"Al-Ghazali: The Reaction of Orthodox Islam against the Rationalistic Philosophers"

Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr in his monumental Science and Civilization in Islam writes in a section on Ghazali under the chapter: "Controversies of Philosophy and Theology":

"The reaction of orthodox Islam, both the theologians and also certain gnostics,against the rationalistic philosophers, especially as to the sciences of Nature, is best exemplified in al-Ghazzali's "confessions," Deliverance from Error (here are a few quotes from the book), in which he enumerates various philosophical and scientific schools and their limitation:

"Concerning the Philosophical Sects and the Stigma of Infidelity Which Attaches to Them All

The philosophical systems, in spite of their number and variety, may be reduced to three: (1) the Materialists; (2) the Naturalists; (3) the Theists.

(1) The Materialists. They reject an intelligent and omnipotent Creator and disposer of the universe. In their view the world exists from all eternity and had no author. The animal comes from semen and semen from the animal; so it had always been and will always be; those who maintain this doctrine are atheists.

(2) The Naturalists. These devote themselves to the study of nature and of the marvelous phenomena of the animal and vegetable world. Having carefully analyzed animal organs with the help of anatomy, struck with the wonders of God's work and with the wisdom therein revealed, they are forced to admit the existence of a wise Creator who knows the end and purpose of everything. And certainly no one can study anatomy and the wonderful mechanism of living things without being obliged to confess the profound wisdom of him who has framed the bodies of animals and especially of man. But carried away by their natural researches they believed that the existence of a being absolutely depended upon the proper equilibrium of its organism. According to them, as the latter perishes and is destroyed, so is the thinking faculty which is bound up with it; and as they assert that the restoration of a thing once destroyed to existence is unthinkable, they deny the immortality of the soul. Consequently they deny heaven, hell, resurrection, and judgment. Acknowledging neither a recompense for good deeds nor a punishment for evil ones, they fling off all authority and plunge into sensual pleasures with the avidity of brutes. These also ought to be called atheists, for the true faith depends not only on the acknowledgment of God, but of his Apostle and of the day of judgment. And although they acknowledge God and his attributes, they deny a judgment to come.

(3) The Theists. Among them should be reckoned Socrates, who was the teacher of Plato as Plato was of Aristotle. This latter drew up for his disciples the rules of logic, organized the sciences, elucidated what was formerly obscure, and expounded what had not been understood. This school refuted the systems of the two others, i.e., the Materialists and Naturalists; but in exposing their mistaken and perverse beliefs, they made use of arguments which they should not. "God suffices to protect the faithful in war" (Qur'an, xxxiii. 25).

Aristotle also contended with success against the theories of Plato, Socrates, and the theists who had preceded him, and separated himself entirely from them; but he could not eliminate from his doctrine the stains of infidelity and heresy which disfigure the teaching of his predecessors. We should therefore consider them all as unbelievers, as well as the so-called Muslim philosophers, such as Ibn Sina [Avicenna] and Al Farabi, who have adopted their systems.

Let us, however, acknowledge that among Muslim philosophers none has better interpreted the doctrine of Aristotle than the latter. What others have handed down as his teaching is full of error, confusion, and obscurity adapted to disconcert the reader. The unintelligible can neither be accepted nor rejected. The philosophy of Aristotle, all serious knowledge of which we owe to the translation of these two learned men, may be divided into three portions: the first contains matter justly chargeable with impiety, the second is tainted with heresy, and the third we are obliged to reject absolutely. We proceed to details:

Divisions of the Philosophic Sciences

These sciences, in relation to the aim we have set before us, may be divided into six sections:

(1) Mathematics; (2) Logic; (3) Physics; (4) Metaphysics; (5) Politics; (6) Moral Philosophy.

(1) Mathematics. Mathematics comprises the knowledge of calculation, geometry, and cosmography: it has no connection with the religious sciences, and proves nothing for or against religion; it rests on a foundation of proofs which, once known and understood, can not be refuted. Mathematics tend, however, to produce two bad results. The first is this: Whoever studies this science admires the subtlety and clearness of its proofs. His confidence in philosophy increases, and he thinks that all its departments are capable of the same clearness and solidity of proof as mathematics. But when he hears people speak of the unbelief and impiety of mathematicians, of their professed disregard for the Divine law, which is notorious, it is true that, out of regard for authority, he echoes these accusations, but he says to himself at the same time that, if there was truth in religion, it would not have escaped those who have displayed so much keenness of intellect in the study of mathematics.

Next, when he becomes aware of the unbelief and rejection of religion on the part of these learned men, he concludes that to reject religion is reasonable. How many of such men gone astray I have met whose sole argument was that just mentioned. And supposing one puts to them the following objection: "It does not follow that a man who excels in one branch of knowledge excels in all others, nor that he should be equally versed in jurisprudence, theology, and medicine. It is possible to be entirely ignorant of metaphysics, and yet to be an excellent grammarian. There are past masters in every science who are entirely ignorant of other branches of knowledge. The arguments of the ancient philosophers are rigidly demonstrative in mathematics and only conjectural in religious questions. In order to ascertain this one must proceed to a thorough examination of the matter." Supposing, I say, one makes the above objection to these "apes of unbelief," they find it distasteful. Falling a prey to their passions, to a besotted vanity, and the wish to pass for learned men, they persist in maintaining the preeminence of mathematicians in all branches of knowledge. This is a serious evil, and for this reason those who study mathematics should be checked from going too far in their researches. For though far removed as it may be from the things of religion, this study, serving as it does as an introduction to the philosophic systems, casts over religion its malign influence. It is rarely that a man devotes himself to it without robbing himself of his faith and casting off the restraints of religion.

The second evil comes from the sincere but ignorant Muslims who thinks the best way to defend religion is by rejecting all the exact sciences. Accusing their professors of being astray, he rejects their theories of the eclipses of the sun and moon, and condemns them in the name of religion. These accusations are carried far and wide, they reach the ears of the philosopher who knows that these theories rest on infallible proofs; far from losing confidence in them, he believes, on the contrary, that Islam has ignorance and the denial of scientific proofs for its basis, and his devotion to philosophy increases with his hatred to religion.

It is therefore a great injury to religion to suppose that the defense of Islam involves the condemnation of the exact sciences. The religious law contains nothing which approves them or condemns them, and in their turn they make no attack on religion. The words of the Prophet, "The sun and the moon are two signs of the power of God; they are not eclipsed for the birth or the death of any one; when you see these signs take refuge in prayer and invoke the name of God"---these words, I say, do not in any way condemn the astronomical calculations which define the orbits of these two bodies, their conjunction and opposition according to particular laws. But as for the so-called tradition, "When God reveals himself in anything, he abases himself thereto," it is unauthentic, and not found in any trustworthy collection of the traditions. Such is the bearing and the possible danger of mathematics.

(2) Logic. This science, in the same manner, contains nothing for or against religion. Its object is the study of different kinds of proofs and syllogisms, the conditions which should hold between the premises of a proposition, the way to combine them, the rules of a good definition, and the art of formulating it. For knowledge consists of conceptions which spring from a definition or of convictions which arise from proofs. There is therefore nothing censurable in this science, and it is laid under contribution by theologians as well as by philosophers. The only difference is that the latter use a particular set of technical formulas and that they push their divisions and subdivisions further.

It may be asked, What, then, this has to do with the grave questions of religion, and on what ground opposition should be offered to the methods of logic? The objector, it will be said, can only inspire the logician with an unfavorable opinion of the intelligence and faith of his adversary, since the latter's faith seems to be based upon such objections. But, it must be admitted, logic is liable to abuse. Logicians demand in reasoning certain conditions which lead to absolute certainty, but when they touch on religious questions they can no longer postulate these conditions, and ought therefore to relax their habitual rigor. It happens, accordingly, that a student who is enamored of the evidential methods of logic, hearing his teachers accused of irreligion, believes that this irreligion reposes on proofs as strong as those of logic, and immediately, without attempting the study of metaphysics, shares their mistake. This is a serious disadvantage arising from the study of logic.

(3) Physics. The object of this science is the study of the bodies which compose the universe: the sky and the stars, and, here below, simple elements such as air, earth, water, fire, and compound bodies-animals, plants, and minerals the reasons of their changes, developments, and intermixture. By the nature of its researches it is closely connected with the study of medicine, the object of which is the human body, its principal and secondary organs, and the law which governs their changes. Religion having no fault to find with medical science, can not justly do so with physical, except on some special matters which we have mentioned in the work entitled, The Destruction of the Philosophers. Besides these primary questions, there are some subordinate ones depending on them, on which physical science is open to objection. But all physical science rests, as we believe, on the following principle: Nature is entirely subject to God; incapable of acting by itself, it is an instrument in the hand of the Creator; sun, moon, stars, and elements are subject to God and can produce nothing of themselves. In a word, nothing in nature can act spontaneously and apart from God."

Note: The translation Dr. Nasr used is different from the one used here. His reference is this: "W. Montgomery Watt, The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1935), pp. 30-36." My source:; 'From: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 99-133. This was a reprint of The Confessions of al-Ghazali, trans. by Claud Field, (London: J. Murray, 1909)...'

1 did criticisms:

Salman Latif said...

I wouldn't stand by Ghazali when he says that the ways adopted by Ibn Hazm are wrong. In fact, to me, that's exactly the attitude we need to adopt towards reason - rather than rejecting the 'infedility' in them, we need to accept the rationality in them. Religion should be kept from them as a different branch of philosophy.
It's this rejectionist attitude which has thrawted Muslims from emerging in the due position the wisdom of Islam and Quran should've entitled them to. And those who embraced in Andaulasia are called infidels and wrong ones in the streak of traditionalist philosophers in Islam.

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