Front Page Titles (by Subject) I: A DECISIVE DISCOURSE ON THE DELINEATION OF THE RELATION BETWEEN RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY* - The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
I: A DECISIVE DISCOURSE ON THE DELINEATION OF THE RELATION BETWEEN RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY* - Averroes (Ibn Rushd), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes 
The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes. Tractacta, translated from the Arabic by Mohammad Jamil-Ub-Behman Barod (Baroda: Manibhai Mathurbhal Gupta, 1921).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
A DECISIVE DISCOURSE ON THE DELINEATION OF THE RELATION BETWEEN RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY*
And after: Praise be to God for all His praiseworthy acts, and blessings on Mohammad, His slave, the Pure, the Chosen One and His Apostle. The purpose of the following treatise is to inquire through sacred Law† whether the learning of philosophy and other sciences appertaining thereto is permitted, or called dangerous, or commended by the Law, and if commended, is it only approved or made obligatory.
We maintain that the business of philosophy is nothing other than to look into creation and to ponder over it in order to be guided to the Creator,—in other words, to look into the meaning of existence. For the knowledge of creation leads to the cogniscance of the Creator, through the knowledge of the created. The more perfect becomes the knowledge of creation, the more perfect becomes the knowledge of the Creator. The Law encourages and exhorts us to observe creation. Thus, it is clear that this is to be taken either as a religious injunction or as something approved by the Law. But the Law urges us to observe creation by means of reason and demands the knowledge thereof through reason. This is evident from different verses of the Quran. For example the Quran says: “Wherefore take example from them, ye who have eyes.”1 That is a clear indication of the necessity of using the reasoning faculty, or rather both reason and religion, in the interpretation of things. Again it says: “Or do they not contemplate the kingdom of heaven and earth and the things which God hath created.”2 This is a plain exhortation to encourage the use of observation of creation. And remember that one whom God especially distinguishes in this respect, Abraham, the prophet. For He says: “And this did we show unto Abraham: the kingdom of heaven and earth.”3 Further He says: “Do they not consider the camels, how they are created; and the heaven, how it is raised.”4 Or still again: “And (who) meditate on the creation of heaven and earth, saying, O Lord thou hast not created this in vain.”5 There are many other verses on this subject: too numerous to be enumerated.
Now, it being established that the Law makes the observation and consideration of creation by reason obligatory — and consideration is nothing but to make explicit the implicit — this can only be done through reason. Thus we must look into creation with the reason. Moreover, it is obvious that the observation which the Law approves and encourage must be of the most perfect type, performed with the most perfect kind of reasoning. As the Law emphasises the knowledge of God and His creation by inference, it is incumbent on any who wish to know God and His whole creation by inference, to learn the kinds of inference, their conditions and that which distinguishes philosophy from dialectic and exhortation from syllogism. This is impossible unless one possesses knowledge beforehand of the various kinds of reasoning and learns to distinguish between reasoning and what is not reasoning. This cannot be done except one knows its different parts, that is, the different kinds of premises.
Hence, for a believer in the Law and a follower of it, it is necessary to know these things before he begins to look into creation, for they are like instruments for observation. For, just as a student discovers by the study of the law, the necessity of knowledge of legal reasoning with all its kinds and distinctions, a student will find out by observing the creation the necessity of metaphysical reasoning. Indeed, he has a greater claim on it than the jurist. For if a jurist argues the necessity of legal reasoning from the saying of God: “Wherefore take example from them O ye who have eyes,”6 a student of divinity has a better right to establish the same from it on behalf of metaphysical reasoning.
One cannot maintain that this kind of reasoning is an innovation in religion because it did not exist in the early days of Islam. For legal reasoning and its kinds are things which were invented also in later ages, and no one thinks they are innovations. Such should also be our attitude towards philosophical reasoning. There is another reason why it should be so, but this is not the proper place to mention it. A large number of the followers of this religion confirm philosophical reasoning, all except a small worthless minority, who argue from religious ordinances. Now, as it is established that the Law makes the consideration of philosophical reasoning and its kinds as necessary as legal reasoning, if none of our predecessors has made an effort to enquire into it, we should begin to do it, and so help them, until the knowledge is complete. For if it is difficult or rather impossible for one person to acquaint himself single-handed with all things which it is necessary to know in legal matters, it is still more difficult in the case of philosophical reasoning. And, if before us, somebody has enquired into it, we should derive help from what he has said. It is quite immaterial whether that man is our co-religionist or not; for the instrument by which purification is perfected is not made uncertain in its usefulness, by its being in the hands of one of our own party, or of a foreigner, if it possesses the attributes of truth. By these latter we mean those Ancients who investigated these things before the advent of Islam.
Now, such is the case. All that is wanted in an enquiry into philosophical reasoning has already been perfectly examined by the Ancients. All that is required of us is that we should go back to their books and see what they have said in this connection. If all that they say be true, we should accept it and if there be something wrong, we should be warned by it. Thus, when we have finished this kind of research we shall have acquired instruments by which we can observe the universe, and consider its general character. For so long as one does not know its general character one cannot know the created, and so long as he does not know the created, he can have no knowledge of the Creator. Thus we must begin an inquiry into the universe systematically, such as we have learned from the trend of rational inference. It is also evident that this aim is to be attained by the investigation of one part of the universe after another, and that help must be derived from predecessors, as is the case in other sciences. Imagine that the science of geometry and astronomy had become extinct in our day, and a single individual desired to find out by himself the magnitude of the heavenly bodies, their forms, and their distances from one another. Even though he were the most sagacious of men, it would be as impossible for him as to ascertain the proportion of the sun and the earth and the magnitude of the other stars. It would only be attainable by aid of divine revelation, or something like it. If it be said to him that the sun is a hundred and fifty or sixty times as big as the earth, he would take it to be sheer madness on the part of the speaker, though it is an established fact in the science of astronomy, so that no one learned in that science will have any doubt about it.
The science which needs most examples from other sciences is that of Law. For the study of jurisprudence cannot be completed except in a very long time. If a man today would himself learn of all the arguments discovered by the different disputants of diverse sects, in problems which have always excited contentions in all the big cities, except those of Al-Maghrib, he would be a proper object to be laughed at on account of the impossibility of the task, in spite of the existence of every favourable circumstance. This is similar not only in the sciences but also in the arts. For no one is capable of discovering by himself alone everything which is required. And if this is so in other sciences and arts, how is it possible in the art of arts - philosophy?
This being so, it becomes us to go back to the Ancients, and to see what observations and considerations they have made into the universe, according to the tests of inference. We should consider what they have said in this connection and proved in their books, so that whatever may be true in them we may accept and, while thanking them, be glad to know it, and whatever be wrong, we should be warned by it, be cautioned, and hold them excused for their mistake.
From what has been said, it may be taken that a search into the books of the Ancients is enjoined by the Law, when their meaning and purpose be the same as that to which the Law exhorts us. Anyone who prevents a man from pondering over these things, that is, a man who has the double quality of natural sagacity and rectitude in the Law, with the merit of learning and disposition - turns away the people from the door by which the Law invites them to enter into the knowledge of God, and that is the door of observation which leads to the perfect knowledge of God. Such an action is the extreme limit of ignorance and of remoteness from God.
If, by studying these books, a man has been led astray and gone wrong on account of some natural defect, bad training of the mind, inordinate passion, or the want of a teacher who might explain to him the true significance of things, by all or some of these causes, we ought not on this account to prevent one fit to study these things from doing so. For such harm is not innate in man, but is only an accident of training.
It is not right that a drug which is medically useful by its nature should be discarded because it may prove harmful by accident. The Prophet told a man whose brother was suffering with diarrhea to treat him with honey. But this only increased the ailment. On his complaining, the Prophet said: “God was right and thy brother’s stomach was wrong.” We would even say that a man who prevents another fit for it, from studying the books of philosophy, because certain worthless people have been misled by them, is like a man who refused a thirsty man cold and sweet water, till he died, because some people under the same circumstances have been suffocated by it and have died. For death by suffocation through drinking cold water is accidental, while by thirst it is natural and inevitable.
This state of things is not peculiar to this science only, but is common to all. How many jurists there are in whom jurisprudence has become the cause of worldliness and lack of piety? We should say that a large majority of jurists are of this kind, although their science should result in better action than other sciences which only lead to better knowledge.
So far, then, the position is established. Now, we Muslims firmly believe that our Law is divine and true. This very Law urges us and brings us to that blessing which is known as the knowledge of God, and His creation. This is a fact to which every Muslim will bear testimony by his very nature and temperament. We say this, because temperaments differ in believing: one will believe through philosophy; while another will believe through dogmatic discourse, just as firmly as the former, as no other method appeals to his nature. There are others who believe by exhortation alone, just as others believe through inferences. For this reason our divine Law invites people by all the three methods, which every man has to satisfy, except those who stubbornly refuse to believe, or those, according to whom these divine methods have not been established on account of the waywardness of their hearts. This is why the mission of the Prophet has been declared common to the whole world, for his Law comprises all the three methods leading men towards God. What we say is quite clear from the following saying of God: “Invite men unto the way of the Lord, by wisdom and mild exhortation, and dispute with them in the most condescending manner.”7
As this Law is true and leads to the consideration of the knowledge of God, we Muslims should believe that rational investigation is not contrary to Law, for truth cannot contradict truth, but verifies it and bears testimony to it. And if that is so, and rational observation is directed to the knowledge of any existent objects, then the Law may be found to be silent about it, or concerned with it. In the former case no dispute arises, as it would be equivalent to the absence of its mention in the Law as injunctory, and hence the jurist derives it from legal conjecture. But if the Law speaks of it, either it will agree with that which has been proved by inference, or else it will disagree with it. If it is in agreement it needs no comment, and if it is opposed to the Law, an interpretation is to be sought. Interpretation means to carry the meaning of a word from its original sense to a metaphorical one. But this should be done in such a manner as will not conflict with the custom of the Arabian tongue. It is to avoid the naming of an object, by simply mentioning its like, its cause, its attribute, or associate, etc. which are commonly quoted in the definition of the different kinds of metaphorical utterances. And if the jurist does so in many of the legal injunctions, how very befitting would it be for a learned man to do the same with his arguments. For the jurist has only his fanciful conjectures to depend upon, while a learned man possesses positive ones.
We hold it to be an established truth that if the Law is apparently opposed to a truth proved by philosophy it admits of an interpretation according to the canons of the Arabic language. This is a proposition which a Muslim cannot doubt and a believer cannot mistrust. One who is accustomed to these things divine can experience for himself what we have said. The aim of this discourse is to bring together intellectual and traditional science. Indeed, we would even say that no logical conclusion will be found to be opposed to the Law, which when sifted and investigated in its different parts will be found in accordance, or almost so, with it.
That is why all Muslims are agreed that all the words of the Law are not to be taken literally, nor all of them given an interpretation. But they vary in verses, which are or are not to be interpreted. For example, the Asharites put an interpretation upon the verse of Equalisation8 and on the Tradition of Descent,9 while the Hanbalites take them literally. The Law has made two sides of these-exoteric and esoteric-because of the differences of human nature and minds in verifying a thing. The existence of an opposed esoteric meaning is in order to call the attention of the learned to find out a comprehensive interpretation. To this the following verse of the Quran refers: “It is he who hath sent down unto thee the book, wherein are some verses clear to be understood — they are the foundation of the book — and others are parabolical. But they whose hearts are perverse will follow that which is parabolical therein, out of love of schism, and a desire of the interpretation thereof; yet none knoweth the interpretation thereof except God. But they who are well grounded in knowledge say: We believe therein, the whole is from our Lord, and none will consider except the prudent.”10
Here it may be objected that in the Law there are things which all Muslims have agreed to take esoterically, while there are others on which they have agreed to put an interpretation, while there are some about which they disagree. Is it justifiable to use logic in the interpretation of those which have been taken literally, or otherwise? We would say that if the agreement is positive there is no need to apply logic; but if it be conjectural there is. For this very reason Abu Hamid (Al Ghazzali) and Abu Ma’ali and other learned doctors have ordained that a man does not become an unbeliever by forsaking the common agreement and applying the principle of interpretation in such things. It will certainly be agreed that complete concensus of opinion is not possible in metaphysical questions, in the manner in which it is possible to establish it in practical things. For it is not possible to establish unanimity of opinion at any time, unless we confine ourselves to a small period and know perfectly all the learned doctors living in it, that is, their personalities, their number and their views about any question to be quoted to us directly from them without a break in the chain. With all this we should know for certain that the doctors living at that time are agreed that there is no distinction of exoteric and esoteric meanings in the Law, that the knowledge of no proposition should be concealed from anybody, and that the method of teaching the Law should be the same with all men. But we know that a large number of people in the early days of Islam believed in exoteric and esoteric meanings of the Law, and thought that the esoteric meanings should not be disclosed to an ignorant person who cannot understand them. For example, Bukhari has related on the authority of Ali that he said “Talk to men what they can understand. Do you intend to give the lie to God and His Apostle?” There are many Traditions to the same effect related from other people. So, how is it possible to conceive of any consensus of opinion coming down to us in metaphysical questions when we definitely know that in every age there have been doctors who take the Law to contain things the real significance of which should not be disclosed to all men? But in practical affairs it is quite different. For all persons are of opinion that they should be revealed to all men alike. In these things unanimity of opinion can be easily obtained if the proposition is published, and no disagreement is reported. That may be sufficient to obtain unanimity of opinion in practical things as distinct from the sciences.
If it be maintained that one does not become an unbeliever by ignoring consensus of opinion in interpretation, as no unanimity is possible in it, what shall we say of such Muslim philosophers as Abu Nasr (Al Farabi) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna)? For Abu Hamid (Al Ghazzali) has charged them with positive infidelity in his book: The Refutation of the Philosophers, in regard to three things: The eternity of the world; God’s ignorance of particulars; and the interpretation concerning the resurrection of bodies and the state of the Day of Judgment. To this we should reply that from what he has said it is not clear that he has charged them positively with infidelity. For in his book Al Tafriqah bain’al Islami w’al Zindiqah he has explained that the infidelity of a man who ignores the consensus of opinion is doubtful. Moreover we have definitely pointed out that it is not possible to establish a consensus of opinion in such matters, especially when there are many people of the early times who have held that there are interpretations which should not be disclosed to all but only to those who are fit for them and those are men who are “well grounded in knowledge”11 a divine injunction which cannot be overlooked. For if such people do not know the interpretation in these matters they will have no special criterion of truth for their faith, which the common people have not, while God has described them as believing in Him. This kind of faith is always produced by the acceptance of the arguments, and that is not possible without a knowledge of interpretation. Otherwise, even the common people believe in the words of God without any philosophy whatever. The faith which the Quran has especially ascribed to the learned must be a faith strengthened with full arguments, which cannot be without a knowledge of the canons of interpretation. For God has said that the Law admits of interpretation which is its real significance, and this is what is established by arguments. Yet though this is so, it is impossible to establish any well grounded consensus of opinion in the interpretations which God has ascribed to the learned men. That is quite evident to anyone with insight. But with this we see that Abu Hamid (Al Ghazzali) has made a mistake in ascribing to the Peripatetic Philosophers the opinion that God has no knowledge of particulars. They are only of opinion that the knowledge of God about particulars is quite different from ours. For our knowledge is the effect of the existence of a thing. Such knowledge is produced by the existence of a thing, and changes with changes in the thing. On the other hand the knowledge of God is the cause of an existent thing. Thus one who compares these two kinds of knowledge ascribes the same characteristics to two quite different things — and that is extreme ignorance. When applied both to eternal and to transitory things the word knowledge is used only in a formal fashion, just as we use many other words for objects essentially different. For instance the word Jalal is applied both to great and small; and sarim to light and darkness. We have no definition which can embrace both these kinds of knowledge, as some of the Mutakallimun of our times have thought. We have treated this question separately at the request of some of our friends.
How can it be supposed that the Peripatetic Philosophers say that God has no knowledge of particulars when they are of opinion that man is sometimes warned of the coming vicissitudes of the future through visions, and that he gets these admonitions in sleep, through a great and powerful Director, who directs everything? These philosophers are not only of opinion that God has no knowledge of details such as we have but they also believe that He is ignorant of universals. For all known universals with us are also the effect of the existence of a thing, while God’s knowledge is quite other than this. From these arguments it is concluded that God’s knowledge is far higher than that it should be called universal or particular. There is therefore no difference of opinion concerning the proposition, that is, whether they are called infidel or not.
As to the eternal or transitory nature of the world: I think that in this matter the difference of opinion between the Asharite Mutakallimun and the Ancient Philosophers is for the most part a verbal difference, at least so far as the opinion of some of the Ancients is concerned. For they are agreed on the fact that there are three kinds of creation — the two extremes and a medial one. They again agree on the nomenclature of the two extremes, but they disagree as to the medial one. As to the one extreme, it has come into existence from something other than itself, or from anything else — that is from a generative cause or matter — while time existed before it. All those things whose existence is perceived by the senses, as water, animals, vegetation, etc., are included in this. All Ancient and Asharite philosophers are agreed in denominating this creation Originated.
The other extreme is that which came into existence from nothing, not out of anything, and time did not precede it. The two parties are agreed in calling this Eternal. This extreme can be reached by logic. This is God, the Creator, Inventor, and Preserver of all.
The medial kind of creation is that which has neither been made from nothing, “matter,” nor has time preceded it, but it has been created by some generative cause. In this is included the whole world. Again they all agree on the existence of all the three categories of the universe. The Mutakallimun admit, or they ought to admit, that before the universe there was no time, for according to them time is contemporaneous with motion and body. They are also agreed with the Ancients that future time and creation have no end, but they differ as to past time and its creation. The Mutakallimun are of opinion that it had a beginning.
This is the belief of Plato and his disciples, while Aristotle and his followers are of opinion that it had no beginning, just as the future has no end. It is clear that the last mentioned kind of creation resembles both the originated and the eternal creation. So one who thinks that in the past creation there are more characteristics of the eternal than the originated takes it to be eternal and vice versa. But in reality it is neither truly originated nor eternal. For the originated creation is necessarily subject to destruction while the eternal is without a cause. There are some, for example, Plato and his followers, who have called it infinitely originated, for according to them time has no end. There is not here so great a difference about the universe, for it to be made the basis of a charge of infidelity. In fact, they should not be so charged at all, for opinions which are worthy of this are far removed from ours, those quite contrary to them, as the Mutakallimun have thought them to be in this proposition. I mean that they take the words originated and eternal to be contrary expressions, which our investigation has shown not to be the case.
The strange thing about all these opinions is that they are not in agreement with the literal sense of the Law. For if we look closely we shall find many verses which tell us of the creation of the universe — that is, of its originated nature. Creation and time are said to be without end. For according to the verse: “It is He who hath created the heavens and the earth in six days, but His Throne was above the waters before the creation thereof”12 it is clear that there was a universe before this one, and that is the throne and the water, and a time which existed before that water. Then again the verse “The day will come when the earth shall be changed into another earth and the heavens into other heavens”13 shows equally when taken literally that there will be a universe after this one. Again, the verse: “Then He set his mind to the creation of heaven and it was smoke”14 shows that the heavens were created from something.
Whatever the Mutakallimun say about the universe is not based on a literal sense of the Law, but is an interpretation of it. For the Law does not tell us that God was even before mere nonexistence, and moreover, this is not found as an ordinance in it. How can we suppose that there could be any consensus of opinion about the interpretation of verses by the Mutakallimun? In fact, there is much in the sayings of some philosophers which supports what we have quoted from the Law, taken literally.
Those who differ concerning these obscure questions have either reached the truth and have been rewarded; or have fallen into error and have to be excused. For it is compulsory rather than voluntary to believe a thing to be true, the proof of which has already been established; that is, we cannot believe or disbelieve it as we like, as it depends upon our will to stand or not to do so. So, if one of the conditions of verification be freedom of choice, a learned man, and he alone should be held excused, if he makes a mistake on account of some doubt. Hence the Prophet has said that if a magistrate judges rightly he receives two rewards, and if he makes a mistake he deserves only one. But what magistrate is greater than one who judges the universe, whether it is so or not. These are the judges — the learned men — whom God has distinguished with the knowledge of interpretation.
It is this kind of mistake of insight which learned people are quite apt to make when they look into those obscure questions the investigation of which the Law has imposed upon them. But the mistake the common people make in these matters is sin pure and simple, whether in theoretical or in practical things. As a magistrate, ignorant of Tradition, when he makes mistakes in judgment, cannot be held excused, so likewise a judge of the universe when not having the qualities of a judge is also not excusable, but is either a sinner or an unbeliever. If it be a condition that a magistrate shall have capacity of arbitration concerning the lawful and the forbidden, that is, knowledge of the principles of Law and their application through analogy — how much more befitting it is for an arbitrator of the universe to be armed with fundamental knowledge of the mental sciences, and the way of deducing results from them.
Mistake in the interpretation of the Law is thus of two kinds — a mistake which can be excused in one fit to look into the thing in which it has been committed, just as an expert physician is excused if he commits an error in the application of his science; or a magistrate when he misjudges, and a mistake which is inexcusable in one not fit to investigate a thing. But the error which cannot be excused for anybody, and which, if it happens to show itself in relation to the very principles of the Law, is infidelity, and if in universals is an innovation, is that error which is committed in those things which have been settled by all arguments and so the knowledge of them is possible for everybody, for instance, the acknowledgement of the existence of God, of Prophecy, and of the happiness or the misery of the next world. This is so, because all these three principles are proved by those three methods, the justification of which a man cannot deny by any means, that is exhortative controversial and argumentative proofs. A denier of such things, which are the very root of the principle of the Law, is an unbeliever, a retrograde with his tongue and his heart, or through negligence, on account of his denying them in spite of proofs. For if he be a man believing in arguments, he can verify them through these or if he believes in controversy, he can verify through that; and if he believes in religious admonitions he can well justify them through these. And hence the Prophet has said: “I have been commanded to fight with men till they say: ‘There is no God but Allah’ and believe in me” that is, by any of these three means of attaining the Faith.
But there are things which, on account of their obscurity, cannot be understood by inference. So, God has favoured such of his creatures as cannot understand logic, either on account of their nature, habit, or lack of mental training, by quoting examples and parables of such things and has urged them to testify as to their truth through them. For everyone has mental capacity enough to understand them by the help of dogmatic and exhortatory argument which are common to all men. This is why the Law has been divided into two kinds: exoteric and esoteric. The exoteric part consists of those examples which have been coined to express certain meanings; while the esoteric is the meanings themselves, which are not manifested except to the learned in philosophy.
These are the very four or five kinds of methods of knowing reality mentioned by Abu Hamid (Al Ghazzali) in his book called Al Tafriqah bain al Islam wal Zindiqah. If it so happens as we have said that we can know of a thing by any of the above mentioned three methods, then we do not stand in need of any examples for understanding them. Such things should be taken literally and interpretation should find no place with regard to them. If these things form a part of the principles of the Law, one who puts an interpretation upon them is an infidel. For instance, if a man believes that there is no happiness or misery in the next world, and that the teaching is only an artifice to safeguard the life and property of the people from one another and that there is no goal for men other than this life, then he is certainly an unbeliever.
When this has once been established it will become clear to you that interpretation is not lawful in the exoteric part of the Law. If the canon of interpretation be used in the principles of the Law, it is infidelity, and if used in general things it is an innovation. But there is also a certain exoteric law which requires an interpretation from learned men. It is not misbelief for them to take it exoterically, but it is so or is at least an innovation in religion if ignorant men try to interpret or explain it.
Among these is the verse of Equalisation and the Tradition of Descent. For the Prophet said of a Negro slave girl who told him that God was in heaven: “Emancipate her, for she is a believer.’ For there are persons who cannot believe a thing except through their imagination, that is, it is difficult for them to believe a thing which they cannot imagine. Among these may be classed men who cannot understand a thing except with a reference to space, and hence believe in God as though physical, notwithstanding that these are the very persons who have dealt very harshly with those mentioned above. They ought to be told that things of this character are parabolical, and that we should pause and consider the saying of God: “Yet none knoweth the interpretation thereof except God”. Although learned men agree that these are to be interpreted, they differ in the interpretation according to their knowledge of principles of philosophy. There is a third part of the Law which occupies an intermediate position, on account of some doubt about it. Some say that it should be taken exoterically, and that no interpretation should be allowed in it; while there are others who say that they have some esoteric meaning, and should not be taken exoterically by the learned. This is on account of the obscurity of their meaning. A learned man may be excused if he makes a mistake about them.
If the Law is divided into these three parts, it may be asked: to which of these does the description of the state of the Day of Judgment belong? We would reply that it is quite clear, on the very face of the question, that it belongs to that part in which there is some difference of opinion. For one group of men, who class themselves among philosophers, say that these things should be taken literally. For, according to them, there is not a single argument which makes their literal sense absurd and unreasonable. This is the method of the Asharites. But another group of philosophers interpret them; but they differ very widely in the interpretation itself. Amongst these may be mentioned Abu Hamid (Al Ghazzali) and a large number of Sufis. There are some who would amalgamate the two interpretations, as Abu Hamid has done in some of his books. These questions are among those in which, if the learned men err they are to be excused; otherwise, they are to be thanked and rewarded. For, if one acknowledges the reality of the Day of Judgment, and then begins to apply the principles of interpretation to the description, and not its reality, he does not in any way deny it. A denial of its reality is infidelity, for it is one of the fundamentals of the Law, and it can be easily verified by any of the three methods of argument common to all men. But one who is not learned should take it exoterically, an interpretation in his case is unbelief, for it leads to infidelity. We are thus of opinion that such people should accept the literal sense, for interpretation will certainly lead them to infidelity. A learned man who discloses the discussions of these things to the common people helps them towards unbelief and one who abets another in that direction is himself no better than an unbeliever. It is therefore unsuitable that these interpretations should be published in any other than learned books, for in this way they will reach none but the learned. But it is a mistake both in religion and philosophy if they are put in other books, with dogmatic and exhortative arguments, as Abu Hamid has done. Although the author’s intention was good, the idea thus to increase the number of learned men, he caused a good deal of mischief through it. For, on account of this method some people began to find fault with philosophy, and others to blame religion, and still others began to think of reconciling the two. It seems that this was the very aim which Abu Hamid had in view in writing these books. He has tried to awaken the nature of men, for he never attached himself to any particular way of thinking in his books. He was an Asharite with the Asharites, a Sufi with the Sufis and a philosopher with the philosophers, so much so that he was, as has been said: “I am a Yeminite when I meet a Yeminite; if I meet a Ma’adi I am one of Banu Adnan.”
Hence, it is necessary for the doctors of Islam to prevent men, except the learned, from reading his books; as it is incumbent upon them to hinder them from reading controversial writings which should not be studied except by those fit to do so. As a rule the reading of these books is less harmful than those of the former. For the majority cannot understand philosophical books, only those endowed with superior natures. People are on the whole destitute of learning and are aimless in their reading which they do without a teacher. Nevertheless they succeed in leading others away from religion. It is an injustice to the best kind of men and the best kind of creation; for in their case justice consists in the knowledge of the best things by the best people, fit to know it. It should be remembered that the greater the thing is the higher will be the injustice done to it on account of ignorance. Hence God says: “Polytheism is a great injustice.”15
These things we have thought proper to mention here, that is, in a discussion of the relation between philosophy and religion and the canons of interpretation in Law. If these matters had not become commonly known among men, we would not have said anything about them and would not have entered in a plea on behalf of the interpreters. For these things are suitable only for mention in philosophical books.
You ought to be aware that the real purpose of the Law is to impart the knowledge of truth and of right action. The knowledge of truth consists in the cogniscance of God and the whole universe with its inner significance, especially that of religion, and the knowledge of happiness or misery of the next world. Right action consists in following those actions which are useful for happiness and avoiding those which lead to misery. The knowledge of these actions has been called practical knowledge. This is divided into two kinds: external actions, the knowledge of which is called Fiqh, that is, Theology; and actions pertaining to feelings, such as gratitude, patience, and other points of character to which the Law has urged us or from which it has prohibited us. This is called the knowledge of continence and of the next world. Abu Hamid in his book The Revivification of the Sciences of Religion seems to be inclined to this kind, and as the people have always turned away from the former kind of knowledge and have turned themselves to the second which leads them easily to piety, the book attained its name. But we have wandered from our own purpose and will now return to it.
If the purpose of the Law is to impart the knowledge of truth and of right action, this cannot be attained except by one of the two methods: viz, by conception or verification such as Mutakallimun have maintained in their books. There are three methods of verification open to people: philosophy, dogmatics and exhortation. There are two methods of conception: either by the thing itself, or by its like. As all people cannot by their nature understand and accept philosophical and dogmatic arguments, together with the difficulty of learning the use of inferences and the long time it takes to learn them, and the purpose of the Law being to be quite common among men, it is necessary that it should contain all kinds of verifications and conceptions. Among the methods of verification there are some which are meant for the common people: that is, exhortative and dogmatic, the exhortative being more common than the other. There is one method which is meant solely for the learned, and that is the method of rational inference. Now, it is the primary aim of the Law to improve the condition of the many without neglecting the few, and hence the method of conception and verification adopted are common to the majority.
These methods are of four kinds: the first is that which, while in particulars the same in both, that is, both exhortatively and dialectically, is still true by conception and verification. These are syllogisms of which the minor and the major premise are certain, besides being easily imagined and well known. These are set before the deductions which are drawn from them, and not from their likes. To this kind of religious injunction there is no interpretation, and one who denies them or puts an interpretation upon them is an infidel. The second kind is that the premises of which although well known or easily imagined are also positively established. Their conclusions are drawn by analogy. Upon these, that is, their conclusions, an interpretation may be put. The third kind is just the reverse of the second, that is, the conclusions are themselves intended and their premises are well known or easily imagined without being positively established. Upon these also-that is, upon the conclusions, no interpretation can be put, but the premises may sometimes be interpreted. The fourth kind is that the premises of which are well-known or conjectural without being positively established. Their deductions are by analogy when that is intended. It is the duty of the learned men to interpret them and of the common people to take them exoterically.
In short, all that should be interpreted can be grasped by philosophy alone. So the duty of the learned person is to interpret, and of the common people to take it literally, both in conception and in verification. The reason for the latter is that they cannot understand more. A student of law sometimes finds interpretations which have a preference over others, in a general way by verification: that is, the argument is more convincing with the interpretations than with the literal meanings. These interpretations are common and it is possible for them to be admitted by any whose speculative faculties have been developed in controversy. Some of the interpretations of the Asharites and the Mutazilites are of this type, though the arguments of the Mutazilites are generally the more weighty. But it is the duty of the common people who are not capable of understanding more than exhortation to take them exoterically. Indeed, it is not proper for them to know the interpretations at all.
Thus there are three groups into which men have been divided: Those who are not included amongst those who should know the interpretations. These are common people who are guided by exhortation alone. They form a vast majority: for there is not a single rational being who cannot accept a result by this method. The second are dogmatic interpreters. These are so, either by their nature only, or both by nature and habit. The third are those who can be definitely called interpreters. These are the philosophers, both by nature and by philosophical training. This kind of interpretation should not be discussed with the dogmatists, not to speak of the common people. If any of these interpretations are disclosed to those not fit to receive them-especially philosophical interpretations-these being far higher than common knowledge, they may be led to infidelity. For he wishes to nullify the exoteric meaning and to prove his interpretation. But if the exoteric meaning is shown to be false without the interpretation being established, he falls into infidelity, if this concerns the principles of the Law. So, the interpretations should not be disclosed to the common people, and ought not to be put into exhortative or doctrinal books-that is, books written with an expository purpose in view-as Abu Hamid has done.
Hence, it is necessarry that the common people should be told that those things which are exoteric, and yet cannot be understood easily, the interpretations of which it is impossible for them to understand, are parabolical, and that no one knows the interpretation thereof except God. We should stop at the following words of God “None knoweth the interpretation thereof except God”.16 This is also the answer to the question about some of those abstruse problems which the common people cannot understand: “They will ask thee concerning the spirit: answer: The spirit was created at the command of my Lord, but ye have no knowledge given to you, except a little.”17 Again, one who interpretes these to persons not fit to receive them is an infidel, because he leads others to infidelity, which is quite in opposition to the purpose of the Law. This is especially the case when corrupt interpretations are put on the principles of the Law, as some men of our own times do. We have known many people who think they are philosophers and hence claim to find out strange things through philosophy, which are in every way contrary to religion, and they do not admit of any other interpretation. They think they must disclose these things to the common people. But by the disclosure of wrong notions they lead them to eternal destruction.
The difference between their aim and that of the jurists can be made clear by the following example. Since it is not possible to make every one an expert physician a certain physician laid down some principles for the preservation of health and the prevention of diseases, and he allowed the use of some things but prohibited others. Now a man comes and tells the people that the principles laid down by that physician are not correct and declares them to be false, and they become discredited in the eyes of the people; or says that they are capable of interpretations which they cannot understand and cannot verify by practice. Do you think that people in these circumstances will ever act upon those things which are useful for their health and for the prevention of diseases or that the man himself will ever be capable of acting on them? No, he will be quite incapable of doing so and thus will lead them all to destruction.
This is the case when those interpretations which they cannot understand are correct, to say nothing of those that are wrong. For they will not believe in health to be preserved, nor disease to be prevented, to say nothing of the things which preserve health or prevent disease. This is the condition of that man who discloses interpretations of the Law to the common people and those not fit to receive them. And hence he is an unbeliever.
The simile which we have described above is a real parallel, and not merely fanciful (as some may think) as it is correct in every respect. For the relation of the medicine to the body is the same as that of the Law to the soul. A physician is one who seeks to preserve the health when he finds it good and tries to restore it when it is missed. In the same way a religious law-giver is one who takes care of the health of souls, which is called piety. The Quran also makes clear its purpose, through religious action, by many verses. For instance: “O true believers, a fast is ordained unto you as it was ordained those before you, that ye may fear God”18 and “Their flesh is not accepted of God, neither their blood; but your piety is accepted by Him”19 and: “For prayer preserveth a man from filthy crimes and from that which is blameable.”20 There are many other verses of the same nature in the Quran. Thus, we see, a religious law-giver seeks to establish this kind of health by religious knowledge and practice. This is the health upon which depends happiness and in the case of its absence the misery of the next world.
This should have made it clear to you not merely that one should not speak of the wrong interpretation. But also that it is not proper to put even true ones in the books of the common people. These correct interpretations are of the faith which man has and of which the whole creation was afraid to bear the burden. By this we refer to the following verse of the Qnran: “We proposed the faith unto the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains, and they refused to undertake the same, and were afraid thereof, but man undertook it: verily he is unjust to himself and foolish.”21 These interpretations and the idea that their discussion is necessary in the Law have given rise to many sects in Islam, so much so that they have denounced one another with infidelity and innovations. This is especially the effect of wrong interpretations. The Mutazilites interpreted a large number of verses and Traditions and disclosed them to the people. So also did the Asharites, though their interpretations were less in number. They only succeeded in creating hatred and wars among men, destroying the Law, and disuniting the people completely. To add to this, the method which they have adopted in proving these interpretations is adapted neither to the common people nor to the learned. For if you look closely into it, you will find that it is not correct according to the norms of logic — this anyone who has had any training may see for himself without the least effort. In fact, many of the principles upon which the Asharites build their conclusions are sophistical in their nature. They deny many fundamentals, like the proof of accidence, the influence of one thing upon another, the necessity of cause and effects, abstract figures and the processes leading to them. Indeed, Asharite Mutakallimun have been in this respects unjust to Mohammadans, for one of their sects has denounced as infidels all those who do not recognise the existence of God by methods which they have devised for the knowledge of Him: but in truth they themselves are in the wrong and are unbelievers.
It is upon this point that the difference of opinion arises. Some say that the first principle is of reason, while others allege that it is of faith. That is to say they have thought that faith, even before knowing the methods common to all and to which the Law has made a call on all, is the only method of arriving at truth. Thus they have mistaken the real purpose of the Law-giver, and being themselves in the wrong they have led others astray.
If it be alleged that the method that the Asharites and other Mutakallimun have devised are not those general methods in the purpose of the Law-giver for the instruction of the common people, and that it is not possible without some method being adopted, then the question arises: What are those methods which are given in the Law? We maintain that these methods are to be found in the Quran alone. For, if we look closely we shall find that in the Quran all the three kinds of methods are laid down, for the whole of mankind, both for the majority and for the learned few. If we reflect we shall come to see that no better methods can be discovered for the instruction of the common people than those mentioned in the Quran. Anyone who changes them by interpretations which are neither clear in themselves nor clearer than others to the common people, makes null and void their philosophy and their effect, the goal of which is the happiness of mankind. This is quite evident from tbe early and the later condition of Islam, for in the early days Muslims sought perfect excellence and piety by acting on those principles without putting any interpretation upon them. And those among them who knew any interpretation did not disclose it. In the later days interpretations were used, and piety decreased, the love for others was lost, and they became divided into schisms and parties.
Hence one who cares to remove this innovation from the Law, should turn to the Book, and should pick up from it the existing arguments for things whose belief is inculcated upon us. Further he should deeply think over the esoteric meanings, as far as possible, without putting interpretations upon them, except when they are not quite clear to all. The assertions of the Book for the instructions of the people, when thought over are things, with whose help we can reach a stage from which none but the learned in logic can differ about the esoteric meaning of that which is not clear. This peculiarity cannot be found in any other assertions but that of the Book. There are three peculiarities in the assertions, which have been explained in the Quran, for the common people. First, that nothing can be found more convincing and true than these. Secondly, that they can be accepted by every nature; and they are such that none can know their interpretations, if there be any, except the learned in logic. Thirdly, that they possess a call to the righteous, for correct interpretations. This is neither to be found in the school of the Asharites nor in that of the Mutazalites i. e. their interpretations are neither generally acceptable, nor do they make any call to the righteous, nor are they right in themselves. It is for this reason that innovation has increased, and it is our desire to write about it, as far as it is possible for us, provided that we get leisure for it, have power to do it, and God gives us a respite in life. It is just possible that this may be a beginning for the coming generation; because the breach of Law, due to evil passions, and changed beliefs is simply aggrieving and saddening. This is still enhanced by those, who ascribe themselves to philosophy, because an injury from a friend is worse than the injury from an enemy. Philosophy is a companion and a foster-sister to the Law. Hence an injury from this source is the worst kind of injury, even if we neglect the enmity, hatred, and animosity which is created between the two, although they are companions by nature and friends in reality. It has also been injured by many ignorant friends who ascribe themselves to it. These are the schisms which exist in Islam. May God set all aright, help all to His love, and bring together their hearts for piety, and erase enmity and hatred by his favour and grace.
Indeed God has removed much of evil, ignorance and the misleading ways through this strong government, and has led the many to good, especially the people who have walked in the path of scholasticism, and have a liking for the knowledge of the Truth. Because it has called the people to the knowledge of God by mediate paths, which are higher than the depressions of the blind followers: and lower than that of the high-sounding Mutakallimum; and has called the learned to their duty of considering fully the principles of Law.
May God perpetuate your honour and bless you, and screen you always from the eyes of misfortune. Through your excellent intelligence and good understanding you have learned a great part of all these sciences, till your insight informed you of the doubt which arises concerning the eternal knowledge of God, with its being at the same time concerned with created things. Thus, in the interests of truth, it is now incumbent upon us to remove the doubt from your mind, after we have stated it clearly. For one who does not know the problem adequately cannot very well solve the doubt.
The question may be stated thus: If all this universe was in the knowledge of God before its creation, then, was it in His knowledge after its creation as it was before it came into existence; or was it in His knowledge before its creation quite different from that after its coming into being? If we say that the knowledge of God about it after its creation is quite different from that which it was before its creation, it becomes necessary for us to admit that the eternal knowledge is changeable; or that when the universe came into existence out of non-existence, then there is an addition to the eternal knowledge; which is impossible. Again, if we say that the knowledge of it was the same in both the conditions, then it would be said: Was the created universe the same before its coming into existence as it was after its creation? To this objection it will have to be answered that it was not the same before its creation as it was after it, otherwise the existent and the non-existent thing would be the same. When the opponent has admitted this much, he may be asked whether the real knowledge does not consist in the cognizance of an existent thing as it is. If he says: “Yes,” then accordingly it becomes necessary that when a thing changes in itself the knowledge of it must also change, otherwise it would be a knowledge of something other than the real object. Thus it would then be necessary to admit one of two things: either the eternal knowledge itself will change, or the created things would be unknown to God. And both of these alternatives are impossible with regard to God. This doubt is still further strengthened by the apparent condition of man, that is, the relation of his knowledge about non-existent things by the supposition of their existence and its relation when the thing in question is found. It is self-evident that both kinds of knowledge are different, otherwise God would have been ignorant of its existence at the time he found it. The argument which the Mutakallimun advance to meet this objection does not by any means deliver us from the doubt. They say that God knows the things before their coming into being, as they would be after they come into existence. If they say that no change occurs, they fall into mistake. If on the other hand they admit a change, they may be asked whether this change was known in the eternal knowledge or not. Thus the first doubt occurs again. On the whole it is difficult to imagine that the knowledge of a thing before and after its existence can be one and the same.
This is the statement of the doubt in the briefest terms possible, as we have put it for your sake. A solution of this doubt requires a very long discussion, but here we intend to state a point which might easily solve it. Abu Hamid (Al Ghazzali) has also tried to solve this doubt in his work: The Refutation of the Philosophers, but his method is by no means satisfactory. For he says something to this effect: he thinks the known and the knowledge are not connected with each other, so that when a change takes place in the one the other does not change in itself. So it is possible that it may happen in the case of Divine knowledge and the things existent, that is, they may change in themselves while God’s knowledge may remain the same. For instance a pillar may he on the right hand of Zaid, it may be changed to his left without any change taking place in Zaid himself. But the illustration is not at all a correct one, for the relation has changed, that is, that which was on the right side is now on the left. That in which no change has taken place is the condition of that relation - Zaid. It being so, and the knowledge is only the relation itself, it is necessary that it should change with a change in the thing known, as the change in the relation of the pillar to Zaid, for it is now on the left after being on the right.
The view which might solve this question is that it should be maintained that the condition of eternal knowledge of existent things is quite other than the created knowledge with regard to them. For the existence of a thing is the cause and means of our knowledge of it, while the eternal knowledge is itself the cause and means of the existent thing. So if a change takes place in the eternal knowledge after the coming into being of an existent thing, as it does in the created knowledge then it is involved that the former cannot be the cause but only the effect of the existent things. Thus it is necessary that there should be no change in it, as there is in the created knowledge. This mistake always occurs by our taking eternal knowledge to be like the created one, by an analogy from the seen to the unseen. The error in this analogy has already been exposed. Just as no change takes place in any agent after the creation of his act - that is, change of kind which was not found before - so no change in the eternal knowledge of God after the creation of the thing which was in His knowledge. So this doubt is removed. At the same time it is not necessary for us to say that as there is no change in eternal knowledge, therefore, He does not know an existent at the time of its creation, as it is. But we must believe that He knows not by a created but by His eternal knowledge. For a change in knowledge with a change of the existent thing is a condition of the knowledge which depends upon the existent thing, such a knowledge being created. Thus the relation of the eternal knowledge with the existent things is not the same as that of the created knowledge. It is not that there is no connection between them at all as some philosophers are said to maintain, who as the people think, say, at the time of doubt, that God has no knowledge of particulars at all. But this is not as is commonly supposed. They only say that He does not know particulars by any created knowledge, one of the conditions of which is its being created by them, by which it is an effect and not a cause. This is the last of the things about it which must be remembered. For our reason leads us to the fact that God is the Knower of things, all of them emanating from Him. This is so because He is a knower, not because of His existence, nor of His existence in any form, but only because of His being a Knower. God has said “Shall not He know all things who hath created them, since He is the sagacious, the knowing”22 The arguments also tell us that He knows by a knowledge which may be akin to created knowledge. So it is necessary that there should be some other knowledge for the existent things - and this is the eternal of God. Moreover, how is it possible to suppose that the Peripatetic Philosophers think that the eternal knowledge does not include particulars, while they say that these are a cause of admonition to us in our dreams, divine revelations, and other kinds of inspiration?
That is what we think about the solution of the problem — a solution in which there is no doubt or suspicion. God is the only helper to right judgment, and leader to truth. Peace be upon you, and blessings of God and His beatitude. God is the best knower of truth: and to Him is the return and the refuge.
[* ]A translation of Averroes’ Kitab Fasl a’l Maqal wa Taqrir ma bain’a’l Shariata wa’l Hikmati mina’l Ittisal. Ed. by D. J. Muller. Philosophie und Theologie von Averroes, Munich 1859.
[† ]i. e. Shariat. Compare Jewish Torah.
[1. ]Quran lix, 2.
[2. ]Quran vii, 184.
[3. ]Quran vi, 75.
[4. ]Quran lxxxviii, 17.
[5. ]Quran iii, 176.
[6. ]Quran lix, 2.
[7. ]Quran xvi, 126.
[8. ]“It is he who hath created you whatsoever is on earth, and that set His mind to the creation of heaven and formed it into seven heavena; he knoweth all thing.” Quran ii. 29. For an interpretation of this see Raji’s Tafeir’s Kabir vol. I. p. 249 et seq. Cairo. 1307. A. H. and Tabari’s Commentary vol. 1. p. 146 et seq. Cairo 1903 A. D.
[9. ]“Verily God comes down every night to the earth” (Nihayah fi Gharibi[Editor: illegible character] Hadith by Ibu Athir vol. IV. p. 138 Cairo 1311 A. H.) For an interpretation see the above and Qustatain’s Commentary on Bukari, vol. IX p. 178. Cairo. 1307 A. H.
[10. ]Quran iii. 5.
[11. ]Quran iii, 5.
[12. ]Quran xi, 9.
[13. ]Quran xiv, 49.
[14. ]Quran xli, 10.
[15. ]Quran xxxi, 12.
[16. ]Quran iii. 5.
[17. ]Quran xvii. 87.
[18. ]Quran ii. 79.
[19. ]Quran xxii 98.
[20. ]Quran xxix 44.
[21 ]Quran xxxiii, 67.
[22. ]Quran lxvi 14.