Freethinkers of Medieval Islam: Ibn Al-Rawandi, Abu Bakr Al-Razi and Their Impact on Islamic Thought

By Sarah Stroumsa | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
THE RELIGION OF THE FREETHINKERS

In the Introduction, I have tried to describe the phenomenon which I propose to call “Islamic freethinking.” I have defined it as an independent reflection on metaphysics and ethics, leading to the rejection of prophecy and of the authority of revealed religions in general and of Islam in particular.1 In this context “Freethinking” expresses, in negative terms, what the freethinkers rejected. It also implies that, like other thinkers, the freethinkers put great stock in the power of rationality. As I have tried to show above, medieval thinkers present Ibn al-Rāwandī and Abū Bakr al-Rāzī as the prototypes of radical heresy. In the present chapter I propose to examine their image in the medieval Arabic sources, in order to see if we can say anything specific, in positive terms, about the nature and the content of their religious beliefs.


1. IN SEARCH OF ATHEISTS

In current usage, the terms “atheist” and “freethinker” are often used as synonyms.2 But if we are to identify the precise beliefs held by certain thinkers, it is advisable to draw the parameters of each term with some precision. I shall therefore use the term “atheism” in its strict sense: it refers to the doctrine that denies the existence of God.3

Although various Muslim theologians in the early 'Abbāsid period wrote treatises “Against the Unbelievers,” most of these works are lost. The earliest extant work bearing this title is probably the Radd ʿalā al-mulid of the ninth-century Zaydī theologian al-Qāsim b. Ibrāhīm. In this work, al-Qāsim polemicized with an anonymous

1 See Introduction, apud n. 33; cf. Stroumsa, “Ecritures alternatives,” 270–93,
esp. 270.

2 Cf. Fabro, “Atheism,” 479–80.

3 Ibid.; James, “Atheism,” 479–80; Müller-Lauter, “Atheismus,” 379.

-121-

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