Parallels In Judaism And Islam

Among Muslims and Jews in Islamic lands, where the educated language for both was Arabic, the usual terms for philosophy and theology, namely falsafah (falasifa: philosophers) and kalam respectively, also had different meanings. In the case of falsafah, depending on the context, it can have broad and narrow senses, meaning either secular learning or a type or sect of philosophy. At times, falsafah is used for any natural knowledge or for general teachings, such as the disciplines of the liberal arts, obtained from "foreign" sources. At other times, it signifies the teachings of the technical philosophers, and in these cases, the meaning can vary according to each philosopher or theologian and the claims of his doctrine. Moreover, depending on the context and user, falsafah could be seen either favorably or unfavorably. Ghazali, for instance, can be viewed as antiphilosophical, when in reality he was not opposed to philosophy as such but rather challenged the philosophical approaches of those who in an uncritical way accepted too readily certain Greek philosophical positions, especially some of the Aristotelian theses concerning the natural world, such as affirming that God knows only universals, not particulars, or maintaining that the world is eternal.

Even after kalam, literally "word" or "speech," came to mean in intellectual circles theology as a scientific study, different approaches to kalam emerged, each with its own method and purpose. Kalam, a term that could be translated as "dialectical theology," had its origins in the Muslim world, especially among the Mu'tazilites. Perhaps, the real import of kalam can best be gained from its use by Saadiah Gaon, the Jewish author who wrote in Arabic in the 10th century. His Book of Doctrines and Beliefs is his effort to strengthen and correct the beliefs of his fellow Jews by clarifying the collection of main Jewish beliefs. He provides a detailed discussion of the attributes of God that includes a denunciation of the Christian Trinity, and defends with four Aristotelian-type arguments creation ex nihilo, as he opposes Aristotle's theory of the eternity of the world.

In sum, the main conflicts between philosophy and theology in all three religious traditions were similar and reach their highest intensity when "philosophy" is taken in its strictest senses, referring to the philosophy of the Platonists in the earlier medieval conflicts and to the philosophy of Aristotle when his nonlogical works become translated into Arabic and Latin.

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