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Sunday, July 04, 2004

The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam
Author: Allama Muhammad Iqbal
Blogger: Andalusian Reality

I like Iqbal.
He never seems to lose focus of rationality. Although he articulates certain limitations of rationality with respect to metaphysics, this book is rich. The language is richly that of contemporary philosophy and psychology, with a rich understanding of divine verses.

I was overwhelmed to come across the Ash'arite school of thoughts take on the Atom. It is surely a must read for students of Physics and Chemistry. Some text from the book relating to this topic is available in the comments section.

That was: The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam - Iqbal


  • At 10:34 AM, Blogger Andalusian said…

    " There is, however, one question which we must answer before we proceed further. In what manner does the creative activity of God proceed to the work of creation? The most orthodox and still popular school of Muslim theology, I mean the Ash‘arite, hold that the creative method of Divine energy is atomic; and they appear to have based their doctrine on the following verse of the Qur’an:

    ‘And no one thing is here, but with Us are its store-houses; and We send it not down but in fixed quantities’ (15:21).

    The rise and growth of atomism in Islam - the first important indication of an intellectual revolt against the Aristotelian idea of a fixed universe - forms one of the most interesting chapters in the history of Muslim thought. The views of the school of Basrah were first shaped by Abu Hashim (A.D. 933) and those of the school of Baghdad by that most exact and daring theological thinker, Abu Bakr Baqilani (A.D.1013). Later in the beginning of the thirteenth century we find a thoroughly systematic description in a book called the Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides– a Jewish theologian who was educated in the Muslim universities of Spain.12 A French translation of this book was made by Munk in 1866, and recently Professor Macdonald of America has given an excellent account of its contents in the Isis from which Dr. Zwemer has reprinted it in The Moslem World of January 1928.13 Professor Macdonald, however, has made no attempt to discover the psychological forces that determined the growth of atomistic kal«m in Islam. He admits that there is nothing like the atomism of Islam in Greek thought, but, unwilling as he is to give any credit for original thought to Muslim thinkers,14 and finding a surface resemblance between the Islamic theory and the views of a certain sect of Buddhism, he jumps to the conclusion that the origin of the theory is due to Buddhistic influences on the thought of Islam.15 Unfortunately, a full discussion of the sources of this purely speculative theory is not possible in this lecture. I propose only to give you some of its more salient features, indicating at the same time the lines on which the work of reconstruction in the light of modern physics ought, in my opinion, to proceed.

    According to the Ash‘arite school of thinkers, then, the world is compounded of what they call jawahir– infinitely small parts or atoms which cannot be further divided. Since the creative activity of God is ceaseless the number of the atoms cannot be finite. Fresh atoms are coming into being every moment, and the universe is therefore constantly growing. As the Qur’«n says: ‘God adds to His creation what He wills.’16 The essence of the atom is independent of its existence. This means that existence is a quality imposed on the atom by God. Before receiving this quality the atom lies dormant, as it were, in the creative energy of God, and its existence means nothing more than Divine energy become visible. The atom in its essence, therefore, has no magnitude; it has its position which does not involve space. It is by their aggregation that atoms become extended and generate space.17 Ibn Àazm, the critic of atomism, acutely remarks that the language of the Qur’an makes no difference in the act of creation and the thing created. What we call a thing, then, is in its essential nature an aggregation of atomic acts. Of the concept of ‘atomic act’, however, it is difficult to form a mental picture. Modern physics too conceives as action the actual atom of a certain physical quantity. But, as Professor Eddington has pointed out, the precise formulation of the Theory of Quanta of action has not been possible so far; though it is vaguely believed that the atomicity of action is the general law and that the appearance of electrons is in some way dependent on it.18

    Again we have seen that each atom occupies a position which does not involve space. That being so, what is the nature of motion which we cannot conceive except as the atom’s passage through space? Since the Ash‘arite regarded space as generated by the aggregation of atoms, they could not explain movement as a body’s passage through all the points of space intervening between the point of its start and destination. Such an explanation must necessarily assume the existence of void as an independent reality. In order, therefore, to get over the difficulty of empty space, Naïï«m resorted to the notion of ñafrah or jump; and imagined the moving body, not as passing through all the discrete positions in space, but as jumping over the void between one position and another. Thus, according to him, a quick motion and a slow motion possess the same speed; but the latter has more points of rest.19 I confess I do not quite understand this solution of the difficulty. It may, however, be pointed out that modern atomism has found a similar difficulty and a similar solution has been suggested. In view of the experiments relating to Planck’s Theory of Quanta, we cannot imagine the moving atom as continuously traversing its path in space. ‘One of the most hopeful lines of explanation’, says Professor Whitehead in his Science and the Modern World,

    ‘is to assume that an electron does not continuously traverse its path in space. The alternative notion as to its mode of existence is that it appears at a series of discrete positions in space which it occupies for successive durations of time. It is as though an automobile, moving at the average rate of thirty miles an hour along a road, did not traverse the road continuously, but appeared successively at the successive milestones’ remaining for two minutes at each milestone.’20

    Another feature of this theory of creation is the doctrine of accident, on the perpetual creation of which depends the continuity of the atom as an existent. If God ceases to create the accidents, the atom ceases to exist as an atom.21 The atom possesses inseparable positive or negative qualities. These exist in opposed couples, as life and death, motion and rest, and possess practically no duration. Two propositions follow from this: (i) Nothing has a stable nature. (ii) There is a single order of atoms, i.e. what we call the soul is either a finer kind of matter, or only an accident.

    I am inclined to think that in view of the idea of continuous creation which the Ash‘arite intended to establish there is an element of truth in the first proposition. I have said before that in my opinion the spirit of the Qur’an is on the whole anti-classical"

    - Iqbal: The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam


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