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Al-Gazali’s Concept of Prophecy: The Introduction of Avicennan Psychology into As’arite Theology

Al-Gazali’s Concept of Prophecy: The Introduction of Avicennan Psychology into As’arite Theology

By Frank Griffel

Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, vol. 14 (2004)

Introduction: The traditional argument of Muslim theologians that aims to verify the claims of a true prophet and distinguish him from an impostor is based on the acceptance of miracles performed in history and testified through an uninterrupted chain of tradition (tawatur).

A second argument that equally involves transmission through tawatur is based on the prophet’s virtuous and impeccable character establishing the trustworthiness (sidq) of the prophet. These are, for instance, the types of proofs (singl. hugga) mentioned by the Baghdadian Mu‘tazili al-Gahiz  (d. 255/869) in his monograph Hugag al-nubuwwa. For theologians of the Aš‘arite school this approach to the verification of prophecy posed a problem.

According to classical Aš‘arite theology, good is what God commands and bad is what he forbids. If God chooses prophets to reveal knowledge about what is right and what is wrong, and thus also reveal knowledge about how to live a virtuous life, how can those whom the prophets call upon know that the prophets have a virtuous character before they even know the criteria for virtue?

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