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  • Al-Ghazālī’s Moderation in Belief: al-Iqtiṣād fī al-i‘tiqād tran. by Aladdin M. Yaqub
Al-Ghazālī’s Moderation in Belief: al-Iqtiṣād fī al-i‘tiqād. Translated, with an interpretive essay and notes by Aladdin M. Yaqub. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2013. Pp. xxvii + 311. Hardcover $50.00, isbn 978-0-226-06087-3.

It is quite common to refer to al-Ghazālī as one of the most important thinkers in the Islamic intellectual tradition. Aladdin M. Yaqub’s Al-Ghazālī’s Moderation in Belief: al-Iqtiṣād fī al-i’tiqād shows that this remark is not hyperbolic. And this volume has many characteristics of a good translation of classical texts. First of all, Aladdin M. Yaqub is very consistent with his use of terminology. He explains his preferences for Arabic philosophical terms in “Note on the Translation” (p. xi). As is well known, Moderation in Belief is the first text in which classical Greek logic is systematically used in Islamic theology (see the “Fourth Introduction: On explaining the methods of proof that we employ in this book” [pp. 14–23]). As a logician, Yaqub is very sensitive to Arabic logical terms when he translates into English. Also, the “Translator’s Introduction” gives useful information on al-Ghazālī’s life, his thought, and his place in the Ash‘arī Kalām. Yaqub’s “Interpretive Essay” at the end of the volume is also very helpful in explaining the context of the text.

With this essay and notes, the text more easily addresses contemporary readers. But this does not mean that Yaqub turns al-Ghazālī into a modern philosopher. If we think that the study of the Islamic intellectual legacy is restricted mainly to Middle East departments in English-speaking universities, Yaqub’s notes provide a challenging academic genre. For example, he refers to Western philosophers like Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Austin, Strawson, and Searle throughout. Especially ingenious is the comparative discussion between the speech-act theory in analytical philosophy and al-Ghazālī’s arguments. It might even be said that al-Ghazālī’s method of resolving issues in philosophical theology is very similar to that of Wittgenstein. As a philosopher, whenever I read Moderation in Belief, it reminds me of Wittgenstein’s famous remark in the Philosophical Investigations, “philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday,” and his suggestion to return to ordinary language. In a sense, Moderation in Belief treats theology as grammar. At the very beginning of the book, al-Ghazālī outlines this principle when he explains the methods of proof that he employs:

If you look closely and are guided to the right path, you will surely know that most mistakes arise from the error of seeking meanings from terms, when it is incumbent upon one, first, to determine the meanings and, second, to look into the terms, and to know that [End Page 933] they are terms that do not change the intelligibles. But he who is denied success travels backward and abandons verification.

(p. 19)

Ghazālī uses this method many times in Moderation in Belief:

There remains to investigate the term: Is it correct from a linguistic viewpoint to use this term in this case or not? It is not hard to see that the correct answer is that the term may be used. For people say that so-and-so is capable of movement and rest, that is, if he wishes, he can move, and if he wishes, he can stay still. They also say that at all times he has the ability to do each of the opposites; yet they know that according to God’s knowledge only one of them will take place. Thus linguistic practice confirms what we mentioned. That the term may mean this is a necessary fact, which cannot be denied.

(p. 88)

However, to point out these similarities does not mean ignoring the original cultural context. Although historical background is important, when we are making philosophy sometimes we need to be anachronistic to actualize the meaning of classical texts. It might be...


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