Saturday, March 16, 2013

Imam al-Ghazali's Faysal al-Tafriqa Bayna al-Islam wa al-Zandaqa

Category: SOUND

The title is translated into English as: The Decisive Criterion for Distinguishing Islam from Masked Infidelity.

The English translation of the book is from On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam: Abu Hamid al Ghazali's Faysal al Tafriqa (Studies in Islamic Philosophy) by Dr. Sherman A Jackson (also known as Abdul Hakim Jackson).

Download Link: Click here for PDF

Abu Hamid al Ghazali, one of the most famous intellectuals in the history of Islam, developed a definition of Unbelief (kufr) to serve as the basis for determining who, in theological terms, should be considered a Muslim and who should not. Jackson's annotated translation is preceded by an introduction that reconstructs the historical and theoretical context of the Faysal and discusses its relevance for contemporary thought and practice.
It is composed of a somewhat lengthy introduction by Dr. Jackson followed by the translation. Here are some of my thoughts on Dr. Jackson's commentary, to be followed later by any notes on the work itself:

  • He says Al-Ghazali didn't go into his criticism of the Neoplatonists here. That's because he did that in Tahafut Al-Falasifah (Incoherence of the Philosophers).

  • He says the Qur'an is not a book of logic and doesn't tell us "how" to reason. Al-Ghazali derived the basic rules of syllogism from the Qur'an in Al-Qistas Al-Mustaqim (The Just Balance).

  • I would not trust anything written about the four Imams of fiqh from Western sources without verifying the claims yourself, including an Islamic scholar like Dr. Jackson because far too many works are either falsely attributed to or falsely disassociated from these 'ulema in the Western tradition and it is too easy to get caught up in these mistakes in Western academia.

  • The first 18-19 pages of the intro are good, then Dr. Jackson's own biases kind of bleed through. He is a Maliki in fiqh but he seems to be partial to Athari/Hanbali 'aqeedah, going so far as to reach over to Christian theology for some ideas which were totally unnecessary to bring into the book (though he does acknowledge they are antithetical to Islam) for the purposes of showing how anthropomorphism can be rational.

  • His discussion on tradition is insightful but unnecessary. Tradition can be reduced into terms of reason by thinking of it as the process of preserving a paradigm of thought (in a very Kuhnian manner), or preserving a living tradition of thought. This involves transmission and his definition of tradition, but not one without the other, as the goal is to preserve a living tradition (sort of like how we preserved the Sunnah, the living practice of the Qur'an). This is reflected in my book in the discussion of the madhahib and taqlid.

  • The criticism of the scholarly community in the section on Al-Ghazali's life is very well written and full of profound insight into today's affairs, which are a reverse of that era.

    He quotes Imam al-Ghazali,
    "How many towns are there that are devoid of Muslim doctors, while it is not permissible to accept the expert testimony of non-Muslims in cases involving the religious law. Yet, we do not see anyone devoting himself to the study of medicine. Instead, they fall over each other in pursuit of jurisprudence, especially dialectics and the art of disputation, despite the fact that there is an abundance of jurists who can issue legal opinions and address the issues of the day. I wish I knew how the jurists could sanction the undertaking of communal obligations that are already being met to the neglect of communal obligations that are not being met. Is there any reason for this other than the fact that the study of medicine does not provide easy access to executorships of religious endowments, bequests and estates of orphans or to judgeships, government positions, superiority over one's peers and power over one's enemies?"
    While some might be eager to use these as arguments against scholarly tradition, they ought to be reminded that this particular academic tradition in Baghdad met an untimely end at the hands of the Mongols. God's wrath was already felt upon Baghdad and all those that Al-Ghazali had to deal with. The 'ulema of today are a great deal more influenced by Al-Ghazali than the pre-Al-Ghazali tradition. And conversely, Western orientalists had often lamented this, because they thought Al-Ghazali brought down the level of intellectual debate by discouraging debate (on the other hand, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy sees Al-Ghazali as ushering in a Golden Age of Islamic Philosophy by making logic part of the curriculum at madaris or seminaries). Yet they could only agree with the sentiment expressed above, and elsewhere in Al-Ghazali's works, that empirical work in the health and physical/natural sciences was a communal obligation no longer being fulfilled.

  • A fair bit of this is focused on a principle I have repeatedly brought up. The difference between a person's views and the logical consequences of those views. A person might have a set of beliefs which, taken to their logical extreme, necessitate a belief in flying dolphins... without actually believing in flying dolphins. So to attribute to such a person a belief in flying dolphins is incorrect, so care must be taken in drawing this line when criticizing the views of another. In terms of their beliefs in the moment, the theologians of the various sects, including some of the heretics, were mostly on the same page (i.e, their 'aqeedah). It is only in their statements of rationalization of their beliefs (more akin to theology) where differences arose because these different ways of stating the beliefs, when taken to their logical consequences/extremes, wound up in very different places, even kufr. Yet kufr was not an applicable label for the adherents because they were not guilty of believing in those resulting doctrines, they were just guilty of holding illogical or logically inconsistent views, so the issue here is the correction of logic or statement of belief moreso than a correction of belief, particularly on difficult subjects like the Divine Attributes which could be approached from any number of directions. This is something much more discernible in modern scholarship but not so much in Al-Ghazali's time.

  • The introduction closes on a very strong note by sticking to a discussion of Al-Ghazali's views, which is a worthwhile read for anyone.
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