Mere Islam

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Khaled Abou El Fadl - "I follow...the Mutazila"

While there never should have been any doubt for anyone both familiar with the history of Islamic theology and the (admittedly sometimes rather valuable) writings of Khaled Abou El Fadl that he was, at a minimum, a de facto adherent of the Mu'tazilah school of Islamic thought, those who were offended by this ominous label being applied to him—since it would seriously undermine his status as the great reformer of Sunni Islam that they perceived him to be—now have something of a bitter pill to swallow. That's because we now have an unambiguous admission straight from the proverbial horse's mouth. Actually, this admission was made way back in September 2002—and I clearly remember hearing it while watching PBS FrontLine's Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero. However, I didn't come cross the actual transcript of this interview with Khaled Abou El Fadl until relatively recently—an interview in which he clearly states:

"I follow a school within Islam called the Mutazila..."

Over the past several years, most of the informed Muslims that I mentioned this admission to reacted somewhat skeptically. Generally speaking, they had a hard time believing that someone who is put forward, especially by American academia, as something of a "Muslim Martin Luther" would openly admit that he adheres to the theology of one of Islam's earliest heretical sects. I faced this reaction so many times that my certainty on whether it was actually Khaled Abou El Fadl who I had heard make this forthright admission on PBS dropped to about 99% (down from 100%). However, now that I've managed to find the transcript, my memory of this interview has been validated...which comes as a relief to me, simply because the truth needs to be known.

Other than pointing out that Khaled Abou El Fadl has clearly admitted that he adheres to the theology of the Mu'tazilah—whose Greek influenced speculative thought was debated, then rejected, by the large majority of Muslims, I don't have much else to say at this point. That's because addressing the simplistic arguments and false dilemmas that Professor Abou El Fadl puts forward in the rest of the interview would take more time than I can spare at the moment...so hopefully a word to the wise will be sufficient. Thus in lieu of a full refutation, I'll just point out that his assertion that "God...is not the creator of evil...and also is not the creator and maker of all good" logically necessitates that he believes that there's more than one creator existing in the universe...which isn't a very good position to be in from the point of view of monotheism.

I pray that Almighty God guides us all to the Straight Path of Abrahamic monotheism as understood, defined and advocated by the overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars—the moderate legions of the great sages of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama'ah—and away from misguidance, baseless speculation and wishful thinking...wa Allahu 'alim.

Before closing, I think a point of clarification is probably needed in order to preempt the questions that I often receive from people who seem to misunderstand (what I see as) basic and agreed-upon religious terminology. Due to this, please realize that I employ the word heretic to mean "a person who adheres to unorthodox beliefs and opinions"—beliefs which, however misguided, do not put one completely out of the fold of the faith. This being understood, it should be rather clear that I am not calling Khaled Abou El Fadl a disbeliever (kafir) or apostate (murtid)...and may Almighty God save us from all that. Rather, I'm simply making it known that he has personally and publicly admitted to adhering to beliefs that have been deemed unorthodox by Sunni Islam...which I consider to be a very serious matter.

One should also realize that the application of such labels isn't something that I've come up with, nor is it a one-way street. Indeed, to the Mu'tazilahand to the Shi'a and Khawarij as well, Sunni Muslims are the misguided heretics and, as anyone familiar with the writings of the scholars of these sects should know, they don't hesitate to apply the label to us. So please don't think that accusing someone of heresy (i.e. following or advocating unorthodox beliefs) is tantamount to calling them a kafir...since that's certainly not what I have in mind. As I said at the beginning of this post, the writings of Khaled Abou El Fadl are "admittedly sometimes rather valuable." Indeed, since he's obviously a highly intelligent, often articulate and well-educated man, some of the thoughtful analysis that he's done regarding pitfalls that Muslim scholars have often (but not always) fallen into over the centuries are quite valuable. Due to this, I acknowledge Khaled Abou El Fadl as a critic (not reformer) whose insights Muslim scholars would do well to take into consideration and reflect upon...at least in some cases. However, that doesn't change the fact that he has some nonsensical positions and unorthodox beliefs as well...the fact that he's a self-admitted Mu'tazilah being only one of them.

Deen on...

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At 4/05/2007 11:47:00 AM, Blogger  said...

Salam
Could you tell me which books of Khaled Abou El Fadl are actually beneficial to read?

Wassalam

 

It would be helpful to understand why the majority believe that the Mu'tazilah are wrong. The only thing I can remember from some time ago is that they relied too much on reason. Perhaps you could comment on that a little.

I would have to read the entire context of that one line before accepting that he believes there is more than one creator. I remember reading about 10 years or more ago, that in debates with the Mu'tazilah on the nature of the "word of Allah," whether the word was created or eternal, the sunni scholars who accepted the "word" as eternal came to a conclusion like this, "the word is not the same as Allah nor is it different." That sounds almost the same as the Christian understanding of the nature of Jesus and not very monotheistic. Could you comment on how the "word" of Allah can be eternal without there being more than one God?

As-salamu 'alaykum,

The books by Khaled Abou El Fadl that I've found beneficial and would recommend, although with some reservations, are The Place of Tolerance in Islam and Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law. I recently purchased The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, but I can't speak for it, since I still haven't read it yet.

Although some of his other book and essays certainly have beneficial portions, I would hesitate to recommend them to anyone except an informed and critical reader who is both well-grounded in Islamic thought and aware of Professor Abou El Fadl's sometimes deceptive way of trying to make his case. This hesitancy on my part is simply because I wouldn't want to be responsible for anyone being duped...

For a strong critique of Khaled Abou El Fadl writings, I suggest reading Sherman A. Jackson's essay entitled, "Islam(s) East and West: Pluralism between No-Frills and Designer Fundamentalism", which was his contribution to September 11 in History: A Watershed Moment?, edited by Mary L. Dudziak—a book which also contains an essay by Khaled Abou El Fadl.

In regards to "why the majority believe that the Mu'tazilah are wrong", well the short answer is that the flaws of their doctrines have been exposed and refuted by the scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah. This was in spite of the fact that they tried to impose their rationalist doctrines by force...something that was conveniently omitted from the rather pro-Mu'tazilah article that I initially linked to. For more details on the other side of the story, I suggest reading the entry on Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, especially about his trial.

Overall, I would say that in most, if not all, of the points of dispute, Mu'tazilah beliefs presented a dilemma, but they were only able to effectively address one side of the dilemma. On the other hand, the scholars of the Ahl al-Sunnah not only dealt with both sides, but did so in a way that was both true to the Qur'an and hadith literature as a whole (as opposed to selectively picking and choosing from them) and more reasonable as well. Insha'llah, I'll be posting shortly a detailed response by Shaykh Gibril Haddad on this point, based on Khaled Abou El Fadl's statement that was the focus of this original posting, which will provide a lot more useful details.

It should also be understood that while Sunni Islam is not opposed to reason, the Mu'tazilah went too far in their rationalism and "sanctified their intelligence above the revelation", which was clearly driven by an agenda based on Greek thought. They seemed to think that being reasonable meant conforming with various forms of Greek philosophy, but as Shaykh Sa`i-d Fawdah's Christians and Greek Philosophy ably demonstrates, Greek thought and reasonableness are not always synonymous.

Even setting all that aside, if one studies the varies points of dispute between the Mu'tazilah and Ahl al-Sunnah in detail, I think one will conclude that the Sunni positions are much more true to the text and more reasonable as well. In spite of this, the Mu'tazilah still continued to pat themselves on the back and claim that they were more rational and sophisticated than their (allegedly) simpleton Sunni foes. Keeping this in mind, one should reflect on what's more unreasonable and counter to the submissive ethos of Abrahamic monotheism than, when faced with authentic revelation from Almighty God, essentially saying, "Sorry, but I can't accept that since I find it unreasonable"?!?
内職
As far as, "I would have to read the entire context of that one line before accepting that he believes there is more than one creator"...well the context of his (rather unambiguous) statement was quite clear, especially since I linked to the entire interview in which it was made. Also, please realize that I, in wording that I chose quite carefully, said: "...logically necessitates that he believes that there's more than one creator existing in the universe". I said it this way since I'm quite certain that if one were to ask Khaled Abou El Fadl (henceforth KAEF), "How many Creator Gods there are in the universe?", he'd say that there's "Only One!" However, if he continues to insist that Almighty God doesn't create "evil", or even "good" for that matter, then this "logically necessitates" that another creator must exist...all lip service to the contrary not accepted.

This "Problem of Evil" dilemma is one of the well-known points of dispute with not only the Mu'tazilah, but with Christians as well. Since Shaykh Gibril (who, like me, is a former Christian) will be addressing this issue below, as a side note I'll also suggest reading about the classical "Ranson Theory" view of the Christian Doctrine of the Atonement. While not directly related to the question we're discussing, it does shed some light on some of the rather crude aspects of Christian theology (in terms of violations of monotheism) that was in the orthodox doctrinal mainstream for centuries. According to this view, which is called the "classical" view since it was accepted by the overwhelming majority of Christians all the way from Origen (3rd Century) to Anselm (11th Century), God paid Satan a ransom in order to free mankind from sin...which, based on the theological fallout this causes, is rather embarrassing to most Christian theologians these days. There's a lot of evidence to show that the sophistication and clarity of Islamic thought, as well as the Greek texts that the Muslims supplied to them, helped pull Christians out of this very, very dark age...such as the fact that Thomas Aquinas borrowed wholesale from Muslims. Anyway, for more examples of traps that Christian thinkers have fallen into which undermine their monotheism, at least as it's understood by Muslims, please read my Trinitarians: Searching for Evidence of Divine Plurality if you haven't already.

Since the question above relates to what KAEF would claim to believe (i.e. "One God!") versus what his other statements necessitate that he believe in (i.e. at least one other Creator God), I can't help but mention another point. And this is the fact that Christians often ask, "How can you Muslims say that we're polytheists or tritheists when we Christians, even in our official creeds, adamantly insist that there's only One God?" In answering this, one must be aware of a few things. First of all, familiarity with the actually wording of the Nicene Creed (i.e. "God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God") and knowing that orthodox Trinitarian theology insists that the distinctions between the so-called "persons" of the Trinity are "real" certainly helps (see Question 40 of Aquinas' Summa Theologica, New Advent's entry for "Person" for some details).

Acknowledging that the distinctions between the three "persons" of the Trinity are "real" is in contradistinction to the way the Trinity is often presented to Muslims by Christian missionaries, who generally try to say that each of the alleged "persons" is simply a different manifestation of God. Unfortunately for them, however, this is a heresy called Sabellianism, which merely a few centuries ago would have gotten them burned at the stake. The Sabellians, among other things, "denied all real distinctions in the Supreme" (i.e. between the persons of the Trinity), which put them outside the fold of orthodox Christianity.

Also, it should be mentioned that using the word "person" is not only an unscriptural product of Greek thought (notice the complete lack of Biblical references here), but amounts to an attempt to avoid the real issue by hiding behind new-fangled terminology. Indeed, the three "persons" that Trinitarian theology describes are in functional reality three "gods". However, in their determination not to completely depart from Semitic monotheism, Christians realized they couldn't call them that, so they came up with a new word which they used to define what they considered a critical aspect of God's essence. Realizing that, according to them, saying that "God is One" isn't enough, since to be saved one must also insist that He's "Three" as well (hence the term "Trinity").

Now what's very, very interesting here, especially if one keeps in mind their "How can you call us polytheists or tritheists?" plea, is that Christians have done the same thing to each other! Yes, indeed, there were quite a few Christian heretics throughout the centuries who, due to their flawed (from the orthodox Christian point of view) understanding of the Trinity, were labeled as "tritheists" by the church. This was done in spite of the fact that if you asked these heretics, "How many Gods exist?", they would have exclaimed, "One!" So in the end, we can see that both KAEF's and Christians' lip service to monotheism doesn't make these issues go away...which are largely brought about by implication and necessity, not forthright admission. In the end, so as to not fall victim to terminology, it could accurately be stated that Islam criticizes Christianity because it believes in a tripersonic deity instead of a monopersonic ONE.

For the sake of space, I'll end here for now. More later, insha'llah...

As-salamu 'alaykum,

Here is the response that I received regarding Khaled Abou El Fad's statement from Shaykh Gibril F. Haddad (to which I've added some links and additional formatting):

-----------------------------------

Wa `alaykum as-Salam:

Actually he (i.e. Khaled Abou El Fadl) would be a Qadari, which is the more extreme form of Mu`tazilism. Qadaris can be described as ultra-libertarians, those who believe that man creates his own Qadar, that he is, in the words (and creed) of Amina Wadud, "the creator of history." Those people believe that:

[1] man acts first, then Allah Most High finds out;
[2] Allah Most High creates only good, never evil.

What the above two credal articles share with Christianity is evident.

Firstly, Christians believe that God has deposited independent acting power (istita`a) in creatures, which led to Theism or the "clockmaker Creator," an intelligent higher power who leaves creation alone to its own devices. We believe that Allah Most High creates istita`a at the time of acting i.e. at every single moment, and that there is no such thing as independent acting power whatsoever, and, furthermore, that Allah Most High has complete foreknowledge of everything.

Secondly, Christians believe that God must be the creator only of good. Accordingly, they believe He is the creator of life but neither death nor sin, since "the wages of sin is death" (Paul of Tarsus, Epistles), and both sin and death are considered "the absence of good" (Augustine, City of God), i.e. something which does not have a positive existence. However, faced with the irrefutable existence of what Augustine in another treatise called "The Problem of Evil" in the world, they come out with the conclusion that man and devil are the correlative creators of the latter.

Imam al-Haramayn in al-Irshad pointed out that "Qadaris therefore believe there are as many creators as there are sins in the world." So it is correct to point out that "[Khaled Aboul Fadl's] statement necessitates that he believes that there's more than one creator".

However, Aboul Fadl descends (pun intended) further than the Mu`tazilas, Qadaris, and Christians. Let me first save his full statement for the record:

KHALED ABOU EL-FADL: How can you kneel in submission to a God who authors evil? I follow a school within Islam called the Mutazila, which said, "No, God doesn't preordain everything. God doesn't write everything somewhere. And God doesn't- is not the creator of evil, is not the maker of evil, and also is not the creator and maker of all good." There are so much good that is the product of my decision, my consciousness, my will as a human being.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/faith/etc/script.html as of today, 6 April 2007.

So then, Khaled Aboul Fadl not only believes that "God doesn't preordain everything," which is Qadari/Christian credal article [1] above; and he not only believes that "God is not the creator of evil," which is Qadari/Christian article [2] above. He goes further and also believes that God is not the creator and maker of all good, rather, much good is entirely the product of human beings.

So then, Khaled Aboul Fadl believes that:

(i) creatures are partners with God in knowledge since, at times, He knows and they do not know, while at times they know and He does not know; and

(ii) creatures are *senior* co-creators with God since He creates some good and no evil while they create much good and much or possibly all evil.

Notice also, in passing, the supreme dishonesty of Abul Fadl's reference to "a God who *authors* evil," and how this polished English speaker deliberately interjects terminology which not only does not correspond to anything in the original Arabic context, but more importantly perverts the key orthodox distinction that the authorship of evil, in the sense of kasb or *acquisition and earning of responsibility* falls squarely and 100% on the shoulders of creatures.

Was-Salam,

GF Haddad

-----------------------------------

I agree with you that it's possible to say something that necessarily implies something else, but I still don't follow your reasoning that what Khaled About El Fadl said "...logically necessitates that he believes that there's more than one creator existing in the universe," and I did read the surrounding lines. I generally give someone the benefit of the doubt until shown otherwise. In this case, I assumed that KAEF assumed that God gives people the ability to choose to do good or evil. Ultimately, God is the source, but people, God permitting, choose. As scholars have debated this issue for millenia, I have no certainty on how that works if it does work. Perhaps I'm wrong, and KAEF is wrong. My point is that although it's possible to make such a statement imply two creators, it's also possible not to.

I also agree with you that "the three "persons" that Trinitarian theology describes are in functional reality three "gods"." That's why I can't understand why sunni scholars claim that the "word of Allah" is eternal, which, even more than KAEF's statement, "necessitates ... more than one creator." Could you comment on this point some?

Salam

I tweaked the Amazon.com Search Inside feature to read Sherman Jackson's "Islam(s) East and West: Pluralism between No-Frills and Designer Fundamentalism". What a brilliant and forthright article! It describes the traditional mechanisms without apology. I wish such articles were provided more exposure among traditionals.

Wassalam

Assalamu 'alaykum,

I do think you're being a tad harsh on the Mu'tazila, as there is diversity of thought within that theological school as there is within Sunni kalam: i.e. the Ash'ari versus Maturidi debate on the acquisition of acts.

I think it is better to look at 'trends' within Muslim theological thought, which have influenced traditional schools to greater and lesser degrees.

For example, I don't think it necessarily follows because the Mu'tazila do not have the same view on creation/acquisition it makes them polycreationists. After all, the Qur'an says Allah is the *best* of creators.

The problem with the extension of Mu'tazila theology in constraining Allah to act as a consequence of human choice is one that is more serious I think.

From memory, Mutazila theology allowss that Allah gives human beings the ability to act (therefore He is the First Cause of the act, and humans are not strictly co-creators). But from this, when human beings do an evil act, Allah is constrained to punish that act.

And Khaled Abou El Fadl would strictly speaking be a neo-Mu'tazila, similarly to Muhammad 'Abduh, Rashid Rida etc. as there was not an unbroken line of development with the Mu'tazila.

It's also probably worth pointing out that Mu'tazila theology had a big influence on Shi`a kalam and consequently is not quite as 'beyond the pale' as say.. the Jabriyya.

Recently attending a lecture by Dr.Khaled Abou el Fadl, he specifically answered him being a 'mutazite' and the criticism based on logic that "he believes in more than one creator". First of all, about being mutazilite, he said he follows that school's view on this issue. Those who are familiar with his writings will understand that taqlid is not his cup of tea, and he investigates and follows views of various schools/scholars on a variety of issues. On the matter of if he doesn't think that God created evil, that it necessitates that he believes another God created evil, he dismissed that as an incorrect understanding of evil. He said that evil is merely the absense of God, similar to how darkness is the absence of light.

I guess every scholar is to be taken with grains of salt. If you're personally ready to learn new and different views, and it won't shake your faith, then I don't think learning about different schools/scholars/views would be appropriate. But as a general rule, I wouldn't limit the sources of knowledge.

Assalamu Alaikum,

I love your blog and enjoy reading it. That said, I was somewhat disappointed by your rote criticisms on the Mutazilah school and the strawman argument you make in the comments section about Khaled Abu El Fadl's statements pertaining to God and the creation of good and evil. I would encourage you to write to the Professor to get a better understanding of what he meant before comparing his beliefs to trinitarianism. I'm guessing he has a stronger background in kalam than either you or I. You may discover he has a much more subtle, well-reasoned, and coherent argument about the nature of God, good, and evil than you are assuming.

For Umm Yasmin,

As far as being a "tad harsh on the Mu'tazila"...well the purpose of this posting was simply to let my readers know that KAEF has publically admitted that he's a Mu'tazilah. Those who consider their ship to salvation to be the jama'ah of Sunni Islam should look upon his admission with frightful disapproval. Personally, I find it somewhat disturbing that so many Muslims today are relatively unconcerned with the fact that someone, or they themselves, adhere to beliefs long ago deemed misguided and heretical by the Imams of Sunni Islam. As if, when it comes to Islamic beliefs, everything's relative, almost anything goes since it's just a matter of personal choice somewhere on the level of whether you prefer chocalate, vanilla or strawberry.

As far as the fact that "there is diversity of thought within that theological school as there is within Sunni kalam"...so? There's diversity of thought within Shi'ism, atheism and Darwinism, but that doesn't mean we don't critique them and condemn them. You seem to have put the cart before the horse, as if I was guilty of charging KAEF of adhering to a whole boatload of Mu'tazilah beliefs just because he claimed to follow this school of thought. If that were the case, then your argument might hold. However, the reality is that I simply addressed an issue that he explicitly mentioned in the interview...and this issue is a well-known cornerstone of Mu'tazilah thought. One should also realize that even though there's some diversity of thought within their school, there are some common threads and general trends as well.

In regards to, "I don't think it necessarily follows because the Mu'tazila do not have the same view on creation/acquisition it makes them polycreationists. After all, the Qur'an says Allah is the *best* of creators." Even after all these centuries, these old and worn out arguments are still being used! If you look at the context of KAEF's statement, or take the time to read the history of the debate on this topic, you'll find out that the Mu'tazilah openly and shamelessly deny that human acts are created (meaning brought into existence from nothing) by Allah. Go back and read KAEF's statements in the interview if you doubt this. From the Sunni point of view, this thus begs the question, "Then who created them?" While it is true that the Arabic word "khaaliq" can also be used to mean a "creator" in the sense of a fashioner, former or builder. However, this is not the definition being used in the context of a discussion of how human acts ultimately and originally come into being (i.e. Creator in the absolute sense). Keep in mind that quite a few Qur'anic verses mention that Allah is the creator of "everything" (kulli shay').

You wrote that "Mutazila theology allowss that Allah gives human beings the ability to act," but Sunni kalam certainly believes that human beings have free will as well. However, in Sunni belief humans acquire acts by excercising their free will, they don't create them. How could they, since Allah is the creator of "everything" (kulli shay')? So saying that "humans are not strictly co-creators" in Mu'tazliah thought doesn't carry much weight until you can first answer the question: "Who creates (i.e. ultimately and originally brings them into being from nothing) human acts?"

If you believe that "Khaled Abou El Fadl would strictly speaking be a neo-Mu'tazila, similarly to Muhammad 'Abduh, Rashid Rida etc. as there was not an unbroken line of development with the Mu'tazila," then you ought to bring that up with him, since he's the one who said "I follow a school within Islam called the Mutazila..." without qualifying it with a "neo-".

Finally, you stated that "It's also probably worth pointing out that Mu'tazila theology had a big influence on Shi`a kalam and consequently is not quite as 'beyond the pale' as say.. the Jabriyya"...well no argument there since I took pains to make it clear that the Mu'tazilah were not "beyond the pale" of Islam. Yes, the Twelver Shi'a are essentially Mu'tazilah in their theology, which I guess you could say makes them not as bad as some but still rather misguided on quite a few points.

 
At 4/25/2007 12:47:00 AM, Blogger Mere Muslim said...

For Charles Nelson:

In regards to the question: "I agree with you that it's possible to say something that necessarily implies something else, but I still don't follow your reasoning that what Khaled About El Fadl said '...logically necessitates that he believes that there's more than one creator existing in the universe,' and I did read the surrounding lines. I generally give someone the benefit of the doubt until shown otherwise." Well it's not a matter of not giving someone the benefit of the doubt, since KAEF is the one who said, "I follow a school within Islam called the Mutazila" and then when on a rant (i.e. "No, God doesn't preordain everything. God doesn't write everything somewhere. And God doesn't- is not the creator of evil, is not the maker of evil, and also is not the creator and maker of all good.") that one would have to turn a blind eye to quite a few hadiths (which the Mu'tazliah do!) in order to agree with, but which also seems to be an attempt to gain favor with those who adhere to the "man is the measure of all things" outlook of the West...Allahu 'alim. All of this might not be apparent if you're not familiar with Mu'tazilah theology and the writings of KAEF. However, please know that KAEF is very aware of what he's saying here since these theological positions are right out of the Mu'tazilah playbook...a playbook that many in the West are encouraging Muslims to adopt in order to make their religion (allegedly) kinder, gentler, more rational and (more importantly) less of a thorn in the side to the expansion of Western capitalism and monoculture.

Your saying that, "In this case, I assumed that KAEF assumed that God gives people the ability to choose to do good or evil. Ultimately, God is the source, but people, God permitting, choose." just shows that you need to read up on Mu'tazilah theology. Both Sunni and Mu'tazilah theologians agreed that God gives man free will, but they disagreed on some of the details. The Mu'tazilah basically had an agenda, influenced heavily by Greek philosophy, that sought to give human beings a higher theological position in relation to God than they have. However, in his statement KAEF did much more than simply state that God has given human beings free will. Please go back and read it if you missed it...

As far as, "My point is that although it's possible to make such a statement imply two creators, it's also possible not to"...well I'm all ears, since this certainly is yet to be demonstrated in the context of KAEF's statement.

Regarding "why sunni scholars claim that the 'word of Allah' is eternal, which, even more than KAEF's statement, 'necessitates...more than one creator'"...well that is hardly the case. However, if one reads about this issue from non-Muslim or Mu'tazilah sources, they often try to present this false dilemma. After posting this comment, insha'llah, I'll post something by Shaykh Gibril Haddad which explains the Sunni point of view on the "Word of Allah"...

Regarding:

>"I remember reading about 10 years
>or more ago, that in debates with
>the Mu'tazilah on the nature of
>the "word of Allah," whether the
>word was created or eternal, the
>sunni scholars who accepted the
>"word" as eternal came to a
>conclusion like this, "the word is
>not the same as Allah nor is it
>different." That sounds almost the
>same as the Christian
>understanding of the nature of
>Jesus and not very monotheistic.
>Could you comment on how the
>"word" of Allah can be eternal
>without there being more than one
>God?"

In discussions with Christians, however, it is important to [1] use accurate language and [2] highlight clearcut Muslim theological unanimity on monotheism so as to cut short Christian attempts to construct incarnationist fantasies into the representation of Muslim theological debate.

The Muslim theologians did not debate the "Word of Allah" (kalima) but the "Speech of Allah Most High", (i.e. His kalam).

That Speech, insofar as it refers to the Divine archetypes of all the revealed Books, is unanimously uncreated and, insofar as it refers to the tangible forms of revelation in a specific time and language recorded in volumes and pages in ink, memorized and recitated, unanimously forms the "created reminder" (dhikr muhdath, Q 21:2).

As for the "kalimat Allah" attribute of `Isa (i.e. Jesus), upon our Prophet and him blessings and peace, it refers unanimously (among Sunnis, Mu`tazilis, Shi`is, and all Muslims) to the Divine word "kun" by which `Isa was created.

Furthermore, where in the books of Islamic doctrine is there such a statement as "the word is not the same as Allah nor is it different"? We already said that the terminology would have to use "the Speech of Allah" but even so, there is no such language.

The language we do find is that "The ATTRIBUTES are neither the same as the ESSENCE nor different." And those Attributes include Speech as well as Life, Hearing, Seeing, Willing, Knowing and so forth.

Thirdly, to say of the (manufactured) statement "the word is not the same as Allah nor is it different": "That sounds almost the same as the Christian understanding of the nature of Jesus" is a veiled reference to the (broken-chained) Gospel of John which states in its first lines: "In the Beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," a man-made phrase which is not even Prophetic speech. This is all Christianized Greek paganism and has nothing to do with Islam.

Theological language in Islam is crystal-clear and the aptest of all at debunking false theologies. In a nutshell, we relate with an unbroken chain from the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, that the Pen and the Tablet are created, that `Isa, upon him peace, is created, and that he is not the Speech of Allah Most High nor an Attribute of Allah Most High. The Glorious Qur'an used blunt language for Christians of sound minds and hearts to surrender once and for all to the fact that a god does not ingest food and excrete.

Was-Salam,

Gibril F. Haddad

For feroze:

Regarding: "On the matter of if he doesn't think that God created evil, that it necessitates that he believes another God created evil, he dismissed that as an incorrect understanding of evil. He said that evil is merely the absense of God, similar to how darkness is the absence of light"...well speaking of tired and worn out arguments.

However, what really jumps out at me is that KAEF actually thinks that something was "incorrect"?!?! Gee, I thought Islamic theology was just a pick and choose affair that's a matter of personal choice, like chocolate, strawberry or vanilla! I'm relieved to know that he believes that there are "incorrect" positions that can be held, although I wonder how absolutely he used the word.

Anyway...KAEF's position, as you've explained it, would seem to necessiate that there's a place where God's light doesn't shine (i.e. there's a place where His omniscience and/or omnipotence do not extend), so KAEF seems to have just employed some verbal sophistry in an attempt to side-step the issue. Also, as I see it, this statement could be taken to imply that good (i.e. light) is created by God, but evil (i.e. darkness) just comes about by happenstance. Hmmm...

As far as, "If you're personally ready to learn new and different views, and it won't shake your faith, then I don't think learning about different schools/scholars/views would be appropriate. But as a general rule, I wouldn't limit the sources of knowledge"...well again I'll state that the main purpose of this posting was to let my readers know that KAEF has publically admitted that he follows the Mu'tazilah school of thought. Realize that discussing and refuting the incorrect beliefs of heretical schools of thought isn't tantamount to saying that every Muslim should bury their head in the sand and not learn about opposing schools of thought. There's also quite the distinction between: 1) Misrepresenting the Mu'tazilah out of ignorance; and 2) Sincerely disagreeing with them after an informed study of their positions. If I wasn't willing to investigate other points of view and admit that I'm wrong once in awhile, well I'd probably still be attending church somewhere...

For sfphoenix75:

Wa 'alaykumu as-salam wa rahmatullah,

In regards to: "...rote criticisms on the Mutazilah school..."

Yes, my criticism was based upon the flaws of Mu'tazilah thought as exposed and expounded upon by the Imams of Sunni Islam. However, my conclusion that the theological positions of Sunni Islam are much sounder and coherent than those of the Mu'tazilah didn't come about by "rote" acceptance, but rather by careful study. And, from the Sunni point of view, what's wrong with a knee-jerk condemnation of the Mu'tazilah, since it's agreed upon that they're a misguided school of thought? In such a case, isn't "rote" presentation of agreed upon truth a good thing? Maybe not, since I guess an atheist would consider me intellectually servile if I proclaimed, allegedly by "rote", that God is One or that Muhammad is His Messenger.

In regards to: "...the strawman argument you make in the comments section about Khaled Abu El Fadl's statements pertaining to God and the creation of good and evil."

Well if there was a flaw in my logic, it would be that I presented a false dilemma (i.e. KAEF's statement necessitates that there's more than one creator), not a "straw man argument"--which is quite a different animal. In order to commit this latter fallacy, I would have had to misrepresent KAEF's position and then refute this fabricated and flawed version of it. However, it's yet to be proven that I did the former (i.e. presented a false dilemma) and I'm quite sure I didn't do the latter. Yet if anyone doubts that KAEF denied that God is the creator of good and evil...well go read what he said in the interview. Those are his words, not mine.

In regards to: "I would encourage you to write to the Professor to get a better understanding of what he meant before comparing his beliefs to trinitarianism."

Well I would encourage you to read what I wrote before you accuse me of of comparing "his beliefs to trinitarianism." In one comment above, in response to a comment by Charles Nelson, I discussed some of the traps that Christian theology has fallen into. I never compared KAEF's beliefs to "trinitarianism". If anything, I accused him of (necessarily) believing in more than one creator. Keep in mind that the overall context of this discussion related to the so-called "Problem of Evil", so I went off on a tangent, in response to a question, in order to show that there are some similarities in how Christian theology and the Mu'tazilah tried to deal with this issue.

In regards to: "I'm guessing he has a stronger background in kalam than either you or I."

Yes, but not stronger than the towering Imams of the Ahl al-Sunnah, including Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni, that rejected KAEF's type of thinking a long time ago. This argument of yours reminds me of your fallacious indictment of my alleged logical fallacies...well you might have slipped into the "Appeal to Authority" trap here.

In regards to: "You may discover he has a much more subtle, well-reasoned, and coherent argument about the nature of God, good, and evil than you are assuming."

Well I think you're assuming that I haven't studied the issue. Well the Mu'tazilah often throw their shoulders out of joint patting themselves on the proverbial back because their thought is "much more subtle, well-reasoned, and coherent" than those crude and simple-minded Sunnis who insist on submitted to the text of God's revelation. Personally, studying these issues in detail is what drove me to try to become an orthodox Sunni in the first place. While many Mu'tazilah arguments seem to make sense at first blush, hidden flaws and contradictions start appearing when one starts studying them in detail...especially if one studies the Ash'ari responses to them. One of the biggest problems is that the Mu'tazilah positions are not true to all of the verses of the Qur'an or all of the authentic hadith literature. Indeed, they have to turn a blind eye to many ayahs and texts that simply refuse to fit into their scheme of things. Being already under the influence of Greek and other non-Islamic forms of thought, they essentially already had their theological positions, thus they searched the Qur'an and hadith for supporting evidence, while ignoring, twisting or denying all evidence that disagreed.

 

And, from the Sunni point of view, what's wrong with a knee-jerk condemnation of the Mu'tazilah, since it's agreed upon that they're a misguided school of thought? In such a case, isn't "rote" presentation of agreed upon truth a good thing?

I'm not sure that unexamined condemnations or blind acceptance of anything is ever a "good thing." There are aspects of our tradition that should be re-examined although they have historically been accepted by the majority of scholars. For all their piety and learning, these individuals were products of their time, culture, and personal experiences. Their positions on certain issues reflect that - both within fiqh and kalam. That said, I do treat issues which there is true consensus with enormous respect.

I would object to the statement that "it's agreed upon [the Mutazila] are a misguided school." Agreed upon by whom? Agreed upon by the people who agree upon it? Agreed upon by the scholars who you respect and follow? Agreed upon by the majority of scholars? I have no problem with any of those. But an unqualified "agreed upon" is an inaccurate statement and attempts to invoke the power of an ijmaa' which does not exist.

Since you cite the Imam ibn Hanbal as an authority of theology, I would submit that his anthropomorphic views on the nature of God are much more problematic on a whole than the positions of the Mutazila. Given how close the Ash'ari and Mutazila schools are in their approach (and that the former is an offshoot of the latter), it is surprising that we find such animosity towards the Mutazili. I suspect that much of this is a reaction to the persecution that took place during the mihna. And God knows best.

I agree with some of the comments about your post. Sheikh Gibril clearly has very harsh things to say about Abu al-Fadl. However, I remember seeing Sheikh Hamza on MBC once during Ramadan as part of his rihla program. He had very positive things to say about Abu al-Fadl. I also remember a radio interview (I can't remember where I heard this) where he quoted from "Speaking in God's Name", one of the books I guess you don't like very much.

This whole issue is similar to the very different attitudes towards somebody like Ibn Taymiya. Sheikh Nuh has very harsh things to say about Ibn Taymiya, while Sheikh Hamza has very positive things to say. As non-scholars, who are we to follow when our own scholars have different attitudes?

Sorry, but you look like you're trying to play the role of thought police, assuming that everyone is too stupid to be trusted to make up their own minds. Sheikh Hamza is a very learned scholar and yet he doesn't have a personal vendetta against Abu al-Fadl. Why not just encourage people to decide for themselves rather than try to control what they think?

 
At 5/23/2007 04:13:00 PM, Blogger  said...

To say Ash'ari is an offshoot to Mutazili theology is really ignoring the actual history. Although Imam Abu' Hasan Ash'ari did at one point ascribe to Mutazili doctrine, he later left that doctrine and much of Ash'ari doctrine is a refutation of Mutazili doctrine, not just an "offshoot", which paints one of the most prominent schools of theology in Islam as little more than a no-name understudy.

sophister.wordpress.com

 
At 11/09/2007 08:17:00 AM, Blogger S. Strauch said...

As-Salamu 'alaikum. I am reading a biography of Ibn Katheer in Arabic in which the author mentions a Mu'tazili called Al-Bahshami and a doctrine he propounded called al-haal. Do you know anything about him and it? I drew a blank on the web.

 
At 11/09/2007 10:19:00 PM, Blogger Mere Muslim said...

Wa 'alaykumu as-salam,

So is this Sameeh Strauch who used to visit Kuwait back in the mid-1990s, and who used to live and teach in al-'Ayn in the U.A.E.? If so, this is Abdurrahman Squires that you met a few times in Kuwait. I pray that all is well with you and your family!

All I can say in regards to your questions is that I'm sure you know that the Sufis often focus on the concept of al-haal. However, other than that, I've never heard of Al-Bahshami or a Mu'tazili doctrine—or any other doctrine—called al-haal. One possibility is that there might be a typo in the Arabic text, so Al-Bahshami might originally have been Al-Yahshami or even Al-Tahshami. I hope this helps...

 
At 11/10/2007 12:52:00 PM, Blogger S. Strauch said...

Dear brother 'Abdur-Rahman,

As-Salamu 'alaikum.
How are you and your family? I certainly remember you. How are the other brothers there? Are you still there, or are you in the States? I am at present in the UK. My mother - may Allah have mercy on her - embraced Islam back in 2003, Al-Hamdu Lillah and then two years ago, she became ill and we had to come back to the UK to take care of her. Sadly, she died a few months ago. Now we are just trying to settle up everything here and then we are planning to go to Malaysia, in sha` Allah. Regarding my question, there was a person named Al-Bahshami, who was a Mu'tazili; I found one reference to him on the web, but the article is pay-to-view and I don't want to spend $15 when I'm not even sure the article will contain the information I want. I know about the Sufi's 'Hal' but, I'm assuming this is something else. It says:

مما يقال ولا حقيقة تحته معقولة تدنوا إلى الأذهان الكسب عند الأشعري والحال عند البهشمي وطفرة النظّام.


As for Al-Ash'ari's 'Kasb' and An-Nazzam's 'Tafrah'', I know what they are, but I couldn't find any reference to Al-Bahshami's 'Hal''. Oh, well. never mind. I like to put footnotes to explain these these things when I can (I'm translating the book), but I can simply transliterate the word if the worst comes to the worst. Can you give me your e-mail address, so that we can keep in touch?

Wa Jazak Allahu kulla khair.

Was-Salamu 'alaikum.

Your brother in Islam,

Sameh Strauch

 

I'm concerned about the trashing and smearing of scholars who refuse to concede to the "there is no diversity of thought in Islam, so anyone who believes differently than what I condone is a heretic" mentality that has been overtaking Muslim forums in an attempt to shut out debate. They inaccurately present Islam and Muslims as a monolith give both a bad name. I'll take reason over intimidation re theological discourse any day.

 

Brother Sameh,

As-salamu 'alaykum,

It was nice being back in contact with you. I left Kuwait back in 1997 and have been back in Florida ever since. I'm sorry to hear about your mother--may Allah bless and make her loss easy on you. Insha'llah, your planned move to Malaysia will go well.

As far as Al-Bahshami, I did some Googling but couldn't find much as well. Sorry for my simplistic answers, but I was just trying to help...

I'm happy to hear from you and pray that all is well with you and your family!

Wasalam,

Abdurrahman R. Squires

 

To "Follower of Allah":

It seems that you've misunderstood what's going on here. I certainly don't subscribe to the view that "there is no diversity of thought in Islam". However, Sunni (and even Shi'a) Muslims believe that there are parameters of correct belief. Actually, even the Mu'tazilah believe this as well, which is why they tried to spread their creed by force in the early centuries of Islam (which is not meant to imply that KAEF agrees with that course of action).

There's plenty of diversity of thought within Sunni Islam, and even someone who does not adhere to all Sunni beliefs is not considered a disbeliever. Rather, Sunnis would just consider him incorrect on that particular point.

On that note, I'll just mention that there are two extremes that we need to avoid in regards to correct beliefs: 1) believing that there is only one correct set of beliefs, without any differences of opinion; and 2) believing that anything goes and not condemning anything at all. How obviously abhorrent would a belief have to get before you condemned it? If you did, would I be justified in saying that you believe that "there is no diversity of thought in Islam"? If not, why not?

I suggest that you read On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam: Abu Hamid al Ghazali's Faysal al Tafriqa, by Imam al-Ghazali and translated by Sherman A. Jackson, since it covers all of this in balanced and insightful detail.

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