This discussion is based around a recent one-day course by Shaykh Akram Nadwi entitled ‘Greek Logic: An Islamic Response’ (organized by the innovative London-based Islamic Circles who specialize in original courses), as well as some time spent with Shaykh Akram in Oxford immediately afterwards. Such a presentation is aimed at focusing on the general themes covered, and relating them to wider considerations and sources for further study. Shaykh Akram wished to illustrate in the course that those who had opposed the study of Greek logic, like Ibn Taymiyya, had done so with sound reasoning, and it was not an emotional, impulsive, and narrow-minded rejection.
Although it is possible to furnish the outline of the course with additional academic quotations, I will not do so for fear of unnecessary prolixity. However, those interested can view the further reading suggestions in English that I have placed at the end of the discussion, for they contain relevant additional material in my opinion. Also, I hope that the style of this piece is sufficiently clear so as to delineate when Shaykh Akram’s thoughts are being presented, and when it is my voice putting the course content into a wider context. The section entitled ‘Where to Now?’ is really my own discussion, and not connected to the structure of the course, but nevertheless very influenced by my time with Shaykh Akram (may God bless him and his family, and continue to allow us to benefit from him). Finally, I must thank the members of the Webb Authors group (especially Muhammad Haq and Rhonda Ragab) and my good friend Matiur-Rahman, who all assisted me in expanding my research for this paper, jazakumallah khairan wa’l-hamdulillah (may Allah reward you with good and all praise belongs to Allah).
The Shaykh emphasized that what we mean by Greek logic is a particular method of reasoning; and we are not opposing rational argument that is sound, defined, and ordered. However, one must understand that Greek logic is a specific method that has forms and conclusions. Furthermore, it was stated that this study was to focus on Greek logic as understood by Arabic philosophers, such as Ibn Sina (known as Avicenna in the West). Now this concentration on Ibn Sina is not to dismiss the importance of Aristotle and Farabi (the ‘First Teacher’ and ‘Second Teacher’, respectively, of Arabic philosophers, with Ibn Sina their ‘Third Teacher’) in this discipline, but it is to establish that Ibn Sina’s refinement of Greek logic was really the method of later Arabic logicians
Shaykh Akram used Abu Hamid Ghazzali’s Maqasid al-Falasifah to outline the Avicennian method. The Shaykh mentioned how he had previously thought that Ghazzali had simply summarized the logical arguments espoused by Ibn Sina in his al-Shifa’, but recent academic thought postulates that Ibn Sina had produced Persian summaries of his larger logical works whilst in the employment of government roles, and that it now seemed credible to theorise that Ghazzali had simply translated these summaries from Persian into Arabic. [See here – thanks to Ustadh Uwais Namazi Nadwi for this, who provided it to Shaykh Akram and me.]
The course stated that Farabi and Ibn Sina, the two principal Arabic logicians upon the essentially Aristotelian method, had been largely marginalized, and even the mutakallimin (speculative theologians) like Baqillani and the Mu’tazilah had opposed them, as had the fuqaha (jurists) and muhaddithin (scholars of hadith) of course; and it was largely ignored until the fifth hijra century, despite Arabic translations of the Greek works existing since the second hijra century. This was to change when Ghazzali was to write in favour of Greek logic; his great standing as a jurist and a Sufi was to lead to his method becoming the standard for the syllabi of later Islamic institutes of learning, from the Arab lands to Central Asia and then India. Now Ghazzali did not contribute to the development of logic, but he simply had it added to the syllabi; and although it was supported, it was largely a lip service, because there is little evidence of its widespread application in his actual jurisprudential discussions and examples.
Ghazzali wrote a number of works on Greek logic: Mi’yar al-‘ilm, Mihakk al-Nazar, al-Qistas al-Mustaqim, Maqasid al-Falasifah and in al-Mustasfa. I could add that Ghazzali also mentions logic in relation to the philosophers in al-Munqidh min al-Dalal. The course emphasised Ghazzali’s division of the rational sciences of the philosophers into mathematics, logic, physics and metaphysics. [In al-Munqidh, Ghazzali also mentions the philosophers’ works on politics and morality, but these cannot be fairly categorized as purely rational because Ghazzali claims that their political theory is taken from Prophetic scripture, and that their ethics were simply taken from the ‘Sufis.’ Hence these are not original expositions, as contrasted with their efforts in the rational sciences.] With regards to logic, Ghazzali felt that most of the philosophers’ discourse was true and the mistakes were rare. He sadly did not specify the problems, yet he defended the general theory. Although he opposed the philosophical results of those who tried to follow the Greek logical method, he accepted the set-up and the foundation.
We were naturally introduced to the main themes of Greek logic: such as tasawwur (concept) and tasdiq (judgement), and the centrality of the hadd (definition) between the two, and the difference between hadd tamm (complete) and hadd naqis (incomplete); the division between the kulli (universal) and juz’i (particular); and the relationship between the kulliyat al-khams (five universals). However, rather than detailing these matters, it is efficient to here outline the four essential propositions of Greek logic that Ibn Taymiyya took to task:
- No concept can be formed except by means of definition.
- Definition leads to the conception of things.
- No judgement may be known except by means of syllogism (qiyas – the latter as defined in Greek logic, not Islamic jurisprudence).
- Syllogism or demonstration (burhan) leads to the certain knowledge of judgments.
Ibn Taymiyya’s generalization is made despite his acknowledgement in Jahd al-Qariha (see below): “The philosophers who uphold demonstrative logic – which Aristotle devised – and physics and metaphysics, which are associated with it, are not a unified group…Their disagreements and divisions are far greater than those existing within any one community, such as that of the Jews or Christians…No one, on the other hand, can enumerate the differences among philosophers.” And how true this analysis is now in the recent age!
Ibn Taymiyya’s Critique of Greek Logic
Shaykh Akram taught that Ibn Taymiyya’s critique of Greek logic in al-Radd ‘ala’l-Mantiqiyyin was largely ignored in the Muslim world, despite a mainstream scholar like Suyuti making a literal abridgement and trying to popularize the work entitled Jahd al-Qariha. He suggested that this sidelining of Ibn Taymiyya was largely due to a partisanship on the part of those who felt most slighted by Ibn Taymiyya’s robust refutations, in particular of Ibn ‘Arabi (who was much loved). Anyone familiar with al-Radd will know its lengthiness, which would in itself justify – perhaps productively for those prepared for it – a one or two day course alone. Therefore the Shaykh simply introduced some of the key refutations of the four central tenets outlined above.
In relation to the argument that a concept can only be achieved through definition, it was firstly argued that such a negative proposition requires proof, but here the philosophers cannot prove this contention; therefore, the beginning of the matter is ignorance. Secondly, Ibn Taymiyya retorted that if the definition of a matter is the task of a definer, then one must ask how the definer knew the definition. If the definer knows it by definition then we have circularity; but if one says he knows the definition by other means, then this renders the whole proposition to be false. Thirdly, all nations and sciences have developed knowledge of their own fields without having to resort to such a methodology. Fourthly, no one presents definitions in their manner, for definitions are disputed in all sciences by their respective experts; thus if this contention was true, then no one knows anything, and this is patently untrue. The remaining arguments touched upon in the course on this first contention possess a technicality that is beyond the aims of this brief discussion.
On the claim of definition leading to the knowledge of the concept of things, Ibn Taymiyya argues that definitions are not able to form concepts of reality because a definition is a statement and claim of a definer. If the hearer knows the truthfulness of such a claim then he is in no need of the definition because he has knowledge of the matter prior to being presented with the definition; yet if he does not know the veracity of the statement, and there is no proof, then he will not be able to achieve knowledge.
The third doctrine regarding no judgement may be known except through syllogism – syllogism is the proof (hujja) the philosophers give most importance to, although they accept lesser forms of proof like induction or analogy – is dismissed due to the usual failures to provide proof according to even their own principles. Our course teacher argued that Greek syllogism is of logical forms, but these forms do not provide meaning. For instance, the most important form for the Greek logicians is A is B, B is C, therefore A is C (their al-shakk al-awwal). However, whilst this is a very true form, it only works if one is dealing with certain matters for each part; yet it is significant that they are unable to provide one conclusive example for this form – and I will not here provide the examples of their confused attempts at giving illustrations of their clear syllogism in relation to whether the world or forms are eternal or not.
The fourth doctrine is rejected because it is not scientific or helpful in acquiring knowledge. Ibn Taymiyya said that whatever the Greek logicians have set-out to establish by way of syllogism can be gained through other means; thus it is needless. Also, its wastefulness is exacerbated by its overly complicated manner of explaining the clearly known. Moreover, the limit of such rational demonstration (qiyas burhani) is that it relates only to things known, and this excludes it from knowing matters beyond the senses, such as metaphysics. To finish this last part off, I’ve added an appendix from Jahd al-qariha at the end, so as to not lose the rapidity of argument that I seek here.
It was noteworthy that Shaykh Akram had to often reiterate that Ibn Taymiyya is not opposed to using definitions and he does not say that they are useless. Rather, he is simply criticising the absoluteness attributed to definitions and their utilisation specifically by the Greek logicians. Shaykh Akram mentioned that the use of the Arabic term ta’rifat, or introductions, is more accurate in conveying the human endeavour to try and understand matters through the application of language, without seeking to lay claim to having encompassed the whole realities of things in one’s attempts at definition; for how often is nomenclature disputed amongst not just humans, but even scholars engaged in extracting meaning from the Sacred texts! In addition, he stressed that things are signs (ayat) and not proofs; hence one uses the signs of God’s existence and Prophecy, without claiming them as rational proofs. Ibn Taymiyya writes in the Jahd: “Proving the existence of the Creator and the truthfulness of prophecy does not depend on syllogistics, but rather on signs which point to an individual who has no partner and who is known by means of necessary knowledge which requires no inference.”
Where to Now?
Shaykh Akram mentioned that there has been an historical debate about the study of Greek logic, with opponents being Ibn al-Salah, Ibn Taymiyya, Dhahabi and ‘Ali al-Qari, whilst supporters have included Ghazzali and Taqi al-Din Subki. Such a divide continued even to the founders of Darul Uloom Deoband, where Qasim Nanotwi supported the inclusion of logic in the syllabus, while Rashid Gangohi opposed its study – and Nanotwi won, as has been the case historically across the Muslim world, even if the odd alteration has occurred (such as the removal of Amidi from his seat of learning in 630 hijra).
It is natural that people will ask about the ‘logical conclusion’ of Ibn Taymiyya’s attack on Greek logic. The first option is to prudently see his critique limited in this instance to the absoluteness claimed by Greek logicians for their theories; and, at the same time, to place it within his general attempt to purify all the Islamic sciences of elements foreign to their integrity, in his opinion. Naturally, he always saw this attempt as a way of reviving the method of the best early generations (al-salaf); and a stupendous debate surrounds how successful he was in that pursuit.
A second option is to see that Ibn Taymiyya’s work on the Greek logicians had unwitting meanings that are best exemplified in the empiricist thought of ‘British philosophy.’ This is the option chosen by Wael Hallaq in his Ibn Taymiyya Against the Greek Logicians. Hallaq argues that it was “Western science,” and not the Muslims, that “realized the value of empiricism and succeeded in sifting it out of theology and metaphysics.” He further argues that “this process is best exemplified in the transformation from the empirical theology and metaphysic of Occam, F. Bacon, and Berkeley to the modern secular empiricism of A.J. Ayer.” Moreover, Hallaq believes that even “Ibn Taymiyya loyalists” like Suyuti were “lost” to the “substance of their predecessor’s critique as well as his methodology and epistemology.”
I would caution against such a connection being made, no matter how tenuous one’s emphasis, because it possesses too much of a leap; and certain base similarities are overplayed as though they are somehow part of the same thread. Although this is part of a wider discussion that warrants a separate and concentrated focus, I will suffice with heeding the words of Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy, when he purported that it is a “tendency” – and one that is a “mistake” – to “interpret men in the light of their successors”; from a discussion by Russell of how it is wrong of his contemporaries to see Occam as “bringing about the breakdown of scholasticism, as a precursor of Descartes or Kant or whoever might be the particular commentator’s favourite among modern philosophers.” Occam, in Russell’s light, is exactly what we are discussing here in relation to Ibn Taymiyya: as Occam was “mainly concerned to restore a pure Aristotle, freed from both Augustinian and Arabic influences,” so too Ibn Taymiyya was really only concerned with purifying the Islamic sciences of what he considered impure and debilitating, and he was an absolute believer in God, Prophecy and the way of the early Muslims. As Russell notes: “The interpretation of Occam by modern historians, according to Moody, has been vitiated by the desire to find a gradual transition from scholastic to modern philosophy; this has caused people to read modern doctrines into him, when in fact he is only interpreting Aristotle.” Indeed, anyone with a familiarity with Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic – and its denial of knowing God or metaphysics due to them not being “literally significant” because of the lack of “verifiability” through actual worldly “demonstration,” thus all talk of “God” is for him “nonsensical”; hence, for someone like Ayer, talking of ‘God’s Book’ would be absurd – will find linking Ayer with Ibn Taymiyya in any real way as entering in upon the ridiculous. [Nasim Butt, in God Revisited: Issues of Belief & Identity in the 21st Century, does a good job in outlining the parameters of Ayer’s logical positivism and the flaws that are accepted to be part of the argument. Moreover, Nancy Frankenberry, in Religion and Radical Empiricism, elaborates on the disappearance of the movement as originally articulated by Ayer due to its inherent weakness that even Ayer admitted after the release of the first edition of Language, Truth and Logic.]
A possible consequent of eschewing Greek philosophy, together with returning to a vibrant educational method of expertise, could be the revival of women scholars amongst Muslims. Now with Shaykh Akram being the expert on the history of Islamic women scholars – see his al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam – I asked him over dinner why such women scholars disappear in late Islamic history after being so prominent. He said his growing thesis, which he intends to explore further, is that it is the teaching of Greek influenced ideas together with a narrow focus on the study of fiqh, or Sacred Law, without a strong hadith emphasis and teaching, that leads to women disappearing. He mentioned how the Greeks held a deplorable view of the nature of women, hence women weren’t valued; and amongst the Muslim people, one sees how the Greek-influenced Mu’tazilah didn’t produce any women scholars of note, and he contends that there is a link between their Greek rationalism and their consequent marginalizing of women. Shaykh Akram mentioned that the teaching of hadith always leads to women emerging into the frontline of scholarship, and it can be seen until late history in the example of the family of Shah Waliullah. The al-Muhaddithat is the rebuttal of the view that invigorated Islamic practice summons women to the cloisters of their homes, without a priceless value placed on their immense intellectual worth; and it stands in direct contrast to the limits placed on women – despite numerous objections in their times – in ancient Greece and the Christian West, as highlighted by Alan Cumming in his essay entitled ‘Pauline Christianity and Greek Philosophy: A Study of the Status of Women’ (Journal of the History of Ideas, Oct-Dec 1973). Of course, this is not to fit Islam into a feminist discourse and argue that Islam sees the roles of men and women as identical in all matters.
Furthermore, a pristine scholarly method without stark Greek influences has an advantage of defending Islam’s individual timelessness and the decisive miracle of the Quran and blessed Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him). When trying to present the pure message of Islam (da’wah), one would be severely constrained if an inquisitive and informed mind were to accuse post-Ghazzlian ‘orthodoxy’ of containing certain compromises to historical fads of the time; whether it is the acceptance of Greek logic into the foundations of Islamic jurisprudence, or acceding in Islamic theology to some of the arguments of Greek philosophy (which is a whole other topic). Such an enquiring mind of a prospective convert might be put off by presenting such matters as ‘orthodox’, i.e. ones that one must still accept, when they seem more ancient Greek than Prophetic, thus appearing to resemble the historic Catholic Church’s compromise with Greek thought – and we know what that did for the Church! I admit that this is a simplification, because such compromises of later Islamic history are quite few, but one can see how such a picture has certain weaknesses that a pure Prophetic portrayal does not.
In the same way that one should not be traditionally ‘catholic’ about Islam (and set in stone everything that one sees as the inherited way), one should also not be ‘protestant’ about Islam either (in looking to destroy almost every inherited edifice) – and this goes for any similarly absurd attempt to interpret Islam in the light of an altogether different history or theory, like socialism or liberalism. Of course, we see Muslims falling victim to these gross misunderstandings and simplifications, whether in trying to defend their own grouping or in opposing other groups. Yet the teachings of Shaykh Akram highlight the best traditions of the ahl al-hadith and the ahl al-ra’y – or the “Partisans of Hadith” and the “Partisans of Legal Opinion”, respectively, as translated by Jonathan A.C. Brown in his Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. [Shaykh Akram spoke positively to me of the Muslim academic Brown. Attendees of the Al-Maghrib Institute’s Ilm Summit 2008 will be familiar with Brown. His PhD on The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim is available here; and an interesting review of it by G.F. Haddad is available here.]
In his Imam Abu Hanifa: Life and Work, Shibli Numani – who incidentally came from the same city as Shaykh Akram, namely, Jaunpur, India – does an excellent job in highlighting how Abu Hanifa, and therefore consequently his school, are part of the ahl al-hadith, but that their expertise in legal reasoning in addition to mastering the hadith corpus and science justifies the alternative title of ahl al-ra’y. This is why Shaykh Akram, who is a Hanafi and teaches the school – as well as someone committed to the hadith and its masters – has said in the past that if one wants to be a Hanafi then one should think like Abu Hanifa, and not just follow the opinions that later Hanafis tried to extract from the principles of the school’s founder (as found in Ibn ‘Abidin’s Hashiya radd al-muhtar). [One sees Shaykh Akram’s broad Hanafi method in his English al-Fiqh al-Islami, vol. 1; and his intimate familiarity with Hanafi jurisprudence can be seen in his Arabic edition of Usul al-Shashi – available here – that has a complimentary foreword by Shaykh Qaradawi.] The method of Shaykh Akram – which is only of value when pursued by expert scholarship, rather than the foolhardy (may God spare us!) – is one of respecting the tradition, even if not binding one’s self to almost every last detail; and seeking to attain, and join, the highest scholarship of hadith and interpretation of all Sacred texts. Rarely in the West, never mind just England, does one encounter a genuine attempt at setting in motion the mechanics of such a grand endeavour. In the teachings of Shaykh Akram one witnesses it, and is awed by it. Yet one experiences how his modesty doesn’t require the student, nor the fellow scholar, to accept his every conclusion as he navigates his path, and shares his conclusions with one. [He warned me, as he has taught before, that one does not follow one scholar in everything, because that necessitates following mistakes at some stage.] After accepting the essential Islamic teaching, it is knowing when one could be so wrong in subsidiary matters that one starts on the path to being so right, and being able to start to taste familial love for those with whom one disagrees on peripheral issues; and if sitting with Shaykh Akram doesn’t make one delve deep into one’s soul, reaching out to God for spiritual elevation together with sincerity and profound humility, then one hasn’t really sat with him, one has just been in the same room.
There are two central aspects to any true knowledge: firstly, its relevance and accuracy in understanding the Sacred texts; secondly, its ability to activate one’s spirituality. Therefore one sees Shaykh Akram’s teachings as a means towards both of these aspects. Hence the teaching of the Islamic response to Greek logic is to attain the second aspect of knowledge by clearing the first aspect of any obscuring additions that have unnecessary baggage that can be historically localised, and easily dispensed without opposing the Prophetic instructions. As we walked from lunch along a high street in Oxford, he mentioned something to me that put the whole course, and indeed the few days, into complete perspective. He mentioned that the gift of God upon him was that his heart had been made to love the remembrance (dhikr) of God; and when he talked about God then he felt it from his heart, and when he spoke of other things then the joy of his heart was not so elated. After dinner he mentioned how when he had a few spare moments in his office, there were certain books that he would delve into: Ibn al-Jawzi’s Sayd al-khatir and Talbis Iblis, and the biographies of Ashraf Ali Thanwi and Rashid Gangohi. In light of the advice from the high street after lunch, it is no surprise that these works were ones that he regularly kept near him, for they speak of a high, broad scholarship that severely warns against allowing academic learning to cloud the paramount importance of retaining an invigorated spiritual life, filled and fully permeated with remembrance that is soul moving and the joy of one’s life.
Extract from Jahd al-qariha relating to the fourth criticism of the Greek logicians from Ibn Taymiyya:
“The indicant [dalil] and demonstration also lead one to what is to be proven and acquired. Whenever the indicant entails a matter, it can be used to infer that matter…Reasoning correctly on the basis of indicants leads to certain or probable knowledge…The indicant may be a single premise from which, once it is known, the conclusion will [also] be known. The reasoner may need two, three, four, five, or more premises…Furthermore, what is intended as universal guidance, such as the Quran which God revealed to mankind as eloquent demonstration, encompasses as many indicants as are necessary to benefit the generality of people…Furthermore, the syllogism they have elaborated does not lead to the knowledge of any particular existent. And those universal matters can be individually comprehended by means easier than their syllogism. No universal proposition may be known through their syllogism without its particulars being known by means of other inferences…The truth about their syllogism is that it offers nothing but the mode and form of the inference…their syllogism does not deal with validating or invalidating premises…What is meant here is that the truth which must be considered in any demonstration or indicant existing in the world is the concomitance (luzum). When one knows that a thing is concomitant with another, one will infer the consequent from the antecedent, though one may not employ the term ‘concomitance’ or even conceive its meaning…To sum up, we do not deny that a syllogism leads to certitude when its subject-matter is certain. But we maintain that a logical syllogism is not needed to arrive at certitude. Furthermore, the apodictic subject-matters they have spoken of do not lead to knowledge of existing objects…In fact, the knowledge of the extramental reality, as it is, represents the same kind of knowledge that is arrived at by means of analogy. Therefore, no knowledge is possible through a logical categorical syllogism – which they call demonstration – without its being also possible through analogy, which they have deemed to be weak…The claim of the logicians and their followers that certitude obtains through a categorical syllogism and not through analogy is entirely false. It is a claim made by those who cannot conceive the true nature of the two inferences…”
Further Readings in English
Talal al-Azem, ‘Traditionalism against Scholasticism: The Debate Over “Curriculum” in Damascus Between 1150-1350’, unpublished Masters thesis submitted to Oxford University.
Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy (ed. Peter Adamson and Richard C. Taylor)
Al-Ghazali, Deliverance from Error: Five Key Texts Including His Spiritual Autobiography, al-Munqidh min al-Dalal (trans. R.J. McCarthy)
Wael Hallaq, Ibn Taymiyya Against the Greek Logicians – which contains the whole of the Jahd, and whose translation of the latter has been relied upon above.
Wael Hallaq, ‘Logic, Formal Arguments and Formalization of Arguments in Sunni Jurisprudence’, in Arabica (Nov 1990).
History of Islamic Philosophy (ed. Oliver Leaman and Seyyed Hossein Nasr)
Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Saviours of the Islamic Spirit
[Sadly, I was unable to access Harry Wolfson’s essay entitled ‘The Terms Tasawwur and Tasdiq in Arabic Philosophy and their Greek, Latin and Hebrew Equivalents’, as published in Moslem World (1943).]