Ayman Shihadeh


The problem of whether or not belief in God should be founded in reason has a complex history in Islam. Both kalam exponents and philosophers showed a keen interest in advancing arguments for the existence of God, which was born of diverse motives, chiefly the need to establish this most crucial doctrine within their broader metaphysical systems, to respond to physicalist atheism, and to support and enrich the belief and piety of believers. Yet the epistemological view that rational proof is needed to recognise the existence of God was not held universally: while some propounded discursive reasoning, others advocated fundamentally non-rational "methods" (sing. tariqa) to this end, such as spiritual discipline, said to provide direct, experiential knowledge of God. Some, moreover, maintained that only one correct method should be followed exclusively, whereas others allowed for a hierarchy of different methods. Related to this was the question of whether lay people must follow essentially the same route as theologians, or whether, if they are incapable of doing so, they may adhere to simple, uncritical belief instead. Let us first briefly consider some historical solutions to this complex of questions.

Most early mutakallimun typically maintain that rational reflection (nazar) is the only method that provides knowledge of God, to the exclusion of all other, fideist or fallacious, methods and stances. It follows that everyone, theologians and lay believers alike, ought to learn, not only the main creeds, but more primarily their key theological proofs.1 Abu Hashim al-Jubba'i (d. 933), a prominent early Mu'tazilite, went so far as to argue that the primary duty of each person is to rid oneself of traditional, uncritical belief by doubting God's existence, before attempting to prove it.

Most traditionalist theologians took the contrary view, holding that having a rationally unjustified belief in God, which accords with

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