OHPT: Thoughts on Islamic Philosophical Theology (Chapter 25)

This was another survey chapter that could easily be it’s own book. In fact, considering just how many overlaps there are between Islam and Christianity, I’m even more disappointed that the Oxford Handbook folks chose to over-represent the Christian philosophical theological tradition and way under-represent other equally rich traditions. But. I. Di. Gress.

“Islamic Philosophical Theology” was written by Oliver Leaman, Professor of Philosophy and Zantker Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Kentucky. Leaman gives very brief treatments to the major questions tackled by IPT (Islamic Philosophical Theology). As such, I’m going to go ahead and offer even BRIEFER comments on what Leaman wrote! Because CHALLENGE. ACCEPTED.

  1. Peripateticism: Islamic theologians did not like the influence of Greek philosophy once it started to travel and encroach. Three main concerns were the Greek understanding of time as being a function of motion — thus the world is eternal, because time doesn’t exist outside the movement that is characteristic of physical bodies. Second is the immortality of the soul but the mortality of the body, third is the idea that God cannot have knowledge of the daily events in the world.
  2. Mysticism: Some Islamic theologians (like Ibn Sab’in) didn’t like philosophy because it was too “analytic,” in terms of breaking up the One into parts and undermining the Unity. Analytic thought can also undermine the role of God.
  3. Illuminationism: The idea that true knowledge is received in whole. If we don’t understand the concept, then breaking the concept down into parts will not be helpful — conceptual truths that are not accessible in whole are not accessible via its constituent parts. An interesting outcome of this (though I still don’t entirely get why) is that “the radiance in one’s mind from the item of knowledge is so strong that one cannot doubt it” (561). This is a fairly troubling conclusion, one that I see far too often in Christianity, as well.
  4. Ethics: Just like in Christianity, there is a split between those who think something is just only because God says it is just, and those who think God acts in accordance with objective notions of justice.
  5. Politics: Islamic theologians did appreciate the Greek thought that philosophers were the best equipped to run the state, because the well-being of citizens involved questions of religion and spirituality as well as economic and social.
  6. The Soul: The idea that there is an afterlife and the soul, as the Aristotelian “form of the human”, is what inhabits the afterlife.
  7. Logic: This is a fascinating one, an issue I’d like to read more about in Islamic thought! There is a split between those who saw logic as a tool, and those who saw it as something that comes overlaid with ideology. Hegel approves of the latter.
  8. The Double Truth Issue: Ibn Rushd saw religion and reason as being distinct, so distinct that something could be true in one and false in the other. This section had the sentence I underlined with a frowny face: “Often theology is more complex than philosophy, and the views of the ordinary believer more complicated than those of the thinker who can organize his thoughts into clear and distinct categories, or thinks he can” (565). DUDE. I would argue that most ordinary believers have no idea how to defend their beliefs; it’s mostly a matter of social conformity. To say that is a more complex thought system than that of someone who is trying to identify the layers and interrogate the motivations behind one’s belief is kind of insulting and weird.
  9. Qur’anic Logic: The Qur’an is a source of knowledge and should be studied and considered.
  10. Tradition (Taqlid) and Argument: Though Islam and the Qur’an emphasizes the need of adherents to use their rational faculties, there is always a limit and at that limit adherents should consult the experts. This is a very good way of approaching any field of study or knowledge, though (like in Christianity) the “grounds” for being an expert are much more squibbly in matters of spirituality than in matters of science.
  11. Reasons and Causes: The conflict between Al-Ghazali and thinkers like Miskawayh concerning God’s reasons. Al-Ghazali thought God didn’t have reasons for employing her rules — she institutes whatever she wants. She is not “bound” by reasons. Miskawayh and others argued that God instituted rules and practices because those rules and practices aligned with human nature.

I was struck by how many alignments I found between Islamic and Christian philosophical theology, both in the types of issues tackled and the conclusions reached. The emphasis on authority, on holy text, the questions about God’s relation to causes and the Good, etc. It’s really too bad Islam gets such a short treatment here, but at least it was addressed.

OMG ONLY ONE MORE CHAPTER TO GO. What a year this has been for this part of my “intellectually spiritual” or “spiritually intellectual” journey. But I shall save those thoughts for laterzzzzzz.

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