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Maimonides (Jewish Medieval Scholar) on the Atomistic Foundation of the Deen of the Ash'arites
Posted by Abu.Iyaad, in Articles
Topics: Atomism Al-Jawhar Al-Fard Belief Science Al-Taftazani Atomism Al-Jawhar Al-Fard Belief Science Al-Taftazani

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In this article we want to document the characterization of that which the deen of the Ash'arites is founded upon through a third-party (non-Muslim) source, simply for the record.

Mose Maimonides (in Arabic, Moosaa bin Maymun) is a famous Jewish medieval scholar (rabbi, philosopher and physician) from Cordoba, Spain in 12th century CE (6th-7th century Hijree).

The vast majority of "Asharis" today have no idea what the foundation of their creed is.The well-informed amongst them do not wish that such details are revealed, and they conceal much of it from their followers. This is because when you get to the actual true underlying core foundation you understand what their positions are based upon in reality: An outdated theory of the classification of the universe based upon an amalgamation of Greek philosophical ideas (transmitted and acquired through the Mu'tazilah) that is used to established the createdness of the universe, made as the foundation of their so called "belief science" and subsequently used to determine what Allaah can and cannot be described with, and what should and should not be figuratively explained of Allaah's Attributes in the Qur'an and the Sunnah in order to not to contradict this atomistic theory. And that's besides the influence of this theory upon other subject areas of the creed.

So this information quoted is simply for the record:

From "A Commentary On The Creed Of Islam", by Earl Edger Elder, Columbia University Press (1950), being a translation of a work by al-Taftazaani, one of the later scholars of the Ash'arites.

Maimonides, who gives in The Guide for the Perplexed a most systematic summary of the theory, says that Muslims borrowed it from the Greek Philosophers but notes that there are fundamental differences between the Muslim position and that of Epicurus and other atomists. Al-Baqillani (d. A.D. 1013) has been called the original atomist among the Muslims.

Although al-Nasafi uses the term atom (jawhar} and explains it as "the part which is not further divided," this is insufficient basis for believing that he held the interpretation characteristic of the thoroughgoing atomists and which has been maintained by the scholastic Theologians of the later days of Islam. On the other hand al-Taftazani as well as most Ash'arites accepted this theory in its entirety.

The following is a very brief summary of the twelve propositions of the Mutakallim atomists as given by Maimonides [from "The Guide for the Perplexed, tr. Friedlander, pp. 120"]

(1) The universe is composed of individual atoms (jawhar fard) which are all exactly alike. They do not have quantity but when combined the bodies thus compounded do.

(2) A vacuum in which nothing exists provides for the combination, separation, and movement of the atoms.

(3) Time is also made up of atoms which cannot be further subdivided.

(4) There are accidents which are elements in the sense of non-permanent qualities, which are superadded to the substance and which are inseparable from all material things.

(5) Atoms do not occur without accidents nor do accidents occur apart from atoms, even though the atoms do not have quantity.

(6) Accidents do not continue through two atoms of time. There is thus no inherent nature in things. Allah creates a substance and simultaneously its accidents. Immediately after its creation it is destroyed and another takes its place. That which is called natural law is only Allah's customary way of acting.

(7) The absence of a property is itself a property that exists in the body, so death is just as real an accident as life, rest as real as motion.

(8) There exists nothing but substance and accident. All bodies are composed of similar atoms, so the difference in bodies is caused only by their difference in accidents.

(9) One accident cannot exist in another accident. Every accident is directly connected with the substance which is its substratum.

(10) There is unlimited possibility in the world, with the exception of logical contradictions, because the divine will is not limited by natural laws.

(11) The idea of the infinite is inadmissible, whether actual, potential, or accidental. An infinite body, an infinite number of bodies, and an infinite number of causes are all impossible.

(12) The senses are not always to be trusted. Their evidence cannot be accepted in face of rational proof. This last proposition answers those who oppose the preceding as contrary to the perception of the senses.

There were variants of this form of the atomistic philosophy in Islam, but that held by al-Taftazani and most other Ash'arites, if analyzed, would agree in practically every detail with this scheme set forth by Maimonides.

Though the system is still taught in Muslim religious colleges like al-Azhar, reform movements in modern Islam like that of Muhammad 'Abdu tend to go back to Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, and the Aristotelian system for their interpretation of the cosmos.

We have covered al-Baqillani on Atomism in his book at-Tamheed (see here), and references to the major works of the Ash'arites where Atomism is heavily featured (see here).

And related to the above is what is found in the paper:

Richard P. Aulie. The Guide for the Perplexed: An Unforeseen Overture to Science in Twelfth-Century Cairo. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 50 (June 1998): 122-134.

In which the perspectives of Maimonides of the Kalam Atomists (Mu'tazilah and Ash'ariyyah) are provided. Again reproduction here simply for the record.

The Guide (I, chaps. 73-76) reveals that one school of Muslim theology, the Kalam, had a unique and rather strange picture of nature. The Mutakallimun (the theologians) began with creation, and went on from there to their belief in the existence, unity, and incorporeality of God. To establish the logic of creation was, therefore, a principal objective. But to do that, they interpreted nature according to their own theological preconceptions of revelation. In so doing they did not hesitate to give out radical views concerning geometry, time, and the structure of matter and space.

The creation of the world did not occur just at the beginning, these Theologians announced, but was occurring all the time. Nature was subdivided and fragmented into individual instants and bits of time and matter, each bit of which God was repeatedly creating. The Mutakallimun were willing to rewrite the science and mathematics of the day. No particle of time or matter survived more than an instant, but was immediately recreated by God in a continuous process. God kept on creating atoms, time, "accidents" (qualities or properties), and therefore even knowledge in the mind. Maimonides simply could not believe that nature was organized in such a way.

He had a question for the Aristotelian theologians: How could either creation with a beginning, or continuous and repeated creation with no beginning, be advanced as a basis for faith? He asked the Mutakallimun this question because Philosophers themselves had disagreed for the previous thousand years on whether the universe was eternal or had a beginning. In either case, the existence of God would be an open question. His chapters on the Kalam (I, 73-76) are the most outspoken in the book, and were directed to Muslim Theologians who were his contemporaries...

And later:

Qualities and Accidents

Causation came under particular scrutiny. Qualities were not properties of the whole, according to the Kalam, but each atom had its own accidents of color, smell, motion, and even life; absence of an accident was itself an accident. When a piece of cloth was treated with indigo, he said, by way of opposing this view, the "accident" of black color did not last, but God kept on creating the blackness of each atom. Knowledge we have today, we did not have yesterday.

If the Muslim Theologians were correct, he continued, God repeatedly created the properties of an object "without the intervention of a natural force or of any other agency." In fact, most of the Theologians held that "it must never be said that one thing is the cause of another." Since death was also an "accident," this meant that death was constantly being replaced by death. The repeated creation of every particle and accident meant a denial of Aristotelian causation, which he could never abide...

And later:

If we apply the time-honoured metaphor of the so-called two books, God's Word and God's Works, to this twelfth century debate, it might be useful to say that Maimonides's method was opposite from that of the Mutakallimun. He was interpreting revelation according to his own Aristotelian conception of nature. On the other hand, the Theologians were interpreting nature according to their own views of the Qur'an. "Their sole object is to fashion the Universe according to their peculiar opinions and beliefs," which were derived from the Kalam - their brand of theology.

However laudable their efforts in the defence of creation, those Theologians had abandoned the regularity of nature and the possibility of scientific prediction, and in so doing had left no basis for theism:

They denied the nature of the existing things, misrepresented the properties of heaven and earth, and thought that they were able, by their propositions, to prove the creation of the world, but in fact they were far from proving the creatio ex nihilo, and have weakened the arguments for the existence, unity, and the incorporeality of God. The proofs of all these doctrines must be based on the well-known nature of existing things, as perceived by the senses and the intellect...

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