Friday, December 25, 2009

"Today I learned that the person who introduced secularism and kick-started science in Western Europe was actually a brilliant Islamic scholar. "

Algazel's attack on "scientific" knowledge started a debate with Averroës( Should be Avicenna), the medieval philosopher who ended up having the most profound influence of any medieval thinker (on Jews and Christians, though not on Moslems). The debate between Algazel and Averroës was finally, but sadly, won by both. In its aftermath, many Arab religious thinkers integrated and exaggerated Algazel's skepticism of the scientific method, preferring to leave causal considerations to God. The West embraced Averroës's rationalism, built upon Aristotle's, which survived through Aquinas and the Jewish philosophers who called themselves Averroan for a long time. Many thinkers blame the Arabs' later abandonment of scientific method on Algazel's huge influence. He ended up fueling Sufi mysticism, in which the worshipper attempts to enter into communion with God, severing all connections with earthly matters.
One can safely skip the article, a mere 'hors d'oeuvre' in fact, and content oneself with the "plat de resistance" comment which follows.


  1. Here's the comment:
    "there's a lot more to this that you're missing.
    the true debate was between ghazali and ibn sina, known as "avicena." "averoes," ibn rushd, (see my notes on him below) came later. ghazali's "incoherence of the philosophers" was a full-blown, line by line, refutation of ibn sina's major works.
    ibn sina (avicena) did much more than just face off with al ghazali. his life's work was to mesh greek philosophy with monotheism. this was incredibly important because it saved christian civilization the trouble. this debate between ghazali and ibn sina had several hundred years of historical precedence in the islamic world, and it would continue after both their deaths. this process of synthesis took quite a few iterations of "islamicization" (read: "monothisation") of greek thought, starting first with the translation of greek texts into arabic and persian, and ending not only with their study, but their eventual enveloping into a monotheistic world view. bare in mind, while all this was going on, europeans were farming dirt and cutting each other's heads off at the beginning of the dark ages.
    ibin sina is considered to be the master of this synthesis of monotheism and greek philosophy - ibn rushd, who came after, was able to use ibn rushd's work, whereas only one man before ibn sina came close to the achievement (al farabi). when ibn sina's works entered the christian world, he served up the hundreds of years of work that muslim philosophers had done to make greek thought palatable to a monothesitic reality. at that time (the end of the european dark ages), christians were far more punishing to heretics than muslims - if you had dropped greek thought into europe without the work that ibin sina had done, anybody who had read it out loud would have had their balls chopped off shortly before being burned at the stake. such a seed would have never had the chance to grow.
    so ibn sina did the west an incredible service in terms of heralding the eventual re-introduction of greek thought to the west, a process that was aided by ibn rushd - ibn sina, like ibn rushd, was also a hell of a cosmologist, philosopher, scientist, and doctor - a true Renaissance man. he was not, as is suggested by sixbillionthsheep, an existentialist - however, his thoughts on morality do mirror certain existentialist works that deal with humanism (sartre's "existentialism is a humanism" being the most obvious). he was, however, of the ismaili school of shi'ism (7 imami shi'ism as opposed to 12 imami shi'ites of modern day iran) who are still known to be intellectually and (somewhat) secularly inclined. ismaili's were the sponsors of saladin, a known somewhat-secularist - the hashashin (aka the assassins) were also ismaili's, and they smoked weed and murdered fools, so clearly they were d.t.p. as well.

  2. Cont.
    one final note - your history is quite mistaken - islam did embrace ghazali over ibin sina to an extent, but this is largely because ghazali made a better argument at the time (probably because he had it easier - the prosecution always it easier than the defense). both men were brilliant, but all ghazali had to do was tare ibn sina down, and ibn sina was dead anyways so he couldn't defend himself.
    later on, muslim philosophers would produce islamic philosophy that did a better job of dealing with greek thought - the entire ishraqi movement of suhrawardi ( is an excellent example of such advancement over time. as sixbillionthsheep states, this movement largely began with ibn rushd, who i'll discuss below. ibn arabi was also very much involved.
    the issues of modern islam did not come as much from embracing ghazali's harder (read: conservative) approach to muslim philosohpical thought - the destruction of baghdad by the mongols in 1258 (about one hundred years after ghazali's death and two hundred years after ibn sina's) did far more to incur the end of the golden age of islamic philosophy, leading to modern problems. indeed, modern scholars on this era of islamic history term the destruction of baghdad and the end of the caliphate to be the end of the era of islamic jurisprudence, the closing of sharia law, and the "circling of the wagons" of islamic thought, leading inevitably to the conservatism of ghazali. the closing of shar'ia and the lack of a supreme authority on sunnism (a caliph) lead directly to modern day fundamentalism. the destruction of the caliphate in 1258 was equivalent to an apocalypse in the sunni world. the west is lucky as hell that the islamic empire sat in the way of the mongols and christian europe, or we might have faced the same fate.

  3. what can be certain is that ghazali ended up remorseful at the effect he had on islamic thought, although his overall effect during his lifetime was limited, feeling that his words were to some extent taken out of context - he respected ibn sina's mind, if not so much his words. he ended up leaving the fold of the islamic establishment and becoming a Sufi, as his brother had been. he was not alive to witness the fall of the caliphate.
    unfortunately for islam, ibn rushd's "the incompetence of the incompetence" was written right before the fall of baghdad and the destruction of the caliphate. its overall effect in the muslim world was also limited due to the fact that it was written in spain, which was obviously thousands of miles from the heart of islam, and also due to the fact that within 300 years the spanish inquisition would destroy muslim spain and eliminate it as an example of muslim progressivism, replacing it with a brutal conservative christian kingdom.
    however, ibn rushd's work did lead to the ishraqi school, which had considerable influence across the islamic world (at least on its intelligencia and on sufism), and represented the height of the andulusian (muslim spain) era, where jews (such as moses maimonedes), christians (the name of the guy is escaping me but he had one of the better logical proofs of god's existence), and muslims (such as ibn masarrah, al-majriti, ibn bajjah, and ibn tufayl) shared an extraordinary civilization.
    so there's your history lesson for you. though it is known to scholars and historians, it is commonly not taught in school, due largely to the de-islamification of the record of transference of greek philosophy to europe during the italian Renaissance. the italians, as you may recall at the time, were in the middle of an on-again-off-again war with the turks, and didn't like that the foundation of their movement, greek philosophical thought, had been delivered to them by a bunch of muslims who were, at that time, kicking their ass on the high seas and also pounding on the gates of austria.
    indeed, it wouldn't be until shortly before napolean landed in egypt that the muslim empire was no longer the center of all intellectual thought west of the euphrates, and had begun to turn towards fundamentalism in some areas (the birthing of the wahabi movement was contemporary to napolean).

  4. This bit is interesting:
    "renewed religious strictness was largely due to the destruction of baghdad in 1258 and the resulting inability in the sunni world to change the shar'ia."

  5. I agree the comment was very fact the whole comment exchange is interesting!

    Averroes' contributions have not been ignored or downplayed. I learned of him while attending Catholic schools. One cannot study the history of the Catholic Church without learning about Averroes' influence on the Catholic philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas.

  6. Averroes is depicted in Raphael's great fresco, The School of Athens. That fresco is in the Vatican!

  7. Thanks for this post, Tgia, very interesting.  And I didn't know that about Raphael, vza.

  8. Here he is, according to Raphael:

  9. Egypt has three must-conditions for the convoy to pass  the last is : to ask israel(occupier) for permission