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Jon Hoover, Makers of the Muslim World: Ibn Taymiyya

Mohamed A. Moustafa
p. 358-361
Référence(s) :

Jon Hoover, Makers of the Muslim World: Ibn Taymiyya, London, Oneworld Academic, 2019, 176 p.

Texte intégral

1Anyone interested in Islamic thought, Islamic intellectual history, political Islam, or in Middle Eastern studies would come across the name of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) at a certain point. Also known as šayḫ al-Islām, Ibn Taymiyya has been the subject of Western and non-Western attention during the past decades and is rightly included among the makers of the Muslim world. His legacy is massive, hotly debated at many levels, and is still relevant to the religious and political concerns of modern Muslims. Henri Laoust’s Essai (1939) is the first work in Western scholarship on Ibn Taymiyya’s social and political theories. Jon Hoover’s book (2019), reviewed here, introduces in the English language the life and thought of Ibn Taymiyya. Between Laoust’s and Hoover’s works, a plethora of studies have been published on aspects of Ibn Taymiyya’s legacy. These can be seen in Hoover’s online bibliography that he updates frequently with new publications (p. 148).

2The book under review consists of an introduction, eight chapters, an epilogue, a bibliography, and an index. The first two chapters provide an intellectual biography of Ibn Taymiyya. The third and fourth chapters present his views on worship. Chapter Five deals with his legal methodology. Chapter Six discusses his utilitarian social and political ethics. Chapters Seven and Eight deal with his theology. Together, these chapters aim to provide an accurate and a synthetic presentation of Ibn Taymiyya’s legacy (p. 1-2). Ibn Taymiyya is interlocked in several intellectual contexts, and his ideas have been hijacked, misinterpreted, and selectively quoted. The entirety of his oeuvre entails investigating the exactness of his historiography, the scope of his critiques, and the diversity of his sources and interlocutors. Politicizing Ibn Taymiyya, disregarding the historical context in which he operated, or drawing selectively on his oeuvre is nothing but reductionism. The flexibility and complexity of his legacy could be perplexing to his advocates and critics alike, which might also explain his controversial legacy.

3In Chapters One and Two, Hoover writes an intellectual biography of Ibn Taymiyya that dates and traces the roots of his thought in his early works, as well as his intellectual developments in relation to the social and political contexts in which he interacted. One sees in this presentation that Ibn Taymiyya was a responsible intellectual who responded to the major events of his time. In discussing “philosophers, Sufis, and all sorts of wayward theologians and heretical groups” (p. 107), he showed a profound acumen, which for some makes him an original thinker, for others a polemicist or even a troublemaker. Postcolonial scholars might identify with his anti-Mongol mobilizations. Proactively self-motivated, he used politics and diplomacy to serve his religious and scholarly mission, unlike some present-day keyboard Muslim activists and scholars who are easy tools in the hands of politicians.

4Readers can jump to Chapter Six where they can read about Ibn Taymiyya’s “utilitarian social and political ethics” to find support of such an interpretation of his career. “Following the law”, writes Hoover, “is the path to maximum benefit” (p. 91). This is a concise summary of Ibn Taymiyya’s benefit-oriented outlook. This principle coheres with his other principle: “Reason does not contradict revealed tradition” (p. 113). Readers might feel intrigued to consult Chapter Four to find more details about the relationship between law and benefit (p. 63 seq.). This way of connecting the dots of Ibn Taymiyya’s philosophy would take us to another important principle that he famously articulated: “The law is justice, and justice is the law” (p. 57). By law, he means šarʿ (šarīʿa).

5These two basic principles would definitely surprise Muslim hardliners who take Ibn Taymiyya so literally, without managing to think of viable applications of these principles in real-world politics and social transactions. Indeed, some of them might behave like Ibn Taymiyya in forbidding evil by hand (p. 89), but I am not sure how they would respond to his reasoning that a Muslim king should not be prohibited to drink, “if that prohibition incites him to apostatize” (p. 96). This situation is laden with assumptions about handling politics in Muslim lands and can be a good lesson for Islamists.

6According to Hoover, “worship is at the heart of Ibn Taymiyya’s vision” (p. 42); it is an ethical framework that combines belief in God’s oneness and acting upon the divine ordinances that this belief entails. The nature of Ibn Taymiyya’s writing involves lengthy elaborations of his theories and critiques of counter views. For instance, the concept of worship unpacks sub-arguments about the ontology of God in relation to the ontology of man, and the reception of both by different theological, legal, and mystical schools. In more than one place, Hoover cites al-Ḏahabī’s assessment of Ibn Taymiyya’s legacy. For instance, we learn from al-Ḏahabī that Ibn Taymiyya was tolerant toward holders of opposite legal opinions (p. 80). Yet a distinctive element of Ibn Taymiyya’s legal methodology is his agency as a legal reasoner (especially in identifying the legal cause surrounding the case that he studies). This can be gleaned from the examples (triple divorce and chess-playing) that are cited in Chapter Five. God’s attributes are so central in Ibn Taymiyya’s theology. Surprisingly, Hoover mentions that “Ibn Taymiyya rejects literalism as a theory of meaning”, ruling out that Ibn Taymiyya is a “literalist” (p. 115). The final chapter on the idea of divine justice includes some of Hoover’s arguments in his monograph Theodicy of Perpetual Optimism. The epilogue briefly documents the reception of Ibn Taymiyya in the Muslim world.

7As regards accuracy and synthesis (the two major objectives that Hoover’s book is designed to fulfill), one can affirm that the author has been successful. From the wide range of Ibn Taymiyya’s writings, Hoover managed to present the key teachings of the Damascene theologian, drawing on his previous research and the work of other scholars. His translations are accurate. He gives more authorial voice to Ibn Taymiyya than to secondary studies. Citations are in brackets, and there are no footnotes or endnotes—as entailed by this Oneworld series. Perhaps a brief overview of the major trends of Taymiyyan studies at the beginning of the book would have set the stage for the book’s special contribution. One would like to know what areas that Ibn Taymiyya grappled with that are engaged in modern scholarship. Readers can make use of Hoover’s book by finding connections between Ibn Taymiyya’s key ideas. Ideologues who cherry-pick from Ibn Taymiyya’s teachings to support their theological or political agendas might be surprised to have their opponents challenging them with counter views from the same oeuvre.

  • 1 Khaled Abou El Fadl, Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shariʿah in the Modern Age, Lanham, MD, Rowman (...)

8Given the dual nature of the book addressing different levels of readers, specialists might disagree with translating šarʿ (šarīʿa) exclusively into “law”, because for Ibn Taymiyya, šarīʿa is more than law, as can be understood from Chapters Three and Four on his understanding of worship. However, the author has in mind a sense different from the modern, secular sense (p. 56). For the reader’s benefit, Khaled Abou El Fadl’s definition reveals the complexity of the term: “In the linguistic practices of Islamic theologians, ethicists, and jurists in the Islamic tradition, the broad meaning of Shariʿah is the way or path to well-being or goodness, the life source for well-being and thriving existence, the fountain or source of nourishment, and the natural and innate ways and order created by God. In the legal context, Shariʿah is God’s eternal, and immutable law — the Way of truth, virtue, and justice. […] Islamic law, or what is called al-aḥkam al-Sharʿiyya or aḥkam al-Shariʿah, refers to the cumulative body of legal determinations and system of jurisprudential thought of numerous interpretive communities and schools of thought all of which search the Divine Will and its relation to the public good.”1 It would be more convenient to give a sense of such a complexity, which I think coheres with Ibn Taymiyya’s comprehensive viewpoint, or perhaps leave the term untranslated. However, leaving the term untranslated would be confusing to the readers who are exposed to media misrepresentations of this significant word.

9Likewise, specialists would have expected Hoover to say something about the reliable editions of Ibn Taymiyya’s works. For example, Hoover uses Ibn Qāsim’s edition of Maǧmuʿ al-fatāwā (MF), which is so far the only standard edition, although it needs to be critically revised. The future edition can definitely make use of the corrections that scholars publish in their Taymiyyan studies. Some researchers, however, use al-Ǧazzar’s and al-Baz’s MF edition, which is marred by a number of issues. It reproduces the same errors of Ibn Qāsim’s edition and is nowhere close to the editorial diligence and exactitude that one finds in Rašād Sālim’s editions of Ibn Taymiyya’s Minhāǧ and Darʾ.

10Finally, Hoover’s book serves as an excellent introduction to the life and thought of Ibn Taymiyya. It is accessible to beginners and a good reminder to specialists. It brings about the author’s reading of Ibn Taymiyya’s sources and careful interpretation of them. Due to the nature of Ibn Taymiyya’s scholarly focus, readers would come across some technical terminology, which they will find transliterated and explained contextually. Some background reading would be helpful to fully appreciate the book. Students of religion, political science, and the Middle East would find this book useful for their research projects. Likewise, scholars of Islamic theology and intellectual history would find this book useful for a number of themes crafted in an academic language and will be guided to other scholarly work of interest to their research.

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Notes

1 Khaled Abou El Fadl, Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shariʿah in the Modern Age, Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014, p. xxxii.

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Référence papier

Mohamed A. Moustafa, « Jon Hoover, Makers of the Muslim World: Ibn Taymiyya »MIDÉO, 36 | 2021, 358-361.

Référence électronique

Mohamed A. Moustafa, « Jon Hoover, Makers of the Muslim World: Ibn Taymiyya »MIDÉO [En ligne], 36 | 2021, mis en ligne le 05 juin 2021, consulté le 06 août 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/mideo/7315

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Institut Dominicain d'Études Orientales

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