Problem

Reflections on the essence-attribute question were not restricted to kalam deliberations but were also systemically debated by the exponents of falsafa. For instance, Avicenna addressed this question in terms of an ontological analysis of the modalities of being; namely impossibility, contingency and necessity. Avicenna argues that the impossible being is that which cannot exist, while the contingent in itself (mumkin bi-dhatihi) has the potentiality to be or not to be without entailing a contradiction. When actualised, the contingent becomes a ''necessary existent due to what is other than itself'' (wajib al-wujud bi-ghayrihi). Thus, contingency-in-itself is potential beingness that could eventually be actualised by an external cause other than itself. The metaphysical structures of necessity and contingency are different. Necessary being due to itself (wajib al-wujud bi-dhatihi) is true in itself, while contingent being is ''false in itself'' and ''true due to something other than itself''. The necessary is the source of its own being without borrowed existence. It is what always exists.22 The Necessary exists ''due-to-Its-Self'', and has no quiddity/essence (mahiyya) other than existence (wujud). Furthermore, It is ''One'' (waahid ahad),23 since there cannot be more than one ''Necessary-Existent-due-to-Itself'' without differentia (sing. fasl) to distinguish them from one another. Yet to require differentia entails that they exist ''due-to-themselves'' as well as ''due to what is other than themselves''; and this is contradictory. However, if no differentia distinguish them from each other, then there is no sense in which these ''Existents'' are not one and the same. Avicenna adds that the ''Necessary-Existent-due-to-Itself'' has no genus (/ins), or definition (hadd), or a counterpart (nidd), or an opposite (didd), and is detached (bar?) from matter (madda), quality (kayf), quantity (kam), place (ayn), situation (wad') and time (waqt).24

Avicenna's ''Necessary-Existent-due-to-Itself'' differs from the Ultimate Being of monotheistic orthodoxy, in the sense that it is ontologically derived from a ''naturalised knowledge of God''. Accordingly, the concept of the world is essentially contained in the Avicennan notion of divinity, and it is not ''logically'' plausible that God exists and that the world does not exist. The very being of the ''Necessary Existent'' implies by necessity the existence of an emanated world. Moreover, salvation is not dependent on grace but is rather dependent on the subject as agent, and any communication with the ontological modality of ''Necessary Being'' represents a philosophical mistake of category. However, although Avicenna's metaphysics is not representative of a kalaam ontotheology, his thought is not isolated from the religious context in which it was historically situated. An affirmation of the divine attributes preserves the personal Exalted One of the monotheistic faith, as the Absolute, All-Mighty, All-Wise, who creates by will, without how or why. Hence Avicenna's ''Necessary-Existent-due-to-Itself'' may still be pointing to ''God'', even though this does not readily transform his metaphysics into a convincing exegesis of Revelation. However, like that of the Mu'tazila before him, Avicenna's ontology undermines the personal character of God, as well as compromising the positive determinations of fear, hope and expectation which experientially characterise the manner by which the sense of divinity announces itself within the lives of believers.

Countering this turn in philosophical thinking, one of the major developments in the history of classical thought in Islam is exemplified by Ghazali's critique of the philosophers in general and Avicenna in particular. In his The Incoherence of the Philosophers Ghazala holds that the philosophers agree on the impossibility of affirming knowledge, power, and will for the First Principle, though the divine names, which are given in revelation, are to be used ''verbally'' while being reduced ''referentially'' to one divine essence (dhat wahida). He then adds that the philosophers believe that a substantive affirmation of the attributes leads to a multiplicity that undermines divine unity.25 Ghazala objects by saying that they have opposed all the Muslims in this, with the exception of the Mu'tazila.

To show their ''incoherence'', Ghazili summarises their arguments as follows. If an attribute and that to which it is attributed are not the same, then each one will dispense with the other, or each one will need the other for it to be, or one will dispense with the other while the other will be in need of the former. In the first of these cases, both will be necessary existents due to themselves, and this is implausible. In the case where each one of them needs the other, then neither is a ''Necessary-Existent-due-to-Itself'', and this is impossible in the case of the divine. However, if one has no need of the other, but is needed by it, then one of them acts as the cause of the other. So in this case, if what is ascribed with an attribute is in need of it, the one in need is characterised by a lack, and this does not apply to the divine.26 Ghazali's reply to these speculations is that the essence of the Necessary Existent is eternal without agents, and so are His attributes.27 He also objects to the falasifa's claim that the affirmation of the attributes entails that the First Principle cannot be absolutely self-sufficient, given that since the First does not need anything other than Himself, therefore He would not need the attributes. Ghazali thinks that these philosophical sophistications are part of a mere ''rhetorical preaching that is extremely feeble''. After all, he asserts that ''the attributes of perfection are not separate from the essence of the Perfect, so as to say that He is in need of another''. Like Ash'ari, he holds that the attributes are not reduced to the essence itself while being coeternal with it without cause. When the philosophers affirm that God is a knower, they face the problem of admitting that there is something superadded to the essence, namely knowledge.

Most adherents of falsafa hold that God knows only Himself. However, Avicenna argues that God knows Himself as well as knowing everything else in a universal manner, given that the knowledge of particulars implies change in the divine essence. In response, Ghazialii asks whether God's knowledge of Himself is identical with His knowledge of all genera and species. If the philosophers reply that His knowledge of Himself is indeed identical with His knowledge of everything else, then their position is untenable. If they say that they are not identical, then multiplicity is implied. Neither reply convinces. Furthermore, it cannot be the case that God would know only Himself given the scriptural affirmation that ''not even the weight of an atom in the heavens or the earth escapes His knowledge'' (10:61). Unlike other philosophers, Avicenna is ''ashamed'' of asserting that God knows only Himself and does not know anything else, given that this implies deficiency. Therefore, in avoiding assertions that might imply change or multiplicity in the essence, he reaches the conclusion that God knows everything other than Himself in a universal way.28

Nevertheless, according to Ghazali, Avicenna's views result in a contradiction. This is the case given that, according to the philosophers and the Mu'tazila, the affirmation that God possesses the attribute of knowledge implies multiplicity. And, following in Mu'tazilite footsteps, the philosophers exaggerated their strict avoidance of plurality to the point of claiming that ''if the First were to have a quiddity characterized by existence this would constitute multiplicity''. This position is based on the widespread Avicennan view that the ''Necessary Existent'' is without quiddity (that its essence is none other than its existence). Attributes need a subject to which they are attributed, which is called al-mawsuf. To say that the essence of the First Principle is His intellect, knowledge, power or will is to say that these attributes are self-subsisting. However, it is impossible that the attributes are self-sustaining because they would then be multiple necessary existents, and as Avicenna has shown, this is not possible. Consequently, attributes subsist in the divine essence;and as Ghazala asserted, the First Principle cannot be denied His attributes, quiddity or reality.29

Ghazala's critique of Avicenna's metaphysics resulted in a dialectical integration of selected falsafa notions within the kalam tradition. For instance, the celebrated author of the Book of Religions and Sects (Kitab al-milal wa'l-nihal),30 Muhammad al-Shahrastam (d. 1153), was one of the enigmatic theologians who incorporated elements of falsafa in his deliberations in kalam. Some believe that he was an Ash'arite theologian, given that he was an eminent scholar at the Nizamiyya School in Baghdad, while others claim that he practised taqiyya (religious dissimulation), and that there are signs of Isma'ila influences in his writings, particularly in his Struggling with the Philosopher (Kitab al-musHra'a).31 In this text of theosophy, Shahrastam critically interrogated Avicenna's metaphysical conception of wajib al-wujud (Necessary Being), on the grounds that it entailed a compromising of the observance of absolute divine transcendence (tanzlh). Shahrastam affirmed the reality of the divine attributes without directly applying them to the divine essence, which he believed was absolutely unknowable and indefinable. He also advocated a philosophical conception of a gradation in creation (khalq), and argued that the divine Command (amr), Words (kalimat) and Letters (huruf) are eternal and pre-existent.32 He also held that the divine Names bear manifestations (mazaahir) in terms of what he referred to as al-kalimaat al-qawliyya (verbal allocutions), corresponding with revelation, and al-kalimat al-fi'liyya (active allocutions), which translate into corporeal individuals (ashkhaas) in the persons of prophets, imams and spiritual guides. He moreover argued that the enunciation of the divine word (lafz al-kalima) is created, while its inherent meaning or intention (al-ma'na al-nafs!) is eternal.33 In delimiting the furthest possibilities of theology, and in pointing towards the boundaries of philosophical deliberation, he attempted to effect an equipoise between 'aql (intellect) and sam' (audition of the recitation of the revealed word), whereby, when rational explications reach an end, an attentive listening to the recitation of revelation ought to be exercised.34

The historical integration of philosophy into theological reflections on the essence-attribute problem found its most pronounced systemic expressions in the legacy of Fakhr al-Dan al-Raza (d. 1209), who, like his predecessor Ghazala, was an adherent of Sh^'a jurisprudence and an exponent of Ash'ara theology. Unlike some early conventional exponents of kalam, Raza did not reject Greek philosophy, and, as he indicated in his Oriental Investigations (al-Mabahith al-Mashriqiyya), he delved deep into the writings of the ancient philosophers, affirming their true propositions and rejecting the ones that were false.35 Following Ghazala's legitimisation of the use of logic, and the acceptance of most of the premises of natural philosophy qua natural sciences (al-'ulUm al-taba'iyya), Raza was an outstanding dialectical mutakallim who established his Sunnaa theological investigations on philosophical foundations, combining rational proofs (sing. dalal 'aqla) with scriptural evidences (sing. dalal naqla). He refuted the anthropomorphism of the Karramiyya and the Hanbalas. He doubted the hermeneutic intricacies of the Ismaa'aalaas. His engagement with metaphysics was primarily articulated in his critical commentary (sharh) on Avicenna's Book of Remarks and Admonitions (Kitab al-Isharat wa'l-tanbihcit).36 He also developed his own philosophical notions in his influential theological text Harvest of the Thought of the Ancients and Moderns (Muhassal afkar al-mutaqaddimln wa'l-muta'akhkhirln).37 In addressing the essence-attribute question, Raazaa criticises Avicenna's claim that God knows only universals and not particulars. He thus postulates that knowledge involves a relation qua connection (ta'alluq rather than idaafa) between the knower and the known, and that this state of affairs entails that a change in what is known would result in an alteration of the relation qua connection that binds it with the knower, rather than producing a transformation in the knower as such.

The examination of the essence-attribute question continued to preoccupy philosophically oriented theologians like the Ash'arite mutakallim Sayf al-Dan al-Amida (d. 1233), the author of Novel Thoughts on the Fundamentals of Religion (Abkir al-afkar fi usul al-din),38 a text that impacted upon the intellectual development of another Ash'arite thinker, 'Abd al-Rahmin al-Iji (d. 1355). For instance, Tji's Stations in the Science of Theology (Kitab al-Mawaqif fi 'ilm al-kalim), which constituted a Summa Theologiae of its era, and was principally based on Razi's Harvest and Amidi's Novel Thoughts, continued to be used until modern times as a textbook of theology at al-Azhar University in Cairo. Furthermore, al-Sayyid al-Sharif 'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Jurjani (d. 1413) wrote an influential commentary (sharh) on Iji's Stations, while reinforcing his own theology with falsafa. Al-Jurjani was also a challenger of the theological authority of al-Taftazini (d. 1390), a student of Iji who combined Miaturiidism and Ash'arism in developing the anti-Mu'tazilite arguments of the Sunni tradition in kalam, particularly in the course of his commentaries on the legacy of Najm al-Din al-Nasafi (d. 1142).39 Taftazani argued that the divine words were uncreated, and that they resided in the divine essence, even though they are written in the volumes, preserved in the hearts, heard by the ears and recited by the tongues. The Qur'an as God's speech is also uncreated (ghayr makhluq), while its enunciation (lafziyya) is not eternal. He moreover affirmed that divine speech is not of the genus of letters and sounds, and is rather one of eight divine attributes (sifat) from all eternity besides omniscience ('ilm), power (qudra), life (hayit), hearing (sam'), sight (basar), will (irida) and creation (khalq: differing in this from the customary kalim theses by adding khalq to the other seven attributes).40

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