Abstracts

imageA. David K. Owen, Harvard University
“Al-Mukhtar al-Shinqiti (d. 1973) and the Reception of al-Ghazali's Legal Methodology in Saudi Arabia: A Case Study"

In a series of articles culminating with "Logic, Formal Arguments and Formalization of Arguments in Sunni Jurisprudence," Wael Hallaq has shown the decisive influence enjoyed by al-Ghazali’s work on legal argumentation up to the time of the much commented upon Ibn al-Hajib, in particular by focusing on the logical introduction that begins the Mustasfa and a number of usul al-fiqh texts thereafter. In this paper, I aim to further Hallaq’s project through an analysis of the legal logic of Muhammad al-Amin ibn Muhammad al-Mukhtar al-Shinqiti (d. 1973), a prominent teacher of usul al-fiqh in Riyadh and Medina in Saudi Arabia during much of the twentieth century. In so doing, I show that in Islamic jurisprudence the “Ghazalian synthesis” has survived until recent times.

Focusing on al-Mukhtar al-Shinqiti’s treatment of qiyas in his Mudhakkira fi usul al-fiqh, itself a commentary on the Rawdat al-nazir of Ibn Qudama, I first characterize this work as an “explanatory commentary,” and demonstrate that the Mudhakkira, like the Rawdat, is heavily influenced by al-Ghazali’s treatment of legal logic in the Mustasfa. But why, in a commentary that never shrinks from addressing ‘aqli themes, does al-Mukhtar al-Shinqiti forgo the Ghazalian tradition of beginning his usul work with an introduction on logic? The answer lies, at least in part, in an independent treatise by al-Mukhtar al-Shinqiti Adab al-bahth wa l-munazara, which includes a separate chapter on logic for use in the religious sciences. I compare the treatment of burhan in Adab al-bahth with the treatment of qiyas in Mudhakkira, I show the possible antecedents for this method of organization in earlier commentaries on al-Ghazali’s Mustasfa, and I close by speculating about the author’s purpose in separating the two.

Ahmed El Shamsy, University of Chicago
“Al-Ghazali’s Empiricist Ethics: Reading ‘The Wisdom in God’s Creations’ (al-Hikma fi makhluqat Allah)”

Both modern scholars of Muslim theology and medieval critics of Ash‘arism have claimed that Ash‘arite voluntarism necessarily implies a view of God as an arbitrary and aimless ruler over creation. According to this argument, al-Ghazali's insistence on a God whose creation and law serve intelligible aims is inconsistent. This paper argues that an examination of al-Ghazali's hitherto overlooked treatise on “The Wisdom in God’s Creations” (al-Hikma fi makhluqat Allah) reveals what might be termed an empiricist approach to divine creation. This approach also structures al-Ghazali’s ethical and legal thought and allows him to avoid embracing Mu’tazilite rationalist ethics in order to justify a belief in divine purposefulness. There is evidence to suggest that al-Ghazali’s theory was influenced by an engagement with the thought of Galen, especially the latter’s De usu partium.

Anna Ayse Akasoy, Oxford University
“Al-Ghazali, ‘Religionswissenschaft,’ and Inter-religious Dialogue”

In 1991, Hermann Landolt published an interpretation of al-Ghazali’s Mishkat al-anwar in an article with the title “Al-Ghazali and ‘Religionswissenschaft.’” By using the German term for “religious sciences,” Landolt conjured up the Zeitgeist of nineteenth-century Western Europe. At the beginning of his article, he suggests that al-Ghazali presented himself in his al-Munqidh min al-dalal as a “comparative religionist of sorts,” meaning that he was interested in distinguishing the original belief (intuition, fitra) from what individuals acquired per taqlid from their parents. To justify his association of the medieval Muslim author and the modern academic discipline, Landolt used a distinction in Religionswissenschaft discussed by Charles Adams according to which comparative views of religion are characterized by two elements: epoché, the irenic bracketing of one’s own religious convictions, and the attempt to develop a taxonomy which reflects one’s own background. Both, Landolt claimed, are represented in the “veil section” at the end of the Mishkat al-anwar.

A pre-modern author whose approach to religious diversity has been described in similar terms is Ramon Llull (1232–1316) who incorporated some of al-Ghazali’s philosophical ideas. Not unlike al-Ghazali, the Catalan missionary intended to defend the truth of his religion with the help of universal rational principles rather than simply referring to scripture. Llull’s Art, a quasi-mathematical method to describe all of reality, is meant to accomplish this.

In addition to the parallels and direct connections, both authors appear as positive examples of medieval rational approaches to religion among modern representatives of their respective faiths, but also in inter-religious dialogue. For many Muslim participants in debates about the relationship between “Islam” and “the West,” al-Ghazali is an attractive figure. He elicits positive responses among many fellow Muslims, both traditional and liberal, as well as among Christians who often acknowledge the significance of al-Ghazali in Islamic intellectual history and the transmission of philosophical knowledge from the Muslim world to the Latin West. Tariq Ramadan’s modernizing, yet traditional interpretation of Islam, for example, is sometimes identified with al-Ghazali’s conservative combination of rationalism and spirituality. Some of Ramadan’s critics, somewhat reviving the medieval Tahafut controversy, defend Ibn Rushd as the more appropriate model for the twenty-first century and see in al-Ghazali a symbol of intellectual stagnation.

In my contribution, I would like to address two main questions. First, I would like to critically assess Landolt’s association of al-Ghazali and Religionswissenschaft. Particular attention will be paid to the ways Religious Studies in the West have responded to the greater prominence of religion in public life. I will argue that there are significant parallels between al-Ghazali’s approach to religion and religious diversity and that of those modern representatives of Religionswissenschaft who deliberately incorporate the insider’s point of view. Such a shape of Religionswissenschaft, however, is controversial. Second, I would like to discuss al-Ghazali’s role in inter-religious dialogue or debates about “Islam” and “the West,” in particular for Tariq Ramadan and his critics and in comparison with the role of Ramon Llull for Catholic participants in inter-religious dialogue.

Ayman Shihadeh, School of Oriental and African Studies, London
“Al-Ghazali on Human Ontology”

This paper will examine a small number of key Ghazalian works to establish al-Ghazali’s stance on the problem of human ontology. It will seek to show exactly why he found it extremely problematic and precarious to defend an Avicennan-inspired body-soul dualism within a classical Ash’arite environment, in which a materialist human ontology was accepted. The paper will show how the difficulty lies not in the doctrine itself, but in its implications on the most fundamental cornerstones of Ash’arite theology.

Jules Janssens, CNRS Paris and De Wulf-Mansioncentrum, Leuven, Belgium
“Al-Ghazali’s Commentary on the Light Verse (in the Mishkat al-Anwar) and its influence on Fakhr al-Din al-Razi”

In the second part of the Mishkat al-anwar, al-Ghazali offers a rather detailed analysis of the Light verse (Q 24:35), which, in spite of obvious differences, has been inspired by Avicenna’s commentary on the same verse in his al-Isharat wa-l-tanbihat. But already in the first part of his work, al-Ghazali develops ideas that easily can be linked with the very same verse. When he comes to deal with this verse in his great Tafsir, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 606/1210) makes no less than twice explicit mention of his famous predecessor. The first time, he does so in the explanation of the identification of God with “Light.” He starts with an almost literal quotation taken from a passage near to the beginnings of the first part of the Mishkat al-anwar. But in what follows, he clearly continues to use al-Ghazali’s exposé of this first part, sometimes by way of parphrasis, sometimes by way of more literal quotation, while now and then omitting as well some elements. Later on, when explicitly dealing with the symbolism that is present in the rest of the verse, he presents, although in a somewhat abbreviated form, al-Ghazali’s interpretation, as developed in the second part of the Mishkat al-anwar, as one of the existing interpretations that are worthy of attention (after al-Ghazali’s, he adds Avicenna’s interpretation). All this will be examined in great detail so as to determine the exact nature of the influence of al-Ghazali on al-Razi, insofar as the exegetical commentary on the Light-verse is concerned.

Katharina Völker, University of Otago, New Zealand
“The Ghazali-Reception Among Muslim Intellectuals Living in Western Countries”

By portraying some contemporary Muslim accounts of al-Ghazali’s work and influence, I am attempting in this paper to determine a) the context in which al-Ghazali is referred to, b) those of his works and ideas which are mainly referred to and c) the importance and influence that modern thinkers attribute to al-Ghazali. I shall reflect on such contemporary Muslim intellectuals who deal in more detail with al-Ghazali and who also have significance for the present religious discourse on Islam in the West. I shall select two or three thinkers whose Ghazali-reception will be compared. Their views on al-Ghazali might range from acceptance through critique to rejection. Some of these notions may refer to different fields of al-Ghazali’s work (ethics, theology, exegesis, philosophy, and mysticism). For example, his incorporation of mystical experience within a “broader” definition of rationality, might be positively received by some, while other choose to reject al-Ghazali’s idea that God can be known only through “pure” or “philosophical” rationality. For some thinkers al-Ghazali’s stance on philosophical reasoning represents a fatal limitation of the capabilities of human reason. There is quite a large group of contemporary Muslim intellectuals, which detects negative influences of al-Ghazali’s thinking on developments in Muslim thought. One needs however to assess decisively their arguments and the coherence of their understanding of al-Ghazali.

One contemporary thinker – Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (1943–2010) – proposes a “welcoming sort of rationality” (to use Arkoun’s terminology) which goes beyond pure reason and incorporates a common moral premise. For Abu Zayd an advanced ‘aql always leads towards a search for righteous thinking and acting. “Pure” rational thinking does not necessarily have this result. Abu Zayd intensely reflects on al-Ghazali’s work (in his Mafhum al-nass) and attributes to him a number of consequences for Islamic thought (in his Naqd al-khitab al-dini). He also critically assesses such consequences and draws conclusions for a change in current Muslim discourse. Abu Zayd seems to sympathize with al-Ghazali’s inclusion of mystical knowledge into the definition of rationally acquired knowledge, but on the other hand he is critical of limiting philosophical thinking in its attempt to acquire knowledge about God. Hence, Abu Zayd’s interesting portrayal of al-Ghazali’s influence on Islamic thought is one possible goal of this paper.

Again, it will be interesting how far Muslim intellectuals such as e.g. Abu Zayd, Ebrahim Moosa, Fazlur Rahman, and Muhammad Arkoun perceive al-Ghazali and with what justification they reject or accept his ideas. Other possible outcomes of this paper are a) the identification of specific problems in evaluating al-Ghazali’s influence on the present-day Islamic discourse, and b) the classification of al-Ghazali’s ideas to which most of the thinkers refer.

Kenneth Garden, Tufts University
“Al-Ghazali in Contemporary Lebanon: Su’ad al-Hakim’s Project of Rereading His Revival”

Dozens of epitomes and Commentaries on al-Ghazali’s Revival of the Religious Sciences have been written over the past 900 years, beginning with those of al-Ghazali himself and continuing through the present day. Often these synopses and commentaries aim as much to claim the Proof of Islam’s authority for their own contemporary agendas as to convey the content of the Ihya’ with concision. This paper will examine the most recent of these efforts, the 2004 The Revival of the Religious Sciences in the Twenty-first Century (Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din fi-l-qarn al-wahid wa-l-’ashrin) by the Lebanese scholar of Sufism, Su’ad al-Hakim. In this 700-page tome, al-Hakim meditates on the balance between temporal engagement with the contemporary world and the eternal guidance of divine revelation through the medium of the book she considers the best synthesis of the Islamic tradition. One of her major aims is to confront what she sees as the “alienation” of contemporary Muslims from Islam. To this end, she rearranges the order of the Ihya’, abridges its content, and simplifies its presentation to make it more accessible. She also removes, comments on, or clarifies what she calls its “defects” (shawa’ib) to make it acceptable to both jurists and Sufis. By comparing al-Ghazali’s work with al-Hakim’s re-working, I hope to shed light on the interplay of commentary and original that makes up a religious tradition.

M. Afifi al-Akiti, Oxford University
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of falsafa According to al-Ghazali”

In this paper I will present some of the results from my recent and ground-breaking doctoral thesis on al-Ghazali. The thesis identified and systematically considered for the first time a group of esoteric philosophical writings called the Madnun corpus, now to be firmly attributed to al-Ghazali. The discoveries are based on an investigation of around 40 manuscripts, many of which were unidentified or wrongly identified, and almost all of which were previously unstudied. The results of my work on the Madnun develop and establish definitively the tendency in recent Ghazalian scholarship (by Frank, Janssens, Griffel, and al-Akiti, among others) that has argued for al-Ghazali's reliance on Avicenna. The Madnun writings now provide the most important textual evidence for that tendency. Besides acquainting scholars with a remarkable new body of source material, the thesis presents a critical edition of the most advanced and technical work of this corpus, the manual on metaphysics and natural philosophy called the Major Madnun.  I can show that this Madnun work, in particular, complements perfectly the Tahafut al-falasifa and the Maqasid al-falasifa, respectively the “good, the bad and the ugly” of Avicennian falsafa.

Martin Riexinger, Aarhus University, Denmark
“Al-Ghazali and the 19th Century Reception of the Modern Sciences in the Islamic World”

In the later part of the 20th century the orientalist image of al-Ghazali as an arch-opponent of rationalism became widespread among modernist Muslims. In the late 19th
and early 20th centuries, however, one particular argument made by al-Ghazali was crucial for the acceptance of modern astronomy. In the preface to his Tahafut al-falasifa, al-Ghazali lines out that in that refutation of philosophical teaching he will not address the philosophers’ teachings on astronomy as they are based on the observation of nature and on sound mathematical proofs. Whoever objects to them with reference to the literal meaning of a Qur’anic verse or a hadith does a disservice to religion, so al-Ghazali, since he would ridicule it in the eyes of the educated. Hence the respective texts have to be interpreted allegorically.

Already in pre-modern times this argument was used to defend Ptolemaic astronomy against a “sunna-cosmology” which was systematized and propagated by al-Suyuti (d. 1505), for instance. An example for this is the Ottoman cosmographer and historian Katib Çelebi (d. 1657).

When post-Copernican astronomy became known in the Islamic world al-Ghazali’s argument was used in various geographical contexts to demonstrate that the new cosmology can be reconciled with Islam. The first example was probably the Ottoman scholar Erzurumlu İbrahim Hakkı from the mid-18th century. Following or rather “updating” al-Ghazali, some scholars in the late 19th century argued that not only can modern astronomy be reconciled with Islam but rather one must do so in order to avoid that the new class of secularly educated Muslims falls afoul of religion and indulges into materialism. Examples for this way of arguing can be found in the writings of the Kurdish scholar Said Nursi (1878–1960) from Late Ottoman/ Early Republican Turkey and in articles by M. Rashid Rida (d. 1935), who responded to request from his readers who themselves confronted opponents with conservative views.

This way of arguing, however, did not remain uncontested as is shown by a conflict that arose within the Ahl-i hadith movement in British India shortly after 1900. This puritan movement drew its inspiration primarily from Ibn Taymiyya, hence most of their scholars advocated to understand the term “istiwa’ ” (“sitting upright”) that appears in a number of Qur’anic verses in reference to “God’s throne,” as affirming the “sunna-cosmology” of al-Suyuti and other. Thana’ Allah Amritsari (1868–1948), on the other hand, a scholar of the Ahl-i hadith with connections to Muslim educational associations, propagated to interpret the istiwa’-verses in the Qur’an allegorically as a metaphor for God’s rule and by doing so he made reference to al-Ghazali. Amritsari, in turn, was denounced as a philosopher and a jahmi until the dispute was settled in 1926 by the Saudi ruler ‘Abd al-’Aziz ibn Sa’ud, who himself had to face similar opposition from the Wahhabi ‘ulama’ when he introduced geography lessons in the new secular schools.

A second aspect which deserves consideration is that already in the late 19th century one scholar in particular felt it necessary to make precautions preventing al-Ghazali’s ideas from being used to re-interpret Qur’anic verses along the lines of modern scientific concepts. In 1888 the Lebanese Ottoman Husayn al-Jisr al-Tarabulsi (1845–1909) published his apologetic tract al-Risala al-Hamidiyya. Apart from defending Islamic rituals and practices al-Jisr differentiates between acceptable and non-acceptable scientific theories. His objections to the theory of evolution influence Muslim opinions until present. Whereas al-Jisr justifies the adaptation of modern astronomy using the arguments we mentioned above, he warns against accepting the view that humans descend from animals. In this case, al-Jisr asserts, the allegorical interpretation of Qur’anic verses cannot be justified because the arguments in favor of the theory of evolution are only conjectural. Thus, it is not permissible to interpret allegorically the Qur’anic verses that refer to the creation of Adam from inanimate matter.

Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
“Reinterpreting al-Ghazali and Rethinking the Fate of Others:
The Case of Rashid Rida (d. 1935)”

In his Faysal al-tafriqa bayna al-Islam wa-l-zandaqa, al-Ghazali delineates three categories of non-Muslims: (1) those who never heard of the Prophet; (2) damned unbelievers who learned of the Prophet’s true nature but were arrogant, resistant, or negligent in looking into his message; and (3) those who heard only negative things about the Prophet. The first and third group, al-Ghazali asserts, will not be condemned on Judgment Day. In fact, the same is true of non-Muslims who learned of the Prophet’s miracles and then investigated it with “sincerity” – even if they passed away as non-Muslims. Not so fortunate, however, are non-Muslims who encountered the Islamic message in its true form yet rejected it because its truth was not clear to them.

This criterion for non-Muslim salvation was adopted and revised considerably over eight centuries later by Muhammad Rashid Rida (d. 1935) in Tafsir al-Manar. Whereas al-Ghazali holds that learning of the Prophet’s message, his attributes, and his miracles provides “sincere” non-Muslims – including those who had previously heard only negative things about the Prophet – with “enough incentive to compel them to investigate,” Rashid Rida in his Tafsir makes a distinction between learning of these things and being provided with “enough incentive” to investigate. This suggests that, according to Rashid Rida, the former does not necessarily lead to the latter. In a September 1910 fatwa, Rashid Rida affirms this distinction (immediately after citing al-Ghazali) when he notes that those things that motivate investigation into the Islamic message vary from era to era. According to Rashid Rida, the only non-Muslims who are not excused for remaining outside the fold of Islam are those for whom the truth of the Islamic message is evident, yet rather than accept or investigate it, they resist it. Rida justifies this position by invoking Q. 4:115: “If anyone opposes the Messenger, after guidance has been made clear to him [or her], and follows a path other than that of the believers, We shall leave him [or her] on his [or her] chosen path – We shall burn him [or her] in Hell, an evil destination.”

In this paper, I shall I discuss the ways in which Rashid Rida modifies and reinterprets al-Ghazali’s criterion. I shall then explore the reasons for Rashid Rida’s revisionism and its implications.

M. Sait Özervarli, Yildiz Technical University, Istanbul
“Ottoman Discussions on al-Ghazali, particularly during the 19th and Early 20th Centuries”

Al-Ghazali is one of the most influential Muslim philosopher-theologians in the Ottoman lands, beginning from the classical to modern Ottoman periods. Early Ottoman scholars, such as Khojazadah, Ala’ al-Din al-Tusi and Kemal Pashazadah wrote commentaries on his Tahafut al-falasifa, while his other major book Ihya’ ulum al-din was translated into Turkish by Bostanzadah Mehmet Effendi in the 16th century. Al-Ghazali continued to be the focus of attention throughout Ottoman intellectual history via commentaries, translations, quotations, and in some cases criticisms, and he was rediscovered in the modern period as one of the sources of revitalization in critical thinking. Apart from Arab reformists, modern Ottoman thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries like Mehmed Ali Ayni, Izmirli Ismail Hakki, Filibeli Ahmed Hilmi in the capital city of Istanbul intensively referred to al-Ghazali and the concept of ihya’ in their efforts to revive modern kalam and philosophy. They were also influenced by the mystical dimension of his thought, as well as his legitimizing the use of logic in the mainstream traditions of religious disciplines. Besides, Suleyman Tevfik published the first two books of ihya’ in Turkish, and Musa Kazim highlighted some Tahafut issues in a journal article. There were also modern criticisms of some of al-Ghazali’s views, among them Mustafa Sabri’s points are most significant. References and discussions went on in the Republican era although with comparatively less emphasis. In my paper I will analyze these debates and influences among modern Ottoman Turkish thinkers and examine the role of al-Ghazali in the scholarship of the period.

Scott Michael Girdner, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, VA
“Al-Ghazali’s Philosophical Promotion of Traditionalism in The Niche of Lights and Its influence Within the Jewish Tradition”

The paper argues that al-Ghazali’s adapts the philosophical psychology of Ibn Sina in order to present a novel articulation of traditionalist hermeneutics and theology with special attention to al-Ghazali’s interpretation of Q 24:40 in The Niche of Lights (Mishkat al-anwar) and Q 42:51 in The Balance of Action (Mizan al-’amal).  It will then briefly outline the reception and influence of these interpretations in Judeo-Arabic works such as Maimonides’ Eight Chapters (Shemonah Perakim) and in Hebrew translations and commentaries on al-Ghazali’s works.

Taneli Kukkonen, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
“Al-Ghazali on Reason Going Wrong”

The notion of a sound innate disposition, or fitra, is central to al-Ghazali's explanation as to why and how humans come to know God and reach salvation. The first half of this presentation will explore the psychological underpinnings of Ghazali's conception of this innate disposition and how it finds its place in the cosmic order. The second half explores a more pregnant question: how is it that our fitra is sometimes prevented from reaching its natural goal and perfection, and why is it that its aims can become so fundamentally perverted as to lead one away from God and towards perdition? The answer, it again turns out, is intimately intertwined with al-Ghazali's conception of the cosmic order, which bears a strong Neoplatonic stamp. The way al-Ghazali that employs the late antique classification of logic lends added interest to his account of reason going wrong.

Ulrich Rudolph, University of Zurich, Switzerland
“Al-Ghazali’s Concept of Philosophy”

In contrast to earlier authors, recent scholars tend to draw a more nuanced picture of al-Ghazali’s relationship with philosophy. According to them, he did not simply attack the falasifa, but at the same time made ample use of their writings and shared quite a number of their positions. This new scholarly consensus raises – even more than the earlier one – the question of al-Ghazali’s concept of philosophy. What was/is philosophy according to him? How did he conceive it and define or, at least, describe it? And how was his description related to earlier conceptions of philosophy, both by the falasifa and by their opponents, the mutakallimun?

Ziad Bou Akl, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris
“The Purposes of the Law in al-Ghazali’s al-Mustasfa

In his last-written juridical summa al-Mustasfa min ‘ilm al-usul, al-Ghazali develops a theory of the purposes (maqasid) of the law which will have a great influence on later usuli literature: every law aims at preserving for men their religion, soul, intellect, offspring and property. In this paper, I propose to read these purposes of the law in relation with how al-Ghazali frames his ethical relativism notably at the beginning of the al-Mustasfa. Also, the paper will read the al-Mustasfa’s parallel to the presentation of the purposes of the law in Averroes’ Bidayat al-mujtahid. This will shed some light on the Ash’arite specitificy of al-Ghazālī’s theory.