Sam Ghandchiسام قندچي Sufism and Fatalism- A Brief Note

Sam Ghandchi

صوفیگری و تقدیر گرائی- یک یادداشت کوتاه

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The Iranian Sufis were preceded by the Islamic scholastics (Mutekallemun).  It is not that they did not know rationalism and became mystics out of such ignorance. In fact, the Sufis' mysticism was a direct result of the antimonies that the Islamic rationalists had to grip with, and finally in the works of Imam Mohammad Ghazali, Islamic rationalism, found two distinct paths of rationalism and mysticism.  Rumi followed Ghazali's mystic side. But I agree that this does not make Rumi's mysticism right or wrong!


Islamic Mutekallemun believed in all four causes of Aristotelian philosophy (material, formal, efficient, and final). Mu'tazilites, followers of Hassan al-Basri, dropped formal and final causes because they could not believe them as separate from material and efficient causes.  They thought that if God was the material cause of the world, then there was no need for teleology. A. Ashari (d. 881) went to the opposite end in his opposition to Mu'tazilites. He proclaimed only the final causation, i.e. total teleological necessity. Total teleology means everything is already in God's Knowledge before creation and there is no before and after creation. But this view had a big ethical drawback. If true, how could society justify to punish one for his/her actions.


I think the above theory was abandoned by most Shi'a theologians after Imam Mohammad Al-Ghazzali. One of the stories narrated about Bohlool is a very interesting expression of this issue. This is the story. It is said that Abu Hanifeh, the founder of Sunni Hanfid branch of Islam, once was ridiculing Imam Jafar-e Sadegh saying that Imam defends punishing people for their action, but people are manifestations of God, why should we punish them! Bohlool throws a rock to Abu Hanifeh and breaks his head. When taken to the judge, he faces Abu Hanifeh with Abu Hanifeh's own words and says how can you punish me for God's actions, wouldn't you say that it was God who did it? Abu Hanifeh had to let him go.  Let's return to Ghazali's ideas.


Imam Mohammad Al-Ghazzali (d. 1111) introduced a new theory which is actually very different from all these variations of *freedom and necessity* in Aristotelian theories. Ghazali's theory is called *kasb* (attainment). He writes that *God* is eternal, infinite, and has complete freedom. *Nature* is temporal, finite, and has complete necessity. *Human* was forced to choose. The last one, human action, was not easy to explicate in this model, so he introduced the psychological classifications of natural, volitional, and free actions. The first group were actions like standing on water. The second were actions like breathing. And the third were actions like writing. So he introduced the theory of *kasb* where human would go through *nine* stages of knowledge to attain truth.


Mystics who followed Ghazali, such as Rumi (d.1273), understood him, that in the language of God everything is necessity, but in the language of human, everything is freedom. Theologians who followed Ghazali, emphasized his natural causation, to explain the discrepancy between final causes for God, and efficient causes in nature. In other words, the theologians, separated the realm of *final causation* from the realm of *efficient causation*, an understanding which is absent in Aristotle.


A poem by Rumi which exemplifies his position of what I wrote above is the following:


var begooyad kofr, darad booye din

var beh shak gooyad, shakash gardad yaghin

gar begooyad kaj, namayad rasti

ey kaji keh rast ra arasti


And if you speak of perfidy, it reeks of piety

And if you speak of doubt, this doubt turns into faith

If you speak of crookedness, it reveals straightness

Oh crookedness, how you embellish straightness




Now let's see what the core of the belief in teleology, or seeing final causes as the first principle in the world is. Let me quote a pious philosopher, Spinoza, who was a strong believer in God, and he saw God as pure Necessity. For Spinoza, even believing in God's Will would contradict God's omnipotence, debilitating His having absolute power.


For Spinoza, what is free will for man, is pure necessity "in the language of God". Thus Spinoza used the invention of mystics, "Language of God" versus "language of man", not to defend mysticism but to defend rationalism. In other words, refuting teleology is not the same as refuting God, as it is evident in Spinoza's philosophy.  The following is a real clear and simple description of teleology by Spinoza [1632-1677], where he describes teleology as equivalent to ignorance:


"I must not fail to mention here that the advocates of this doctrine, eager to display their talent in assigning purpose to things, have introduced a new style of argument to prove their doctrine, i.e. a reduction, not to the impossible, but to ignorance, thus revealing the lack of any other argument in its favor.


" For example, if a stone falls from the roof on somebody's head and kills him, by this method of arguing, they will prove that the stone fell in order to kill the man; for if it had not fallen for this purpose by the will of God, how could so many circumstances (and there are often many coinciding circumstances) have chanced to concur?


"Perhaps you will reply that the event occurred because the wind was blowing and the man was walking that way. But they will persist in asking why the wind blew... And so they will go on and on asking the causes of causes until you take refuge in the will of God that is, the sanctuary of ignorance." [Spinoza, The Ethics & Selected Letters, Hackett Edition, P60]


After the defeat of teleology and rise of rationalism, European rationalism and science took a giant step forward.


Spinoza saw incompatibility between teleology and rationalism and he believed that was because of the misconception of actual causality in the world. He believed in reducing final causes to efficient causes, not the other way around. He wrote:


"...from the whole set of proofs I have adduced to show that all things in Nature proceed from an eternal necessity and with supreme perfection. But I will make this additional point, that this doctrine of final causes turns Nature completely upside down, for it regards as an effect that which is in fact a cause, and vice versa." [ibid., P.59]


I believe the whole belief in teleology is also present in Aristotle, as he saw final causes as the principle among the four causes, but fortunately he himself, always focused on *all* four causes whereas some of his followers, such as Ghazali in Iran, and later Sufis, and the Mediaeval Church, went the path of the reduction of four causes to the Final Cause and thus all became proponents of teleology.


Let me explain what Aristotle's four causes were. Aristotle wrote:


"We have to acquire knowledge of the original causes (for we say each thing only when we think we recognize its first cause), and causes are spoken of in four senses. In one of these we mean the substance, i.e. the essence (for the 'why' is reducible finally to the definition, and the ultimate 'why' is a cause and principle); in another the matter or substratum, in a third the source of the change, and in a fourth the cause opposed to this, the purpose and the good (for this is the end of all generation and change)." [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book I, 983a 24-32, P.693 McKeon Basic Works Edition]


But Aristotle was inclined to Final Causes as principle. He wrote:


"Evidently there is a first principle, and the causes of the things are neither an infinite series nor infinitely various in kind. {there is an impossibility of infinite regress, and } ... end is a limit...nothing infinite can exist; and if it could, at least the notion of infinity is not infinite. But ...if the kinds of causes had been infinite in number, then also knowledge would have been impossible." [ibid. P714-715]


And finally Aristotle writes:


"...the science of the _end and of the _good is of the nature of Wisdom (for the other things are for the sake of the end" [ibid. 718]. 


Thus, obviously, the strong presence of teleology in Aristotle's philosophy is undeniable. Originally, the Catholic Church in Europe, followed Plato until the 12th Century, but afterwards, it followed Aristotle. The Aristotelian philosophers of Europe did not follow the spirit of Aristotle, to do science and empirical analysis. Instead they repeated the words of Aristotle and made a rigid theology out of it and they continued in the direction of reducing Aristotelian four causes to just the teleological final cause.


Avicenna of Iran, who is known as one of the two main interpreters of Aristotle, followed the spirit of Aristotle's thought, and was a philosopher, physician, and a scientist, and focused on all four causes, personally being involved in empirical study and science, whereas others, such as Ghazali, followed Aristotle's teleology and passed it on to Sufism, which has always been strongly teleological in its perspective.


Philosophy of science in Iran of Avicenna's, centuries before the introduction of rationalism of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz in Europe, pioneered rationalist thought. But unfortunately most of the Iranian prominent thinkers followed the path of Ghazali and the later Sufi thinkers and espoused teleology rather than rationalism, as I have explained in my attached article entitled  Islamic Sufism and the Idea of Progress.


The following passage is a good example of the teleology in the thought of Sufi thinkers after Ghazali. Sheikh Mosleheddin Saadi (d. 1292) in GolestAn (Rose Garden) expresses his pantheistic view of the world as follows:


abr o bAd o mah o khorsheed o falak dar kArand

tA to nAni bekaf Ari va beh gheflat nakhori"


Provident are the clouds, wind, sun, and universe

So acknowledge your sustenance upon savoring each morsel


Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist republic in Iran,


Sam Ghandchi

Nov 17, 2004


Related Article

Islamic Sufism and the Idea of Progress (in Persian)
















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