On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam: Abu Hamid al Ghazali’s Faysal al Tafriqa (Studies in Islamic Philosphy)
ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THEOLOGICAL TOLERANCE IN ISLAM – Book Sample
ON THE BOUNDARIES OF THEOLOGICAL TOLERANCE IN ISLAM
THEOLOGY: BETWEEN TOLERANCE AND EXCLUSIVITY
Theology, literally logos (reasoning, discourse) on theos (God or divinity), is the activity of reflecting upon or thinking systematically about God, i.e., His nature, His attributes, and His relations with humanity and the universe. 1 In the broadest sense, theology may be considered a branch of philosophy, 2 and in this capacity need not be associated with any religion or revelation.
In its more common, restricted sense, however, theology refers to the efforts of the adherents of revealed religion to understand and explicate what scripture says about God and the Unseen. The result of this effort is invariably a set of doctrines or dogmas which, taken together, are also referred to as ‘theology’ and, in their distilled form, constitute religious creeds, or what Muslims commonly refer to as ‘ aqida .’ 3
Typically, one or another creed will succeed in gaining the assent of those who are vested with or assume the right to define theological orthodoxy (from the Greek, orthos, straight, correct, and doxa, opinion, doctrine). When this occurs, all other theological doctrines are judged as heresy, and those who profess these irregular views are branded heretics. 4 Heresy,
however, in the context of classical Islam, was not in every instance synonymous with infidelity or apostasy. Indeed, in its best tradition, Islam, like Roman Catholicism, recognized, mutatis mutandis, the distinction between formal heresy, i.e., the wilful persistence in error, and material heresy, or the holding of heretical doctrines through no fault of one’s own. Heresy, in other words, could connote not one but several categories of theological deviance, from outright Unbelief ( kufr ) to unsanctioned (though non-damning) innovation (bid ‘a) to honest mistakes and misunderstandings.
Whether a doctrine would be relegated to one or another of these categories would depend on how broad or narrow the criterion for determining orthodoxy was and how objectively it was applied. A narrower criterion would make it easier to increase the number of doctrines branded as heresy; a broader, more nuanced one would result in both fewer heresies and in fewer of these being placed outside the pale of the Faith.
Worst of all would be those politically, ideologically, or personally motivated criteria whose ill-defined and ever-changing boundaries exposed the very concept of orthodoxy to becoming synonymous with terror . For on such criteria, the boundaries of theological tolerance would extend only as far as political, ideological, or personal expediency dictated.
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