Early Muslim Philosophers and Modern European Philosophers,
Is there any Relation?*
Mr. Zaki Al-Milad**
Al-Ghazali and the Modern Philosophers
A similarity and homogeneity among ideas and methodologies adopted by some early Muslim philosophers and some modern European philosophers has been noticed by some writers, interested in the field of intellectual and philosophical studies in the contemporary Arab arena. This motivated them to make experimental, exploratory and analytical comparisons, explanations and analogies in this regard which are discussed through writings, books and academic theses.
Perhaps the earliest intellectual and academic writings in this regard are the first doctoral thesis of Dr. Zaki Mubarak (1892-1952 AD), an Egyptian author, entitled “الأخلاق عند الغزالي” “Ethical philosophy of al Ghazali” which was discussed before the Egyptian university in 1924 AD. The thesis, at this time, provoked a huge argument due to the boldness of its writer in criticizing Al-Ghazali who is known as “Hujjat al-Islam”.
In its thesis, Zaki Mubarak assigned the last chapter (No.13) entitled “في الموازنة بين الغزالي وبين الفلاسفة المحدثين” (An Analogy between Al-Ghazali and modern philosophers) to show that Al-Ghazalis’ opinions are similar to many of the modern philosophy. Aiming for a brief presentation, he just mentioned the most important points of comparison between Al-Ghazzali and modern philosophers. According to him, it is sufficient for him to show the reader the way.
Through this analogy and comparison, Dr. Mubarak mentioned eight modern European thinkers and philosophers. According to their nationalities they are: The French: Descartes (1596-1650 AD), Pascal (1623-1662 AD), Gassendi (1592-1655 AD.), and Malebranche (1638- 1715 AD). The English: Hobbes (1588- 1679 AD), Butler (1692- 1752 AD), Carlyle (1795- 1881 AD) and finally Spinoza, the Dutch, (1632-1677 AD).
According to dr. Mubarak, the most significant points of similarities between Al-Ghazzali and those philosophers are those of Descartes whom Mubarak regards as the most similar one to Al-Ghazali among all philosophers. As, Descartes had the same doubt arguments like Al-Ghazali and stayed in his doubt for a long time.
The point of similarity between Al-Ghazzali and Pascal is that both of them started their life with vividness and boldness then retired, at the end of their life, under the shelter of asceticism. Moreover, the similarity between Al-Ghazali and Gassendi is that the latter discussed lust and so did Al-Ghazali. Yet, they are different, as Gassendi believes that lust is the most important human purpose, while Al-Ghazali sees it as a human character which should be restrained by mind and legislation. In addition, the similarity with Malebranche is the idea that it is improper to absolutely love one of the goods without remorse. In this regard, he agrees with Al-Ghazali who states that unconditional love should be dedicated only for Allah (Almighty). Malebranche also agrees with Al-Ghazzali on having no trust in the sensory judgment.
The point of similarity between Al-Ghazali and Hobbes is that they both agree in adapting the compass of Humanitarian nature, but they adopt different views regarding morals objectivity. In addition, the similarity with Butler is on regarding duty and interest as one unit. In this regard, he has some similarity with Al-Ghazali because the Islamic view sees that interest is embedded in the duty but not the vice versa. Furthermore, Carlyle and Al-Ghazali are both of strong faith but with different views in understanding the human soul and the fruit of thinking. In addition, Spinoza agrees with Al-Ghazali that the perfection of human nature is the objective of ethics, and any knowledge that does not help in achieving this objective is useless.
After these brief analogies and comparisons, dr.Mubarak suggests the reader to regard this chapter as a brief presentation and advices him to enrich the studies on the views of modern philosophers[i].
I think this is the first attempt in the modern Arab arena through which such kind of analogy and comparison were set between Al-Ghazali and some modern European philosophers aiming to reveal some points of similarities and differences in the level of views and ideas.
Although its significance and value, this attempt didn’t grasp attentions, or play a role in arousing astonishment or stimulate the scientific curiosity. However, it tackles an issue which is interesting, curious and rare to be discussed, it was neglected by others and was abandoned and buried.
Searching for an explanation for this matter, this could be due to the decline of philosophy in particular and the philosophical thinking in general in the modern Arab arena. The reason could be also that the issue of analogy and comparison between early Muslim philosophers and modern western philosophers is still neglected in the scope of intellectual and philosophical research, or because of such kind of treatment tackled the aspects of similarity and general analogy rather than the aspects of the cause and effect which can be interesting. Finally, the reason could be the previous factors altogether.
Between Both Philosophies: Similarity and Intersection
This issue was revived by the contribution of dr. Ibrahim Madkour (1902-1995 AD), who studied it carefully in his book (في الفلسفة الإسلامية.. منهج وتطبيق) (Islamic philosophy, methodology and application) published in 1947 AD. In fact, dr. Madkour was the successor of dr. Taha Hussain (1306-1393 H/ 1889-1973 AD) as director of the Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo in the period from 1974 till 1995. He is one of the pioneers of the philosophical research in Egypt and the Arab world.
The first thing that grasp dr. Madkour’s attention at that time was that the researchers had no interest in studying this similarity between Muslim philosophers and modern philosophers. In his opinion, proving this relation may seem weird as the historians of the Islamic philosophy used to limit its scope of research to the medieval ages. None of them, according to his words, really thought to thoroughly study this relation between Islamic philosophy and the philosophy of the modern ages, a relation which he thinks is worthy of research and studying.
Through his research regarding this topic, dr. Madkour found out that there are points of similarity that may prove, as he said, that the relation between the philosophical thinking in Islam and modern age philosophy and the similarity between their ideas and views is a form of lineage and parental relation.
Through this scope, dr. Madkour found out that Spinoza and Leibnitz have many views similar to those of Muslim philosophers. For example, Spinoza’s philosophy of love is exactly similar to Al-Farabi’s concept of happiness. The dilemma of (Divine) predestination set by Leibnitz does not really differ from the concept set before by Avicenna. About the Cartesian doubt, Madkour raised a question: Who knows whether this doubt was not affected slightly or highly by Al-Ghazali’s?
Dr. Madkour added: “Even if there is no influence or impact, we have to make a comparative analysis to understand this issue” He found out that Descartes Cogito does not only belong to Saint Augustine but also with the idea of the floating man adopted by Avicenna. According to dr Madkour, such similarity is taken for granted[ii].
Throughout the second part of his book, dr. Madkour believes that we face no difficulty in setting comparisons between Muslim philosophers and modern philosophers like Descartes, Spinoza and Leibnitz regarding the idea of Divinity. Kant’s criticism of the classical evidences proving the Existence of Allah attracts our attention to the Islamic thought and its arguments and refutations regarding those evidences.
In addition, it is not difficult, according to Madkour, to prove that Pantheism of Spinoza matches perfectly with Ibn Al-Arabi’s thoughts. Moreover, the eternal Harmony of Leibnitz is not far from both the concept of Mu’tazilites that Allah is doing the better and the best for human beings (Arabic: As-Salah wa-Al-Aslah) and the concept of (Divine) protection adopted by Arab Peripatetic philosophers[iii].
These glances by dr. Madkour aim to connect Islamic philosophy with the early, middle and modern stages of human thinking and show that it represents one of its significant and influential stages.This is the thesis that dr. Madkour tried to confirm, support, adopt and grasp the attention towards it.
It is obvious that dr. Madkour was not entirely decisive and confident about these analogies mentioned, because this issue, in his opinion, was not as clear and obvious as nowadays. He also was not eager to study this issue, but he only needed testimonies to support the authenticity of his above-mentioned thesis. However, these testimonies are mentioned as hints and in a separate and short way; lacking concentration, through study, expansion and more evidences. If dr. Madkour had focused on this issue and exerted an effort in research and studying it, he would achieve a masterpiece in this regard, which may affect the destination and path of this issue and people’s attention towards it.
The stance mentioned by dr. Madkour is exactly similar to the conclusion reached by his friend dr. Muhammad Yusuf Mosa (1317-1383 H/ 1899-1963 AD) at the end of his PHD thesis discussed in Sorbonne, in 1948 AD, entitled “الدين والفلسفة في رأي ابن رشد وفلاسفة العصر الوسيط” (Religion and philosophy according to Ibn Rushd and the philosophers of the medieval age). Dr. Mosa received his PHD with Mention Très Bien, the highest scientific degree in Sorbonne.
Throughout his thesis, dr Mosa states what he called “a pretty much or few similarity among the views of Muslim and western thinkers, such as Al-Ghazali from one side and Malebranche, Hume, Descartes and Kant from another side regarding the dilemma of causality, and between Averroes from one side and Spinoza from another side regarding the importance of separating philosophy and religion for the sake of the populace)[iv].
According to dr. Mosa, this similarity is not due to an intentional transmission of some views from a thinker to another. But he intends to say that: “It is good not to set categorically limitations between reason in east and west, as reason does not realize the obstacles of nationality and age. It is worth reconsidering the Islamic philosophy on this basis, to praise the contributions of the Islamic thought in establishing the fortress of the international philosophical thinking as a whole)[v].
Al-Ghazali and Descartes: Philosophical Approach Conformity
Discussing the renewed attention towards the issue of similarity between early Muslim philosophers and modern European philosophers, we have to mention the year of 1968 AD, when Dr. Mahmoud Hamdy Zaqzoq submitted his PhD thesis in German language to Universität München in Germany. His thesis is entitled “Al-Ghazalis Philosophie im Vergleich mit Descartes” (A comparison of the philosophical approach of Descartes and Al-Ghazali) and was published in the same year in a university journal in German language, while it was published as a book in Arabic in1973 AD.
Throughout this thesis, dr. Zaqzouq depended on authenticated texts to prove the obvious conformity between both Al-Ghazali and Descartes regarding their philosophical approach, the approach of methodological doubt. In fact, this conformity causes the astonishment of Prof. Reinhard Laut, the PhD supervisor and who is, according to Zaqzouq, a big fan of Descartes‘ philosophy; declaring through his lectures that Descartes is the founder of true philosophy.
Therefore, it was hard for a German PhD supervisor, as dr. Zaqzoq stated, to know that Al-Ghazali had preceded Descartes in discovering and applying methodological doubt. Yet, he did not express his disagreement but he asked the thesis to be sent to one of the German orientalists to revise the texts translated into German because he was not acquainted with Arabic. This assigned orientalist was Anton Spittler whom Zaqzouq described as one of the great German orientalists. After revising the thesis, not a word was changed. However, he rejected the idea that Descartes was inspired by Al-Ghazali. He thought that this mutual similarity is just due to a coincidence or a telepathy. He denied the possibility that Descartes was acquainted with Al-Ghazali’s ideas[vi].
In 1992 AD, a new edition of the thesis was published in German language and grasped the attention of Christoph von Vogelstein, a Swiss author, who wrote an article in December 1993 AD entitled “Was Al-Ghazali a Cartesian before Descartes?” Through this article, he, according to Zaqzouq, referred to (the importance of the book as a scientific masterpiece, explaining that it revealed that the methodological doubt which is a decisive fundamental contribution in the western thought is related to the Islamic philosophy of the 11th century. This means that its appearance was more than five centuries before Descartes. The author also stated that the astonishing conformity between the ideas presented in Al-Ghazali’s “المنقذ من الضلال” (Deliverance from Astray) and Descartes’s “Meditations***“in itself shows philological influences. This comparison made for the first time from a methodological perspective proves the existence of a principle conformity in the philosophical approach of both philosophers)[vii].
This intellectual and methodological connection between Al-Ghazali and Descartes often grasp the attention in the Arab arena of those who meditate on questions with no decisive answers such as: Was Descartes acquainted with Al-Ghazali’s ideas? Did Descartes read the translated copy of Al-Ghazali’s book “المنقذ من الضلال” borrowed from some of his friends from orientalists, or from some western authors who preceded Descartes in quoting Al-Ghazali?
Although this issue is controversial, most Arabs and Muslims, agreed that Descartes was inspired by Al-Ghazali after reading his book “المنقذ من الضلال”. However, this issue till 1997 AD, according to dr. Zaqzouq needed further research in order to reach a final conclusion.
Through the preface of the fourth edition of the book issued in 1997 AD, dr. Zaqzouq called for the attention of researchers interested in philosophy towards the relationship between the Islamic philosophy and modern European philosophy. In fact, he believes that this matter is not just due to the similarity he described as “obvious” between Descartes and Al-Ghazali but also the similarity with other philosophers. For example, Al-Ghazali and David Hume have similar views in the problem of causality. “Monadology” of Leibnitz is similar to “Human Essence” of Muslim philosophers and theologists. There is a close relationship between Spinoza and Islamic thought established through the Latin translations and Moses ben Maimon. Ibn Arabi also has ideas similar to Spinoza’s. Avicenna has some ideas similar to the ideas of Descartes and others. It is not impossible to find a relation between Al-Ghazali and Kant regarding Metaphysics. According to Zaqzouq, all these are just examples not all relevant fields that help finding relations between Islamic philosophy and modern European philosophy[viii].
It is obvious that dr. Zaqzouq described the relation between Al-Ghazali and Descartes sometimes as clear similarity and sometimes as clear conformity and sometimes as an almost perfect conformity. However, he avoided shedding light on the idea that Descartes was inspired by both Al-Ghazali’s methodology and ideas. He was just interested in comparing between the approaches of both of them; considering the issue of impact and influence as a historical issue that needs irrefutable proof evidences.
Similarity or Plagiarism
Perhaps the most controversial and interesting phase regarding the issue of the relation between early Muslim philosophers and modern European philosophers, is the phase of dr. Muhammad Yasin Uraybi (1939- 1998), a Libyan professor in Islamic philosophy and a member in Kant philosophical association in Germany. He explained this issue in his book “مواقف ومقاصد في الفكر الإسلامي المقارن” “Positions and Purposes in Islamic Comparative Thought” published in 1982 AD.
Dr. Uraybi regards himself as the founder of an approach in discovering the relation between the Islamic thought and the modern European thought. An approach he founded, discovered, and applied on his academic research entitled “A critical description of the dilemma of Causality for Al-Ghazali” in German language, through which he received his master degree from Friedrich Wilhelms-Universität Bonn in 1968 AD. Throughout this research, he found out the relation between Al-Ghazali and Hume. He also discovered the relation between Al-Ghazali and Leibnitz, a relation which he adopted in his doctoral thesis entitled “Al-Ghazali’s philosophical dilemmas and its relation with the principle of causality” written in German Language and discussed at the same university, then received his PhD in 1972 AD.
In this regard, Dr. Uraybi, in the light of this approach, reached results intractable to be reached, verified or revealed. Such results can be described as astonishing and grave and they are controversial.
Results reached by Dr. Uraybi are mainly related to three prominent philosophers, Descartes, Kant and Hegel.
Descartes was described by Uraybi as the initiator of the first comprehensive attempt in “composing” Islamic thought. Uraybi alleged that Descartes “depended on Avicenna, regarding knowledge study and ontology, and on Ash’arism, regarding physiology, and on Al-Ghazali and Ibn Al-Haytham, regarding the methodology. That is why the objections of Gassendi and his followers regarding Cogito are similar to that of Avicenna’s students. The refutations of Descartes are also similar to Avicenna’s. Kant’s objections regarding metaphysics and psychology are similar to Al-Ghazali’s. In addition, Leibnitz’s development of the Cartesian concept of matter from a mathematical perspective to a metaphysical one is similar to the contribution of Al-Ghazali to reform the concept of matter adopted by Ash’arism by considering it a metaphysical perspective rather than a mathematical one. Al-Ghazali devoted his book “مشكاة الأنوار” “The Niche of Lights” to clarify this ideology, while Leibnitz composed his book “Monadology” parallel to Al-Ghazali’s)[ix].
Regarding Kant and his book “Critique of Pure Reason” which, according to Dr. Uraybi, represents a spiritual station in developing the modern and contemporary thought, The core of this book is a mere attempt to understand the book of Al-Ghazali “تهافت الفلاسفة” ‘The Incoherence of the Philosophers****‘. And in the third section of his book entitled “Transcendental argument”, Kant’s criticism is exactly similar to what is mentioned Al-Ghazali’s book “The Incoherence of the Philosophers”.
Moreover, Kant’s theories about time, space and judgments, as mentioned in the first part of the above-mentioned book through a section entitled “The Transcendental Sensibility”, represent, according to dr. Uraybi, the disputes in the Islamic thought between the so-called theologists from one side and Muslim philosophers from the other side as also mentioned by Al-Ghazali in both”The Incoherence of the Philosophers” and “معيار العلم” (The Standard of Knowledge).
Regarding what is mentioned by Kant in the second part of the above-mentioned book through a section entitled “The Transcendental Analysis” tackling the dilemma of causality, Uraybi thinks that even if Kant claimed that he was refuting David Hume, but he was in fact criticizing Al-Ghazali’s stance regarding the relation between the cause and effect, because Hume’s philosophy, according to Uraybi, depends mainly on analyzing the issue No. seventeen mentioned in “The Incoherence of the Philosophers”.
Therefore, Uraybi believes that Kant’s criticism is not original, as it depends on the theory of language acts الأحوال الكلامية”” which is rejected by Al-Ghazali in his book “The Incoherence of the Philosophers” as an attempt to save his dialectic approach[x].
On the other hand, dr. Uraybi found out that the relation between Hegel and Al-Ghazali is stronger than any other relations, because both of them determined the same Dialectic path. They adopt the notion that every concept implies contradiction. Uraybi believes that it is a bigotry to say that Hegelian Dialectics is inspired by Greece without mentioning the Muslims Dialectics[xi].
According to these results, Dr. Uraybi condemns the west for what he described as a kind of hiding the truth and plagiarizing those philosophical views as a kind of distortion and misguidance, as he mentioned. This attitude from the West has led to a belief that many Islamic philosophical theories are inspired by the western thought such as the issue of Causality, which is called Hume’s dilemma, the principle of the Sufficient Reason attributed to Leibnitz, and the Cogito attributed to Descartes, and various ideologies like Nominalism, Idealism, Realism, Dialectic …etc. All these are stolen by the West, and western philosophers attributed the creativity parts in the Islamic thought to themselves[xii]. And with our approach of imitation to the west we accept that these are the fruits of the western creativity.
This is the first time in my life to find an Arab writer tackling this issue from this perspective and with this great confidence and such accuracy. Undoubtedly, those opinions and results are not pure from curiousness, amazement, and astonishment. However, I did not find, as far as I know, that they grasp the attention or cause any influence in the Arab arena.
This attitude may result from the passiveness of the Arab towards any intellectual excitement, and its lack of confidence and boldness to deal with such form of opinions and results.
On the other hand, there is a kind of paradox between the attempts of the formers, who were so cautious in affirming the influence and impact between modern European philosophers and early Muslim philosophers, and this attempt by dr. Uraybi through which he overpassed the caution of the formers.
In general, it is possible to say that there is a defect reaction of both sides: a defect out of the great caution of the formers; the caution that discourages the ability of development even with small steps, and a defect out of the recklessness of dr. Uraybi; that discourages the ability to control one’s steps. Neither severe caution nor the great recklessness represent a sound stance. The solution of this issue cannot be reached before acquiring science and having the determination of seeking knowledge.
Notes and Paradoxes
By tackling, explaining and analyzing this issue, the following notes and paradoxes can be recorded:
First, this issue is related to the context of the relations between both the overriding and defeated civilizations. In fact, the predominant civilizations often believe and act depending on the logic, or fantasy that they represent the beginning of the history, or the flame of history, or a historical conquest for all humanity and civilizations.
The superior civilizations focus only on their merits, achievements and conquests, to the extent that they don’t see the merits and achievements of other civilizations, or intentionally neglect, belittle or degrade them, all that for the sake of their superiority and self-glorification.
In the early civilizations, this situation is represented by the Greek civilization which was inspired by the legacy and heritage of the previous early eastern cultures and civilizations such as the Egyptian civilization. This was discovered and proved by Martin Bernal, a contemporary American researcher and historian, in his great book entitled “Black Athena” published in 1987 AD. However, the Greek civilization denied, ignored and intentionally neglected this legacy and heritage. For the sake of its self-glorification, during its severe conflict with the Persian state at that time, it described any non-Greek with the name “Barbarians” and regarded themselves the source of wisdom and logic for an excessive self-glorification and superiority.
In the modern civilizations, this situation is represented by the western European civilization which is also inspired by the legacy and heritage of the previous cultures and civilizations, especially the Islamic civilization. However, it denied, ignored and intentionally neglected this legacy and heritage. It also attributed only to itself the character of civilization. It defined the civilization as the opposite of savagery, as a connotation for attributing savagery to the non-western societies.
Furthermore, Europe, when establishing its civilization, used the development as a good justification for occupying other nations under the propaganda of connecting the nations with the world of development. It also redefined culture as imperialism aiming to obliterate the heritage of the occupied nations and westernize their cultures, destroy their language, uproot their identity and deviate their ethics.
Several writings and books, from the western and Arab world, are dedicated to tackle and explain this matter such as the two famous books written by Edward Said (1935- 2003 AD), a Palestinian critic, (Orientalism), issued in 1987 AD, and (Culture and Imperialism), issued in 1993 AD.
Not out of defending the Islamic civilization which was distinctive in this regard, it is the civilization that reflects a humbleness that is rare to find in the history of human civilization. To prove this, one evidence related to the field of science, which is the source of pride for any civilization, could be enough: Islamic civilization honored the Greek philosopher Aristotle by setting him as “The First Teacher”, and Al-Farabi as “The Second Teacher”. Although it was able, at the peak of its power and progress, to attribute this title to a man from its civilization, in a way that steal the limelight from Aristotle, imitating what other civilizations used to do, yet it called.
Any civilization that takes this step taken by the Islamic civilization at the peak of its power and progress is absolutely a civilization which avoid looking at the mirror of fantasy, delusion, pride and ego.
The stance towards Aristotle is not the only evidence, but there is a general attitude towards the Greek heritage which was revived, due to the Islamic civilization, after being on its way towards darkness. Muslim scholars dealt with it very smartly in a way that revived its soul and significance. They considered it as a part of their own heritage, exaggerated in its glorification, raised its value and status in a way that arouse the anger of a group of other scholars, as they opposed its exaggerated glorification and described it as a heritage that does not belong to the Islamic arena.
This is regarding the superior civilizations and their perspectives. On the other hand, the inferior civilizations have totally different perspectives. They are known for the lack of science and knowledge, the decline of their determination and will in this regard, the lack of their knowledge regarding their legacy, heritage and history in the field of science, culture and civilization, the decline of their relations with world and age. They are also civilizations that have no interest in science, creativity or achievement, they do not represent for them an approach and path. Under all these circumstances, these civilizations fail to win an international attention regarding science and knowledge. It is hard for them to gain trust in this regard. Does a superior civilization pay attention to science and knowledge of the inferior civilizations? However, the famous Ibn Khaldoun’s principle supports a completely opposite view! According to him, the inferior does not only follow the superior, but is always eager to follow the superior’s footsteps out of the belief that he is perfect[xiii].
According to this analysis, westerners as the representatives of the superior civilization will never pay attention to the issue discussed about the impact and influence of early Muslim philosophers on their modern philosophers. Our discussions regarding this issue is unpersuasive for them, and maybe for us too because the inferior civilizations has no self-confidence.
However, this situation will not last forever. If the balances of civilization between us and the west change and if we turn from being inferior to superior, our self-esteem will completely change and so others’ opinions about us. All civilizations, through such conditions, change their self-esteem and regain its self-confidence and trust in their sciences and knowledge.
Second, surprisingly, westerners and orientalists did not discuss this issue or even support or refute it, as if it was not an interesting subject for them. Thus, it did not grasp their attention and interest, so nothing was recorded from their views and opinions in this regard.
Only what is mentioned by Dr. Mahmoud Zaqzouq, while tackling the relation between Al-Ghazali and Descartes regarding the philosophical approach, is one reference by quoting Ernest Renan (1823-1893 AD), a French orientalist, stating: “Hume did not say more than Al-Ghazali in causality criticism)[xiv].
It is worth noting that westerners, especially orientalists, were known for their great devotion and interest in Muslim philosophical heritage. Who knew their effort from the Arabs and Muslims honored them and appreciated their efforts and praised their contributions.
Referring to two stances is enough as an evidence:
First Stance: mentioned by Al-Sheikh Mustafa Abdul-Razeq (1302-1366 H/ 1855-1947 AD) in his book “تمهيد لتاريخ الفلسفة الإسلامية”,”Introduction to the History of the Islamic Philosophy” saying: “Whoever examines the westerners’ efforts in studying the Islamic philosophy and its history certainly will get astonished by their patience, activeness, wide knowledge and fine approach”[xv].
Second Stance: mentioned by Dr. Ibraheem Madkour who dedicated his book “في الفلسفة الإسلامية… منهج وتطبيقه” “Islamic Philosophy, Method and Application” a paragraph entitled “المستشرقون والدراسات الفلسفية” (Orientalists and Philosophical Studies) mentioning the orientalists’ efforts, merits and great care. According to dr. Madkour, they participated in publishing (writings of Muslim philosophers which were remain in manuscripts for a long time, and were translated from Arabic into Latin and Hebrew, and were attached with commentaries explaining their ambiguity. Without orientalists, these (writings) would still be neglected in the treasuries of public libraries, and without their fluency in many languages, old and new, and dependence on a correct methodology, it was impossible for such writings to be presented with such accuracy and verification)[xvi].
The question is: if the orientalists are with such wide expertise and knowledge, and such degree of patience and activeness, and such level of accuracy and verification, why they did not shed light on the relation between early Muslim philosophers and modern European philosophers even if the relation is in similarity, agreement, telepathy or impact!
They are described by dr. Madkour as: (if Allah (Almighty) does not assign for Muslim philosophers a group of orientalists to review their researches and studies, we, indeed, will know nothing about them nowadays)[xvii].
Why all those orientalists didn’t pay attention to this issue, despite of all their numbers, qualifications, the sequence of their generations and ages, their multiple states and lands, variable arts and specializations?
Or they have noticed this issue, but they preferred to remain silent, and intended negligence, and their pride prevents them from seeking this issue and discuss it implicitly or explicitly!
Did they reach a consensus regarding this situation by which no one can explicitly announces his rejection, criticism or complain and declares such impact or such form of a relation?
I intend, in this regard, to prove that it is difficult to shed light on this issue without the participation of Europeans and westerns in general, because their claim about themselves is stronger than our claim, and their scientific qualification in dealing with such matter is stronger than ours.
Third, these comparisons and analogies between the early Muslim philosophers and modern European philosophers reveals a paradox that is not free from any astonishment. This paradox appears in this form of repeated relation between Al-Ghazali particularly and a group of great European philosophers such as Descartes, Kant, Leibnitz, Hume, Hegel and others.
Among these comparisons and analogies, which achieve the highest level of similarity, agreement and clarity, according to the interested contemporary Arab researchers, are those between Al-Ghazali and Descartes, a relation which dr. Mahmoud Zaqzouq described as having a complete conformity regarding the philosophical approach. Without this relation in particular, the discussion and interest towards this issue generally will become uncertain and it will be difficult to shed light on it and turn the interest towards widening its scope including other philosophers previously mentioned.
In particular, this relation highlights the astonishing paradox between Al-Ghazali, on one hand, who is regarded by many as the one who destroyed philosophy, restricted its pillars, caused the decline and inflexibility of the philosophical thinking and the deviation and falling of the Rationalism in the Muslim world, and Descartes, on the other hand, who is regarded by many as the representative of a new conquest for the philosophy, and participated in the renaissance and progress of the philosophical thinking, and the revival and rise of Rationalism across the European world.
Supposedly, this paradox differentiates between Al-Ghazali and Descartes and separate between them, in contrary with the reality which shows the possibility of setting a comparison and analogy between them. This also sheds light on the impact and influence of Al-Ghazali on Descartes!
According to a question raised by Dr. Zaqzouq: How it is permissible to set a comparison between Descartes, who is the father of the modern philosophy and by which philosophy started a new stage, and Al-Ghazali, who is known for destroying philosophy in Muslim world! Is there not a great difference between them like the difference between thought in the middle age and modern one? Aren’t Al-Ghazali and Descartes opposite to each other?[xviii]
Regarding this paradox, it is possible to refer to three approaches in explaining and analyzing this paradox. These approaches according to its chronological order are as follows:
First Approach: mentioned by dr. Zaki Mubarak who regards Descartes to be the most closest philosophers to Al-Ghazali, because his skepticism is similar to Al-Ghazali’s. However, the difference between them, as described by dr. Mubarak, is extremely great regarding the method of clearing this doubt and skepticism. Al-Ghazali cleared his doubt in a way that does not help anyone in reaching certainty, as he, according to Mubarak, was defeated by his doubts and discovered the futility of using the reason and logic to reach a way out of the darkness of doubts. Mubarak believes that this contradicts Descartes’ method in defeating his doubts quoting Paul Janet who believed that when Descartes was convinced that the sciences existing in his age were not enough, he did not surrender to skepticism, but he felt the responsibility of establishing the fortress of science on a new basis. On this regard, Mubarak sees that Al-Ghazali was among the reasons that lead to the inflexibility of Philosophy in the east, while Descartes lead to its prosperity in the west[xix].
Second Approach: mentioned by dr. Mahmoud Zazouq who believes that we have to see Al-Ghazali’s criticism regarding the philosophical dilemmas on an unbiased way, by viewing the real objective of this criticism and without regarding it as a way of denying philosophy. Zaqzouq, without exaggeration, states that Al-Ghazali was a few centuries ahead of his time by setting his philosophical approach and no one reached his ideas except Descartes, the father of modern philosophy[xx].
According to this stance, the relation between Al-Ghazali and Descartes represents two situations of intellectual and philosophical progress and prosperity and not two conflicted and opposite situations; one is characterized by backwardness and inflexibility and the other is characterized by progress and rebirth.
Third Approach: mentioned by Christoph von Vogelstein, a Swiss author, who stated in his article abovementioned that the astonishing similarity between Al-Ghazali’s ideas, in his book “المنقذ من الضلال”, and those of Descartes, in his book “Meditations”, proves the essential similarity in their philosophical approach. Thus, he stated that whoever thinks that Al-Ghazali is a mere extremist Suffi and Descartes is an extremist rationalist should reconsider his views[xxi].
These three stances reveal that we are dealing with an issue with different opinions and which will be controversial forever or for a certain period of time. On the other hand, this issue still needs some research and verification under the supervision of westerners, in particular, who are known for their activeness, patience and devotion in research and verification.
On the other hand, the issue of progress and decline does not negate the relation or the opposition between Al-Ghazali and Descartes, because the destination, whether the spread and vanish, rise and decline, life or death, of any united idea can be determined according to its surrounding environment. In fact, in an undeveloped environment, ideas decline even the developed ones, while, in a developed environment, ideas spread and flourish.
Translated by: Rehab Jamal Bakri***
* The article was Published in Al muslim almuasser Magazine. Issue 152. PP. 15- 39.
[i] Mubarak, Zaki. الأخلاق عند الغزالي. Beirut: Dar El-Jeel, 1988 AD. P. 335.
[ii] Madkour, Ibraheem. في الفلسفة الإسلامية منهج وتطبيقه. Cairo: Samirco for printing and publishing, Vol.1, No date, P. 187.
[iii] Madkour, Ibraheem. Ibid. Vol.2. P. 88-187.
[iv]Yousuf Musa, Muhammad. بين الدين والفلسفة في رأي ابن رشد وفلاسفة العصر الوسيط. Beirut: Dar Al-Asr Al-Hadeeth, 1988 AD, P. 227.
[v] Yousuf Musa, Muhammad. Ibid. P.228
[vi] Zaqzouq, Mahmoud Hamdy. المنهج الفلسفي بين الغزالي وديكارت.Cairo: Dar El-Ma’aef. No date. P. 11.
[vii] Zaqzouq, Mahmoud Hamdy. Ibid. P.12.
[viii] Zaqzouq, Mahmoud Hamdy. Ibid. P.14.
[ix] Uraybi, Muhammad Yasin. مواقف ومقاصد في الفكر الإسلامي المقارن. Tripoli: Ad-Dar Al-Arabiah Lil Kitab. 1982 AD. P.9
[x]. Uraybi, Muhammad Yasin. Ibid. P.8-9.
[xi] Uraybi, Muhammad Yasin. Ibid. P.11-253
[xii] Uraybi, Muhammad Yasin. Ibid. P.10
[xiii] Ibn Khaldoun, Abdulrahman. مقدمة ابن خلدون. (Verified and presented: Muhammad Eskandarany). Beirut: Dar Al-Kitab Al-Arabi. 1998 AD. P.146.
[xiv] Zaqzouq, Mahmoud Hamdy. المنهج الفلسفي بين الغزالي وديكارت. P. 44-141.
[xv] Abdel-Razzaq, Mustafa. تمهيد لتاريخ الفلسفة الإسلامية. Cairo: Maktabat A-Thaqafah Ad-Diniah. No date. P. 27.
[xvi] Madkour, Ibraheem. في الفلسفة الإسلامية منهج وتطبيقه. Vol.1, P. 27
[xvii] Madkour, Ibraheem. Ibid. P.28
[xviii] Zaqzouq, Mahmoud Hamdy. المنهج الفلسفي بين الغزالي وديكارت. P. 15
[xix]Mubarak, Zaki. الأخلاق عند الغزالي. P. 339
[xx]. Zaqzouq, Mahmoud Hamdy. المنهج الفلسفي بين الغزالي وديكارت. P. 18
[xxi]. Zaqzouq, Mahmoud Hamdy. Ibid. P.12.
*** Egyptian Researcher and Translator.