Isa Kundra


This thesis examines a crucial pillar of Ibn Taymiyya’s exegetical methodology: his fierce critique and rejection of the ḥaqīqa-majāz dichotomy in Quranic exegesis. In doing so, I particularly investigate the epistemological and theological motivations for his rejection of the dichotomy. In the first part of the thesis, I discuss some of the difficulties in the perennial task of textual analysis, especially when attempting to decipher divine intent in the Quran (Chapter 2). Then, I set the stage by introducing the ḥaqīqa-majāz dichotomy, the linguistic feat that it attempts to explain in kalām al-‘arab, and the way it serves as the intellectual apparatus for the application of ta’wīl to Quranic exegesis (Chapter 3). Subsequently, I look at popular approaches to ta’wīl, especially amongst Ibn Taymiyya’s interlocutors, including the rational theologians and the Muslim philosophers, in order to depict Ibn Taymiyya’s intellectual milieu (Chapter 4). In the second half of the thesis, I examine Ibn Taymiyya’s critique of the dichotomy and ta’wīl in detail, which includes a metaphysical and rational critique, and I also introduce his alternative interpretive model—a contextual theory of interpretation (Chapter 5). Only at this point does it become clear that Ibn Taymiyya’s project is motivated by theological concerns, in particular those pertaining to the anthropomorphic verses (Chapter 6). I then discuss Ibn Taymiyya’s method of approaching the anthropomorphic verses and provide a general explanation of his exegetical methodology, which maintains a serious commitment to the methodology of the salaf (Chapter 7). I conclude with philosophical reflections over the tashbīh-tanzīh issue by revisiting the question of the limits of language in conveying divine reality (Chapter 8).


Philosophy Department

Degree Name

MA in Philosophy

Graduation Date


Submission Date

February 2019

First Advisor

Stelzer, Steffen W.

Committee Member 1

Topa, Alessandro

Committee Member 2

Anjum, Ovamir G.


100 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis


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During this thesis, I have accrued a great number of debts, intellectual and otherwise. First and foremost, I am grateful to Dr. Stelzer (supervisor) for his guidance and Socratic style of teaching since my first graduate course. Even though many questions still remain unanswered, he has compelled me to think about Ibn Taymiyya in ways that I would not have. Similarly, Dr. Topa (reader) has been a great influence during this journey since my early days at the department. He has always been a breath of fresh air when the philosophical enterprise seemed overwhelming. Additionally, Dr. Anjum (reader) has been a major influence in shaping this thesis. Every step of the way, he has offered numerous suggestions and through our personal conversations has truly personified an attitude that is kindred to the Taymiyyan spirit. The Ibn Taymiyya I know of now—and very little do I know—is different from the Ibn Taymiyya I once thought I knew. This thesis was inspired by the enlightening discussions during the Spring of 2016 in Dr. Stelzer’s philosophy class as we debated issues pertaining to Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. This class pushed my intellectual boundaries beyond my own comfort zone; it is ultimately because of Dr. Stelzer that I am keenly aware—despite my outward confidence—that I know very little. For this reason, the story of Hayy made its way into Chapter 4. Secondly, Ali Yahya holds a dear position in my heart. We first started reading Ibn Taymiyya’s Dar’ several semesters ago and little did I know that he would spend over a year reading the primary texts with me and debating key philosophical issues. I also thank him for editing the entire draft of the thesis out of good will, academic spirit, and genuine friendship. Also, Angela Martinez cannot be forgotten; she proofread major portions of the text and has been my go-to writing expert. Besides this, she has offered great friendship since our days working together at the Writing Center. I would also like to thank my teachers of Arabic and Islamic studies. During my time in Egypt, both Mohammed Mohsen and Mona Saqr have patiently taught me Arabic from its foundations. My long journey of studying Islamic studies has also been equally supported by Abu Zayd and Madhavi Ruparelia, who have constantly offered intellectual and spiritual guidance. Going further back, I would like to thank Waheed Akbar for offering me essential support when the paths looked dark. His influence cannot be overstated. My years of study in Cairo have been exceptionally pleasant; I owe this to my in-laws. For offering me the joys of family and love, I thank my parents-in-law—Abdallah Elnaggar and Howaida Nassar. To my lovely sisters-in-law—Nouran, Sara, and Arwa—thank you for showing me the joys of family. Finally, I dedicate this thesis to my wife, Rehana Elnaggar. She has offered me the love and support necessary for any serious intellectual accomplishment in life. She is the epitome of sacrifice, making sure that this thesis was seen to its fulfillment. It is no understatement that this final product would not have been possible (nor imaginable) without her. I have struggled—and ultimately failed—to answer Dr. Stelzer’s question regarding what calls me to Ibn Taymiyya. There is something there that I am still unable to verbalize. This thesis, as inconclusive as it may be, is thus my first and feeble attempt to do so.