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The Development of Metaphysics in Persia

The Development of Metaphysics in Persia


Part 1 Pre-Islamic Persian Philosophy
Chapter 1-Persian Dualism
Part 2-Greek Dualism
Chapter 2-Neo-Platonic Aristotelians of Persia
Chapter 3 - The Rise and Fall of Rationalism in Islam
Chapter 4 - Controversy Between Idealism and Realism
Chapter 5 - Sufiism
Chapter 6 - Later Persian Thought

Content may differ in other languages.

§ I.
The Metaphysics of Rationalism — Materialism.

The Persian mind, having adjusted itself to the new political environment, soon reasserts its innate freedom, and begins to retire from the field of objectivity, in order that it may come back to itself, and reflect upon the material achieved in its journey out of its own inwardness. With the study of Greek thought, the spirit which was almost lost in the concrete, begins to reflect and realise itself as the arbiter of truth. Subjectivity asserts itself, and endeavours to supplant all outward authority. Such a period, in the intellectual history of a people, must be the epoch of rationalism, scepticism, mysticism, heresy — forms in which the human mind, swayed by the growing force of subjectivity, rejects all external standards of truth. And so we find the epoch under consideration.
The period of Umayyad dominance is taken up with the process of co-mingling and adjustment to new conditions of life; but with the rise of the 'Abbāsid Dynasty and the study of Greek Philosophy, the pent-up intellectual force of Persia bursts out again, and exhibits wonderful activity in all the departments of thought and action. The fresh intellectual vigour imparted by the assimilation of Greek Philosophy which was studied with great avidity, led immediately to a critical examination of Islamic Monotheism. Theology, enlivened by religious fervour, leārned to talk the language of Philosophy earlier than cold reason began to seek a retired corner, away from the noise of controversy, in order to construct a consistent theory of things. In the first half of the 8th century we find Wāṣil Ibn 'Atā — a Persian disciple of the famous theologian Ḥasan of Basra — starting Mu'tazilaism (Rationalism) — that most interesting movement which engaged some of the subtlest minds of Persia, and finally exhausted its force in the keen metaphysical controversies of Baghdād and Basra. The famous city of Basra had become, owing to its commercial situation, the play-ground of various forces — Greek Philosophy, Scepticism, Christianity, Buddhistic ideas, Manichaeism[1] — which furnished ample spiritual food to the inquiring mind of the time, and formed the intellectual environment of Islamic Rationalism. What Spitta calls the Syrian period of Muhammadan History is not characterised with metaphysical subtleties. With the advent of the Persian Period, however, Muhammadan students of Greek Philosophy began properly to reflect on their religion; and the Mu'tazila thinkers, gradually[2] drifted into metaphysics with which alone we are concerned here. It is not our object to trace the history of the Mu'tazila Kalām; for present purposes it will be sufficient if we briefly reveal the metaphysical implications of the Mu'tazila view of Islām. The conception of God, and the theory of matter, therefore, are the only āspects of Rationalism which we propose to discuss here.
His conception of the unity of God at which the Mu'tazila eventually arrived by a subtle dialectic is one of the fundamental points in which he differs from the Orthodox Muhammadan. God's attributes, according to his view, cannot be said to inhere in him; they form the very essence of His nature. The Mu'tazila, therefore, denies the separate reality of divine attributes, and declares their absolute identity with the abstract divine Principle. "God", says Abu'l-Hudhail, "is knowing, all-powerful, living; and his knowledge, power and life constitute His very essence (dhāt)"[3]. In order to explain the pure unity of God Joseph Al-Baṣīr[4] lays down the following five principles: —
(1).         The necessary supposition of atom and accident.
(2).         The necessary supposition of a creator.
(3).         The necessary supposition of the conditions (Aḥwāl) of God.
(4).         The rejection of those attributes which do not befit God.
(5).         The unity of God in spite of the plurality of His attributes.
This conception of unity underwent further modifications; until in the hands of Mu'ammar and Abu Hāshim it became a mere abstract possibility about which nothing could be predicated. We cannot, he says, predicate knowledge of God,[5] for His knowledge must be of something in Himself. The first necessitates the identity of subject and object which is absurd; the second implicates duality in the nature of God which is equally impossible. Aḥmad and Faḍl[6] — disciples of Nazzām, however, recognised this duality in holding that the original creators are two — God — the eternal principle; and the word of God — Jesus Christ — the contingent principle. But more fully to bring out the element of truth in the second alternative suggested by Mu'ammar, was reserved, as we shall see, for later Sufī thinkers of Persia. It is, therefore, clear that some of the rationalists almost unconsciously touched the outer fringe of later pantheism for which, in a sense, they prepared the way, not only by their definition of God, but also by their common effort to internalise the rigid externality of an absolute law.
But the most important contribution of the advocates of Rationalism to purely metaphysical speculation, is their explanation of matter, which their opponents — the Ash'arite — afterwards modified to fit in with their own views of the nature of God. The interest of Nazzām chiefly consisted in the exclusion of all arbitrariness from the orderly course of nature.[7] The same interest in naturalism led Al-Jāhiz to define Will in a purely negative manner.[8] Though the Rationalist thinkers did not want to abandon the idea of a Personal Will, yet they endeavoured to find a deeper ground for the independence of individual natural phenomena. And this ground they found in matter itself. Nazzām taught the infinite divisibility of matter, and obliterated the distinction between substance and accident.[9] Existence was regarded as a quality super-imposed by God on the pre-existing material atoms which would have been incapable of perception without this quality. Muhammad Ibn 'Uthmān, one of the Mu'tazila Shaikhs, says Ibn ῌazm,[10] maintained that the non‑existent (atom in its pre-existential state) is a body in that state; only that in its pre-existential condition it is neither in motion, nor at rest, nor is it said to be created. Sub-stance, then, is a collection of qualities — taste, odour, colour — which, in themselves, are nothing more than material potentialities. The soul, too, is a finer kind of matter; and the processes of knowledge are mere mental motions. Creation is only the actualisation of pre-existing potentialities[11] (Ṭafra). The individuality of a thing which is defined as "that of which something can be predicated”[12] is not an essential factor in its notion. The collection of things we call the Universe, is externalised or perceptible reality which could, so to speak, exist independent of all perceptibility. The object of these metaphysical subtleties is purely theological. God, to the Rationalist, is an absolute unity which can, in no sense, admit of plurality, and could thus exist without the perceptible plurality — the Universe.
The activity of God, then, consists only in making the atom perceptible. The properties of the atom flow from its own nature. A stone thrown up falls down on account of its own indwelling property.[13] God, says Al-'Aṭṭār of Basra and Bishr ibn al Mu'tamir, did not create colour, length, breadth, taste or smell — all these are activities of bodies themselves.[14] Even the number of things in the Universe is not known to God[15]. Bishr ibn al-Mu'tamir further explained the properties of bodies by what he called "Tawallud" — interaction of bodies.[16] Thus it is clear that the Rationalists were philosophically materialists, and theologically deists.
To them substance and atom are identical, and they define substance as a space-filling atom which, besides the quality of filling space, has a certain direction, force and existence forming its very essence as an actuality. In shape it is squarelike; for if it is supposed to be circular, combination of different atoms would not be possible. There is, however, great difference of opinion among the exponents of atomism in regard to the nature of the atom. Some hold that atoms are all similar to each other; while Abu'l-Oāsim of Balkh regards them as similar as well as dissimilar. When we say that two things are similar to each other, we do not necssarily mean that they are similar in all their attributes. Abu'l-Oāsim further differs from Nazzān in advocating the indestructibility of the atom. He holds that the atom had a beginning in time; but that it cannot be completely annihilated. The attribute of "Baqā" (continued existence), he says, does not give to its subject a new attribute other than existence; and the continuity of existence is not an additional attribute at all. The divine activity created the atom as well as its continued existence. Abu'l-Oāsim, however, admits that some atoms may not have been created for continued existence. He denies also the existence of any intervening space between different atoms, and holds, unlike other representatives of the school, that the essence or atom (Māhiyyat) could not remain essence in a state of non-existence. To advocate the opposite is a contradiction in terms. To say that the essence (which is essence because of the attribute of existence) could remain essence in a state of non-existence, is to say that the existent could remain existent in a state of non-existence. It is obvious that Abu'l-Qāsim here approaches the Ash'arite theory of knowledge which dealt a serious blow to the Rationalist theory of matter.

§ II.
Contemporary Movements of Thought.

Side by side with the development of Mu'tazilaism we see, as is natural in a period of great intellectual activity, many other tendencies of thought manifesting themselves in the philosophical and religious circles of Islam. Let us notice them briefly:—
I.  Scepticism. The tendency towards scepticism was the natural consequence of the purely dialectic method of Rationalism. Men such as Ibn AShras and Al-Jāhiz who apparently belonged to the Rationalist camp, were really sceptics. The standpoint of Al-Jāhiz who inclined to deistic naturalism,[18] is that of a cultured man of the time, and not of a professional theologian. In him is noticeable also a reation against the metaphysical hairsplitting of his predecessors, and a desire to widen the pale of theology for the sake of the illiterate who are incapable of reflecting on articles of faith.
2. Ṣūfīism — an appeal to a higher source of knowledge which was first systematised by Dhu'l-Nūn, and became more and more deepened and antischolastic in contrast to the dry intellectualism of the Ash’arite. We shall consider this interesting movement in the following chapter.
3. The revival of authority—Isma'īlianisma movement characteristically Persian which, instead of repudiating freethought, endeavours to come to an understanding with it. Though this movement seems to have no connection with the theological controversies of the time, yet its connection with freethought is fundamental. The similarity between the methods practised by the Isma'īlian missionaries and those of the partisans of the association called Ikhwan al-Safa — Brethren of Purity — suggests some sort of secret relation between the two institutions. Whatever may be the motive of those who started this movement, its significance as an intellectual phenomenon should not be lost sight of. The multiplicity of philosophical and religious views— a necessary consequence of speculative activity — is apt to invoke forces which operate against this, religiously speaking, dangerous multiplicity. In the 18th century history of European thought we see Fichte, starting with a sceptical inquiry concerning the nature of matter, and finding its last word in Pantheism. Schleiermacher appeals to Faith as opposed to Reason, Jacobi points to a source of knowledge higher than reason, while Comte abandons all metaphysical inquiry, and limits all knowledge to sensuous perception. De Maistre and Schlegel, on the other hand, find a resting place in the authority of an absolutely infallible Pope. The advocates of the doctrine of Imāmat think in the same strain as De Maistre; but it is curious that the Isma īliams, while making this doctrine the basis of their Church, permitted free play to all sorts of thinking.
The Ismailia movement then is one aspect of the persistent battle[19] which the intellectually
independent Persian waged against the religious and political ideals of Islam. Originally a branch of the Shiite religion, the Ismaīlia sect assumed quite a cosmopolitan character with 'Abdulla ibn Maimūn — the probable progenitor of the Fātimid Caliphs of Egypt — who died about the same time when Al-ASh'arī, the great opponent of Freethought, was born. This curious man imagined a vast scheme in which he weaved together innumerable threads of various hues, resulting in a cleverly constructed equivocation, charming to the Persian mind for its mysterious character and misty Pythagorean Philosophy. Like the Association of the Brethren of Purity, he made an attempt, under the pious cloak of the doctrine of Imāmat (Authority), to synthesise all the dominating ideas of the time. Greek Philosophy, Christianity, Rationalism, Sūfīism, Manichaeism, Persian heresies, and above all the idea of reincarnation, all came forward to contribute their respective shares to the boldly conceived Ismā'īlian whole, the various aspects of which were to be gradually revealed to the initiated, by the "Leader" — the ever Incarnating Universal Reason — according to the intellectual development of the age in which he incarnated himself. In the Ismā'īlian movement, Freethought, apprehending the collapse of its ever widening structure, seeks to rest upon a stable basis, and, by a strange irony of fate, is led to find it in the very idea which is revolting to its whole being. Barren authority, though still apt to reassert herself at times, adopts this unclaimed child, and thus permits herself to assimilate all knowledge past, present and future.
The unfortunate connection, however, of this movement with the politics of the time, has misled many a scholar. They see in it (Macdonald, for instance) nothing more than a powerful conspiracy to uproot the political power of the Arab from Persia. They have denounced the Ismā'īlian Church which counted among its followers some of the best heads and sincerest hearts, as a mere clique of dark murderers who were ever watching for a possible victim. We must always remember, while estimating the character of these people, the most barbarous persecutions which drove them to pay red-handed fanaticism in the same coin. Assassinations for religious purposes were considered unobjectionable, and even perhaps lawful, among the whole Semite race. As late as the latter half of the 16th century, the Pope of Rome could approve such a dreadful slaughter as the massacre of St. Bartholomew. That assassination, even though actuated by religious zeal, is still a crime, is a purely modern idea; and justice demands that we should not judge older generations with our own standards of right and wrong. A great religious movement which shook to its very foundations the structure of a vast empire, and, having successfully passed through the varied ordeals of moral reproach, calumny and persecution, stood up for centuries as a champion of Science and Philosophy, could not have entirely rested on the frail basis of a political conspiracy of a mere local and temporary character. Ismā'īlianism, in spite of its almost entire loss of original vitality, still dominates the ethical ideal of not an insignificant number in India, Persia, Central Asia, Syria and Africa; while the last expression of Persian thought — Bābism — is essentially Ismā'īlian in its character.
To return, however, to the Philosophy of the sect. From the later Rationalists they borrowed their conception of Divinity. God, or the ultimate principle of existence, they teach, has no attribute. His nature admits of no predication. When we predicate the attribute of power to him, we only mean that He is the giver of power; when we predicate eternity, we indicate the eternity of what the Qur'ān calls "Amt." (word of God) as distinguished from the "Khalq" (creation of God) which is contingent. In His nature all contradictions melt away, and from Him flow all opposites. Thus they consided themselves to have solved the problem which had troubled the mind of Zoroaster and his followers.
In order to find an answer to the question, "What is plurality?" the Ismaīlia refer to what they consider a netaphysical axiom — "that from one only one can proceed". But the one which proceeds, is not something completely different from which it proceeds. It is really the Primal one transformed. The Primal Unity, therefore, transformed itself into the First Intellect (Universal Reason); and then, by means of this transformation of itself, created the Universal soul which, impelled by its nature to perfectly identify itself with the original source, felt the necessity of motion, and consequently of a body possessing the power of motion. In order to achieve its end, the soul created the heavens moving in circular motion according to its direction. It also created the elements which mixed together, and formed the visible Universe — the scene of plurality through which it endeavours to pass with a view to come back to the original source. The individual soul is an epitome of the whole Universe which exists only for its progressive education. The Universal Reason incarnates itself from time to time, in the personality of the "Leader" who illuminates the soul in pro-portion to its experience and understanding, and gradually guides it through the scene of plurality to the world of eternal unity. When the Universal soul reaches its goal, or rather returns to its own deep being, the process of disintegration ensues. "Particles constituting the Universe fall off from each other — those of goodness go to truth (God) which symbolises unity; those of evil go to untruth (Devil) which symbolises diversity"[20]. This is but briefly the Ism Līlian Philosophy — a mixture, as Sharastānī remarks,. of Philosophical and Manichaean ideas — which. by gradually arousing the slumbering spirit of scepticism, they administered, as it were, in doses to the initiated, and finally brought them to that stage of spiritual emancipation where solemn ritual drops off, and dogmatic religion appears to be nothing more than a systematic arrangement of useful falsehoods.
The Ismā'īlian doctrine is the first attempt to amalgamate contemporary Philosophy with a really Persian view of the Universe, and to restate Islam, in reference to this synthesis, by allegorical interpretation of the Qur'ān — a method which was afterwards adopted by Sūfīism. With them the Zoroastrian Ahriman (Devil) is not the malignant creator of evil things but it is a principle which violates the eternal unity, and breaks it up into visible diversity. The idea that some principle of difference in the nature of the ultimate existence must be postulated in order to account for empirical diversity, underwent further modifications; until in the ῌurūfī sect (an offshoot of the Ismā'īlia), in the fourteenth century, it touched contemporary Ṣūfīism on the one hand, and Christian Trinity on the other. The "Be", maintained the Hurūfīs, is the eternal word of God, which, itself uncreated, leads to further creation — the word externalised. "But for the ‘word' the recognition of the essence of Divinity would have been impossible; since Divinity is beyond the reach of sense — perception"[21]. The ‘word', therefore, became flesh in the womb of Mary[22] in order to manifest the Father. The whole Universe is the manifestation of God's ‘word', in which He is immanent.[23] Every sound in the Universe is within God; every atom is singing the song of eternity;[24] all is life. Those who want to
discover the ultimate reality of things, let them seek "the named" through the Name,[25] which at once conceals and reveals its subject.

§ III.
Reaction against Rationalism — The Ash'arīte.

Patronised by the early Caliphs of the House of 'Abbās, Rationalism continued to flourish in the intellectual centres of the Islamic world; until, in the first half of the 9th century, it met the powerful orthodox reaction which found a very energetic leader in Al-Ash’arī (b. 873 A.D.) who studied under Rationalist teachers only to demolish, by their own methods, the edifice they had so laboriously built. He was a pupil of Al-Jubbā'ī[26]— the representative of the younger school of Mu’tazilaism in Basra— with whom he had many controversies[27] which eventually terminated their friendly relations, and led the pupil to bid farewell to the Mu'tazila camp. "The fact". says Spitta, "that Al-Ash'arī was so thoroughly a child of his time with the successive currents of which he let himself go, makes him, in another relation, an important figure to us. In him, as in any other, are clearly reflected the various tendencies of this politically as well as religiously interesting period; and we seldom find ourselves in a position to weigh the power of the orthodox confession and the Mu'tazilite speculation, the child-like helpless manner of the one, the immaturity and imperfection of the other, so completely as in the life of this man who was orthodox as a boy and a Mu'tazila as a young man".[28] The Mu'tazila speculation (e.g. Al-Jāḥiz) tended to be absolutely unfettered, and in some cases led to a merely negative attitude of thought. The movement initiated by Al-Ash'arī was an attempt not only to purge Islām of all non-Islamic elements which had quietly crept into it, but also to harmonize the religious consciousness with the religious thought of Islam. Rationalism was an attempt to measure reality by reason alone; it implied the identity of the spheres of religion and philosophy, and strove to express faith in the form of concepts or terms of pure thought. It ignored the facts of human nature, and tended to disintegrate the solidarity of the Islamic Church. Hence the reaction.
The orthodox reaction led by the Ash'arite then was, in reality, nothing more than the transfer of dialectic method to the defence of the authority of Divine Revelation. In opposition to the Rationalists, they maintained the doctrine of the Attributes of God; and, as regards the Free Will controversy, they adopted a course lying midway between the extreme fatalism of the old school, and the extreme libertarianism of the Rationalists. They teach that the power of choice as well as all human actions are created by God; and that man has been given the power of acquiring[29] the different modes of activity. But Fakhral-Dīn Rāzī, who in his violent attack on philosophy was strenuously opposed by Tūsī and Qutbal-Dīn, does away with the idea of "acquisition", and openly maintains the doctrine of necessity in his commentary on the Qur'ān. The Mātarīdiyya — another school of anti-rationalist theology, founded by Abu Manṣūr Mātarīdī a native of Mātarīd in the environs of Samarqand — went back to the old rationalist position, and taught in opposition to the Ash'arite, that man has absolute control over his activity; and that his power affects the very nature of his actions. Al-Ash'arīs interest was purely theological; but it was impossible to harmonise reason and revelation without making reference to the ultimate nature of reality. Bāqilānī[30] therefore, made use of some purely metaphysical propositions (that substance is an individual unity; that quality cannot exist in quality; that perfect vacuum is possible.) in his Theo-logical investigation, and thus gave the school a metaphysical foundation which it is our main object to bring out. We shall not, therefore, dwell upon their defence of orthodox beliefs (e.g. that the Qur'ān is uncreated; that the visibility of God is possible etc.); but we shall endeavour to pick up the elements of metaphysical thought in their theological controversies. In order to meet contemporary philosophers on their own ground, they could not dispense with plilosophising; hence willingly or unwillingly they had to develop a theory of knowledge peculiar to themselves.
God, according to the Ash'arite, is the ultimate necessary existence which "carries its attributes in its own being";[31] and whose existence (wujūd) and essence (Māhiyyat) are identical. Besides the argument from the contingent character of motion they used the following arguments to prove the existence of this ultimate principle: —
(I).          All bodies, they argue, are one in so far as the phenomenal fact of their existence is concerned. But in spite of this unity, their qualities are different and even opposed to each other. We are, therefore, driven to postulate an ultimate cause in order to account for their empirical divergence.
(2).         Every contingent being needs a cause to account for its existence. The Universe is contingent; therefore it must have a cause; and that cause is God. That the Universe is contingent, they proved in the following manner. All that exists in the Universe, is either sub-stance or quality. The contingence of quality is evident, and the contingence of substance follows from the fact that no substance could exist apart from qualities. The contingence of quality necessitates the contingence of substance; otherwise the eternity of substance would necessitate the eternity of quality. In order fully to appreciate the value of this argument, it is necessary to understand the Ash'arite theory of knowledge. To answer the question, "What is a thing?" they subjected to a searching criticism the Aristotelian categories of thought, and arrived at the conclusion that bodies have no properties in themselves.[32] They made no distinction of secondary and primary qualities of a body, and reduced all of them to purely subjective relations. Quality too became with them a mere accident without which the sub-stance could not exist. They used the word substance or atom with a vague implication of externality; but their criticism, actuated by a pious desire to defend the idea of divine creation, reduced the Universe to a mere show of ordered subjectivities which, as they maintained like Berkeley, found their ultimate explanation in the Will of God. In his examination of human knowledge regarded as a product and not merely a process, Kant stopped at the idea of "Ding an sich", but the Ash'arite endeavoured to penetrate further, and maintained, against the contemporary Agnostic-Realism, that the so called underlying essence existed only in so far as it was brought in relation to the knowing subject. Their atomism, therefore, approaches that of Lotze[33] who, in spite of his desire to save external reality, ended in its complete reduction to ideality. But like Lotze they could not believe their atoms to be the inner working of the Infinite Primal Being. The interest of pure monotheism was too strong for them. The necessary consequence of their analysis of matter is a thorough going idealism like that of Berkeley; but perhaps their instinctive realism combined with the force of atomistic tradition, still compels them to use the word "atom" by which they endeavour to give something like a realistic coloring to their idealism. The interest of dogmatic theology drove them to maintain towards pure Philosophy an attitude of criticism which taught her unwilling advocates how to philosophise and build a metaphysics of their own.
But a more important and philosophically more significant aspect of the Ash'arite Meta-physics, is their attitude towards the Law of Causation.[34] Just as they repudiated all the principles of optics[35] in order to show, in opposition to the Rationalists, that God could be visible in spite of His being unextended, so with a view to defend the possibility of miracles, they rejected the idea of causation altogether. The orthodox believed in miracles as well as in the Universal Law of Causation; but they maintained that, at the time of manifesting a miracle, God suspended the operation of this law. The Ash'arite, however, starting with the supposition that cause and effect must be similar, could not share the orthodox view, and taught that the idea of power is meaningless, and that we know nothing but floating impressions, the phenomenal order of which is deter-mined by God.
Any account of the Ash'arite metaphysics would be incomplete without a notice of the work of AI-Ghazālī (d. IIII A.D.) who though misunderstood by many orthodox theologians, will always be looked upon as one of the greatest personalities of Islam. This sceptic of powerful ability anticipated Descartes[36] in his philosophical method; and, "seven hundred years before Hume cut the bond of causality with the edge of his dialectic"[37] he was the first to write a systematic refutation of philosophy, and completely to annihilate that dread of intellectualism which had characterised the orthodox. It was chiefly his influence that made men study dogma and metaphysics together, and eventually led to a system of education which produced such men as Shahrastānī, 'Al-Rāzī and Al-Ishrāqī. The following passage indicates his attitude as a thinker:—
"From my childhood I was inclined to think out things for myself. The result of this attitude was that I revolted against authority; and all the beliefs that had fixed themselves in my mind from childhood lost their original importance. I thought that such beliefs based on mere authority were equally entertained by Jews, Christians, and followers of other religions. Real knowledge must eradicate all doubt. For instance, it is self-evident that ten is greater than three. If a person, however, endeavours to prove the contrary by an appeal to his power of turning a stick into a snake, the performance would indeed be wonderful, though it cannot touch the certainty of the proposition in question"[38]. He examined afterwards, all the various claimants of "Certain Knowledge" and finally found it in Ṣūfīism.
With their view of the nature of substance, the Ash’arite, rigid monotheists as they were, could not safely discuss the nature of the human soul. Al-Ghazālī alone seriously took up the problem, and to this day it is difficult to define, with accuracy, his view of the nature of God. In him, like Borger and Solger in Germany, Sufī pantheism and the Ash'arite dogma of personality appear to harmonise together, a reconciliation which makes it difficult to say whether he was a Pantheist, or a Personal Pantheist of the type of Lotze. The soul, according to Al-Al-Ghazālī, perceives things. But perception as an attribute can exist only in a substance or essence which is absolutely free from all the attributes of body. In his Al-Madnūn,[39] he explains why the prophet declined to reveal the nature of the soul. There are, he says, two kinds of men; ordinary men and thinkers. The former who look upon materiality as a condition of existence, cannot conceive an immaterial substance. The latter are led, by their logic, to a conception of the soul which sweeps away all difference between God and the individual soul. Al-Ghāzalī, there-fore, realised the Pantheistic drift of his own inquiry, and preferred silence as to the ultimate nature of the soul.
He is generally included among the Ash'arite. But strictly speaking he is not an Ash'ārite; though he admitted that the Ash'arite mode of thought was excellent for the masses. "He held", says Shiblī ('Ilmal-Kalām, p. 66.), "that the secret of faith could not be revealed; for this reason he encouraged exposition of the Ash'arite theology, and took good care in persuading his immediate disciples not to publish the results of his private reflection". Such an attitude towards the Ash'arite theology, combined with his constant use of philosophical language, could not but lead to suspicion. Ibn Jauzī, Qāḍī'Iyāḍ, and other famous theologians of the orthodox school, publicly denounced him as one of the "misguided"; and 'Iyāḍ went even so far as to order the destruction of all his philosophical and theological writings that existed in Spain.
It is, therefore, clear that while the dialectic of Rationalism destroyed the personality of God, and reduced divinity to a bare indefinable universality, the antirationalist movement, though it preserved the dogma of personality, destroyed the external reality of nature. In spite of Nazzām's theory of "Atomic objectification",[40] the atom of the Rationalist possesses an independent objective reality; that of the Ash'arite is a fleeting moment of Divine Will. The one saves nature, and tends to do away with the God of Theology; the other sacrifices nature to save God as conceived by the orthodox. The God-intoxicated Ṣūfī who stands aloof from the Theological controversies of the age, saves and spiritualises both the aspects of existence, and looks upon the whole Universe as the self-revelation of God — a higher notion which synthesises the opposite extremes of his predecessors. "Wooden-legged" Rationalism, as the Ṣūfī called it, speaks its last word in the sceptic Al-Ghazāli, whose restless soul, after long and hopeless wanderings in the desolate sands of dry intellectualism, found its final halting place in the still deep of human emotion. His scepticism is directed more to substantiate the necessity of a higher source of knowledge than merely to defend the dogma of Islamic Theology, and, therefore, marks the quiet victory of Sufīism over all the rival speculative tendencies of the time.
Al-Ghazalī's positive contribution to the Philosophy of his country, however, is found in his little book — Mishkātal-Anwār where he starts with the Ouranic verse, "God is the light of heavens and earth", and instinctively returns to the Iranian idea, which was soon to find a vigorous expounder in Al-Ishrāqī. Light, he teaches in this book, is the only real existence; and there is no darkness greater than non-existence. But the essence of Light is manifestation: "it is attributed to manifestation which is a relation"[41]. The Universe was created out of
darkness on which God sprinkled[42] his own light, and made its different parts more or less visible according as they received more or less light. As bodies differ from one another in being dark, obscure, illuminated or illuminating, so men are differentiated from one another. There are some who illuminate other human beings; and, for this reason, the Prophet is named "The Burning Lamp" in the Qur'ān.
The physical eye sees only the external manifestation of the Absolute or Real Light. There is an internal eye in the heart of man which, unlike the physical eye, sees itself as other things, an eye which goes beyond the finite, and pierces the veil of manifestation. These thoughts are merely germs, which developed and fructified in Al-Ishrāgī's "Philosophy of Illumination" — Hikmatal-Ishrāq.
Such is the Ash'arite philosophy.
One great theological result of this reaction was that it checked the growth of freethought which tended to dissolve the solidarity of the Church. We are, however, concerned more with the purely intellectual results of the Ash'arite mode of thought, and these are mainly two: —
(I).          It led to an independent criticism of Greek philosophy as we shall see presently.
(2).         In the beginning of the loth century when the Ash'arite had almost completely demolished the stronghold of Rationalism, we see a tendency towards what may be called Persian Positivism. Al-Birūnī[43] (d. 1048) and Ibn Haitham[44] (d. 1038) who anticipated modern empirical Psychology in recognising what is called reaction-time, gave up all inquiry concerning the nature of the supersensual, and maintained a prudent silence about religious matters. Such a state of things could have existed, but could not have been logically justified before Al-Ash'arī.


[1] During the 'Abbāsid Period there were many who secretly held Manichaeism opinions, See Fihrist, Leipsig 1871, p. 338; See also Al-Mu'tazila, ed. by T. W. Arnold, Leipsig 1902, p. 27, where the author speaks of a controversy between Abu'l-Hudhail and Ṣālih, the Dualist. See also Macdonald's Muslim Theology, p. 133

[2] The Muctazilas belonged to various nationalities, and many of them were Persians either by descent or domicile. Wāṣil Ibn 'Atā — the reported founder of the sect — was a Persian (Browne, Lit. His., Vol. I, p. 281). Von Kremer, however, traces their origin to the theological controversies of the Umayyad period. Mu'tazilaism was not an essentially Persian movement; but it is true, as Prof. Browne observes (Lit. His., Vol. I, p. 283) that Shiite and Qādarī tenets, indeed, often went together, and the Shiite doctrine current in Persia at the present day is in many respects Mu'tazilite, while ῌasan Al-Ash'arī, the great opponent of the Mu'tazilite, is by the Shiites held in horror. It may also be added that some of the greater representatives of the Mu'tazila opinion were Shi'as by religion, e. g. Abu 'l-Hudhan (Al-Mu'tazila, ed. by T. W. Arnold, p. 28). On the other hand many of the followers of Al-Ash'ari were Persians (See extracts from Ibn 'Asākir ed. Mehren), so that it does not seem o be quite justifiable to describe the Ath'arite mode of thought as a purely semitic movement.

[3] Shahrastānī: Cureton's ed., p. 34.

[4] Dr. Frankl: Ein Mu'tazilitischer Kalām — Wien 1872, p. 13.

[5] Shahrastānī: Cureton's ed., p. 48. See also Steiner — Die Mutaziliten, p.59.

[6] Ibn ῌazm (Cairo, ed. I) Vol. IV, p. 197. See also Shahrāstānī:
Cureton's ed., p. 42.

[7] Steiner: Die Mu'taziliten; Leipzig, 1865, p.57.

[8] Ibid. P.59.

[9] Shahrastānī: Cureton's ed., p.38.

[10] Ibn ῌazm (ed. Cairo):Vol-V, 42.

[11] Shahrastānī: Cureton's ed., p. 38.

[12] Steiner: Die Mu'taziliten, p.80.

13] Shahrastānī: Cureton's ed., p. 38.

[14] Ibn ῌazm (ed. Cairo): Vol. IV, pp. 194, 197.

[15] Ibid. Vol. IV, p. 194.      

[16] Shahrastānī: Cureton's ed., p. 44.

[17] In my treatment of the atomism of Islamic Rationalists, I am indebted to Arthur Biram's publication: "Kitābul Masā'il fil khilāf beyn al-Baṣriyyīn wal Baghdādiyyīn".

[18] Macdonald's Muslim Theology, p. 161.

[19] Ibn Ham in his Kitāb al-Milal, looks upon the heretical sects of Persia as a continuous struggle against the Arab power which the cunning Persian attempted to shake off by these peaceful means. See Von Kremer's Geschichte der herrschenden Ideen des Islams, pp. 10 where this learned Arab historian of Cordova is quoted at length.

[20] Sharastānī: Cureton's ed: p. 149.

[21] Jāwidān Kabfr, fol. 149a.

[22] Ibid. fol. 280a.

[23] Ibid. fol. 366b

[24] Ibid. fol. 155b.

[25] Ibid. fol. 382a.

[26] Extracts from Ibn ‘Asākir (Mehren) — Travaux de la troisieme session du Congres International des Orientalistes — p. 261.

[27] Spitta: Zur Geschichte Abul-Hasan Al-Ash'arl, pp. 42, 43. See also Ibn Khallikān (Gottingen 1839) — Al-Jubba'l, where the story of their controversy is given.

[28] Spitta: Vorwort, p. VII.

[29] Shahrastānī — ed. Cureton, p. 69.

[30] Martin Schreiner: Zur Geschichte des Ash'aritenthums. (Huitiéme Congres International des Orientalistes 1889, p. 82)

[31] Martin Schreiner: Zur Geschichte des As'aritenthums. (Huitième Congrès International des Orientalistes IIme Partie 1893, p. 113).

[32] See Macdonald's admirable account of The Ash'arite Meta-physics: Muslim Theology p. 201 sq. See also Maulānā Shiblī, 'Ilmal Kalām pp. 60, 72.

[33] "Lotze is an atomist, but he does not conceive the atoms themselves as material; for extension, like all other sensuous qualities is explained through the reciprocal action of atoms; they themselves, therefore, cannot possess this quality. Like life and like all empirical qualities, the sensuous fact of extension is due to the cooperation of points of force, which, in time, must be conceived as starting points of the inner working of the Infinite Primal Being". Höffding Vol. II, p. 516.

[34] Shiblī 'Ilmal-Kalām pp. 64, 72.

[35] Shahrastānī, ed. Cureton, p. 82.

[36] "It (Al-Ghazālī's work on the Revivication of the sciences of religion) has so remarkable a resemblance to the Discourse sue la methode of Descartes, that had any translation of it existed in in the days of Descartes everyone would have cried against the plagiarism". (Lewes's History of Philosophy: Vol. II. p. 50).

[37] Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 20, p. 103.

[38] Al-Munqidh p. 3.

[39] See Sir Sayyid Al}mad's criticism of A1-Ghazālf's view of the soul, Al-Nazrufī ba'di Masāili-1 Imāmi-1 humām Abu Hāmid A1-GhazālI; No. 4, p. 3 sq. (ed. Agra).

[40] Ibn ῌazm, Vol. V. p. 63, 64. where the author states and criticises this theory.

[41] Mishkātal-Anwar, fol. 3a.

[42] In support of this view Al-Ghazalt quotes a tradition of the prophet. Ibid. fol. 10a.

[43] He (Al-Birūnī) quotes with approval the following, as the teaching of the adherents of Aryabhatta: It is enough for us to know that which is lighted up by the sun's rays. Whatever lies beyond, though it should be of immeasurable extent, we cannot make use of; for what the sunbeam does not reach, the senses do not perceive, and what the senses do not perceive we cannot know. From this we gather what Al-Birūnī's Philosophy was: only sense-perceptions, knit together by a logical intelligence, yield sure knowledge. (Boer's Philosophy in Islam, p. 146).

[44] "Moreover truth for him (Ibn Haitham) was only that which was presented as material for the faculties of sense-perception; and which received it from the understanding, being thus the logically elaborated perception". (Boer's Philosophy in Islām, p. 15o).

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