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Asem al-Fouli on the misconceptions of the Egyptian secularists (Part 4)

Asem al-Fouli on the misconceptions of the Egyptian secularists (Part 4)
We have (gradually) been translating Asem al-Fouli’s important four part article on rationality in Islam for readers of this site. This series first appeared in Arabic in el-Shaab Newspaper on

For translations of the earlier parts (here) follow:
For part 1, follow this link:
For part 2, follow this link:
For part 3, follow this link:


These articles have much to commend them, however, their treatment of logic and rationality stops short of a complete synthetic picture on the matter (which if executed actually produces a different understanding of ibn Taymiyya than does an isolated picture): this will be addressed in due course (ETA: August 30).


Main points in part 4:


**Scholar-jurists and philosophers: Ibn Taymiyya begins his campaign against Aristotle before Renaissance thinkers do
**Ibn Taymiyya: None of the “definitions” of the logicians are a help to our perceptions nor their analogies a path to certainty… logic is not fit for the study of nature, only induction can be the method of science
**Francis Bacon: After two thousand years of mapping out logic and chopping it with the machine invented by Aristotle… philosophy fell and lost its self- respect
**Roger Bacon: if you gave me the freedom to do so I would burn all the books of Aristotle… their study of leads to disorientation and ignorance



Ibn Taymiyya didn’t study philosophy in search of the truth, as did Ghazālī, but he studied it in order to be able to disprove what in it was opposed to religion; in Sheikh Abu Zahra’s words “he believed in what the Prophet said first, then he sought to deny the malice in philosophy” .
Ibn Taymiyya only followed the Book, the Sunna and the ways of the companions and the successors in their understanding, with the help of his clear mind. He was appalled by the claim of the philosophers that Qur’anic proofs were said to be presumptive and that they were not seen as representing absolute certainty, as by contrast was the logic of Aristotle in the way it established proofs which led to certain propositions.


He writes: “if the theoreticians thought they were warranted in their representations in regard to the Qur’an and their views and propositions opposing it, there was in fact no correct instruction to guide or provide them with knowledge. Those who have taken this road, have all recounted their individual tales of what necessarily would become confusion and doubt… and they confirmed by their own testimony and reports about themselves, that whoever presented the Book in order to criticise it, did not gain any certainty of which he was assured, nor any knowledge of which he could be convinced. And those who claimed in regard to some matters that they had clear reasoning which contradicted the Book, they were faced with other rationalists who said: “these attributions are known to be void from clear reason, so whoever used them to contradict the Book, did not possess the wherewithal to assert a clear truth, either in virtue of the claims of the advocates themselves, or from their immediately apparent contradiction, or from counter-claims of others who followed the same reasoning”. So if you consider that the masters of philosophy themselves did not arrive at a clear truth which contradicts the Book, but only to confusion and uncertainty, or to conflicts between the parties, would others be able to?”

The idea which ibn Taymiyya emphasises is that the differences between the philosophers and their opposition to each other confirms that the tools on which they depend are not productive of certainties as they claim, otherwise all those who knew how to use would arrive at the truth, while truth is unique and cannot be different between different people. These differences between the philosophers confirms that the philosophical approach leads only to presumptive results in which the possibility of error remains, and reliance is not possible on such an approach, in opposition to the Qur’an. This goes back to the idea he explains in his ‘Staving off the conflict between reason and text or the agreement between clear reason and true reports’ where he says “divine science cannot be inferred from analogical inductive reasoning (al-qiyās al-tamthīlī) where the original and new cases are considered to be equivalent or by demonstrative reasoning (al-qiyās al-shumūlī) where particulars are considered to be equivalent. There is nothing that compares with God, so he can’t be compared with other things, and He cannot be included with other things in universals that treat all particulars on a parity. Because of this, when sects from among the philosophers and the theologians, used such forms of reasoning in addressing divine questions, they did not reach the truth, rather there proofs were contradictory”.

We shall limit our presentation to what Ibn Taymiyya was driving at, seeking to minimise the value of Aristotelian logic as a tool intended to ensure correct thinking and the validity of conclusions resulting from it, and to clarify his attitude to the philosophers, without trying to explain the different approach which he established and on which he relied in his thinking; that is another story.

Aristotelian logic

The logicians (al-munāṭaqa) would have it that knowledge either pursues a concept (taṣawwur) or a judgement (taṣdīq). Conceptualising is about finding out about what exists, and judging is about ruling on a particular matter.

Conceptualising for the philosophers has no other role than to make analytical definitions, which they call “ḥadd” and which they explain as “the expression that points to the essence of a thing”. When it comes to a mere description, the term “rasm” is used, and this is delimited (without a complete definition) through the accidents (aʿrāḍ, sing: ʿaraḍ) or properties (khawāṣṣ, sing: khāṣṣa) of the thing being defined. The “rasm” cannot help in providing the true essence of a thing, since it only describes appearances. “Taṣdīq” has no other tools in respect of the philosophers than the categorical syllogism (al-qiyās al-manṭiqī) which consists of a major premise (muqaddima kubrā) in the form of a necessary universal proposition, a minor premise (muqaddima sughrā) in the form of a proposition about particulars, and a conclusion. For example: opposites do not attract (major premise), silence opposes motion (minor premise), and the conclusion would be that any moving body cannot be silent.

In contrast with this, analogical inductive reasoning (al-qiyās al-tamthīlī) [used by the scholar-jurists] works by adding a rule on a known case to an unknown case to form from both a rationale (‘illa) for a new rule. This “induction” (istiqrā’) thus results from perusing certain particulars in order to deduce a joint universal rule, which omits all other similar particulars which are not inspected.

For Aristotle analogy and induction do not represent a form of correct reasoning, and cannot provide certainties or proofs in matters of logic. And the logicians insist that their way is the only way that leads to certain knowledge, and that any other way is useless, while ibn Taymiyya insists that both these claims are false. Neither does their way lead always and inevitably to certain knowledge, nor do all other ways fail to provide such knowledge.

Definitions do not help us to conceive of the truth

In regard to conceptualisation ibn Taymiyya replies: “Concepts arise purely in virtue of definition, and this state of affairs is unhelpful for there is a need for proof rather than just assertion. How is this obtained? If this is an assertion without knowledge, then it is so from the very start according to the rule-based system they claim protects the mind from erring in thought. For a definition is merely the assertion of the definer and his claims. If for instance he claimed that the human being was an animal that spoke and laughed, this would be a matter of experience, and a claim without any justification. Either the one listening to the claim knows of its truth without the need for the assertion or he doesn’t. If he knew, he is no better off for the definition, and if he didn’t know, how can he be sure that he correct in the claim simply in virtue of the claimant making the claim, without any proof that can add to knowledge. So in both cases it can’t be the definition which allows us to know the definiendum.

In fact, ibn Taymiyya’s analysis is difficult to refute. If you don’t actually know the essence of a thing, you cannot accept a definition which a philosopher might claim defines the essence of that thing, because the processes of logic do not cover the validation of any definition. How can it be insisted upon that concepts are unattainable without definitions. And in his Refutation of the Logicians ibn Taymiyya lists ten aspects to the baselessness of the claim of the logicians that definitions are the only way to enable conceptualising the essence of a thing.

Have a look at one of these aspects to appreciate the rationality of ibn Taymiyya’s approach:
“God gave man internal and external senses to know objects in the external world, so he knows by hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching externally, and more importantly he knows also what he experiences within himself, in “his heart”. Language does not produce concepts based on individual objects, but through analogy and combinations of words. But none of this helps to conceive of the truth; the idea being that truth conceived either internally or externally eschews assertions of definitions, thus preventing the use of such definitions. When it comes to the sense of taste, for instance, in the case of honey, no-one benefits from concepts. Whoever doesn’t taste it, just as someone who reports on sugar without tasting it, cannot grasp the truth of the matter from a definition.

He gives examples to approximate it, saying that the taste resembles such and such. Such analogy and representation is not the definition that the logicians claim. This applies also to the internal senses, such as anger, joy, sadness, gloom, knowledge and so on. Whoever experiences it conceives it, whoever doesn’t experience it cannot conceive of it with a definition, just as the blind (those afflicted with colour blindness) cannot conceive of colours through definitions, and the sexually impotent, sexual intercourse through them. So whoever says that definitions are useful in order to conceive the truth, is speaking nonsense”.

The Categorical Syllogism does not lead to certainty

Ibn Taymiyya also rejects the claims of the logicians in respect of judgements: “they don’t understand anything of judgements except through reasoning – that is the demonstrative reasoning (al-qiyās al-shumūlī) of the philosophers, not the analogical inductive reasoning (al-qiyās al-tamthīlī) of the scholar-jurists. He says: “This is not axiomatic but rather a negative stance which denies [the validity of other ways], and is not backed by evidence, and which they thus advocate without proof. How can they say that no human being can arrive at judgements which are not axiomatic, except in virtue of demonstrative reasoning? The philosophers say that certain knowledge is not possible except through proof – which for them means demonstrative reasoning – where for them there must be a proposition which is a positive universal, such that knowledge be in the form of a universal. So if what is known is axiomatic, possibly each of its particulars is axiomatic in the first place, i.e. not requiring proof, and if it were known conceptually, in other words known through theoretical reason, it would still require axiomatic knowledge [acting as the premise for the demonstration or syllogism]. So it unravels passively as part of a sequence, and is rationally void [since propositions are either axiomatic in of themselves or demanding proof as to their truth using axiomatic propositions].

Whichever of these cases becomes the universal case used as the premise for the demonstrative proof, the conclusion can be known without the use of such a proof. Ibn Taymiyya presents several instances of this: “Everybody knows that nothing moves and stay still at the same time, and knowledge of the universal proposition is not necessary (i.e. that contradictories do not combine) and so on in everything where two contradictories are known. If two meaning are known to contradict one another, they are known not to combine [and this is necessary to the mind from the necessity of non-contradiction]. And doesn’t see the contradiction cannot have any idea of the universal proposition (that contradictories do not combine). Knowing that those two meanings being contradictory do not combine, can be attained without that major premise (that contradictories do not combine). There is no lack of knowledge except in the case of that reasoning which is called demonstration”.

In summary ibn Taymiyya sees demonstrative reasoning as establishing what is in fact established already, as in the case of all human beings “are” animals, Aḥmad is a human being, thus Aḥmad is an animal, where you actually knew from the start that the human being Aḥmad was an animal, when it was you accepted that all human beings were animals, etc…

The seeds of scientific method

None of this meant that Ibn Taymiyya rejected the syllogism outright, but he felt “that it reminded him of the form of demonstrative reasoning and its terms, which involved the use of enormous energy, without effective outcome, in the sense that everything that could be done with this type of reasoning could also be done without it.

Whereas we have the parts of the body, each of which are given a name in natural science, [ibn Taymiyya] confronted the shortcoming (in demonstrative reasoning), in the correspondence between those mental conclusions resulting, as the [philosophers] claim, from the definitions [followed by] reasoning, and what we [actually] find in the external world (i.e. the parts of the body in the real world), not being certain [or exact]. This is because on the one hand you have universal mental judgements, and on the other, external objects defined in virtue of their subject matter. Perhaps mental judgements can, in virtue of these subjects, indeed be applied to external objects, but only on the basis of evidence from the senses. If the evidence of the senses does not come through their demonstration, where is that certainty that the philosophers ascribed to it?

In this last paragraph we referred to ibn Taymiyya’s fundamental idea, which while being explained, was not set out in detail, around which idea was subsequently built the modern methodology of experimental science. This required that external objects in nature be analysed, with experiments being conducted to ascertain their characteristics, and that it is not appropriate in natural science to use logical demonstration or mental reflection. And if this now becomes obvious to you, then Aristotle would have disagreed with you absolutely.

So ibn Taymiyya doesn’t disagree with Aristotelian logic from the point of view of reasoning as such, only in respect of the philosophers’ claims, firstly that this is the only way to certain knowledge, for indeed there is another way, and secondly that it is a foolproof procedure. On his view, the procedure doesn’t guarantee a certain outcome, and can cause problems and errors: ultimately, “it is a lengthy procedure, which pushes away evidence, making what is close at hand in our knowledge further away [than it needs to be], and turning what is easy into something difficult”. There is also Ibn Taymiyya’s important contribution in pointing out the usefulness of logic in the scientific research which itself should depend on observation and experiment. Note that in all his objections, he without any doubt pursues a direct logical method.

Logic and modern science

I consider that I have proved Dr. Fouad Zakaria and his followers wrong in their belief that Muslim scholar-jurists rejected logic because they felt that logical reasoning would discourage Muslims from [an attachment to] their faith. In fact, quite to the contrary: some of the most important of the ancient scholars glorified logic – not just Ḥujjat al-Islam Abu Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, and they used it to show that it was the philosophers who erred in its use. And those who attacked logic (ibn Taymiyya for instance) did not attack systematic reasoning, rather they wished to encourage thought by freeing it from the constrictions of the formalities of Aristotelian logic and allowing the potentialities of straightforward systematic thinking in all its different ways. And these were the first tremors on releasing the mind on its way to building the modern experimental scientific method of research. Modern science doesn’t emerge until after liberation from Aristotelian logic, to take the road to induction on which ibn Taymiyya became one of the first to tread, leaving behind Aristotelian demonstration… and on this, let us from some witnesses.ِِ

Aristotle believed that the syllogism, which starts from universal propositions, is the only way to get to certain knowledge. But induction doesn’t accept this unless all relevant particulars have been reviewed.Reviewing just some of them to arrive at a judgement which is then use to apply to other individual cases is not considered as productive of certain knowledge. Modern science has been built entirely on the examination of sample cases which are tested in experiments, on the basis that that the results should describe the characteristics of all similar individual cases, not only those only of the samples being examined. This describes exactly the induction followed by ibn Taymiyya, the value of which he defended in the field of experimental research; against the views of the peripatetic logicians.

Will Durant writes in his book “The Story of Philosophy”: “We are bothered, at the outset, with [Aristotle’s] insistence on logic. He thinks the syllogism a description of man’s way of reasoning, whereas it merely describes man’s way of dressing up his reasoning for the persuasion of another mind; he supposes that the thought begins with premises and seeks their conclusions, when actually thought begins with hypothetical conclusions and seeks their justifying premises” [p. 116].

At the beginning of the experimental method in Europe, it was Francis Bacon – ranked by some historians of philosophy as the greatest mind of modern times – who originated the inductive method – 400 years after ibn Taymiyya. In his work on the evidences of modern inquiry Bacon wrote that the error of the Greek philosophers was to spend much time on theory and little time on observation and practical research, where thought is supposed to aid observation rather than supplant it. He said, furthermore, that after a thousand years of having mapped out logic and dissecting it with the tools proposed by Aristotle’s, philosophy has come to the point of having lost the respect of everybody, and we must throw out all the theories from the Middle Ages, the dialectics, the debates, and the theories which require convoluted proofs and forget them. And Bacon’s work on the progress of education abounds with attacks on Aristotle and on his followers in the Middle Ages, and on demonstrative reasoning. In the “Great Instauration” he says “demonstrative reasoning doesn’t apply to the first principles of knowledge but applies in vain on intermediate axioms, and in this it does not parallel nature accurately but leads rather to a presentation as a matter of form, which misses the point of the exercise. Roger Bacon makes even stronger statements when he says “if you left it up to me I would burn all of Aristotle’s books, because their study cannot lead other than to waste, error and increased ignorance”.

The reader must have noticed that such statements don’t differ in essence much from what ibn al-Salah said, by which we saw that Fouad Zakaria measures Muslim thought, namely that “whoever uses logic is a heretic!”. So we don’t accept much of Aristotle’s logic as a tool of thought or as a path to knowledge, but on the other hand it is a good method of presenting thoughts and managing arguments. When two discussants begin to weigh up the major premise, they agree on its import and have thus passed the half-way point to a complete understanding. If they then address the minor premise and agreed on its import, agreement arises naturally in regard to the conclusion. If, on the other hand, they disagreed on anything in the premises, they would have revealed the source of disagreement, which in turn can then be calmly addressed. But the agreement of the discussants doesn’t necessarily mean that would have reached certain knowledge and an agreement on the truth; their agreement on the premises doesn’t guarantee their validity.

Ibn Taymiyya’s severity – he was generally unbending in his discussions – was one of the characteristics of clashes in the heat of those arguments. Subsequent to these battles, with the softening of attitudes and the settling of the dust, Sheikh Abi Zahra clarifies for us the ultimate position of the Muslim scholar-jurists when he says: “logic weighs up the deductive process but does not establish the proof itself; it sets out the substance of the proof but does not produce this substance, and this is the way with all the methodological sciences. Prosody doesn’t add to the content of poetry, nor does it provide the orator with any expressions. Explanatory criticism weighs up the forms of speech and the structure of rhetoric, but does not inform the orator about the substance of rhetoric and illustrative imagery. We don’t need logic or philosophy in order to believe, but learning them is warranted in order to defend Islam, to protect it, and argue its corner in the best possible way. Perhaps they are guided, such as persist in their striving and wrangling, having been refined and strengthened through the methods they have learnt… such is the benefit of logic. So with definitions, forms of demonstrative reasoning, and the use of examples, they can bring out the flaws in arguments. It is enough that they bring out flaws by using demonstrative reasoning, know definitions in all their particulars, and the specific from the general in the major premises, to show up the vicious from the virtuous. But logic cannot be the sole method of reasoning, for mental resources are not limited by logic. It may be a disciplinary criterion, but nevertheless it isn’t by itself the way to mental discipline, for good instincts and clear thinking speak louder”.

Asem al-Fouli on the misconceptions of the Egyptian secularists (Part 3)

Asem al-Fouli on the misconceptions of the Egyptian secularists (Part 3)

First appeared in Arabic on

Socrates had defended reason as the basis for knowledge, so we was accused of corrupting the minds of the young people and was sentenced to death by poisoning

*The campaign by the scholar-jurists against Greek metaphysics was in order to protect Muslims from its superstitions

*Ibn Khaldūn and Ibn Ḥazm defend the value of philosophy and attack the Muslim philosophers for their misuse of it

*Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī learns Aristotelian logic and teaches it, insisting on its being a communal obligation and using it to attack the Islamic philosophers

*Having studied logic, he used to oppose and refute the conclusions of the Greek philosophers and their followers

*Ghazālī’s concepts of existence, movements, time and space are distinctive and profound, as well as consistent with modern scientific theory

*The complex rational judgements of the philosophers led them to conclusions that contradicted the beliefs of Muslims, but the scholars refuted them with their deep reasoning

*The followers of Socrates, Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle adopted heretical positions in order to distinguish themselves from the majority of people, believing that this was a sign of cleverness and superior knowledge

*Is engaging in law and ḥadīth erroneous and reckless?

We began this study (in Part 1) by describing the allegations of the liberal-secularists that Islamic culture was hostile to reason on the basis that the scholar-jurists of old rejected Greek philosophy. In Part 2 we explained the most important conclusions reach by Greek philosophers of the Greeks and their differences with the Muslims in regard to theology. We begin from Part 3, here, to describe the real position of the scholar-jurists in the face of these conclusions and the way they dealt with them.

For part 1, follow this link:
For part 2, follow this link:

On the inflammatory polemics between the two communities

In regard to the writings of some of the earliest scholars-jurists of old against philosophy, we can see that it is more akin to cursing and lampooning than to objective criticism, by way of incitement of the general public against the philosophers, than to a refutation of their views using incontrovertible reasoning. Such writings do exist, but why choose these writings alone, and ignore all the other (more reasonable writings) to represent the ideas of the scholar-jurists?! Can such choice be said to be devoid of purpose?! Part of this purpose – as we know – is the problem.

Before setting out the rational dialogue which took place between the two communities, it is appropriate to stop for a moment to discuss these polemical aspects. We shouldn’t ignore those rhetorical writings directed to the sentiments of the masses – their hearts rather than their minds – for we see them as natural events and in fact not uncommon in all intellectual conflicts across all civilizations and cultures. Even in the modern rational and tolerant era we live in today which believes in pluralism, the proponents of any trend of thought do not restrict themselves simply to conciliatory debates with their opponents. For instance, did Marx restrict himself thus?! Did Lenin limit his discourse in the face of recidivists within the Socialist camp; leave alone his methods against ideological opponents in other camps?! Or did he charge Marxist socialists other than his Bolshevik supporters with opportunism, cowardice, and the betrayal of socialism and the struggle of the masses, and so on? Were his opponents from the opposing camp simply happy to refute Marxism and expose its intellectual failings?! Or did they instead focus their efforts on creating divisions, for good or for bad?!

It is not strange, then, that a nation’s intellectuals seek to mobilize the masses and arouse them emotionally against any trend of thought seen as a threat to its cultural principles. This still happens in all cultures to this day. The important point is that this arousal is based on intellectual positions arrived at subsequent to study and research, not merely a rejection of something new, which they do not understand.

We shouldn’t put our heads in the sand. Yes, some writings are emotional – and thank God they are only few in number- and we wish they had not been written, but does engaging with the law and the ḥadīth one necessarily prevent one from error or recklessness?! Can one be surprised by the anger and emotion on the part of some when they read certain words written by Ibn Sīnā?! Those words where he accuses their prophet of lying and where he disparages the book they consider to be the word of God.

What was it that was rejected?

But this was not a rejection of the philosophy itself how it is portrayed to the public by our liberal-secular intellectuals as a reasoning activity. Here is Ibn Ḥazm leader of the Ẓāhirī School, for instance, the last person we might have expected to accept philosophical reasoning, who writes in his book “Al-fasl fī al-milal wa l-‘ahwā‘ wa l-niḥal” (The book of religious doctrines, schools and sects): «The truth of philosophy – in other words its meaning, product, and intended purpose in terms of its teachings – is nothing other than the improvement of the self, and this is the same thing in regard to the law, about which there is no dispute between the scholar-jurists of Sharīʿa law, except those who associated with philosophy in virtue of their claim to deny the law from sheer ignorance of the real meaning of philosophy, yet standing on its purpose and meanings”. Can you imagine this?! Ibn Ḥazm himself charged the philosophizing Muslims with ignorance of the truth of philosophy.

Ibn Khaldūn … and the science of metaphysics

Abdu l-Raḥmān bin Khaldūn, author of the “Muqaddima” and a Sunni Imām in his day, read the law and encapsulated his sophisticated understanding of things using a quotation from al-Nafīs: “What was of them [he means the arguments of the philosophers] in regard to existence beyond the senses, was the spirit, and they called this the divine science or metaphysics. Its animate nature could not be known directly, as it could not be grasped or made evident, given that the distillation of principles behind external objects occur subjectively, and therefore animate forces are not perceived other than to the extent that they are perceived by us. Perhaps there is a form of cognition other than that which does come from our perception, because our perception is newly created, and God’s creation is greater than the creation of human beings, and while its limits are unknown it is not within the ability of the mind and its perception. The mind is a true judge, and its conclusions are certain and undeniable, other than that you should not expect to evaluate the overall unity of things, the truth of prophecy and of the divine qualities and everything beyond the capacity of the mind; that is an impossible ambition”

The true judge and its certain conclusions

The mind – when working independently – is not capable of metaphysics; because it was not created for this, but “is a true judge, and its conclusions are certain and undeniable” if it applied within its own capacity. This is the commentary of Ibn Khaldūn, the great thinker, on the neo-Platonic distortions in regard to emanation, minds and souls …and so on, and resulted from the fact that Ibn Khaldūn was not influenced by the myth of the noumenon) like Plato, who believed that the mind had access to this noumenon which was the cosmic intelligence from which abstract thought was seen as being a part, and which led to the possibility of knowledge of all things.

Of course not all the objections addressed by the scholar-jurists in regard to the allegations made ​​by the philosophers shorn of all evidence, delusional, or made up of irrational fantasies. The philosophers had arrived at complex rational conclusions which contradicted the beliefs of the Muslims, and these were refuted by the scholar-jurists using profound rational arguments. These refutations came in the form of two schools: Ghazālī’s school, which approached the arguments of the philosophers using logic, using their own arguments to show they had erred conceptually, and Ibn Taymiyya’s school, which sought to demonstrate that there were flaws in the very approach itself, not merely in the way it was used.

Ghazālī adopts the logic of Aristotle

Abu Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī went through period of doubt during which he penetrated the nature of philosophy, but in the end he rejected the arguments of the philosophers and criticised them strongly, without however deviating from their manner of reasoning. He was committed to the logic of Aristotle, and considered its study a communal obligation on Muslims, such that there should be found from amongst them the scholar capable of this, otherwise the entire nation would end up in a state of unrighteousness. In the introduction to “Mustaṣfa” – a pillar of this science – he says: “I talk in this introduction about the perception of the mind, and its confinement to definitions and proofs [definitions and proofs being the main tools of logic] […]; it is not part of the study of the principles of law nor it is an introduction to them, but an introduction to the study of all sciences. Whoever has not grasped it cannot as a matter of principle be trusted in his knowledge”. And in “Qisṭās” he writes about the laws of logic and says: “ I don’t claim to weigh in virtue of them religious knowledge only, but all computational, engineering, natural, theological and legal knowledge, and all true knowledge that is not factual”. So Ghazālī studied logic and taught it, and used it in facing up to the philosophers, not to refute their reasoning ways, but to refute the conclusions reached by the Greek philosophers and their followers; Ghazālī’s own conclusions were in fact the result of philosophical investigations.

The matter of the proof in regard to prophetic miracle

We should first mention Ghazālī’s point of view about how you should consider the matter of the prophetic miracle, being sure of its occurrence and that he is a prophet conveying God’s word, by accepting everything he says without the need to establish specific proofs in every occasion. In fact you would be behaving in the correct rational manner, doing nothing wrong in this respect, if you turned away from rational and philosophical discussions, and settled for an understanding the Qur’an, finding there what convinces you, what satisfies your inclinations, and pleases your literary taste. “Qisṭās” was in fact written to clarify the rational proofs found in the Qur’an

Degenerated minds and inverted opinions

In “Tahāfut al-falāsifa”, Ghazālī explains the reasons that led him to delve into philosophical matters… which was to do with what he perceived as “the actions of a sect of theoreticians [i.e. practitioners of theoretical reason] in respect of the role of Islam [its obligations and principles], and their turning away from the religion completely, following in this clear heresy those with degenerated minds and inverted opinions, in awe of hearing great names, such as Socrates and Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle, pretending disbelief in order to distinguish themselves from normal people, thinking that disbelief is a sign of cleverness and knowledge” (Does the reader note here that there is nothing new under the sun?!).

Confounding through logic

Ghazālī refuted the views of the philosophers which were found to be contrary to what the revelation said on many subjects. They said that God had no knowledge of particulars for instance, and that nothingness after the existence of the self is impossible, and that the known angels are abstract minds which are essences in of themselves, and they denied the resurrection of bodies… etc… In all this, pure rational arguments were used, and they never used divine text in these arguments; for instance in their idea that what issued from God could only the first intelligence, because from “the One” there could only ever emerge “one” thing, Ghazālī replied: “your argument requires that there be nothing that is a compound of individual elements, so that all objects are single individuals; how then can there be all these compound elements that we see in the world? And yet there being one cause? So your argument is worthless: it is not true that only “one” thing could issue from “the One”… or does it issue from a compound cause? So the question arises as to where this compound cause came from?! If we go back in a chain of reasoning, it is inevitable that a compound object would, at some stage, have emerged from a single “one””

The first intelligence

It says in the work of the philosophers that only the first intelligence unravels the first principle (God), such that the thinking of the first intelligence creates a second intelligence, and a third, and celestial bodies and beings… etc… of which Ghazālī says: “what you mentioned in judgements, if related from a man’s dream, would be an indication of his bad disposition, since on this account the issue is of greater worth than the cause, because from the cause there only issued one thing, whereas from the result there issue three things, intelligence, being and celestial bodies, and also because “the One” only thought of himself, whereas the second intelligence produced himself, his principle and his judgement… And whoever is inclined to describe God on the basis of this arrangement, he has made him up to be baser than an existence that thinks of itself and of other things”. These discussions as you can see have nothing to do with justifications from divine texts (perhaps the reader might still mention Fouad Zakaria’s insistence that scholar-jurists are not ever able to fully complete rational proofs, as they always arrive at a point where they are forced to resort to the authority of scripture, in contrast to our insistence such an idea as this could not possibly have resulted from the study of Islamic thought).

The universe is not eternal

We should give special importance to Ghazālī’s refutation of the opinion of the philosophers that God did not create the world from nothing, and that it is eternal and has no beginning just as in the case of God. And the reader would agree with us on this, if he knew that modern science no longer accepted the idea of ​​an eternal universe. We shall inquire into how Ghazālī’s understanding of existence, movement, time and space was deep and insightful, as well as appropriate to the latest practices in scientific research. Here is a summary of what Ghazālī said:
Many philosophers, from their best to their worst, held that the universe was eternal, continuing to exist along with God… not succeeding in time but stemming from Him as the rays of the sun do from the sun, and that God’s priority to the world is the priority of cause to effect, a priority in essence and rank, not in virtue of time. The only exception was Galen who was undecided on the matter. The philosophers rested on three arguments:

First – The procession of a temporal being from an eternal being (without beginning) is impossible, since the existence of the world after its non-existence would require the presence of a determinant over the eternal (God) to summon this existence from Him. So without this determinant the world would only exist as mere possibility, without actually existing. If such a determinant existed then what caused this determinant unrelated as it is to the eternal being. And the determinant did come about at a particular time, why not at another time?

The creation of the universe in time

Second – The creation of the universe in time highlights the problem of pre-existence [the time within which the Creator waited before starting the process of creation]; if time is finite then it has a specific term, and pre-existence began before creation by a measure of this term, so pre-existence could not have been eternal. If time before creation was infinite, this means that creation could not have happened up until now, because infinity as we understand it never ends. So there could not have been any pre-existence, and existence exists in virtue of rank not of time.
Third – The existence of the world before creation is always possible, and there is no way that we can say that the world could not possibly exist and then later say that it had become feasible; if existence had been possible since eternity, and it now exists, then it has existed since time immemorial.

Denying the creation of the universe

Ghazālī says: “How can you deny that the world came about as a result of an eternal will, which demanded its existence at the time in which it came about, that nothing exist for the duration in which it lasted, that existence started when it did, and that prior to existence there not be any wish that it come about? When you said that the mind judges necessarily of the impossibility of an ancient will producing something after it without a determinant, you claim this based on the necessity of reason, so how come your opponents do not agree with you that is a rational necessity? [In other words this is the argument philosophers about a principle which is in need of proof, so it is not among the axioms accepted by reason without proof; for if it had been such an axiom, their opponents would have accepted it, just as all people accepted those axioms which are amongst the necessities of reason, such as the totality being greater than the part, or contradictories cannot add up, and so on. But this principle was not a axiom and it required a proof which was not given]

And those who believe that the world was created through an eternal will ancient and prior to its creation are not confined to a city or to any number, and there is no doubt that in spite of reason they believe something which they know to be untrue. It is necessary to prove logically that this is impossible, because all that you have said is but mere suggestion of improbability, and a comparison of our will with the Divine will [given that the human being if he wills something, he does not give up unless he is unable or is obstructed. Since God has no incapacity and is obstructed by nothing, according to the philosophers themselves, He could not have give up on creation].So the comparison is false, and you cannot equate the eternal will with that of creatures, and the suggestion of improbability is not sufficient and requires rational proof.

The beginning of time

Not only does Ghazālī demonstrate the flaws in the arguments of the philosophers and their lack of rational proof, but there comes also his brilliant idea about time, which anticipated events by a thousand years, where he says: “That the extent of the universe is infinite in size, and the perception of the universe as having no end is the trick of a delusory imagination. This means that space – the extent of the universe – is finite, such that space outside the limits of the universe cannot be imagined [this is the understanding of modern science about the entirety of the universe]… while time is the amount of movement, in fact it is the amount movement that is used in passing a certain amount of space. Thus if space is finite, then time is too. Add to that fact that time began with the beginning of the universe, and was created with its creation, such that God created it along with the universe [modern science does say that time began at a certain moment before which there was no time or space, and this moment was about 15 billion years ago]. So the perception that there was a time before the time within this universe is another trick of a delusory imagination”.


In all this is there any rejection of philosophy as a way of thinking? Or is it in fact a rejection of philosophy as it was as a set of certain principles which contradict rational thought? Whether you are satisfied with what Ghazālī says, or whether you feel his arguments were not sufficient to destroy the arguments of Greek philosophers, although modern science has in fact ended up demolishing most of them – you cannot help but admit that it involved rational and ordered thinking which does at no point seek the authority of scripture, and which in addition never deviates from the rules of Aristotelian logic.







Asem al-Fouli on the misconceptions of the Egyptian secularists (Part 2)

Asem al-Fouli on the misconceptions of the Egyptian secularists (Part 2)

First appeared in Arabic on

*Socrates argued for reason as the basis for knowledge, so he was accused of corrupting the minds of the young people and was sentenced to death by poisoning.

*Orientalists managed to establish the idea that Ancient Greek civilization represented the path to reason, freedom and truth, while Islamic civilization without it would have been incapable of developing systematic thinking.

In part 1, we set out the claim of some secularists that the Islamic intellectual heritage is characterized by the lack rationality, based on the rejection by our scholars of the philosophy and logic of Aristotle. We then set out the views of some contemporary philosophers in respect of the definition of philosophy, its objectives and scope. We explained how there is no specific thing that can be called philosophy, rather that there are many contradictory and conflicting philosophies, and furthermore that philosophical thought is not comprised of pure reason, rather of many individual subjective factors.

For part 1, follow this link:

In this second part, we review the most important philosophers of the Greeks whose views circulated among Muslims, so that the reader can consider what it may have been that provoked our scholars to oppose them. In part 3 we shall demonstrate what the position of these Muslim scholars actually was, how their objections to Greek philosophy had nothing to do with their concern with reason, as some of them would actually use these very tools to refute Greek philosophical arguments. In part 4 we shall then deal with the criticisms of these tools by Muslim intellectuals.

* * * * *


It seems that Orientalists have succeeded – in virtue of their persistence – to establish the idea that Ancient Greek civilization represented the path to reason, freedom and truth, while Islamic civilization without it would have been incapable of developing systematic thinking, despite the fact that the most prominent intellectual achievements of Muslims had already been achieved prior to any knowledge Greek philosophy or the logic of Aristotle, on the basis that the most prominent Islamic intellectual achievements involve jurisprudence, its principles and what accompanied them in terms of the sciences. All this had been established whether in terms of jurisprudential rules or principles, before the beginning of the translations from Greek and the consequent exposure of our scholars to Greek thought. Nevertheless, matters are approach entirely differently by some secular intellectuals. They never discuss whether Muslims learned correct reasoning from the Greeks, or whether we developed our own traditions independently, they claim rather that our scholars refused rational thinking in of itself when they objected to Greek ideas, thus denying that we relied on reasoning for our arguments against the Greeks in the first place. This is clearly a different issue, which to answer requires first a review of Greek philosophy, which was the only philosophy that circulated at the time of the ancients in the early Muslim community.

Greek philosophy

When philosophy began in Greece, and questions were asked about the origin of the objects, it was only natural that physical explanations would be arrived at. Where the philosophers here who would have influence on Muslim culture did believe in one eternal God, their belief was, however, not based on religion or revelation, but on pure abstract thought. Greek religion didn’t supply these great minds with a basis for their thinking, because Greek religion was a religion steeped in paganism, worshipping gods described as being involved in immoral acts such as robbery, kidnapping, treason, and raping mortal human beings, producing half-gods as a result. Thus any reasoning person thinking on eternal matters would have had to brush aside all such ideas. In fact, we note that much older pagan religion from Ancient Egypt had sought to promote gods with a greater sense of moral principle and cosmic responsibility than these Greek gods, apart from “Seth” who was, after all, the Egyptian god of evil. We don’t know what it could have been in the value-system of the Ancient Greeks that led them to imagine such ignominious gods.

Greek thinkers and their abstract concerns

Greek thinkers focused exclusively on intellectual abstract and theoretical issues, without getting involved in concerns of the material life, such as technological innovation or the development of production methods. Similarly their abstract thought eschewed experimentation or the testing of theories, even when they considered the phenomena of nature around them. This contemplative impractical approach would seem to have been an expression of classes of people who relied on slaves, as Will Durant explains: “There was contempt by Greeks towards manual labour, which meant that only slaves were really concerned with production processes. Only intimate involvement with the machinery of production could reveal its flaws and produce a desire in people for technical innovation”.

 The industry of Pharaoh

But slavery couldn’t have been the only reason for Greek society to favour the contemplative mode of thinking. Taking the example of Ancient Egypt, once again, we find a caste system there, on the summit of which sat Pharaoh as god, with the priestly aristocracy enjoying high positions from their access to the substantial revenues generated by the endowments of vast tracts lands to their temples. Despite this, these priests pioneered advanced technologies, and were a repository of considerable knowledge that continues to bewilder the world until this day. So, none of this social context can have a bearing on our discussion. What is important is simply that Greek philosophy was based on the idea that everything had a nature which was the thing had an effect on itself or on the external world, and that the mind can perceive such a “nature of things”, in virtue of abstract thought, and that thought abstract alone all facts could be discovered.

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Greek metaphysics

Despite the general confusions and misconceptions surrounding the thinking of the philosophers of the Greeks in regard to the attributes of God and how they relate to the world, their proofs of the existence of God still evoke admiration, and attest to the fact that logical minds cannot but acquiesce in the idea that the world could not exist without a higher power. It is their logical proofs that we have inherited. Although it is not our task here to describe these proofs, but many Muslim theologians accepted them, finding that the Qur’an had already used them. They extracted verses on the subject from the Qur’an and explained them in ways that did not differ much from the explanations of Aristotle and Plato and other Greek philosophers.
But the thinking of these philosophers – in spite of its beauty and strength – does not transcend this material world, so that when it tries to express what is behind it in order to understand the attributes of God and how they relate to the world, they have nothing other than speculative hypotheses, which to us seem odd and untenable. But could there be anything more than this to the mind? The experience of Greeks confirms what Muslims knew from the outset: that the mind can grasp the existence of God, but does not have the ability to know the attributes nor of the relationship of God to His creatures.
We set out below those illustrious names among Greeks philosophers who believed in the eternal God, who necessarily exists and who is the efficient cause of all things.


Socrates saw ethics in his time as collapsing before the polemics of the sophists. So his concern was to establish a firm basis for knowledge applicable to all, to overcome the deceptions and evasions of the sophists, by defending a foundation from reason rather than from the senses, and by attempting to prove the existence of unalterable truths evident to all minds, and to which they would comply. The purpose of this was to establish principles acceptable to all from which virtue would be defined. Ultimately however he was tried on charges of corrupting the youth through excessive debate and convicted, and was sentenced to death by poisoning.
The Socrates had his own private faith in an eternal and transcendent God, and believed that death was not the end. He believed there were eternal ethical principles that could not be built on the shaky foundations of Athenian religion, although he acknowledged the gods of Mount Olympian and their associated rituals.


Plato was a disciple of Socrates, and followed his rationalism. However,he framed it in “idealist” terms, a concept somewhat difficult to describe, but centered on the idea of shared meanings between “forms”, such as ugliness and beauty, reason and the senses. For our minds to be able to consider and conceived of these shared meanings, there had to be preconceived ideas about these meanings. So where would such a preconceived idea actually come from? If he had called it an invention of our minds, then we would be at the mercy of sophistry, in virtue of allowing everyone the possibility of adjusting meanings to give them qualities supportive of particular points of view. To overcome this,we would have to accept the idea that universal meanings had a truly independent presence, and were not purely ideas in our own minds. Plato called such meanings “ideals”. He also said that our souls, before being distilled into our bodies, existed in the world of “ideals”, and after this process of distillation, partially forgot the world of ideals. So learning is remembering “ideals”, whilst ignorance is forgetting them. For Plato, “ideals” as abstract concepts existing in of themselves, which are the essence of things and not dependent on anything. They are not creations of God but are permanent and eternal, which are not being specified in either time or space.

Plato believed in the eternal God as a necessary being, and the efficient cause of the world. However, when he sought to explain how God created the world, he encountered a contradiction that would later be experienced by many. He couldn’t imagine creation as being ex nihilo; so categorising things in terms of “matter” and “form”, he saw “matter” in origin as something chaotic or unformed, which God simply found and did not create. He also saw the “ideals” that were abstract forms, and shaped original matter into these forms. This was Plato’s God.


Aristotle conceived of an eternal world (i.e. existing without beginning or reason or cause). Eternal in terms of “matter”, “form”, “movement” and its “prime mover”, this being, of course, God. This world has no beginning, and God did not create ex nihilo, and God’s existence is not prior to the existence of the world. So God’s relationship to the world is not one of causation such that time is involved. It is, instead, a logical relationship, where the principles were provided for the outcomes, but in terms of thought not in terms of time. What led Aristotle to these thoughts was his belief in the eternity of “movement”, while this belief was reached by thinking as follows: given that the “prime mover” – God – is fixed and unchanging, having the same capacity from time immemorial, if we assumed that there was a time without movement, the consequence of this is that movement is not eternal, and while the “prime mover” having continued in his capacity since time immemorial, it cannot be imagined that he would, at some stage, be invited to preponderate. Who could there be apart from the preponderator to do so? So “movement” had to be eternal (this was refuted by Abu Hamid Ghazali using logic, which we shall return to). Aristotle’s God does not move the world by pushing it, because it would imply that he would have to conceive God’s movement in space, instead it is driven by a movement of attraction, such God is fixed and is not seen as moving as such, but the world is attracted to God as love is attracted to the loved.

God in the eyes of Aristotle does nothing ever other than think (perhaps because Aristotle himself does nothing over than think). He has no desires nor the will nor a goal, being absolute perfection, does not want for anything because he has everything, and therefore does nothing. His only role is to think about the essence of things, and given that He himself is the essence of things, His role is to think about himself. In Aristotle’s attempt to dislike God, he denied him any act of will, or planning, or organising this world, for he does not interfere in it. He thus awarded everything its own nature, and left the world to develop according to the “nature of things”, an idea which is still to this day dominant in the minds of many.

Aristotle set out the foundations of logic, which earned him the title of the first teacher first. He also had many ideas about the natural sciences, but these were the result of a process of abstract reflection shorn of any experimentation. He despised all manual labour, so his ideas on the natural sciences were set out as a series of amusing anecdotes. These were adopted by the (Catholic) Church after that as part of its Biblical exegesis, punishing such as rejected this authority. In the field of Astronomy Ibn Rushd talks about him in his “Tahāfut al-tahāfut” as says: “The sky is an animal obedient to God in respect of its circular movement, and is eternal (its presence cannot be ascribed to any prior reason) incorruptible, comprehensive, simple and light in weight, moving as a spirit, and circular motion cannot occur without a spirit… ” and so on.

Asem al-Fouli on the misconceptions of the Egyptian secularists (Part 1)

Asem al-Fouli on the misconceptions of the Egyptian secularists (Part 1)

First appeared in Arabic on

– Secularists have not studied our intellectual heritage. They assume that what the popes of Rome did must also be what the scholars of Baghdad thought.

Philosophy is not a specific line of thinking; what we have are multiple conflicting and contradictory philosophies, all claiming to be the result of the clever use of the mind.

-Islamists are using methods of emotional appeal to win votes and gain power, and this is a threat to the future of the nation.

Salafi scholars are not against philosophy in terms of a product of reason, but they resist a certain kind of philosophy, whose ideas conflicted with the tenets of Islam

Dr. Fouad Zakaria does not know that logic is taught at Al-Azhar, and Abu Hamid Ghazali used his learning and knowledge of logic, to refute the ideas of the Greek philosophers and their work

I met some young people whom I know socially, who were secular in thinking. However this did not lead any loss of any respect I may have had to their devotion to the issues facing the nation. Like all Egyptians who meet together these days, we have been talking about the general situation in Egypt, but I was amazed by one thing: their acceptance of the exclusion of Islamists from the political arena. I knew them as liberals who declare their allegiance to pluralism and the right to individuals to be different, however they defended a position which held that Islamic thought is “irrational” and unfit to solve contemporary problems. Islamists are in fact using the emotions of Muslims to gain votes and access to power, and this is a threat to the future of the nation.

I kept trying to explain the foundations of rationality of the Islamic project as a prelude to talking about what it does presents for us to discussed before going on to reject it outright. But the more enthusiastic among them wanted to silence me, saying it was useless to try to convince them, because as far as they were concerned, history proves that Islam was against rationality [!!]. They would not believe my claims because they said history has refuted them.  They saw that if Islamists came to power again, they would not allow free discussion. So it was natural for me to try to discover the origin of this idea, before I answered them, and I found that most of them had been influenced by intellectuals with a superficial understanding of Islamic thought, whilst some of them referred directly to the book of the late Fouad Zakaria , “The Islamic awakening in the balance of the mind .”

That our intellectual heritage is far from rational

This writer has a special appreciation of Zakaria, as a Marxist thinker, and a philosophy professor who through his writings contributed to his understanding of the foundations of objective thinking. I cannot claim that he is a superficial thinker who does not pay careful attention to what he writes. So I went back to the book which was written some quarter of a century ago, and found that he did actually say in some of its chapters that our intellectual heritage was far from rational, based on what he saw as the rejection of philosophy by Salafi scholars and their campaign against it. So I have written this brief study for the benefit of those who believe Zakaria and his claim in regard to the truth of the position of the Salafis, and for those who enter into discussions with such thoughtful elements among the young, whom I met. As we know, philosophical thought does not enter into the education of many of the youth of the Islamic movement, influenced as they are by the erroneous idea that Islam is against philosophy. I hope that it becomes clear to the reader of this study that Salafi scholars are not against philosophy, although they were against a particular philosophy which contradicted the tenets of Islam, and this opposition was absolutely and completely based on reason. Some of them adopted the philosophical approach itself to refute the arguments of the Greeks which influenced Muslim intellectuals from the second Hijri century onwards. Some of them came to refute the value of the Greek approach itself as a tool for correct thinking. This was based not just on the arguments of the Greek philosophers and their opposition to the beliefs of the Muslims, but on consideration of the nature of reason itself.

We shall begin by reviewing a few paragraphs from Zakaria’s book “The Islamic awakening in the balance of the mind”, which promoted most of the popular ideas held by secularists in regard to their objections to our intellectual heritage. Zakaria’s knowledge and position in philosophical circles gives his views more weight than those of authors of nonfiction or politics, when it comes to readers generally. I wish to show how this important philosophy professor fell to making judgments on the cultural heritage of his nation, without really making an effort to understand it. Although I believe he was not deliberately trying to deceive, he nevertheless studied the relationship of the Catholic Church to reason in Europe, and thought that all religions had to follow in the same pattern. This is the only thing I can think of to excuse the error of a professor from whose writings I have otherwise benefited greatly.

The Islamic awakeninginthe mind ofDr.FouadZakaria

Zakaria writes in his book that:

“… the biggest reason for the opposition between philosophy and religion… is not the type of ideas advocated by both parties , but their manner of thinking… it isn’t a conflict about content or substance, but about the approach to it, and boils down to the fact that whilst the philosophical approach is critical, the religious approach is fideist. While philosophy wants to discuss all assumptions, and does not recognize what doesn’t stand the rigid test of logic, the principle of submission is essential to religious faith, and the ultimate goal of that faith is to lead one to accept belief without debate , in fact the idea of debate  doesn’t arise in the first place… ” p. 151

And if you ever thought that our history was replete with many Islamic rational intellectuals, Zakaria tells you that:

“… if some thinkers have sought to deny faith and its basic beliefs, and base themselves on rational and logical proofs .. .. they were closer to the clerics than to the philosophers given that these proofs were not rationalist from beginning to end, but were grounded for their crucial stages in the acceptance of certain religious assumptions , which are then elaborated through rational inference…” p 151.

Neither Zakaria nor anyone else, give us an example of what one of those crucial stages might have been which could not be surmounted by rational proof, such that we are made of necessity to resort to religious assumptions for this purpose. If he had presented one case – one case only – where our reasoning had failed us and left us to employ religious assumptions, then we could believe him and that his pronouncements might have been the result of a study of Islamic thought. Whilst they cannot actually do that, we have to insist that what is being conveyed is the critique of religious thought and Christian ideas by western philosophers, which are projected uncritically onto Islam.

Logic and belief

Zakaria writes further:

“… whilst the cleric insists that logic has no place in faith, he does not say so in rejection of logic as such. Indeed he may accept the logic and logical reasoning, to use them in other areas. What he intends is to hold true to the original sense of the word “faith”, in terms of submission and confirmation where there is no place for analysis or scrutiny… ” p 152.

We do not know here what the source might be from which Zakaria derives that this is the original meaning of the faith of Muslims. He then goes on to say:

“…  the cleric, even if he agrees to the principle of a discussion, does not permit it to pass certain limits, or to stretch to include basic beliefs… “, p 153.

Once again: do we find this in Islam? Do we have more basic beliefs than the existence of God and the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him)? If these basic beliefs are beyond what we can expect to discuss rationally, what are these things about which we do not accept rational discussion?

Scepticism in regard the principle of logical reasoning

According to Zakaria, we are working on:

“… questioning the principle of reasoning itself, a principle upon which scientific approaches are grounded, on the basis that it leads to the destabilization of religious belief and to undermining of faith… in a revival of the old slogan ” whoever uses logic turns atheistic ” … and logic as realized by the human mind since ancient times is a tool , or a particular way of thinking , based on rational argument and correct inductive reasoning that persuades. Thus what leads to heresy according to this slogan is not a set of views or theories advocated by the philosophers who use logic, but it is the method of thinking rationally and logically which they abide by. So what the slogan says is that, in fact, that if you use your mind and if you think things out consistently, this makes you a heretic…”, p 159

This is not an innocent statement, for I do not believe that Zakaria did not know that logic was a discipline taught at Al-Azhar. However the slogan he brings up which was actually proclaimed by Abu Amr ibn al -Salah was in reaction to certain circumstances, which we shall be discussing in this paper. Others much more well-known than ibn al-Salah, such as Abu Hamid al-Ghazali author of the “The Revival of the Religious Sciences”, learned and taught logic and used it to refute the propositions of the Greek philosophers and what issued from their thought. Meanwhile, those who refused to use Aristotle’s formal logic – such as ibn Taymiyya – did not reject him because of this business about heresy, but because they saw it as a useless and superficial tool, and preferred to use other rational tools to give us different sublime rational ways of thinking. After them by many centuries, Francis Bacon began the new modality of the European experimental scientific method in Europe which rejected the logic of Aristotle.

Zakaria concludes his talk about philosophy and Islam with a demand which deserves comment. He says:

” All that is required to achieve a fertile combination of philosophical and religious thought is for the philosopher to feel that he is not exposed to intimidation or terror or the charge of unbelief…” p. 176

But who is it who has prevented the philosopher as such from expressing his thoughts? If the philosopher said anything conflicting with religion – or if likewise some saw what he said as such – does the philosopher have immunity to prevent others from opposing his opinion? He always has the possibility of proving that he expresses himself consistently with religion if he only could establish proof of that. But assume that the philosopher wanted to reject the proofs of the Book and the Sunna, ignoring all the evidence adduced by Muslims to prove their authenticity, simply on the basis that his mind did not accept what was said there. Then we shall say to him that for Muslims, this would resemble someone who does not want to recognize the rotation of the earth because the mind cannot imagine it. He is free then to do what he wants for there is truly no compulsion in religion, however, a spade should be called a spade.

Muslims and rational thinking

Where could they have come up with this idea? The idea that the mind is systematic and organised may seem to be strange to Islamic thought, although a casual glance through the Qur’an has us take note almost immediately of its commands and appeals based on acts of reading, thinking, reasoning, argumentation, forethought and consideration propagates through the book from beginning to end, in both Medinan and Meccan verses , and is repeated in the verses which addresses infringement,  demanding evidence, argument and debate of the best kind, based on methods of induction that depend of what results are to be extracted. So the Quran never raises beliefs as matters to be submitted to shorn of evidence, thus obliging people to convert simply based on the authority of the sacred text. Rather they are always substantiated by evidence. Could the problem be – whether the mind represents a problem for us – in the way that our scholars have approached these texts?

When the theologians organised their books they listed the rational proofs regarding the existence of God as they found them in the Qur’an, and quoted the Qur’anic verses that supporting each proof. So we find verses in support of the proof of creation and others in evidence of necessity, sufficient cause, provision and invention… etc: verses which provide us with this evidence in a wonderful way, pleasing to the mind of the thinker, the sense of the writer and the sentiment of the artist. And when our jurists began legislating for the eduction of necessity, sufficient cause, provision and invention, they considered that all of the practical rules are reasoned from their causes, and that these rules depended on their reasons whether present or actually absent, and laid down such rational rules for jurisprudential eduction within the discipline of the principles of jurisprudence, a strict rational approach that our culture should be proud of. So where did that idea come from, then?…The idea that it might occur to Muslims that a place still has to found for reason in Islam?

It would seem that there no problem in the relationship between religious thinking and rational thinking as far Muslims are concerned. But since our Westernized intellectuals believe that they know how to resolve the problem, they should really have to find it, before seeking to resolve it.

The origin of the distinction between religious thinking and rational thinking

The story began in Europe in the early Renaissance, when people began to do systematic scientific research on the problems of nature. This led to discoveries which contradicted many things held by the church as facts. This pushed people to think about everything that the church said, and they found that their minds could not accept many of the perceptions about existence, about life and about the human being. But who could tell the monster that he had red eyes? So they concocted this notion about two realities, a spiritual reality and a rational philosophical reality, and they claimed that these are two separate truths – do not ask how they are both true. It was all just a dodge to avoid conflict from the superficial aspect between the result of rational thought and the demands of their faith, where each had its own field and they did not intersect. All that these thinkers wanted was the ability to proclaim different ideas and perceptions about the same things that concerned the Church, whilst avoiding confrontation.

The Church failed to justify the majority of its beliefs

The Church, for its part, was finally compelled to accept this situation, which was not of its own making. It had failed to justify most of its beliefs, among them its most important beliefs, and the proof of the truth of these beliefs could be disregarded on the basis that they were not subject to observation and experimentation, nor to investigation and analysis. But what about the claims of the Church in matters of natural physical law, such as their saying that the earth was at the center of the universe and that the sun and all the heavenly bodies revolve around it, on the grounds that to say otherwise would violate religion? The Church initially tried to suppress thinkers and scholars to deal with this problem. With growing scientific research and in the face of the rational movement, together with the continuous findings of natural science which contradicted the tales of the Bible, the Church was compelled in the end to recognize the right of people to use reason, provided they do not do so in religion. They claimed that the mind cannot be up to knowing God, who can only be known though the heart and through love, in virtue of the light God shines in the human heart that allows him to believe.

The one and only truth

On the other hand, at no time did Muslim Scholars have a problem with rational investigation. Mawdoudi,  God’s mercy  be on him, who is attacked by secularists because of his well-known concept of “al-hakimiyya”, declares in his book “Islam in the face of the challenge of civilization” that:

“It is not possible to use this book [the Qur’an] and to stay on the straight path and avoid the errors in faith and work, except on the basis of that very thing on which religion was built from the first day, in other words : science and reason…”,

and a thousand years before him, Abu Hamid Ghazali wrote:

“Law is reason from the outside, and reason from within is law, the two are mutually reinforcing , and united”.

He goes even further when he says:

“In regard to the certain conclusions that we deduce from principles that are certain, if you are otherwise told its opposite as some tale about the greatest of God’s creations, even if their purpose is reasonable to a degree, and even if it were an honest prophetic report, we should cut the reporter off as a liar or interpret what we hear from him, since the possibility of its being an the honest truth does not occur to us… however convincing rationally…”

(It is important to pay attention to this last condition “however convincing rationally”). Could Ghazali have given us this astonishing opinion unless the principles of Islam were clear in that it was impossible that God could have revealed to us such as would violate the certainties of the mind that He gave us? Our position was clear from the beginning and throughout: there is nothing but one truth created by the one God , and what we feel with our senses and understand with our minds or receive through revelation, all must be correspondingly true as an expression of this one fact.

The conflict between the scholars of Sharīʿa and the philosophers

But Islamic history is replete with tales of struggles that happened between the jurists – the Sharīʿa  scholars – and the philosophers, when philosophy for our Westernised intellectuals was synonymous with rationalism, and Zakaria among others inferred from this that those scholars were against rational thinking. In this study we have tried to make it clear that those scholars were not against philosophical thinking in itself, but against some of the conclusions that were reached by those thinkers, who became notorious as “the philosophers”. The scholars did not try to refute the work of those philosophers because resulted from the use of reason, they wanted to disprove it because they saw in it a misuse of reason. But let’s start with the point about philosophy being synonymous with rational thinking.

The philosophy of contemporary philosophers

We will not try to offer a definition of philosophy, as the philosophers themselves have not agreed on a single definition of it. We see them rather talking about all the different areas covered by the philosophy, in a very general sense, as in this quote:

“Philosophy is a complete consideration which embraces all aspects of human activity in thought and behaviour… and the sciences stands at specialties and do not go beyond them… So existence and life in all its aspects, and man all the variety of his activities cannot hope to be the subject of science or one of the sciences…” ,

or :

“All science works within the scope of a particular field and determines for itself a set of laws and results which is guarantees, but any one science doesn’t take into account of the link between its results and those reached by others in order to draw a general picture. We can liken this to a case where each science focuses on a particular type of tree, while none take care of the forest as a whole. “

Just as they did not agree on a definition, they did not agree on the goal of philosophy. Some believe that “philosophy enables us to explore the ultimate goals of humanity, and motivate us to engage in their realisation”. It is human position-taking in regard to the world, the times and society, accommodating all human aspects. Whilst in contrast to this wide all-encompassing goal, we find on the other hand logical positivism refusing for philosophy the right “to build for itself doctrines or thought formats of its own, but only be limited to the task of logical analysis of all forms of human thought, leaving to science task of interpreting the universe, establishing knowledge from the analysis of empirical results only, where as a result philosophy plays second fiddle to scientific research”. Between these two opposing extremes every philosopher decides where he stands.

So every philosopher decides the ambit within which he will operate. He is limited by this demarcation as to the the topics that can addressed. But of course, he chooses what he thinks is important, or what he finds fulfilling depending on his inclinations. The preferences of philosophers, their temperaments and the nature of the times in which they live, not only affect their choice of subject matter, but also affect the way in which they treat these topics. It is not surprising, then, that these factors affect the personal and subjective results the philosopher arrives at.

Philosophical activity: clever rational exercises

Salah Qansuh tells us that we will not find something specific called “philosophy “, so we are obliged to engage with many philosophies, all different from each other. Perhaps for the number of the philosophers with whose work we deal, however , the majority would be reluctant to have their philosophies labeled as a set of loose assumptions held together by certain subjective ideas, and they would insist that they are establishing facts and expressing the truth. Qansuh advises us here:

 “… not to recognise what they claim as their doctrine’s attainment of certain knowledge, because we know today about many of their grave errors, besides what was manifested as their iniquities controversy and dispute raged between them”.

Francis Bacon said this much earlier more dramatically:

all the received [philosophical] systems are but so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion” [XLIV,APHORISMS, BOOK ONE, Novum Organum]

This does not mean, of course, that I wish to throw aside all philosophical work. On the contrary, I consider it an important aspect of what supplied human thought, it’s just that I would like it not to exceed its true importance.  Philosophical works are clever mental exercises mentality which may have been useful, but philosophy is not synonymous with the mind: it’s the mind mixed with other things, besides which we have many philosophies, not just one. You can reject Marxist philosophy, for example, without having to be an enemy of philosophy , or to object to utilitarian philosophy (pragmatism ) because you see another philosophy as more convincing. So why should the rejection by Muslim scholars of Greek philosophy be a rejection of all philosophical thinking?

I shall show in the next installment of this study, the most important ideas from the philosophy of the Greeks which emerged in the Muslim community after being translated into Arabic from the second century Hijri onwards. I shall then show in the third installment the general position of our scholars in respect of these ideas, to clarify that they did not object to philosophizing as a mental activity, but rather that they objected to the arguments of the Greeks, which had rejected the beliefs of the Muslims, and that their opposition followed a full discussion of these arguments. Meanwhile their refutation was a rational refutation, and some of it used the logic of Aristotle. The fourth installment will concentrate on the objection in regard to the value of the Aristotle’s formal logic, which defended the method of induction, and which was founded by the later experimental approach to modern scientific research.