Title

Truth and Metaphor in Ibn Taymiyah

Subject Area

Arabic and Islamic Studies

Abstract

The Muslim theologian and jurist Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328 CE) is mistakenly understood as literalist, who rejects interpretation. Exploring two of Ibn Taymiyyah’s works: al-Ḥaqīqa wa al-Majāz and al-Iklīl fī al-Mutašābah wa al-Taʾwīl, I will present his theory of meaning. Rejecting the two linguistic concepts of truth and interpretation, and the implied hierarchy that relates them, he grounds meaning in istiʿmāl, or the inter-subjective use. In addition, Ibn Taymiyyah favors syntax over objective grammar in understanding meaning. Ibn Taymiyyah differentiates between two concepts: tafsīr and taʾwīl, where the first refers to explaining speech or text, and the second refers to the act of interpretation. He argues that interpretation, in Arabic taʾwīl, has the root āl, which means to become. Since this is a chronological concept, Ibn Taymiyyah argues, then the other meaning can be known only in the future –that is the other world. There are two kinds of truths, each of them is called, for instance, “river.” There are rivers in this world and rivers in Heaven. Neither of them is the true meaning where the other is merely a metaphor. Those are different truths that share a common word because of their similarity in some aspects, which we currently do not know. We can explain the word “river.” Its interpretation, however, will be known only in the other world. This semiotic perspective of Ibn Taymiyyah is rooted in Islamic theology, where God is neither incarnated nor hidden in history. More importantly, however, are the social consequences of this linguistic understanding, which Clifford Geertz touched upon in his statement that “The moral and ontological change places, at least from our point of view. It is the moral, where we see the ‘ought,’ which is a thing of descriptions, the ontological, for us the home of the ‘is,’ which is one of demands.”

Brief Bio Note

Mohamed Mohamed, an Assistant Professor of Sociology of Religion, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Northern Arizona University. Mohamed received a PhD in Religious Studies from Emory University, and a master in Anthropology and Sociology from the American University in Cairo. He focuses in his research on discourse analysis, socio-linguistics, as well as, continuities and changes among historical and contemporary sociological phenomena in the Islamic World.

Keywords

Ibn Taymiyah, Islam, Metaphor, Truth, Interpretation, Meaning

Location

Room 210

Presentation Year

2015

Start Date

3-26-2015 10:30 AM

End Date

3-26-2015 11:45 AM

Embargo

5-23-2017

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Mar 26th, 10:30 AM Mar 26th, 11:45 AM

Truth and Metaphor in Ibn Taymiyah

Room 210

The Muslim theologian and jurist Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328 CE) is mistakenly understood as literalist, who rejects interpretation. Exploring two of Ibn Taymiyyah’s works: al-Ḥaqīqa wa al-Majāz and al-Iklīl fī al-Mutašābah wa al-Taʾwīl, I will present his theory of meaning. Rejecting the two linguistic concepts of truth and interpretation, and the implied hierarchy that relates them, he grounds meaning in istiʿmāl, or the inter-subjective use. In addition, Ibn Taymiyyah favors syntax over objective grammar in understanding meaning. Ibn Taymiyyah differentiates between two concepts: tafsīr and taʾwīl, where the first refers to explaining speech or text, and the second refers to the act of interpretation. He argues that interpretation, in Arabic taʾwīl, has the root āl, which means to become. Since this is a chronological concept, Ibn Taymiyyah argues, then the other meaning can be known only in the future –that is the other world. There are two kinds of truths, each of them is called, for instance, “river.” There are rivers in this world and rivers in Heaven. Neither of them is the true meaning where the other is merely a metaphor. Those are different truths that share a common word because of their similarity in some aspects, which we currently do not know. We can explain the word “river.” Its interpretation, however, will be known only in the other world. This semiotic perspective of Ibn Taymiyyah is rooted in Islamic theology, where God is neither incarnated nor hidden in history. More importantly, however, are the social consequences of this linguistic understanding, which Clifford Geertz touched upon in his statement that “The moral and ontological change places, at least from our point of view. It is the moral, where we see the ‘ought,’ which is a thing of descriptions, the ontological, for us the home of the ‘is,’ which is one of demands.”