Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1373): His Intellectual Circle, Major Works and Qur'anic Exegesis
This dissertation focuses on one of the most popular medieval Muslim figures in modern times, Ibn Kathir. I argue that Ibn Kathir's work reflects a critical theological struggle in the history of Islam between those who emphasized the original sources of the Qur'an and prophetic practice (traditionalists) and those who insisted on the incorporation of scholastic theology and the accumulated experience of the community (Ash`aris). Previous scholarship considers Ibn Kathir simply a student of the great traditionalist jurist and theologian Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328). Ibn Taymiyya was the symbolic leader of the traditionalist movement and was imprisoned multiple times because of his attempts to challenge the established Ash`ari social order. Ibn Kathir's ardent support of Ibn Taymiyya led many Arabic biographers to subsume Ibn Kathir under the hagiography of Ibn Taymiyya. Modern Western scholarship builds off the Arabic biographical literature to the point that Ibn Kathir is perceived as the mere spokesperson for Ibn Taymiyya and his Qur'anic exegesis a simple implementation of Ibn Taymiyya's Qur'anic hermeneutic. Yet, through examining Ibn Kathir's intellectual circle, major works, and Qur'anic exegesis, this dissertation demonstrates that Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Kathir represent two different types of traditionalism. Ibn Taymiyya believed in an intellectualized traditionalism which delved deeply into philosophy and scholastic theology to argue for scripture's rationality. Ibn Kathir, on the other hand, subscribed to a fideist traditionalism which was content with the superiority of the transmitted sources and the use of rational tools to analyze scripture. Ibn Kathir's Qur'anic exegesis, his most famous work, was thus less a product of Ibn Taymiyya than that of his fideist traditionalism and his attempt to respond to the dominant Ash`arism.
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