Introduction

tim winter

This volume presents a series of critical scholarly reflections on the evolution and major themes of pre-modern Muslim theology. Given Islam's salience in religious history and its role as final religious inheritor of the legacies of monotheism and classical antiquity, such a collection hardly needs justification. The significance of Islamic theology reflects the significance of Islam as a central part of the monotheistic project as a whole, to which it brings a distinctive approach and style, and a range of solutions which are of abiding interest.

Despite this importance it is fair to say that until recently the study of theology was something of a Cinderella subject within Islamic studies, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world. In part this flowed from the persistence of nineteenth-century assumptions about the marginality of abstract intellectual life in Islam, and about the greater intrinsic interest and originality of Muslim law and mysticism. It was also commonly thought that where formal metaphysics was cultivated in Islamic civilisation, this was done seriously only in the context of Arabic philosophy (falsafa), where it was not obstructed by futile scriptural controls, and where it could perform its most significant function, which was believed to be the transmission of Greek thought to Europe.

However, a steady process of scholarly advance over the past two decades, coupled with the publication of critical editions of important early texts, has turned the study of Muslim theology into a dynamic and ever more intriguing discipline. Old assumptions about Muslim theology as either a narrow apologetic exercise or an essentially foreign import into Islam have been successfully challenged. Scholars have moved on from a somewhat mechanical focus on doxography and on tracking the contributions of the Greek tradition, towards the recognition that Islamic metaphysics contain much that is purely indigenous, that is to say, rooted in the language and concerns of the qur'anic revelation.

In decline, likewise, has been the unspoken assumption that what was of value in classical Muslim civilisation was what fed into the story i of the West. On that view, the Muslims acted as no more than "go-betweens", a ''devious Gulf-stream which brought back to Europe its Greek and Alexandrine heritage''.1 Arabic philosophy after Averroes, and almost the entirety of the formal theology, were thus relegated to the status of an intellectual byway. As we shall see, new research, and a less Eurocentric vision of history and of the remit of scholarship, have done much to challenge this outlook.

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