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Al- Ghazali , the Transcendence of God, and the Primacy of Law in Islam. Ryan C. Mayer Arabic Philosophy, Dr. Sebastian Mahfood Spring 2011. Thesis: “The total transcendence of God and the occasionalism and Sufism of al-Ghazali necessitate the primacy of sharia within Islam”. Ryan C. Mayer

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Al-Ghazali, the Transcendence of God, and the Primacy of Law in Islam

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy, Dr. Sebastian Mahfood

Spring 2011

slide2

Thesis:

“The total transcendence of God and the occasionalism and Sufism of al-Ghazali necessitate the primacy of sharia within Islam”

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy, Dr. Sebastian Mahfood

Spring 2011

slide3

How is one to know the will of God?

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide4

Two Sources

Christianity recognizes two sources of knowledge about God; direct revelation (completely in Christ), and the natural order discernable by reason.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide5

Two Sources

“Beyond the witness to himself that God gives in created things…God has revealed himself fully by sending his own Son”

-Catechism of the Catholic Church

no. 70 & 73

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide6

How does man come to know what God wills?

&

Revealed Divine Law

Natural Law

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide7

Natural Law as Participation in the Eternal Law

“…the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else than an imprint on us of the Divine light. It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature's participation of the eternal law.”

-Summa Theologica II.91.2

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide8

Natural Law as Participation in the Eternal Law

Christianity affirms that rational man is capable of discerning what God wills, not only by direct revelation, but by a “participation” in the Eternal Law that springs from the mind of God. In other words, affirming Natural Law as a discernable source of knowing God’s will means that the rational creature is capable of knowing what God wills without God directly revealing it.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide9

Natural Law as Participation in the Eternal Law

Thus, discernment of the natural law presupposes that God is in some way knowable by the rational creature and that the natural world bears some similitude to God. If He is in no way knowable, then neither can his will be discerned apart from direct revelation. The next question that arises then is “to what extent is man capable of knowledge about God?”

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide10

The Primacy of Religious Law (sharia) in Islam

In his chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, Abd-Allah notes that “Islam is ‘ruled by law’.  It is not theocratic but nomocratic in nature, and the religious law which underpins this is all-embracing” (237). 

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide11

The Primacy of Religious Law (sharia) in Islam

 The emphasis on religious law (sharia) in Islam stems from a number of sources and its relationship to both kalam and falsafa as understood by various Arabic philosophers and Islamic jurists is not always consistent.  Nevertheless, nearly all seem to afford sharia a primacy within the practice of Islam.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

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The Primacy of Religious Law (sharia) in Islam

Being a scholar within Islam meant primarily to be an expert in law, and jurists were seen not only as legal practitioners but as “successors to the Prophet” (Abd-Allah 237).  In other words, there is an inherent relationship between sharia and Quranic revelation. 

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

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The Primacy of Religious Law (sharia) in Islam

One such legal scholar was Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad Ghazali (d. 1111).  

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

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al-Ghazali

(Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad Ghazali)

Al-Ghazali was schooled in madrasas, the religious colleges that focused on Islamic law and would later write a major work on Islamic law, The Choice Essentials of the Principles of Religion (Marmura 138). 

His strong background and focus in Islamic law seems to have a kind of ripple effect throughout his later thought.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide15

al-Ghazali

(Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad Ghazali)

Abd-Allah makes a point of saying that after al-Ghazali, any separation between law and kalam that had previously existed among Arabic philosophers all but disappeared, to the extent that “…many jurists and jurisprudents came to regard kalam as the principal underpinning of legal speculation, even to the extent that they regarded jurisprudence as a branch of theology” (247).

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

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al-Ghazali

(Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad Ghazali)

The fact that Islamic jurisprudence came to be regarded as a branch of kalam seems to indicate that there exists an essential connection between law and an understanding of God’s very nature.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

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al-Ghazali & the Ash’arites

Al-Ghazali subscribed to the Ash’arite school of thelogy and to Sufi mysticism.

The Ash’arites were primarily concerned with the concept of the attributes of God, and primarily the will of God.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide18

al-Ghazali & the Ash’arites

Ash’arite theology posits atomism, the notion that the material world is a collection of indivisible and unconnected parts that requires being continually and directly held together by God.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide19

al-Ghazali & the Ash’arites

Because of this, Ash’arite theology further posits that, since God is the only cause in the world (there are no secondary causes), the world is annihilated and created in every event since each and every event or effect requires a new act of creation by God. If God did not directly will and cause an effect, it could not have occurred. This is known as “occassionalism”. (Nasr, 130)

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide20

al-Ghazali & the Ash’arites

For al-Ghazali, even what seem to be real secondary causes are in fact instances of God’s direct causation. Marmura explains, “The connection of [cause and effect] is due to the prior decree of God who creates them side by side” (146).

There is no real necessary causal connection between things, since, because of God’s power and freedom of will, any effect perceived of as necessarily following a cause could have been otherwise.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

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al-Ghazali & the Ash’arites

Al-Ghazali gives his famous example of fire igniting cotton. What we see is the fire touching the cotton and then the cotton being reduced to ashes. We wrongly assume that there is thus a necessary causal relationship between fire burning and the cotton being burned. In fact, these two events merely occur alongside one another, while it is God Who intervenes directly causing the cotton to ignite (Marmura 146).

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

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al-Ghazali & the Ash’arites

This seems to be the necessary conclusion of atomism. If the material world is merely a collection of unrelated and disconnected parts (atoms), then groupings of atoms (such as what we might call “fire”) can no more act on another grouping of atoms (what we might call “cotton”) than can two individuals in separate rooms shake hands. God’s direct intervention is necessary.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

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al-Ghazali & the Ash’arites

Nasr insightfully points out that this resembles the atheistic atomism of the scientific “enlightenment”, though in a “vertical” form, while modern materialism posits only “horizontal” causes.

In Ash’arite theology, God is necessary for causation since there are no secondary (“horizontal”) causes, while in atheistic scientism, ONLY secondary causes exist and there is no God, and hence no need for “vertical” causes.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

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al-Ghazali & the Ash’arites

This seems to remove any possibility for recognizing real “natures” in things since things have no real causality. God’s total freedom of will and power to cause an event other than what He has previously habitually caused to be so renders the human intellect incapable of assuming that it can know what God wills through insight into the natural order.

Hence, direct revelation from God is necessary for the human intellect to come to knowledge of what God wills.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

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al-Ghazali & the Ash’arites

For what I believe to be the Natural Law implications of this, see Daniel Petruccio’s project:

http://prezi.com/qj7l8wbohzuv/copy-of-arabic-philosophy-project-dan-petruccio/

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide26

al-Ghazali

Al-Ghazali went through a period of skepticism about the ability to trust his sense and his reason.  What can man be certain of? 

While he admits that this skepticism lasted only about two months, it could be seen one wonders if his distrust of both reason and his senses led al-Ghazali toward reliance on the will of God, also a special point of focus for the Ash’arites.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide27

al-Ghazali

This is consistent with the Ash’asrite adherence to the second horn of Euthyphro’s dilemma, namely that a thing is good because God wills it.  “The Good” is wrapped up in and dependent upon what God wills.  This seems to necessitate a focus on sharia not only in personal devotion but in all spheres.  So a question arises then, “what is it about God’s will that demands such a singular focus?”

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide28

al-Ghazali

This brings us back to importance of law within Islam. If “the Good” is completely contingent upon the will of God (as we even seen with causation in the natural world), and God’s will is completely free and unbound, then, as Bernard G. Weiss writes, “…any reversals of divine commands [are] theoretically impossible. Quite obviously, this way of thinking was inhospitable to the development of any notion of natural law in Islam (35).

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide29

al-Ghazali the Sufi

Al-Ghazali seemed to view both reason and faith as inadequate to come to knowledge of God, leading him to see direct experience with God as the highest form of knowledge about God (Fakhry, 256), or what the Sufis called “taste” (dhawq).

Al-Ghazali added a particular nuance to Sufi mysticism, re-interpreting the Sufi notion of individual annihilation (al-fana) in God with “closeness” (qurb) (Marmura, 140).

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide30

al-Ghazali the Sufi

For the Sufi mystics (and indeed for the majority of the Arabic philosophers), God is completely unlike anything that can be known by the human intellect. Toby Mayer writes, “…in common with other mystical theologies, [Sufism] strongly inclined to…expressing God through denial, not affirmation, through ‘unsaying’ rather than ‘saying’ (259).

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide31

al-Ghazali the Sufi

Also for this reason, abd-Allah notes that “the jurists of Islam were more comfortable with sufism than with rationalistic theology”, since its foundation for the need for mystical experience is the same as that of law, the transcendence of God (253).

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

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al-Ghazali the Sufi

This approach is also seen in other Arabic Philosophers such as in the negative theologies of al-Sijistani, al-Kirmani (see Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy pp. 81-85). Universally, the Arabic philosophers sought to avoid attributing to God similitude to anything else.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide33

al-Ghazali the Sufi

While we might think of legalism and mysticism as naturally opposed to one another, Sufi mysticism also placed importance on law.  As we have seen, al-Ghazali, was both a lawyer and a Sufi.  For the Ash’arites, God’s will is so free that there is no necessary relationship between human action and reward and punishment.  Rather, the divine law exists in order to give human beings a glimpse of what God will reward and what He will punish.  But God is not bound to do so. 

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide34

al-Ghazali the Sufi

The law then, exists as a kind of promise, ensuring for human beings that this particular action will be rewarded and that will not.  It is not in the human capacity to know this other than by divine decree, since there is no necessary relationship between human action and divine rewards and punishments and since God is totally free. 

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide35

Sufism, Occasionalism, and Jurisprudence Converge in al-Ghazali

These unlikely foci of the theology of al-Ghazali converge harmoniously if we recognize what they seem to have in common: the non-similitude of God to anything else.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide36

In Brief…

  • Al-Ghazali embodied the threads running through kalam and falsafa that necessitated the primacy of sharia within Islam.
  • Sufism posits the unknowability of God save from direct experience (taste).
  • Ash’arite occassionalism denies secondary causality, necessitating direct causation by God for all events.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide37

In Brief…(cont.)

  • The Ash’arite focus on the Divine attributes, especially the will of God, derives from their voluntaristic occassionalism.
  • Islamic legal scholars (such as al-Ghazali) were more confortable with Sufi theology than rationalistic forms of kalam because the Sufi focus on the inexpresibility of God highlighted the need for God’s will to be known through law.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide38

Conclusion

  • The total transcendence of God and al-Ghazali’s occassionalism and Sufism blended perfectly in this Islamic legal scholar, such that these ideas converge to emphasize the necessity of sharia within Islam.
  • God, being totally “other” than anything else, is unknowable apart from His direct intervention (hence the Sufi emphasis on direct experience), while occasionalsim means that His will is inexpressible in anything other than direct speech, thus sharia is the only true source concerning knowledge of God’s will.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011

slide39

Bibliography

Abd-Allah, Umar F.  “Theological Dimensions of Islamic Law.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, edited by Tim Winter, 237-257.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Butterworth, Charles E.  “Ethical and Political Philosophy.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy, edited by Peter Adamson and Richard C. Taylor, 266-286.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Fakhry, Majid. A History of Islamic Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Griffel, Frank.  Al-Ghazali’s Philosophical Theology.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Marmura, Michael A.  “Al-Ghazali.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy, edited by Peter Adamson and Richard C. Taylor, 137-154.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Mayer, Toby  “Theology and Sufism.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, edited by Tim Winter, 258-287.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

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Bibliography (cont.)

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein.  Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the Present: Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy.  New York: State University of New York Press, 2006.

Weiss, Bernard G.  The Spirit of Islamic Law. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2006.

Ryan C. Mayer

Arabic Philosophy

Spring 2011