The place of the sunna in the Risāla of al-Šāfiʿī (d. 204/820)

Dr. Ahmad Wagih

Professor at the Faculty of Dār al-ʿUlūm, Cairo University

icon-calendar 24 June 2019

In this book, considered as the foundation of the Islamic legal theory, al-Šāfiʿī (d. 204/820) discusses the position of two distinct and opposing groups, the “Iraqis” and the “Hijazis”, on the question of legal arguments: what kind of evidence is lawful, and what strength do each type of argument has in relation to the others? One of the disputed issues is the autonomy of the Sunna in legal argumentation. Unlike later works, the Risāla of al-Šāfiʿī follows an apologetic outline, that is not systematic. In his argumentation, al-Šāfiʿī gives a central place to the Prophet, and therefore to the Sunna and to the ḥadīṯs, in relation to the Qurʾān, and this, since the very first pages of his Risāla. He justifies this by referring to many verses from the Qurʾān, such as this one: “Believe in Allah and His Messenger” (Q. 4 al-Nisāʾ, 136), among other verses.

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.

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.

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.

From the liberal education market to an Egypt on the move: a return to a path of research

Frédéric Abécassis

Director of Studies at the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology (IFAO) in Cairo

icon-calendar October 16, 2018

Frédéric Abécassis is the new Director of Studies at the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology (IFAO) in Cairo. This seminar was an opportunity for him to present the different stages of his research project. Since his first visit to Egypt, Frédéric Abécassis has worked on a diverse set of research topics: private religious schools in Egypt, car traffic in Egypt and Morocco, and Muslim and Jewish migration in the Maghreb. Yet, all deal with the question of community building as a defense against the effects of the market economy in a liberal society.

Communities are built and disappear by a) economic solidarity (e.g. the richest paid the tuition of the poorest in religious schools), b) relationships of belonging and authority (e.g. the police were at the service of car owners rather than pedestrians), or c) conflicting historical narratives (e.g. Moroccan Jews gradually saw themselves as foreigners in Morocco).

If the study of history has therapeutic value, then the historian must assist everyone record the history of the communities to which they belong and of those they have left.

Click here to watch the pictures presented during the lecture…

The legacy of al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) in the philosophical thinking in al-Andalus

Aziz Hilal

Doctor of Arabic Philosophy

icon-calendar October 3, 2018

Muḥammad ʿĀbid al-Ǧābirī (d. 2010) supported the idea of an epistemological break between the philosophical thought of the Arab East and Arab West. According to him, thinking in the East devolved, especially with Avicenna (d. 428/1037), into Gnosticism and irrationalism. Whereas thinking in the West saw the culmination of the rationalist tradition in Islam, particularly with Ibn Bāǧǧa (d. 533/1139) and Averroes (d. 595/1198). This simplistic framework overlooks the influence that al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) had in Andalusia. It is clearly visible in the political philosophy of Ibn Bāǧǧa, particularly in his treatise Tadbīr al-mutawaḥḥid, in Averroes’ commentary on Plato’s Republic, or in the work Ḥayy b. Yaqzān by Ibn Ṭufayl (d. 581/1185). Although Ibn Ṭufayl declares himself as an Avicennian, and does not hesitate to criticize (unfairly) al-Fārābī, it can be said that there is a common purpose and structure between Ḥayy b. Yaqzān and the thought of al-Fārābī. Ibn Ṭufayl is so indebted to the political philosophy of the “Second Master” (aka al-Fārābī) that it is hard to understand why he treats him in such a passing way in his introduction to Ḥayy b. Yaqzān.

What complicated al-Fārābī’s reception in Andalusia was that he still believed, like all in the East, that Aristotle wrote the treatise known as Aristotle’s Theology, when in fact it is a more or less faithful translation of part of PlotinusEnneads. Thus, he desperately attempts to reconcile this Neo-Platonic text with what he knows about Aristotle. It will be Averroes who definitively unmasks the confusion. For example, unlike al-Fārābī, Ibn Bāǧǧa and Averroes conceive the agent intellect as something immanent to man. According to the two authors, the agent intellect is no longer this transcendent and completely separate intellect, which fit perfectly with the Fārābian theory of emanation inherited from Neo-Platonism.

The issue of the existence of God in Ibn Taymiyya

Adrien Candiard

Member of the IDEO and PhD student in Islamic studies

icon-calendar May 22, 2018

For Heidegger (1889‒1976), if metaphysics failed in its project, it is because it identified the “Being” with God, transforming into a sterile onto-theology. This description undoubtedly applies to Avicenna (d. 428/1037), for whom the proof of God’s existence finds itself in the necessity that there be an end to the chain of causalities. God is the necessary Being who has no cause other than himself.

This proof of the existence of God is repugnant to Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328), not only because it is rooted in logical human tools, incapable by definition of reaching the divine being, but also because it is valid only inside the world of logic, without saying anything about the actual existence of God.

Among all of Ibn Taymiyya’s philosophical refutations, his refutation of al-Siǧistānī (d. after 361/971) in Darʾ al-taʿāruḍ bayna al-ʿaql wa-l-naql is particularly interesting. In his Kitāb al-maqālīd al-malakūtiyya, al-Siǧistānī criticizes the Avicennian definition of the existence of God as the ‘necessary being’ (wāǧib al-wuǧūd) because it makes God a composite being, as he would share the fact of “being” with his creatures, yet would have his own kind of being, the “necessary being.” Al-Siǧistānī then explains that the “being” of God has nothing to do with the “being” of creatures. Ibn Taymiyya criticizes this position, which ultimately amounts to saying that God does not exist, because we cannot say of him that he is nor that he isn’t, which is contradictory according to the laws of logic itself.

For Ibn Taymiyya, this contradiction is based on an error shared by all philosophers, namely that they believe that existence, which is only a concept, has real existence.  “Existence,” like all universals, does not exist outside our mind. It is meaningless to seek to demonstrate God by a conceptual way that can only reach concepts without real existence; we must find a direct way. However, precisely, man knows that God exists because of an innate natural faculty, the fiṭra. There is no need to mediate concepts to know that God exists. In addition, if someone refuses to recognize that God exists, it is simply because his fiṭra is sick.

The problem with such a solution (a nominalist one for sure) is that it cannot be refuted. Anyone who questions Ibn Taymiyya’s thinking would only prove that his fiṭra is deficient.

From the Political to the Historiographical Use of Poetry

Noëmie Lucas

PhD candidate, Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne University

icon-calendar April 30, 2018

In his work Ansāb al-ašrāf, al-Balāḏurī (d. 279/892?) relates an episode of the construction of the canal “al-Mubārak” by Ḫālid b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Qasrī (d. 126/743), the governor of Iraq at the time. He was praised by the poet al-Farazdaq (d. 110/728?) then mocked by him, as a way to get revenge on Ḫālid who did not reward him for his initial praise. Al-Farazdaq was imprisoned for this insult, then finally released by the grace of the Caliph Hišam b ʿAbd al-Malik (r. 724-743), after which he wrote poetic verses of praise about him.

The text of al-Balāḏurī integrates these famous verses into its historical narrative in prose, to the extent that one may wonder if the narrative prose is not, in reality, the historical contextualisation of these verses, even though researchers tend to consider them as a simple illustrations of historical prose.

This impression is reinforced, for example, by the different historical contextualization that Abū al-Faraǧ al-Aṣfahānī (d. after 362/972) gives of the same verses in his Kitāb al-aġānī.

However, the reality is probably in between these two extreme points of view, one that would make poetry a simple illustration of historical narrative and the other that would make historical narrative a commentary on the poetry cited. Poetry plays a major role in pre-Islamic culture as it creates and destroys reputations, records events, builds history, relies on the authority of feared and respected characters, has an aesthetic role… In a word, it is one with the text and it is by holding the two together, verse and prose, that one must read and interpret these ancient historical sources.