Ghazali occupies a prominent position in the history of Islam. He has been referred to as the Ornament of Faith, the Proof of Islam, and the Renewer of Religion by his teeming fans. He was an influential theologian, mystic, philosopher, and jurist in Sunni Islam. He became active when Sunni Islam was being challenged by doctrines from the Shiite Ismailite religion and the Arabic tradition of the philosophy of Aristotle known then as falsafa or falsafi.
While rejecting most of the falsafi teachings, he accepted and applied a few of them to his beliefs. His work The Incoherence of Philosophers in which criticized the twenty positions of falsafi has been recognized as a significant cornerstone in the history of philosophy. Also, this work successfully introduced Aristotelian philosophy into the Muslim theology which was accepted by most Muslim theologians.
Al-Ghazali held quite a lot of views about the role and place of falsafi in Islam and in this article, we shall examine some of them:
Falsafi teachings should be tolerated
Al-Ghazali was of the view that every teaching, irrespective of their philosophical backgrounds or how erroneous they sound, should be tolerated then judged. While trying to set the boundaries of Islam, he declared that teachings that radically violated the core values and doctrines of the Islamic religion should be treated with unbelief and seen as apostasy. He was of the opinion that these teachings were overstepping their boundaries. He urged the Muslim community to only embrace teachings that did not contradict the basic Islamic tenets. This view led to the widespread adoption of the philosophy of Aristotle in Islam.
Falsafi can be used to reconcile conflicts between the literal meaning of revelation and reason.
The Sunni theologians had a problem with believing some of the revelations in the Qur’an. While some of them thought that the revelations should be interpreted literally, others only saw the revelations as a parable containing a hidden meaning. This divided opinions led to series of conflicts among the theologians. In a bid to resolve the clashes, Ghazali introduced the Aristotelian notion of demonstration. According to him, the reason the Sunni theologians were at loggerheads was due to them being unfamiliar with the techniques of demonstration found in falsafi. To Ghazali, reason is only executed by formulating arguments that get to a level where it is impossible to doubt their conclusions. Also, the results gotten from true demonstrations cannot clash with revelation because neither reason nor revelation can be seen as false. Therefore, if demonstration through its proof validates the literal meaning of a revelation, then interpretation should be applied. Thus, the conflicting text should be read as a symbol concealing a much deeper message.
The falsafi views about creation is wrong and should be discarded
The Aristotelian philosophy was of the belief that God did not create the universe out of nothing. Instead, God in his role as an eternal creator constantly combines new forms with matter. To Ghazali, this idea was erroneous as it clashed with the teachings of the Qur’an. He was of the opinion that God created the world out of nothing. He also believed that forms and matter were the creations of God.
Ghazali’s views on falsafi were original at a time when most philosophical doctrines were constantly being recycled. His acceptance of the falsafi led to a more refined discourse in epistemology and metaphysics within the Muslim community.
Photo Credit: Hatem Bazian