Oliver Leaman’s article in Winter discusses the kalam and falsafa traditions. During al-Ghazali’s time, kalam was becoming more well known than falsafa. However, it is inaccurate to say that Ghazali’s critique of falsafa eradicated the philosophy tradition. In fact, falsafa grew in the Persian and Ottoman empires and was revived in the “nahda,” the Arabic- Islamic Renaissance of the nineteenth century. Falsafa even continued within kalam itself, although Ghazali claimed that certain aspects of falsafa were “bid’a,” innovations regarded as heresy.
Three doctrines in particular were deemed “kufr,” or disbelief: the denial of God’s knowledge of particulars, the uncreatedness of the world, and the denial of a physical afterlife. Although some claimed that Ghazali was a philosopher, Ghazali’s argument that the falsafa understandings contributed nothing to the interpretation of Islam or the Islamic texts dominated the Arab-Islamic civilization. His arguments cited the texts and methodologies of the traditions that he was disproving in order to prevent them from challenging their own texts. Ghazali wanted the falsafa to not only demonstrate that their reasonings were logical, but that they also did not disagree with Islamic beliefs.
The philosophers responded that proper understandings of philosophy could resolve any disagreements with falsafa doctrines and Islamic principles. According to Averroes, because theologians have a “jadali,” or dialectical, methodology that cannot definitively solve issues, philosophers should be the ones to interpret and organize doctrines. However, debates such as these were not purely theological or philosophical.
For example, the dispute between Ghazali and Averroes concerning “nubuwwa,” or prophethood, was legal and political as well. Ghazali argued that God chooses the prophets and divinely inspires those people with the knowledge needed to fulfill their duties. Averroes and the philosophers argues that prophets automatically receive prophethood by attaining it themselves. Ghazali critiqued this view by pointing out this belief implies that God does not choose the prophets, which contradicts the descriptions in the religious texts. Averroes responded by asserting that the texts must be interpreted in another manner.
Kalam embodies early Islamic theology and was taken in two directions. One allowed the use of reason, and the other emphasized a literal interpretation of the hadith. Both interpretations were “rationalist” because theoretical matters were resolved reasonably, although reason was employed in different problems. The Hanbalis, the latter approach, used reason in the verification of hadith and in understanding the relationship between the Prophetic Traditions and the Companions.
Although adherents of the first method were labeled “rationalists” while the latter were termed “traditionalists,” it was not that rationalists did not rely on the hadith or that the traditionalists were irrational. Instead, each group emphasized a different aspect more strongly than another. Kalam soon became viewed as a undisciplined time of Islamic thought, demonstrated by the saying “man talaba al-din bi’l kalam tazandaqa,” meaning “whoever seeks religion through kalam becomes a heretic.”
Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya, a Syrian Hanbalite thinker, heavily criticized kalam theology, especially the idea of “definition,” in which abstract ideas have a clear and simple meaning. He also criticized syllogisms, which the falsafa and adherents of kalam used in their reasonings. Ibn Taymiyya was a nominalist, meaning that he believed that universals were names without a reality. Therefore, he argues that universals must be understood in terms of the individuals that made them up. In contrast, followers of kalam, Peripatetics, mystics, and ishraqis believe that universal terms represent things that actually exist. Ibn Taymiyya emphasizes that universals do not exist on their own or influence the activity of God.