The Revivalist Reaction

The second trend was initiated by the creative Abu Hamid al-Ghazala (d. 1111), an influential scholar who was born in Tus in the heart of the Iranian sphere of intellectual life. He was employed by the state, and was encouraged to define a concordist Islamic theology that would define a legitimate place for Sufism, tradition and rationality, to provide a stable and inclusive official creed for the Sunni rulers. His theological work, The Revival of Religious Sciences (Ihya' 'UlUm al-Dan), achieved this;it is still actively studied and serves as a lively source for interpretation and opinion in mainstream Sunni Islam.

Ghazali's philosophical work has had an impact in defining, one way or another, the direction of all subsequent philosophical composition in Islam. This work may be divided into two main types, both of them demonstrating an extremely sophisticated analysis of philosophical problems, whether aimed at the refutation of falsafa doctrine or at teaching an ''accepted'' type of philosophy. The first type is his famous anti-falsafa polemic, The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falaasifa), in which Avicennan propositions and problems are identified and expressed in a refined philosophical language, and then shown to be self-contradictory.22 Among these problems three stand out, which have subsequently inspired philosophers to present analyses of them in ways deemed harmonious with religion: creation and eternity, God's knowledge of particulars, and the immortality of the human soul and resurrection. In each case Ghazali seeks to demonstrate that the philosophers' position of (1) eternity over creation, (2) God's knowledge as limited to universals and (3) the rejection of an individuated immortality of the soul and bodily resurrection are both rationally untenable and tantamount to infidelity (kufr).

Ghazala's second type of work consists of independent texts on philosophy in which the approach is not polemical, but seeks to analyse and explain philosophical arguments. These include his Aims of the Philosophers (Maqasid al-falasifa) and The Straight Method (al-Qistas al-Mustaqim). Thus Ghazala's work actually ensured in more ways than one the continuity of philosophy in Islam, perhaps even providing it with a new impetus and energy. In practice, this second aspect of Ghazala's work defined a ''textbook'' genre of falsafa, accepted and studied in scholastic traditions, albeit not in all Islamic centres. The usual Ottoman approach to falsafa, for instance, took Ghazala's position to be definitive. The best example is the textbook by Athar al-Dan al-Abhara, called Guide to Philosophy (Hidayat al-hikma), which has been widely studied together with numerous commentaries, glosses and superglosses. Many scholastic centres used these texts as part of an accepted syllabus on philosophy.

Another outcome of Ghazala's critical analysis was that many thinkers responded by seeking to remove the inconsistencies in the Peripatetic philosophical corpus that Ghazala had demonstrated, and in so doing made significant contributions to the refinement of falsafa and thus to its creative existence. For example, Shihab al-Dan Suhrawarda (d. 1191), the innovative Persian founder of the new system called the ''Philosophy of Illumination'' (Hikmat al-ishraaq), was able to ''solve'' many logical gaps and metaphysical and epistemological inconsistencies and so help to remove doubts as to falsafa's legitimacy.23

The great Andalusian philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) (d. 1198) wrote one of falsafa's most creative works as a direct response to Ghazala's polemics, The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-tahafut), a text that also wielded influence in Latin translation. This, together with the Latin translations of his commentaries on many of Aristotle's texts, and on Plato's Republic, contributed significantly to the development of Latin philosophy.24 In his Aristotelian commentaries Averroes aimed to cleanse the Islamic philosophical corpus of Neoplatonist, emanationist views, to separate pure philosophy from the more explicitly theological arguments of Faraba and Avicenna, and hence to construct a ''pure'' Aristotelian philosophical system.

Later philosophers were also inspired to meet the challenges of Ghazala's texts and constructed elaborate arguments to prove the validity of accepted philosophical positions. For example, in the seventeenth century, Mar Damad's highly refined theory of ''Temporal Generation'' (huduth dahra) once and for all harmonised the idea of creation with the philosophers' views on eternity and becoming. And in the nineteenth century Hadi Sabzeviri's construct, called ''Formal Body'' (badan mithli), helped to demonstrate that the philosophers do believe in a kind of bodily resurrection, which caused an even greater degree of acceptance of philosophy by the powerful Shi'ite ulema. In short, the continuation of the study of a religiously accepted Islamic philosophy to this day, albeit in a limited way and confined mostly to Shi'ite scholastic centres, has been both directly and indirectly shaped by Ghazall's work.


Although Hanbalism faded before the appeal of Ash'arism, it retained its appeal in certain Syrian circles. Its most distinguished interpreter, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1326), was a staunchly anti-falsafa jurist and ideologue of scriptural literalism. Ibn Taymiyya produced a harsh attack on philosophy, entitled al-Radd 'ala al-mantiqiyyin (Refutation of the Rational Philosophers), which exercised some influence in the complex and divided world of Hanbali literalism.25 From the eighteenth century, such movements, including the Wahhabi and the Salafi, have shared this dogmatic ideology and actively preach on the need to rid Islam of all forms of innovations deemed to be un-Islamic, including any recourse to reason ('aql). Naturally, such militantly fundamentalist views, while generally opposed by mainstream ulema, have served to curtail the study of philosophy in any of its forms.


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