A Jāḥiẓian Contribution to Reason in Islam Revisiting al-Muḥāsibī’s Māʾiyyat al-ʿaql

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Hussein Abdulsater

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The place of reason (ʿaql) in the Islamic tradition has attracted much debate, among both classical scholars and modern researchers. One of the main areas of disagreement is the definition of reason, with scholars from various disciplines (theology, law, hadith, philosophy, mysticism) oftentimes offering different definitions, which, in turn, undergird their corresponding understanding of rationalism. Starting in the classical period, Muslim scholars have credited al-Ḥārith al-Muḥāsibī (d. 243/857) with making a particularly powerful contribution to the discussion by defining reason as an “instinct” (gharīza, in the sense of “inborn faculty” and not the present popular sense of a lower, more animal-like state of consciousness) and elaborating on this definition; many recent scholars concur with this assessment. This article studies al-Muḥāsibī’s theory of reason through his major work on the subject, Māʾiyyat al-ʿaql (The essence of reason). More specifically, it examines the concluding, analytical section of this work, titled “Masʾala fī al-ʿaql” (A question regarding reason), which bears an unusual resemblance to a work by al-Muḥāsibī’s contemporary al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 254/868f.), “Ḥujaj al-nubuwwa” (The proofs of prophethood). By analyzing the similarities between these texts through a detailed comparison, the article attempts to verify the authorship of this critical section of al-Muḥāsibī’s work, thereby casting light on other contributions to the study of reason in Islam that were eclipsed by the scholarly concentration on al-Muḥāsibī’s output. For this comparison, the text of “Masʾala fī al-ʿaql” is fully edited and translated.




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