6 Şubat 2015 Cuma

Birgiwi's View on Positive Sciences

Birgiwi discusses which ulum (sciences) fall under the following three categories [1]: “Ordered (Fard) sciences”, “non-forbiden (mendub) sciences”, and “forbiden (haram) sciences” in his book al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya wa al-Sirat al-Ahmadiyya [2], which he completed one year before his death. Ilm al-kalam (theology), ilm al-nujum (astrology) and other philosophical sciences were gathered under the title of the forbidden sciences.

After narrating different opinions on ilm al-kalam, he states his opinion: “It is appropriate for those who are intelligent, religious, and diligent and do not have a tendency towards superstitious sects to learn and teach ilm al-kalam”.

In the section where he addresses ilm al-nujum, he declares that “the forbidden part of this science is to make judgments about future events when a solar eclipse, lunar eclipse or earthquake occurs”.

While considering the other philosophical sciences, he expresses his belief that philosophers are incapable of comprehending theology.

Taking all into account, it is clearly understood that Birgiwi is against the philosophers' statements only on theology and the pseudo-sciences, such as astrology, and not on the positive sciences.

There are some books, which ulamas (Islamic scholars) wrote for the purpose of advice to Muslims, containing statements which advise common people against learning theological sciences. Due to this fact, some academics arrive at inaccurate conclusion about the fate of Islamic learning tradition and madrasas. However, since the conditions regarding time and place are often not considered, an anachronistic approach  is being applied. The aim of the ulamas is to help people attain happiness in both this world and the hereafter. Therefore, this kind of advice the ulamas deliver should be understood as warnings that not everyone is capable of understanding all areas of sciences and people who do not have a sufficient scholarly background should know their limits in the sciences in which they lack knowledge. There is no negative attitude towards mathematics, geometry, astronomy, theology and logic. According to what Birgiwi wrote in his book, while some sciences are considered mubah (good to learn), some are regarded as fard al-kifaya (at least some people have to learn these sciences). If he had a negative stance on these sciences, how could one explain the fact that these sciences were taught in madrasas  and  many books were written in these sciences until madrasas were abolished?

In Islamic civilization there have always existed small groups which hold belief systems contrary to mainstream belief systems (i.e. Qadizadah movement in the 17th century [3]). The existence of these kinds of opinions can be regarded as a sign of tolerance [4]. However,  tolerance is shown for  extreme opinions as long as they do not threaten society.


[1] Huriye Marti, Birgivi, Mehmed Efendi, 2. edition, Ankara: Türk Diyanet Vakfı, 2011, p. 101.

[2] Birgivî, Tarîkat-ı Muhammediyye ve Sîret-i Ahmediyye, tahqiq Muhammed Hüsnî Mustafa, Translation of al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya wa al-Sirat al-Ahmadiyya into Turkish by Mehmet Fatih Güneş, İstanbul: Kalem Yayınevi, 2006, p. 157-187.  There are twenty commentaries (sharh) on this book. The two most prominent are: Abdulganî al-Nâblusî's (d. 1144/1731) commentary al-Hadîkatu al-Nadiyya Sharhu al-Tarîkati al-Muhammediyya and Abû Saîd al-Hâdimî's (d. 1176/1762) commentary al-Berîkatu al-Mahmûdiyya fî Sharhi al-Tarîkati al-Muhammediyya. Both Ottoman scholars specialized in both zahir (tafsir, hadith, kalam, fiqh) and batin (tasawwuf) ulums (sciences).

[3] Even though Qadizadas claimed that they benefited from Birgiwi's books, they differed from Birgiwi in understanding tasawwuf and bidahs. While according to Birgiwi Mahmad Effendi, some bidahs (innovations), which facilitate daily life, are considered proper, Qadizadas regard all the bidahs as haram (forbidden) and  those who apply these bidahs as infidel. Huriye Martı, Birgivî Mehmed Efendi, p. 180. Birgiwi often cites from the books of famous great sufis, such as Muhyiddin al-Arabi, and speaks in praise of them.

[4] There are worthwhile judgments regarding the difference of opinions in religious sciences in  Imam Gazali's Faysalu al-Tafriqa. Imam Gazalî, İslâm'da Müsamaha (Faysalü't-Tefrika Beyne'l-İslam ve'z-Zendeka), Translation into Turkish by Süleyman Uludağ, İstanbul: Dergâh, 2013.

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