Muslim Philosophers: The Other Worlds of Imam al-Razi

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The Muslim philosophical thought of the Middle Ages had a tremendous influence over the progress of philosophy as a whole. It saw a great number of schools and directions developing and maturing. While trying to comprehend the revelation given by Allah through the Prophet, the medieval philosophers not only tried to grasp the world’s design but to understand how the laws built into this design affect a man’s life.

The experiences of the medieval scholars have a direct bearing on our modern living. After all, what are those reasonings of the various schools of philosophy if not the attempts to glean instruction as to how one must read and interpret Allah’s Revelations – the Quran and the Sunnah, how one must construe the things one sees around him in the world created by Allah, how one is to revere Allah in prayers and worship. One of the main questions posed by the philosophers of the Middle Ages was the question of the part played by reason in the reflection of faith and the Revelation. This question was one of the core issues developed by one of the greatest philosophers and mujaddids of Islam Imam Fakhr al-Din ar-Razi (1149-1205).

The term ‘mujaddid’ refers to people who ‘renovate religion’. The Prophet had bequeathed to us that “Allah will raise for this community at the end of every hundred years the one who will renovate its religion for it.” (Abu Dawood, 4291) Through mujaddids Allah keeps the purity of His Teaching intact. It was Allah’s foresight that every hundred years people would deviate from the original Islam in their bouts of wisdom-making and that He would send mujaddids over in order for the genuine purity of His religion could be restored. We do not know who these people were. We can only guess. It is the popular belief that Imam al-Razi was one of them.

The political landscape of the Oriental world in the times of Imam al-Razi was the dominance of Khwarazm and the Ghurid Sultanate across the territories of present-day Iran, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan. The Khwarazm-Shahs and the Ghurid Sultans replaced the previous rulers of the region, the Seljuks (the ancestors of modern-day Turkmens), while after the demise of the Seljuks their Western neighbour the Arabian Abbasid Caliphate regained its independence from them.

Imam al-Razi was born in the former Seljuk capital the city of Ray. His father was the city’s khatib (preacher) so Fakhr al-Din received good education, first he was taught by his father at home then in the mosque and finally in the Madrasa. He then became an employee first of the Kwarazm-Shah and the of the Ghurid Sultane. Moving to the Ghurid capital Herat.

The fashion among the Muslim philosophers of those days was to draw wisdom from Ancient Greece and Rome. The foundation of all the philosophical deliberations was based on Aristotle and Plato. All the Muslim premises were then constructed on these original postulates. Contrary to them, Imam al-Razi belonged to the adherents of taking the Quran and the Sunnah as the foundation of philosophy and then drawing all the subsequent conclusions from them. The main part of this philosophy was the provision on the importance of reason and intellect, the intellectual reasoning (kalam) for the attainment of knowledge about faith and God’s mysteries.

The adherents of kalam broke down into several schools. The difference was in some important details. For example, Imam al-Razi’s school (the Ashari) believed that ‘God’s attributes’ of Allah (sifat) such as unlimited knowledge, unlimited will, unlimited might, perfect speech, unlimited sight, unlimited hearing, eternal life and the ability to make something out of nothing are ever-existing. Their opponents the Mutazilites maintained that the quality of speech was created for man and thus cannot be deemed ever-existing. The conclusion to be drawn was that the Quran created by way of speech could not be deemed to have existed forever but rather was created like anything else in this world. This is but one example of the kind of arguments that took place between various schools of the kalam philosophers.

Imam al-Razi’s most notable philosophical contribution though is that by way of applying kalam he managed to peek into the very depths of knowledge about the design of this world. By way of logic, he arrived at the conclusion that besides our world other worlds do exist as well. He thought the existence of only one world was incompatible with the boundless might and power of Allah. This was a riveting assumption which made Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, the scholar who in a hundred years’ time accused al-Razi of lack of faith, side with Imam al-Razi on this matter and admit that other worlds did indeed exist.