restricted access Commentary: The Importance of al-Ghazālī and Ibn Rushd in the History of Islamic Discourse on Religion and Science
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Commentary The Importance of al-Ghazālı̄ and Ibn Rushd in the History of Islamic Discourse on Religion and Science OSMAN BAKAR Introduction The two classical Islamic texts on which this essay comments are important for our efforts to understand Muslim perspectives on and approaches to the issue of religion and science before the modern era. The texts are from English renderings of two Arabic works written by well-known Muslim thinkers who lived within the same century and during one of the most intellectually active periods in the history of Islam: the Persian al-Ghazālı̄ (1058–1111 CE), and the Andalusian Ibn Rushd (1126–1198 CE), known to the Medieval Latin world as Algazel and Averroes, respectively.1 The texts are excerpts from al-Ghazālı̄’s al-Munqidh min al-d .alāl (Deliverance from Error) and Ibn Rushd’s Tahāfut al-tahāfut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence).2 Both Arabic titles are well known in the history of Islamic thought, no doubt partly due to the eminence of their respective authors. Both works are generally viewed by modern scholars of classical Islamic thought as important sources of information about how Muslim minds of the eleventh and the twelfth centuries engaged with issues of scientific knowledge of their day in relation to both religion and philosophy and how they debated with each other on these issues. The main aim of this essay is to discuss the key issues brought up by al-Ghazālı̄ and Ibn Rushd in the two texts and to specifically identify their respective perspectives on and approaches to the issue of the relationship between religion and science. 102 commentary  103 The Thought of al-Ghazālı̄ and Ibn Rushd: The Historical–Intellectual Context Situating the two texts in their historical context will help us better appreciate their significance for the relationship between religion and science during the times of al-Ghazālı̄ and Ibn Rushd as well as during our present time. By the time of al-Ghazālı̄’s birth, four centuries of Islamic history had passed. Scienti fic activities had flourished to the point of becoming a major feature of the new world civilization that Islam had founded.3 By slightly over a century after the death of the Prophet Muh .ammad (632 CE), science had taken root in the lands of Islam. In the eighth century, state-sponsored scientific activity had begun to take shape, and this was carried out and justified in the name of Islam itself. Within a relatively short span of time Muslim scientists had made innovations in their respective fields of specialization and expertise. They had added new branches of natural science and mathematics through their creation as independent sciences or academic disciplines, including algebra, trigonometry, optics, mechanics, and civil engineering. The inclusion of these new disciplines in the growing body of scientific knowledge was formalized through the various classifications of knowledge and of the sciences that Muslim scholars produced at various times prior to and after al-Ghazālı̄.4 One of these classi fications of the sciences was composed by al-Ghazālı̄ himself.5 In fact, al-Ghazālı̄’s text under discussion here contains his classification of the philosophical sciences into six branches in almost the same manner in which they had been classified by al-Fārābı̄ and Ibn Sı̄nā, his two most well-known predecessors in philosophy, whom he severely criticized.6 Muslim scientists had also broadened the domain of applied science. The most extensive development and progress in the applied sciences occurred in agriculture; practical astronomy; the engineering sciences, which Muslim philosopher-scientists treated as parts of mathematics; and applied or practical medicine. There was extensive application of botany and zoology to agriculture , of mathematics to astronomy and engineering, and of medical science to pharmacology, just to mention the most important examples. By the time of al-Ghazālı̄, a distinctive scientific culture shaped and colored by Islamic epistemological and moral-ethical values had been well established. 104  texts and commentaries The newly created scientific and research institutions, notably the astronomical observatories and the teaching hospitals, were producing new knowledge as well as systematizing and synthesizing existing knowledge. Intellectual and scientific debates and exchanges of critiques between the different scientists and between the different philosophical-theological schools had become a normal feature of Muslim intellectual life. This aspect of Muslim intellectual life was...


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Subject Headings

  • Religion and science -- Congresses.
  • Christianity -- Doctrines -- Congresses.
  • Islam -- Doctrines -- Congresses.
  • Bible -- Criticism, interpretation, etc. -- Congresses.
  • Koran -- Criticism, interpretation, etc. -- Congresses.
  • Christianity and other religions -- Islam -- Congresses.
  • Islam -- Relations -- Christianity -- Congresses.
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