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Book Reviews

and hopeful, and his comparative insight into the Christian and Muslim traditions is
substantial. The result is one of the richest and most sophisticated books available in
English offering Muslim theological interaction with Christianity.

Jon Hoover
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, United Kingdom
muwo_1346 115..129

Al-Ghazals Philosophical Theology

By Frank Griffel
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
424 pp, Cloth, $74, ISBN-13: 978-0195331622

The title of the book may sound provocative to those who are familiar with the
traditional image of al-Ghazal as a classical theologian defending a moderate Sufism,
or deceptive to those who believe in a hidden philosophical agenda in his thought. But
Griffels detailed and profound analysis of a wide range of texts dealing with cosmology
convincingly shows that such interpretations are unfounded, since far too unilateral.
While not denying that al-Ghazal is an Asharite theologian, Griffel nevertheless also
presents him as having a genuine interest in philosophy, especially in its Avicennan
version, but not without substantially modifying it into what may be qualified as a new
However, before dealing with this matter, Griffel first offers an entirely new account
of al-Ghazals life. This might surprise, but most biographies of the Proof of Islam had
so far been based on the Munqidh and/or a few ancient biographies. Griffel, on his turn,
takes also seriously into account al-Ghazals letters (written in Persian) as well as the
writings of his student Abu Bakr ibn al-Arab (d. 543 A.H.). This permits him to revise
different commonly accepted opinions. Among the most significant ones are the new
dating of al-Ghazals birth, namely rather circa 448 A.H. than in 450 A.H., and the
fundamental revision of the so-called ten years of seclusion, especially the fact that
al-Ghazal was anew teaching from 490 on, although in a zawiya, a private school (a
khanqah being linked to it) in his native town Tabaran-Tus . More than anyone else
Griffel is however aware that further research is needed in order to solve the precise
circumstances of some major events of al-Ghazals life, as for example the precise

reason(s) why he left his teaching position at the Nizamiyya madrasa in Baghdad in 488;

or how long he effectively was teaching in that of Nshapur after his appointment in 499.
Moreover, he is also aware that in many documents, included al-Ghazals autobiogra-
phy, the Munqidh, historical facts are interwoven with non-historical ones, which have
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The Muslim World Volume 101 January 2011

as their major goal to celebrate the unique greatness of al-Ghazals personality and of
his demarches as a thinker. Still, things might be even more complex than Griffel
suggests. For example, he sees no reason to doubt neither Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabs
information that al-Ghazals turn away from fame and richness toward seclusion (uzla)
already started two years before he left Baghdad (p. 42), nor that the latter had radically
abandoned his attitude of pride in his later years as testified by Abd al-Ghafir (p. 52).
However, al-Ghazal justifies in the Munqidh his return to official teaching in Nshapur
as prompted by the necessity of a religious renewal (p. 53). In a letter to Sanjar (passage
quoted pp. 501) he even adds that he brought splendour to the teaching position and
that students from all parts over the world made efforts to come to him, clearly
suggesting that he was the only one who was able to do so (in this I can hardly see an
attitude of modesty, nor even an outspoken will of a life in seclusion). The
very fact that al-Ghazal was officially asked to come to teach at the Nshapur

Nizamiyya gives moreover the impression that, after his departure from Baghdad, had

all the time been in contact with the people in power, or, at least, some of them. I think
that in the actual state of affairs the very motives that have guided al-Ghazal in his
different travels and activities after 488 cannot be determined in any precise way, and
that all possibilities have to be left open. On the other hand, the facts as described by
Griffel cannot be seriously doubted since they are based on a careful analysis of a very
wide range of valuable documents. However, regarding one point, namely the exact year
when al-Ghazal started to study with al-Juwayn, Griffel seems to contradict himself.
Indeed, he affirms on the one hand that al-Ghazals famous saying of his having been
diving into the ocean of religious sciences, may well refer to the beginnings of his
studies with al-Radhakan, in all likelihood in 461 (p. 29), whereas a few lines later he
states that al-Juwayn had returned from his exile at Mecca and Medina in 455 only five
years before al-Ghazal started studying with him. It is rather doubtful that the latter

would have already started his studies at the prestigious Baghdad Nizamiyya at the age

of approximately thirteen. It looks much more probable that he started at that age his
studies in Tus with al-Radhakan, and that he went to Baghdad only a few years later

(three?). Finally, regarding the chronology of al-Ghazals works, Griffel is rather
prudent, e.g. he affirms in my view, absolutely rightly that we have no sufficient
information to decide whether he wrote the Tahafut during or after his studies of
philosophy (p. 35).
After having dealt with al-Ghazals life, Griffel concentrates on his disciples and
early followers, consecrating a whole chapter to them. He offers the reader many new
materials and widely opens the door to further research on the reception of al-Ghazals
thought. He not only dresses a very dense, most significant picture of Abu Bakr
ibn al-Arab, but also offers an essential outline regarding Asad al-Mayhan
(d. 523 or 527), Muhammad ibn Yahya al-Janz (d. 549), Ibn Tumart (d. 524), Ayn
al-Qudat al-Hamadhan (d. 525), and the anonymous story al-Asad wa l -ghawwas , The
 the Diver (to be dated circa 530). The reader can only admire the richness 
Lion and of
the information given as well as the great care with which it is treated.
116 2011 Hartford Seminary.
Book Reviews

But the major part of the book is devoted to the study of one of the most complex
theories of al-Ghazal, namely his cosmology. In recent times it has given rise to two
rather radically opposed interpretations by two eminent scholars, i.e., Michael Marmura
and Richard Frank. The former defended a view that makes al-Ghazal an authentic
follower of the Asharite doctrine of occasionalism (with a strong emphasis on Gods
absolute freedom); as to the latter, he saw in it a strong influence of the philosophical
view of secondary causality, especially in its Avicennan variant. Things get only more
complicate as soon as one realizes that both authors offer serious textual evidence for
their respective thesis. In spite of this extreme difficulty, Griffel has dared to take the risk
to look for a coherent solution. A priori, success was not guaranteed. Hence, the very fact
that he offers one, but, above all, one that is reasonably defensible, deserves both
appreciation and praise. In a somewhat simplified manner, it can be presented as
positing that al-Ghazal, in full accordance with the Asharite principle of bi-la kayfa,
accepts two possible ways how one may explain the link between the world of creation
and God: either by occasionalism, but an occasionalism where God respects always His
habit (rarely disrupting it, and then only in a pre-planned way); or by secondary
causality, but one that is fundamentally founded in the divine Will. I want to tress that this
is a very rudimentary formulation of Griffels thesis. In fact, the latter not only offers an
in-depth analysis of the different major works where al-Ghazal presents his cosmology,
but he also pays serious attention to the broader surrounding context. To summarize the
precise contents of all this in a few pages is not really possible. The risk to do more
injustice to the author than by presenting just the basic idea (even in a rough way) is very
great. For the detailed analysis, I cannot but advise to read the book itself.
This does not mean that Griffel has necessarily solved all problems. One still is
somewhat puzzled by what it exactly means that Gods Will is guided by its utmost
Wisdom? Does this not entail that His Wisdom de facto precedes His Will, or, at least,
that there is a kind of identity between the two? In which sense is there then still a
difference with the Avicennan approach? Of course, when one ascribes to the latter an
extreme necessitarism, as Griffel does (although he is aware of tensions in Avicennas
system in this respect, see e.g., p. 141, regarding Gods knowledge of particulars), there
is a clear distinction. But I seriously doubt that Avicenna adhered to that kind of
determinism (see my CR of C. Belo, Chance and Determinism in Avicenna and
Averroes, in Journal of Islamic Studies, 18 (2008), pp. 1004, especially 1012).
Nevertheless, I agree with Griffel that there is a kind of switch in primacy from the
attribute of wisdom to that of will. But is this purely verbal, or does it have real
ontological implications, and, if so, to what degree? Having no direct answers myself, I
can only raise these questions, but I think that they oblige one to further research, and
maybe to a further refinement in the definite evaluation of al-Ghazals debt to Avicenna
in the elaboration of his cosmological doctrine.
Regarding some details, Avicennas influence on al-Ghazal may be greater than
Griffel affirms or suggests. This is obvious in his discussion of the formers treatment of
causality in the manuscript Br. Or. 3126 (pp. 1436). Although I had no access to the
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The Muslim World Volume 101 January 2011

manuscript, I feel confident that this is actually the case. The three following critical
observations point to a greater Avicennan influence than thought by Griffel:

Based on the given information (as well on that offered by M. Afifi al-Akiti in his
(unpublished) Ph-D. Thesis: The Madnun of al-Ghazal: A Critical edition of the
Unpublished Major Madnun 
with Discussion of His Restricted, Philosophical Corpus.
Oxford, 2007, II, Appendix  VI, pp. 294336), it looks likely that the expos on the
finiteness of the efficient and the material causes has been inspired by other Avicennan
texts than the Shifa (Afifi al-Akiti, p. 327, mentions Isharat and Najat); it has to be noted
anyhow that the very notion of illa qabiliyya is present in some of Avicennas writings,
see e.g., Najat (edition Danesh-Pazhuh, Tehran, 1985, p. 520, 15) and al-Mabda wa
l-maad (ed. Nuran. Tehran, 1984, p. 40, 5) (pace Griffel, p. 327, n. 105).
If the Al-Fusus f l-hikma is a work that has indeed been written by al-Farab (but this is
uncertain, see  Pines, Ibn Sna et lauteur de la Risalat al-Fusus fi l-hikma:
quelques donnes du problme, in Revue des tudes islamiques, 19 (1951),  pp. 12124,

reprinted in the Collected Works of Shlomo Pines, III. Studies in the History of Arabic
Philosophy. Jerusalem, The Magnes Press, 1996, pp. 297300, is still has to be remarked
that its contents can easily be placed in a genuine Avicennian context. It is obvious that
then one has to do with a Farabian text that highly influenced Avicenna.
The quotation offered p. 145 is in my view not a non anti-Avicennan addition of
clarification by al-Ghazal, but is rather a paraphrastic summary of Shifa, Ilahiyyat, VI,
1, p. 263, 5 sqq.

It may be added that, whereas Griffel (p. 1456 and p. 327, n. 108) points to a derivation
from al-Farabs Mabadi ara ahl al-madnat al -fadila
, no such reference is given by

Afifi al-Akiti, who in this context only refers to Avicennas Shifa. There is clearly a need
for a closer examination of the passage in order to fix its precise source.
To this, a few other minor observations may be added:

p. 102: the idea that only the belief in the bodily character of the afterlife will enable the
system of rewards and punishment to function sufficiently drasticly as an effective
incitement and deterrent in this world is also present in Avicennas Risala f sirr al-qadar ;
pp. 1701: the notion of murajjih is besides in the Arshiyya also present in the

Talqat (ed. Badawi. Cairo, 1973, e.g., p. 125, 27); note, moreover, that I do not think
that the Arshiyya is an early work, as Griffel claims, but rather a late one;
p. 176: al-Ghazal accepts the existence of natures, but he requires the Avicennan
scholar simply to acknowledge that we lack exhaustive knowledge of the full possibili-
ties of these natures it seems to me that Avicenna would have no problem whatsoever
to admit this, at least at a de facto level (only in an extreme idealistic case, which however
seems not to be realistically possible, one could imagine someone knowing all the
possibilities, but this would mean that he would dispose of a kind of divine intellect);
p. 256: the attribution of the Fusus to al-Farab is doubtful (see supra);
pp. 2634: for a slightly different interpretation
 of the story of the competition between
Greek and Chinese painters, see my Lme-miroir: al-G  azal entre philosophie et
mysticisme, in D. De Smet, M. Sebti and G. de Callata, Miroir et savoir. La transmission
dun thme platonicien, des Alexandrins la philosophie arabo-musulmane. Leuven,
Leuven University Press, 2008, pp. 20317, 2113;
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Book Reviews

p. 272: regarding the sources used in the Mi yar al-ilm, Griffel seems to have overlooked
my Al-Ghazals Mi yar al-ilm f fann al -mantiq : sources avicenniennes et farabi-
 du moyen ge, 69 (2002), pp. 3966
ennes, in Archives d histoire doctrinale et littraire
(reprinted in my Ibn Sna and his Influence on the Arabic and Latin World. Aldershot,
Hampshire, Ashgate, 2006, IX), pointing to a wide range of Avicennan and Farabian texts
(at most partially common with the ones used in manuscript Br. Or. 3126); moreover, it has
to be noted that the passage quoted has been directly inspired by Avicennas Najat (ed.
cit., p. 553, 918 the notion of muntazir is explicitly mentioned);

p. 272: even if the larger context of the Iqtisad (eds. I. ubuku and H. Atay, Ankara,
1962, pp. 423) indeed deals with the topic  of spatial directions, one may wonder
whether the expression min jam al-jihat as qualification of the Necessary Existent
has to be understood in a spatial sense, and not the Avicennan one of in all
respects? Note that the so qualified Necessary Existent is presented as a consider-
ation (i tibar ) of God as al-qadm, the Sempiternal, a notion that misses any spatial
In spite of these minor criticisms, it is obvious that Griffels book constitutes a major
contribution to the study of al-Ghazal, both regarding his life and his thought. The
extant bibliography and the different indices are illustrative of the scientific spirit which
prevails in his study. It may be hoped that his book will receive the attention it deserves
and may offer as well an opportunity to further studies on one of the greatest thinkers
of Islam.

Jules Janssens

The Crucifixion and the Quran: A Study in the History of

Muslim Thought

By Todd Lawson
Oxford: Oneworld Publications, March 2009.
256 pp. Paper, $29.95, ISBN 9781851686353

While the Quran denies Jesus divinity in unambiguous terms more than thirty
times, the denial of Jesus crucifixion is based on a single ambiguous phrase,
shubbiha lahum, which occurs only once, in Sura Al-Nisa (4) Ayat 157.
Ironically, the root sh-b-h appears in Surat Al-Imran (3) Ayat 7 warning that since
only God knows the meaning of the ambiguous verses, it is irreverent to interpret
them. Todays commonly held interpretation is that shubbiha lahum means that God
placed Jesus likeness on Judas Iscariot which confused the Jews into crucifying Judas
instead of Jesus. Most people familiar with the topic understand that the Quran
denies Jesus crucifixion.
2011 Hartford Seminary. 119
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