al-Shahrastani, Abu al-Fath


al-Shahrastani, Abu al-Fath
(c. 479–548/1087–1153)
   Al-Shahrastani is something of a contested figure in the history of Islamic philosophical theology. He has often been cast as an Ash‘arite of the ‘modern’ variety and accordingly lumped together with figures such as al- Juwayni (many of whose students he studied under), al- Ghazali and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi. Indeed, like these thinkers, his theological commitments were informed and tempered by his careful engagement with the arguments of the philosophers. However, a growing number of scholars have made the argument that al-Shahrastani is in fact an Isma‘ili, and indeed, many ideas of this sort can be found throughout his writings: the impeccability (‘isma) of the prophet by virtue of his nature, the need for a divine guide (imam), the notion of God as unknowable Originator (mubdi‘) who transcends all attributes and conceptual oppositions, the graduated/hierarchical picture of creation, the cyclical model of time, etc. Either way, it is safe to say that al-Shahrastani was a man of unusually broad learning and eclectic inclinations who did his best to understand, learn from and in some cases integrate choice insights from the various schools and thinkers he engaged with. It may thus be asking too much to expect him to have adhered strictly and univocally to only one movement’s doctrines. The work for which he is perhaps best known, The Book of Religions and Sects (Kitab al-milal wa al-nihal), is still regarded as a remarkably objective and even-handed exposition of the religious and philosophical views of people throughout the world (i.e. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Mazdeans, Sabeans, the ancient Greeks, Islamic philosophers, Arab cults and Hindu sects). His Furthest Steps in the Science of Theology (Nihayat al-aqdam fi ‘ilm al-kalam) sets out to demonstrate the limitations of theology, from the standpoint of a retooled, philosophically sophisticated Ash‘arism which is informed by the insights of the Mu‘tazilites, Isma‘ilis and Aristotelian falasifa. Wrestling with the Philosophers (Musara‘at al-falasifa, sometimes just referred to as Kitab al-musara‘a) works up a thorough-going critique of Ibn Sina, albeit one that differs markedly from its more famous (and polemical) predecessor, al-Ghazali’s Incoherence of the Philosophers. In this work he focuses in particular on the philosopher’s conception of the Necessary Existent, which according to al-Shahrastani undermines God’s absolute transcendence. The fullest expression of al-Shahrastani’s thought, however, may be found in his Qur’anic commentary Keys to the Mysteries and the Lights of the Righteous (Mafatih al-asrar wa masabih al-abrar), which remains incomplete.
   See Ash‘arites; Isma‘ilis; al-Juwayni; al-Tusi; theology
   Further reading: al-Shahrastani 1934, 1956, 2001

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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