Academic journal article Islam & Science

The Theologico-Scientific Research Program of the Mutakallimun: Intellectual Historical Context and Contemporary Concerns with Special Reference to Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi

Academic journal article Islam & Science

The Theologico-Scientific Research Program of the Mutakallimun: Intellectual Historical Context and Contemporary Concerns with Special Reference to Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi

Article excerpt

Situating kalam in its full intellectual historical context reveals it as a systematic theocentric scientific research program possessing of objective cognitive content. On the one hand kalam is about understanding God, and on the other it is about understanding Creation, and in between lies the rational mind mediating between the two poles of Being: one absolute, the other contingent, relating one to the other and integrating them within the framework of a comprehensive and coherent Qur'anic worldview. Unsurprisingly, the investigative nature of this research program demands of the mutakallimun a mastery of the revealed, rational, and empirical sciences which enables them to critically engage the scientists and philosophers with a view toward the formulation of a sophisticated, empirically rich, theocentric counter-science. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi plays a central role in the conceptual and empirical maturation of this research program, thus serving as an intellectual beacon for Muslim scientists in their systemic quest for a contemporary counter-science "powerful and elaborate enough to function as a substitute" for modern Western science.

Keywords: Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, al-Ghazali, Ibn Sina, 'ilm, kalam, al-kalam al-jadid, mutakallimun, falasifah, scientific research program, falsafah, Tahafut al-Falasifah, al-Mabahith al-Mashriqiyyah, al-Matalib al-Aliyyah, Mafatih al-Ghayb, Ibn Khaldun, Abu al-Barakat al-Baghdadi, science, philosophy, theology.

Introduction: for a people who think

In Knowledge Triumphant, Franz Rosenthal observes that the Islamic civilization is one that is essentially characterized by knowledge ('ilm), for "ilm is one of those concepts that have dominated Islam and given Muslim civilization its distinctive shape and complexion." (1) This should not be surprising since the divine revelation itself repeatedly emphasizes that its signs or verses are only understandable "for a people who think," (2) and exhorts believers, nay, even non-believers, to look to the cosmic horizons and into their very selves for empirical indications of the revealed truth. (3) For many scholars, including some professional orientalists, the seeds of rational thinking are already to be found in "early" Islam, in the Qur'anic revelation itself. (4)

Hence, from the very beginning, Muslims have taken a rational and scientific approach to matters in both the religious and mundane domains. Simply put, there was never in Islam the peculiarly Christian problem of reconciling between reason and revelation as if the two were somehow mutually exclusive avenues to truth and knowledge that have to be brought together in some form of uneasy compromise. As far as Muslims are concerned, revelation and reason are in mutual harmony as complementary avenues to knowledge that spring ultimately from the same source. For Muslims, to whom belief must be grounded in knowledge possessing of objective cognitive value, the problem is merely that of specifying the precise relation between the two, which is reason finding its proper role within the context of experience, including the religious experience of revelation. Such was the position taken by the mutakallimun and the falasifah, both of whom "did not distinguish theology from philosophy," (5) and neither did they distinguish it from physics or mathematics for that matter. (6)

Islamic scientific endeavor

The scientific endeavor in Islam can be said to have begun with the textual standardization of the Qur'an, and with the systematic transmission, collection, and authentication of the Sunnah. These budding endeavors in systematic intellectual work soon inspired the cultivation of sophisticated linguistic sciences (etymology, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, lexicography, prosody, metrics, rhetoric, and tajwid, the art of Qur'anic recitation) which emphasized the precise relations between words and their meanings. (7) On these elaborate linguistic foundations the science of jurisprudence (fiqh) was rigorously developed with its own internal analogical principles (qiyas) or a "comparative-deductive"8 method of juristic inference which facilitated the creative application of the normative injunctions of the Qur'an and Sunnah to the particular local and temporal contexts of Muslim society. …

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