Book Reviews


Al-Ghazali and the Ash'arite School. By Richard M. Frank. Pp. 168. Durham and London, Duke University Press, 1994.


`[Ghazali's] condescension to the Ash`arite school is on the level of language, not of substance'.'


Two distinct approaches to the conflict of ideas predominate in intellectual history, in Islam as in other civilisations. On the one hand we have the dialectical approach, whereby perspectives have their differences resolved through direct challenge and adversarial debate. On the other hand we have the hermeneutic approach, whereby resolution is sought not through direct opposition, but interpretation. The Trojan horse often proves more successful than openly laying siege. It is clear that sometimes we can disarm a person with a divergent point of view by pretending that we capitulate to it, and we can counteract their way of thinking by apparently admitting it. However, we admit it as a mere manner of speech, evacuated of real semantic content. To give an example: an anarchist could present him or herself as a good monarchist by interpreting the `divine right' of monarchs as a right to call themselves monarch. But the right to operate as monarch is actually withheld in this monarchism. Such a `rhetoric of harmonization', to use Frank's excellent phrase, was according to him the true extent of Ghazali's Ash`arism.

Let us be in no doubt about the magnitude of the claim being made. It is roughly as though we discovered that Plotinus was not after all a Platonist. Ghazali is often represented as one of the greatest members of the Ash'arite school - fashioning neo-Ash'arism, much as Plotinus is credited with fashioning neo-Platonism. Moreover, if GhazalI stands as probably the most important of the formative figures of classical Islam, given the epochal title the `Proof of Islam' no less, what does it mean to discover that Ash`arism had only a nominal role in his outlook? It can only mean that Ash'arism's true role in broader Islamic culture from the sixth century AH was correspondingly superficial - a merely emblematic, but not heartfelt, 'orthodoxy'.

All the same, it must be accepted that by carefully distinguishing an authentic Ghazalian higher theology from the doctrinaire Ash'arism of the Qudsiyya, Iqtisad, and other texts, Frank has at one stroke resolved a deepening tension which has wracked Ghazali studies: how to reconcile the fideist theology, causality, theodicy etc. of the Iqtisad (for example) and the virtually neo-Platonic doctrines of Mishkat al-anwār and its like?

Moreover, it is evident that Frank has confirmed in his Ash'arism I higher theology distinction, the tiered hermeneutic Ghazali himself broaches in Mizan al-'amal. This comprises three degrees of doctrine, the first two of which are purely provisional: (1) the doctrine to which the teacher gives his allegiance in public disputations (2) that which he gives in academic instruction (3) that which is his real belief, pertaining to what has been disclosed to him by God (ma inkashafa lahu min al-nazariyyat) 2

More satisfying still, Richard Frank has pored over Ghazali's doctrinaire Ash`arite treatments themselves, notably the Igtisad, and apparently found good evidence of equivocations and evasions which in fact suggest an underlying philosophical (falsafa) position. And in a seeming master stroke, Frank has brought to our notice the open condemnation of Ash'arism by Ghazali at the end of his life in Isam al-'awdmm `an `ilm al-kalam.

This feat of revisionism is accomplished in barely 100 pages. And it is thoroughgoing in spite of its brevity. Frank uses his thesis that an intimate study of Ghazali's works evinces his deep private antagonism towards the Ash'arite schoolmen, to overturn many of the consensual `facts' of Ghazali studies. He even uses it against the central event of Ghazali hagiography - the famous CE 1095 crisis followed by the flight from Baghdad. This is generally taken to be of huge importance in the formation of medieval Islam, with its sustentative mystical dimension, such that Ghazali's private discovery of the indispensability of Sufism is taken to herald the same discovery for the whole religious civilization. Frank however considers that this event was not so much triggered by `interior conflicts or doubts, religious and intellectual, within himself', as by mere `contests for power that characterized the political turmoil of the time or tensions within the religious and academic communities' .1 This kind of studied cynicism, which completely shelves Ghazali's own account in the Munqidh in favour of an eminently mundane explanation, is a favourite recourse of revisionists. Frank's view of this event in fact has an affinity with the (hopefully discredited) suggestion that Ghazali fled Baghdad, not as a renunciant, but in terror of Nizari assassination.4

There is no doubt however that Frank has weighed the evidence with care. In the closing pages, for instance, he has organised Ghazali's works into a chronology with a highly plausible account of their inner rationale. Frank explains how doctrinaire Ash`arite works come where they do in Ghazali's corpus, despite post-dating his supposed private rejection of the school. Thus, the Ash'arite Qudsiyya is in the Ihya' basically to sweeten the potentially hostile critics of Ghazali's magnum opus, which in itself is far from Ash`arite. Qistas al-mustagim was produced at a time when Ghazali was emerging from his Sufi retirement. So, even though it post-dates the Ihya', Magsad al-asna, Kitab al-arba`in and Mishkat al-anwdr - all relatively esoteric works - it was timely for Ghazali to produce a'more popular level work' ' Faysal al-tafriga and the Munqidh were again essentially apologetic works written in connection with GhazalI's reemergence as a public lecturer at Nishapur at the request of Fakhr al-Mulk. However, when Ghazali finally left the academic world for good, prior to his death in CE 1111, he felt himself at liberty to give `full vent to his animosity against the mutakallimun in the polemic of lljam...'b

There is something satisfying in such an account through which consistency appears in the place of seeming inconsistency. Order has been imposed on a chaotic and apparently self-contradictory body of thought. First the crucial distinction is introduced between the artificial 'catechetic' level of doctrine, and the higher theology. Then, excellent reasons are offered why Ghazali reverts to the former level, when he does. And in all this there is the frisson of discovering a kind of conspiracy.

But clearly this is not the only approach. Another will be to take it that Ghazali believed in the ultimate compatibility of his Ash'arite and mystico-philosophical doctrines. On this view, we no longer make the sensational claim that Ghazali feigned Ash'arism when speaking as an Ash'arite (there were such dissimulators-SHahrastani, one of the greatest neo-Ash antes, has been shown by W. Madelung to have privately embraced Isma'Ilism, for example)? And not only do we forfeit the `sensation' value of Frank's thesis, but we are uncomfortably forced to reconcile apparently antithetical perspectives - harder than leaving intact their all too obvious differences.

Nevertheless, ultimately it can be argued that this interpretation bears Ghazali out to have been a rather more extraordinary thinker than the one which emerges from Frank's account: the representative of an overarching synthesis, rather than (at best) a mediocre Avicennan or `average Sufi' who feigned Ash`arism for reasons of survival or advancement. And above this something else may emerge. Our alternative reading will strongly imply that Ash'arism, which many disparate voices join in disparaging, is capable of more subtlety than it is often credited with.

The dispassionate reader will probably feel that two items of evidence are most powerfully in favour of Frank's thesis, and all the rest of the evidence involves too much interpretation to be decisively for or against it. The Iljam is one of these apparently decisive items. Frank asserts that, finally liberated from the need to `fit in' at the Madrasa Nizamiyya, and angered by the intransigent attitude of his Ash'arite colleagues to his higher theology, Ghazali freely vituperates against the school in this late work.' He effectively argues in the work for the curtailment of the Ash antes, attacking the prevalent notion that theological enquiry is a universal obligation, denying the intellectual value of their doctrines, and insisting that their net result is confusing the hearts of the masses (tashwish qulub al-`awamrn). We should point out, as Frank does not, that such talk was far more serious in Ghazali's day than we might expect, given that the Seljuq suppression of Ash'arism was still within living memory. The ban on Ash'arism implemented by Tughril-Beg's vizier Kunduri was only lifted in the early 1060s CE 'iot long before Ghazali joined one of the most famous victims of the suppression in question, the Imam al-Haramayn Juwayni, as his student. Ghazali's threatening words were thus far from idle.

But we must point out some real points of awkwardness in using the Iljam as evidence of the radical incompatibility of the Ghazalian `higher theology' and Ash'arism. Firstly, the way in which the attack is couched is hardly akin to, say, philosophical disparagements of kalam. It is in fact virtually Hanbalite in its tone, citing `Umar ibn al-Khattab's condemnation of talking about predestination (al-gadar), and Malik ibn Anas' condemnation of inquiry into the divine `session' (al-istiwa'). In this, it is as though Ghazali was playing those who opposed him amongst the Ash`arites at their own game. We may recall that Abu 'l-Hasan al-Ash`ari had initiated his school in response to visionary dreams in which the Prophet had warned him to abandon Mu`tazilism and instead `Defend the doctrines related from me'. In the Iljam, Ghazali is therefore in effect outdoing his opponents in the Ash'arite school at their own 'Ash'arite' censoriousness. Secondly, Ghazali is happy to talk in terms of good and bad kalam. In Mihakk al-nazar (which we note according to Frank is a higher theology work) he distinguishes beneficial theology (al-kalam al-muftd al-mudih) from conventional theology (al-kalam al-mu'tad). It is surely consequential that Ghazali is open to referring to his higher theology as a kind of kalam, and we must balance the condemnation of kalam in the 11jam with this fact.

Other than the 11jam, the second item of Frank's evidence which one feels to be dramatically in his favour is the observation that in Ghazali's work Mizan al-'amal, we apparently find him fully accepting an `unorthodox' eschatology .1 This would be an exceptional discovery, because in Tahafut al falasifa and in the Munqidh Ghazali explicitly condemns the doctrine that the Hereafter is purely spiritual (ruhani), as simple unbelief, along with the doctrine that the world is beginningless and that God only knows particulars in a universal way. In the Mizan it is instead as if Ghazali embraces the condemned doctrine, which he attributes apparently favourably to the `Sufis and the metaphysicians amongst the philosophers', namely, that at the death of the body the soul immediately and irreversibly separates from it, to experience entirely incorporeal joys or agonies. What is presented by way of eschatological data in revelation is an imaginal representation of intellectual - and inconceivable - realities, and to this extent presumably requires interpretation.

This would indeed be extraordinary evidence of Ghazali's departure from Ash'arism, even on the most subtle or deepened reading of the doctrine of that school. It is necessary however to point out the following provisos. Frank himself admits that Ghazali is not completely straightforward in the Mizan that this was his own private eschatology, saying instead that `al-Ghazali appears to agree with the thesis'." Presently Frank confesses that, if this eschatology is the one Ghazali privately adhered to and gave a glimpse of in the Mizan, he seems to retreat from it in the Munqidh and the Ihya' such that 'It may be that al-Ghazali came later to feel that he might have gone a bit too far in what he had implied.. .concerning the resurrection...'."

Elsewhere Frank clearly admits that if Ghazali does depart from Ash`arism in the so-called higher theology, we would find precious little evidence of the departure in question in discussions of eschatology, because this was a distinctively non-negotiable aspect of religious doctrine. Thus, `His views concerning the resurrection and the next life ... remain problematic, for it could not be easily argued that this is a negotiable question and there was a level of conflict with the scholars which he hoped to avoid."'

The question of Ghazali's private eschatological beliefs, it seems, must therefore remain open, and the burden of evidence is if anything on the side of `orthodoxy'. It is also indisputable that Ghazali held that the `orthodox' doctrines of the Punishment of the Grave, the Resurrection with its episodes, and the simultaneous spirituality and corporeality of the Afterlife, were all unqualifiedly valuable in one particular sense. They were at the very least all-important objects of contemplation for galvanising the believer's soul to engage in the religious practices (mu`amalat) by which alone he would be saved. Another of Ghazali's final works is worth noting in this respect. This is the famous epistle on Sufi ethics, Ayyuha 'l-walad, which we may also accept as written by him after leaving his teaching at Nishapur and thus as occurring in the same `liberated' context as his vituperation against the Ash`arites in I1jam. It repeats the approach of the Ihya' in bringing together a thoroughly orthodox eschatology with the insistence that without Godfearing exertion in mu`amalat we may hope for nothing at all. I take this to be representative of his position in a way that the neo-Platonic hints in the Mizan are not. For instance he says, `The meaning of admonition is to talk of the fire of the Hereafter to the worshipper, the failings of his ego in the service of the Creator, that he might consider his past life which he has spent in what did not concern him, and consider what is in front of him by way of difficulties such as the absence of firmness of faith in his life's final moments, the nature of his state in the clasp of the angel of death, and whether he will be capable of answering Munkar and Nakir, to worry about his state during the Resurrection and its episodes, and whether he will cross the Bridge safely or tumble into the abyss. The recollection of these things should remain in his heart and upset his apathy... "3 Earlier in Ayyuha 'l-walad GhazalI had quoted with obvious approval a story about al-Hasan al-Basri, one of the patriarchs of Sufism, according to which al-Hasan could not help himself from fainting when handed a cup of water, because he was overwhelmed at the thought of the 'longing of the people of Hellfire when they will say to the people of the Garden "Pour water down upon us, or that which God has bestowed upon you"."' There can be no serious doubt that this kind of concrete anticipation of the Afterlife in accordance with scriptural and Traditional depictions was held by Ghazali to be essential in producing the determination (himma) without which spiritual progress was impossible. e

Let us move on quickly now to the equivocations Frank has uncovered in the Igti$ad, in respect of Ghazali's formal Ash`arism itself." In this relatively lengthy section of the book, Frank has gone through the Igtisad, carefully weighing Ghazali's presentation of basic Ash'arite doctrines such as the revealed (versus innate) basis for understanding moral obligations, the denial of secondary causation, 'acquisition', God's attributes etc. It is astonishingly bold for Frank to have turned to a formal Ash`arite tract by Ghazali in order to exhibit his counter-Ash`arite thinking. This is not an easy - context in which to discover evidence for the higher theology. Some of the counter-Ash`arism that we are shown in fact comes down to Frank's interpretations of technical terms. Much also comes down to arguments from silence, with Frank making a lot of what Ghazali fails to say - in a word, arguing that Ghazali does not `stitch things up' adequately on behalf of Ash'arism, so that what he says does not contradict the higher theology. The psychological impact on the reader of such an inquisitorial approach is in fact to produce doubt about Frank's whole thesis. By the time we have yet again been told that such and such a doctrine merely `sounds very much like traditional Ash`arite teaching' ,'b we begin to wonder if it is not after all really exactly that: traditional Asharite teaching.

Not all the evidence is like this however. In respect of the revealed basis of moral obligations, Frank uncovers an intriguing statement by Ghazali'" This is on the specific moral obligation to reflect (=on God's existence, the wujub al-nazar): 'I do not object to the notion that this being aroused to inquire is from myself, but I don't know whether it is the product of natural disposition and nature or is something required by the intellect or is demanded by the revealed law.' In this statement Ghazali distinguishes the impulse to inquire itself, from the trigger of the impulse to inquire. In regard to this distinction he explicitly says he does not object to the idea that the impulse itself is from within the individual (='myself'), and he says that the trigger of this impulse is either again from the individual ('natural disposition' or `intellect') or it may be from the revealed law. In this statement, then, at least half the responsibility for reflection, and quite possibly all of it, is attributed to the human individual. We therefore apparently are given more a Mu'tazilite position, than an Ash ante one, since the Ash'arites insisted on the central role of scripture in obligations in general and the wujub al-nazar in particular.

Presently Ghazali offers a similarly attenuated position when he says that though it was not possible before the coming of revelation to know God and thank Him for His benefits (i.e., to abandon kufr, thanklessness), knowledge of the truthfulness of the transmitter of revelation, the Prophet, is only to be had through intellect, and the impulsion to seek salvation by following what the Prophet gives is due to our nature (al-tab`). Again, the role of revelation is somewhat played down, more in line with Mu`tazilism than Ash'arism.

But perhaps the best way to treat this is as a synthesis of Ash'arite and Mutazilite positions, a synthesis which was already under way with GhazalI's teacher in Ash`arism, Juwayni. Juwayni, who was on the one hand quite emphatic in his chapter 'On the Principles of Reason' (Bab ft Ahkam al-Nazar) in the Irshdd that 'rational inquiry leading to knowledge is obligatory and the source of its obligatoriness is the shari`a', had nevertheless already begun a definite elevation of reason and `intellect' albeit on the basis of this scriptural imperative. We encounter for instance, the following statement: 'The Community agree on the obligation of knowing God Most High, and it becomes evident by way of the intellect that one is not given to acquire knowledge except by reason. And that without which one has no access to the obligatory, is obligatory!' 18 Let us note here that not only is reason 'obligatory' because knowing God is, but it is the intellect not scripture which is said to dictate the use of reason to obtain knowledge. So to some extent the non-revelatory aspect of knowledge has been given a self-justifying role and effectively works in tandem with revelation. '\

If we are beginning to see the admission of a real synergy of 'human' iritellect and divine revelation in such statements, Juwayni is careful a little later to strip the human aspect of the synergy of the Greek notion of nature. He presently says in the discussion of human knowledge in the section 'Eternal and Temporal Knowledge': 'All acquired knowledge is to do with rational inquiry and it is that which sound reasoning on evidence entails. This is as God's custom persists - yet it is in the realm of the possible to produce knowledge and to produce the capacity for it without previous rational inquiry. Nevertheless, God's custom upholds that all acquired knowledge is based upon rational inquiry."'

This is surely a significant refinement. Juwayni has undermined the dichotomy of supernatural and 'natural' bases of knowledge by deploying the crucial Ash`arite doctrine of God's custom (`adatAllah). According to this, God's recreation of the world at every moment maintains it in a certain pattern corresponding to the divine will. This pattern is what the philosophical (falsafa) tradition called 'nature' (Greek, phusis, Arabic tab`), but from the Ash'arite point of view the concept of nature neglects to consider adequately the world's perpetual dependence on God, and implies a factor which falls outside of the divine omnipotence. Now if we apply the doctrine of God's custom to epistemology, the opposition of natural versus supernatural channels of knowledge disappears. The 'acquired' knowledge which involves the production of reliable conclusions from evidence in the premises is not independent of God, any more than scriptural revelation is.

The whole treatment by Frank of Ghazali's thought seems to neglect the central role in it of the idea of God's custom and perpetual creation ('occasionalism'). One reason is that Frank does not take Ghazali's deployment of Ash'arite terminology seriously anyway, so that when for example Ghazali uses the word ikhtira`- a term which in Ash`arism comes to mean perpetual creation - it is translated merely as 'initial creation'?°

It is most unlikely that this virtually deistic interpretation of the word ikhtird' would have been intended by Ghazali. On the contrary, the word is the formal kalam synonym of what the Sufis tended to call 'the renewal of creation with every breath' (tajdid al-khalq bi'l-anfas), and was used in this sense from the earliest period of the Ash'arite school's existence. For example in Ibn Furak's Mujarrad maqalat a]-Shaykh Abi '1 -,Hasan al-Ash`ari, an indispensable work for accessing the original formulations of Ash'arl himself, we find ikhtira' used quite explicitly in contrast to 'natural causation'. We are given for instance the following important statement in the chapter called 'Another Section on the Elucidation of his Doctrine regarding the Will and of what is Related to that in the way of Ramifications': '... [Ash`ari] used to deny the doctrine of nature and natural disposition (al-tab` wa'l-tabi`a), and he used to say that temporally originated things are all the acts of God by His choice and His wish, His direction and determination, nothing of them necessitating (mujib) anything else, nor having a natural disposition which engenders it. Rather all of that is His ikhtira` by way of His free choice, according to the manner in which he has chosen it and had foreknowledge of it.

I do not wish to get involved in an exhaustive discussion of the technical nuances of 'creation' words in kalam, which would be out of place here. But it is clear that if we read ikhtira` in the way I suggest, which is almost certainly the sense in which Ghazali himself meant it, we arrive at a seriously different interpretation of the Ghazalian theory of causation from the one given by Frank. For, when he explains that Ghazali views the divine decree (qada') in terms of the ikhtira` of the 'universal causes' (al-asbab al-kulliyya) - that is, the most general and transcendent level of causation - this does not necessarily delimit God's role to the first moment of time. I argue that we are not talking about an initial creation of these universal causes, but an incessant creation of them throughout their whole existence. We then at one stroke get far closer to what seems to be the real point: not that GhazalI inwardly rejects Ash'arism in favour of a virtually deistic view in which God originally makes the world, which then operates on the basis of secondary causes. But instead, that all these secondary causes at every moment themselves devolve on universal causes which are ceaselessly generated by absolute divine fiat. This is an overwhelmingly subtle synthesis of Avicennian naturalism and Ash'arite occasionalism!

Frank however, consistently prefers to see Ghazali's thought as a veiled neo-Platonism rather than a philosophically deepened Ash'arism. This, even when what Ghazali presents is clearly at odds with the universe of the falasifa. For example, it is surely of substantial importance that the celestial spheres in the Ghazalian scheme, were not as in Avicennian cosmology - each emanating in descending order from the one above - but 'created directly by God'22 Much more might have been made of this. Again, what are we to make of Frank's suggestion that the word sa'a involves an equivocation ('a kind of hedge') in Ghazali's statement 'what exists in each sda is another accident'? 23 This is arguably tendentious. Clearly, while sa`a could mean 'hour' and is often so used, it also just means "time' or 'moment', and is almost certainly only meant in this way by Ghazali. Ghazali's statement as quoted is just a classic encapsulation of the occasionalist view, no more and no less, and we are not witnessing what Frank describes as a 'vein of artful ambivalence'.'

However, Ghazali's analysis of `created beings' in terms of indivisible atoms - another fundamental Ash ante doctrine - is more problematic. This is discussed by Frank in the section 'Created Beings, Material and Immaterial Material Bodies'(sic. we needed a dash after 'immaterial'!)" Here Frank introduces us to another apparently significant departure from Ash'arite norms. The problem seems to be that Ash`arism had a very simple understanding of 'substance' (jawhar), in fact too simple, on the face of it, to cover Ghazali's much more heterogeneous view of 'substance, which is akin to that of falsafa. The Ash'arite view of substance is given by dlhazali as though his own, in the tgtisad, 'jawhars form a single class and their becomings, which are particular modes of being in places, belong to a single class (mutamathila).'2b But as Frank now points out, in the Ihyd'('and later works') we apparently have a presentation of substance as of multiple kinds. Most importantly, we have the whole philosophical idea introduced of immaterial or 'separate' substance - i.e., the spiritual substances of the translunar realm, the angel-intellects. Therefore Frank asks, understandably, 'If Ghazali in fact conceives the jawhar in exactly the same way as did the Ash`arite school, if, that is he conceives the jawahir as forming a single class in the sense that every jawhar is essentially the same as every other jawhar, or if he recognizes several distinct subclasses, or if he uses the term equivocally?... "I

Charges of departing from Ash'arism, inconsistency, and equivocation, however are not necessary. Such charges would have Ghazali using the word jawhar to mean sometimes 'atom' in the Ash'arite sense (juz'), and to mean at other times the sense translating the Aristotelian term ousia. But we must distinguish such equivocation from actually defining the Ash'arite jawhar itself in such a way as to comprehend the translunar realm. And Frank himself, without really taking the consequences, seems to supply us with good evidence that this is precisely Ghazali's approach. Thus Frank notes that in stark contrast to Juwayni's presentation in the Shamil, Ghazali avoids speaking of the 'atom' in terms of volume (hajm) in the Igtisad.28 A single atom according to Ash`arite axioms is not a body anyway - it is thus strictly speaking, 'incorporeal'. And let us remember that the decisive requirement in something's falling under the definition of an atom (juz' Id yatajazza') is simply that it be indivisible, Now, it does seem that angel-intellects, and other immaterial entities, could well be called 'atomic' when all this is considered. This is not equivocation, but a perfectly rigorous application of the term as defined. And there is good evidence that this is exactly how Ghazali sees intellects and souls; Frank confirms that 'at-Ghazali seems to consider the soul to be a single jawhar' ,29 and again, 'the terms he speak of the rational soul are those employed traditionally in the Ash'arite school to speak of the atoms."' For instance in the Ihya' he says 'the Intellect ... has neither length nor breadth..."'

The upshot of all this is fascinating, and is clearly that Ghazali, through an amended definition, has attempted to extend an Ash'arite ontology to cover an Avicennan kind of cosmos: the sublunar corporeal realm together with the translunar incorporeal realm are both comprehended by the new definition of atom, and it is not the case that jawhar is being used sometimes to mean 'atom' and sometimes not. And Frank himself must ultimately admit this: 'The statement, then, that the created universe is made up of 'bodies and jawahir' (Iqtisad, p. 26,8) and [Ghazali's] division of the universe into the terrestrial, which is the corporeal in nature, and the celestial, which is spiritual (i.e. incorporeal), may be read as consistent one with the other if the angelic intelligences which he ascribes to the celestial realm are understood to consist each of but a single jawhar."'

It does seem that in certain respects Ghazali not only tried to extend and deepen Ash'arite doctrines, but he even intensified them relative to other members of the school. Two examples may be given of this tendency, one mentioned by Frank (though evidently not used as evidence), and one not. Firstly, we must note Ghazali's position in respect of God's essential attributes. The status of these was the subject of much thinking in medieval Islam. To begin with we may distinguish a rigorously negative approach associated with many of the Mu`tazilites. According to this position, to get completely away from the problematic idea of fundamental qualities which God owns apparently associated with Him from eternity, and compounding His identity - these theologians presented these qualities negatively or as metaphors. God's 'knowledge' was an absence of ignorance, for example, not a positive entity alongside of Him. On the other hand the Ash'arite position reacted strongly against this for taking liberties with scripture, and stripping God of all positivity (=ta`til). Ash'arites therefore asserted seven, sometimes eight, essential attributes for God, which were co-eternal possessions of His. Their opponents accused them roundly of ' associationism' (shirk), and compounding God as if He depended on things in His identity. There was a Mu`tazilite grouping, however, known as the Bahshamiyya, who attempted to get away from the terrible impasse of the two positions just mentioned. They asserted that the attributes were perfectly real, but not extrinsic things possessed by God. Rather they were 'modes' (ahwdl) of the Essence Itself. Subtle arguments were presented to explain this. Why, they asked, must we always explain something's character by referring to an extrinsic attribute which it owns? If this is a necessary way of going about such explanations, there is an obvious exception. The 'attribute' itself, is a thing with a character that needs explaining. Perhaps we have to give it, too, an extrinsic attribute? But then that new attribute needs its character to be explained, so we get a vicious regress. Clearly it must sometimes be necessary for a thing's characterisation to be intrinsic to its own identity. This is precisely the case with God's essential attributes?'

In due course, both before Ghazali in the case of thinkers like Bagillani and Juwayni, and after him in the case of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Ash'arites came to embrace the position of the Bahshamiyya because of its obvious excellence, even though it was a formally Mu'tazilite doctrine. What is astonishing is that Ghazali, who as we have seen is apparently generally inclined to subtilize Ash'arism, is in fact vehemently opposed to Bagillani and Juwayni in their adoption of the doctrine of modes. Frank not only notes this, but explains that this was motivated by a desire to emphasize the role of God's Will in creation, against the philosophical idea that creation `flows necessarily from God's essence as such ... and therefore eternally."" Clearly the attributes must be extrinsic to the Essence for creation (which occurs through certain of them such as Will) to be `distanced' from God's own eternal identity. Questions of motivation aside, however, the rejection of modalism by Ghazali is simply ultra-Ash`arite.

The second example of Ghazali's intensification of Ash'arite doctrine which one might mention is what M. Schwarz has described in his account of `Acquisition in Early Kalam' 3s According to this, the Ash'arite philosophy of action was trapped in a basic impasse. The Qur'anic terms iktisab / kasb (='acquisition') were used by Ash'arites to cover human action. The terms referred specifically to the acquisition of merit and demerit through deeds. Now, according to Ash`ari the only aspect of the acts in question which really belonged to the human individual, was the merit and demerit of them, and nothing else (in the Luma' he argued that God cannot be described as the 'acquirer' (muktasab) in respect of the act, but He can be described as virtually all else in respect of it). But this only served to compound the feeling that Ash`ari's whole approach to this was incoherent. How could the act be so entirely attributed away from the human individual, except in respect of his being punished or rewarded for it? This is simply unjust - to which Ash`ari replied that God, who 'makes the rules', is a priori just. This was hardly satisfying. Therefore, historically the tendency in later Ash`arism was to mitigate the doctrine, again towards a slightly more Mu'tazilite approach which admitted that God did enable the human being to act (tafwtd). The tendency came to a head with Ghazali's teacher Juwayni, who in his `Agida nizamiyya virtually rejects the technical term kasb, in saying that it cannot disguise the fundamental problem with Ash`ari's doctrine. He instead frankly opts for the view that God empowers the creature. The careful analogy drawn by him is with a servant, who is authorised by his master to sell a part of his property. It is impossible for the servant to act independently of this empowerment, and the master is in principle considered to be the one transacting. Yet, in practice the slave does actually transact.

However, Ghazali seems to have rejected his master's approach, and he returns in the Igtisad to a strong rehabilitation of the doctrine of acquisition. He achieves this by finally redefining kasb to mean, not just the individual's acquisition of merit and demerit through an act which in itself is always independent of him, but the acquisition of the act itself. In this, Ghazali has extended the sense of acquisition in order to retain it as a doctrine. It has been called a fulcrum in the history of the concept. The formally satisfying emendation is made that the deeds, as well as its value, are acquired by the human individual, achieving greater coherence for the doctrine than before. All the same the deed is ultimately still both `created' and `made' by God, and devolves to the human agent in its entirety. Whatever we think of this way of putting it, the fact remains that it seems more self-consciously Ash'arite than Juwayni's position, striving as it does to retain the form and purport of Ash'arite terminology.

Thus, Ghazali was clearly not just passively Ash'arite, but sometimes very actively so. Ghazali's Ash`arism in its totality, doubtless, was far from straightforward. While there was a rudimentary level to it in which Ghazali simply rehearsed the school's credenda to enjoin conformity, and express his own loyalism, it was not confined to thaf level. It would anyway be a mistake to view Ash`arism as simply a matter of rote-learned creeds. Like all revealed theologies, it is in some sense profoundly mysterious, and sincerely aims at maintaining religious truth by dogmata that are precise while 'pregnant', uniform without being unidemensional. The excellent distinguo Frank has introduced into our thinking on Ghazali - higher theology versus catechetic theology should not necessarily lead us, as it seems to have led the author himself, to identify the latter as exclusively Ash'arite, and the former as exclusively counter-Ash'arite. At the risk of answering one provocative thesis with another, we might say that the higher theology is to some extent a higher Ash'arism.







1 Frank, p. 90.

2 Quoted by Frank, p. 96. 3 Ibid., p. 2.

4 See F. Jabre, Melanges de l'Institut Dominicain d'Etudes Orientales du Caire, 1 (1954), pp. 73-102.

5 Frank, p. 100.

6 Ibid.

7 'As-Shahrastani's Streitschrift gegen Avicenna and ihre Widerlegung durch Nasir ad-Din at-Tusi' in A. Dietrich (ed.), Akten des VII Kongress ftir Arabistik and Islamwissenschaft (Gottingen,

1976), pp. 250 ff.

8 Frank, p. 80, p. 100.

9 Ibid., p. 95.

10 Ibid. (italics mine). I I Ibid., p. 135. 12 Ibid., p.91.

13 `All al-Qaradaghi (ed.), Ayyuha 'l-walad (Cairo, Dar al-Nasr li'l-Tiba`a al-Islamiyya,1983), p. 127.

14 Ibid., p. 94.

15 Frank, pp. 28-68.

16 Ibid., e.g., p. 44.

17 Frank, p. 32.

18 '...wa-ma la yatawassalu ila al-wajib ilia bihi fa-huwa wajib.' Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni, Kitab al-irshad, ed. Muhammad Yusuf MCsa and `All `Abd al-Mun`im `Abd al-Hamid (Cairo, 1950),p.11.

19 `...hadha ma istamarrat bihi al-`ada wa fi'l magdur ihdath `ilm wa-ihdath al-qudra `alayhi min ghayr tagdim nazar wa-lakin al-`ada mustamirra 'ala anna kull `ilm kasbiyyin nazari.'

Ibid., p. 14.

20 Frank, p. 37.

21 `wa-kana la yufarriq bayna al-mashi'a wa'l-irada wa-yunkir al-gawl bi'l-tab` wa'l-labi a wa-yaqul anna al-hawadith kullaha afal allah ta`ala bi-ikhtiydrihi wa-mashi'atihi wa-tadbirihi

wa-tagdirihi laysa shay' minha mujib li-shay' wa-la labia laha tuwalliduhu bal ,pllu dhalika , ikhtira'uhu bi-ikhtiyarihi `ala al-wajh alladhi akhtarahu wa-'alimahu.' Ibn Furall, Mujarrad

maqalat al-Shaykh Abi 'l-Hasan al-Ash`art, ed. D. Gimaret (Beirut, Dar al-Mashriq, 1987), p.


22 Frank, p. 38.

23 Quoted by Frank, p. 51 from the Igtisad.

24 Frank, p. 46.

25 Ibid., pp. 48 ff.

26 Quoted by Frank, p. 52. 27 Ibid.

28 Ibid., p. 53. 29 Ibid., p. 58. 30 Ibid.

31 Ihya' (Cairo,1957), 4: 487.

32 Frank, p.54.

33 Ibn Rushd adopts this line of thinking in Tahafut al-tahafut. See S. van den Bergh, Averroes'

Tahafut al-tahafut (Gibb Memorial Trust, 1954), 1: 197.

34 Frank, p°47.

35 Islamic Philosophy and the Classical Tradition - Essays presented by his friends and pupils to Richard Walzer on his seventieth birthday, ed. S. M. Stern, A. Hourani and V. Brown (Oxford, Bruno Cassirer, 1972), pp. 355 ff.