Chapter 5 Ṣarīḥ al-Maʿqūl, or What Is Reason?

In: Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation
Open Access

Every time a man comes to us more disputatious than another, shall we abandon what Gabriel has brought to Muḥammad (peace be upon him) on account of such man’s controversy?

Mālik b. Anas1

For Ibn Taymiyya, the question of the alleged conflict between reason and revelation in medieval Islam, as we have seen, boils down most crucially to a question of how to understand the revealed texts that concern the divine attributes. In the last chapter, we explored Ibn Taymiyya’s approach to language and textual interpretation in order to uncover his methodology for determining precisely what it is that revelation says. Here, we explore the main elements of Ibn Taymiyya’s ontology and epistemology, both of which are central in his bid to demonstrate that it is possible to maintain a plain-sense understanding of scripture—in accord with what he claims to be the universal practice of the Salaf—without running the risk of rational contradictions or falling into assimilationism (tashbīh) of the type that would compromise God’s majesty, uniqueness, and utter dissimilarity to all created things. In the current chapter, we examine Ibn Taymiyya’s principal ontological and epistemological views. In the final chapter, we then present and evaluate his use of the various tools he has developed to resolve, once and for all, the centuries-long conflict between reason and revelation that constitutes the subject of the Darʾ taʿāruḍ.

In a relatively brief passage in volume 7 of the Darʾ,2 Ibn Taymiyya outlines, in an uncharacteristically explicit and theoretical fashion, the main components of a comprehensive epistemological system in which he identifies three fundamental sources of knowledge: (1) sensation (ḥiss), which comprises both an outer (ẓāhir) and an inner (bāṭin) dimension; (2) reason (ʿaql), specifically the processes of discursive reasoning and rational inference (al-iʿtibār bi-l-naẓar wa-l-qiyās) through which the particular knowledge provided by the senses is universalized; and (3) transmitted reports (khabar),3 which include but are not limited to the texts of revelation. In the following pages, I unpack this passage by providing a detailed description of each individual source of knowledge as it is presented in the Darʾ, along with the various principles underlying its proper function and use. I then examine the twin principles that Ibn Taymiyya posits as underlying and grounding these various sources of knowledge, namely, the notion of the original normative disposition, or fiṭra, and a substantially expanded application of the mechanism of recurrent mass transmission, or tawātur.

Before delving into Ibn Taymiyya’s views on reason and the acquisition of knowledge (that is, his epistemology), we must first explore his understanding of ontology. Ontology and epistemology lend themselves to a joint treatment since knowledge (a question of epistemology) is, for Ibn Taymiyya, first and foremost a question of knowing what exists (a question of ontology)—specifically, knowing what entities or kinds of entities enjoy substantive, extra-mental existence in the external world (fī al-khārij).4 Furthermore, Ibn Taymiyya’s critique of the ontology espoused by the philosophers and, he charges, many of the mutakallimūn is central to his project in the Darʾ taʿāruḍ and other works5 and must, therefore, be adequately accounted for if we are fully to appreciate his attempted deconstruction and reconstruction of reason proper. That is, Ibn Taymiyya is concerned not only to critique the philosophers’ mishandling of reason but also, more fundamentally, to question their assumptions concerning the very nature of reality itself, that reality about which they purport to be reasoning. Finally, since a major pillar of Ibn Taymiyya’s project rests on his contention that the philosophers are the victims of massive confusion regarding what exists “out there” in extra-mental reality versus what exists only in the mind, we must treat considerations of ontology and epistemology in tandem if an accurate understanding of Ibn Taymiyya’s fundamentally epistemological project—namely, that of resolving the alleged conflict between reason and revelation—is to be possible. Once we have probed Ibn Taymiyya’s understanding of what reality consists of, we will be in a position to account for his views on the various ways in which we gain knowledge of that reality. We shall then be poised to consider, in the concluding chapter, how Ibn Taymiyya marshals the various elements of his ontological and epistemological, as well as his linguistic, reforms to dissolve certain key elements of philosophical thought that he holds to be both rationally indefensible and, at the same time, primarily responsible for the alleged contradictions between reason and revelation that he set himself the task of refuting.

1 What Exists? Ibn Taymiyya’s Account of Reality

A recurrent theme that Ibn Taymiyya stresses in many of his writings is the necessity of differentiating sharply between that which has purely mental existence (such as universal concepts and notions existing in the mind) and that which exists “out there” in external reality (fī al-khārij).6 Ibn Taymiyya often denotes this distinction with an alliterative pair of terms whereby mental notions are said to exist fī al-adhhān (lit. “in [our] minds”), while externally existent entities are said to exist fī al-aʿyān (lit. “among/as [extra-mental] entities”),7 that is, as independent, externally existent particulars.8 The various notions that exist in the mind are said to be “maʿqūl” (mental, notional, logical), while that which exists in the extra-mental world is, for Ibn Taymiyya, invariably “maḥsūs” (perceptible, empirical). It is critical to grasp that, in Ibn Taymiyya’s schema, maʿqūl (mental/notional) and maḥsūs (perceptible/empirical) are mutually exclusive and logically exhaustive categories. Thus, something exists either as a concept in the mind (like universals or abstract numbers) or as a perceptible entity in the external world (ʿayn maḥsūs fī al-khārij)9—only one or the other and never both. In Ibn Taymiyya’s words, “We know of necessity that there is (in existence) only that which exists in and of itself [i.e., independently in the external world] or that which is conceptualized in the mind.”10 Below, I first present a synopsis of Ibn Taymiyya’s account of what exists “out there” in the realm of extra-mental particulars (fī al-aʿyān) and how we can come to know it, then I explore Ibn Taymiyya’s account of what subsists in the logical and conceptual world of the mind (fī al-adhhān).

1.1 Self-Standing Entities (Aʿyān): The Realms of the Seen and the Unseen

We begin our discussion with the realm of empirical reality—the maḥsūs, or perceptible—the existing entities (aʿyān) of which are divided into two distinct sub-realms: the realm of the seen (ʿālam al-shahāda) and the realm of the unseen (ʿālam al-ghayb). The term shahāda, a Qurʾānic term that signifies, among other things, “that which is visible,”11 applies collectively to the entities that are present (shāhid) and perceptible (maḥsūs) to us right now through our various external senses, such as sight, hearing, or touch. Such entities include essentially all the various objects we see, hear, taste, feel, and smell in our daily lives, as well as the various events that we witness personally. The term ghayb, also a Qurʾānic term,12 applies to anything that exists as an independent particular (ʿayn) but is not perceptible to—or is “absent” (ghāʾib) from—our external senses. Now, of the entities that are perceptible to us as part of our visible (mashhūd) external reality, some possess an outward (ẓāhir) aspect as well as an inward (bāṭin) aspect, both of which are equally perceptible. The outward perceptible aspects of such an entity, such as the body of a human being, are perceived through the external senses (ḥiss ẓāhir). The inner perceptible aspects of, e.g., a human being, by contrast, include the subjective experience of internal physical conditions like hunger and satiety, as well as emotional or psychological states such as joy, anger, pain, and the like. And while a person’s inner aspect is not itself empirically perceptible to others, it nevertheless remains in essence perceptible, specifically to the person himself through his own “internal sensation” (ḥiss bāṭin).13 In fact, Ibn Taymiyya states explicitly that “[a person’s] inner state (bāṭin) is not perceptible to us upon seeing his outer form not because it is inherently imperceptible (lā li-ʿadam imkān iḥsāsihi) but because his inner state is veiled (lākin li-iḥtijāb bāṭinihi) or on account of another quality (aw li-maʿnā ākhar).”14 On the other hand, abstract relational and intentional realities, such as amity and enmity, do not count as perceptible (maḥsūs) for Ibn Taymiyya; rather, they are classified as “notions” (maʿānī) enjoying mental existence in the mind. Thus, while the desire and bloodlust that a wolf might feel upon eyeing a lone sheep are, like anger and pain, perceptible realities that the wolf experiences through internal sensation (ḥiss bāṭin), the sheep’s perception that the wolf harbors enmity towards her or constitutes an enemy to her is, in essence, a relational judgement (ḥukm) and, as such, exists as a mental or notional phenomenon in the mind of the sheep. The fear, however, that is induced by the notional judgement of the wolf’s enmity towards her is an internal (and hence “unseen,” or ghāʾib) perceptible reality experienced by the sheep through her internal sensation.15

Notwithstanding the fact that these inner states inhere in what are otherwise outwardly perceptible entities, the vast majority of what exists in the unseen realm (that is, the ghayb) consists of various self-standing entities (aʿyān qāʾima bi-anfusihā) and events that are, like all existing entities and events, in and of themselves perceptible, though not (normally) perceptible to us through our external senses. Nevertheless, Ibn Taymiyya allows that of the various entities existing in the unseen realm, we can perceive, through a type of internal sensation, the existence of both our souls and God. As for all other entities and events that exist in the unseen realm—most notably angels and jinn, but also eschatological events such as the life of the grave, the events of the resurrection and day of judgement, and the realities of heaven and hell—we can know about them (to the extent we can know about them at all) only through what Ibn Taymiyya identifies as our second major source of knowledge after sensation, namely, transmitted reports (khabar), which we examine in greater detail below.

Now, the fact that entities existing in the unseen realm are not subject to our empirical verification through external sense perception does not negate their factual existence as objectively real, independent particulars. In fact, of the two realms, it is the unseen that appears to be more fundamentally real, and it is of note that in each of the ten instances in which the terms ghayb and shahāda are mentioned together in the Qurʾān,16 the ghayb is invariably mentioned first. Yet we must not imagine the realm of the unseen and the realm of the seen to be separated or sealed off from each other in any categorical fashion. Of the two realms, the unseen is more comprehensive and seemingly less restricted, with the intelligent beings inhabiting it, such as the angels and jinn, appearing to have full access to our empirical realm (that of the shahāda), though the reverse does not normally hold true. The inter-relational nature of the seen and the unseen realms is further underscored by the fact that prophets, for instance, are frequently given empirical access to various domains of the unseen world, whereby they are able to perceive entities such as angels and jinn (not normally perceptible to human beings) and to hear what they are saying.17 Conversely, elements of the unseen realm occasionally impinge upon our empirical (shāhid) realm, such as the occasion on which the angel Gabriel is reported to have appeared to the Prophet Muḥammad at the time of the first Qurʾānic revelation or the account in the well-known ḥadīth of Gabriel18 where the angel Gabriel appeared in our visible, empirical realm in the form of a man who interacted with the Prophet and his Companions directly.19

Finally, there is the soul (rūḥ), an independent particular (ʿayn) that exists in the unseen realm yet is associated with the physical body for the duration of a person’s worldly life. The soul is likewise able to perceive things that the body cannot perceive, similar to the manner in which a person might experience things imperceptible to other people during a state in which he is “disconnected,” to a degree, from his normal bodily perceptions, as in dream.20 Upon death, the soul becomes more definitively disconnected from the body and thus can see and sense (tarā wa-tuḥissu bi)21 things that it could not see and sense while still associated with the body. If, Ibn Taymiyya urges, we realize that the soul can sense things that the body cannot and that some people can sense with both their bodies and their souls that which others cannot, then we would realize that the avenues and modalities of sensation (ṭuruq al-ḥiss)22 are, in fact, numerous. Indeed, they are not limited simply to what the majority of people are able to perceive in the visible realm via their bodily senses, as such senses are normally apt to perceive only some of what exists in the external world. It is in this expanded sense that Ibn Taymiyya maintains the view that every self-standing entity (kullu qāʾim bi-nafsihi) is, in one way or another, perceptible (yumkinu al-iḥsās bihi), whether it exist in the realm of the empirically accessible or in that of the unseen.23

It emerges from the foregoing that the distinction between the seen and the unseen realms, for Ibn Taymiyya, is not an absolute ontological distinction as much as it is a relative (and, ultimately, an epistemological) one determined by the particular range and limitations of normal human sense perception. All things in existence—that is, all the self-standing entities of the seen and the unseen realms—are perceptible in their own right, only that some of them are perceptible to us in the current world (dunyā) through our external sensation, while others have been placed categorically beyond the reach of our senses (even when these senses are radically extended by, for example, the use of scientific instruments). From a purely ontological perspective, both realms are equally existent, equally real, equally “out there” (fī al-khārij), and both are equally populated by inherently perceptible, self-standing entities (aʿyān maḥsūsa qāʾima bi-anfusihā) that exist in their own right, distinct from and independent of other existent, self-standing entities.24

Beyond this ontological dimension, the notion of the “unseen” (ghayb) likewise comprises a temporal aspect, reflected in Ibn Taymiyya’s definition of the ghayb as “that which is imperceptible to us now in the [current] world” (ghayr mashhūd lanā al-ān fī al-dunyā).25 So, in addition to those entities that exist concurrently with us but in the unseen realm, the ghayb also includes, from the perspective of its temporal aspect, all events that have occurred in the visible realm in the past and those that will occur in the visible realm in the future, for although such events partake of the visible realm ontologically (that is, their occurrence takes place in the ordinary realm of time and space and in a manner analogous to the events we witness in our current empirical reality), they are nevertheless not perceptible to us right now. The use of the word ghayb in reference to future events in the visible realm of ordinary sense perception is evidenced in a phrase such as “lā yaʿlamu al-ghayb illā Allāh26 (lit. “God alone knows the ghayb”), which is functionally equivalent to English “Only God knows the future.” The use of the word ghayb in reference to past events in the visible realm appears, for instance, in Q. Hūd 11:49, where, after a long passage detailing the events of the life of Noah, God addresses the Prophet Muḥammad with the words, “That is from the news of the unseen (anbāʾ al-ghayb) that We reveal unto you (O Muḥammad).”27

Finally, in addition to its ontological and temporal dimensions, the realm of the unseen is further composed of a spatial dimension, whereby even those things that exist contemporaneously with me in the visible realm but that are not immediately present to my sense perception right now are considered “ghāʾib” (unseen, in the unseen realm) with respect to me. Falling under this category of the unseen are essentially all places, persons, and events currently existing in the world but of which I myself do not currently have direct empirical experience through my external perception (ḥiss ẓāhir). When, at the end of time, the current order of existence is destroyed and a new creation (khalq jadīd)28 is brought about, the distinction between the visible world of ordinary sense perception and the world of the unseen will be abrogated, the veil currently concealing the latter from the former will be lifted, and all unseen entities that are currently inaccessible to ordinary external sensation, including God,29 will become directly perceptible—or “witnessed” (mashhūd)—and experienced in an immediate fashion through the external senses. At that time, Ibn Taymiyya affirms, what we used to merely know about with certainty we will dramatically come to witness and experience directly. In other words, what used to be merely ʿilm al-yaqīn (certain knowledge) will suddenly become for us ʿayn al-yaqīn (certainty itself).30

The ontological affirmation of an unseen realm that lies beyond our current sense perception raises an important epistemological question: How can we come to know of the existence of such a realm and the realities that populate it? Indeed, how do we come to know anything at all?

2 How Do We Know What Exists? The Primary Sources of Knowledge

If I have spent so much time in the preceding section elaborating Ibn Taymiyya’s account of the seen and the unseen realms, it is primarily because for him, to know is first and foremost to have knowledge of what exists “out there” as independent, self-standing entities in the external world (aʿyān qāʾima bi-anfusihā fī al-khārij). Only after accounting for the ontological question of what exists can we consider the epistemological question of how precisely we come to know what exists. A second reason for this elaboration, as I have already suggested, is that a great deal of Ibn Taymiyya’s critique of philosophical discourse on the alleged conflict between reason and revelation can be reduced to a question of confused ontology, namely, to the charge that the philosophers have fatally confused that which has ontological existence in the external world with that which has only logical existence in the mind. The philosophers, Ibn Taymiyya tells us, claim that the ghayb mentioned in revelation refers to that which is maʿqūl (that is, intelligible, in the realm of the intellect), while the shahāda refers to the empirical world accessible to the external senses.31 Ibn Taymiyya, by contrast, affirms that revelation does not, in fact, differentiate between the ghayb and the shahāda on the grounds that one (the ghayb) is intellectual (maʿqūl) in nature while the other (the shahāda) is empirical (maḥsūs), as the philosophers surmise. Rather, it differentiates between them on the grounds that the shahāda is visible to us now, while the ghayb is absent from our current empirical perception (ghāʾib ʿannā), though it is nonetheless fundamentally capable of being perceived (yumkinu al-iḥsās bihi).32 Mental notions and categories, the stuff and contents of the mind—in other words, that which is truly maʿqūl—are, for Ibn Taymiyya, an entirely separate category that has nothing to do with the ghayb spoken of in revelation.

2.1 The First Source of Knowledge: Sensation (ḥiss)

Ibn Taymiyya has often been referred to as an empiricist (or otherwise associated with empiricism),33 and indeed he identifies the primary and most fundamental source of human knowledge as sensation (ḥiss). As we have seen, sensation has both an external (ẓāhir) and an internal (bāṭin) dimension.34 It is through external sensation—primarily by way of our physical senses—that we come to know the objects of the empirical world around us, that world which we have identified as the visible realm, or ʿālam al-shahāda. Through internal sensation, by contrast, we experience various subjective emotional and psychic states and also perceive the existence of both God and our own souls. Our souls, in turn, may perceive through internal sensation certain unseen (ghāʾib) realities that are currently veiled to our external senses. Other than God, our souls, and what our souls may perceive in this manner, we have no access to anything else in the unseen realm through our internal sensation (nor, by definition, can we access it through our external perception). Anything else in the unseen realm that we can know about can only be known through a second, critical source of knowledge, namely, transmitted reports, or khabar.

2.2 The Second Source of Knowledge: Transmitted Reports (khabar)

Sense perception, for Ibn Taymiyya, is the most immediate, necessary, and undeniable source of knowledge. It is the source of all knowledge we have about our empirical world, and, in a fundamental sense, it lies at the base of all knowledge that we can have (even knowledge more proximately mediated to us via reason or transmitted reports). Yet for all its immediacy, poignancy, and undeniable concreteness, sensory knowledge is, ultimately, extremely limited, for it comprises only what each of us has personally witnessed himself. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a reality in which we had no knowledge of anything other than what we have come to know directly through our own limited sense perception. A moment’s reflection will reveal that the vast majority of what we know about our world, both present and past, we have come to know through another source (or collection of sources), which can be grouped under the term “reports” (akhbār, sing. khabar). Literally everything we know about the objects and events of the world other than those we have personally witnessed—including past eras of human history as well as currently existing lands and peoples in far-off places, not to mention the ontological realm of the unseen (ghayb) proper—is ultimately based on some type of reporting (ikhbār) or transmission (naql). For this reason, Ibn Taymiyya describes reports as being more general and more comprehensive (aʿamm wa-ashmal) than sense perception, although sense perception—particularly that of sight—is more complete and more perfect (atamm wa-akmal).35 Indeed, as the Arabic saying goes, “Hearing of a thing is not like seeing it.”36 Nevertheless, it is true that we can know through transmitted reports many times more than any given person could possibly witness himself. In this sense, it can be said that it is through reports that we are able to escape imprisonment in the vivid but narrow confines of what is perceptible to each of us in the current moment. And since “what is perceptible to each of us in the current moment” is the very definition of the visible, or shāhid, realm, it follows that anything we come to know through reports necessarily falls within the realm of the unseen, or ghayb, in one manner or another. Yet even reporting is ultimately grounded in sense perception (ḥiss), for anything accurately reported to us concerning any event, person, or place must originally have been experienced by someone through his senses, then passed on to others in the form of a transmitted report. At the reception end of this transmission process, it is also through our senses—primarily our sense of hearing, or samʿ—that we are able to receive these reports.

The Arabic word samʿ, in this context, refers not just to hearing (reports) in general but to hearing a very specific and special type of “report,” namely, divine revelation (in the form of the Qurʾān and authenticated prophetic ḥadīth). Revelation constitutes a report (khabar) insofar as it consists of “that of which the prophets have brought [us] news concerning the unseen” (al-ghayb alladhī akhbarat bihi al-rusul).37 The reports that constitute revelation are, like any other transmitted report, ultimately based in sense perception, and this from two perspectives. First, revelation initially enters our world as a recited text that is first received, then subsequently transmitted, through samʿ (hearing), one of our primary external senses. Second, insofar as revelation reports to us primarily about the unseen realm, it is reporting about entities, realities, and events that are inherently perceptible (maḥsūs) even if they are (normally) veiled to our senses in the current world or have not yet come to pass. Even God Himself, for Ibn Taymiyya, is “perceptible” (as must be the case for any existent reality that is not merely a concept subsisting in the mind), in the sense that we can perceive Him through our internal sensation in the current world and through our external senses in the world to come. In sum, it is through transmitted reports (khabar) that we come to know a great deal about our world, what it currently contains and what has previously existed or occurred in it. Similarly, everything we know about the currently existing, parallel realm of the unseen (namely, that realm which is absent, by default, from human empirical experience in this world) is likewise known to us through transmitted reports—in this case, the special set of “reports” that constitute divine revelation. Such reports include information concerning the angels and jinn, heaven, hell, the primordial covenant (al-mīthāq)38 and the creation of man, the life of the grave and the events of the last day, and other such matters. They also include, naturally, everything of which revelation informs us concerning the nature of God—most importantly, for Ibn Taymiyya, God’s qualities and attributes.

Yet the world contains all manner of reports, and if we are dependent on such reports for so much of what we claim to know about our world, how can we distinguish authentic reports (those that Ibn Taymiyya refers to as khabar ṣādiq, or “true reports”) from dubious ones? With respect to religious texts that convey knowledge of the unseen—namely, the Qurʾān and the ḥadīth of the Prophet—Ibn Taymiyya’s views are fairly standard in the context of the Islamic scholarly tradition.39 Any ḥadīth that is considered authentic (ṣaḥīḥ) according to the criteria of classical ḥadīth scholarship counts as a true report and can be taken as a reliable indicator of truth about reality. Absolute certainty of the veracity of a report’s content is, however, reserved to those texts that have reached us through the process of tawātur, or recurrent mass transmission. Mass transmitted (mutawātir) reports are those that have been passed down from their origin on such a wide scale and from so many disparate and unrelated sources as to preclude the possibility that they could have been forged through collusion or conscious agreement (tawāṭuʾ).40 The tradition of Islamic textual criticism recognizes the entire text of the Qurʾān as mutawātir, in addition to a (widely disagreed upon) number of ḥadīth reports. The concept of tawātur comprises not only the category of tawātur lafẓī, or verbatim tawātur, in which the report in question has been transmitted word for word in a massively recurrent fashion, but also the (numerically more significant) category of tawātur maʿnawī, or thematic tawātur, in which a common meaning is guaranteed through recurrent mass transmission despite (normally insignificant) differences in the precise wording of the reports. It is of note that, for Ibn Taymiyya, it is the same principle of tawātur—albeit not through the mechanism of formal ḥadīth reports supported by an explicit chain of transmission (isnād)—that we have come to know, for example, the legendary generosity of Ḥātim al-Ṭāʾī (d. 578 or ca. 605 CE) or, for that matter, the extraordinary life and circumstances of the Prophet Muḥammad on the basis of which the authenticity of his claim to prophecy can be substantiated.41

Apart from the transmission of texts, the principle of tawātur also operates within the various religious scholarly disciplines to guarantee the authenticity of the knowledge cultivated in a particular field of study—specifically fields in which epistemic authenticity is directly linked to the faithful transmission of an early normative doctrine, as is the case in the majority of the Islamic religious sciences. Authoritative tawātur in such cases is to be judged by—and often only exists among—those most thoroughly versed in a particular field. In this manner, certain opinions of the iconic early grammarian Sībawayhi (d. ca. 180/796) may be mutawātir for the professional grammarian, though not for the non-specialist public. A similar situation obtains in fields such as medicine and the various Islamic religious disciplines.42 In this vein—and in light of his overall theological concerns in the Darʾ taʿāruḍ—Ibn Taymiyya remarks that the various reports (akhbār) we have from the Prophet’s Companions on fundamental theological issues (al-masāʾil al-uṣūliyya) are, in fact, far stronger and greater in number than many of the legal (fiqh) issues that are also mutawātir and that everyone accepts without quarrel.43 In other words, there exists a particularly important subset of mutawātir reports that complement the set of reports constituting the Qurʾān and Sunna, namely, the mutawātir transmission of the positions and understandings—in creed as well as in legal matters—of the early authoritative generations of Muslims, the so-called salaf al-ṣāliḥ, or pious forebears.44 This subcategory of mutawātir transmission relates, incidentally, to our discussion (in chapter 4) of the linguistic convention, as well as the known positions (aqwāl), of the Salaf,45 to which Ibn Taymiyya accords such primacy in his hermeneutics of revelation and, indeed, in his overall theory of language and meaning.

To summarize, external reality is made up of innumerable discrete entities (aʿyān), some of which (namely, those in the shahāda, or visible realm) are empirically accessible to us now through our external senses (ḥiss ẓāhir), while others of which (namely, those in the ghayb, or unseen realm) are currently hidden from our external senses. We come to know the independent entities of the visible realm in a straightforward manner through our external sense perceptions. Whatever entities we know about in the unseen realm we come to know primarily through the vehicle of transmitted reports (khabar). An exception to this is an individual’s sensation of his own soul and of God, two perceptible, self-standing particulars (aʿyān maḥsūsa qāʾima bi-anfusihā) that we can perceive not through our external senses (at least not in this world in the case of God) but through our internal sensation (ḥiss bāṭin).

If such is Ibn Taymiyya’s account of the maḥsūs, those objects that exist as independent particulars in the external world (fī al-aʿyān), then what is his account of the maʿqūl—that which exists, according to him, purely in the mind (fī al-adhhān)? We now consider this question at length.

3 The Realm of the Mind: What Exists fī al-adhhān?

3.1 Universals

We began this chapter by drawing attention to the fundamental distinction Ibn Taymiyya makes between the realm of the “aʿyān” (external existence) and that of the “adhhān” (mental existence). The conception of mental versus extra-mental existence delineated above has direct consequences for Ibn Taymiyya’s critique of the philosophers’ understanding of universals,46 a critique that represents a principal lynchpin in his overall project of deconstructing philosophy and reconstructing in its place what he holds to be truly sound reason (ʿaql ṣarīḥ). Ibn Taymiyya maintains that it is a matter of necessary knowledge that all existents fall into one of two mutually exclusive categories: that which exists independently (mawjūd fī nafsihi) in the external world and that which exists conceptually in the mind (mutaṣawwar fī al-dhihn).47 In the preceding section, we discussed Ibn Taymiyya’s contention that all externally existent entities (aʿyān mawjūda fī al-khārij) are, of necessity, perceptible (maḥsūs), either through external or through internal sensation. Ibn Taymiyya advances this thesis primarily against the philosophers’ realist metaphysics, according to which abstract entities—particularly universals—enjoy real, extra-mental existence (whether independent of or inherent in instantiated particulars).48 Thus, according to the philosophers, in addition to the set of all existing individual human beings, there exists universal man (al-insān al-kullī), or man in an absolute or unconditioned sense (al-insān al-muṭlaq). The existence of universal man is posited to be ontologically independent of the extant particulars, while the particulars are said (on the Platonic view) to “participate” (tashtarik) in the universal49 or else (on the Aristotelian view) to inhere in each of the particulars.50 It is by virtue of their participation in the universal that the particulars can be said to belong to one and the same species (nawʿ). How, then, do the philosophers account for the distinction between similar, though not completely identical, entities, such as the distinct individuals of one and the same species or individuals belonging to different species subsumed under a common genus?

To explain this difference, the philosophers hold that every individual entity is clearly distinct from every other individual entity and therefore differs from it in certain respects, owing to a difference in the specific attributes particular to each entity that coexist in it alongside the common universal. Thus, between any two individuals of a common species, there exist elements in which they share (mā bihi al-ishtirāk), namely, the universal with all its concomitant attributes (lawāzim), as well as elements in which they differ (mā bihi al-ikhtilāf), namely, the accidental qualities or attributes that do not form part of the essence and that differ from individual to individual within a species. For example, we may posit the existence of two horses, a palomino thoroughbred stallion and a roan-coated Arabian mare. Both are horses and thus (on the Aristotelian interpretation) participate in the universal category “horse,” by virtue of which they both possess four legs, a mane, a tail, and other such attributes that are concomitant (lāzim) to universal horseness. Like all bodies, they also participate in the universal attribute of “color,” though each has a different specific color. As both horses exist, they likewise participate in universal existence (al-wujūd al-kullī) while each also exists as a distinct entity by virtue of a particular existence specific to it (wujūd muʿayyan yakhuṣṣuhu). It is essential to retain that for the philosophers, not only does there exist between any two similar but non-identical entities a common factor (qadr mushtarak) and an element of differentiation (qadr mumayyiz), but the existence of the common factor is conceived of as involving an ontological, and not merely a logical or notional, sharing (ishtirāk) as well.51 That is, the philosophers maintain that there is an actual ontological co-sharing in one and the same universal with respect to those aspects that are common to more than one individual. It is this metaphysical notion of a real, ontological sharing that, according to Ibn Taymiyya, led the philosophers to deny any positive attributes of God. This denial is motivated by their view that sharing of any sort would imply an ontological similarity between the two entities that share in the common universal, a conclusion that flows from their erroneous attribution of objective, external ontological existence to the universal concepts that Ibn Taymiyya insists inhere only in the mind. Therefore, to free God from any similarity (tashbīh) to created entities, the philosophers are forced to adopt a radically negationist theology of attributes predicated on the denial of any and all existential predications whatsoever (salb al-umūr al-thubūtiyya).52

In the face of this realist conception of universals, Ibn Taymiyya stridently and repeatedly insists that the philosophers have committed a fundamental category error by confusing purely logical reality with ontological reality. Ibn Taymiyya’s rejection of the radical conceptual realism of the philosophers is evident in his denial of the existence of quiddities prior to the existence of particulars. Among the quiddities that he denies are the “non-existent,” or maʿdūm (affirmed by the Muʿtazila, the Shīʿa, and the later Sufi “monists”), the Platonic forms, Aristotelian prime matter (hayūlā; Greek ύλη/hyle), numbers as conceived in the doctrine of the Pythagoreans, time and place, the essences of species and genera, and the remaining universals.53 As a result of this denial, Ibn Taymiyya has been described as adopting a “strict nominalist approach,”54 at least as far as universals are concerned. Such a nominalism is hardly unique to Ibn Taymiyya, however, as it was also upheld by other figures such as Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī. Moreover, it has been remarked, such nominalistic tendencies “do not seem to have been uncommon in the midst of Sunnī theology and theory of law.”55 Apart from Ibn Taymiyya’s strongly anti-realist view of universals, however, there are several other domains in which he, like his Peripatetic adversaries, was closer to being a “moderate realist,” such that we can identify “major parts of human knowledge about particulars where he himself, sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly, adheres to ‘moderate realism’ and thus contradicts his absolute negation of it.”56

Notwithstanding his moderate realism in domains related to particulars, Ibn Taymiyya is consistent and unrelenting in his rejection of the philosophers’ realist ontology of universals. This is especially true for the so-called “natural universal” (al-kullī al-ṭabīʿī) that pertains to extant genera and species57 (such as the universal notion of “man” or “horse”), which, Ibn Taymiyya insists, can only exist in the external world in the form of discrete, instantiated particulars.58 According to Ibn Taymiyya, from the similarities evident among, for instance, individual horses, the mind abstracts (yujarrid)59 from the empirically observed particulars the universal notion of “horse,” under which it then classifies and subsumes all extant members of the class (in this case, all existing horses).60 He notes, however, that “horse,” as a universal, is precisely a notion—that is, a concept, or “maʿnā”. As such, it exists only in the mind and possesses, independent of its externally existent particulars, neither existence nor reality in the external world.61 Another way of stating the matter is that what exists in the mind as a universal concept exists in the external world only in the form of individual, instantiated particulars.62 As the universal itself exists only in the mind, the particulars can be said to “participate” in the universal only in a purely logical, not an ontological, sense.63 Indeed, Ibn Taymiyya insists that just as there is no externally existing universal in which the individuals of a species participate (as per the Platonic model), so too is there no sense in which the universal inheres, in a substantive ontological sense, in the individuals (as per the Aristotelian model).64

In discussing the notion of abstract(ed) universals (al-kulliyyāt al-mujarrada) like absolute or unconditioned humanity (al-insāniyya al-muṭlaqa), unconditioned animality (al-ḥayawāniyya al-muṭlaqa), unconditioned body (al-jism al-muṭlaq), unconditioned existence (al-wujūd al-muṭlaq), and so forth, Ibn Taymiyya remarks that “there exists nothing in external reality that is unconditioned (muṭlaq) and non-particularized (ghayr muʿayyan). Rather, a thing can only exist particularized (muʿayyan) and individuated (mushakhkhaṣ), and that is what is perceptible (wa-huwa al-maḥsūs).”65 He goes on to explain that those who are in error among the philosophers affirm the existence of abstract mental concepts in the external world (al-ʿaqliyyāt al-mujarrada fī al-khārij). Such philosophers include, in Ibn Taymiyya’s words,

the Pythagoreans, who affirm abstract numbers, and the followers of Plato, who affirm the Platonic forms, such as abstract quiddities, abstract prime matter, abstract duration, and an abstract void. As for the followers of Aristotle, like al-Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā, they refuted their forebears’ position [which consisted of] affirming such universals as being abstracted from [i.e., independent of] particulars, but they [themselves] affirmed them as being in association with the particulars (muqārina lil-aʿyān) … Yet upon proper investigation, [it turns out that] there exists nothing in the external world but particular entities with the qualities that subsist in them (lam yūjad fī al-khārij illā al-aʿyān bi-ṣifātihā al-qāʾima bihā).66

Indeed, he explains further, any existing member of a given species—in fact, any existing entity at all—is qualified by a separate existence that is unique to it and in which nothing else shares (ontologically speaking) in any way. Thus,

this human being does not coincide with (yuwāfiq) that one in his [specific] humanity (fī nafs insāniyyatihi) [i.e., they are not one person] but coincides with him in an absolute [or unconditioned] humanity (insāniyya muṭlaqa); yet it is impossible for this absolute to subsist in any particular. The absolute in which they coincide cannot itself exist in the external world, let alone be constitutive of (muqawwim li) any thing. Particular things are therefore not constituted by [anything absolute]; rather, they are constituted only by that which is specific to them and in which nothing else shares with them.67

The only “sharing” that occurs is their common subsumption by the mind under a universal concept, which, being only a concept, enjoys no more than logical existence in the mind.68

Given the radical particularity of each existing entity and its full ontological independence from any other thing, how does Ibn Taymiyya account for the nature of the similarity observed among existent entities that are subsumed, by the mind, under a common universal? For any two things that exist, he explains, there is necessarily that which they have in common (jāmiʿ, or qadr mushtarak) and that by which each is distinguished from the other (fāriq, or qadr mumayyiz). No matter how different the two things may be overall, they nevertheless share, at a minimum, in the fact that they exist and, more specifically, that each exists by virtue of an independent ontological reality (ḥaqīqa) that constitutes its essence (dhātuhu), its self (nafsuhu), and its quiddity (māhiyyatuhu).69 Anything in which two distinct entities share is, necessarily, an absolute or unconditioned notion (maʿnā muṭlaq) that, being universal and unqualified, can only exist in the mind. Thus, two animals are said to share in an absolute or unconditioned animality (ḥayawāniyya muṭlaqa) that exists as a concept in the mind only. Each one is, however, distinct from the other by virtue of the particular, externally existent animality specific to it (al-ḥayawāniyya allatī takhuṣṣuhu)70 and in which none other shares with it ontologically in any way. Notwithstanding, there exists a measure of resemblance and similarity (tashābuh wa-tamāthul) among externally existing particulars, as well as a measure of difference and contrariety (ikhtilāf wa-taḍādd).71 Yet the perception of this resemblance and difference is a judgement (ḥukm) operated by the mind after it has abstracted the qualities of each thing, then compared and contrasted them for the purpose of classification.72 The essential point is that the mere existence of similarity in certain respects does not involve any ontological sharing or commonality between the two entities. This is because sharing, for Ibn Taymiyya, is a strictly ontological category and it is clear that the two entities in question are ontologically distinct, each fully particularized and individuated and, hence, independent of the other. Ibn Taymiyya, in fact, compares universal notions to generic terms (alfāẓ ʿāmma) with respect to how each class relates to the specific entities it denotes. The applicability of universals to their particulars, he explains, is parallel to the universality or general applicability of generic terms to the various objects they designate.73 Just as there is no ontological commonality or sharing between two human beings simply because the generic term “man” applies to both of them, so too is their sharing in the concept or meaning (maʿnā) that is signified by the word (that is, their sharing in all the concomitants of universal man that both necessarily exhibit) purely a matter of cognition and mental recognition for the purposes of logical classification. In external reality, although the meaning of the term “man” applies to both individuals equally, each is nevertheless independent of the other in his particular existence (wujūd muʿayyan) and his particular ontological reality (ḥaqīqa muʿayyana) and in no way “shares with” the other in any externally existing reality whatsoever.74

In short, every existent entity is none other than itself and does not share ontologically in anything with any other entity. Any two existent entities are said to be different (mukhtalif) if difference is meant as the counterpart (qasīm) of (ontological) sharing (ishtirāk). With respect to the two entities exhibiting qualities or possessing attributes denoted by a single name—as in both being “blue,” for example—then any two entities will, naturally, be more or less similar (mutashābih) or different (mukhtalif) depending on the number of qualities they have in common. Two instantiated instances of the color white, for example, would not be “different” in this second (notional and qualitative) sense, although they are different in the first (ontological) sense since each instance of white—existing, as it does, as a distinct instantiation of the universal color inhering in a discrete entity—is ontologically distinct from the other and does not share anything with it in terms of its ontological constitution or the reality of its external existence. Furthermore, there is no necessary concomitance (talāzum) between the universals (as concepts in the mind) and externally existing entities (al-mawjūdāt al-khārijiyya), for there may exist various discrete entities in the external world that a person perceives yet does so without abstracting, or consciously conceiving of, a universal concept that would subsume them. Conversely, one may conceive universal notions in the mind (kulliyyāt maʿqūla) that do not correspond to any externally existing reality but are only mental hypotheses (muqaddarāt dhihniyya),75 such as what Ibn Taymiyya refers to as “inherently [that is, logically] impossible species” (al-anwāʿ al-mumtaniʿa li-dhātihā), which would presumably include things like the incoherent notion of a “square circle” or a “five-sided hexagon.” From this, it follows that one may never infer that a thing exists, or could exist, in the external world simply because it can be conceived of in the mind.76

3.2 Essence and Existence, Essence and Attributes

A related aspect of Ibn Taymiyya’s doctrine of universals involves the relationship between a thing’s essence (dhāt) or reality (ḥaqīqa) and its existence (wujūd).77 The Peripatetic philosophers, Ibn Taymiyya informs us, posit an independent essence or quiddity (māhiyya) to which existence is superadded, resulting in the ontological instantiation of the particular object at hand.78 On this view, then, any extant object in the world exists as a result of the accident of existence being conferred upon its pre-existing essence. Yet here again, Ibn Taymiyya insists that “essence” in the sense of a thing’s quiddity, or māhiyya (lit. “what-it-is-ness”), is a notional reality that, as such, exists only in the mind.79 As for an externally existing object, its essence (dhāt) and reality (ḥaqīqa) are none other than its very existence (wujūd), inclusive of all the various attributes concomitant to it and without which it could not exist. Just as the universal is a concept that only exists in the mind, so too are the separability of essence and existence, on the one hand, and the separability of essence and attributes, on the other, concepts that only exist in the mind. Stated another way, the mind can very well conceive of a thing’s essence (that is, its quiddity) separately from its existence, but just as we have seen with universal concepts, the essence so conceived is merely an abstraction of the mind based on a particular existent (or an imaginary object, such as a unicorn). As for the extant object, its essence and its reality are synonymous with its factual, individual, particularized existence in the external world, inclusive of all the concomitant attributes by which it is qualified, without which it could not exist, and in which it does not share anything ontologically with any other existent object. In a sense, then, Ibn Taymiyya conflates that a thing is with what the thing is, maintaining that the two are only separable in the mind. In the real world, a thing both is (“inniyya”) and is something (“māhiyya”) at one and the same time, with no objective ontological distinction between its inniyya80 (its being, esse, “that it is,” or “thatness”) and its māhiyya (its essence, quiddity, “what it is,” or “whatness”).81

It follows from this position that the existence of an entity can in no way be superadded to a pre-existing essence or quiddity. Essence and attributes can be conceived of as separate in the mind but do not exist separately—or as separable—in the external world. Ibn Taymiyya identifies this as a key area in which the philosophers have mistaken logical distinctions in the mind for ontological reality in the outside world of existent entities. That is, they take the logical distinctions of the mind as “primary,” in a sense, and simply assume a direct correspondence between logical categories or distinctions and the ontological reality of externally existing entities (ḥaqāʾiq).82 This prioritization of logical notions and mental categories, together with the assumption that they directly map onto ontological reality83—what we may call the philosophers’ “intellectualization” or “rationalization” of reality—is a key target of Ibn Taymiyya’s attack in the Darʾ taʿāruḍ against some of the most fundamental assumptions driving the philosophers’ speculative enterprise. As we have seen, Ibn Taymiyya argues against the philosophers that the very existence (wujūd) of an entity, along with all its concomitant attributes and qualities, is identical with that entity’s quiddity (māhiyya) and comprises its fundamental ontological reality (ḥaqīqa) in the external world, in other words, as it factually exists “out there” (fī al-khārij), independent of our mental conception of it.84 Another way of stating this is that a thing’s quiddity is none other than its very existence.85 That is, the question of what a thing is (its “what-ness”) is answered by considering its factual existence (its “that-ness”)—in particular, not merely the fact that it exists but, more relevantly, how it exists, with all its ontologically inseparable concomitants (lawāzim).86

As an illustration of this principle, we may cite Ibn Taymiyya’s critique of the philosophers for positing the independent external existence of intelligible substances (jawāhir maʿqūla) alongside perceptible bodies (ajsām maḥsūsa), such as the well-known Aristotelian distinction between matter and form.87 While Ibn Taymiyya does not deny that extant objects are indeed made up of matter existing in a particular form, he does deny—predictably—that the abstract form enjoys an ontological existence separate from and independent of matter that is then superimposed upon matter, resulting in the instantiation of the object in question. Rather, Ibn Taymiyya insists, the only thing that actually exists—in other words, the only thing that has an independent ontological reality as a real entity existing “out there” (fī al-khārij)—is the form-endowed material object itself.88 The form is in no way separable from the substantive existence of the object and can only be conceived of separately from its material constitution as a result of the abstracting function of the mind. The philosophers’ conception of form as an “intelligible substance” existing alongside body parallels, in a sense, their affirmation of universal concepts existing independent of—albeit in association with (muqārin li)—the individual instantiated objects they subsume, whereas in reality, Ibn Taymiyya counters, the only thing existing in the external world is the particular entities (aʿyān) themselves along with the attributes (ṣifāt) inherent in them.89

Along the same lines, we may cite Ibn Taymiyya’s critique of Ibn Sīnā for comparing the association (muqārana) of the soul with the body to that of universals with their particulars. Ibn Taymiyya refutes this confusion by pointing out that unlike universal concepts, which only exist in the mind, the soul is a particular entity (muʿayyan) that exists in its own right (that is, in the outside world and not as a mere concept in the mind), and, like all externally existing entities, it is perceptible (maḥsūs). On the nature of the soul and its relationship to the body in contrast with the relationship of universal concepts to their particulars, Ibn Taymiyya says:

The soul (rūḥ) is a particular and the body is a particular, and the association of one with the other is possible. But they [the philosophers] confuse [on the one hand] the association of the soul with the body and its abstraction from it with [on the other hand] the association of universals with their particulars and their abstraction from them. [Yet] the difference between the two is more patent than to require exposition …, for the rūḥ, which is the rational soul (al-nafs al-nāṭiqa), exists in external reality as an independent entity when it separates from the body. As for universal mental concepts that are abstracted from particulars (al-ʿaqliyyāt al-kulliyya al-muntazaʿa min al-muʿayyanāt), they exist only in the mind (fī al-adhhān), not as externally existent entities (fī al-aʿyān). Thus, it is necessary to differentiate between the dissociation of the soul from the body (tajrīd al-rūḥ ʿan al-badan) and the abstraction of universals from particulars (tajrīd al-kulliyyāt ʿan al-muʿayyanāt).90

The soul’s association with the body is thus a case of two particular, externally existing entities that are connected to each other and that can also undergo dissociation (tajrīd) from each other, as happens upon the death of the body. This, Ibn Taymiyya insists, is entirely different from the contention that universals inhere in, or are associated with, their particulars in the same manner as the soul may be said to indwell, or to be associated with, the body. The confusion here, according to Ibn Taymiyya, results from the fact that the philosophers have applied the terms “association” and “dissociation” both to universals and to the soul analogically (bi-l-ishtirāk) while failing to distinguish between the ontological dissociation of the soul from the body (as two independent, perceptible entities), on the one hand, and the logical abstraction (intizāʿ) of universals from their particulars carried out by the mind, on the other. The common applicability of the same term with the same meaning to two distinct entities neither entails nor implies any essential similarity between the entities in question, since the term applies to each in a manner commensurate with its own distinct ontological reality, or ḥaqīqa. For Ibn Taymiyya, the “real story,” as we have seen, is not the meaning or abstracted notion (maʿnā) existing in our minds but the factual, particularized, individual existence (wujūd) of the thing in question. It is this concrete existence that is constitutive of—in fact, is synonymous with—the thing’s essence (dhāt) and factual ontological reality (ḥaqīqa) and that, furthermore, determines the manner in which a common term and meaning apply to it specifically, in contrast to how they might apply to another entity of which the same term (and meaning) is predicated. In the case under discussion here, this means that one of the elements to which the terms “association” and “dissociation” legitimately apply (namely, the soul) exists ontologically as an independent entity (ʿayn) in the external world, while the other element to which they legitimately apply (namely, the universal) is but a logical notion subsisting strictly within the confines of the mind.

4 The Structure of Reason91

What, then, is the structure of reason (ʿaql), according to Ibn Taymiyya, and how does it function in the acquisition of knowledge? Ibn Taymiyya defines reason as an “instinct in man” (gharīza fī al-insān)92 that is essentially endowed with the capacity to perform three vital functions: (1) to abstract universals from particulars, based on reason’s ability to recognize relevant similarities between particular existents and abstract these into universal concepts;93 (2) to confer assent (taṣdīq) or formulate judgements (aḥkām) in the form of predicative statements relating to existent particulars;94 and (3) to draw inferences of various sorts through which new knowledge is derived (essentially, by transferring a given judgement, or ḥukm, from a given subject or entity to a new one).95 In the previous section, we addressed the first vital function of reason, namely, the formation of universal concepts on the basis of the extant particulars delivered to it by the senses. In Ibn Taymiyya’s words:

What sense perception yields as a particular, reason and analogical inference yield as universal and absolute (or unconditioned). [These latter] do not engender the knowledge of any particular [existent] thing; rather, they render the specific general and the particular absolute [i.e., universal], for universals are only known through reason, just as particular existents are only known through sensation.96

As mentioned in our discussion of Ibn Taymiyya’s account of ontology above, the universal notions—particularly the “natural universal” (al-kullī al-ṭabīʿī) that subsumes extant objects—are derived from the particulars and are akin to still-frame snapshots of the particulars’ essential qualities, recording and representing ontological reality to the mind. In a sense, they form the raw data about the world which the mind then processes and reasons about. As we shall discover, this universalizing function of the mind, for Ibn Taymiyya, also plays a crucial role in affording us access—in conjunction with transmitted reports—to the realm of the unseen, insofar as it enables us to comprehend and conceive what we are being told about this realm through the transmission of true reports (khabar ṣādiq). Even more important, this universalizing function of the mind, as we explore in greater detail in chapter 6, is critical for our knowledge of God and, specifically, for our ability to understand who God is as a discrete personal being.97

In addition to the knowledge of externally existing objects appropriated and registered by the mind in the form of universal concepts, the rational faculty also has at its disposal certain logical axioms and relational principles that are implanted in it a priori and that it therefore knows in a self-evident (badīhī) manner.98 Related to though not identical with self-evident, a priori knowledge is that which Ibn Taymiyya refers to as necessary or immediate (ḍarūrī) knowledge,99 a type of knowledge that he often refers to interchangeably by the term fiṭrī100 (approximately, “innate”) or by the compound term ḍarūrī-fiṭrī.101 While all a priori knowledge and axiomatic principles are, by definition, both innate and necessary, not all necessary knowledge is a priori or innate, for Ibn Taymiyya recognizes a number of other sources of necessary knowledge. Finally, and to complicate matters further, innate (fiṭrī) knowledge only partly overlaps with a priori and necessary knowledge, as fiṭrī knowledge is a considerably wider and subtler category, as we shall see below.

4.1 Self-Evident and A Priori Knowledge

We have discussed Ibn Taymiyya’s strident insistence that universals (kulliyyāt) are strictly conceptual or notional realities subsisting in the mind and that the mind abstracts them from the existing particulars mediated to it through the senses. Absent the instantiated particulars, there can be, quite simply, no universals. This is most obviously the case with the natural universal (al-kullī al-ṭabīʿī), which I have described as a kind of snapshot that the mind takes of a particular class of entities in the external world. Yet Ibn Taymiyya also discusses another kind of universal: namely, the universal rules of logic, such as the law of non-contradiction, the law of the excluded middle, and the law of identity.102 Ibn Taymiyya repeatedly refers to such universal rules, and other self-evident propositions, as being necessary (ḍarūrī), but he also applies a term to them that he does not use nearly as liberally as “necessary” (or “necessary” coupled with “innate,” i.e., ḍarūrī-fiṭrī). While Ibn Taymiyya obviously regards such fundamental rules of thought as necessary, he also refers to them as being badīhī, or min al-badīhiyyāt, or min badāʾih al-ʿuqūl. The use of the term badīhī correlates strongly with the notion of a priori knowledge, and we may tentatively conclude, on the basis of his use of this term, that Ibn Taymiyya indeed regards such universal logical notions as a priori in the true sense, that is, in the sense of being present both in and to the mind prior to any encounter of the mind with the external world via the senses.103 In another passage, he refers to “immediate, certain, primary (or a priori) knowledge” (ʿilm ḍarūrī yaqīnī awwalī), which he defines as “depending neither on discursive reasoning nor on demonstration; rather,” he continues, such knowledge “constitutes the very premises and axioms upon which demonstrative proofs are built.”104 In support of this interpretation of badīhī as a priori, we may cite, for instance, Ibn Taymiyya’s characterization of violating the law of the excluded middle as being “the most patently impossible of things fī badīhat al-ʿaql.”105 In another passage, he describes the knowledge of the impossibility of an infinite regress of agents (al-tasalsul fī al-fāʿilīn) as being “innate” (fiṭrī) and “necessary” (ḍarūrī)—terms we have seen before—but then he makes the further point that all premises in a given argument must ultimately be based on “primordial, a priori knowledge that God initiates in [a person’s] heart/mind” (ʿulūm badīhiyya awwaliyya yabtadiʾuhā Allāh fī qalb [al-insān]).106 Ibn Taymiyya’s pairing of the term badīhī with the term awwalī (initial) constitutes, to my mind, persuasive evidence that he considers such logical universals to be truly a priori—particularly in light of the latter part of the phrase, where he states that God “yabtadiʾ ” this knowledge in the mind. This, it seems, could only mean that God places this knowledge in the mind ab initio (“ibtidāʾan”), in other words, that He initiates this knowledge in the mind, prior to and independently of the mind’s subsequent empirical encounter with the world.

Yet Ibn Taymiyya seems to contradict this conclusion (namely, that the mind possesses certain knowledge in an a priori fashion) in another passage, where he states that judgements (al-qaḍāʾ bi-anna) such as that black and white are contraries (yataḍāddān), or that motion and rest are contradictory (yatanāqaḍān), or that a body cannot be in two places at one and the same time are akin to “all universal propositions that [, which?] originate in sense perception (ḥiss).”107 Granted, the Arabic phraseology here is ambiguous, and we cannot be altogether sure whether the relative pronoun allatī (“that/which”) is meant restrictively, in the sense of “are like all universal propositions that originate in sense perception” (to the exclusion of those universal propositions that do not originate in sense perception), or non-restrictively, in the sense of “are like all universal propositions, which originate in sense perception” (i.e., as all universal propositions do). In another passage, however, Ibn Taymiyya cites propositions of an even more abstract nature than the foregoing, such as the proposition that any existent thing is either necessary or contingent, eternal or temporal, self-standing (qāʾim bi-nafsihi) or subsistent in another (qāʾim bi-ghayrihi), or the proposition that any two existent things either are contemporaneous with each other or exist at different times, are either distinct (mubāyin) from each other or co-located (muḥāyith).108 In commenting on propositions of this nature, Ibn Taymiyya states explicitly that “if we formulate in our minds a universal judgement applicable to all external existents or to all mental notions, such as [the propositions listed], our knowledge of these universal, generally applicable propositions is mediated by what we know of external existents.”109 On the basis of this statement, it would seem that all universal notions—even logical ones—are, for Ibn Taymiyya, ultimately abstracted from sense data. Yet Ibn Taymiyya is adamant that such logical propositions are necessary (ḍarūrī), innate (fiṭrī), and self-evident (badīhī)—terms he never applies to the natural universals (al-kulliyyāt al-ṭabīʿiyya) that correspond to the various species and that are abstracted by the mind from the instantiated individuals of a given class of objects.

How, then, can this apparent contradiction be resolved? The answer seems to be that what is derived from the particulars is the specific content of the propositions mentioned—that black and white, for example, or motion and rest are opposites, that either a thing is self-standing or it subsists in something else (as an accident does), and so forth. What is logically necessary and therefore a priori, however, is the universal relational judgement that two opposites, whatever they may be, cannot co-exist or cannot qualify one and the same entity simultaneously (or any other such derivative formulation of the law of non-contradiction). In other words, it is the abstract law itself that is a priori for Ibn Taymiyya, it would seem, but not the specific, particularized instances in the world to which the law applies. The knowledge that, for example, black and white, as opposed to red and green, are opposites is not logically necessary and can therefore only be discovered from our observation of the particular colors that pigment our empirical reality. What is logically necessary—and, it would seem, both self-evident (badīhī) and a priori (awwalī) for Ibn Taymiyya—is the judgement that any two colors (or anything else) that are opposites are necessarily subject to the law of non-contradiction. In other words, what the mind knows in an a priori manner is the universal logical rule (as can be stated in universal terms) that for every x and y where x and y are opposites, x and y cannot co-exist (or qualify one and the same entity simultaneously). This is the universal logical rule that is known a priori and that holds in all possible worlds. The fact that in the contingencies of our particular world, x happens to be white (and not red) and y happens to be black (and not green) is, once more, something we can only come to know on the basis of what we observe in the world around us by means of our sense perception.

In sum, the built-in, a priori knowledge of the mind—which Ibn Taymiyya also refers to as being innate (fiṭrī) and necessary (ḍarūrī)—is the knowledge of necessary logical relations and abstract principles (such as the law of the excluded middle) that would apply to any thing or things in the event that they should exist. Yet our knowledge of what actually does exist can never be derived from abstract reason110 but can only be gained through sensation (as well as true reports). The legitimate judgements of reason, therefore, are invariably cognitional (ʿilmī),111 notional (iʿtibārī),112 and relational (nisbī), never existential (wujūdī). Reason can never establish the factual existence of anything (other than God), but once it has been provided with the knowledge of extant particular realities through either sensation or true reports, it can and does formulate logical judgements (aḥkām) concerning these existent realities in accordance with the abstract logical principles that are embedded in it in an a priori manner. This particular function of the mind, though seemingly too obvious to warrant mention, is, in reality, an eminently important function for Ibn Taymiyya, as it lies at the very basis of all thought and the construction of all knowledge. In fact, Ibn Taymiyya relies extensively on the everyday, obvious, innate principles of the mind in the course of his argumentation against the philosophers and the mutakallimūn. That is, he often seeks to refute their doctrines on the grounds that, when taken to their logical conclusion, such doctrines end up contradicting one or more of these basic, axiomatic rules of thought and can therefore be known, by virtue of pure reason (ʿaql ṣarīḥ), to be necessarily invalid (fāsid) and false (bāṭil).

Thus far, we have become acquainted with two main functions of reason: (1) to universalize the particulars of the empirical realm and (2) to apply the innate rules of logic in order to pass judgements on how extant particulars must, logically speaking, relate to one another. We have also seen that the innate logical knowledge embedded in the mind in an a priori fashion is alternately referred to by Ibn Taymiyya as being badīhī (self-evident), fiṭrī (innate), or ḍarūrī (necessary). When applied to the kind of a priori knowledge discussed above, these three terms are basically equivalent and interchangeable. Yet neither the concept of what is innate (fiṭra) nor the concept of necessity (ḍarūra) is simply reducible to self-evident axioms (the badīhiyyāt). In other words, while that which is innate and that which is necessary both overlap with the a priori, each also comprises further elements that distinguish it from the other as well as from the self-evident axioms embedded in the mind. In the following two sections, we examine each of these cognitive principles, fiṭra and necessity, in turn.

4.2 Fiṭra: The Original Normative Disposition

Ibn Taymiyya’s conception of the fiṭra is a subtle one that is perhaps best rendered by the term “original normative disposition.”113 The term fiṭra as it appears in Ibn Taymiyya’s thought has been translated in various ways, most often by terms such as “nature” or “constitution,” often qualified as being in some sense innate (“natural,” “inner,” “inborn,” etc.).114 Now, while the fiṭra for Ibn Taymiyya is doubtless innate, this term does not fully capture—or at least does not underscore to the appropriate degree—the strong sense of normativity, both moral and cognitive, that Ibn Taymiyya accords to this “innate disposition.” This fiṭrī disposition, in turn, derives its normativity, to a substantial degree, from the fact of its “originality,” that is, from the fact that the fiṭra is that which is “there first,”115 that which is originally present (at least in potentia) in a person’s constitution and which is ultimately determinative of what a human being is (or ought to be).116 Ibn Taymiyya derives this normative understanding of the original fiṭra in part from the famous prophetic ḥadīth that states that “every child is born on [i.e., in a state of] the fiṭra” (understood here as pure monotheism) and is only subsequently diverted by his parents (or surrounding milieu) from this original potential to various forms of religion that represent a departure from the innate monotheism moored in the fiṭra.117 The fact that the fiṭra is a morally normative concept and does not include just any of the various appetites, drives, and inclinations often thought of as “natural” in a human being is illustrated by the incident in which the angel Gabriel, on the occasion of the Night Journey (isrāʾ) to Jerusalem, presented the Prophet with a vessel of milk and a vessel of wine, then bade him choose between the two. When the Prophet instinctively inclined to the milk over the wine, Gabriel responded, “You have chosen the fiṭra, and had you chosen the wine, your community (umma) would have gone astray.”118 That human beings originally enter the world in a pure state is, finally, explicitly affirmed by the Qurʾān itself, where we read, “Verily, We created man in the best of molds”119—a state that, if subsequently lost (“then did We abase him [to be] the lowest of the low”),120 we can only regain by the sincere practice of ethical monotheism through belief in and full submission to God (“except such as believe and work righteous deeds, for they shall have a reward unstinting”).121

While it is neither possible nor directly relevant to our immediate concerns to provide here a full account of Ibn Taymiyya’s understanding of the fiṭra,122 we may note that, in terms of its relevance to the question of reason (ʿaql) and rational inference (naẓar), Ibn Taymiyya describes “sound fiṭra” (al-fiṭra al-salīma) as the (intuitive) faculty by which one judges the soundness of premises and the arguments based on them.123 Further, Ibn Taymiyya maintains that God has “made the fiṭra of people disposed to the apprehension and cognition of the realities [of things]”—by means, it would seem, of a healthy and functioning intuitive capacity. He speaks, instructively, of “ʿuqūl banī Ādam allatī faṭarahum Allāh ʿalayhā” (the intellects of mankind upon which God has originated them),124 which is reminiscent of Q. al-Rūm 30:30: “the primordial nature from God upon which He originated mankind” (fiṭrat Allāhi llatī faṭara l-nāsa ʿalayhā). God is said to have faṭara (created, fashioned) the ʿuqūl (minds, intellects) of mankind in a particular manner, a statement that makes it quite evident that the fiṭra, for Ibn Taymiyya, closely overlaps with what we might call innate or intuitive knowledge and, fundamentally, with reason (ʿaql) itself.125 Indeed, he tells us, “were it not for this disposition [or capacity] of people’s hearts/minds to apprehend these realities, there would be no discursive reasoning or rational inference, nor even any possibility of discourse or speech.”126 Ibn Taymiyya draws a parallel between this disposition of the fiṭra to recognize rational and inferential truths and the disposition of the body to receive and benefit from nourishment through food and drink. Just as the body is endowed with an innate capacity to distinguish—“intuitively,” as it were, and with no reflection—between healthful and noxious foods, so does there exist in the heart/mind (fī al-qulūb) an even greater capacity to distinguish—again, intuitively and without reflection—what is true from what is false.127

The fiṭra, however, can only perform this intuitive function successfully as long as it is not undermined or rendered inoperable by being tampered with, perverted, or otherwise deflected from its natural function. Such deformations of the fiṭra with respect to reason (ʿaql) and rational inference (naẓar) can occur, for example, when the intuitive judgements of native sound reason are overridden by unfounded parochial doctrines. As a person becomes habituated to such modes of thinking over time, they become second nature to him and, eventually, distort or displace the sound judgements of his original normative disposition. For Ibn Taymiyya, the standard point of reference concerning “innate, necessary propositions” (qaḍāyā fiṭriyya ḍarūriyya) is “those who possess a sound fiṭra that has not been changed on account of inherited beliefs or preconceived biases [stubbornly clung to].”128 He also refers to “those who have not suffered a change in their innate disposition (fiṭra) as a result of conjecture (ẓann) or preconceived bias (hawā).”129 In another place, he mentions the presence of a shubha (doubt or confusion caused by specious objections or counterarguments; pl. shubuhāt, shubah). He then comments, with regard to the denial of God’s being above creation (ʿuluww) and His being distinct and separate from it (mubāyana), that no one concedes such a denial to the negationists (nufāh) by dint of his fiṭra (bi-fiṭratihi) once the proposition has been properly understood.130 Rather, such a concession can only come about through the prolonged presence of doubt or confusion in the mind caused by a specious objection (shubha), especially if the person in question is also subject to the vagaries of whim and preconceived bias (hawā) or has some ulterior motive or personal interest (gharaḍ) in denying the truth.131 With the introduction of ulterior motive—paired here with whim or obstinate personal opinion (hawā)—in addition to (blind) imitation (taqlīd) and (unreflective) habit (ʿāda), Ibn Taymiyya identifies a total of seven basic motives, some cognitive and some moral, for suppressing the normative fiṭra. These “seven deadly sins” of the fiṭra by which a person can undermine his own innate, normative disposition are (1) accepting (unexamined) inherited beliefs (iʿtiqādāt mawrūtha); (2) following whims, preconceived biases, or stubbornly clinging to personal opinion in the face of countervailing evidence (hawā); (3) engaging in conjecture (ẓann); (4) entertaining doubts or confusions caused by specious objections (shubuhāt); (5) harboring ulterior motives or personal interests (gharaḍ); (6) following habit (ʿāda) blindly without reflection; and (7) engaging in blind imitation (taqlīd).132 If the fiṭra is to perform its vital cognitive functions properly, it must constantly be guarded from succumbing to these infirmities.

4.3 Ḍarūra (Necessity)

We have seen that, with respect to Ibn Taymiyya’s discussion of the innate, a priori logical principles embedded in the mind ab initio, the terms badīhī (self-evident, axiomatic), fiṭrī (innate, inborn), and ḍarūrī (necessary, immediate) are basically equivalent. Yet just as the fiṭra comprises dimensions that go beyond a priori logical axioms, so too is Ibn Taymiyya’s conception of ḍarūra, or necessity, not simply reducible to primary axioms (badīhiyyāt). While all a priori and axiomatic principles count, naturally, as necessary knowledge, Ibn Taymiyya identifies at least three other types of necessary knowledge apart from these. First, he speaks of an “empirical necessity” or “sensory necessity” (ḍarūra ḥissiyya),133 by which he simply means to affirm that our external senses (provided they are not impaired) yield necessary knowledge of the particulars we perceive through them, such that our sensory knowledge of the world is obvious, unreflective, and indubitable and can only be denied through sophistry.134 Second, he mentions what we may call “linguistic necessity” or “linguistically necessary knowledge,” which is presumably based on a native speaker’s perfect familiarity with the precise linguistic conventions of his speech community (a topic we examined at length in chapter 4). Ibn Taymiyya alludes to this notion of linguistic necessity when, for example, he prefaces an argument he is making on the basis of the known meaning of a given word with the phrase “we know of necessity based on the language of the Arabs (naʿlamu bi-l-iḍṭirār min lughat al-ʿArab) that …”135 Elsewhere he makes a similar appeal to linguistic necessity when he asserts that knowledge of the difference between a quality or attribute (ṣifa) and the entity qualified by it (mawṣūf) is “anchored in the innate nature of the mind and the languages of various nations” (mustaqirr fī fiṭar al-ʿuqūl wa-lughāt al-umam).136 Here he underscores the fact that innate, necessary knowledge lodged in the mind is also, at least in some cases, reflected in certain universal linguistic conventions shared across nations and peoples. Third, Ibn Taymiyya admits as necessary knowledge the result of any valid process of rational inference that starts from necessarily true premises, a process he refers to as naẓar ḥasan or ḥusn al-naẓar.137 If the premises are necessary and the induction itself proceeds from premises to conclusion in a valid manner, then the resultant knowledge, once the rational faculty has carried out this inferential process, impresses itself on the mind as a necessary and undeniable conclusion. As Ibn Taymiyya puts it,

Even [with respect to] knowledge that is acquired (muktasab) and that comes about [for a person] through discursive reasoning (naẓar), [that person] ultimately finds himself compelled to [accept] it (muḍṭarr ilayhi) of necessity, for the knowing subject, once knowledge has come about in his mind—either with or without an inferential proof or argument (dalīl)—is unable to repel that knowledge from his mind.138

In this manner, even knowledge that is acquired through inference can, under the right conditions, count as necessary, and hence certain, knowledge.

In addition to necessary knowledge derived from the quaternity of (1) a priori intuitions/self-evident axioms, (2) sensation, (3) linguistic convention, and (4) valid rational inference, there is a fifth major source of necessary knowledge, namely, tawātur, which I have previously translated as “recurrent mass transmission.” We have already encountered the concept and epistemic function of tawātur with respect to transmitted reports, our second main source of factual knowledge about the world after sensation. As noted in that section,139 all our knowledge about anything that is absent (ghāʾib) (defined as that which is not available to our senses right now) ultimately comes to us by way of reports. As we have seen, this holds true for any (non-religious) knowledge we may have of past events or of places we have never visited, as well as, naturally, (religious) knowledge of the unseen realm proper, that realm which is conventionally veiled from human sense perception in this world. We saw that Ibn Taymiyya, in accord with the mainstream tradition, accepts as true reports (khabar ṣādiq) the entire text of the Qurʾān, as well as any ḥadīth that has reached us through an authentic chain of transmission (isnād ṣaḥīḥ) as determined by conventional Muslim ḥadīth scholarship. Yet we have also seen that even in the case of ḥadīth reports, we can only claim absolute certainty of the content they convey if the ḥadīth in question was transmitted through tawātur (even if only tawātur maʿnawī, that is, recurrent mass transmission of a common meaning, or theme, with differences in the exact wording). Regarding instances of transmission external to the ḥadīth tradition, be they historical or otherwise, it is likewise tawātur alone that can guarantee ultimate authenticity. The certainty afforded to us by tawātur with respect to reports entails that at the moment such reports come to be experienced as mutawātir by a knowing subject, the content of those reports becomes necessary knowledge for that person. In fact, tawātur itself is often defined as that (generally unspecifiable) number of reports that is necessary and sufficient to engender in the heart/mind of the knower a firm conviction (iʿtiqād jāzim)140 that the content reported is definitively true. It is in this sense that tawātur is, for Ibn Taymiyya, one of the fundamental sources of necessary knowledge. In this, he follows faithfully in the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence and its discourse on the integrity of Muslim textual transmission, especially that of ḥadīth.

At this juncture, however, Ibn Taymiyya surprises us with the insight—seemingly unique to him—that the underlying logic of tawātur is, in fact, operable on a scale much wider than the domain of ikhbār, or reporting, to which it has conventionally been confined. Applying the concept of mass transmission beyond the domain of texts (as discussed in legal theory) or the transmission of more general historical and geographical knowledge (as theorized by the mutakallimūn), Ibn Taymiyya calls the notion of tawātur into service as the final guarantor of authenticity for practically all the other sources and avenues of knowledge in his epistemological panoply that we have investigated over the course of this chapter, including the self-evident axioms of reason, the normative fiṭra, and even sense perception itself. We examine the most important of these applications of the principle of tawātur in the following section.

4.4 Tawātur as the Final Epistemic Guarantor

In a seemingly unprecedented move, Ibn Taymiyya takes the principle of tawātur—well known primarily as the final guarantor of the authenticity of the Qurʾānic text and a limited number of ḥadīth reports—and extends it dramatically, making it the guarantor of his entire epistemic system.141 Although the category known as ḥadīth reports can and does contain errors in the form of falsified ḥadīth,142 we can, according to Ibn Taymiyya’s theory, nevertheless have certain knowledge (yaqīn) of a ḥadīth’s authenticity if it has been transmitted through tawātur—defined as the transmission of a text, from its origin and at every subsequent stage, by disparate sources in such numbers as to preclude the possibility that the report in question could have been forged through collusion or conscious agreement (tawāṭuʾ). Admittedly, empirical and a priori rational knowledge differ from mutawātir reports in that they are immediate and impose themselves on the mind directly with no need for confirmation through corroboratory reports. Thus, when we say that the principle of tawātur, for Ibn Taymiyya, applies to sensory knowledge and to the axiomatic principles of reason, we must not understand him to be saying that our certainty of such knowledge is dependent on tawātur in the manner in which our certainty of the content of transmitted reports depends on tawātur.143 We are certainly justified in claiming empirical knowledge of what we ourselves experience empirically without waiting for such knowledge to be confirmed for us by the rest of mankind. Similarly, the intuitive a priori maxims lodged in the mind impose themselves as true on each individual mind directly and not through the mutawātir accumulation of corroborative reports that other minds have likewise recognized them as true. An abandoned child growing up alone on a deserted island—such as a Ḥayy b. Yaqẓān, for instance144—would certainly still have access to both empirical and rational certitude. Ibn Taymiyya’s point, rather, is that in the event that such necessary knowledge should somehow fall prey to skepticism or doubt on account of some cognitive impediment, then a sort of tawātur of the human fiṭra as a whole must be summoned to witness as a corrective.145 Such doubt, for Ibn Taymiyya, may be induced by a number of factors. Primary among these is the prolonged exposure to specious philosophical or theological doctrines built upon dubious, often highly recondite arguments whose conclusions eventually entail a negation or contradiction of what is ultimately known to be true by necessity. We may illustrate Ibn Taymiyya’s appeal to tawātur in such cases by way of the following theological example.

In his theological treatise al-Arbaʿīn fī uṣūl al-dīn,146 Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī asserts the well-known Ashʿarī doctrine that God is neither spatially located (fī jiha) nor in a place (makān). According to the Ashʿarī view, this entails the corollary that He also cannot be said to interpenetrate (yudākhil) or be consubstantial with (sārī fī) the universe nor to be distinct and separate (mubāyin) from it.147 This doctrine is put forward in order to avoid the attribution of spatial location or place to God for fear of falling into corporealism (tajsīm), a particularly offensive species of assimilationism (tashbīh). Al-Rāzī reports that those who oppose this doctrine (such as the Ḥanbalīs and the Karrāmiyya in his day, and later also Ibn Taymiyya) claim, as a matter of self-evident knowledge (ʿilm badīhī), that for any two existing entities, either one must inhere in (be sārī fī) the other (as an accident inheres in a substance) or the two must be distinct and separate (mubāyin) from each other (as in the case of two independent substances).148 Al-Rāzī counters the claim of self-evident knowledge in this instance with several arguments.149 First, he argues that if the logical exhaustiveness of the stated disjunction were truly self-evident (badīhī), it would not have been possible for a large number of thinkers to deny it, as do, in fact, all theological schools “save the Ḥanābila and the Karrāmiyya.”150 Second, while the universal concept of man, for instance, subsumes extant individuals each occupying a portion of space (ḥayyiz) and possessing dimension (miqdār), the universal itself neither occupies space nor has any dimension. And while it is true that universal man, or man per se (al-insān min ḥaythu huwa), is a concept that exists only in the mind, it is nevertheless not impossible, al-Rāzī concludes, for the mind to conceive of such a thing—a fact that thus prevents the proposition of the opponent from being taken as self-evident. In a further argument, al-Rāzī holds that while the mind readily judges, for instance, that affirmation (ithbāt) and negation (nafy) are contradictory and mutually exclusive opposites, such is not the case with respect to the proposition that two extant entities must necessarily be either consubstantial or distinct from each other. In fact, it is quite possible for the mind to conceive of a third possibility, namely, that the two entities are neither consubstantial nor distinct from each other. Reason, al-Rāzī argues, is unable to form an immediate judgement concerning the possibility or impossibility of this third proposition in the absence of a conclusive argument or proof (burhān),151 and this need for argument and proof means that no automatic judgement of the proposition’s impossibility can be considered truly a priori or self-evident.

In response to these arguments,152 Ibn Taymiyya ultimately appeals to what he argues is innate, axiomatic, self-evident (badīhī), and therefore necessary, knowledge on the basis, essentially, of tawātur—the widespread transmission among human beings of common basic knowables in a way that precludes the possibility of collusion or conscious agreement (tawāṭuʾ) on their part. Ibn Taymiyya observes that all human beings know, in an innate (fiṭrī) and self-evident fashion, that of any two existing entities, it is necessarily the case either that one interpenetrates the other or that they are separate and distinct from each other. This is a straightforward case of the law of the excluded middle: given that the propositions in question are mutually exclusive and logically exhaustive, there exists no third possibility between them (the “middle” is excluded). This being the case, one or the other of the two propositions must be true; denying them both would entail a logical—and, consequently, also an ontological—impossibility, akin to holding that a thing both exists and does not exist at the same time. Such knowledge is “common to the members of all nations whose innate nature has not been altered.”153 Here, Ibn Taymiyya has essentially applied the theory of tawātur to the widespread attestations of what disparate individuals report to be innate (fiṭrī) or necessary (ḍarūrī) knowledge to them. He states explicitly that we may claim “knowledge of the factual truth (thubūt) of what people report in a mutawātir fashion with respect to empirical and necessary knowledge,”154 with “necessary” here seemingly used in the sense of what is innate (fiṭrī) or self-evident (badīhī). Intentional mendacity (taʿammud al-kadhib) on the part of a large number of disparate individuals absent collusion or conscious agreement (tawāṭuʾ) is virtually impossible in light of the conventional workings of the world (yamtaniʿu fī al-ʿāda). Ibn Taymiyya further affirms that mere error (khaṭaʾ) is also impossible with respect to a large number in matters of both empirical and necessary (rational) knowledge,155 for it is impossible, given the conventional workings of the world, that they should all concur fortuitously on one and the same error.

Yet if our knowledge of the law of the excluded middle is innate and self-evident (badīhī), it would be surprising if it could somehow be overridden, particularly by a disputed premise that is not known by necessity—in the case at hand, the contention that affirming God to be distinct and separate (mubāyin) from the world entails assimilationism (tashbīh). We recall that, for Ibn Taymiyya, the proper functioning of all our epistemic faculties—including both judging the soundness of the premises of an argument and simply retaining a meaningful awareness of the self-evident, axiomatic principles of the mind (that is, the badīhiyyāt)—is predicated in all cases on the health and proper functioning of the fiṭra. It is precisely in this sense that Ibn Taymiyya, as discussed above, conceives of the fiṭra as undergirding all our various cognitive and moral faculties and, when healthy, guaranteeing the veracity of their mutually corroborative witness to the truth. But as we saw above, the fiṭra is susceptible to both cognitive and moral corruption, the former induced by longstanding habituation to beliefs that contradict what is intuitively known to be true. In the event that the fiṭra has become cognitively impaired and a person insists on maintaining a doctrine that is contradictory to necessary knowledge, an appeal may be made to the mutawātir agreement of human beings on the point in question as conclusive proof of the veracity of the proposition. This mutawātir human agreement thus acts as a corrective to the erroneous doctrine that stands in opposition to it.

We can drive the same point home from another angle by stating the relationship between the fiṭra and necessary knowledge, as guaranteed through tawātur, in a different way. For Ibn Taymiyya, human hearts/minds and cognitive faculties (qulūb/ʿuqūl) are trustworthy as long as they are not corrupted, that is, as long as they have not deviated from the normative fiṭra. However, individual human beings may use their minds incorrectly and draw false conclusions if they have become accustomed to intellectual errors through the adoption of specious assumptions and erroneous beliefs. But this raises the following question: How can we, according to Ibn Taymiyya, correctly identify the content of sound human minds and uncorrupted intellectual faculties? Ibn Taymiyya addresses this problem by carrying out an inductive survey of mankind to observe what cognitive intuitions are common to all human minds. Elements shared by all human intellects (apart from those of idiosyncratic philosophers) are constitutive of a normative (cognitional) human nature or disposition (fiṭra). Thus, just as we can say that it is human nature to have two eyes, since every human being we have ever encountered (apart from those with impaired bodies) has two eyes, so can we assert with the same confidence that it is human nature, for instance, to recognize the truth of the law of the excluded middle or to intuit that any two existing entities must be either consubstantial with or distinct from each other ontologically. The grounds for this assertion lie in the fact that all people (apart from those whose intellects have become corrupted through faulty philosophizing) consistently report that they instinctively recognize the necessary truth of these propositions. Mass reporting of this type amounts to a kind of pan-human tawātur on the level of rational intuition and proper cognitive function. In this manner, tawātur reveals the nature of the human mind and of the uncorrupted faculties of the intellect. It is precisely by enabling an inductive study of human minds that tawātur allows us to identify shared cognitive intuitions that, in turn, we may take as constitutive of a normative cognitional fiṭra.

In summary, through his expanded conception of tawātur, tied to the notion of the normative fiṭra, Ibn Taymiyya seeks to insulate what he observes to be universally held, innate notions against the corrosive doubt engendered by specious claims put forth in the name of a (pseudo-)philosophical “reason” that would barter these basic intuitions for abstract mental constructs devoid of any proper philosophical justification, let alone ontological reality. The epistemological significance of Ibn Taymiyya’s vindication, through the mechanism of tawātur, not only of the integrity of human sense perception but, more importantly, of what can be observed to be universally shared innate, intuitive, a priori—and hence necessary—knowledge becomes clear when placed in the context of his larger epistemological framework. Universally shared empirical experiences and innate rational intuitions—guaranteed, in the final analysis, by some type of pan-human tawātur based in the fiṭra—yield certain knowledge that cannot reasonably be subjected to doubt. Being both immediate and universal, such knowledge cannot be overturned or superseded by the derivative conclusions of speculative reason. This is particularly true when (as Ibn Taymiyya contends is normally the case) the processes of inference involved, as well as the assumptions and premises upon which they are based, are the province of a restricted number of intellectuals—intellectuals who are committed to a particular school of thought, the fundamental premises of which they have, more often than not, accepted and propagated on the basis of imitation (taqlīd) and prior conscious agreement (tawāṭuʾ) rather than pure intellection, as they fancy. Even if comparatively large numbers of such thinkers agreed among themselves on a position that conflicts with necessary knowledge (as al-Rāzī holds to be the case with respect to the possibility of two existing entities being neither consubstantial with nor distinct from each other),156 this would always fall short of the overwhelming tawātur by which the truth of the opposite proposition has been established.157 In essence, Ibn Taymiyya insists that immediate and universally shared knowledge—gained through a combination of sense perception (ḥiss), self-evident axioms (badāʾih al-ʿuqūl),158 and fundamental rational intuitions grounded in the normative fiṭra—cannot be overridden by what he deems to be parochial conclusions derived speculatively by the pre-committed adherents of an idiosyncratic philosophical doctrine.

It is important to underscore that Ibn Taymiyya in no manner intends to delegitimize reason or its (valid) inferential operations per se. In fact, he is concerned precisely to defend and to legitimate the innate and a priori knowledge contained in the mind against claims that such knowledge may be subject to vitiation by the deliverances of a posteriori inference. At the same time, we must not understand Ibn Taymiyya to be privileging the innate knowledge of the mind at the expense of the valid processes of rational investigation and inference of that very same mind. Rather, he is simply affirming that the results of discursive reasoning must be checked against the indubitably true contents of necessary knowledge, the fundamental axioms of reason, and the (healthy) fiṭra rather than the reverse.159 When the two are thought to conflict, it is either the process of reasoned inference or the premises on which the inference is based (or both) that have somehow gone wrong, not the obvious and widely-shared notions rooted in the innate principles of reason and guaranteed by the fiṭra—as per the maxim that “necessary knowledge cannot be contradicted by the conclusions of discursive inference.”160 Where such a conflict is found to arise, Ibn Taymiyya insists that if we conduct a critical review of the terms in which the inference is stated (as per chapter 4) and of the substantive assumptions underlying its premises, we will realize in every case that it is the process of discursive reasoning that has somehow gone astray and not the underlying intuitions of the native intellect. In the case of al-Rāzī’s argument presented above, the error involved is an easy one for Ibn Taymiyya to identify, as it is a classic case of confusing what exists in the mind with what exists in external reality, then assuming that the rational judgement (ḥukm) that applies to the former is automatically transferable to the latter. Al-Rāzī’s error, according to Ibn Taymiyya, lies specifically in the assumption that the mere ability of the mind to formulate the proposition that two existent things might be neither consubstantial with nor distinct from each other automatically translates into the ontological possibility that such a thing could actually exist in the outside world, thus making it necessary to go through a process of reasoned inference to determine which of the three possibilities—consubstantial, distinct from, or neither—is correct.

In light of the foregoing, it is important to re-emphasize that Ibn Taymiyya nowhere insists, nor even suggests, that reason should somehow “submit” to revelation in the sense that one should abandon a well-grounded rational conclusion simply as a concession to sense perception or transmitted reports (specifically, revelation). On the contrary, he holds, and attempts to substantiate throughout the Darʾ taʿāruḍ, that the discordant inferential conclusion is always the result of faulty inference—what we may call “naẓar sayyiʾ ” or “sūʾ al-naẓar” (lit. “bad reasoning”), in contrast to Ibn Taymiyya’s ḥusn al-naẓar (sound reasoning)—and that a thorough and properly grounded (linguistic and) rational re-analysis of the matter will always reveal where the original inference went wrong and establish that the valid conclusions of pure reason (ʿaql ṣarīḥ) do not, in fact, conflict with our innate or empirical knowledge, on the one hand, or with what we know to be the case from revelation, on the other. Thus, while we may often be alerted to our errors in rational inference by the other sources of certain knowledge and prompted thereby to correct our reasoning, we are never asked to deny the legitimate and valid conclusions of reason or to allow them simply to be overridden by “competing” sources of knowledge. Indeed, we recall that Ibn Taymiyya takes it as a fundamental premise of his epistemology that reliable sources of true knowledge are always—of necessity—complementary and corroboratory and that they can never be in bona fide competition or conflict.

In this chapter, we have learned that reality, in Ibn Taymiyya’s account, consists of two realms, the seen (shahāda) and the unseen (ghayb). The mind acquires knowledge of what exists in the former by way of external sensation (ḥiss ẓāhir), while it acquires knowledge of what exists in the latter primarily through transmitted reports (khabar) as well as, to a limited degree, internal sensation (ḥiss bāṭin). On the basis of the empirical knowledge provided to it by the senses, the mind abstracts universal concepts that it holds as mental representations of external reality. As the knowledge of the mind is purely cognitional (ʿilmī) and notional (iʿtibārī), the rational faculty is unable to establish the factual existence of any externally existent entity (although it can, once more, affirm the existence of God on the basis of an innate, internal sensus divinitatis).161 Reason nevertheless comes embedded with the innate (fiṭrī) and necessary (ḍarūrī) knowledge of certain fundamental axioms (badīhiyyāt), on the basis of which we are able to confer rational assent (taṣdīq) or form logical judgements (aḥkām) with respect to existing entities. The mind possesses necessary knowledge of the external reality mediated to it by the senses, of its own innate logical principles, and of whatever information has reached it by way of reports (akhbār) that have been passed down through recurrent mass transmission (tawātur) (such as, most importantly, the Qurʾānic text and a limited number of mutawātir ḥadīth reports). The principle of tawātur, however, is not limited to guaranteeing the authenticity of verbal reports. It also serves as the ultimate guarantor of the necessary knowledge mediated to the mind by the senses, as well as of the axiomatic principles of reason and of the fiṭra more generally, in the event that any of these sources of widely-shared, necessary knowledge should come to be undermined, impugned, or subjected to systematic doubt. Such doubt is typically the result of doctrines that have been derived through discursive reasoning (naẓar) on the basis of dubious premises that, Ibn Taymiyya contends, unambiguously contradict the necessary knowledge attested to by any of the sources mentioned above.

Having laid out the fundamental components of Ibn Taymiyya’s attempted hermeneutical, ontological, and epistemological reforms over the course of the past two chapters, we now turn, in the final chapter, to consider how he applies these tools to resolve, once and for all, the hitherto intractable “contradiction” between reason and revelation, particularly with regard to the question of the divine attributes.


a-wa-kullamā jāʾanā rajul ajdal min rajul taraknā mā jāʾa bihi Jibrīl ilā Muḥammad (ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) li-jadal hādhā?” Cited at Darʾ, 1:191, lines 2–3.


Darʾ, 7:324, lines 8–17.


The standard Arabic term used in this context is the (singular) word khabar (pl. akhbār), used generically in reference to transmitted reports as a class. It is for this reason that I render singular “khabar” as “reports” or “transmitted reports” (in the plural).


See, for example, Darʾ, 6:98, line 4, where we read, “wa-laysa al-maqṣūd al-awwal bi-l-ʿilm illā ʿilm mā huwa thābit fī al-khārij.”


Most notably his Kitāb al-Radd ʿalā al-manṭiqiyyīn, the strictly logical portions of which al-Suyūṭī (in his Jahd al-qarīḥa) extracted from the metaphysical discussions. (See remarks in Hallaq, Greek Logicians, liii–lv.)


On mental concepts inhering only in the mind and being devoid of any external existence independent of their particulars, see Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xxix.


See, e.g., Darʾ, 6:110, lines 9–10 (which is only one of many similar passages).


Ibn Taymiyya also refers to this with the typical phrase “aʿyān qāʾima bi-anfusihā.” See, e.g., Darʾ, 5:387, line 12, among others.


On the distinction between external and mental existence—that is, between what exists fī al-aʿyān and what exists fī al-adhhān—see, e.g., Darʾ, 5:174, lines 11–16, where Ibn Taymiyya critiques the philosophers for positing, alongside perceptible bodies (ajsām maḥsūsa), the existence of “intelligible substances” (jawāhir maʿqūla) like matter (in the abstract) and form, externally existent universals associated with extant particulars (al-kulliyyāt [fī al-khārij] muqārinatan lil-aʿyān), and the Avicennian ten intellects. See also Darʾ, 5:135; Radd, 67.


fa-innā naʿlamu bi-l-iḍṭirār annahu mā fī al-wujūd illā mā huwa mawjūd fī nafsihi aw mā huwa mutaṣawwar fī al-dhihn.” Darʾ, 5:135, lines 16–17.


Derivatives of the root sh-h-d appear in the Qurʾān 157 times, with various meanings such as “to see, to witness,” “to be present,” “to bear witness, testify,” and “to be martyred.” See Gimaret, “S̲h̲ahāda,” EI2, 9:201a. For the term shahāda in the sense of the visible realm in, e.g., the Qurʾānic description of God as “ʿālim al-ghayb wa-l-shahāda” (Knower of the unseen and the seen), see Q. al-Anʿām 6:73; al-Tawba 9:94, 9:105; al-Raʿd 13:9; al-Muʾminūn 23:92; al-Sajda 32:6; al-Zumar 39:46; al-Ḥashr 59:22; al-Jumuʿa 62:8; and al-Taghābun 64:18.


Derivatives of the root gh-y-b, meaning “to be absent or hidden,” appear fifty-nine times in the Qurʾān, most frequently in the sense of “what is hidden, inaccessible to the senses and to reason—thus, at the same time absent from human knowledge and hidden in divine wisdom.” MacDonald and Gardet, “al-G̲h̲ayb,” EI2, 2:1025a. The plural form, “ghuyūb,” also appears four times, specifically in the description of God as “ʿallām al-ghuyūb” (the One with full knowledge of unseen matters/realms/realities), at Q. al-Māʾida 5:109, 5:116; al-Tawba 9:78; and Sabaʾ 34:48.


See Darʾ, 6:108, lines 10–13.


Darʾ, 6:32, line 16 to 6:33, line 2.


See Darʾ, 6:44; also 6:52. Ibn Sīnā discusses this same example of the wolf and the sheep, where he attributes the sheep’s sense of danger vis-à-vis the wolf to the estimative faculty (wahm / al-quwwa al-wahmiyya). For more on Ibn Sīnā’s notion of wahm, see below, p. 273, n. 159.


See p. 230, n. 11 above.


Darʾ, 6:108, line 18 to 6:109, line 1. The Qurʾān, for instance, contains numerous passages in which prophets are depicted as having direct interaction with the ghayb, or unseen realm. See, e.g., Q. al-Naml 27:16–44 and Ṣād 38:36.


See, e.g., Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 24–25, where this ḥadīth appears at the very beginning of the first “book” (Kitāb al-īmān) of the work. See also al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, 23 and 1199–1200.


See Darʾ, 6:32–33 and 6:108–109 on the definition of the ghayb and its relationship to the seen.


With respect to the perception of the soul, Ibn Taymiyya seems to be speaking of the kind of spiritual unveiling (kashf) in which discrete elements of the unseen realm are disclosed to a person as a divine favor.


Darʾ, 6:108, lines 16–17.


Darʾ, 6:110, lines 3–4.


Darʾ, 6:110, lines 2–8. For important discussions on what exactly Ibn Taymiyya means by his statement that all existing things are, in some sense, perceptible (maḥsūs), see Darʾ, 5:130–134, 5:168–175, and 6:32–33. See Darʾ, 5:173–174 for his criticism, in this regard, of the Pythagoreans, the Platonists, and the Aristotelians and Darʾ, 5:175 on the Peripatetics’ insufficient response to the materialists.


The fundamental ontological distinction, as we shall see, is between the necessary, uncreated, eternal, and indestructible existence of God, on the one hand, and the contingent, created, temporal existence of everything other than God (both seen and unseen), on the other. These qualities (necessity vs. contingency, eternity vs. temporality, etc.) are inherent to the entity in question and are therefore true in an absolute sense; that is, they are not relative to us as human beings, like the (relative) fact that some created, contingent realities happen to be perceptible to us in the current world (and are thus “shāhid,” or present to us), while others happen not to be (and are thus “ghāʾib,” or absent from us).


See similar at Darʾ, 6:107, lines 13–14 and 9:15, lines 1–4.


Reminiscent of Q. al-Naml 27:65, which states, “Say, ‘None in the heavens and the earth know the unseen save God, and they perceive not when they will be resurrected.’ ”


See similar at Q. Āl ʿImrān 3:44 and Yūsuf 12:102.


The expression khalq jadīd, in reference to the afterlife, appears eight times in the Qurʾān. See Q. al-Raʿd 13:5 and al-Sajda 32:10 (a-innā la-fī khalqin jadīd); Ibrāhīm 14:19 and Fāṭir 35:16 (in yashaʾ yudhhibkum wa-yaʾti bi-khalqin jadīd); al-Isrāʾ 17:49 and 17:98 (a-innā la-mabʿūthūna khalqan jadīdan); Sabaʾ 34:7 (innakum la-fī khalqin jadīd); and Qāf 50:15 (bal hum fī labsin min khalqin jadīd).


This is a reference to the ruʾya (“beatific vision”) alluded to in Q. al-Qiyāma 75:22–23: “(22) [Some] faces that day will be radiant, (23) gazing upon their Lord (ilā rabbihā nāẓira).”


This distinction between ʿilm al-yaqīn (the knowledge of certainty) and ʿayn al-yaqīn (the “eye of certainty,” or certainty itself) is a direct reference to Q. al-Takāthur 102:5–7: “(5) Nay! If only you knew with the knowledge of certainty (kallā law taʿlamūna ʿilm al-yaqīn)! (6) You will surely see the hellfire; (7) then will you surely see it with the eye of certainty (thumma la-tarawunnahā ʿayn al-yaqīn).”


See, e.g., Darʾ, 6:33, esp. lines 14–16; also Darʾ, 6:107, lines 15–16 and 9:15, lines 1–3.


See, e.g., Darʾ, 9:14–15 (esp. 9:14, lines 17–18 and 9:15, lines 3–4).


See, e.g., Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xxxi, xxxiii–xxxiv, xlvii–l; Heer, “Ibn Taymiyah’s Empiricism,” 113 and passim; von Kügelgen, “Poison of Philosophy,” 296; Marcotte, “Ibn Taymiyya et sa critique,” 50. See also von Kügelgen’s useful summary of scholarly views on Ibn Taymiyya’s “empiricism,” followed by her own pertinent comments and analysis, in “Ibn Taymīyas Kritik,” 214–221. As von Kügelgen argues, the similarity between Ibn Taymiyya and the later empiricists only goes so far. She further remarks (pp. 217–218) that Ibn Taymiyya does not, in fact, criticize the Aristotelian search for the essence of things itself; rather, he criticizes the presumption that this essence can be abstracted from particulars with any kind of certainty.


In addition to external and internal perception, Ibn Taymiyya also counts the content of recurrently mass transmitted reports (mutawātirāt), matters known through observation or experience (mujarrabāt), and matters known by intuition (ḥadsiyyāt) as part of that which we know through sensation. Von Kügelgen, “Ibn Taymīyas Kritik,” 196; Hallaq, Greek Logicians, 144.


Darʾ, 7:324, lines 16–17.


laysa al-mukhbar ka-l-muʿāyan.” Darʾ, 7:325, line 3. He goes on to add that “not everything that is seen can be reported on, and the knowledge that comes about through reporting is not like the knowledge that comes about through direct witnessing.”


Darʾ, 9:14, line 16.


See Q. al-Aʿrāf 7:172: “And when thy Lord took from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their progeny and made them bear witness concerning themselves, ‘Am I not your Lord?’ they said, ‘Yea, we bear witness’—lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘Truly of this we were heedless’ ” (trans. The Study Quran). On this verse and the concept of the primordial covenant, see Gramlich, “Der Urvertrag in der Koranauslegung (zu Sure 7, 172–173).”


For an overview of this tradition, see Brown, Hadith.


For a detailed study of Ibn Taymiyya’s views on tawātur, both as a topic of legal theory and more generally, see El-Tobgui, “From Legal Theory to Erkenntnistheorie” (esp. 18–33 for his views on tawātur as related to the transmission of texts). At Radd, 92–100, Ibn Taymiyya argues against those logicians who deny the use of mass transmitted reports in establishing knowledge, charging that such denial lies at the root of disbelief and heresy (ilḥād).


For Ibn Taymiyya’s discussion of the use of various classes of ḥadīth and the positions that have been held with respect to them, see Darʾ, 3:383, line 12 to 3:384, line 6.


For this discussion, see Darʾ, 8:44 ff. Zysow (Economy of Certainty, 22) mentions that this division of mutawātir reports into general (ʿāmm) and specialized (khāṣṣ) was “particularly dear to Ibn Taymiyya.” See Zysow, 22, n. 88 for references to this division in numerous other works of Ibn Taymiyya and the discussion in El-Tobgui, “From Legal Theory to Erkenntnistheorie,” 20–21.


See Darʾ, 7:32, lines 1–6.


On the elevation of exegetical reports from the Salaf to the status of certain, prophetic knowledge, see S. Ahmed, “Ibn Taymiyyah and the Satanic Verses,” 78–86 and Saleh, “Radical Hermeneutics,” esp. 128–131.


See chapter 4, section 3 (p. 206 ff.) above. On the role of pre-Islamic poetry as an attestation (shāhid) of correct Arabic language use, see Suleiman, Arabic Grammatical Tradition, 19–22.


On the philosophers’ (particularly Ibn Sīnā’s) doctrine of universals, see Marmura, “Avicenna’s Chapter on Universals in the Isagoge of the Shifāʾ ” and Marmura, “Quiddity and Universality in Avicenna.”


Darʾ, 5:135, lines 16–17.


On Ibn Taymiyya’s critique of the philosophers’ realist conception of universals, see Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xx–xxiv.


On Plato’s doctrine of universals as self-standing Forms in which particulars participate, see Shields, Ancient Philosophy, 68–88. See also MacLeod and Rubenstein, “Universals,” section 2a, “Extreme Realism.”


On Aristotle’s doctrine of universals as inhering in multiple disparate particulars, see MacLeod and Rubenstein, “Universals,” section 2b, “Strong Realism.”


Ibid., section 2, “Versions of Realism.”


See, e.g., Darʾ, 9:339, lines 14–16: “idh yuthbitūna wujūdan muṭlaqan aw mashrūṭan bi-salb al-umūr al-thubūtiyya aw al-thubūtiyya wa-l-ʿadamiyya wa-hādhā lā yakūnu illā fī al-adhhān.” See similar discussion at Darʾ, 1:217, 1:286–289, and 5:140–145 (esp. 5:142–143).


Von Kügelgen, “Ibn Taymīyas Kritik,” 181–182; von Kügelgen, “Poison of Philosophy,” 293.


Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xlvi.




See von Kügelgen, “Poison of Philosophy,” 293. These points are further elaborated at von Kügelgen, 306–322.


See Darʾ, 3:39, where Ibn Taymiyya identifies the natural universal with the “universal that is unconditioned [by universality]” (al-kullī al-muṭlaq lā bi-sharṭ), that is, conceived such that it can apply to actual extant particulars in the world. (See further on this at Darʾ, 4:254–255.)


lā yūjadu illā muʿayyanan juzʾiyyan.” See Darʾ, 6:92, lines 11–12.


See, e.g., Darʾ, 6:275, line 16 and 10:103, lines 13–14 (with “yantaziʿ ” given as a synonym of yujarrid at this latter). See also Darʾ, 6:32, line 10, where he speaks of “al-ʿaqliyyāt al-kulliyya al-muntazaʿa min al-muʿayyanāt.” This is not to say, however, that all universals in the mind are necessarily extracted from particulars. Ibn Taymiyya remarks that “the particulars [subsumed under some] universal propositions have existence in the external world, while others are conceived of in the mind and do not exist as particulars” (wa-l-qaḍāyā al-kulliyya tāratan yakūnu li-juzʾiyyātihā wujūd fī al-khārij wa-tāratan takūnu maqdūra fī al-adhhān lā wujūda lahā fī al-aʿyān). Darʾ, 6:98, lines 1–3.


On this abstracting function of the mind, see Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xx, xxiii, xxxiii; von Kügelgen, “Ibn Taymīyas Kritik,” 182.


Ibn Taymiyya maintains that the impossibility of a universal existing in the external world qua universal is a proposition that is known to be true by necessity. Darʾ, 6:92, lines 10–11.


See, e.g., Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xxii, where he confirms that Ibn Taymiyya affirms this view “in literally dozens of his treatises,” including Naqḍ al-manṭiq, Jahd al-qarīḥa, Muwāfaqat ṣaḥīḥ al-manqūl (i.e., Darʾ taʿāruḍ), Furqān, Kitāb al-Ulūhiyya, Kitāb al-Rubūbiyya, and others. (See Hallaq, xxii, n. 52 for these works, with page references.) See also Darʾ, 4:255, line 2 (“kullī fī al-adhhān mukhtaṣṣ fī al-aʿyān”); Darʾ, 5:35, line 9: “states (aḥwāl) are like universals; they exist in the mind, not as [externally existent] particulars”; and similar at Darʾ, 5:90, 5:95, 5:141, 6:18, 6:26–27, 6:92, 6:95, 6:161–163, and 10:295.


See, inter alia, Darʾ, 4:254 and 5:90–95 (esp. at 5:93, 95).


See Darʾ, 1:216 (esp. lines 12–15).


Darʾ, 5:174, lines 6–7.


Darʾ, 5:174, lines 8–16. (See index of Arabic passages.) For similar discussions, see, e.g., Darʾ, 6:29–32 and 10:171. On the jawāhir ʿaqliyya/maʿqūla, see, inter alia, Darʾ, 4:184, 5:146, 5:174, 5:202, 6:162–163, 7:126, 7:142, 7:221, 8:250, 9:124, 10:77–78, and 10:81–82.


Darʾ, 5:94, lines 3–8. (See index of Arabic passages.) For similar, see Darʾ, 5:112, 5:115–116, 5:150–151, 5:173–174, 6:26–27, 6:29–30, and 7:126, among others.


See, e.g., Darʾ, 5:139, lines 13–14: “lā shirkata fī al-aʿyān al-mawjūda al-juzʾiyyāt.” See also Darʾ, 4:253, lines 16–17, where Ibn Taymiyya states, “laysa fī al-mawjūdāt shayʾāni mā yattafiqāni fī shayʾ bi-ʿaynihi mawjūd fī al-khārij [such as a would-be externally existent universal in which several objects partake on the level of their ontological reality and makeup] wa-lākin yashtabihāni min baʿḍ al-wujūh” (There are no two existent entities that share in any specific, externally existing thing, but rather they resemble each other in some aspects).


See Darʾ, 5:83, line 18 to 5:84, line 1: “mā min mawjūdayni illā baynahumā qadr mushtarak wa-qadr mumayyiz fa-innahumā lā budda an yashtarikā fī annahumā mawjūdāni thābitāni ḥāṣilāni wa-anna kullan minhumā lahu ḥaqīqa hiya dhātuhu wa-nafsuhu wa-māhiyyatuhu.” See also von Kügelgen, “Poison of Philosophy,” 313–318.


Darʾ, 5:140, line 7.


See Darʾ, 5:93, line 10: “bayna al-muʿayyanāt tashābuh wa-ikhtilāf wa-taḍādd” and similar at Darʾ, 5:89, lines 1–2 (“al-tamāthul wa-l-ikhtilāf wa-l-taḍādd wa-l-taghāyur al-lawāzim lil-ḥaqāʾiq al-kathīra al-mukhtalifa”) and 5:96, lines 13–14.


On this process of abstraction, see Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xx, xxiii, xxxiii.


iʿtabir ʿumūm al-maʿānī wa-l-ishtirāk fīhimā bi-ʿumūm al-alfāẓ wa-l-ishtirāk fīhimā.” Darʾ, 5:100, lines 1–2.


See Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xxii on each individual existent being unique “in the context of a reality (ḥaqīqa) that is different from other realities.” In addition to the logical arguments he advances, Ibn Taymiyya also rests his appeal for the radical uniqueness of each individual on the Qurʾān (though he does not cite a specific verse). Ibid., xxii, n. 55. It follows from this doctrine that individual objects classed by the mind under a common genus or species are not, in fact, identical in essence since, for Ibn Taymiyya, the essence of a thing is inseparable from its existence and the existence of each thing is unique to it alone.


See Darʾ, 6:98, line 5.


On this point in general, see Darʾ, 5:134, lines 9–15. But, one may ask, if something is logically incoherent (like a “five-sided hexagon”), then how can it even be conceived? Are we to understand Ibn Taymiyya as simply saying that we can speak of such a thing although we cannot properly conceive of it (as opposed to the fact that we can conceive of a unicorn, which, though not actually existent, nonetheless constitutes a logically coherent notion)? It seems best to understand Ibn Taymiyya as maintaining that such notions can be hypothesized (tuqaddar) in the mind, even if intrinsically incoherent. Their impossibility (imtināʿ) would then stem from the fact that they could not exist in external ontological reality, precisely because they are logically incoherent.


See related discussion at Radd, 64–69, “al-kalām ʿalā al-farq bayna al-māhiyya wa-wujūdihā” and Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xx–xxiv.


On the relationship between essence and existence in Ibn Sīnā, see Lizzini, “Ibn Sina’s Metaphysics” and, more extensively, Bertolacci, “The Distinction of Essence and Existence in Avicenna’s Metaphysics,” as well as Wisnovsky, “Essence and Existence.” Wisnovsky affirms that Ibn Sīnā does not, in fact, seem to have committed himself to the position described here, despite the existence of a lone statement in his Taʿlīqāt to the contrary. Rather, he seems to have held that “essence and existence are extensionally identical but intensionally distinct,” meaning that “every essence must either be an individual existing in the concrete, extra-mental world (fī l-aʿyān), or a universal existing in the mind (fī ḏ-ḏihn)” (Wisnovsky, “Essence and Existence,” 28–29). This, as we shall see, is the same position that Ibn Taymiyya advocates, and, in fact, it was Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī who advocated most prominently for the position that Ibn Taymiyya holds here against the Peripatetics. Moreover, Ibn Taymiyya’s charge against the philosophers is identical to Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī’s charges against them. (Wisnovsky, 28–29).


See, e.g., Darʾ, 1:288, lines 1–3: “They distinguish in their logic between essence [or quiddity] and existence; had they explained ‘essence’ as that which is in the mind and ‘existence’ as that which is in [the realm of] external particulars, that would have been correct and indisputable on the part of any rational person” (farraqū fī manṭiqihim bayna al-māhiyya wa-l-wujūd wa-hum law fassarū al-māhiyya bi-mā yakūnu fī al-adhhān wa-l-wujūd bi-mā yakūnu fī al-aʿyān la-kāna hādhā ṣaḥīḥan lā yunāziʿu fīhi ʿāqil). See also Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xvi–xx.


On the origins of inniyya/anniyya as a technical term, see Frank, “The Origin of the Arabic Philosophical Term ‮انية‬‎.” For its use in Ibn Sīnā specifically, see Booth, Aristotelian Aporetic Ontology, 111–112 ff.


This would seem to be similar to Ibn Sīnā’s notion of God as possessing no quiddity (māhiyya) separate from His being/existence (wujūd). See, for example, Acar, Talking about God and Talking about Creation, 81–85.


See, for example, the discussion at Darʾ, 3:79.


See Gutas, “Logic of Theology,” 60–61; Adamson, “Non-Discursive Thought,” esp. 93–98.


wujūd kulli shayʾ ʿayn māhiyyatihi fī al-khārij.” Darʾ, 3:248, line 13.


For this formulation, see Darʾ, 5:103, lines 7–8 and 5:104, lines 6–7. See similar at Darʾ, 1:293, lines 14–15: “bal māhiyyatuhu hiya ḥaqīqatuhu wa-hiya wujūduhu” (its essence is its ontological reality and its existence). See also Darʾ, 5:102–104 for a discussion of the relationship between quiddity and existence more generally.


See also, e.g., Darʾ, 3:328, lines 6–7, where Ibn Taymiyya makes the point that “the essence is more rightfully considered constitutive of the attributes than the attributes are of the essence” (al-dhāt hiya aḥaqq bi-taqwīm al-ṣifāt min al-ṣifāt bi-taqwīm al-dhāt).


Darʾ, 5:174, lines 11–13. On the reception and elaboration of this doctrine by Ibn Sīnā, see Bertolacci, “Doctrine of Material and Formal Causality.”


In this passage, Ibn Taymiyya says “a body and its accidents” ([lam] yūjad fī al-khārij illā al-jism wa-aʿrāḍuhu). Darʾ, 5:174, line 14.


lam yūjad fī al-khārij illā al-aʿyān wa-ṣifātuhā al-qāʾima bihā.” Darʾ, 5:174, lines 15–16.


See Darʾ, 6:32, lines 1–12. (See index of Arabic passages.)


A summary of this section, including a substantial portion of the sub-section “Fiṭra: The Original Normative Disposition” (p. 260 ff. below), the entirety of the sub-section “Tawātur as the Final Epistemic Guarantor” (p. 267 ff. below), and related sections of chapter 6, has appeared previously at El-Tobgui, “From Legal Theory to Erkenntnistheorie,” 34–54.


Darʾ, 6:50, line 5. See also Darʾ, 1:89, line 7 for reason as al-gharīza allatī fīnā (the instinct that is within us).


See, e.g., Darʾ, 6:88, lines 9–10 (sāʾir al-qaḍāyā al-kulliyya allatī mabādiʾuhā min al-ḥiss) and 8:248, lines 8–9 (kamā yuqaddiru [al-dhihn] al-kulliyyāt al-mujarrada ʿan al-aʿyān), as well as the discussion at Darʾ, 7:317–327.


On the term taṣdīq (assent) and the related term taṣawwur (conception), see Wolfson, “The Terms Taṣawwur and Taṣdīq,” 114–119. For these terms in Ibn Sīnā specifically, see Sabra, “Avicenna on the Subject Matter of Logic,” 757–761. (Cited in Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xv, n. 20.)


See, e.g., Darʾ, 5:259 ff. on al-iʿtibār wa-l-qiyās; Darʾ, 7:317–327 (esp. 7:322 ff.) on logical principles and rules of inference more generally; Darʾ, 2:218–219 on the burden of proof between rational arguments and revealed texts and the three levels of rational refutation; and Darʾ, 3:264, 3:305–318, 7:352, 7:374–382, and 7:388–389 on the use of rational inferences and arguments in the Qurʾān. On the Qurʾān’s extensive deployment of rational argumentation more broadly, see Gwynne, Logic, Rhetoric, and Legal Reasoning, passim.


Darʾ, 7:324, lines 12–15. (See index of Arabic passages.)


See pp. 280–281, 284, and, more generally, 285–288 below.


See, e.g., Darʾ, 6:267 (al-ʿulūm al-badīhiyya); 6:112, 9:161 (al-qaḍāyā al-badīhiyya); 3:309 (ʿulūm badīhiyya awwaliyya yabtadiʾuhā Allāh fī qalb [al-insān]); 6:16 (al-badīha al-ṣaḥīḥa); 8:314 (al-muqaddima al-badīhiyya al-ṣaḥīḥa al-sharʿiyya).


See, e.g., Darʾ, 1:185, 3:96, 5:312, 6:268, 7:21 (al-ʿulūm al-ḍarūriyya); 3:418 (al-maʿārif al-ḍarūriyya); 7:403 (al-qaḍāyā al-ḍarūriyya); 6:192 (al-umūr al-ḍarūriyya); 3:244, 6:11 (al-ḍarūriyyāt); 8:264 (ḍarūrī fī al-ʿaql); 6:192 (ḍarūrāt al-ʿuqūl); 8:311 (badīhī ḍarūrī); 3:230 (qaḍiyya badīhiyya ḍarūriyya); 9:360 (al-maʿālim al-badīhiyya al-ḍarūriyya); 9:121–122 (ṭuruq ḍarūriyya); 6:50: reason as an “instinct in man” or “a kind of necessary knowledge” (nawʿ min al-ʿulūm al-ḍarūriyya); 8:282: knowledge of the existence of the Maker (al-Ṣāniʿ) ingrained of necessity in the human constitution (min lawāzim khalqihim ḍarūrī fīhim); 8:438 (and similar at 3:98–99, 8:488–489): knowledge of God “ḍarūriyya”; 9:422–425: on four meanings of ḍarūra and the nature of ḍarūrī knowledge with respect to the knower.


See, e.g., Darʾ, 6:14 (al-badīhiyyāt al-fiṭriyya); 3:317 (al-ʿulūm al-ḥissiyya al-fiṭriyya); 8:453 (al-maʿrifa al-fiṭriyya); 7:404 (al-qaḍāyā al-badīhiyya wa-l-maʿārif al-fiṭriyya); 8:314 (al-ṭuruq al-fiṭriyya al-ʿaqliyya al-sharʿiyya al-qarība al-ṣaḥīḥa); 8:530 (al-maʿārif al-awwaliyya al-fiṭriyya); 7:425 (irādāt fiṭriyya wa-ʿulūm fiṭriyya); 4:213 (ḥukm al-fiṭra awwalī badīhī); 6:112 (fiṭar al-nās); 7:403, 8:463 (al-fiṭra al-insāniyya); 7:25: looking upwards when supplicating as fiṭrī ʿaqlī; 8:38: human beings mafṭūrūn to recognize the existence of the Creator.


See, e.g., Darʾ, 3:70 (al-fiṭra al-ḍarūriyya); 3:317 (al-ʿulūm al-ḍarūriyya al-fiṭriyya); 3:288 (al-ʿulūm al-badīhiyya al-ḍarūriyya al-fiṭriyya); 6:14 (al-qaḍāyā al-fiṭriyya al-ḍarūriyya); 7:133 (al-umūr al-fiṭriyya al-ḍarūriyya); 8:489 (ʿulūm fiṭriyya ḍarūriyya); 3:309, 6:184 (muqaddimāt fiṭriyya ḍarūriyya); 6:72, 9:122: knowledge of God fiṭriyya ḍarūriyya; 3:87 (and similar at 8:348): rational proofs for the existence of God intuitive and necessary (fiṭriyya ḍarūriyya); 6:272: false doctrines to which a person has been habituated “contradict his fiṭra and what he knows of necessity” (tunāqiḍu fiṭratahu wa-ḍarūriyyatahu); 8:12 ff.: knowledge of religious matters fiṭrī-ḍarūrī vs. naẓarī; 5:312–313 (al-fiṭra allatī faṭara Allāh ʿalayhā ʿibādahu wa-l-ʿulūm al-ḍarūriyya allatī jaʿalahā fī qulūbihim).


See, e.g., Darʾ, 1:289, 5:136–137, 5:324, 6:123, and 8:181 for the law of non-contradiction (al-jamʿ bayna al-naqīḍayn) and the law of the excluded middle (rafʿ al-naqīḍayn / al-khuluww ʿan al-naqīḍayn) together and Darʾ, 3:208–209, 3:224–226, 4:197, and 9:358 for the law of non-contradiction alone. See, further, Darʾ, 4:144: even the essential difference between God and creation reduces to an issue of the law of non-contradiction; 9:117–119: Ibn Sīnā’s notion of the “eternal contingent” (al-mumkin al-qadīm) violates the law of non-contradiction; 6:176: the position of those who negate the divine attributes (al-nufāh) entails a violation of the law of the excluded middle; 3:362: the law of the excluded middle is “min aẓhar al-umūr al-mumtaniʿa fī badīhat al-ʿaql”; 4:290: arguments of the opponent are weak and entail a violation of both laws; and, finally, 6:129–130 and 6:134 for the law of the excluded middle specifically with respect to the divine attributes.


This contrasts with Wael Hallaq’s conclusion that Ibn Taymiyya recognizes no a priori knowledge whatsoever and that all knowledge is ultimately derived from sense perception. See Hallaq, “Existence of God,” 61–63 (esp. 62, n. 66) and Hallaq, Greek Logicians, xxx–xxxii. Von Kügelgen (“Poison of Philosophy,” 327) has shown that Ibn Taymiyya does accept the external existence of universals (at least in some domains); she concludes that “this adherence to ‘moderate realism’ stands in sharp contrast to his [Ibn Taymiyya’s] nominalistic attitude of denying any extramental existence of universals whatsoever in the course of his direct rejection of the real definition and the rules of syllogistic logic.” For her larger discussion of Ibn Taymiyya as a “moderate realist” rather than a strict nominalist, see von Kügelgen, 306–312.


ʿilm ḍarūrī yaqīnī awwalī lā yatawaqqafu ʿalā al-naẓar wa-l-istidlāl wa-lā yatawaqqafu ʿalā al-burhān bal huwa muqaddimāt al-burhān wa-uṣūluhu allatī yubnā ʿalayhā al-burhān.” Darʾ, 3:317, lines 16–17.


aẓhar al-umūr al-mumtaniʿa fī badīhat al-ʿaql.” Darʾ, 3:362, line 14.


Darʾ, 3:309, lines 15–16. See also Darʾ, 6:276, lines 17–18, where Ibn Taymiyya speaks of “al-qaḍāyā al-mubtadaʾa fī al-nafs.”


ka-sāʾir al-qaḍāyā al-kulliyya allatī mabādiʾuhā min al-ḥiss.” See Darʾ, 6:88, lines 9–12. See also the more general discussion at Darʾ, 6:88–89. On the difference between contrariety (taḍādd) and contradiction (tanāquḍ), see Wisnovsky, Avicenna’s Metaphysics, 213.


See Darʾ, 6:127, lines 2–5.


idhā ḥakamnā bi-ʿuqūlinā ḥukman kulliyyan yaʿummu al-mawjūdāt aw yaʿummu al-maʿlūmāt mithl qawlinā … kāna ʿilmunā bi-hādhihi al-qaḍāyā al-kulliyya al-ʿāmma bi-tawassuṭ mā ʿalimnāhu min al-mawjūdāt.” Darʾ, 6:127, lines 1–2 and 7–8.


With the sole exception of God, but then this is not really an exception at all, for the rational inference that leads from the fact of the temporal origination of the world (ḥudūth al-ʿālam) to the conclusion that God must necessarily exist is, ultimately, based on the rational consideration that a non-necessary and contingent world—such as we know ours to be through our empirical experience of it—can be coherently accounted for only by positing the existence of a necessary, all-powerful, transcendent Creator in order to avoid an infinite regress of causes (the impossibility of which Ibn Taymiyya holds to be known by logical necessity). From this perspective, the rational inference of the existence of God can thus be seen as one more instance in which reason applies its innate and incontrovertible logical principles (in this case, the impossibility of an infinite causal regress) to the existential data about our contingent and non-necessary world that have been mediated to it through our senses.


At, e.g., Darʾ, 5:91, 5:138, 10:52, 10:53, 10:66, 10:107, and 10:122. See also Darʾ, 5:102 (ʿilmī dhihnī) and 5:118 (dhihnī ʿilmī).


See, e.g., Darʾ, 3:20 (iʿtibārī lafẓī) and 9:114 (lafẓī iʿtibārī), 3:207 (nisbī iʿtibārī), 3:326 (dhihnī iʿtibārī), and 5:141, 5:144 (ʿaqlī iʿtibārī).


Ibn Taymiyya deals with the question of the fiṭra extensively at Darʾ, 8:359–535, as well as in his “Risāla fī al-kalām ʿalā al-fiṭra” (in Majmūʿat al-rasāʾil al-kubrā, 2:332–349) and al-Radd ʿalā al-manṭiqiyyīn, 420–432. Ibn Taymiyya’s notion of fiṭra has been discussed in a number of previous studies. See, for instance, Holtzman, “Human Choice”; Kazi, “Reconciling Reason and Revelation,” 207–313 (esp. 250–292 and 309–313); Gobillot, “L’ épître du discours sur la fiṭra”; and Vasalou, Theological Ethics, 56–105. See also Hoover, Ibn Taymiyya’s Theodicy, 39–44 on the relationship between fiṭra and ʿaql and on the fiṭra as a religious faculty; Anjum, Politics, Law, and Community, 215–265, esp. at 215–227 for the role of the fiṭra as an alternative foundation for Ibn Taymiyya’s epistemology; and von Kügelgen, “Poison of Philosophy,” 299 ff. and von Kügelgen, “Ibn Taymīyas Kritik,” 192–199 (esp. at 194–198) on the epistemological function of the fiṭra more generally. On the role of the fiṭra in coming to know the existence of God, see Hallaq, “Existence of God,” 55–66 and Özervarli, “Divine Wisdom,” 37–60. See also, on the fiṭra more generally, Gobillot, La fitra and Adang, “Islam as the Inborn Religion of Mankind.”


See, e.g., Hoover: “natural constitution” (Ibn Taymiyya’s Theodicy, 39); Özervarli: “inner nature” (“Qurʾānic Rational Theology,” 91) and “human nature” (Özervarli, “Divine Wisdom,” 38, 45, and passim); Hallaq: “innate intelligence” (Greek Logicians, xl), “natural intelligence” (Greek Logicians, 27), “faculty of natural intelligence” (Greek Logicians, 167, n. 1), “sound disposition” (Greek Logicians, 110), “instincts” (Greek Logicians, 163, translating “fiṭar”); von Kügelgen: “inborn intelligence” (“Poison of Philosophy,” 298) and “angeborene Intelligenz des Menschen” (von Kügelgen, “Ibn Taymīyas Kritik,” 195, as a gloss for “ʿaql, fiṭra oder ġarīza”). See Holtzman, “Human Choice,” 184, n. 11 for various other translations found in the secondary literature, the diversity of which she cites as an indication of “the complexity of the term fiṭra” (Holtzman, 184, n. 11). Holtzman herself leaves the term untranslated.


The root f-ṭ-r in its most basic sense denotes splitting, cleaving, or breaking apart (hence fuṭūr/faṭūr, “breakfast,” and fiṭr/ifṭār, “breaking one’s fast”). It also signifies making, creating, fashioning, or bringing into being, with the associated connotation of origination (and perhaps, by extension, of originality). Derivatives of f-ṭ-r occur twenty times in the Qurʾān: five times with the meaning of cleaving or sundering and thirteen times with the meaning of creating, fashioning, or bringing into existence. The word fiṭra itself, denoting something like “original disposition” or “primordial created state,” occurs in a single verse, in conjunction with the verb faṭara, which has the sense of creating or originating. The verse in question, Q. al-Rūm 30:30, reads: “So set thy face to the religion as a ḥanīf, [in] the primordial nature from God upon which He originated mankind (fiṭrat Allāhi llatī faṭara l-nāsa ʿalayhā)—there is no altering the creation of God; that is the upright religion, but most men know not” (trans. The Study Quran, with modifications).


Özervarli notes, in a similar vein, that a person’s fiṭra “consists of his or her original and distinctive qualities that would direct activities if left unaffected by his or her family or social environment” (emphasis mine). Özervarli, “Divine Wisdom,” 47.


The ḥadīth in question reads: “Every child is born on [i.e., in a state of] the fiṭra, then his parents turn him into a Jew or a Christian—just as camels are reproduced from a whole [and sound] animal: do you find any among them that are maimed?” Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, 241. Nearly identical wording is found in Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, 7:97 and similar in al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, 334, with the addition of “or they turn him into a Magian.” Slightly different wording is reported in Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 1157–1158 and al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, 327–328, 1199. Muslim (Ṣaḥīḥ, 1158) reports an alternative version with the wording “born on the creed/religion (ʿalā al-milla),” as well as two further versions (at Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 1158)—“born on this creed/religion” and “on this fiṭra”—both containing the additional phrase “until his tongue [is able to] express it (yubayyina/yuʿabbira ʿanhu) [his true belief?].” Finally, al-Bukhārī reports a version of the ḥadīth that more explicitly underscores the role played by the parents in changing the original disposition/fiṭra with which the child is born: “There is no child born except that he is born on the fiṭra, then his parents make him into a Jew or a Christian—just as you breed animals: do you find any among them that are maimed until you go and maim them (ḥattā takūnū antum tajdaʿūnahā)?” Al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, 1636.


hudīta al-fiṭra (aw aṣabta al-fiṭra) a-mā law annaka akhadhta al-khamr ghawat ummatuka.” Al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, 852; Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 87; al-Tirmidhī, Jāmiʿ, 5:201–202. Al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, 838 has “akhadhta al-fiṭra,” while Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 82 has “ikhtarta al-fiṭra” and does not include the phrase “had you chosen the wine, your community would have gone astray.”


la-qad khalaqnā l-insāna fī aḥsani taqwīm” (Q. al-Tīn 95:4).


Q. al-Tīn 95:5.


Q. al-Tīn 95:6.


See p. 260, n. 113 above and p. 262, n. 125 (here below) for a full listing of relevant discussions on the fiṭra, both in Ibn Taymiyya and more generally.


See, for example, Darʾ, 7:37, lines 17–19.


Darʾ, 7:38, line 5.


Notwithstanding, Ibn Taymiyya’s conception of the fiṭra goes beyond cognitive faculties narrowly defined to include an important spiritual and ethical dimension, as discussed by, for instance, Holtzman, “Human Choice,” passim; Hoover, Ibn Taymiyya’s Theodicy, 39–44; Anjum, Politics, Law, and Community, 223–227; and Vasalou, Theological Ethics, 65–92.


Darʾ, 5:62, lines 9–11 (wa-jaʿala fiṭar ʿibādihi mustaʿidda li-idrāk al-ḥaqāʾiq wa-maʿrifatihā wa-law lā mā fī al-qulūb min al-istiʿdād li-maʿrifat al-ḥaqāʾiq lam yakun al-naẓar wa-l-istidlāl wa-lā al-khiṭāb wa-l-kalām). See also, e.g., Darʾ, 8:41, lines 2–3, where Ibn Taymiyya makes the similar point that “[people’s] hearts/minds have been fashioned (mafṭūra) such that [certain] realities (ḥaqāʾiq) become manifest to them, [realities] that they have an [innate] capacity to receive” (wa-l-qulūb mafṭūra ʿalā an yatajallā lahā min al-ḥaqāʾiq mā hiya mustaʿidda li-tajallīhā fīhā).


Darʾ, 5:62, lines 10–15. See also Hallaq, “Existence of God,” 55.


ahl al-fiṭar al-salīma allatī lam tataghayyar fiṭratuhā bi-l-iʿtiqādāt al-mawrūtha wa-l-ahwāʾ.” Darʾ, 6:14, lines 7–8.


Darʾ, 6:14, lines 9–10 (alladhīna lam yaḥṣul mā yughayyiru fiṭratahum min ẓann aw hawā).


See Darʾ, 6:271, lines 11–13.


innamā yuwāfiquhum ʿalayhi man qāmat ʿindahu shubha min shubah al-nufāh lā siyyamā in kāna lahu hawā aw gharaḍ.” Darʾ, 6:271, lines 13–15.


For more on the suppression of the fiṭra through these various motives and mechanisms, see Darʾ, 6:271–272.


See Darʾ, 3:317, lines 11–12, where he mentions “ʿulūm[ihi] al-ḥissiyya al-ḍarūriyya.”


See, e.g., Darʾ, 3:428 (min aʿẓam al-mukābara wa-l-safsaṭa wa-l-buhtān); 9:248 (mukābara bayyina); 4:172, 5:196 (mukābara lil-ḥiss); 3:363, 4:192 (mukābara lil-ḥiss wa-l-ʿaql); 5:41 (mukābara lil-ḍarūra); 9:207 (al-muʿānada wa-l-jaḥd); 1:182, 1:185, 7:404, 8:219, and numerous others (al-safsaṭa); 9:268 (al-muʿānada wa-l-safsaṭa).


Darʾ, 7:113, line 19.


Darʾ, 1:286, lines 5–6.


See, e.g., Darʾ, 3:261, line 15.


wa-in kāna al-ʿilm alladhī ḥaṣala bi-iktisābihi wa-naẓarihi huwa muḍṭarr ilayhi fī ākhir al-amr, fa-lā yumkinu al-ʿālim al-ʿārif baʿda ḥuṣūl al-maʿrifa fī qalbihi bi-dalīl aw bi-ghayr dalīl an yadfaʿa dhālika ʿan qalbihi.” Darʾ, 9:28, line 19 to 9:29, line 3.


See p. 237 ff. above.


See, e.g., Darʾ, 7:422, line 1, among others.


See, e.g., Darʾ, 5:319, line 19 to 5:320, line 6, where we read of what amounts to a kind of “tawātur ʿaqlī” (specifically of the early community with regard to their affirmation of the divine attributes), as well as Darʾ, 6:284, lines 19–20 for what amounts to a kind of “tawātur fiṭrī” where Ibn Taymiyya speaks of “ṭawāʾif mutafarriqūna ittafaqū ʿalā dhālika min ghayr muwāṭaʾa wa-dhālika yaqtaḍī annahum ṣādiqūna fīmā yukhbirūna bihi ʿan fiṭarihim” (that is, they agreed in, essentially, a mutawātir fashion on the basis of a sound, universally shared human fiṭra) and 8:43–45 for tawātur fiṭrī more generally (with interesting analogies at 8:43). See also Darʾ, 6:12, line 19 to 6:13, line 1 (“al-khaṭaʾ ʿalā al-jamʿ al-kathīr mumtaniʿ fī al-umūr al-ḥissiyya wa-l-ḍarūriyya”) and 6:13, lines 9–10 (“thabata anna hādhihi al-muqaddima badīhiyya li-annahu ittafaqa ʿalayhā umam kathīra bi-dūn al-tawāṭuʾ,” that is, in a mutawātir fashion).


Or so-called “mawḍūʿāt,” on which see Brown, Hadith, 69–77. On the genre of mawḍūʿāt works, or compilations of ḥadīth forgeries, see Brown, 99–100.


And tawātur alone, as we have seen, for although Ibn Taymiyya accepts reports that have been determined to be true or accurate (ṣādiqa), such as the category of ḥadīth reports classified as ṣaḥīḥ, it is nevertheless tawātur alone that guarantees that such transmitted knowledge is definitively certain (yaqīnī). This restriction of certitude to the realm of the mutawātir would seem to entail a considerable narrowing of the circle of certain knowledge (ʿilm) that is available to human beings. This apparent narrowing, however, is offset by Ibn Taymiyya’s substantial broadening of the category of mutawātir itself in the guise of what he defines as “functionally equivalent to the mutawātir” (fī maʿnā al-mutawātir). See El-Tobgui, “From Legal Theory to Erkenntnistheorie,” 19–21 (and passim).


In reference to the Andalusian philosopher Ibn Ṭufayl’s (d. 581/1185) famous philosophical novel of the same name. Ibn Sīnā, Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī, and the famous physician Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 687/1288) wrote other treatises also called Ḥayy b. Yaqẓān. All four treatises have been published and introduced in one volume; see Yūsuf Zaydān, Ḥayy b. Yaqẓān: al-nuṣūṣ al-arbaʿa wa-mubdiʿūhā.


See, for instance, appeals to “al-fiṭar al-salīma” at Darʾ, 4:207, 5:61, 7:37 and to “ahl al-fiṭar al-salīma” at 6:14, lines 6–8: “bal al-marjiʿ fī al-qaḍāyā al-fiṭriyya al-ḍarūriyya ilā ahl al-fiṭar al-salīma allatī lam tataghayyar fiṭratuhā bi-l-iʿtiqādāt al-mawrūtha wa-l-awhām” (The reference point with respect to necessary, innate propositions is those of sound disposition whose fiṭra has not been altered through inherited beliefs or illusions).


See al-Rāzī, Arbaʿīn, 1:152–164 (“al-masʾala al-thāmina: fī annahu taʿālā laysa fī makān wa-lā fī jiha”). For Ibn Taymiyya’s (partial) citation of and response to this section of the Arbaʿīn, see Darʾ, 6:8–12 ff.


Darʾ, 6:8; al-Rāzī, Arbaʿīn, 1:152.


With regard to an existent that is neither inside the world nor outside it, Ibn Taymiyya regards the knowledge of this impossibility as something that “people have affirmed with their fiṭra and know through the innate axioms and necessary knowledge [implanted in] their minds/hearts” (aqarra bihi al-nās bi-fiṭarihim wa-ʿarafūhu bi-badāʾih ʿuqūlihim wa-ḍarūrāt qulūbihim). Darʾ, 6:112, lines 10–11.


See Darʾ, 6:9–10; Arbaʿīn, 1:152–155.


Darʾ, 6:9; Arbaʿīn, 1:152. On the Karrāmiyya, see Zysow, “Karrāmiyya.”


Burhān” in Ibn Taymiyya (Darʾ, 6:10); al-Rāzī has “ḥujja” instead (Arbaʿīn, 1:154).


See Darʾ, 6:12–19.


hādhā amr muttafaq ʿalayhi bayna al-umam allatī lam tughayyar fiṭratuhā” (emphasis mine). Darʾ, 6:12, line 9.


wa-bi-mithl hādhā ʿulima thubūt mā yukhbiru bihi ahl al-tawātur mimmā yuʿlamu bi-l-ḥiss wa-l-ḍarūra.” Darʾ, 6:12, lines 16–17.


wa-l-khaṭaʾ ʿalā al-jamʿ al-kathīr mumtaniʿ fī al-umūr al-ḥissiyya wa-l-ḍarūriyya.” Darʾ, 6:12, line 19 to 6:13, line 1.


We recall al-Rāzī’s assertion that all major Islamic theological schools hold this view, with the sole exception of the (numerically limited) Ḥanbalīs and Karrāmiyya. Al-Rāzī, Arbaʿīn, 1:152.


Not to mention that among the conditions of tawātur itself is that the information ultimately be derived from sense experience, not from a conclusion reached through discursive inference (naẓar).


Darʾ, 3:231, line 1 and 5:34, line 7. We also come across “badāʾih al-fiṭar” at Darʾ, 3:221, line 14.


The reverse occurs when, for example, that which Ibn Taymiyya asserts to be necessary and immediate intuitive knowledge is taken as nothing more than “initial impressions.” The philosophers, such as Ibn Sīnā, demote these “initial impressions” to the level of mere estimation (wahm) and imagination (khayāl) that the intellect can then judge to be erroneous on the basis of discursive reasoning—reasoning that, Ibn Taymiyya charges, is often based on faulty assumptions and premises. Such faulty assumptions might include, for example, the belief that mental notions such as universals possess ontological reality outside the mind. Or, as in the case of al-Rāzī, one may realize that such notions indeed exist only in the mind but nevertheless err by transferring the judgement (ḥukm) of what exists in the mind to the realm of external existence without justification. (See Darʾ, 6:19–113.) Ibn Sīnā’s main passage on the wahmiyyāt (estimative propositions) that Ibn Taymiyya cites and critiques over the course of half a volume of the Darʾ (vol. 6) can be found in Ibn Sīnā, Kitāb al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt, 1:341–363 (esp. 1:353–355) and Remarks and Admonitions. Part One: Logic, 118–128 (esp. 123–124). (For a note of caution on the inadequacy of existing editions of Ibn Sīnā’s Ishārāt, see Lameer, “Towards a New Edition of Avicenna’s Kitāb al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt.”) On wahm in Ibn Sīnā, see Black, “Estimation (Wahm) in Avicenna” and, on Ibn Sīnā’s epistemology more generally, Black, “Certitude, Justification, and the Principles of Knowledge,” as well as Wisnovsky, “Avicenna.” See also Sophia Vasalou’s incisive discussion of fiṭra in Ibn Taymiyya, specifically in the context of Ibn Sīnā’s notion of wahm, in Vasalou, Theological Ethics, 56–79. For a critical take on Ibn Taymiyya’s refutation of Ibn Sīnā’s wahmiyyāt, see Marcotte, “Ibn Taymiyya et sa critique.”


al-naẓariyyāt lā tuʿāriḍu al-ḍarūriyyāt.” Darʾ, 6:11, line 11.


It can also affirm this on the basis of a consideration of the temporal and non-necessary nature of the universe, coupled with the mind’s innate knowledge of the impossibility of an infinite causal regress. This argument, which Ibn Taymiyya holds to be that of the Qurʾān itself, represents an instance of sound rational inference (ḥusn al-naẓar) and may be referred to as the argument from “mujarrad al-ḥudūth” (though Ibn Taymiyya does not give it a formal name), that is, the argument from the “mere fact of origination (of the world).” For Ibn Taymiyya’s discussion of mujarrad al-ḥudūth in the Darʾ taʿāruḍ, see, inter alia, Darʾ, 3:195–199 ff. and, more extensively, Darʾ, 8:317–325 (esp. 8:319 and 8:321–322). At Darʾ, 8:319, lines 2–5, for instance, Ibn Taymiyya says (in response to al-Bāqillānī in Sharḥ al-Lumaʿ): “Knowledge of the temporal origination (ḥudūth) of that which comes into being and inferring the existence of the Creator from this [knowledge] does not require that [we] know [for instance] whether a drop of sperm is made up of individual substances or matter and whether that [substance and matter] are eternal or temporally originated. Rather, the mere fact of the origination (mujarrad ḥudūth) of that whose temporal origination we witness [is sufficient to] indicate [or prove] that it has an Originator, just as the temporal origination of all things that come into being indicates [or proves] that they have an Originator.” (See index of Arabic passages.) Richard Frank points out that al-Ashʿarī’s own argumentation for the existence of God, reasoning from creation to a Creator given the contingency of the world, “follows the Qurʾān very closely …, rejecting the more common kalām argument based on the nature of atoms and their inherent accidents.” In this, al-Ashʿarī “differs from the practice of the leading Ashʿarite masters of later generations.” See Frank, “Al-Ashʿarī’s Kitāb al-Ḥathth,” 127, n. 30.

Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation

A Study of Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa-l-naql


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  • Izutsu, Toshihiko. Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qurʾān. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002.

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  • Jackson, Sherman A. “Ibn Taymiyyah on Trial in Damascus.” Journal of Semitic Studies 39, no. 1 (1994): 41–85.

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