may be to human reason, by contrast to a mythological proliferation of gods, it will also prove to be its stumbling-block, and so testify that its corollary, creation, must properly be rooted in revelation.

This proposed account of various Muslim understandings of creation will corroborate that intractability, as diverse schools of thought stumble in their attempts to articulate the unique relation introduced by the simple assertion, ''God says 'Be!' and it is.'' The conceptual conundra follow from the ontological divide which the ''fact'' of creation introduces: if God is not one of the things which God creates, what sort of a thing is God? No sort of thing, of course, so the initial task will be properly to distinguish this one God from all else. Yet doing that will involve adapting categories from human speculation to this unprecedented task, for the very drive to unity which human reason displays has not proved able, of itself, to attain the celebrated ''distinction'' which tawhid and its corollary, creation, demand.4 Yet unsurprisingly, that same distinction will turn out to defy proper conceptualisation, as the various attempts to adapt the categories of human speculation will testify, so there will be no one Muslim account of creation. And the burden of this chapter will be to show that there can be no fully adequate account, so the plurality of accounts is less a sign of the inadequacy of Muslim thinkers to their task than it is of their fidelity to the founding revelation of their tradition: to tawhid and its corollary, creation. For irony reigns here: any pretension to have articulated the founding relation adequately will have reduced that relation to one comprehensible to us, and so undermine and nullify the distinction expressed by tawhid, the heart of this tradition. The stumbling-block which tawhid becomes as one tries to render it conceptually may be identified by its sharp edges: everything which is not God comes forth from God yet cannot exist without God, so how are they distinct when they cannot be separated? If God is eternal and everything else temporal, how does the act of creating bridge that chasm? If God alone properly exists, and everything else exists by an existence derived from divine existence, how real are the things we know? And the clincher: if God makes everything else to be, including human actions, how can our actions be properly our own? That is, how can we be responsible for what God makes to be? How can God's actions, in other words, be imputed to us? And if they cannot, to what end is the Qur'an a warning and a guide? This last conundrum proved to be the crux because it directly affects human lives, and also seems to prove that any metaphysical account which tries to be faithful to the original revelation will end up undermining the point of that very revelation. So unless that sharp edge is negotiated, there could be no room for Islamic theology, properly speaking, but only for the preachers' insistence on the bare assertions of revelation in the face of an uncomprehending philosophical ethos. That is the formula for what we have come to call "fundamentalism", of course; yet while one can identify the tendency in Islam, we shall see that it represents a marginal cul-de-sac in the rich territory of Muslim reflection on the intractable legacy of tawhid and creation. What Islam has missed is a single towering figure among the plurality of intellectual traditions (or ''schools''), and that may well be accounted for by the vast difference between ways of organising and supporting scholarship in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim worlds. Yet as we negotiate our way from one school to another, the capacity given us to read between them may help us find a rich fertility in that absence.

The question elicited by the straightforward insistence that ''God says 'Be!' and it is'' will require, of course, all the philosophical sophistication one can muster, yet Islamic thought can too readily divide into kalam (''theology'') and falsafa (''philosophy''). Two notable exceptions to this apparent polarisation in the Sunni world were Ghazali and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, whose familiarity with the thought of Islamic ''philosophers'' is evident. Yet the clear division between kalaam and falsafa may also be one of those illusions created by handy teaching devices, as we look far back across cultural divides. Just as masters of the arts faculties and of theological faculties in medieval Paris can be distinguished by their different preoccupations, so can these two groups of Islamic thinkers (or for that matter those who self-identify as ''philosophers'' or ''religious thinkers'' today), yet their intellectual cultures were bound to intersect. This chapter, then, will proceed by identifying those issues which tended to preoccupy a specific group, as those preoccupations came to direct their respective treatments of creation, and so add yet another dimension to the intellectual tracery emanating from that lapidary qur'anic pronouncement: ''God said 'Be!' and it is.'' A roughly chronological treatment is inevitable, given that earlier thinkers often prepared the ground for later reflection, yet the shadow of Hegel can all too easily obscure real differences in favour of an ineluctable ''development''. So our treatment will consciously proceed both dia-chronically and synchronically, calling attention to the points where concerns intersect, and where recognisable tendencies display complementary aspects of the relation between a creator God and creation itself. Here Ian Netton's formulation of ''the Qur'anic Creator Paradigm'', as he puts it, can usefully guide our inquiry by forming the undeniable setting for further conceptual quandaries. It ''embraces a God who (1) creates ex nihilo; (2) acts definitively in historical time; (3) guides His people in such time;and (4) can in some way be known indirectly by His creation''.5 It should be clear how many philosophical conundra lurk in each of these assertions. What is it to create? How does an eternal God act in time? How can divine guidance be carried out and received? What are the ways in which created things can entice a created intellect to some knowledge of their divine source? As we canvas the usual groupings of Islamic thinkers reflecting on such matters - kalam, falsafa and ishraq - we shall not lose sight of the fact that those whom history has put in one camp or another were all concerned to parse the four compass points of the paradigm.


Early Islamic reflection on these matters (broadly identified with the Mu'tazilites) emanated from Basra. Mu'tazilism in this period was not demonstrably the result of Hellenic influence, and was probably an indigenous Islamic development connected with local grammatical and linguistic speculation. These Mu'tazilites starkly contrasted the creator God with everything else, including the Qur'an itself. Since the being of the One has neither beginning nor end, existence belongs to God essentially.6 But how is that existence bestowed on things which come into existence and depart from it? Put even more finely: how can the existence of things we encounter be traced to its source in the one creator? These early thinkers were reluctant to adopt a view of substance which would have been consonant with Aristotelian thought, whereby things enjoy a consistency (by virtue of the formal cause inherent in them) and an internal dynamic (by virtue of their inherent final cause), perhaps fearing for the resultant consistency of a cosmos which failed to display its provenance from a unitary source. So they identified substance with primitive atoms, notwithstanding Aristotle's trenchant critique of indivisible physical particles as oxymoronic. Rather in the spirit of Leucippus, they saw what Aristotle took to be paradigmatically substances, large-scale living things capable of generating their kind, to be configurations of primitive ''substances'', called ''atoms'', to underscore their primitive metaphysical status. What the creator created, then, would be the atoms, while the configurations indicate the various ways in which that creation is conserved in being. So the actual configuration of the manifold possibilities of atomic arrangement best displays the agency proper to the creator, which must be immediate and so cannot be identified with the causal chains which operate in the created universe.

For they understood "cause" in the Greek manner, as a virtual synonym with "reason" and "condition", thus implying a systemic treatment. But the one creator cannot be part of the cosmic system, so (in Richard Frank's words) "the programmed sequence of sufficient causes and fulfilled conditions represented in the causation of the 'illa and asbab does not offer an adequate model for an explanation of the grounding of the possible that exists, i.e., does not give an adequate account of ... its original possibility and the ground of its actuality in being''.7 Creation must be sui generis since the creator is. They were to find an analogue of God's activity in creating, however, in the free actions of human beings, whom the Qur'an demanded to be the true initiators of their actions, for otherwise they could not rightly be held accountable for them. This analogy quickly became an identification, equating authentic agency with creating, an identification which was to help bring about the demise of this school. The contrast of agency with causality would become even more significant, however, in contrasting the later kalam thinkers (Ghazali and Razi) with philosophical accounts of origination.

Identifying acting with creating gave the Mu'tazilites a way of keeping the divine agent from being ensnared in evil, as well as of justifying the rewards and punishments promised in the Qur'an to creatures who perpetrate good or evil acts. The key belief here is that God must be able to be justified in whatever God does, and so can in no way be associated with evil, nor can divine justice be arbitrary. It is the presence of this conceptual framework bridging the divide between Creator and creature which a trained Mu'tazilite, al-Ash'ari, will question as he proceeds to found the successor school which bears his name. Two signal implications of the school of his formation can be identified, which also explain why Ash'arism quickly became identified with the consensus position in Sunni Islam. The first was the stark insistence on the fact that everything which is not God must be created, including the Qur'an itself. Apparently a simple corollary to the shahada's witnessing that there can be no God but God, this uncompromising teaching unfortunately left Islam with a mute divinity, so it seemed far preferable to grasp the nettle and affirm God's Word to be coeternal with God. In the political climate of Baghdad, blood was initially spilt over this view, but it held firm. The identification of acting with creating, however, instigated an unending debate, which has not yet been decisively settled. For if any authentic action, be it of creator or of creature, must be tantamount to an unconditioned origination, or creation, then the actions of creatures must be attributed to them alone, unduly restricting the sovereignty of the creator of all by removing all deliberate human actions from His purview. Such a restriction hardly befits the qur'anic divinity and directly contradicts the qur'anic creator paradigm. Some other way, therefore, must be found to conciliate divine sovereignty with human responsibility, and much of the ingenuity of the Ash'arite school will be absorbed in this endeavour. The more significant shift by Ash'ari which became imbedded in Sunni orthodoxy, however, is that which denies an overarching conceptual scheme for creator and creature. As Daniel Gimaret puts it, nothing can be obligatory for God, for there is no one above Him to whom He is accountable.8 So the recompense accorded to the faithful is always pure favour, on God's part; moreover, should God be obliged to reward us in a patterned way, we would have no obligation to be grateful to Him.9 One might ask, of course, whether God does not owe whatever God does to God's own self (cf. Qur'an 6:12), but it seems that the Ash'arites were reluctant to pursue questions which led into the very constitution of divinity. What resulted seemed to be a creator for whom will predominated over wisdom, however; something which later kalam theologians like Ghazili and Razi would work to correct. The scheme which the Ash'arites proposed to conciliate divine sovereignty over all things with human responsibility, so that actions created by God could nonetheless be imputed to human agents, turned on a novel adaptation of the qur'anic expression kasb, and its cognate form iktisib. Its lexical meaning is ''acquisition'', so that one may say that human beings acquire the actions which God creates. (Richard Frank, however, has proposed a more functional translation, ''performance'', according to which human beings perform the actions which God creates.10)

One might regard this ploy as a way of properly parsing created action, without questioning the Mu'tazilite identification of acting with creating. Any created action takes place by a power created in the human person who actually performs the act, since the causality of the created agent is not sufficient to determine the entire reality of the act, notably, its very existence. So given the identification of acting with creating, it must be said that God alone is the agent (fa'il), determining through a created power (qudra) the individual existence of each act in all its particulars. Yet ''the act is created as belonging to another, not by God as His own act'', so one may also say that ''the act is the act of the ... subject in which it is realised as an act''.11 There is, of course, an unavoidable ambiguity in the use of ''act'' here, as this school struggles to articulate a notion of created agency, which Frank suggests might be disambiguated by rendering the human role as the performance of an action created by God. As should be evident, this ploy is also designed to meet the Mu'tazilite concern to remove all trace of the perpetration of evil from the creator of all: the action created by God cannot, however, be predicated of God (by saying that God did it), but must be imputed to the one performing it. What sounds like double-talk can be explained as an attempt to formulate the relation between creating agent and created agent, using the crude instrument of a created power to perform this act (qudra). A comprehensive study of the work of the Egyptian reformer Muhammad 'Abduh (1849-1905) and his disciple, Rashid Rida (1865-1935), in their modernist qur'anic commentary The Beacon (al-Manar) (itself intended as a continuing elaboration of the Sunni position on these matters), pinpoints the key issue as the relation between created and uncreated agents: ''By their acquisition [kasb], human beings are indeed autonomous agents, yet hardly independent; they are only agents because God wills it and creates them as free agents.'' Rida underscores the non-concurrence of these two concepts: creation and the created free act.12 So a coherent presentation of the intent of the Ash'arite analysis will require a semantics able to account for the inherently analogous sense of ''act'', ''action'', and ''acting''. Yet such a presentation might also applaud one implication of that analysis for ethics: actions as properly described are what they are, and so retain (as the actions they are) their orientation towards or away from the properly human good. In this sense the actions we perform can indeed be said to be ''created by God'' in the sense that we are unable to change them into something else by evasive descriptions which seek to accommodate our wishes at the moment of performing them. Indeed, one might well discern these ethical echoes in the overtly theological overtones of continuing Islamic discussions of human life and action.

Another strain of kalam reasoning can be identified as Maturidism, being traceable to Abu Mansur al-Maturidi's Book of Affirming God's Oneness (Kitab al-Tawhid).13 Originating in the region of Samarkand, this school was continued by others, and offered itself as the doctrine of Abu Hanifa, thus imbibing the spirit of one of the four schools of Muslim law. In essence, this school tended to reaffirm the twin assertions that ''human beings are truly the agents of their actions, while these actions are at the same time created by God''.14 Their insistence that the divine act of takwain, or bringing into existence, is eternal, and so to be distinguished from existing things, became a point of controversy with Ash'arism, as did their understandable avoidance of the ambiguous language of kasb/iktisab to account for free created actions of human beings. Yet for our purposes they cannot be said to have contributed much further clarification regarding the analogous uses of

''act'' or ''action'', which could have helped to articulate the relation of creaturely free actions to that freedom proper to the creator. This mode of approach to the question, however, may have paved the way for Ghazali's approach to these questions, and his cautious observations regarding two senses of ''act'' and ''agent''. Yet before considering Ghazali and Razi, as later kalam figures, we should briefly review the ''philosophers'' with whom they expressly interacted.

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