Who Is Fakhr al-Din al-Razi?
Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī or Fakhruddin Razi (فخر الدين رازي) was an Iranian Sunni Muslim theologian and philosopher He was born in 1149 in Rey (in modern-day Iran), and died in 1209 in Herat (in modern-day Afghanistan). He also wrote on medicine, physics, astronomy, literature, history and law.
He left a very rich corpus of philosophical and theological works that reveals influence from the works of Ibn Sīnā, Abu’l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī and al-Ghazali. Two of his works titled Mabāhith al-mashriqiyya fī ‘ilm al-ilāhiyyāt wa-‘l-tabi‘iyyāt (Eastern Studies in Metaphysics and Physics) and al-Matālib al-‘Aliya (The Higher Issues) are usually regarded as his most important philosophical works.
Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Umar ibn al-Husayn at-Taymi al-Bakri at-Tabaristani Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (Arabic: أبو عبدالله محمد بن عمر بن الحسن بن الحسين بن علي التيمي البكري فخرالدین الرازی) was born (544 AH) to a family of Arab immigrants from the tribe of Quraysh who migrated to Rey in Tabaristan (modern-day Mazandaran Province, Iran). He first studied with his father, and later at Merv and Maragheh, where he was one of the pupils of Majd al-Din al-Jili, who in turn had been a disciple of al-Ghazali. He was a leading proponent of the Ash’ari school of theology.
His commentary on the Quran was the most-varied and many-sided of all extant works of the kind, comprising most of the material of importance that had previously appeared. He devoted himself to a wide range of studies and is said to have expended a large fortune on experiments in alchemy. He taught at Rey (Central Iran) and Ghazni (eastern Afghanistan), and became head of the university founded by Mohammed ibn Tukush at Herat (western Afghanistan).
In his later years, he also showed interest in mysticism, though this never formed a significant part of his thought.
The Great Commentary
One of Imam Razi’s outstanding achievements was his unique interpretive work on the Quran called Mafātiḥ al-Ghayb (Keys to the Unseen) and later nicknamed Tafsīr al-Kabīr (The Great Commentary), one reason being that it was 32 volumes in length. This work contains much of philosophical interest. One of his “major concerns was the self-sufficiency of the intellect.” He believed that proofs based on tradition (hadith) “could never lead to certainty (yaqin) but only to presumption (zann), a key distinction in Islamic thought.” However, his “acknowledgment of the primacy of the Qur’an grew with his years.” Al-Razi’s rationalism undoubtedly “holds an important place in the debate in the Islamic tradition on the harmonization of reason and revelation.”
Development of Kalam
Al-Razi’s development of Kalam (Islamic scholastic theology) led to the evolution and flourishing of theology among Muslims. Razi had experienced different periods in his thinking, affected by the Ash’ari school of thought and later by al-Ghazali. Al-Razi tried to make use of elements of Muʿtazila and Falsafah, and although he had some criticisms on ibn Sina, Razi was greatly affected by him. The most important instance showing the synthesis of Razi’s thought may be the problem of the eternity of the world and its relation to God. He tried to reorganize the arguments of theologians and philosophers on this subject, collected and critically examined the arguments of both sides. He considered, for the most part, the philosophers’ argument for the world’s eternity stronger than the theologians’ position of putting emphasis on the temporal nature of the world. According to Tony Street, we should not see in Razi’s theoretical life a journey from a young dialectician to a religious condition. It seems that he adopted different thoughts of diverse schools, such as those of Mutazilite and Asharite, in his exegesis, The Great Commentary.
Al-Razi, in dealing with his conception of physics and the physical world in his Matalib al-‘Aliya, criticizes the idea of the geocentric model within the universe and “explores the notion of the existence of a multiverse in the context of his commentary” on the Quranic verse, “All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds.” He raises the question of whether the term “worlds” in this verse refers to “multiple worlds within this single universe or cosmos, or to many other universes or a multiverse beyond this known universe.”
It is established by evidence that there exists beyond the world a void without a terminal limit (khala’ la nihayata laha), and it is established as well by evidence that God Most High has power over all contingent beings (al-mumkinat ). Therefore He the Most High has the power (qadir ) to create a thousand thousand worlds (alfa alfi ‘awalim) beyond this world such that each one of those worlds be bigger and more massive than this world as well as having the like of what this world has of the throne (al-arsh), the chair (al-kursiyy), the heavens (al-samawat ) and the earth (al-ard ), and the sun (al-shams) and the moon (al-qamar ). The arguments of the philosophers (dala’il al-falasifah) for establishing that the world is one are weak, flimsy arguments founded upon feeble premises.
Al-Razi rejected the Aristotelian and Avicennian notions of a single universe revolving around a single world. He describes their main arguments against the existence of multiple worlds or universes, pointing out their weaknesses and refuting them. This rejection arose from his affirmation of atomism, as advocated by the Ash’ari school of Islamic theology, which entails the existence of vacant space in which the atoms move, combine and separate. He discussed more on the issue of the void – the empty spaces between stars and constellations in the universe, that contain few or no stars – in greater detail in volume 5 of the Matalib. He argued that there exists an infinite outer space beyond the known world, and that God has the power to fill the vacuum with an infinite number of universes.
List of works
Al-Razi had written over a hundred works on a wide variety of subjects. His major works include:
- Tafsir al-Kabir (The Great Commentary) (also known as Mafatih al-Ghayb – finished up to Surah al-Fath)
- ‘Aja’ib al-Qur’an (The Mysteries of the Qur’an)
- Al-Bayan wa al-Burhan fi al-Radd ‘ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Tughyan
- Al-Mahsul fi ‘Ilm al-Usul
- Al-Muwakif fi ‘Ilm al-Kalam
- ‘Ilm al-Akhlaq (Science of Ethics)
- Kitab al-Firasa (Book on Firasa)
- Kitab al-Mantiq al-Kabir (Major Book on Logic)
- Kitab al-nafs wa’l-ruh wa sharh quwa-huma (Book on the Soul and the Spirit and their Faculties)
- Mabahith al-mashriqiyya fi ‘ilm al-ilahiyyat wa-’l-tabi‘iyyat (Eastern Studies in Metaphysics and Physics)
- Matalib al-‘Aliya (The Higher Issues) – his last work. Al-Razi wrote al-Matalib during his writing of al-Tafsir and he died before completing both works.
- Muhassal afkar al-mutaqaddimin wa-‘l-muta’akhkhirin (The Harvest/Compendium of the Thought of the Ancients and Moderns)
- Nihayat al ‘Uqul fi Dirayat al-Usul
- Risala al-Huduth
- Sharh al-Isharat (Commentary on the Isharat )
- Sharh Asma’ Allah al-Husna (Commentary on Asma’ Allah al-Husna)
- Sharh Kulliyyat al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (Commentary on Canon of Medicine)
- Sharh Nisf al-Wajiz li’l-Ghazali (Commentary on Nisf al-Wajiz of Al-Ghazali )
- Sharh Uyun al-Hikmah (Commentary on Uyun al-Hikmah)
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- “Was Ibn Kathīr the ‘Spokesperson’ for Ibn Taymiyya? Jonah as a Prophet of Obedience”. Journal of Qur’anic Studies. 16 (1): 1. 2014-02-01. doi:10.3366/jqs.2014.0130. ISSN1465-3591.
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- Richard Maxwell Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760, University of California Press,1996, – Page 29
- Shaikh M. Ghazanfar, Medieval Islamic Economic Thought: Filling the Great Gap in European Economics, Routledge, 2003 
- Taylor, Richard; Lopez-farjeat, Luis Xavier, eds. (2013). “God and Creation in al-Razi’s Commentary on the Qur’an”. The Routledge Companion to Islamic Philosophy. Routledge. p. 9. ISBN9780415881609.
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- مدة التحقيق في بشائر بيت آل الصديق لأبي المكارم الصديقي
- جواهر الاثار ، عبد العزيز بن محمد الجوهري ، اسطنبول ، 1798
- طبقات الشافعية الكبرى الجزء 8 صـــ81
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
- John Cooper (1998), “al-Razi, Fakhr al-Din (1149-1209)”, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Routledge, retrieved 2010-03-07
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- Riddell, Peter G.; Street, Tony; Johns, Anthony Hearle (1997-01-01). Islam – Essays in Scripture, Thought and Society: A Festschrift in Honour of Anthony H. Johnes. BRILL. ISBN9004106928.
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