al-Razi, Fakhr al-Din


al-Razi, Fakhr al-Din
(543–606/1149–1209)
   Fakhr al-Din al-Razi in many ways represents the apex of ‘modern’ Ash‘arite theology. Like his eminent predecessors, al- Juwayni, al-Ghazali, and al-Shahrastani, al-Razi strove to justify rational theology, even casting it as an obligation. He shared his predecessors’ love-hate relationship with the philosophers as well, gleefully attacking their alleged errors wherever he found them but also appropriating their methods and sometimes even their conclusions. However, unlike al-Ghazali, al-Razi never accuses the philosophers of unbelief. Further, one could say that he is more forthright, explicit and confident about the extent to which he can legitimately incorporate the contributions of philosophy, perhaps most strikingly, Ibn Sina’s notion of God as the Necessary Existent. Of course, he takes Ibn Sina to task on many points as well, for example refuting the Neoplatonic emanationist principle that ‘only one can come from one’ and showing how God’s knowledge of particulars would not necessarily entail any change in His unitary essence. But perhaps al-Razi’s most interesting philosophical contributions arise as a result of his ability to internalize Ibn Sina’s insights while ultimately moving beyond them. For instance, al-Razi takes up Ibn Sina’s crucial distinctions between essence and existence (as well as necessary and possible existence), thus departing from the traditional framework of Ash‘arite metaphysics. However, he argues that existence is distinct from – and superadded to – essence both with regard to created things and God Himself. Further, he casts pure existence as a mere concept or abstraction. With regard to the question of free will, he formulates a firmly deterministic position which sometimes seems to conflict with the Ash‘arite notion of God’s absolute freedom and even arguably goes beyond Ibn Sina’s necessitarian model of God and the world. In short, al-Razi’s critical-creative engagement with Ibn Sina radically transforms his Ash‘arism (he even rejects their traditional doctrine of atomism in his early works). Al-Razi produced an enormous body of writings. His magnum opus is The Keys to the Unknown (Mafatih al-ghayb, also known as al-Tafsir al-kabir), a sprawling, multi-volume commentary on the Qur’an that shows al- Razi at the top of his theological and philosophical prowess. While this contains much of philosophical interest, his most important philosophical productions are his Commentary on the Directives and Remarks (Sharh al- Isharat wa al-tanbihat), which explicates and engages critically with Ibn Sina’s encyclopedic work of the same name, his Eastern Studies in Metaphysics and Physics (al- Mabahith al-mashriqiyya fi ‘ilm al-ilahiyyat wa altabiiyyat), which again draws upon Ibn Sina’s Isharat, as well as his al-Shifa’ and al-Najat, and The Harvest of Thought of the Ancients and Moderns [or Earlier and Later Scholars] (Muhassal afkar al-mutaqaddimin wa al-muta’akhkhirin min al-‘ulama’ wa al-hukama’ wa al-mutakallimin), which examines a series of theologicometaphysical questions while surveying the views of scholars, philosophers and theologians.
   Born in Rayy, Iran, al-Razi was initially quite poor but traveled widely, teaching and debating throughout the eastern parts of the Islamic world, where his combative personality and sometimes rather pugilistic approach to disputation earned him many enemies among the Mu‘tazilites, Karramites, Isma‘ilis, Hanbalites and philosophers. In spite of this, though, he was generally honored and supported generously by the reigning powers wherever he went, and eventually became quite a wealthy and prestigious figure. He was without a doubt the most important Sunni theologian of the twelfth century, and remains one of the most respected, admired and influential thinkers within the Islamic tradition.
   See Ash‘arites; Ibn Sina; metaphysics; theology
   Further reading: Burrell and McGinn 1990; Kholeif 1966; Nasr 1996

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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