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Will the Real Scholar Please Stand Up? Dialectic and the Mutakallimūn in the thought of Ibn Rushd
Who counts as a scholar in classical Islamic sources? While the extent to which classical Islamic sources encouraged scholars to provide advice (naṣīḥah) versus remain aloof from politics remains a live question, the falsafa tradition (Hellenistic Islamic philosophy) adds a further layer of complexity to the relationship between political leader and scholar by questioning whether religious scholars could properly be relied upon in the first place. Although earlier philosophy, specifically that of Avicenna, had been integrated into the work of dialectical theologians (mutakallimūn), later falāsifa would heap scorn on the mutakallimūn for their work, which they saw as by its very nature inferior to philosophy. The Andalusian legal scholar, qāḍī, and faylasūf Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) contributed extensively to this debate. This paper examines two works (from a trilogy), the Decisive Treatise (Faṣl al-Maqāl) and the Book of the Exposition of the Methods of Proof (Kitāb al-Kashf ʿan Manāhij al-Adilla fī ʿAqāʾid al-Milla), both of which address the various ways through which people come to know truth, specifically religious truth. What is interesting for this panel’s purposes, however, is that although in the former treatise, Ibn Rushd states that the method of dialectic—and therefore implicitly the dialectical theology of the mutakallimūn—plays an essential role for the public in ascertaining the truths of God, in the Exposition, he explicitly dismisses the role of dialectical reasoning, referring only to the philosophers and ordinary people—and decidedly not the theologians—as the “healthy” classes; theologians, by contrast, are fundamentally harmful to Muslim society, because they teach their misguided interpretations of the divine law and claim to be representing the intention of the Lawgiver. The upshot of this diagnosis on Ibn Rushd’s part (and, it should be added, al-Farabi’s as well), is that classical Islamic philosophers may have seen real harm resulting from the practice of religious scholars advising political leaders, for the mutakallimūn did not properly understand true religion. That a figure who was at once a prolific philosopher and an active judge in Andalusian society should come to such a conclusion is all the more sobering.
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7th-13th Centuries