24 Eylül 2015 Perşembe

Islamic Intellectual Tradition and Imam al-Ghazali

Through his writings, Imam al-Ghazali has a legitimate reputation in both the Islamic world and the West. On the other hand, due to the shortsightedness of some of today's scholars, this reputation has been leading them to incorrectly evaluate the effects of his writings on the Islamic intellectual tradition. In this tradition, no scholar's thought or word has been regarded as an absolute and indisputable truth. Clearly this is the requirement of the nature of ilm (knowledge). Despite the recent perception that religious sciences are merely based on the narration (naql), the rational activity plays a crucial role in the application of naql and how to figure out a solution when there is no clear naql about a problem. 

The first orientalists claimed that Ashari madhab and Imam al-Ghazali negatively impacted rational thought in Islamic civilization. At best, they claimed rational thought slowed down. Although the decrease in lack of interest in rational sciences is also disputable, the validity of such a claim would be only shown by presenting al-Ghazali as an absolute authority. They have been successful at this.

The statements in an article, written by a Turkish columnist with a Phd in social sciences and comparative philosophy, reminds me that the domination of the orientalistic ideas over the Eastern minds still continues. This article contains the following claims about Imam al-Ghazali and Islamic intellectual tradition [1]:
  • In his Tahafut al-Falasifa, “al-Ghazali passed a merciless judgment on the philosophers and declared them outside the faith of Islam for holding three views”
  • “The political developments of his time in the background” affected his judgment on this issue.
  • “Sunni theologians and jurists took this verdict as a condemnation of all philosophy.”   
In an intellectual writing, a scholar should act according to what science rather than emotion requires. Unfortunately, the author approaches to the issue emotionally rather than scientifically. What is the mercilessness in his views? What is more natural than that a religious scholar gives a judgment in a religious matter?

Taking into consideration Imam al-Ghazali's works (e.g. al-Munkiz min al-Dalal and Tahafut al-Falasifa) and especially his views about infidelity in Faysal al-Tafrika - a small book but dealing with important issues-, how politically or scientifically he approaches to issues can easily be understood. The claim in the article about the political effect on al-Ghazali's views left unsupported.

The claim that Imam al-Ghazali's verdict was accepted as an indisputable fact among theologians (mutakallimin) and fiqh (Islamic law) scholars (fuqaha), is also inconsistent with the Islamic intellectual tradition. For instance,  Imam al-Ghazali regards the belief of the eternal (qadim) universe as an infidel statement; however, Shaykh al-Islam KamalPashazadah (d. 1534), one of the greatest Ottoman scholar, criticizes this verdict in his book Hashiya ala Tahafut [2]. Moreover when taking a look at the works penned during the Ottoman time, for instance in Kamalpashazadah's treatise on ontology, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) is often cited with the name of “Shaykh” (master) despite Imam al-Ghazali's criticism of Ibn Sina's thoughts [3]. Another famous Ottoman scholar Hadimi (d. 1762), having many important works on fiqh (Islamic law), usul al-fiqh (Islamic legal theory) and morality, penned a commentary on Ibn Sina's exegesis of the chapter of al-Ikhlas (sincerity or fidelity) in  al-Quran al-Kerim [4].  

As opposed to the Christian world, you cannot find any list of banned writings/publications (such as Index Librorum Prohibitorum [5]) or scholars  in the Islamic intellectual tradition. Even though there is a widespread tradition of criticism (raddiya) in this tradition, this does not mean at all that  a criticized scholar or book has absolutely no value or is prohibited.

References and Notes

[1] "With the political developments of his time in the background, Ghazali passed a merciless judgment on the philosophers and declared them outside the faith of Islam for holding three views: that the universe was eternal, that God did not know the particulars and that resurrection in the hereafter will be spiritual only. Sunni theologians and jurists took this verdict as a condemnation of all philosophy. The Orientalists declared this end of philosophical thinking in Islam. As Sunni theology and philosophical mysticism Ghazali and Ibn al-Arabi grew stronger, Peripatetic philosophy took a back seat. But philosophical thinking did not come to an end in the Muslim world. It took different forms". Ibrahim Kalin, "Al-Ghazali and Wittgenstein on the limits of philosophy", Daily Sabah, November 1, 2014. You can read the whole article here.

[2] Kemal Paşa-zâde, Tehâfüt hâşiyesi, translation from Arabic to Turkish by. Ahmet Arslan, Ankara: Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, 1987, p. 25-26. In the pages where Kamalpashazadah deals with this issue, he states that  Fakhr al-Din al-Razi does not agree with Imam al-Ghazali as well by citing al-Razi's al-Matalib al-Aliya.

[3] Please refer for one of these treatises to: Engin Erdem ve Necmettin Pehlivan, "Varlığın ve Yokluğun Ötesi: Kemalpaşazade’nin 'Leys ve Eys’in Anlamının İncelenmesine Dair Risale'si / Beyond Being and Non-Being: Kamalpashazādah’s Risālah on the Analysis of the Meanings of  'Lays' and 'Ays' ", İslam Araştırmaları Dergisi, 2012, no 27, p. 87-116. You can reach the paper here.

[4] Please refer for the evaluation of this hashiya to: Harun Bekiroğlu, "Bir Felsefî Tefsir Örneği Olarak Muhammed Hâdimî’nin İbn Sina’ya Ait İhlâs Sûresi Tefsirine Haşiyesi / A Philosophical exegesis - Muhammad Hadimi's hashiya on Ibn Sina's exegesis of the chapter of al-Ikhlas", Hitit Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi, 2013/1, vol. 12, no 23. You can read the article here.

[5] Index Librorum Prohibitorum is a list of publications prohibited by the Catholic church. The last update was done in 1948. It was abolished on June 14, 1966 by Pope Paul VI.