The crisis of knowledge in Islam (I): The case of al-'amiri

Philosophy East and West 56 (1):106-135 (2006)
Abstract
: Skepticism as doubts about religious knowledge played a significant role in the intellectual reflection of the fourth and fifth Islamic centuries (tenth and eleventh centuries c.e.), a period of considerable plurality within Islam on many levels. Such skepticism was directed at revealed knowledge that spelled out the customs and norms (i.e., laws) particular to the Islamic way of life (religio-moral knowledge). Doubts were pushed by (1) theologians who, themselves caught within a web of "parity of evidence" between the various schools of Islam, saw little hope of verifying the superiority of Muslim ways over those of other communities, and (2) Muslim intellectuals who viewed the particular religio-moral practices of Islam as shamefully atavistic and primitive, seeking instead to table "visible" religion for an esoterically conceived one. Against such detractors, a significant scholar of the period, Abū l-Hasan al-'Āmirī (d. 381/992), constructed a philosophical (and therefore theologically "neutral") defense of exoteric Islam, arguing in Aristotelian terms for (1) the superiority of religio-moral knowledge (the particular) over philosophical knowledge (the universal) in light of the greater benefit of the former to the welfare of society and (2) the superiority of Islamic religio-moral knowledge, since, he claims, it squares with logic more than any other communal way of life. The argument, one of many seeking to come to terms with the intellectual vagaries of the day, demonstrates how skepticism pushed scholars to explore more profoundly the nature of religion. In al-'Āmirī's case, his argument, metaphysically based with mystical inclinations, set the stage for later articulations of Islamic religiosity that integrated the human mind into the arena of Islam's revealed way of life.
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