “Existence of God,” 55.
For a complete listing of such cognitive and ethical defects of the fiṭra, drawn together from various places throughout the Darʾ, see n. 166, pp. 46–7 below.
See, e.g., Darʾ, 5:320, where we read of a type of “tawātur ʿaqlī” (specifically of the early community with regard to their affirmation of the Divine Attributes); 6:284 for a type of “tawātur fiṭrī” where he speaks of “ṭawāʾif mutafarriqūna ittafaqū ʿalā dhālika min ghayr muwāṭaʾa wa-dhālika yaqtaḍī annahum ṣādiqūna fīmā yukhbirūna bihi ʿan fiṭarihim” (i.e., they agreed in, essentially, a mutawātir fashion on the basis of a sound, universally shared human fiṭra) and 8:43–5 for tawātur fiṭrī more generally (with interesting analogies at 8:43); 6:12 (“al-khaṭaʾ ʿalā al-jamʿ al-kathīr mumtaniʿ fī al-umūr al-ḥissiyya wa’l-ḍarūriyya”); 6:13 (“thabata anna hādhihi al-muqaddima badīhiyya li-annahu ittafaqa ʿalayhā umam kathīra bi-dūn al-tawāṭuʾ”—that is, in a mutawātir fashion).
Or so-called “mawḍūʿāt,” on which see Brown, Hadith, 69–77. On the genre of mawḍūʿāt works, or compilations of ḥadīth forgeries, see ibid., 99–100.
And tawātur alone, as we have seen, for although Ibn Taymiyya accepts reports that have been determined to be true or accurate (ṣādiqa), such as the category of ḥadīth reports classified as ṣaḥīḥ, it is nevertheless tawātur alone that can guarantee such transmitted knowledge as being definitively certain (yaqīnī). The apparent restrictiveness of this delimiting of certitude to the realm of the mutawātir must, however, be counterbalanced against Ibn Taymiyya’s substantial broadening of the umbrella of tawātur in the guise of that which is “functionally equivalent to the mutawātir” (fī maʿnā al-mutawātir), as expounded in Section 3, p. 18 ff. above.
In reference to Ibn Ṭufayl’s (d. 581/1185) famous philosophical novel of the same name.
See, e.g., appeals to “al-fiṭar al-salīma” at Darʾ, 4:207, 5:61, 7:37 and to “ahl al-fiṭar al-salīma” at 6:14 (“bal al-marjiʿ fī al-qaḍāyā al-fiṭriyya al-ḍarūriyya ilā ahl al-fiṭar al-salīma allatī lam tataghayyar fiṭratuhā bi’l-iʿtiqādāt al-mawrūtha wa’l-awhām”).
See Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Arbaʿīn fī uṣūl al-dīn, ed. Aḥmad Ḥijāzī al-Saqqā, 2 vols. (Cairo: Maktabat al-Kulliyyāt al-Azhariyya, 1986), 1:152–64 (“al-Masʾala al-thāmina: fī annahu taʿālā laysa fī makān wa-lā fī jiha”). For Ibn Taymiyya’s (partial) citation of and response to this section of the Arbaʿīn, see Darʾ, 6:8–12 ff.
For background on al-Rāzī’s life and works, see Tony Street, “Concerning the Life and Works of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī,” in Islam: Essays on Scripture, Thought and Society: A Festschrift in Honour of Anthony H. Johns, ed. Peter G. Riddell and Tony Street (Leiden: Brill, 1997). For immediate intellectual antecedents, see Ayman Shihadeh, “From al-Ghazālī to al-Rāzī: 6th/12th Century Developments in Muslim Philosophical Theology,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 15 (2005). For al-Rāzī’s thought in general, and his theological and philosophical views in particular, see Muḥammad Ṣāliḥ al-Zarkān, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī wa-ārāʾuhu al-kalāmiyya wa’l-falsafiyya (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1963); Roger Arnaldez, “L’ œuvre de Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī: commentateur du Coran et philosophe,” Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, Xe–XIIe siècles 3 (1960); and Tariq Jaffer’s recent monograph, Rāzī: Master of Qurʾānic Interpretation and Theological Reasoning (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). On al-Rāzī’s eventual skepticism and epistemological pessimism, see Ayman Shihadeh, The Teleological Ethics of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 181–203. Al-Rāzī’s pessimism stands in marked contrast to Ibn Taymiyya’s overall confidence in sound human reason (ʿaql ṣarīḥ) and concomitant optimism, both in the epistemological and ethical realms. See Hoover, Ibn Taymiyya’s Theodicy, 1–6, 224–37.
Darʾ, 6:8; al-Rāzī, Arbaʿīn, 1:152.
The term “anthropomorphism” by which tashbīh is often translated is too restrictive, as it only implies likening God to human beings. Tashbīh, however, generally refers in Islamic theological discourse to the likening of God to any created thing—to anything, in short, that is other than God Himself.
On the theology of whom see Jon Hoover, “Ḥanbalī Theology,” in The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology, ed. Sabine Schmidtke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
On whom see Aron Zysow, “Karrāmiyya,” ibid.
See Darʾ, 6:9–10; al-Rāzī, Arbaʿīn, 1:152–5.
Darʾ, 6:9; al-Rāzī, Arbaʿīn, 1:152.
“burhān” in Ibn Taymiyya (Darʾ, 6:10). Al-Rāzī has “ḥujja” instead (Arbaʿīn, 1:154).
See Darʾ, 6:12–19.
“hādhā amr muttafaq ʿalayhi bayna al-umam allatī lam tughayyar fiṭratuhā” (ibid., 6:12). A little further on, Ibn Taymiyya specifies that the standard point of reference concerning “innate, necessary propositions” (qaḍāyā fiṭriyya ḍarūriyya) is “those who possess a sound fiṭra/innate disposition that has not been changed due to inherited beliefs or preconceived biases (stubbornly clung to)” (ahl al-fiṭar al-salīma allatī lam tataghayyar fiṭratuhā bi’l-iʿtiqādāt al-mawrūtha wa’l-ahwāʾ). Just after, he mentions “those who have not suffered a change in their innate disposition (fiṭra) as a result of conjecture (ẓann) or preconceived bias (hawā)” (ibid., 6:14). See also ibid., 6:271 where he mentions “shubha” (doubt, point of doubt) then comments, regarding the denial of God’s transcendence and “aboveness” (ʿuluww)—that is, with respect to creation—and His being distinct from creation (mubāyana), that no one concedes such a denial to the negationists (nufāh) by dint of his fiṭra (bi-fiṭratihi) once it has been properly understood. Rather, such a concession can only come about through the prolonged presence of a doubt (shubha) in the mind, especially if the person in question is also subject to the vagaries of whim and preconceived bias (hawā) or has some ulterior motive (gharaḍ) [for denying the truth] (“innamā yuwāfiquhum ʿalayhi man qāmat ʿindahu shubha min shubah al-nufāh, lā siyyamā in kāna lahu hawā aw gharaḍ”). With the introduction of ulterior motive, paired here with whim or stubbornly clinging to preconceived bias and/or arbitrary personal opinion (hawā), in addition to (blind) imitation (taqlīd) and mere (unreflective) habit (ʿāda), we now have a total of seven basic motives—some cognitive, some moral—for suppressing the normative fiṭra. To sum them up, the seven deadly sins of the fiṭra are: (1) (unexamined) inherited beliefs (iʿtiqādāt mawrūtha); (2) whim, preconceived bias, or stubbornly clinging to personal opinion in the face of countervailing evidence (hawā); (3) conjecture (ẓann); (4) doubt or misgivings (shubha, shubah); (5) ulterior motive or personal interest (gharaḍ); (6) unreflective habit (ʿāda); and (7) blind imitation (taqlīd). For more on the suppression of the fiṭra through these various motives and mechanisms, see ibid., 6:271–2.
“wa-bi-mithl hādhā ʿulima thubūt mā yukhbiru bihi ahl al-tawātur mimmā yuʿlamu bi’l-ḥiss wa’l-ḍarūra.” Ibid., 6:12.
“wa’l-khaṭaʾ ʿalā al-jamʿ al-kathīr mumtaniʿ fī al-umūr al-ḥissiyya wa’l-ḍarūriyya.” Ibid., 6:12–13.
We recall al-Rāzī’s assertion that all major Islamic theological schools hold this view with the sole exception of the (numerically limited) Ḥanbalīs and Karrāmīs. Al-Rāzī, Arbaʿīn, 1:152.
Not to mention that among the conditions of tawātur is that the information ultimately derive from sense experience, not from a conclusion reached through discursive reasoning (naẓar).
Darʾ, 3:231, 5:34. We also come across “badāʾih al-fiṭar” at ibid., 3:221.
By taking, for example, what Ibn Taymiyya asserts to be necessary and immediate intuitive knowledge simply as “initial impressions,” which he criticizes Ibn Sīnā for demoting to mere “wahm” and “khayāl” that the intellect can then judge to be erroneous on the basis of subsequent discursive reasoning and the (faulty) assumptions and premises on which it is based. Such assumptions might include the belief that mental notions such as universals possess ontological reality outside of the mind or, as in the case of al-Rāzī here, realizing that such notions indeed exist only in the mind but then nevertheless transferring the judgement (ḥukm) of what exists in the mind to the realm of external existence without justification. The main passage of Ibn Sīnā on the “wahmiyyāt,” or estimative propositions, that Ibn Taymiyya cites and critiques over the course of half a volume of the Darʾ (Vol. 6) can be found in Ibn Sīnā, Kitāb al-Ishārāt wa’l-tanbīhāt, maʿa sharḥ Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, ed. Sulaymān Dunyā, 3 vols. (Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif, 1957–60), 1:341–63, esp. 353–5; Remarks and Admonitions. Part One: Logic, Translated from the original Arabic with an Introduction and Notes by Shams Constantine Inati (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1984), 118–28, esp. 123–4. [For a note of caution on the inadequacy of existing editions of Ibn Sīnā’s Ishārāt, see Joep Lameer, “Towards a New Edition of Avicenna’s Kitāb al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt,” Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 4, no. 2 (2013).] On wahm in Ibn Sīnā, see Deborah L. Black, “Estimation (Wahm) in Avicenna: The Logical and Psychological Dimensions,” Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie 32, no. 2 (1993) and, on Ibn Sīnā’s epistemology more generally, idem, “Certitude, Justification, and the Principles of Knowledge in Avicenna’s Epistemology,” in Interpreting Avicenna: Critical Essays, ed. Peter Adamson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) and Robert Wisnovsky, “Avicenna and the Avicennian Tradition,” in The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy, ed. Peter Adamson and Richard C. Taylor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). See also Sophia Vasalou’s incisive discussion of fiṭra in Ibn Taymiyya, specifically in the context of Ibn Sīnā’s notion of wahm, at Vasalou, Theological Ethics, 56–79. For a critical take on Ibn Taymiyya’s refutation of Ibn Sīnā’s wahmiyyāt, see Marcotte, “Ibn Taymiyya et sa critique.”
“al-naẓariyyāt lā tuʿāriḍu al-ḍarūriyyāt.” Darʾ, 6:11.
See ibid., 8:20–1 for Ibn Taymiyya’s discussion of this point.
Cf., e.g., ibid., 8:313–14.
See ibid., 8:15–22, esp. 17 ff.
“ṭuruq al-ʿilm wa’l-aḥwāl wa-asbāb dhālika wa-tartībuhu awsaʿ min an tuḥṣara fī baʿḍ hādhihi al-ṭarāʾiq.” Ibid., 8:21.
Though written, the definite article al- for authors of Arabic works receives no consideration for the purposes of alphabetization. Thus, “al-Rāzī” is listed under R, not A. Similarly, Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ comes after Ibn Qudāma.
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