Al-Ghazali’s Philosophical Theology By Frank Griffel (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 408 pages)

Main Article Content

Martin Whittingham



This work of historical theology is essential reading for those wanting to
understand with new depth and clarity the life and teachings of al-Ghazali
(d. 505/1111). It is sometimes maintained that he contributed significantly to
Muslim scholars’ ending of scientific inquiry and the use of reason. This
view has recently been promoted afresh by Robert Reilly’s The Closing of
the Muslim Mind (Wilmington, DE: 2010). Griffel extensively discusses two
factors contributing to this general perception: al-Ghazali’s opposition to the
philosophers in Tahafut al-Falasifah (see M. Marmura, ed and tr. The Incoherence
of the Philosophers [Provo, UT: 1997]) and his endorsement of occasionalism,
the idea that events do not occur because of their inherent properties, such as fire’s ability to burn cotton, but instead God creates each individual
event with no reference to causes and effects in the physical world.
Thus there is, at least in theory, no predictable causality in the world. This
would seem to render scientific inquiry, which relies on predictable processes,
theoretically impossible. Scholars have differed over whether al-
Ghazali is indeed an occasionalist (Marmura) or in fact endorses causality in
line with the philosopher Ibn Sina (Richard Frank).
In contrast, Griffel sets out to demonstrate that al-Ghazali “is the first
Muslim theologian who actively promotes the naturalization of the philosophical
tradition into Islamic theology” (p. 7) and that his writings are ‘a
particular kind of Avicennism’ (p. 14). His central argument is that al-
Ghazali remained uncommitted throughout his career as to whether God
brings about events in this world through occasionalism or via secondary
causality. Griffel contends that his consistent position was to regard each
position as possible, developing “something like a synthetic position
between these two poles” (p. 12). In arguing for this, the author presents a
highly persuasive reading of al-Ghazali’s principal texts, which presents him
as avoiding self-contradiction on this issue ...

Abstract 46 | PDF Downloads 24