He addressed the issue of reconciling aql with naql through a critical examination of Ibn Taymiyya's arguments on Ta'arud Al Aql Wal-naql in his eleven-volume work on the subject.
Following is an excerpt from a doctoral dissertation submitted to Yale University by Yasir Qadhi, entitled “Reconciling Reason and Revelation in the Writings of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328”). It is an analytical study of Ibn Taymiyya’s work: Darʾ taʿārud al-ʿaql wa-l-naql (‘Averting the Conflict of Reason with Scripture’), in which he uses forty-four arugments to refute the Ashʿarite rule that states, “If reason conflicts with Revelation, precedence must be given to reason over Revelation.”
A Holistic Overview of the Darʿ
The forty-four points that Ibn Taymiyya employs in his offence against the Qānūn may be classified into six motifs, into which all but one fit:
The faith-based arguments may themselves be subdivided into two further categories: the first of which involves the Prophet, and the second the Qurʾān.
Ibn Taymiyya knows full well the sacrosanct status and position that the Prophet of God holds amongst Muslims, and he evidences this status effectively in his offence against the Qānūn. If the Prophet has spoken definitively, he argues (the fifth point), nothing can possibly contradict him; and suggesting so undermines the truth of his prophethood. For a Muslim, the essence of religion involves submitting to God and His Prophet (the twenty-fourth point), hence, a conditional belief in the Prophet is not true belief (the tenth point) – opposing him with one’s own opinions or those of others (the twenty-first and thirty-second points), or qualifying one’s belief in him with conditions (the thirty-third), is the tantamount to disbelieving in him. Moreover, posits Ibn Taymiyya, was not the Prophet sent to explain the very theological issues that the mutakallimūn hold as contradicting the Qurʾān and Sunna (the thirteenth)? So of what value, then, is the prophethood of the messenger when the implication of the Qānūn is that everything emanating from him is suspect until it is rationally verified (the thirty-seventh point)? For Ibn Taymiyya, true guidance is exclusively that which the Prophet has been sent with (the ninth point), and those who oppose his words are in fact imputing to themselves a nobler and higher status (the thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth points).
The second motif within the faith-based arguments that Ibn Taymiyya employs is the status and nature of the Speech of God: the Qurʾān. The Qurʾān offers numerous descriptions for itself as being the source of guidance, a light, and a mercy, yet the Qānūn – he clarifies – implies otherwise (the twenty-third point). The Qurʾān also castigates those who oppose the Speech of God as following in the footsteps of Satan and his allies, yet this is what those ascribing to the Qānūn consequently fall into (the twenty-fifth point). It criticizes those who consider its message to be misguided (the twenty-second point), and it criticizes the Jews and Christians for doing what the followers of the Qānūn do: namely distort, deny and re-interpret Revelation (the twenty-sixth point). Essentially, those affirming the Qānūn impute to Revelation misguidance (the fortieth and forty-first points).
It is pertinent that despite these being primarily faith-based arguments, Ibn Taymiyya couches them in a very basic rational premise: for Ibn Taymiyya, it is illogical to believe in a Book as Divine, and ascribe prophethood to a man, and follow up this belief by questioning what emanates from them.
At least twelve of the forty-four arguments can be considered as concerted attacks on the premises upon which the Qānūn is based, and the structure of its wording.
According to Ibn Taymiyya, the single most important foundational premise upon which the Qānūn was built – in fact, the very premise because of which the Qānūn was formulated by the mutakallimūn – is their kalām cosmological proofs for affirming the existence of God and the necessary implications that arise from employment these methods. Some of the lengthiest of his forty-four points deal with this issue, including arguments nineteen, thirty-one, and forty-four. Another false assumption that the practitioners of the Qānūn fall prey to by way of necessity is their claim that a definitive reading of the Sacred Texts is not possible, whereas for Ibn Taymiyya the opposite is the case (point fourteen).
Ibn Taymiyya also underlines another erroneous logic upon which the Qānūn is premised: that the intellect either knows the Prophet to be true, or it does not. For those who hold the former to be the case, the Qānūn is illogical, for in essence they claim they must reject what the Prophet comes with in order for them not to reject his claim to be a prophet (point four). In fact it is irrational to rationally prove the Prophet as a Prophet, as the Ashʿarīs do, and then use this same reason as the basis of opposing or denying what he says (point six). It is reason itself, according to the methodology of those ascribing to the followers of the Qānūn, that affirms the Divine origin of the Sacred Texts, hence reason should also dictate that precedence should be given to those very texts (point ten). Moreover, the application of the Qānūn is impossible without re-interpreting the Divine Texts in an illegitimate and illegal manner (whether that be through taʾwīl or tafwīḍ), and the employment of such exegetical devices is merely fanciful hermeneutical gymnastics in view of evading the apparent and literal meanings of the Scripture (points sixteen and twenty-seven).
As for the structure of the Qānūn, Ibn Taymiyya asserts that restricting possible outcomes of a potential conflict between ʿaql and naql to four is false, for a fifth alternative is also possible (point two). He also argues that a binary distinction of knowledge into ‘rational’ and ‘Scriptural’ (first and fifteenth points) is invalid.
Yet another primary motif around which Ibn Taymiyya centers at least eight of his arguments is the impossibility of clearly defining ‘rationality’ and ‘reason’. Reason (ʿaql) is not a single, indivisible entity (point three), and therefore each camp differs in its understanding and definition of what it designates as ‘reason’ (point nine). Additionally, rational judgments are not absolute, but rather relative, subject to variations in time, place, person and context - rather it is Revelation that is unchanging (point seven). Much of what is assumed as being rational evidence is, on further inspection, found to be otherwise (point eleven), and in fact can even be shown to be irrational (point twelve) or contradictory (point eighteen).
What is even more convincing for Ibn Taymiyya is that the Scriptural knowledge that the subscribers of the Qānūn deem contradictory to their intellectual proofs are the very topics that make up the core of the teachings of the Prophet and can only be known through divinely-revealed knowledge, including the Divine Attributes (point thirteen). How is it, he emphatically argues, that the sciences based purely on intellect, such as the physical sciences, do not contradict the Sacred Texts, yet sciences that are not based exclusively on intellect, such as theology, are being assumed to contradict Scripture (point eight)?
Yet another motif around which Ibn Taymiyya centers at least six of his points is the objectionable corollaries that the Qānūn necessitates. If each and every text from the Sacred Scriptures is suspect until verified by ʿaql or through the mystical experience of kashf, then the Divine status of the entire corpus of the Qurʾān is wholly compromised (points twenty-eight, thirty-two, and forty-two). This would also imply that each individual may have his own unique understanding of Islam, so that he would choose to follow what suited him and reject, at whim, what he disapproved of (point twenty-four). And if this is the case, then each person, in essence, becomes a prophet unto himself, circumventing thereby any need for God to send a prophet (points thirty-eight and thirty-nine).
At least five of Ibn Taymiyya’s forty-four points may be considered as attacking the methods and tactics of the formulators of the Qānūn. Ibn Taymiyya charges them with intentionally using ambiguous phrases to deceive the masses (point seventeen), and of regularly claiming unanimous consensus when, in fact, no such consensus exists (point forty-two). He accuses them of either explicitly or implicitly pronouncing themselves more cognizant of the truth than the Prophet (point thirty-eight), even though their two pillars of kalām or kashf are bereft of any true value (point thirty-six). He outlines that they employ the very tactics of the materialists who deny God and the Day of Judgment, ironically accusing these same materialists of disbelief while they themselves fall into many of their errors (point twenty).
In at least seven of his arguments Ibn Taymiyya identifies contradictions in the understanding and application of the Qānūn. The only people who would need to resort to the Qānūn, he states, are those who do not truly believe in the Prophet as having spoken the indubitable and explicit truth, yet the upholders of the Qānūn claim to be believers (point thirty-four). It is impossible for them to claim that the Sacred Texts are indubitable and simultaneously claim rational proofs contradicting the Sacred Texts are also indubitable – whereas it is clear that by definition, an indubitable evidence cannot be contradicted by another (point forty-three).
Ibn Taymiyya also charges the practitioners of the Qānūn with being inconsistent in its application, selecting specific topics and verses to apply the Qānūn to, while accusing their opponents – who use the same Qānūn on different verses – with heresy or even disbelief (point forty-two). Ibn Taymiyya points out that no group claims that the Qānūn should be applied to the entire corpus of the Sacred Texts (point thirty-five).
In essence, the followers of the Qānūn hold that belief in Revelation is not possible without rejecting parts of it (point thirty). It is as if they are forced to state, “Reject what the Prophet says so that you do not end up rejecting what the Prophet says” (point four).
Through all of these motifs, Ibn Taymiyya attempts to show that the Qānūn makes no rational (ʿaqlī) or textual (naqlī) sense. In the next section, Ibn Taymiyya’s views on what constitutes ʿaql and naql will be shown, and how he attempted to carve out a working relationship between them.
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