Ibn Taymiyyah, (the name he is commonly called), as you can see why: when it was also, Shaykhul-lslaam Ibn Taymiyyah, but the nomenclature was more accurately, Ahmad bin Abd al-Haleem bin Abd as-Salaam bin Abd Allaah bin Abu Qaasim ibn Taymiyyah al-Harraanee Taqi ad-Deen Abu al-Abbaas bin Shihaab ad-Deen. (Whew!)  He has an honorific name (Kunyah), Aboo al-'Abbaas.  This renowned Islamic teacher was born in 1268 (661 H), Harran in the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula.  This was somewhere between Syria (Shaam) and Iraq. Probably he was named for an ancestor that was associated with an area known as Taymaa, on a Hajji route.

This mujtahid (Muslim Jurist, able to rule on ijtihad, Islamic law) was living and then writing during a time of the Islamic world's upheaval.  The Mongols had usurped much of their region. His scholarly family was from a line that followed sunnan, the way of Muhammad, that is the strict practices and sayings of the Prophet, as told by the Companions, or Sahaba. They (and Taymiyyah) took it very seriously and literally when  Muhammad said, “Follow the way of the largest group of Muslims! For, he who deviates from this group will be thrown into Hell!” (Sunnan Ibn Majah, Hadith # 3950)  

It is important to know the back-story and conflagrations.   While the Mongol Tartars controlled Iraq and Iran, Memluk Turks had seized power in Egypt, the Sudan, Syria, and Hijaz.  Also, at this time the Crusaders had managed to have a Christian influence over Cyprus and Syria.  Baghdad, not too far away, was one of the largest and greatest Islamic cities.  Unhappily, and unexpectedly for all, the supposedly unbeatable Abbasid Caliphate had fallen 10 years before to the Mongols causing a lot of philosophical theological distress. 

He was kind of a Mozart of his time of Islamic clerics, as a four year old genius he showed that he had a great mind: quick to learn, and a memory like no other.  His father was the one most responsible for his physical, spiritual, and mental care, though there were hundreds of teachers who helped.  He adopted the tenets of the early followers, the salaf. When he was seven his family moved to Damascus, Syria -- away from the Tartars.

His ultraconservative Hanbalite studies would include: the 10 volume Qur'an commentaries, the Tafseer, the Sciences of the Qur'an, the Ulum al-Qur'an, (a type of how to study the Qu'ran catechism), the Sunnah, the Six books; Musnad Imaam Ahmad; Sunan ad-Daarimee; Mu'jam a-Tabaraanee; Sciences of Hadeeth and narrators; Fiqh and it's Usool; Usool ad-Deen, Qiyaas (analogies) and sects.  He also mastered language and writing.  His variety was amazing -- with mathematics, history, astronomy, medicine and engineering. 

He was quick-tempered, and graciously generous; but mostly he was able to use his bravery, purity and absolute knowledge of the Qu'ran to combat evil and all who would challenge him.  Those situations definitely arose.  However, his persistence, combined with his astute Islamic wisdom made him a formidable foe.  And his jihad was waged with actually destroying idols, breaking up places that served alcoholic drink,  and using the power of his writings.  He went up against Christians and Jews, sometimes successfully converting them to following God (as Allah).  The Christian King of Cyprus he gently asked to show tolerance for Muslims in his land.

His main goal was to clean house, that is straighten out Muslims in heresy, i.e. Sufism, with charms and pantheism, the dhimmis who  adopted the adoration of saints, and the such as there was an apostasy growing through and over time, much because of changes in governmental leadership.  This put him in much conflict with more liberal, or greedy souls.  It was the Ash'arite school of dialectics that was the contemporary alternative to Taymiyya's Hanbolite way.   His stirring up controversy, crying out against corruption from bribery and other issues caused him to live basically like a refugee.  Forcing him to leave Baghdad for Damascus, Syria.  He found himself in jail in Damascus.  He also wound up in Cairo, and Alexandria Egypt.

He, as Sheik, stood up to the new Tartar King of Egypt, who had swept in from Damascus, "You claim to be a Muslim. I have been told that you have with you a Qadi and an Imam, a Sheik and a mu'adhdhin; yet you have deemed it proper to march upon Muslims."  The King thought he was so brave, no reprisals were enacted.  Later, they fought and won against the Tartars there at the battle of Shaqab. 

Later his heroic stands and tirades against the establishment would get him tried by  Qadi Ibn Mukhluk Maaliki.  He was the judge that would not budge, and he sentenced Taymiyya to his first jail time.  It would not be his last, enemies made up false accusations and trumped up charges.  He was held in Alexandria for 8 months.  And his last one was the most severe when he continued to not recant.  He was denied all reading and writing materials, but that did not deter the Sheik from praying and reciting, with his prodigious memory.

Before he died in that castle prison in 1328, while during incarceration, he had written most of his 500 books.  Tens of thousands and more poured out into the streets of the big cities mourning his death.   His teachings are still a significant influence today as Muslims struggle with what is perceived as threats from a global secular world. This spirit of purifying the faith would be repeated with teachers like Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab centuries later, but the radical Islamists of today differ in that they do not follow the prudence of these Sheiks, though conservative, and do cause their religion some discredit.

Sources: 

http://islamworld.net/docs/UUQ/1-a.txt
http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/islam/blfaq_islam_taymiyyah.htm
http://www.sunnahonline.com/ilm/seerah/0047.htm
http://www.islamworld.net/docs/tay.html
http://www.ahlus-sunna.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=49&Itemid=18

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