The Fatwas of Ibn Taymiyya and the Imposition of Muslim Orthodoxy in Medieval Kessrouan

28 May, 2017

Mohammed Jamal Barout's Kessrouan Campaigns in Political History of Ibn Taymiyya's Fatwas, published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in April 2017, takes Arabic readers through a study of the role played by the Islamic rulings of Ibn Taymiya in the fourteenth century feud between the Mameluke and Ilkhanid states for control of Greater Syria. In particular, the study focuses on the raids which took place in the religiously plural region of Kessrouan in present-day Lebanon, which at the time had a largely Alawite population. Barout's book begins by examining how the Sunni Muslim religious rulings of Ibn Taymiyya were read and reinterpreted through the lens of later scholars who had their own distinctly confessional outlook on events in the Mount Lebanon region. Barout argues that such "confessionalist" readings of the medieval history of Mount Lebanon and Kessrouan dominated Lebanese scholarship through the 1970s. 

Specifically, Barout looks at the works of Maronite historian Yousef Al Dibs; the Druze historians Najlaa Abu Ezeldine and Sami Makarem; the Sunni scholar Omar Tadmuri; the Protestant Kamal Salibi; the Greek Orthodox Asad Rostum; the Shia historian Mohammed Ali Makki; and the writings of Alawite historians Ahmad Ali Hassan, Hamed Hassan and Emile Al Maarouf. The author explores the interconnections and differences between these and other historians, and the ways in which their situation within their respective sects informed their narration of history of the Mameluke raids on the Kessrouan region.

A second chapter is devoted to a history of the three main Mameluke campaigns to secure Kessrouan, and in which the Damascene scholar Ibn Taymiyya provided the Mameluke leaders based in Cairo with religious justifications for their attempts to solidify their control of the Mount Lebanon region. More unexpectedly, Barout narrates how the mostly non-Sunni residents of Kessrouan sought Ibn Taymiyya's intercession with the Mameluke Deputy in Damascus, Jamaleddine Aqwash Al Afram, who was able to cut a political deal with the local chieftains in the area and prevent Kessrouan from becoming a refuge for the last vestiges of the Crusader states. At one point, Ibn Taymiyya became an emissary of the Mameluke state, sent along with the Shia notable Muheyyeldine bin Adnan to persuade the Kessrouani notables to swear allegiance to the Mamelukes.  It was when these efforts at mediation failed that Ibn Taymiyya came into his own as the sectarian figure known to latter historians. He personally joined the "Third Kessrouan Campaign" of 1305, which is remembered for the wide destruction caused to the city and the surrounding area.

Following that campaign, Ibn Taymiyya was the victim of the "Damascus Schism" in which he was accused by other Sunni scholars of abandoning the tenets of the true faith. Forced to defend the orthodoxy of his religious beliefs in front of an audience of others, he was absolved and allowed to live the rest of his life. Later, Ibn Taymiyya was jailed in the Mameluke capital of Cairo. Following a pardon by the Mamelukes, Ibn Taymiyya lived out the rest of his life in relative obscurity until his death 1328.

Nevertheless, Barout's work highlights the surviving importance of Ibn Taymiyya's religious pronouncements (or "fatwas"). Barout goes on to place Ibn Taymiyya's ideological dispute with Shia Muslim scholars within the context of a Mameluke-Ilkhanid political struggle. The desire for both Sunni and Shia scholars to establish supremacy on theological points has survived to this day in the tensions between the two main branches of Islam.

Barout's work details Ibn Taymiyya's fatwas as they relate to the heterodox Muslim sects: Alawite, Ismaili and Druze Islam. He shows the development of the medieval scholar's perceptions of these various Muslim sects and their relation to each other. In the final part of the book, Barout explores the oppression of non-conforming Muslim sects, and their eventual "expulsion" from the general "community of believers," narrating how attempts to stamp out Shia Islam morphed from proselytization to institutional, violent, and compulsory methods. 

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