On Greek Logic: An Islamic Response with Shaykh Akram Nadwi

4353012429_f1435e74d2_bThis 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).

Greek Logic

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:

  1. No concept can be formed except by means of definition.
  2. Definition leads to the conception of things.
  3. No judgement may be known except by means of syllogism (qiyas – the latter as defined in Greek logic, not Islamic jurisprudence).
  4. 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.

Final Thoughts

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).]

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  1. Haq says:

    Asalamu’alykum Ustadh,
    The last statement, does it mean Ibn Taymiyya is suggesting we use only induction [sign (particulars together) = universal (God/Prophethood)] and not deductive arguments?

    • Andrew Booso says:

      Wa alaykum as-salam wa rahmatullah

      As you are well aware, Ibn Taymiyya hated adopting what he saw as a mutakallim approach in anything. Hence his writings on Arabic (and his discussion of majaz), theology and jurisprudence oppose the definitions and method of the mutakallimin.

      On your question, one sees him likewise adopt an individual understanding about induction and establishing the existence of God, taken from Jahd al-qariha:

      “Induction…is certain if it is complete. In which case you will have reached a judgement about the entire class on the basis of what you have found in all the particulars. But this is neither an inference proceeding from particular to universal nor is it one proceeding from specific to general; rather, it is an inference that proceeds from one particular to another particular concomitant with it. For the existence of a judgement concerning each and every particular that falls under a universal necessitates that the judgement be concomitant with that universal. Their argument that such an inference proceeds from particular to universal is false. How could this be the case when the indicant [dalil] must entail what is indicated?…The concomitance we are speaking of here will result in an inference in accordance with the form in which such concomitance occurs…Consider, for example, the created beings that signify the Creator, glorified and exalted may He be; each and every creature is concomitant with its Creator, i.e. they can no more exist without the existence of their Creator than without His knowledge, power, will, wisdom and mercy. Each and every creature signifies all these.”

  2. السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته

    تحية لك أخي في الله صهيب ويب .. ومعذرة فأنا لا أعرف غير لغتي الأم

    وأنا من مكة المكرمة وأردت أن ألقي عليك تحية الإسلام

    وفقك الله

  3. Mustafa says:

    Shaykh Talal Al-Azem, “Traditionalism against Scholasticism”

  4. naveed shaikh says:

    Its a very interesting post
    Jazakallahu Khayrun

    I think , Shaykh Ashraf Ali Tahanwi was a genius who took the sufis and the dry ulema both
    to task for their shortcomings.

    However, his familairity with the breadth of islamic learning is vertiginous and reading his malfuzat sees him skilfully narrating from the fuqaha to the muhaditheen to the sufis et al

    One thing he strongly emphasises is for the awaam to take a master in fiqh and follow him stringently and also he emphasises the brilliance of Sufis like Ibn Arabi and
    he has books defending the chishti sufis from the charges of Bid’ah.

    The article that you present from Shaykh Nadwi is rather confusing as to the way forward,
    but the way of deoband as I have studied it is far less confusing.

    It is maturidi/hanafi /chishti and strict following of those who took those 3 knowledges from their masters (for the awaam)

    For this reason I think the ulema of deoband have been eminently successful in taking the fields of da’wah hadeeth fiqh and sunnah based sufism and making it a global phenomenon whilst others debate about other matters.

  5. naveed shaikh says:

    What is also interesting is that Shaykh Ashraf Ali and others from Deoband
    considered some of the writings of Numani to be Kufr
    and strongly tinged with modernism

    He has a veiled attack on Arnold’s peaceful preaching of islam in his malfuzat

    Unfortunately many of these texts are in urdu and i’m not sure if you have access to that language andrew?

    • Andrew Booso says:

      Thank you for your comment.

      Incidentally, Shaykh Akram mentioned over lunch whilst we discussed Shibli that Thanwi made takfir of him. He told me that this was because he was initially shown some snippets of Shibli’s book on kalam, but then retracted the takfir when it was clarified that he hadn’t fully understood the passages. [I feel the wry smile of the Mawdudists here with Mawdudi's affair with Husain Ahmed Madani, but Allah knows best :)] One can read more about from Uwais Nadwi: http://attahawi.com/2009/06/03/collection-of-online-books-of-hakim-al-ummah-mawlana-ashraf-ali-al-thanawi/#comment-935

      Shaykh Akram’s method is very clear (maybe the other articles I’ve written on him might help). His way is for people to have essential Islamic belief in established tenets, learning and living comprehensive Sacred law, and learning to purify one’s heart – all according to the highest standards of scholarship. Of course, no body is going to debate such a package, but we are likely to disagree on the fine details.

      With regards to Deoband, I agree with Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi’s appraisal in Western Civilization, Islam and Muslims: “The movement [of people like Nanotwi and Deoband] was not without success in reviving the Islamic spirit of Indian Muslims…But as far as meeting the challenge of the times is concerned, Deoband has failed to make any noteworthy contribution. It has not been able to provide suitable answers to the questions thrown up by the Modern civilisation.” We’ve seen Deobandism, even now, largely marginalised from East to West.

      With Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulema, Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi saw the way to building a “bridge between the old world and the new.” It hasn’t yet comprehensively met the challenge, but then no school or thought has, so we’re all engaged in a work in progress – benefiting from our collective mistakes hopefully, as well as wishing one another the best in our successes, insha’Allah.

  6. Abul-Hussein says:


    Akhi Andrew how are you may Allah bless and grace your dearest brother in Islam and bless and grace your family. Thank you for making the effort to deal with such a weighty matter and for your generous sharing of the fruits your reaped from the time you invest with Sh. Akram Nadwi (h). Please relay to him my salam from his student (by books) from America.

    If I may say something regarding this topic it would be a great honor since this is a matter of great interest to me.


    Aside from the reasons (historical) for why Imam Ibn Taymiyah’s (r) position was sidelined as far as logic is concerned there are some points to be made about his position. But before doing so let us recall briefly that Imam Ibn Taymiyah (r) was not alone he was accompanied by sages such as Imam Ibn Salah and Imam Nawawi and Imam Suyuti as well as others in relation to logic.

    On a more interesting note, Imam Ibn Taymiyah’s (r) position on logic is illustrative of another mode to thought one in which definitions constructed according to the rules of Aristotle’s syllogism are not essential. What we fail to realize is that the Qur’an and the Sunnah have a position as far as thought is concerned. Imam Ibn Taymiyah set out to elaborate what thought looks like when we construct definition by referring to the Qur’an and the Sunnah. So that he builds definitions and terminology especially in Aqida by referring to concepts and elaborations of those concepts as illustrated in the Book and the Sunnah.

    If we look at the term “hukm” in the tradition it possesses a standard set of meanings assigned to it by the scholars of the Usul and the definition for hukm. After much debate intent on seeking clear meaning for the term hukm among the scholars does not exceed these standard definitions as put forth in the books of Usul. The definition of hukm has been limited by reference to Greek logic as a means to construct definitions. So that the significations given to the term hukm by the Qur’an are restricted. The Qur’an assigns over 200 meanings (see: Raghib Asfahani) to the word hukm and the scholars of Usul limit it to one general definition with three or four variations of the same definition. Clearly here the Qur’anic meaning has been limited by over dependence on logic. Imam Ibn Taymiyah then allows us to penetrate the meanings of the Book and the Sunnah by clarifying for us the limits of logic. We do not have to throw logic out but we should know its limits. If we are to appreciate the tradition then we have to come to understand how it differs from revelation. Even in the science of tasawwuf we find that the Qur’an has its own method versus what we find in the books of tasawwuf. In the Qur’an there is not much discussion over the definition of let us say sabr but it tells us what sabr is by illustration not detailed definition. The rationale being the focus on acting not reflection on the action devoid of implementation. Knowing the place of each source of learning is the key to clearer understanding.

    Allahu Al’am


    • Andrew Booso says:

      My dear brother Abul Hussein, I’m well, thank you, alhamdulillah. Thanks for your comment. How are things with yourself? I pray that all is well for you and your family, and may your projects be blessed with tawfiq so that we can all benefit, insha’Allah.

  7. Iqbal says:

    Assalamu Alaykum,

    Thanks for the post, very interesting al Hamdulillah. May Allah reward the Shaykh and you. I have a few additions and a few questions to ask, inshaAllah.

    As for my additions, we firstly need to understand the need for Ibn Taymiyya’s critique of Aristotelian Logic which was repackaged by Avicenna’s transmission and modification which formed the foundation of the later standard of Sunni logic texts such as al-Risala Shamsiyya of Najm al Din al Katibi. For, Ibn Taymiyya, and many before (Ibn Salah, Nawawi et al) and after him (Dhahabi et al), Aristotelian Logic was inherently linked to Hellenic Philosophy especially the aspect of Aristotelian Metaphysics. Ibn Taymiyya felt that the basis of heretic philosophies, theologies and esoteric mysticism was Aristotelian Metaphysics and Platonic idealism. Ibn Taymiyya believed that any attack on Aristotelian metaphysics which is not accompanied by an attack on Aristotelian logic will not be complete and is bound to fail. Therefore, it was a critique to fulfil a higher objective.

    However, many scholars especially the likes of Hujjat ut Islam al Ghazali had felt that Aristotelian Logic was not necessary linked to and burden by Aristotelian Metaphysics and therefore, was in itself a neutral tool. A tool which was a must (Fard Kifaya) upon the Scholars of Islam to learn in order to be able distinguish between valid, invalid, sound, unsound, good and bad reasoning and argumentation. It was tool to sharpen the mind according to many scholars who proceeded Ghazali such Razi, Amidi, Subki (Taqi-ud-din), Subki (Taj-ud-din), and even more supposedly traditional scholars such as Ibn Qudama al Maqdisi had incorporated Aristotelian Logic into their Usual ul Fiqh works.

    Ibn Taymiyya’s believed that the Quran and Sunnah gave rise to foundational epistemic
    knowledge which was definitive (Qati‘) and he demonstrated through his critique that Aristotelian Logic did not give rise to definitive knowledge (Qati‘) but probable knowledge (Zann‘) against both Muslim and Non Muslim Logicians. For, Ibn Taymiyyah Aristotelian Logic had to be scrutinized and no deductive argument by its very form could not lead to definitive knowledge (Qati‘).

    Ibn Taymiyya did not declare Aristotelian Logic haram and he felt that it did not give real knowledge rather it gave only conceptual knowledge. It is only an instrument by which we acquire knowledge about mental entities, but not about reality, i.e. real entities. When someone knows the designation of existence, body, animal, man, whiteness or blackness he does not acquire knowledge of a particular existent, nor a particular body, nor a particular animal, nor a particular man, nor a particular whiteness nor a particular blackness.

    Real knowledge, i.e, knowledge of real entities or of particulars, is acquired by direct perception and observation and by reasoning from particular to particular such as reasoning from a particular relation, sign or analogy, These are the uncontested instruments of true or real knowledge and they are the instruments which are laid down in the Quran, Hence it is not through Aristotelian logic but through Islamic logic that truth about the world is revealed.

    I was not able to attend the course due other commitments, therefore, I have a few questions about the course to Br. Andrew:

    1) What was the aim of the course and what did the Shaykh want to get across to the attendees?
    2) What is the Shaykh’s opinion about the next generation of Ulama’s pursuit of the study of Logic?
    3) Was the event recorded?

    I would like to highlight a few other sources in the English language on the discussion of the Islamic perspective on logic:

    Arabic and Islamic Philosophy of Language and Logic (SEP)

    Kamal Hamid Shaddad, Ibn Taymiyya’s Critique of Aristotelian Logic, Unpublished PHD completed at UCL (*)

    Khaled El-Rouayheb, “Sunni Islamic Scholars on the Status of Logic, 1500-1800“, Islamic Law & Society (2004) (*)

    Khaled El-Rouayheb, “Was There a Revival of Logical Studies in Eighteenth-Century Egypt?“ Die Welt des Islams (2005) (*)

    Khaled El-Rouayheb, Relational Syllogisms and the History of Arabic Logic, 900-1900 Brill – Expected: July 2010 http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=210&pid=34632

    Mufti Ali, “A Statistical Portrait of the Resistance to Logic by Sunni Muslim Scholars Based on the Works of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūtī (849-909/1448-1505)“ Islamic Law & Society (2008) (*)

    Mufti Ali, Introduction from his PHD submitted to Leiden University entitled: Muslim opposition to logic and theology in the light of the works of Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911/1505) – https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/1887/13226/11/introduction.pdf

    Wael Hallaq, Ibn Taymiyya Against the Greek Logicians – incomplete PDF version http://www.box.net/shared/3m9j98lrs5

    (*) – I can email these items to interested individuals please pass on your details.



    • Andrew Booso says:

      Wa alaykum as-salam.

      Dear Iqbal, thank you for your well informed comment, and for greatly enriching the reading list.

      The Shaykh’s intention for the course was to show how the refutation of Greek logic by Ibn Taymiyya was based on a well reasoned method. Even the West have now caught up with Ibn Taymiyya and criticised Aristotle’s syllogism. He wanted the audience to have a sense of confidence in that critique, which could be accepted in truth, and not just by blind imitation.

      The Shaykh didn’t touch on the issue of the next generation of scholars studying logic. Of course, any study, in his opinion, would have to be predicated on the many principles he lays down for accepting any point of theology, law or spiritual method, i.e. not just blind conformism, but a profound scholarship in light of the early Muslims’ approach.

      With regards to the recording of the course, I know a number of recordings occurred. Try and email Islamic Circles.

      fi amanillah

    • Andrew Booso says:

      Dear Iqbal

      I would also appreciate it if you emailed me those available documents. Please try a.booso@yahoo.com

    • Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab says:

      Dear Mr. Iqbal, would you please send me all the items you mentioned in your first post?

  8. Mohsin says:

    Salaam Iqbal,

    Could you please email me the aforementioned articles? Jazakallah Khair.

    mohsin722 @ gmail . com

  9. loveProphet says:

    Some may find this of related interest:


    (A critique of Ibn Taymiyya’s critique of logic)

    • Andrew Booso says:

      I left that off the reading list because I didn’t find it very strong from an argumentative perspective. I’m not sure if the unabridged version would remedy what I felt was lacking in it.

    • abualiy says:

      The author seems to have missed the whole point. It is more of a misdirected emotional response than a well formed academic response. Anyway thank you for the link.

  10. loveProphet says:

    Can you email me the articles Iqbal at:
    haqq92 @ yahoo . co . uk

  11. mansoor says:


    an email of the articles would be kindly appreciated

    as_sunni @ hotmail . com

  12. ibnalawi says:

    Here is the book of Sh. Sa’id Foudah in defence of logic: http://www.scribd.com/doc/3857677/-

  13. SouthStar says:

    The article by Wolfson can also be found in this book:

    Wolfson, H.A. (1973) ‘The Terms Tasawwur and Tasdiq in Arabic Philosophy and Their Greek, Latin and Hebrew Equivalents’, in I. Twersky and G.H. Williams (eds) Studies in the History and Philosophy of Religion, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, vol. 1, 478-92. (Important analysis of this critical distinction in Islamic logic, with discussions of its origins in wider philosophy.)

  14. Aliy Faisal says:

    Another course by Sh. Akram Nadwi at Cambridge:

    Course: Introduction to Usul al-Hadith (Principles of Hadith)[CN01]

    When: Saturday 18th September 2010 Time: 10:00AM – 6:00PM

    Venue: Central Cambridge Location TBC (with free parking and easy public transport access)

    Course Fee: £20 if registered in July | £25 in August | £30 in September.

    Terms: Registration would be complete and place booked once payment is made. Payment refundable in full for cancellations up to 2 weeks before the course start date. Family discounts may be available, please ask.

    Registration: http://www.tinyurl.com/shaikhnadwicam01

    Childcare Facilities: Crèche facilities will be available on site for the entire duration of the course. Cost: £15 for one child | £10/child for two or more children

    The courses are organised in collaboration with Al-Salaam Institute Oxford and Muslim Education & Outreach Cambridge.

    Muslim Education & Outreach Cambridge (MEOC)
    Tel: 01223 655223| Fax: 01223 858 066 | Email: courses@meoc.org.uk

  15. Abdullah says:

    Brother iqbal can you plz email me the docs.


  16. Omar says:

    Salam Alaikum

    JazakAllahu khair for the article, fantastically written and expressed mashAllah.

    I just had a question, I understand Ibn Taymiyyah’s points on using signs rather than proofs for the existence of God, and I guess that ties in with the heart aspect in Islam (ie those who have open hearts as opposed to sealed). However just wondering, some of the arguments for Islam are fairly powerful, almost as far to say proof, such as the proof of prophecy of Muhammad (saw), the linguistic miracle of The Qur’an, the scientific miracles, historial and prophecies of The Qur’an. Would these all still be considered then as ‘strong signs’ as opposed to ‘rational proofs’?

    JazakumAllahu khair for everyone’s interesting comments. JazakAllahu khair Andrew for the insightful read.

    Kindest regards,


  17. shams says:

    Dear Bro. Iqbal – I know its late – but do you think you can email me all those articles to:



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