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626 Book Reviews /Religion and the Arts 77 (2013) 607-632

Treiger, Alexander. Inspired Knowledge in Islamic Thought: Al-Ghazll's

Theory ofMystical Cognition and Its Avicennian Foundation. Vol. 27 of Cul-
ture and Civilization in the Middle East, ed. Ian Richard Netton. London
and New York: Routledge Division of Taylor and Francis Group, 2012. Pp. xii +
183 +10 tables. No price listed.

( T never said most of the things I said," said Yogi Berra, with his signature
Xblend of candor and precision. If Confucius could speak from the Great
Beyond, he might well issue a similar disclaimer, as would the widely influ-
ential but much less famous Muslim thinker, Abu Hamid al-Ghazl.
Though pervasive misattribution has generally exercised negligible drag on
the catcher's comic cachet or the sage's storied sagacity, it has contributed
to entrenched misinterpretation of the Muslim theologian's life and work.
One of many hints that Islamic religious studies remains in its infancy is the
persistence of a narrative propounded by pioneering "orientalists," that
cast Ghazl as the man whose mission in life was to discredit ^ / s a ^
(philosophy) and the falsifa (philosophers) in favor of trans-rational
According to this long unchallenged scenario, Ghazl searched for cer-
tainty by immersing himself successively in systematic theology {kalm),
philosophy, reliance on an infallible teacher (Shi'i imam), and Sufi mysti-
cism. Judging the first three paths deficient for various reasons, the story
goes, Ghazl concluded that certitude resided only in the experiential
knowledge at the heart of Sufism. Most importantly, Ghazl has been
unfairly labeled as an implacable enemy of rational inquiry, and especially
of the methods of Avicenna and his feUow philosophers. Thanks to a new
generation of Ghazl scholarship, however, a much more nuanced and
complex picture has begun to emerge. Yes, Ghazl leveled a withering
attack on philosophy in major works, not hesitating to rank its practitio-
ners among the worst of sinners. Yes, he also faulted proponents of system-
atic theology {kalm) as profoundly off-target. And, yes, he seems to express
an undeniable preference for an already well-established tradition of Sufi
epistemology. But Ghazal's real story is about how he integrates elements
of all these three methods (decidedly not including those of the Ismaili
Shi'is) in a program of religious reform.
Alexander Treiger's Inspired Knowledge in Islamic Thought: Al-Ghazll's
Theory of Mystical Cognition and its Avicennian Foundation makes a superb
contribution toward a deeper understanding of the work of this most
intriguingfigure.Treiger shows convincingly how Ghazl, ever the master
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013 DOI: 10.U63/15685292-12341312
Booi Reviews /ReUgion and the Arts 17 (2013) 607-632 627

pedagogue, synthesized systematic theological themes with philosophical

concepts honed by Avicenna in particular, into a comprehensive "pastoral"
theology that embraces a full spectrum of human sensibilities and capaci-
ties, from refusal to beUeve to the heights of mystical attainment. He reveals
in Ghazll a tmly original, imaginative thinker capable of a broad range of
communicative strategies.
Why, then, did Ghazl become so pervasively identified as a man fix-
ated on trashing philosophers and proponents of "systematic" theology?
Why, for example, when I recently told a weU-educated young Iranian-
American graduate student that I was planning to offer a course on Ghazl,
did he immediately identify Ghazll as "the PhUosophy-KiUer"? Treiger
posits a number of good reasons why Ghazl never (quite) said most of the
things he is aUeged to have said. Paramount among them, perhaps, is that
Ghazl was doing something "new," and did so by re-naming fundamen-
tally Avicennian concepts, thereby (as Treiger says) "camouflaging" his pro-
found debt to Avicenna. And why have scholarsfrequentlyaccused Ghazl
of disingenuousness, even evasiveness, in his terminology and reticence to
acknowledge and affirm Avicenna as a source? Here too, we have to under-
stand the motivation behind the circumspect language he often uses.
Ghazl was confronted in Khurasan (where he lived, in northeastem Per-
sia) by much inteUectual turmoil, which encouraged him to cultivate hab-
its of prudence. In any case, it was, Treiger argues, Ghazl's overriding
pedagogical instincts that shaped his overaU approach.
Treiger makes an exceUent case for understanding Ghazl's thinking as
consistent with Avicenna's on many important points. Four of hisfivemain
chapters analyze how Ghazl constructed his distinctive system around
key sets of "cognitional" concepts: heart, intelligence, knowledge; unveil-
ing; tasting and witnessing; and inspiration and revelation. Ever attentive
to the reality of the diverse capacities of his students and readers, Ghazl
used metaphor and story to clothe what might otherwise be dry bones in
the flesh of living experience. Among the more interesting, and perhaps
surprising to some readers, themes that Ghazl developed concerns mat-
ters "soteriological" (at least in a general sense). He understands the notion
of "salvation" as a kind of intermediate state between perdition and
felicity/bUss. Sometimes his notion of "mere salvation" resembles the
notion of "limbo." More often he leans toward the view that all who are
"saved" attain to heaven, but that "mere" salvation remains a considerable
distance from the fuU enjoyment of the divine presence reserved for those
who have mastered the "science of unveiling." "Basic" salvation is available.
628 Book Reviews / Retigion and the Arts 77 (2073) 607-632

he explains, to all religious "believers," but the advanced state of "cognition

of God" presupposes a much deeper penetration of the ultimate tmths. Yet
even here, Ghazll is indebted to his philosophical sources. The critical
point wdth respect to Ghazll's "attack" on philosophy, in particular that of
Avicenna, is that though he pointedly takes issue wdth philosophical
method, hefindsmany of the discipline's conclusions quite acceptable.
Treiger's overaU argument and abundant evidentiary detail are
immensely more nuanced and subtle than I have portrayed them here. His
study is a marvelous addition to Ghazll scholarship and wdU make a fine
contribution to a clearer understanding of what this remarkable medieval
Muslim thinker actually said, and what he meant to communicate.

Saint Louis University John Renard

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