Tuesday, August 05, 2008

تهافت تهافت التهافت - The Incoherency of the Incoherence of the Incoherence

I've decided to focus my Masters thesis on the staggered (by 100 years) debate which took place between Imam Abu Hamid al Ghazali on one side and Ibn Rushd on the other. Imam al Ghazali had made a powerful attack (The Incoherence of the Philosophers) against the neo-Platonists of his time in 20 arguments ranging from questions on the eternity of the world to the immortality of the soul. He is accused sensationally, and mistakenly, by some as the man who "closed the doors" of ijtihad, the ability to independently interpret Islamic teachings according to the times, and dooming Islamic science and philosophy with stagnation and decay. His arguments were of such force that no effective response was made to his text until Ibn Rushd, the Andalusian philosopher and Islamic judge, wrote a rebuttal in his Incoherence of Incoherence. Apparently this was not as widely acclaimed, nor as forceful as al Ghazali's text, but it was still considered a strong enough attempt to defend the philosophers arguments.

I don't agree at all that al Ghazali ended philosophical debate or ijtihad. When it came to philosophy the man was himself educated in the kalam, saw the benefit of logic and was familiar with the Greek philosophers as well as scientists. I have just started re-reading the first book of his Revival of the Religious sciences (Ihya Uloum al Deen)and see now just how well read the man was. Apart from quoting freely from the Qur'an, the Ahadith and poetry in order to make some point, he practically used the entire introduction for Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and mentions a short saying by Galinus (Galens) to illustrate one of his examples for the reader. The lines of poetry which I pasted below are from the Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet Muhammads cousin and these were used in his introductory Book of Knowledge which is the first in the Ihya. All of this means that his work is constantly varied and interesting while his language is clear and uncomplicated, making studying him a pleasure. In fact, he sometimes goes on a bit longer than he should simply out of eagerness to ensure that the reader well and truly go the point. You are constantly made to feel valued as a reader and your intellect is never insulted. Of Ibn Rushd on the other hand I know very little but I recognise that he is an intellectual tour de force himself and it will not be an easy task going through his work. In the face of all this I think I might have a suitable title for my own thesis, The Incoherence of the Incoherence of the Incoherence...which may truly be Incoherent and not a brilliant work of philosophy like my illustrious predecessors, fulfilling the expectations of such a grandiose title.

It will be of huge interest for me to go beyond a superficial understanding of the arguments for both sides and see what the fuss is all about as one of my pet peeves is hearing people extol the virtues of when "we", the Arabs that is, were great in philosophy, mathematics and the sciences, but not a lot is actually said about what made them great. It is almost as if just mentioning the discipline or science as something "we" were once good at is enough to redeem ourselves in our own eyes as inheritors of these great arts. I intend to strip away this veil, at least from my own eyes, so that I know what I'm talking about when such subjects are brought up.

1 comment:

Serene said...

This is a beautiful, inspiring post.