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Causality and necessity in Islamic thought

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-H005-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

Discussions of causality and necessity in Islamic thought were the result of attempts to incorporate the wisdom of the Greeks into the legacy of the Qur‘‘an, and specifically to find a philosophical way of expressing faith in the free creation of the universe by one God. Moreover, that article of faith was itself a result of the revelation of God’s ways in the free bestowal of the Qur’’an on a humanity otherwise locked in ignorance, which a purportedly Aristotelian account of the necessary connection of cause and effect might be taken to rule out. Thus free creation of the universe and free gift of the Qur’an formed a logical unit. The challenge, therefore, was to compose an account of metaphysical and ethical matters which permits rational discourse about them, without obscuring their ultimate source or precluding divine action in the course of world events and human actions.

The scheme of emanation elaborated by al-Farabi sought to give ‘the First’ the place of pre-eminence which the Qur‘an demanded for the Creator, but did so by modelling creation on a logical system whereby all things emanated necessarily from this One. It was this necessity, further articulated by Ibn Sina, which al-Ghazalii took to jeopardize the freedom of God as Creator and as giver of the Qur’an. al-Ghazali’s objections were honed by a previous debate among Muslim theologians (mutakallimun), who had elaborated diverse views on human freedom in an effort to reconcile the obvious demand for free acceptance of the Qur’an with its claims regarding God’s utter sovereignty as Creator over all that is. Natural philosophy was also affected by these debates, specifically with regard to the ultimate constitution of bodies as well as accounts that could be given of their interaction. However, the primary focus was on human actions in the face of a free Creator.

Citing this article:
Burrell, David. Causality and necessity in Islamic thought, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-H005-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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