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Faith and Reason in Islam: Averroes’ Exposition of Religious Arguments (Great Islamic Writings)

  • Book Title:
 Faith And Reason In Islam
  • Book Author:
ibn rushd (Averroes)
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  • Preface
  • Introduction by Majid Fakhry
  • On proving God’s existence
  • On God’s unity
  • On [God’s] attributes
  • On the knowledge of Transcendence
  • On the knowledge of God’s actions
  • The first question: on the creation of the world
  • The second question: on commissioning messengers III The third question: on divine decree and predestination
  • The fourth question: on divine justice and injustice
  • The fifth question: on resurrection and its modes Conclusion: the canon of interpretation
  • Selected Bibliography Index of Qur’anic Verses Index


Abū’l-Walīd Ibn Rushd, known in European sources as Averroes, was born in Cordova, Spain, in 1126 C.E. He studied Arabic letters (Adab), jurisprudence (Fiqh), Kalam, medicine and philosophy with a number of teachers, some of whose names are given in the sources. In 1169, he was introduced to the Caliph, Abū Ya‘qub Yūsuf, by Ibn Tufayl (d.1185), the leading philosopher of the period and court physician to the Caliph. Abū Ya’qub Yūsuf was an avid reader of Aristotle, we are told, but complained of his “intractable and abstruse idiom”.

As a result of this meeting, Averroes was asked to expound the works of Aristotle for the use of the Caliph and was appointed religious judge (qādi) of Seville and shortly after chief judge of Cordova. In 1182, he was appointed physician royal at the court of Marrakech.

Upon the succession of the Caliph’s son, nicknamed Al-Manṣūr, Averroes continued to enjoy the royal patronage, but in 1195, yielding to public pressure, the Caliph ordered the books of Averroes to be burnt, on an undefined charge of irreligion or heresy, and the teaching of philosophy and the sciences was banned, with the exception of astronomy, medicine, and arithmetic. In the same year Averroes was exiled to Lucena, to the southeast of Cordova; though shortly after he was restored to favor. In 1198, he died in Cordova at the age of seventy-two.

Averroes’ writings place him in the forefront of writers

Averroes’ writings on philosophy, jurisprudence, theology, and medicine, which have all survived in Arabic or Hebrew and Latin translations, place him in the forefront of writers on these subjects in the world of medieval Islam and beyond. He was recognized in Western Europe, starting with the thirteenth century, which witnessed the translation of his commentaries on Aristotle, as The Commentator, or as Dante has put it, che gran commento feo.

These Latin translations early in that century caused a genuine intellectual stir in learned circles and laid the ground for the rise of Latin Scholasticism, one of the glories of European thought in the later Middle Ages. However, apart from his contribution to Aristotelian scholarship, which was almost unmatched until modern times, Averroes has dealt more thoroughly than any other Muslim philosopher with theological questions, including the perennial question of the relation of faith and reason, which became the pivotal issue in the Scholastic disputations of the thirteenth century and beyond in Western Europe. His contribution to those disputations is embodied in three theological treatises:

Three theological treatises:

The Decisive Treatise (Faṣl al-Maqāl), written in 1179; The Exposition of the Methods of Proof (Al-Kashf ‘an Manāhij Al-Adilla), written in the same year; and a short tract dealing with the question of God’s eternal and unchanging knowledge of particulars or contingent entities. To this trilogy should be added his systematic rebuttal of Al-Ghazāli’s onslaught on Islamic Neoplatonism in the Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahāfut al-Falāsifah), written in 1195 and entitled the Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahāfut al-Tahāfut).

In the first of these works, The Decisive Treatise, Averroes sets out the appropriate methodology for the solution of the problem of the relation of religion (sharī‘a) and philosophy (hikmah), and more specifically the way in which philosophical or logical methods of reasoning can be used in religious controversies, or applied to the interpretation of the texts of Scripture (Shar‘). He begins by defining philosophy as “The investigation of existing entities in so far as they point to the Maker; I mean, in so far as they are made, since existing entities exhibit the Maker.”

It follows, he goes on to argue, that the study of philosophy is indeed recommended by the religious law (Shar‘), as appears from a number of Qur’anic verses, such as 59: 2, which urges “people of understanding to reflect” and verse 7: 184, which asks: “Have they not considered the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth and all the things God has created?” For surely, Averroes asserts, reflection and consideration are forms of logical reasoning or deduction (qiyās), or “the extraction of the unknown from the known”.


He then proceeds to rebut the claim of the literalists and traditionalists that the use of deduction, which the first generation of Muslim scholars have shunned, is an “innovation”on the ground that juridical deduction, which is analogous to logical deduction, was subsequently practiced by the next generation and was regarded as perfectly legitimate.

Next, Averroes proceeds to ask whether “demonstration” (burhān), which is the highest form of logical deduction, is compatible with the explicit or implicit prescriptions of Scripture (Shar‘). His answer is that, like the jurist who draws out or deduces his legal decisions from the sacred texts by recourse to interpretation (ta’wīl), the philosopher is perfectly justified in resorting to interpretation in his attempt to elicit, by means of rational deduction, the nature of reality and the way in which it leads to the knowledge of the Maker. He then defines interpretation as “the act of eliciting the real connotation of (Scriptural) terms from their figurative connotation without violating the rules of the Arabic language”.

Mutashābihat and muhkamāt

However, it should be noted that not all the texts of Scripture (i.e. the Qur’an) admit of interpretation; only those parts of it which the Qur’an itself has designated as “ambiguous” (mutashābihat), as against those parts which it has designated as “sound” or unambiguous (muhkamāt) in verses 3: 5–7. With respect to the former the Qur’an stipulates that their interpretation is imperative, but “only God and those well-grounded in knowledge” are qualified to interpret it.

By those “well-grounded in knowledge”, Averroes is categorical, only the philosophers or “people of demonstration” are intended, followed, in the order of their aptitudes to understand the intent of Scripture, by the “dialectical’ class (or the Mutakallimun), and the “rhetorical” class (or the public at large). This threefold division of mankind is confirmed, according to Averroes, by the Qur’an itself which states in verse 16: 125, addressing the Prophet: “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and mild exhortation and argue with them in the best manner.”

The second treatise, or Exposition (al-Kashf) gives, as a sequel to this methodology, a substantive statement of those articles of faith which are essential for salvation, or as Averroes puts it, “without which the faith (of..

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