History of Philosophy in Islam, by T.J. de Boer , at sacred-texts.com
1. We have already seen that the theological movement in Islam was strongly influenced by Philosophy. Not only the Mutazilite, but also the Antimutazilite Dialectic drew its opinions and the arguments with which it supported its own teaching or disputed that of its opponents, for the most part out of the writings of the philosophers. Out of these one took just what he was able to make use of: the rest he left in peace, or else he endeavoured to refute it. Thus numerous writings came into existence, directed against some particular philosophical doctrine, or some individual philosopher. No attempt, however, had been made before the time of Gazali, to direct an attack from general points of view and after thorough-going study, against the entire system of Philosophy which had been built up in the East on a Greek foundation.
Gazali's undertaking had also a positive side. Along with the Dialectic which sought to make the doctrines of the Faith intelligible, or even to provide them with a rational basis, there were movements in Islam of a mysticism which tended to a conception of dogma, profound and full of feeling. Its wish was, not to comprehend or
demonstrate the contents of the Faith, but to learn them by experience and live in them through the Spirit. The highest certitude ought to belong to the Faith. Ought it then to be in the power of any to transform it into a derived knowledge? Or must its tenets be principles of the Reason, neither capable of farther proof, nor requiring it? But the fundamental principles of the Reason, when once they are known, must be universally recognized; and universal recognition is lacking in the case of the tenets of the Faith. From what other source does unbelief arise? Thus the questioning proceeded; and it seemed to many that the only way out of these doubts was to base religious doctrine upon an inner, supra-rational illumination. At first this came about unconsciously, under a mystic impulse, whereby the contents of moral and religious teaching were often brought into neglect. Gazali took part in this movement also. That which had perhaps been typified by the Salimites and Karramites, Antimutazilite sects, he set forth completely and in a dignified style; and ever since his time Mysticism both sustains and crowns the Temple of Learning in Orthodox Islam.
2. The story of this man's life is a remarkable one; and, in order to understand the effectiveness of his work, it is absolutely essential to examine it with a measure of detail. He was born at Tos in Khorasan in the year 1059, being thus a countryman of the great poet Firdausi. And just as the latter furnishes a proof of the old glory of the Persian nation, so Gazali was destined to be a "testimony and ornament" for all future Islam. Even his early education,--obtained after his father's death, in the house of a Sufi friend,--was rather cosmopolitan than national
in its direction. Farther, any limitation was displeasing to the youth's restless and fanciful spirit. He did not feel at home in the hair-splitting casuistry of the teachers of Morals with their precise formulas: he regarded it as a worldly knowledge, from which he turned away, to immerse his spirit in the knowledge of Allah. Then he studied theology in Nishabur with the Imām al-Haramain, who died in 1085; and at the same time he may himself have begun to write and to teach, and, perhaps even thus early, to entertain doubts of his own science. 'Thereafter he was in attendance at the court of Nizam al-Mulk, the Vizir of the Seldjuk prince, until in 1091 he was appointed a Professor in Bagdad. It was during this time at all events that he busied himself most with philosophy. But it was not pure love for the science, which impelled him to that study, but the longing of his heart to find a solution of the doubts which assailed his understanding. Not any explanation of the events of the world, nor any clearing up of his own thinking, but peace of mind and the experience of a higher reality constituted the object which he strove to reach. He subjected to a thorough study the writings of the philosophers, in particular those of Farabi and Ibn Sina; and, following chiefly the system of the latter, he composed a Compendium of Philosophy, regarding it objectively, but still with some appearance of sympathy with its contents. He said,--at first in a kind of whisper to pacify his own mind, but afterwards publicly in self-defence,--that he composed that work in order that he might follow up the statement of the doctrines of philosophy with the refutation of the same. And that refutation did appear, probably not long after. It was the famous
[paragraph continues] "Destruction of the Philosophers",--which was composed in all likelihood while he was still in Bagdad, or shortly after he had left it.
But by the end of four years, viz in 1095, Gazali had discontinued his work of teaching in Bagdad, attended though it had been with outward success. His mind, continually in a state of doubt, probably found no satisfaction in dogmatic prelections. He was alternately attracted and repelled by his own brilliant position, and he came to think that he could, and that he should, fight against the world and its wisdom in some other way, to more purpose. Ambition with him embraced far more than this world. Profounder still his musings became; and during an illness of his, the inner call presented itself to his soul. He had secretly to prepare for the work, by means of Sufi exercises,--perhaps even to assume the character of a religious and political reformer. At the very time that the Crusaders were equipping themselves in the West against Islam, Gazali was preparing himself to be the spiritual champion of the Muslim faith. His conversion was not of a violent character, like that of St. Augustine, but was rather to be compared to the experience of St. Jerome, who was summoned in a dream from his Ciceronian predilections to practical Christianity.
For ten years Gazali travelled here and there, dividing his time between pious exercises and literary work. In the first part of that period it may be conjectured that he wrote his principal theologico-ethical work, "The Revival of Religious Sciences": towards the end he endeavoured to exercise influence as a reformer. His journeyings led him by way of Damascus and Jerusalem--before it was taken
by the Crusaders,--Alexandria, Mecca and Medina, back to his home.
After his return Gazali once more engaged in teaching for a short time in Nishabur; and he died in Tos, his native town, on the 19th of December, 1111. His closing years were chiefly devoted to pious contemplation and the study of the Traditions, which as a youth he could never remember. A beautifully complete and rounded life, in which the end comes back to the beginning!
3. Gazali passes in review the spiritual tendencies of his time. These are: the Dialectic of the Theologians; Sufi Mysticism; Pythagorean Popular Philosophy; and Neo-Platonic Aristotelianism. That which Dialectic desires to establish is also the object of his own faith; but its arguments appear to him rather weak, and many of its assertions on that account open to question. He feels most in sympathy with the Sufi Mysticism: to it he owes his dearest possession, viz, the establishment of his own faith in Personality,--so that he can postulate as an inner experience that which the Dialecticians attempt to derive by a process of reasoning. He thanks also the Popular Philosophy for the instruction it gives, particularly in Mathematics, which he fully recognizes as a science, together with its Astronomical deductions. He concedes the validity of its Physics, where that is not in conflict with the Faith. But Aristotelianism,--as it has been taught by Farabi and Ibn Sina, with as much subservience to authority as has been exhibited by the Theologians,--seems to him to be the enemy of Islam; and in the name of all the Muslim schools and tendencies of thought together, he feels bound to do battle with it, as from a
catholic standpoint. And in truth he does this with Aristotle's own weapons,--those of Logic; for the axioms of thought which Logic lays down are, in his eyes, just as firmly established as the propositions of Mathematics. Fully alive to this, he starts from the Principle of Contradiction, to which, according to his contention, God himself submits. Of the Physico-Metaphysical doctrines of Philosophy then, he attacks three in particular: 1. That the world is eternal; 2. That God takes cognizance only of the Universal, and that consequently there is no special providence; 3. That the Soul alone is immortal, and therefore a Resurrection of the Body is not to be looked for. In the refutation of these doctrines Gazali is in many respects dependent on the Christian commentator on Aristotle, Johannes Philoponus, who also has written against the doctrine of the eternity of the world maintained by Proclus.
4. (1) The world, according to the philosophers, is a sphere of finite extent but of infinite duration. From all eternity, it proceeds from God, even as the effect is in existence at the same time with the cause. Gazali, on the contrary, is of opinion that it is not admissible to put such different constructions on the notions of Space and Time respectively; and he holds that the Divine Causality should be defined as free Creative Might.
First then as to Space and Time: we are as little able to imagine an outermost boundary of Space as a beginning or end of Time. He who believes in an endless Time, must, in consistency with that notion of his, assume also the existence of an infinite Space. To say that Space answers to the external sense, and Time on the other hand to the internal,--does not alter the case, for we
do not after all get rid of the Sensible. Just as Space bears a relation to Body, so does Time to the movement of Body. Both are merely relations of things, created in and with the things of the world, or rather relations between our conceptions, which God creates in us.
Still more important is that which Gazali advances about Causality. The Philosophers distinguish between an operation of God, of Spiritual Beings endowed with will, of the Soul, of Nature, of Chance and the like; but for Gazali, just as for the orthodox Kalam, there is really only one causality, that of the 'Willing' Being. He completely puts aside the causality of Nature, which is reducible without remainder into a relation of Time. We see one definite phenomenon (Cause) regularly succeeded by another definite phenomenon (Effect); but how the latter results from the former is left an enigma for us. Of operation in the objects of Nature we know nothing. Farther, any alteration is in itself inconceivable. That any one thing should become a different thing is incomprehensible to thought, which may just as well ask about facts as about causes. A thing either exists, or it does not exist; but not even Divine Omnipotence can transform one existing thing into another thing. It creates or else annihilates.
And yet it is a fact of our consciousness that we do effect something. If we 'will' anything, and possess the power to carry it out, we claim the result as our act. Action, proceeding from a free will, and conscious of the exertion of power, is the only causality of which we know; and we argue from this to the Divine Being. But by what right? The warrant for such a conclusion Gazali thinks that he finds in his own personal experience of the image
of God in his soul; while on the other hand he declines to credit Nature with the likeness to God which belongs to his own soul.
For him accordingly, God, in so far as he can be known from the world, is the Almighty Being, free in will and efficient in operation. No spatial limit may be set to his causative activity, which yet the philosophers do, when they grant only his influence in his first created work. But on the other hand He can limit his own work both in Space and Time, so that this finite world has only a finite duration. That God should call the world into existence out of nothing by an absolute act of creation--seems to the Philosophers to be absurd. They recognize only an exchange of Accidents or Forms in the one material, a passing of the actual from possibility to possibility. But does nothing new ever come then into being? Is not every apprehension of the senses,--asks Gazali,--and every spiritual perception, something entirely new, which either exists or else does not exist, but at whose coming into existence the contrary does not cease, and at whose vanishing from existence, the opposite does not make its appearance? Consider farther the numerous individual souls which, according to Ibn Sina's system, must be in existence: have not these come into being, absolutely new?
There is no end to the putting of questions. The representative process wanders about in all directions and far; and thought leads us on ad infinitum. The chain of causation can nowhere be brought to an end, any more than Space or Time. In order then that there should be a definite, final Existence,--and in postulating this, Gazali
is at one with the Philosophers--, we need an Eternal Will as First Cause, different from everything else.
We may at all events make this acknowledgement to Gazali, that Ibn Sina's fantastic doctrine of Forms and Souls makes no stand against his criticism.
5. (2) We have now come to the idea of God. In the view of the Philosophers, God is the highest Being, and his essence is Thought. That which He knows, comes into existence, emanating from his abundance; but he has not positively 'willed' it, for all Willing presupposes a deficiency,--a need--, and is conditioned by some change in the Being that wills. Willing is movement in the material: completely real Spirit wills nothing. Therefore God beholds his creation in a contemplation which is undisturbed by any wish. He recognizes himself, or even his first Creature, or, according to Ibn Sina, the Universal, the eternal Genera and Species of all things.
But according to Gazali there must eternally belong to God a Will, as one of his eternal attributes. In a conventional way he grants, it is true, that in metaphysical and ethical considerations knowing precedes willing, but he is convinced that unity of Being does not more reside in knowing than in willing. Not only the multiplicity of the objects of knowledge, and their different relations to the knowing Subject, but even Self-Consciousness, or knowing about the knowing, considered per se, is an endless process. An act of will is absolutely necessary to bring it to a conclusion. In directing the attention and in self-communing an original "Willing" is in operation; and thus even Divine knowledge comes to a conclusion as a coherent unity, in its Personality, by means of an original eternal Will. In
place of the assertion of the Philosophers that God wills the world, because he thinks of it as the best, Gazali substitutes the statement: "God has cognizance of the world because he wills it and in his willing it"
Must not then He, who wills and creates all, have cognizance of his work down to the smallest part of its material? Just as his eternal will is the cause of all individual things, so his eternal knowledge embraces at one and the same time every particular thing, without the unity of his nature being thereby taken away. There is consequently a Providence.
To the objection that Divine Providence makes every particular event a necessary event, Gazali, like St. Augustine, replies that this fore-knowledge is not distinguishable from knowledge in memory,--that is to say, that God's knowledge is exalted above every distinction of time.
It may be questioned whether, in order to save the eternal, almighty, creative Will, Gazali has not sacrificed to that absolute might both the temporary character of the world, which he would like to prove, and the freedom of human action, from which he sets out, and which he would not altogether surrender. This world of shadows and images, as he calls it, vanishes for the sake of God.
6. (3) The third question, with regard to which Gazali separates himself from the Philosophers, has less philosophic interest. It refers to the Resurrection of the Body. According to the Philosophers it is only the Soul that is immortal, either in its individuality or as a part of the World-Soul: The Body on the other hand is perishable. Against this Dualism, which in theory led to an ascetic Ethics, but which in practice was easily converted into
[paragraph continues] Libertinism, the religious and moral feeling of Gazali rose in rebellion. If the flesh is to have its obligations, it must in turn be invested with its rights. The possibility of the Resurrection cannot be denied, for the reunion of the Soul with its (new) bodily frame is not more wonderful than its first union with the earthly body, which has been assumed even by the Philosophers. Surely then every soul at the resurrection-time may obtain a new body suited to it. But in any case Man's real essence is the Soul; and it is of little consequence what the material is, out of which its heavenly body is formed.
7. Even from these last propositions it is clear that Gazali's theology did not remain unaffected by philosophical speculation. Like the Fathers of the Western Church, he had, whether consciously or unconsciously, appropriated a good deal from philosophy; and for that reason his theology was long proscribed as a heretical innovation by the Muslims of the West. In reality his teaching regarding God, the World, and the human Soul exhibits many elements which are foreign to the oldest type of Islam, and which may be traced back,--partly through the intervening agency of Christian and Jewish writers and partly through that of more recent Muslim authors,--to heathen wisdom.
Allah, Lord of the Worlds, God of Mohammed, is for Gazali a living personality it is true, but yet far less anthropomorphic than he appeared to simple Faith or in .. the Antimutazilite dogma. The surest way of coming to know him must be to refuse to attribute to him any of the properties of his creatures. But that does not mean that he possesses no attributes: the very reverse is the case. The plurality of his qualities does not prejudice the Unity
of his Being. Analogies are presented in the bodily world: A thing certainly cannot be both black and white at the same time, but it may well be cold and also dry. Only, if the qualities of men are attributed to God, they must be understood in another and higher sense, for he is pure Spirit. Besides omniscience and omnipotence, pure goodness and omnipresence belong to Him. By means of this omnipresence this world and the next are brought in a manner nearer to one another than by the usual representation.
The conception of God is thus spiritualized. But resurrection and the future life are also regarded as being much more spiritual in character than the present life. Such a conception is facilitated by the doctrine of the Gnostic Philosophy, that there are three or four worlds. One above the other in regular order rise the Earthly and Sensible World of Men, the World of Celestial Spirits, to which our Soul belongs, the World of Supra-celestial Angels, and lastly God himself, as the World of purest Light and most perfect Spirit. The pious and enlightened Soul ascends from the lower world through the heavens till it is face to face with God, for it is of spiritual nature and its resurrection-body is of celestial essence.
In a manner corresponding to the different worlds and grades of Souls, men themselves differ from one another. The man of sensuous nature must be content with the Koran and Tradition: he should not venture beyond the letter of the Law. The study of duty is his bread of life; philosophy would be a deadly poison to him. He who cannot swim should not venture into the sea.
However there are always people who go into the water for the purpose of learning to swim. They want to elevate
their faith into knowledge, but in the process they may easily fall into doubt and unbelief. For them, in Gazali's opinion, a useful remedy may be found in the study of Doctrine and Polemics directed against Philosophy.
Those, however, have reached the highest degree of human perfection, who, without any laborious cogitation, experience in themselves by means of an inward and Divine illumination the truth and the reality of the Spiritual World. Such are the prophets and pious mystics, among whom Gazali himself may be reckoned. They see God in everything,--Him, and Him alone--, and in Nature just as in the life of their own Soul; but they see Him best in the Soul, for although it is not Divine it has at least a likeness to the Divine. How altered now is every outward thing! That which seems to be in existence outside of us, becomes a condition or a property of the Soul, which in the consciousness of its union with God, advances to the highest bliss. All things then become one in Love. The true service of God transcends fear of punishment and hope of reward, attaining to Love of God in the Spirit. The perfect servant of God is raised above endurance and thanksgiving,--which constitute the obligation of the pious wanderer upon the earth, so long as he remains imperfect--, so that even in this world he loves and praises God with joy of heart.
8. From what has been said it follows that there are three stages of Belief or Certainty: First, the belief of the multitude, who believe what some man worthy of belief declares to them, for instance, that So-and-so is in the house; secondly, the knowledge of the learned, gained by deduction: they have heard So-and-so speaking,
and conclude that he is in the house; but thirdly we have the immediate certainty of the 'knowing' ones, for they have entered the house and seen the person with their own eyes.
In contradistinction to the Dialecticians and Philosophers, Gazali everywhere lays stress upon experience. The former, with their Universal Ideas, in the first place fail to do justice to the multiplicity which attaches to this world of sense. The sensible qualities of things,--even the number of the stars for example,--we come to know only through experience, and not from pure Ideas. Much less, however, do such Ideas exhaust the heights and depths of our inner being. That which the friend of God knows intuitively, remains hidden for ever from the discursive intellect of the learned. A very small number attain to this height of knowledge, where they meet with the Apostles of God and Prophets of all times. It is the duty then of the Spirits who stand at a lower level to strive to follow them.
But now how are we to recognize the superior Spirit whom we need as our guide? That is a question, on which every religiously-determined system, which cannot do without human intermediaries, must founder, if considered purely in the light of the understanding. Even Gazali's answer is indecisive This much is certain to him, that grounds furnished by the reason alone cannot decide this question. The Prophet and Teacher who has been actually inspired by God is recognized by merging ourselves in his peculiar personality, through the experience of an inward relationship. The truth of Prophecy is authenticated by the moral influence which it exercises upon the Soul. Of the truthfulness of God's word in the Koran we acquire a
moral, not a theoretical certainty. The detached miracle is not capable of convincing; but the revelation as a whole, together with the personality of the Prophet, through whom the revelation has been conveyed, produce an irresistible impression upon the kindred soul. Then, wholly carried away by such impression, the soul renounces the world, to walk in the way of God.
9. Gazali is without doubt the most remarkable figure in all Islam. His doctrine is the expression of his own personality. He abandoned the attempt to understand this world. But the religious problem he comprehended much more profoundly than did the philosophers of his time. These were intellectual in their methods, like their Greek predecessors, and consequently regarded the doctrines of Religion as merely the products of the conception or fancy or even caprice of the lawgiver. According to them Religion was either blind obedience, or a kind of knowledge which contained truth of an inferior order.
On the other hand Gazali represents Religion as the experience of his inner Being. It is for him more than Law and more than Doctrine: it is the Soul's experience.
It is not every one who has this experience of Gazali's. But even those who cannot follow him in his mystic flight, when he transcends the conditions of any possible experience, will at least be constrained to acknowledge that his aberrations in searching for the highest are not less important for the history of the Human Mind than the apparently surer paths taken by the philosophers of his time, through a land which others had discovered before them.