Ibn Taymiyya and the God of the Philosophers

Adrien Candiard, O.P.

PhD candidate and IDEO member

icon-calendar April 23, 2019

In the ninth volume of his large book Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa-l-naql, which constitutes a precise and extremely informed refutation of rationalist ideas, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) devotes almost fifty pages to the refutation of Aristotle’s metaphysical ideas, as presented by Ṯābit b. Qurra (m. 288/901) in his Talḫīṣ.

Unlike philosophers who all presuppose an autonomy of reason in relation to the revelation, Ibn Taymiyya defends the idea that revelation is reason and the starting point of all reasoning.

God cannot be the final cause only (Aristotle’s “unmoved mover”), but must be considered at the same time the efficient cause, which contradicts Aristotle. For Ibn Taymiyya, revelation teaches us that God is both Ilāh (“God”, the final cause as an object of adoration) and Rabb (“Lord”, the efficient cause as a creator). Ibn Taymiyya also refutes the idea that the world is eternal, which is incompatible with revelation, regardless of what philosophers who claim to be Muslim say. Finally, he defends the non-Aristotelian idea that there is willingness in God, as a primary cause. It is by His willingness, and not driven by his desire or by any need, that God creates the world.

The “God of the philosophers”, to use Blaise Pascal’s phrase, is not the revealed Creator God, but only the fruit of the error of a human reason that would be abandoned to itself.

Christians and Muslims under Sharia law in northern Nigeria: A pastor’s perspective

Felix Emeka Udolisa, O.P.

Parish pastor in Gusau, Zamfara State

icon-calendar April 2, 2019

Since 1999, the Muslim-majority states of northern Nigeria have decided to apply Sharia law not only to issues regarding personal status (which was already the case before that date), but also to criminal law, which some consider to be unconstitutional. Indeed, states do not have the constitutional competence to apply their own criminal law, in order to guarantee the equality of all citizens under the law, regardless of their place of residence in Nigeria.

Not all Muslims in Nigeria, however, are supportive of these measures in the north. The Yoruba people living in the west of the country, for example, have always had a more conciliatory approach with the minorities living on their territories. On the other hand, in the north, the Hausa and Fulani peoples are much more intolerant of mixed marriages or support for minorities, and the few Christian villages in the region are neglected by the state (i.e. education, health…).

There is a lot of violence in the region: conflicts between sedentary and nomadic groups, drugs, banditry, and sectarianism which is too easily attributed to the Boko Haram group who originated in the east of the country. This group, whose anti-Western rhetoric has seduced populations abandoned by the federal government, has been able to find support even within the army, which makes their eradication very complicated.

Twenty years after the application of Sharia law to criminal law, daily life has normalized, however insecurity remains high, and ethnic and economic tensions remain.

IDEO Seminars


We currently offer four seminars:

  1. A public seminar, devoted to the Arab-Muslim culture. About two sessions monthly, either in Arabic, or French or English. Free of charge and open to all. Subscribe here to receive the invitations. Click here to read the reports of the previous sessions.
  2. The Massignon Seminar, a research seminar for the members of the Institute.
  3. International conferences, in Cairo or elsewhere, whose proceedings are published in MIDEO. Click here to read the reports of these conferences.
  4. In 2018‒2019, a seminar in Arabic of introduction to the Arabic philosophy, six sessions organised by Aziz Hilal. Click here to see the details.
  5. Since 2018, IDEO is also co-organizer of the monthly series of conferences “Midan Mounira”, alongside with the French Institute of Egypt, the CEDEJ, the IFAO and the IRD. Click here to see the reports of the sessions proposed by IDEO.

Alfarabi’s Views on Prophecy and Prophethood

Dr. Catarina Belo

Associate professor of philosophy at The American University in Cairo

icon-calendar March 19, 2019

During this seminar session, Catarina Belo presented the views of al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) on prophecy and prophethood, in the frame of his philosophy of religion. Indeed, the metaphysical and political writings of al-Fārābī seek a harmony between philosophy and religion, as expressed in his vision of the philosopher-king and the prophet.

Al-Ǧurǧānī and the beginning of pragmatics

Dr. Zeinab Taha

Assistant Professor of Arabic Language at the American University of Cairo

icon-calendar March 5, 2019

There is often a difference between the meaning of words, according to the dictionary, and the intention of the speaker who uses these same words according to his knowledge, culture, religion, or context in which he lives. It is the pragmatic which can, for example, reflect the fact that one can perfectly understand the meaning of each word in a joke, but not understand what is beyond it. The same applies to certain idiomatic expressions. For example, one can perfectly understand what a “watermelon” is, what the verb “to put” means, and what “the stomach” is, yet not understand the expression “he has put a summer watermelon in his stomach” (ḥāṭiṭ fī baṭnihi baṭṭīḫa ṣayfī), which in Egypt means “he is quiet” or “he doesn’t care”.

The first Arab grammarian who explicitly inquired about the difference between the obvious/surface meaning and the speaker’s intended meaning is ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Ǧurǧānī (d. 470/1078). Unlike the grammarians before him, who organize their grammar treatises according to grammatical forms, al-Ǧurǧānī takes as his starting point the speaker’s desired meanings and studies the different ways of rendering them in grammatically correct language.

Muslim perspectives on interreligious dialogue

Djamel Djazouli, Denis Gril and Omero Marongiu-Perria

A round table leaded by Adrien Candiard, OP (IDEO)

At the French Institute in Egypt

icon-calendar November 30, 2018

It is true that interreligious dialogue has long been the initiative of Christians, however, more and more Muslim voices are now being heard, calling for specifically Qurʾānic and Prophetic foundations of the encounter with non-Muslims to be unearthed. Brother Adrien Candiard, a PhD student in Islamic studies and member of IDEO, led a round table discussion between three French-speaking Muslim scholars: Djamel Djazouli, a Qurʾān specialist and director of the An-Nour Institute in Cergy-Pontoise, Denis Gril, a Sufi specialist and professor emeritus at the University of Aix-Marseille, and Omero Marongiu-Perria, a sociologist of religions and researcher at the Institute for Religious Pluralism and atheism (IPRA).

 icon-video-camera Watch the video (mostly in French).

If the Qurʾānic message is centered on the unicity of God, it is to better highlight the diversity that God wanted for humanity, a human diversity of communities and rites that can truly express the richness of the divine unicity. Beyond the dialogue that we can have among ourselves, and in a more fundamental way, God is in dialogue with the universe.

This infinite divine depth cannot be said in simple and unambiguous words, which is why the verses of the Qurʾān often take the form of paradoxes, holding at the same time apparently contradictory expressions: the Qurʾān is the ultimate truth and, at the same time, only God knows who is well guided; or the only religion is Islam and, at the same time, the Prophet Muḥammad will intercede for all communities on the judgment day.

We are therefore called upon to reconsider our conceptions of what truth is, not as a univocal content that we could assert to others, but as a reality that everyone must receive, and in front of which everyone must take positions and make choices, that will necessarily be different for everyone. Islam therefore calls everyone to move forward without fear on this path that ultimately leads to God, and to make their own choices, in dialogue with one another.

Il martirio dell’ospitalità

Claudio Monge et Gilles RouthierIl martirio dell’ospitalità. La testimonianza di Christian de Chergé e Pierre Claverie, Bologne, EDB, 2018, 160 pages.

È negli anni terribili del «decennio nero», che in Algeria contrappone islamisti e forze armate, che si colloca la straordinaria testimonianza di due uomini. Sono Christian de Chergé, priore del monastero trappista di Tibhirine, rapito e ucciso nel 1996 con altri sei confratelli, in circostanze non ancora completamente chiarite, e monsignor Pierre Claverie, vescovo domenicano di Orano, assassinato lo stesso anno, con il suo autista musulmano Mohamed, per aver condannato apertamente tutte le forme di violenza. Si tratta di due figure particolarmente luminose nel cuore della Chiesa d’Algeria, fortificata nella sua volontà di restare con i musulmani algerini, anche dopo l’indipendenza del Paese, dalla personalità del cardinale Duval e dall’impegno di sacerdoti, consacrati e laici.

Click here to buy the book online…

A Qurʾānic apocalypse

Michel CuypersA Qurʾānic apocalypse: A reading of the thirty-three last Sūrahs of the Qurʾān, Atlanta: Lockwood Press, 2018, 384 pages (collection “International Qurʾānic Studies Association, Studies in the Qurʾān”, 1).

The present volume closes a trilogy devoted to the exegesis of the Qurʾān analyzed according to the principles of Semitic rhetoric, a method of textual analysis developed in the field of biblical studies. It studies the shortest sūrahs of the Qur’ān, which are traditionally dated to the beginnings of the preaching of Muḥammad in Mecca. The reference to the initial vision of Muḥammad in Sūrah 81, the point of departure for his career as Prophet, provides the starting point of the study of this group of sūrahs. The analysis shows that the redactors who assembled the textual fragments of the Qurʾān into a book were guided by precise intentions. In the end, it is these intentions that the rhetorical analysis of the text enables us to discover and better understand.

Click here to buy the book online…

Inflation in the Mamluk Era

Mr. Oussama al-Saadouni Gamil

PhD student at Dār al-ʿUlūm, Cairo University

icon-calendar November 13, 2018

Mr. Oussama al-Saadouni Gamil is preparing his doctoral thesis at Dār al-ʿUlūm on inflation during the Mamluk era. He chose to focus on a ten-year period, from 800/1397 to 810/1408, in order to study in as much detail as possible the factors at play, the role of the various figures, and the precise evolution of the prices of essential products. The year 806/1403-1404 marks the beginning of a period of strong price hikes, up to 500% for some products. A low Nile flood, epidemics, and some unfortunate political decisions help to explain the phenomenon. Relief will only come after the implementation of a policy of imposed price reduction by the Sultan al-Muʾayyid Abū al-Naṣr (d. 824/1421) after his coming to power in 815/1412.

Iǧtihād and taqlīd in Sunnī and Šīʿī Islam

Call for papers for MIDEO 36 (2021)

In the context of the Islamic reformism that emerged as early as the 18th century, some Muslim voices were raised against the practice of taqlīd (‘legal conformity’), and which has been accused of being responsible for the decline of the Islamic world. Following the thought of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) and the example of Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb (d. 1792), the Yemeni Salafists al-Ṣanʿānī (d. 1768) and al-Šawkānī (d. 1834), the Mughal revivalist Šāh Walī Allāh (d. 1762?), and even the Egyptian thinkers Muḥammad ʿAbduh (d. 1905) and Rašīd Riḍā (d. 1935), all called for the renewal of the practice of ‘reasoned reflection’ (iǧtihād) in Islam, and for overcoming the practice of taqlīd in legal schools, which were considered as ossifying.

There was a sharp criticism of taqlīd and a strong emphasis on iǧtihād, both of which were seen, in the paradigm of reformism, as mutually exclusive.1

This debate and way of conceiving taqlīd and iǧtihād were largely taken up by Western scholars. Yet, Norman Calder and Sherman Jackson showed that this perspective is reductive, as it does not sufficiently reflect the emergence and development of each concept, nor does it address their articulation, both in the field of uṣūl al-fiqh and uṣūl al-dīn. Moreover, it ignores their political contexts.2 Thus, the negative connotation given to taqlīd in Islamic studies can partly be seen as a projection by the Moderns (Ahmed Fekry).3

Nevertheless, although the doors of iǧtihād were never ‘closed’ (Hallaq),4 the majority of scholars from the 5th/11th centuries onwards, like al-Ǧuwaynī (d. 478/1085), supported the idea that Islam, as a religious system, is complete.5 Consequently, a concept of history, which is marked by the climax of legal and theological development (both qualitatively and quantitatively), has come to the fore so that any evolution is then seen as an alteration or even a failure of Islam. However, iǧtihād was never abolished and remained an integral part of religious reflection. Rather, it was the predominance of taqlīd that the reformers challenged.

We can then ask ourselves how and through the intellectual activity of which social actors does each paradigm base its legitimacy and predominance?

At the theological level, and in a context characterized by the influence of Sufism, the supporters of taqlīd have shown that scholars can actually be illuminated by the Prophetic light, so that their teachings on the knowledge and will of God can be certain. From this point of view, the hagiographic discourse on the four founders of the schools of fiqh can be considered as a marker of this proximity to the Prophetic light. As for the supporters of iǧtihād, they stressed that the duty of each believer is to search the sources, and not accept any input without having first extracted the evidence themselves (Ibn Qayyim, d. 751/1350).6 However, this approach, defended in particular by the ahl al-ḥadīṯ, begs a fundamental question regarding the authority of the Prophet’s teachings and that of the Companions: isn’t following the Companions a form of taqlīd? Couldn’t what is alleged against the four legal schools founders be applied to the Prophet’s imitators?

Beyond these theological debates, the use of taqlīd or iǧtihād has also been part of political disputes. In the history of fiqh and maḏāhib, iǧtihād was used as a political instrument to reject the teaching of particular schools, while taqlīd made it possible to justify conservative positions. It could also have been a vector of stability and governability.7 On the other hand, if taqlīd of different schools seems to disfavor the unity of umma as a human expression of divine oneness, the plurality of opinions which comes with taqlīd has also guaranteed a form of pluralism in Islam that resists against the temptation towards uniformity or homogenization, a movement which has been promoted in postmodern thinking.8 All this has elicited heated debates. In the classical era, within the very heart of ašʿarism, al-Ġazālī (d. 505/1111) accepted the notion that even if the schools have contradictory rulings, they can nevertheless all be correct. At the same time, Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1209?) and Šihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī (d. 684/1285) rejected this possibility. The Ḥanbalī theologian Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) also opposed al-Ġazālī in his criticism of taqlīd on this point.

The relationship between taqlīd and iǧtihād is therefore complex. The purpose of this issue of MIDEO is to study the two approaches in greater depth, in the light of the Islamic heritage. The history of Islamic thought shows that distinctions have been made between the fundamental principles (uṣūl) and the branches of fiqh (furūʿ), that relationships with related concepts have been developed (iḫtilāfittibāʿiǧmāʿtarǧīḥ), that taqlīd has been evaluated in different terms (ḥarāmmaḏmūmmubāḥ), and that distinctions have been made in terms of degrees of iǧtihād. This issue of MIDEO will therefore explore these various, yet related concepts. We will highlight theological discourses arguing for their legitimacy, refutation, as well as those that explore their articulation (which can sometimes be paradoxical, as is the case for al-Ġazālī’s criticism of the philosophers).9 Beyond the rivalry between these two approaches, it will be necessary to see if there exists a continuum between them, and that although their perspectives are competing and partisan, they are in fact not incompatible.10

1 Peters, Rudolph, “Idjtihâd and Taqlîd in 18th and 19th Century Islam”, Die Welt des Islams 20, 1980, p. 131‒146.

2 Calder, Norman, “Taḳlid”, The encyclopedia of Islam, new edition, p. 137‒138.

3 Fekry, Ahmed, “Rethinking the TaqlīdIjtihād Dichotomy: A Conceptual-Historical Approach”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 136, No. 2, 2016, p. 285‒303.

4 Hallaq, Wael B., “Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1984, p. 3‒41.

5 Nagel, Tilman, Die Festung des Glaubens. Triumph und Scheitern des islamischen Rationalismus im 11. Jahrhundert, Munich, C. H. Beck, 1988. See: Gilliot, Claude, « Quand la théologie s’allie à l’histoire : triomphe et échec du rationalisme musulman à travers l’œuvre d’al- Ǧuwaynī », Arabica, T. 39, Fasc. 2, 1992, p. 241‒260.

6 Abdul Rahman Mustafa, On Taqlīd. Ibn al-Qayyim’s Critique of Authority, Oxford University Press, 2013.

7 Rapoport, Yossef, “Legal Diversity in the Age of Taqlīd: The Four Chief Qāḍīs under the Mamluks”, Islamic Law and Society, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2003, p. 210‒228.

8 Shahab, Ahmed, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic, Princeton University Press, 2016.

9 Al-Ġazālī, The Incoherence of the Philosophers (tahāfut al-falāsifa), A parallel English-Arabic text, translated, introduced, and annotated by Michael E. Marmura, Provo, Utah, Brigham Young University Press, 2000, p. 2‒3. See: Griffel, Frank, “Taqlīd of the Philosophers: al-Ġazālī’s Initial Accusation in his Tahāfut”, in: Sebastian Günther (ed.), Ideas, Images, and Methods of Portrayal. Insights into Classical Arabic Literature and Islam, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2005, p. 273‒296.

10 Jackson, Sherman, Islamic Law and the State: The Constitutional Jurisprudence of Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī, Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1996.