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Islamic Personalities ( 4 May 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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ARISTOTLE (384-322 B.C.) AND AL GHAZALI (1058-1111 A.D)

By Masarrat Husain Zuberi

May 4, 2012


Aristotle and Imam Ghazali are two immortals of history who put their seal on European and Muslim philosophical scholarship through succeeding generations. The generations disappeared in the fold of time but their teachings continue to attract mankind. Still they remain difficult and controversial as in their own times.

I confess to some boldness in tackling them. Since their death-Aristotle’s and A1-Ghazali’s – (one died in 322 B.C. and the other in 1111 A.D.) there have been, without interruption until the present, schools and scholars who have studied, expounded, adopted and re-adapted their doctrines and, methods, approved or condemned them. But their light still shines.

I throw some light on their influence from an entirely different angle. With some daring, I defend the early Muslim philosophers, inf­luenced by Aristotle, against Al-Ghazali and defend Al-Ghazali against the charge of snuffing Aristotelianism and thus stagnating Muslim thought over centuries.

The general ‘theme of such accusation is that in his enthusiastic defence of religion, Al-Ghazali, unintenationally, shut the door to scientific enquiry. “The mystic way of the Sufi prescribed is incompat­ible with rational methods of science” and the accusation takes another form that “the Muslims, unfortunately, followed Al-Ghazali, and neg­lected, little by little, the study of sciences. Their once great civilization faded. On the other hand Ibn Rushd defended sciences and medieval Europe followed the way prescribed by him to attain it. This is the true spirit of Latin Averroeism which led to the rise of European Science. [1]

This calumny first propagated in the West has, unfortunately, been taken up as a refrain by Muslim scholars of the present [2]day as well.

I have, in all humility, attempted putting him in his correct his­torical perspective to defend Al-Ghazali against this persistent Calumny.

Though Averroeism became a symbol of intellectual revolt in the 13th-14th Century Europe, Al-Ghazali’s own [3] influence can not be ignored or belittled.

Influence of Muslim thought on the West is an engrossing subject as it played a significant part in sparking both the humanist and scientific movements. The later Reformation and the earlier Renaissance owed much to the borrowings from the East.

The Muslim East continued to outshine Europe up to early 19th Century, when the Industrial Revolution led to colonial imperialism. The diversion of international trade to new Atlantic and Indian Ocean routes spelt economic ruin to the Mediterranian and the Adriatic Coas­tal countries including the Ottoman Turks.

Necessity is the mother of invention and Industrial rivalry be­tween European countries on the Atlantic Coast gave a new urgency to it. Soon they became rival claimants [4] to the glorious East which was predominantly Muslim. Their victims included the old China and the unexplored Africa as well.

So poor Al-Ghazali’s flight to Sufism was not the turning point in history. It was the discovery of America and the Cape of Good Hope sea route to India


Even in the West the Philosopher’s reign came to an end when the religious link with it was broken and Martin Luther led the revolt aga­inst Papal dominance in religious affairs,and when the armed forces of Emperor, Charles V (1519-56) triumphed and changed the face and character of Italy and put an end to the Italian Renaissance. The Spa­nish hegemony broke the spirit of the Italians as subjection to an alien rule does every where. In any case spirit of Renaissance was of the few, for the few, by the few. The alien occupation gave birth “to a somber pessimism and resignation fell upon the spirit of the once joyous and exhuberant Italian people.” Even the dark Spanish dress – black cap, black doublet, black hose, black shoes – became the fashion and not as asserted by some [188] now “as if the people had put on mourning for glory, departed and liberty dead,” but as common everywhere in every age the well-to-do always ape the alien ruling class.

Another factor in the fading of Renaissance mood was the Luthe­ran Reformation coupled with Papal counter-Reformation.

As a slight digression, I may explain that in early stages the refor­mation movement was dissatisfaction over material exactions rather than theological differences. In Oct. 1510 Luther had visited Rome, kneeling and kissing the soil of Rome cried: “Hail to thee, 0, Holy Rome.” It was only ten years later did he describe Rome “as an abo­mination, the Popes worse than pagan Emperors and the Papal Court served at supper by twelve naked girls.”

The Church in Germany, however, was the richest in Christen­dom, owned nearly a third of the whole landed property, avarice was their besetting sin and were never satisfied with increase in rents, taxes, and perquisites. “The lower clergy was poor. The ostentatious living of the higher order provoked indignation of the people, jealousy of the upper classes and the scorn of all the serious-minded.” The rise of na­tionalism of national states gave a new upsurge of resentment against supremacy of the Pope over Kings and Emperors and against his right of appointments at demand price too. Bishoprics were openly sold and given to the highest bidder, constant flow of gold into Rome led to hatred against the Pope and the Papacy. Emperor Maximillian comp­lained that the Pope drew a hundred times more revenue from Ger­many than he himself could collect.

Pope Leo X (1515-1524), about whom it was then said that “all his faults were superficial except this superficiality,” issued on March 15, 1517, a general indulgence, to complete the St. Peter’s basilica, to all those who contributed. His agent, Tetzel, offered the general Indul­gence to those who would confess their sins and pay according their means. The Indulgence issued by him, on behalf of the Pope, is worth reproducing. [189] “May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on thee, absolve thee by the merits of His most Holy Passion. And I, by His Authority, that of his blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, and of the most Holy Pope, granted and committed to me in these parts, do absolve thee, first from all ecclesiastical censures, in whatever manner they may have been incurred, and then from all thy sins, transgressions and excesses, how enormous soever they may be, even from such as are re-served for the cognizance of the Holy See, and as far as the Keys of the Holy Church extend, I remit to you all punishment that you deserve in purgatory on their accounts and I restore you to the holy sacraments of the Church – and restore you to the innocence and purity which you possessed at baptism, so that when you die, the gates of punish­ment shall be shut and gates of the paradise of delight shall be opened and if you shall not die at present, this grace shall remain in full force when you are at the point of death. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”

He gave sealed letters stating that even the sins which a man was intending to commit would be forgiven Luther [190] quoted Tetzel as saying that “if a man violated “the Mother of God,” the Indulgence would wipe away his sin.”

The Elector of Saxony forbade sale of the Indulgence in his terri­tory to avoid drain of capital from it to Rome. Several purchasers however, brought these letters to Rev: Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred theology and lecturer-in-ordinary, in the University of Wit­tenberg, and asked him to attest their efficacy. He refused. Tetzel, hearing of the refusal, denounced him.

And both became immortal. Luther reacted quickly and refuted the Pope’s Indulgence to be effective beyond the grave and salvation “for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church” on Oct. 31, 1517 Luther pinned his thesis in Latin with a German translation to the gate of the University, saying “out of love for the faith and the desire to bring it to light the propositions will be discussed.”

The Lutheran revolt, given the name of Reformation, had begun. The Religious wars and nationalist regimes began and the Renaissance faded into a colourless past. The English secession, the Spanish hegemony of watch the only consolation, which Will Durant sees in the lat­ter, was that it “probably saved Italy from spoilation by the Turks,” deepened the Crisis. The Church’s fateful reaction to so called Refor­mation was folding the gates of faith more tightly. Just as the Spaniards had devised the Inquisition in the 13th century to hold the fort and save the Church, so now in the 16th century to save and serve the pure faith, the Spaniard Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) founded “the Society of Jesus” in 1534 and brought in the Jesuit repression to fight and suppress religious heresy and revolt. Liberalism of Renaissance was deeply buried. The rigid orthodoxy of the Church, after the Council of Trent (1545-63), led to Calvinist intolerance Morality however, did not improve. Fornication, adultery, illegitimacy, incest, obscene literature, poli­tical corruption, robbery and brutal crime in Italy of 1534-76 was as be­fore. [191] Pope Paul III, before his election had begotten two bastards [192] but he was (1534-40) – forgiven as an accepted custom. Criminal law remained as severe as before: torture was frequently applied to innocent witnesses as to the accused, and murderers still had their flesh torn away by red-hot pincers before being hanged. [193]

The restoration of slavery [194] as a major economic institution belongs to this period. When Pope Paul III declared war on England in 1535 he decreed that the English soldiers captured should be enslav­ed. By about 1550 the custom of using slaves and convicts to row the galleys of trade and war was fully established.

Economic misfortunes that ruined Italy and had long-term disastr­ous effects which led to the waning of the Renaissance was the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope (1488), the opening of a new all-water route to India (1498) and the whole pattern of international trade changed the Venetian Genoese trade, Florentine finance declined, the Mediterranean control of trade by the Turks was now a passing phase and the German trade was diverted to North Sea-routes. The new development of discovery of America (1492-98) enriched the Atlantic countries while helping to impoverish Italy, Adriatic States and spelt ruin to the Ottoman Turks. This change in the Sea-routes and new pattern of com­merce and trade was a greater revolution, changing the course of history in favour of Atlantic States, putting them on to the race of colonial Imperialism and the wars of ruling the waves began. The Industrial Revolution which fanned this race did in fact lead to technological advance and was responsible for the new scientific age in which we live and might perish.

The Renaissance which is mistakenly taught to us, in the Third World, as the glory of Europe was in fact only a transitional period of awakening. It is a misnomer to call the later half of the 17th century as even the Age of Reason. It was an age of religious bigotry, Christianity split up into numerous sects, each sect determined to exterminate ‘the other; education was the monopoly of the few rich, who could make endowments meant exclusively for his own denominational institutions. Till the end of the 19th century even Oxford and Cambridge, till then the only two Universities in England, did not admit students other than of the established Anglican Church.

Oxford till 1871 continued “to exact from every candidate for a degree assent to the thirty nine articles of the Established [195] Church.

In Catholic and Calvinist countries education was controlled by the ecclesiastics. In England and Lutheran countries clergymen, [196] admi­nistered it, controlled by the State. Religious differences put an end to international character of the Universities – nearly all of them required teachers and students both to accept the official religion.

With education so restricted and confined to the upper few, it is saying the obvious that the majority (over 80%) of the people were still illiterate. And illiteracy begets superstition and maintains poverty.

Popular superstition was beyond number. Fairies, elves, [197] hobgoblins, ghosts, witches, demons lurked everywhere. Every event was considered as a sign of God’s pleasure or wrath or of Satan’s activity and comets presaged disasters.

The great majority of the people, and quite good many in the upper classes, had horoscopes made. Duke Wallenstein, Imperial Gene­ral in the (1583-1634) in the thirty years Religious Wars, took an astrologer on his campaigns, Catherine de Medicis and her court had whole-time paid astrologers. At the birth of Louis IV an astrologer was hidden in the bed Chamber of the Queen to get exact time of birth for a horoscope.

This period is also said to be the hey-day of judicial murders for witchcraft. If one could win the intercession of a Saint by why not secure the help of the devil by courting him. A book “Christian ideas on magic,” at Heidelberg [198] in 1585 affirmed that “every where the whole universe, inward and outward, water and air is full of devils, of wicked invisible spirits.” It was a common belief that human beings could be possessed by devils entering them. Though there were protests from some against witches being burnt, defenders within the Church and outside were numerous. “Protestant theologians like Thomas Erasmus, in 1572 and Catholic theologians like Bishop Binsfield in 1589, agreed that witchcraft was real and that witches should be burned. The Bishop approved of torture but recommended that repentant witches should be strangled before being burned.” In the town of Ellin­gen, 1,500 witches were burned in 1590. German Scholars estimate a total of 100,000 executions for witchcraft in Germany in the 16th cen­tury.

Kepler (1571-1630), the famous scientist of the Renaissance, believed in witchcraft and his own mother [199] was charged with practic­ing it. How she escaped burning is a mystery. She was in prison for thirteen months. During the Renaissance there did live great men worthy of age-long tribute – Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), painter, sculptor, architect, Engineer, Michel Angelo (1475-1564) one of the greatest artists – painter, sculptor – of the Renaissance, Titian (1477-1576), Venetian painter and Machiavelli (1469-1527), political philo­sopher, diplomat, historian.

The science had, in fact, its beginning with Nicholaus Copernicus (He was Polish and his real name was Nikolai Kapernick) (1473-1593) astronomer who demonstrated that the planets including the earth revolved on their axis and moved in orbits around the Sun. It could not be accepted by the Church and the clergy, still controlling the Univer­sities and sharpening censor scissors on any idea contradicting the Bible. Protestant theologians were as loud in their denunciation [200] as the un-yielding Catholics. Bacon and Bodin alike repudiated the theory. Poor Giordano Bruno (1548-1599) the real scientist of the age paid for its affirmation with his life, tried by the Inquisition, condemned and handed over to the Civil authorities, he was stripped naked, his tongue pulled and tied to an iron stake was burnt alive. Galileo (1564-1642), another great name, who invented the telescope and discovered sate­llites to Jupiter, was arrested, questioned by the Inquisitors three or four times, made verbal recantation, repudiating the Copernican theory, escaped the stake by speedy death while under house arrest. Kepler (1571-1630), though clarifying amending and improving upon Coper­nican theory, was saved because he was beyond the reach of the Inqui­sition being a Protestant. And he proved his piety by mingling mysticism with science, illustrating Goethe’s generous saying that “a man’s defects are the faults of the times, while his virtues are his own.” His treatise was placed on the Index of prohibited books but as a pious Pro­testants, serving as Imperial astronomer, was not disturbed. To end, let us see Galileo before the Inquisition in Rome. The Inquisition directed cardinal Ballarmine “to summon before him the said Galileo and admonish him to abandon the said opinions, and in case of refusal to intimate to him, before a notary and witnesses, a command to abstain from teaching or defending the same opinions and even from discuss­ing them. If he do not acquiesce there in he is to be imprisoned.

“Galileo appeared and declared his submission to the decree. A week later the Holy See issued its historic decree:

“The view that the sun stands motionless at the centre of the Universe is foolish, philosophically false, and utterly heretical, because contrary to the Holy Scripture. The view that the earth is at the centre of universe and even has a daily rotation is philosophically false and at least an erroneous belief.”

Galileo continued to be harassed over the years and repeatedly summoned before the Inquisition court. He was made to kneel, repu­diate the Copernican theory and add: [201]

“With a sincere heart and unfeigned faith I abjure, curse, detest the said errors and heresies, – and I swear that I will never more in future say or assert anything – which may give rise to a similar suspi­cion of me and that if I know any heretic or any one suspected of heresy, I will denounce him to this Holy Office – so may God help me and these His Holy Gospels which I touch with my own hands.”

Modern researches have not upheld Copernicus, Bruno and Galileo. But they were pioneers searching for scientific basis of nature and universe. Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was also a child collecting sea shells on sea shore. But he did shore up an ocean. Science began with him as technology advance began with George Stephenson (1781-1848). The fact of history is that the French Revolution and resistance to Napoleonic imperialism encouraged the new ideas of national iden­tity sovereignty of the people, awakening to issues springing from lang­uage and ethnic culture, not dynastic factors or religious controversies and heresies, till then supreme. After Napoleon’s fall these ideas helped to reshape Europe and its destiny.


Introduction IX

Chapter One Aristotle: His Influence on Muslim Philosophy 1

Chapter Two Al-Ghazali: His Times and Legacy 23

Chapter Three Epilogue 85

Appendix One AI-Ghazali’s Influence on the West 139

Appendix Two Reformation and Renaissance 147

Appendix Three Al-Ghazali’s Last Testament 155

Index 157

Dedicated to the new generation which is unlikely to find a more sympathetic and helpful guide than’ A1-Ghazali.