Living Islam - Islamic Tradition




Quotes From on An_Interview_with_Ekrem_Demirli, Mohammed Rustom

Authors such as Muhammad Iqbal, Mohammed Abed al-Jabri (whose Critique of Arab Reason I co-translated into Turkish), and Fazlur Rahman have also been very popular, as have the works of René Guénon and other traditionalist writers. The latter have had a major impact on Turkish intellectual circles, and I for one was particularly impressed with Guénon. It is also important to note that many contemporary Turkish intellectuals are influenced by Sufism in one way or another. 

In my opinion, the Fusus is Ibn ʿArabi's most important work. As is well-known, the teachings of Ibn ʿArabi were shaped through the commentaries written upon this book, which led to a lot of controversy in different periods. 

Essentially, my books on Ibn ʿArabi assume two things: that the best commentator upon Ibn ʿArabi is Ibn ʿArabi himself, and that Ibn ʿArabi is to be situated within the long line of metaphysical speculation that goes back to many of the great Islamic thinkers, ranging from al-Kindi and Farabi to Ibn Sina and Ghazali. Based on that, I attempt to show, in various ways, how Ibn ʿArabi can be said to inaugurate a new kind of theoretical thinking in conversation with, but improving upon, the tradition of Islamic metaphysics which preceded him.

Qunawi famously said that the Sufis rarely agree with the theologians, but they often agree with the philosophers. This claim alone drew me to study the work of Ibn Sina and the Peripatetic Islamic philosophical tradition. Indeed, many issues in Qunawi's Miftah are closely related to Ibn Sina's Metaphysics. Sufi metaphysics and Peripatetic Islamic philosophy thus share some common ground, particularly with respect to certain issues in cosmology, the God–world relationship, and the possibility and attainment of human perfection, etc. However, there are some major differences as well, particularly with respect to the nature of essential causation.

But if we mean by 'metaphysics' universal knowledge, the arranging of the principles of other sciences, and most importantly proving the existence of God, we can call Ibn Sina a 'rational' metaphysician. That is, he argues that reason or human intelligence can know absolute reality, and that humans can achieve felicity by perfecting their theoretical and practical faculties. Metaphysics in this sense is concerned with these problems with reference to human intelligence and reason alone, and not to religion or religious belief as such. I believe that Ibn Sina and like-minded Islamic philosophers could not entirely extricate themselves from the fundamentals of this kind of metaphysics, and thus their philosophical worldview could not provide a strong enough foundation for religion and revelation. This was precisely Ghazali's contention. On the other hand, Ibn ʿArabi and Qunawi had pretty much the same concerns as Ibn Sina vis-à-vis metaphysics, but insisted that revelation was indispensable to realizing the goals of the science of metaphysics.

What, then, in your view is the subject matter of metaphysics, and how is it contemporarily relevant?

In our age, metaphysics is considered to be quite meaningless to most people. This is unfortunate, and can be traced back to Descartes, who ostensibly glorified metaphysics but in actuality directed our attention to physics proper. Since metaphysics is no longer seen as having real, explanatory force, it is no wonder that religious thought has weakened and become quite untenable among many of today's leading intellectuals.

For me, the subject matter of metaphysics is being/existence, and in this respect I am in fundamental agreement with Ibn Sina. But, I also side with Ibn ʿArabi and Qunawi, who maintain that immersion into metaphysics necessarily entails immersion into the content of revelation. It would not be possible, in other words, to understand metaphysical thinking without grasping the nature and scope of revelation. And this would, in keeping with Ibn ʿArabi's fundamental insight, naturally lead to a more detailed study of man as such, or anthropology. It is also my position that the insights of the great Islamic metaphysicians can be brought into conversation with today's most significant advances in the human sciences. Such an approach should offer some promise to our contemporaries, who are often disillusioned with simple-minded theological approaches to revelation and the content of religion.

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