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Islamic Law, Theology and Philosophy

Session XI-16, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • This research aims to identify and analyze influences on the religious experience within Upper Egypt’s White Monastery, primarily as found within Apa Shenoute’s Monastic Rules, which may be applicable to the larger landscape of the 4th-century monastic federation. Particular focus is given to examining the relationship between experience and texts, as well as religious practice and embodied experiences in the context of prayer, ritual, societal structure, and cognitive and sensory experiences evident within Shenoute’s canons, as these contribute to what is a unique moment in the development of cenobitic monasticism and that generation of religious commitment and ideas in late antiquity. Potential parallels and influences from groups in the late antique Mediterranean world outside of Coptic Egypt are also considered, including sources from the Dead Sea Scrolls corpus, Greco-Roman voluntary associations, and Late and Ptolemaic Period Egyptian animal cults. Ultimately, this research provides a contextual and multifaceted view of 4th-century Egyptian religious practice, Coptic written tradition, and cenobitic monasticism.
  • Contemporary Islamic thinking has tended to accept the nation state uncritically, seeing the centralized state as the principal medium through which an Islamic politics should be realized (Qutb; al-Awwa). Others have critiqued such attempts to mold Islam in the image of the nation state arguing that the structures of the modern state have never been compatible with Islamic governance (Hallaq, 2013). This project does not explore the question of Islam’s compatibility with the modern nation state. Rather, it undertakes an anarchist reading of Islamic thought to elucidate ways in which Islamic themes and ideas work to limit—and counteract—the power of the modern state. With some exceptions, anarchism has been neglected within Islamic studies (Abdou, 2022; Sedgwick, 2021; Karamustafa 1994). This project seeks to address such a dearth and asks whether the Islamic tradition can provide a way of thinking that makes ways of living beyond the reaches of the state possible. It asks whether there is a kind of Islamic political order that can create a form of life without the overwhelming presence of modern statehood. This paper approaches this question by exploring Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s (d. 1111) treatise on friendship. Al-Ghazali calls upon Muslims to put their friends before their relatives and children. He also argues that friends should offer up their wealth to each other without being asked. This paper puts The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam into conversation with Aristotle’s Nicomedean ethics and the anarchist Peter Propotkin’s thinking on mutual aid. It contends that al-Ghazali offers a radical picture of mutual support and aid among friends that transcends reliance on state institutions for welfare and support. It argues that al-Ghazali’s notion of friendship undermines the centrality of the family that has been so central to the modern nation state. While this paper argues that al-Ghazali’s thinking on friendship has anarchist implications, it does not argue that al-Ghazali is entirely anarchist. Al-Ghazali’s writings on the principle of commanding good and forbidding wrong illustrate that he accepted state power even though he was suspicious of it. Rather, the paper uses anarchism as a heuristic device or as a lens through which to look at the ways in which the Islamic tradition—in this case al-Ghazali’s conception of friendship—can help inform ways of thinking about limiting state power.
  • The first generation of Twelver Shiite scholars after the occultation of the Mahdī, such as al-Kulaynī [d. 941 CE], al-Shaykh al-Ṣadūq [d. 991 CE], and al-Sharīf al-Raḍī (d. 1016 CE) were on the whole traditionalist ḥadīth scholars opposed to rationalist theology and mysticism. There was, however, a shift in the 13th -14th centuries CE where Shiite scholars in Ḥilla and Bahrain began to incorporate elements of Akbari an mysticism and Avicennian philosophy into the Twelver Shiite intellectual tradition. The result was a remarkably productive synthesis of doctrine, philosophy, and mysticism that eventually came to a zenith in the Safavid period through the “theosophical” works of thinkers like Mīr Dāmād (d. 1631 CE) and Mullā Ṣadrā (d. 1636 CE). Although there has been significant scholarly interest in the Safavid thinkers, literature on the 13th-14th century Ḥilla and Bahrain thinkers remains scarce. Current scholarship has generally considered the Persian thinker Ḥaydar Āmulī (d. 1385 CE) as the pioneering figure in initiating the synthesis of philosophy, theology, and mysticism within the Twelver Shiite tradition. I call this approach into question by arguing that ‘Ali ibn Suleyman al-Baḥrānī (d. ca. 1274 CE), one of the Ḥilla-affiliated Bahraini scholars, anticipates several of Āmulī’s synthesizing tendencies by about 80 years. I analyze two sections of ‘Alī’s al-Ishrat we-l-Tanbhīhāt in order to show how ‘Ali, drawing from Avicenna (d. 1037 CE), Ibn ‘Arabī (d. 1240 CE), and al-Ghāzālī (d. 1111), anticipates Āmulī’s ideas regarding the nature of divine existence [wujūd], the importance of striking a balance between the esoteric [al-bāṭin] and the exoteric [al-ẓāhir], and, the relationship of guardianship [wilāya] to prophethood [nubuwwa]. I also identify some striking similarities between ‘Alī’s discussion of wujūd and sections of the introduction of Dāwūd al-Qayṣarī’s (d. 1350 CE) commentary on Ibn ‘Arabī’s Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam to be examined in future research.
  • It is well known now, as it was not seventy years ago, that the philosopher Shihab al-Din Yahya Suhrawardi represented a decisive turning point in the history of Islamic philosophy with his embrace of mysticism, his Platonism, and his incisive and still debated critique of Aristotelian and Avicennan metaphysics. However, this influence was not exercised immediately. Given that Suhrawardi's life was cut short in Aleppo at the orders of the great Saladin, it is not surprising that evidence of philosophical responses from his lifetime and soon after are sparse, almost entirely limited to accounts of his eccentric life. No autograph manuscripts are known, though one manuscript of his most famous work, The Philosophy of Illumination, plausibly claims to have been copied from a copy read to the author. Manuscripts from the decades immediately after his death are few and confined to only a few of his works and a narrow geographical range in northern Syria and central Anatolia, areas where he was known to have travelled during his adult years. About seventy years after his death, there is an explosion of interest in his work, apparently triggered by the Baghdad Jewish philosopher Ibn Kammuna, followed by the rather mysterious figure Shams al-Din al-Shahrazuri, each of whom wrote commentaries on works of Suhrawardi as well as substantial works influenced by him. We can date his addition to the philosophical canon to no later than the early 1330s, when a comprehensive manuscript of his works, Ragip Pasa 1480, was copied in Baghdad. The manuscript record also allows us to trace what was and was not read, when, and in what form, thus giving us indications of how Suhrawardi was understood. Two of his major works, The Philosophy of Illumination and the Talwihat, a work written in what he called "the Peripatetic mode," were widely read but usually through commentaries. A short work, Hayakil al-Nur, seems to have used as an elementary philosophical textbook in certain periods. His Persian allegories, widely read today, were almost unknown, in part only through two manuscripts of eastern Iranian provenance. thus providing evidence that these were works of Suhrawardi's youth and thus providing a corrective to modern scholarship that puts them at the center of his canon. This paper is based on a review of over a thousand known manuscripts related to Suhrawardi and his school.
  • Abdelhamid Sabra and Roshdi Rashed are in agreement that experimentation, identified by the Arabic verbal noun iʿtibār, was a part of Ibn al-Haytham’s theory of proof. They also agree that the term has a variety of meanings: simple observation, thought experimentation, and actual experimentation. The former attributes the source of this idea and the term to be the Arabic translations of Ptolemy’s _Almagest_, whereas the latter shows the source to be Ptolemy’s _Optics_. More importantly, Sabra states that Ibn al-Haytham’s experimentations were only “confirmatory” and not “discovery experimentation”, and thus, did not lead to revealing anything new about properties of light besides what was already known. This viewpoint portrays Ibn al-Haytham’s inquiry of knowledge to be unable of making discoveries. Ibn al-Haytham’s treatise _On the quiddity of the trace on the face of the moon_, seems to present a significant discovery in the realm of celestial natural philosophy (physics) by applying experimentally (albeit of confirmatory nature) developed theory of light to the observations of the lunar color. His theory-based analysis of the visible color variation on the lunar surface shows that the moon is a heterogenous body with parts that are substantially different from one another. This is a theoretical-based finding that goes against the simplicity of the makeup of the superlunary world as one of the foundations of Aristotelian doctrine of celestial physics. The latter was the dominant theory in the natural philosophy of the time. Further, Ibn al-Haytham proceeds to explain what in the lunar matter causes this difference in the light of the interaction between light and matter as described in his theory of light in his _Optics_. Thus, in this treatise, Ibn al-Haytham is taking a theory from the physical part of optics to the celestial natural philosophy whereby he analyzes his observation, and consequently, makes a discovery. I ask to what extent this treatise along with its underlying optical theory can be seen as a process of experimentally developing a theory and applying it to make a discovery and to explain a phenomenon. To answer this question, I analyze Ibn al-Haytham’s arguments in this treatise and trace his references to his _Optics_ and his treatise _On the Light of the Stars_ to show to what extent and how his arguments and their underlying theories are based on experiments and systematic observations, and to what extent on the casual observations, thought experiments, or unproven assumptions.