Reason and revelation

Closely linked to this dialectic was the even more taxing balance which high medieval Islam thought it had achieved between ''reason'' ('aql) and revelation (naql). Those who stressed the former tended to assume that the Qur'an's arguments for itself proceed on the principle that reason is prior to the authority of revelation; they therefore tended to support a strongly abstract model of God; strict scripturalists, by contrast, often inclined to anthropomorphism. It was generally admitted that metaphysics was primarily the domain of 'aql, while issues of prophetic authority, and the features of the next world, could be known only through revelation. Marcia Hermansen's chapter on eschatology brings home the strongly scripturalist nature of the arguments here. Such matters were sam'iyyat, doctrines received ex auditu, and were acknowledged to be unprovable by reason, although not unreasonable in themselves.

But the 'aql/naql tension in Islam went far beyond this. To some extent it defined the discipline of kalaam against the disciplines of law and Sufism, even though, as we have seen, these three were regularly reintegrated and seldom became dangerously divorced. As Ash'arism and Maaturaidism evolved, beyond the critical twelfth century they became systematic theologies in the truest sense: in the works of Taftazani, Iji and JurjanI, scriptural references are common, but the crucial opening treatment of metaphysics (ilahiyyat) is clearly figured as a reason-based vindication of doctrines which can also be known separately through scripture. The initiative championed by Ghazaalai, which sought to show the symbiosis of law, Sufism, scripture and kalaam, was not incorporated at all into kalaam in its final stage of development, but flourished, as has been seen, in the tradition of Ibn 'Arab!. Kalam remained always a discourse of divine transcendence, of aporia and of logic, which vindicated claims made through revelation and mystical insight, but never incorporated them into its epistemology.

The triumph of transcendentalism and of an austere negative theology in kalaam is striking, and might seem to challenge the claim, made earlier, that doctrines and disciplines tended to emerge as ''orthodox'' through popular sanction. Certainly it is intriguing that the Hanbalai alternative in most places represented no more than a small fringe, just as the Hanbala definition of Shari'a remained the smallest of the rites of law. The iconic hard-line champion of this school, Ibn Taymiyya, whose challenge to Ghazaalai's approach is referred to in Paul Hardy's contribution to this volume, is not conspicuous in the catalogues of Islamic manuscript libraries;his current renown is a recent phenomenon.23 Ibn Taymiyya was, indeed, imprisoned for heresy, a relatively unusual occurrence, and it would be hard to imagine Muslim society, or its rulers or scholars, punishing more philosophical thinkers like Ghazala, or RizI, or Taftazam, in the same way. ''Hard'' Hanbalism offered a simple literalism to troubled urban masses, and occasionally won their violent, riotous support, but the consensus of Muslims passed it by.

The community's historic rejection of Mu'tazilism and Hanbalism had much to do with distaste at the violence with which those tendencies sought to promote themselves. The demise of Kharijism can probably be attributed to a comparable disenchantment. Very different was the apparent decay of falsafa, the Arabic extension of Hellenistic thought, which a much earlier generation of Western commentators, harking back to Ernest Renan if not before, once thought might have been the salvation of an otherwise unreasonable religion. The advocates of falsafa's refined and abstract view of Islam could never have enjoyed much street credibility, and this always told against them. Yet in recent research the important story of the later evolution of this paradigm has emerged as a much more complex process than was once believed.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment