Sunday, September 30, 2018

Open to Reason? The Critical Intellectual Tradition of Islam

Souleymane Bachir Diagne, a Muslim philosopher at Columbia University, has just published a short work on what it means to philosophise in Islam, tracing the intellectual history of Muslim critical engagement with texts and ideas both within and without the traditions of Islam. 

Open to Reason is a short work comprising ten chapters on contemporary philosophy that draws upon an expansive notion of what philosophy is by including Sufi and theological themes. It also engages in history for the present, to make sense of why we should study the history of philosophy not as an antiquarian enterprise but as a way to make sense of our language of the problematics and to find paths and methods of untying the knots, the aporiai of the present. 

Diagne has already written quite a bit on the modern Muslim existentialist (and arguably personalist following Henri Bergson) Muḥammad Iqbāl. His work on Iqbāl and the open society and on Iqbāl and Senghor as postcolonial deployments of Bergson have been around for a while. This present work is a translation of Comment philosopher en islam? which came out first around ten years ago. Another comparative recent work in French looks at the philosophical enterprise in Islam and Christianity, and he is also very much at the forefront of the study of African philosophy and how artistic expression can be philosophical. Peter Adamson's now famous podcast will be interviewing him soon and the series on Africana philosophy seems quite influenced by him. I'm very much looking forward to that, especially since Ousmane Kane's Beyond Timbuktu was just so very disappointing as an intellectual history. 

The chapters are broadly historical but with a clear view to understanding the central relationship between religion and philosophy, between the person and society, between the rational and the mystical, between the individual and the state among others. To an extent, I can see how it might be useful to read this in conversation with Sari Nusseibeh's recent book The Story of Reason in Islam, even while the approach is quite different, perhaps at one level that continental versus the analytic tradition, to be quite grossly simplistic about it. The first chapter begins with the passing of the Prophet (and perhaps the simple idea of the passing of unquestioning authority) and finding the role of reason in the nascent religious tradition. He sees in Muʿtazilism a desire to make sense of the cosmos, to find a universal rational grammar (as one finds in the famous debate between Ṣīrāfī and Abū Bishr on logic versus grammar), and to enthrone the God of reason. He then sees in Ashʿarism a desire to dethrone the purely rational God in favour of a spiritual and more personal deity. The key point is that the debate on reason still resonates with us today - although he does not use the language of competing rationalities and is broadly not concerned with the language of relativism either. The next chapter looks at the Ṣīrafi and Abū Bishr debate in more detail and sees a tension between the need to keep open the exigencies and possibilities of reason against a desire for closure and completion. 

The third chapter turns to Avicenna, in whom Diagne correctly in my opinion sees the first coming to age of Islamic philosophy and understanding what makes philosophy Islamic. 

As one expects, the next chapter looks at the response - although it is somewhat disappointing for Diagne to continue the narrative of a Ghazālī opposed to philosophical reasoning. But Ghazālī as a pluralist is there in his Fayṣal al-tafriqa to which he returns in the final chapter and there is a certain paradox in the philosophical rejection of a certain type of speculative metaphysics. 

He next turns to ecology and Ibn Ṭufayl and the famous question of how one might encounter truth and whether one can know philosophical and moral truths isolated from the social context of our embodiment. Ibn Rushd is used to indicate the potential obligation to philosophise and while Diagne recognises that his death does not usher in the end of philosophy, he is somewhat wrong in the old fashioned idea that philosophy only continues in the Iranian - and Shiʿi - East because it is wedded to imamology. Indeed the creativity of the poles of wujūd and walāya are central to that later Eastern tradition. But it would be wrong to ignore the persistence of traditions of rationality in the Sunni East, especially in India at the same time. But Diagne's work does demonstrate once again how it is difficult if not impossible to write a non-sectarian history.

Diagne then skips to ʿAbduh and Afghānī as an enlightenment turn back to reason, in response to refute Renan. The oblivion of what happens between Ibn Rushd and Afghānī is a problem. He sees in ʿAbduh a certain type of reformist modernity: an embrace of modernity but not as a narrowly European modernity but an alternative modernity, sees modernity as 'the daughter of Islam', and searches for a reconstruction of the meaning of religion. 

The penultimate chapter is on Iqbāl, a thinker whom he has engaged already and the final chapter on pluralism as the contemporary moment and space of Islamic philosophy open to reason and possibility, drawing upon Ghazālī and Sufi traditions of West Africa. What is perhaps disappointing is that there is little explicit explanation of what sorts of contemporary encounters Islamic philosophy needs in the present. Should one engage on the ground of the person or of existentialism? Or the analytic method? Or poesis? Or mysticism? How does one see philosophy in the modern world? He sees his book as a prompt to thinking about how one might do philosophy in the present Muslim world. However, there is a certain limitation in what is being proposed. Francophone African Muslim countries inherited the role of the teaching of philosophy in schools - not the case in the anglophone. And maybe this indicates the impossibility of the universal label of an Islamic philosophy in the present. That is precisely the point. Instead of our desire at times to find our Kant, our Wittgenstein, our Aristotle, we need to embrace a proper pluralism in which we recognise that philosophising is always made in the image of the seeker and we are different persons across the globe. History consists of the moments of understanding whence possibilities arise and which options were taken and might not have. The future of Islamic philosophy therefore will rest with Islamic philosophies. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Polemics and Rational Discourse: Sayyid Nūr Allāh Shūshtarī (d. 1610) in Iran and India

Earlier in the week, I was speaking in Leiden on Qāḍī Nūr Allāh Shūshtarī (exe. 1610), the famous theologian from the Iraqi borderlands (and relative of the late marjaʿ Sayyid Shihāb al-Dīn Marʿashī who edited his works). 

My argument was to show that his polemics defending Shiʿi beliefs - and responding to some particularly harsh anti-Shiʿi polemics produced in the Ottoman and Central Asian lands - was designed to console believers, defend the faith and decisively defeat opponents, all while speaking truth to power. Once again it shows that the nature of religious polemics are to demonstrate that they address the co-religionists as much as the opponents. It also demonstrates that we should not consider polemics to be the other of rational discourse; rather, philosophical and theological formations often involve the articulation of one's ideas through their opposition to the other. 

The Ottoman-Safavid conflict that was part of the fabric of the disintegrating Timurid dispensations in Persianate lands in the sixteenth century led to a new round of quite bitter religious polemics as a discursive consolation and prop to the clashes of weapons on the battlefield. This round of the battle of words was harshly initiated by fatwās issued in Ottoman lands and in the Uzbek Shībanid khanate anathemising the Shiʿa as dangerous heretics whose blood was licit. Perhaps the most significant theologian to respond on the Shiʿi side, and one who looked across the history of such polemics and wrote three voluminous, practically decisive, defensive polemics to support his fellow believers and attack Sunni polemicists was Sayyid Nūr Allāh Shūshtarī (exe. 1610). A scion of an eminent sayyid scholarly lineage from the borderlands of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires in southern Iraq, his training brought together a thorough grounding in Shiʿi systematic theology, philosophy, law and legal theory, nurtured by teachers whose intellectual lineage traced back to the philosophers of Shiraz. His life was punctuated by the conflict in the West and in the East. He moved to the Safavid courts from lands precariously close to Ottoman control and when in Mashhad was acutely aware of the threat from the Uzbeks. The instability of the period after the death of Shah Ṭāhmasb convinced him of the need to flee to India where he attained the favour of the Mughal ruler Akbar and was appointed as a judge in Agra and then Lahore. 

Importantly, Shūshtarī rejected the practice of taqīya in his time and  recognised the freedom that he has at the court of Akbar. In a letter to his friend - and Shaykh al-Islām of Isfahan - Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī, he wrote: 

After traversing long distances and undergoing considerable pains and agony, I reached the Indian capital. There, fortune favoured me, and I obtained an opportunity to benefit from the luminous sun and found repose under the shadow of the great Sultan, Akbar…

Through divine grace and blessings, I obtained a lofty position and the honour of the companionship of the emperor…[whose] patronage and favours increase daily. In fact my success is due to divine munificence and the benevolence of the Prophet and the friend of God, ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib. The high position and nearness to the Emperor did not, however, make me forgetful of myself. I was always conscious of the hereafter and of the ultimate end of mortal beings. In refuting the arguments and the rationale of the Nawāṣib[anti-Shiʿi Sunnis], I was guided by the holy traditions of my ancestors. In these circumstances, I came to the conclusion that in India, taqiyya was a great calamity. It would expel out children from the Imāmīya faith and make them embrace the false Ashʿarī or Mātūrīdi faiths. Reinforced by the kindness and the bounty of the Sultan, I cast off the mantle of taqīyafrom my shoulders and, taking with me an army of arguments, I plunged myself into jihādagainst the Sunni ʿulamāʾ of this country. I was convinced that active religious polemics and discussions against the Sunni ʿulamāʾ was the jihād which would make the best provision for the world hereafter. 

First of all, I wrote Maṣāʾib al-nawāṣib which refutes the Nawāqiḍ al-rawāfiḍ. My arguments in that book smeared the beard of the author of the Nawāqiḍ with filth. Then I wrote al-Ṣawārim al-muhriqa. Because of my book the bitter attacks by the author of the Sawāʾiq on the Shīʿīs rebounded upon him and reduced the Sawāʾiq, which claimed to be lightening to ashes. God also gave me the strength to perform other deeds.

And he did write other works, not least the voluminous Iḥqāq al-ḥaqq wa-izhāq al-bāṭil, which critiqued not only Sunnī attacks on Shiʿi imamology but also positions in theology such as divine agency and human responsibility, the problem of prophetic inerrancy, and other questions in theological metaphysics and epistemology. However, the situation was changing and the death of his friends at court and of Akbar, and the uncertainty of the early years of Jahangir's reign made his situation precarious. Already in 1603, he again wrote to his friend Bahāʾ al-Dīn:

For some time, fortune has deprived me of its favours. The mean and wretched India has caused me unbearable pain and shock. Not only has the Sultan ended his patronage and benevolence towards me, but he has closed the doors of my departure to Khurāsān and Iraq. When the tyranny and oppressions against me began to mount and the sufferings and anguish stepped up I began to imagine India (Hind) was the same Hind (bint ʿUtba) who ate the liver of my great uncle Ḥamza (ibn Muṭṭalib)

Philosophy after Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī: The Case of Dabīrān Kātibī Qazwīnī (d. 1277)

Mustakim Arici, on the faculty at Theology in Marmara University in Istanbul, has written a highly useful study of philosophy in the middle period with a focus on the work of Najm al-Dīn Abū-l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. ʿUmar Dabīrān Kātibī Qazwīnī (d. 675/1277), perhaps best known for his logical primer, al-Risāla al-Shamsīya. On a visit to Istanbul a couple of years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the author who presented me a copy. 

The work is divided into five chapters. The first is a life and works, and an intellectual history of the philosopher. Kātibī's main teacher was the prominent Avicennian Athīr al-Dīn al-Abharī (d. 663/1264), author of the influential Hidāyat al-Ḥikma (commented by Mīr Ḥusayn Maybudī and Mullā Ṣadrā and copiously glossed especially in India). His Zubdat al-ḥaqāʾiq has yet to be published - there is an excellent manuscript in Oxford. Kātibī lived in arguably a golden age of Islamic philosophy: his contemporaries included the logician Afḍal al-Dīn al-Khunajī (d. 646/1248) author of Kashf al-asrār, Sirāj al-Dīn Urmawī (d. 682/1283) author of Laṭāʾif al-ḥikma, the polymath Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 672/1274), perhaps the main conduit for a majoritarian reading of Avicennian metaphysics, Shams al-Dīn Samarqandī (d. 702/1303) whose Qisṭās al-afkār and Ishkāl al-taʾsīs have been published recently, and Ibn Kammūna (d. 683/1284), a rather independent minded thinker who glossed the works of Suhrawardī. 

Kātibī's students included major thinkers of the next generation such as Quṭb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī (d. 710/1311), best known for his commentary on Ḥikmat al-ishrāq of Suhrawardī, and the Imāmī theologian Ibn al-Muṭahhar al-Ḥillī (d. 726/1325), whose Kashf al-murād was a major commentary on Ṭūsī's influential theological primer Tajrīd al-iʿtiqād, and author of a critical gloss on the Shamsīya as well as an original work on a cycle of philosophy entitled al-Asrār al-khafīya. Kātibī wrote a number of works in logic but the best known is his Risāla Shamsīya (although he also wrote a gloss on his teacher's Kashf al-asrār -MS Carullah 1418). Tony Street at Cambridge has a translation of the text (there is also a classical one by Aloys Sprenger). In philosophy, Kātibī's best known work is Ḥikmat al-ʿayn, divided into two sections on metaphysics and natural philosophy (like the Hidāyat al-ḥikma). He also wrote two commentaries on works of Rāzī: al-Munaṣṣaṣ fī sharḥ al-mulakhkhaṣ (he refers to MS Şehit Ali Paşa 1680), and al-Mufaṣṣal fī sharḥ al-muḥaṣṣal (MS Suleymaniye 782). Another work is his commentary on Abharī's Kashf al-ḥaqāʾiq (MS Carullah 1351). There are a number of commentaries and glosses on Ḥikmat al-ʿayn beginning with Kitāb al-fawāʾid fī sharḥ Ḥikmat ʿayn al-qawāʿid of Quṭb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī (a good manuscript is Veliyuddin Efendi 3399 in Istanbul), Īḍāh al-maqāṣid min ḥikmat ʿayn al-qawāʿid of al-Ḥillī (edited by ʿAlī-Naqī Munzavī and published in Tehran in 1959), and Sharḥ Ḥikmat al-ʿayn of Mīrak b. Mubārak Shāh Bukhārī (fl. 784/1382, ed. Jaʿfar Zāhidī and published in Mashhad in 1976), on whose commentary there are plenty of important glosses by al-Sharīf ʿAlī al-Jurjānī (d. 816/1413), Shams al-Dīn Khafrī (d. 957/1550), Ghiyāth al-Dīn Dashtakī (d. 949/1542), Mirzājān Bāghnawī Shīrāzī (d. 994/1586 - his gloss on the metaphysics has been edited by ʿAlī Ḥaydarī Yusāvilī and published in Qum by Majmaʿ-yi zakhāʾir-i islāmī in 2012) and ʿAbd al-Ḥakīm Siyālkutī (d. 1067/1656) (as well as many other Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal philosophers). Most of the later 'super-glosses' are on Jurjānī, Khafrī, and Bāghnawī.

Arinci provides this useful picture to show Kātibī and his connections: 

The second is an analysis of what it means to argue that metaphysics is a science and how it relates to logic. It includes an analysis of the different structures of philosophical works. Again Arinci provides two useful comparative tables on works of Avicenna and after:

The third chapter is a study of the ontology (umūr ʿāmma) and considers particular issues such as the nature of being (wujūd, varlik in Turkish), of essence (māhīya), unity and multiplicity, necessity and possibility (the modalities), creation and eternity (ḥudūthqidam), and the nature of causality (ʿillīya). Here he has a comparative table on the contents of ontology:

The fourth chapter considers divine agency and the problem of the creation of the cosmos (and whether it is eternal - the theory of emanation). The final chapter analyses the human self and the rational soul. The main point to gauge is the extent to which Kātibī's positions are influenced by Rāzī and respond to Ṭusī. There is then an appendix on two important cycles of works initiated by Kātibī: the Shamsīya, and the Ḥikmat al-ʿayn