There is a well-known hadith in which the Prophet predicts that during each century God will send someone to the community of Islam in order to revive its religion.16 "Reviving" religion involves, first, showing its capacity to achieve something which alternative systems cannot, namely, to provide spiritual guidance to the community. There is also the need to demonstrate that the arguments of those hostile to religion fail to persuade. Finally, it is important that the reviver can express himself in a way which resonates with the umma (community) as a whole, and not only with a part of it. It is a characteristic of many such revivers that they take seriously a system of thought which is apparently opposed to Islam, and do not dismiss it merely as unbelief or blasphemy.
The epitome of this style is Ghazali's Revival of the Sciences of Religion (Ihyi' 'ulUm al-din), an extraordinary work consisting of four parts, each of which comprises ten books. In this encyclopaedic text he deals with every conceivable aspect of Islamic belief and practice. This has been the model for many other works with the same synthetic and totalising purpose, none of which, however, is said to have surpassed it. His work as a whole does not amount to a rejection of the "modernity" of his day, since he showed how aspects of falsafa such as Aristotelian logic and ethics might be profitably employed in theology, and argued that the falaasifa themselves err in their use of the philosophical principles to which they are committed. As such, they could not help to revive a moribund Muslim world. But neither could the 'ulama', many of whom were trapped in formalistic, polemical exercises, both legal and theological. The solution was to be sought in a moral and spiritual rebirth.
There can be little doubt that the dominance of Ash'arism and Maturidism led to a certain amount of repetition in theology, and to a formalism of the kind that Ghazaalai deplored. For one thing, the popular form of literary expression was often the hashiya, a kind of super-commentary, which was often itself the subject of further glosses. Often these hermeneutic accretions were lively and innovative, frequently, however, they were not. This stylistic feature was also present in the Shi'ite theological world, where commentary and supercommentary prevailed and defined the curriculum in those colleges and schools that developed a form of theology that fitted in with the Shi'ite view of God and the world.
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