Below is an interview conducted by Hadi Al Lawati on his show Hira (حَيْرَة) with contemporary Iranian philosopher Ustad Ghulam Reza Fayyazi. Some of the opinions and works of Ustad Fayyazi have been published on Iqra Online in the past such as:
- The English translations of the first few transcripts of his explanation of Bidāyah al-Ḥikmah. See: Bidayah al-Hikmah – A Commentary & Study Guide
- An article on: The Need for Intellectual Sciences
- His views on Mental Existence in the following article: Mental Existence, View of Shabah, and Corroboration with Extra-Mental Reality
- A paper of his that I had begun translating on the topic of Corporeal Reserruction is partially translated and will be published in the near future – God willing.
The views of Ustad Ghulam Reza Fayyazi are very unique and since much of my own study of philosophy in the seminary of Qom was done under his various students, I found this interview to be a very good opportunity to showcase some of his ideas in English in a very brief manner. Some of his important books are on the topic of epistemology, psychology, free will and determinism, and perhaps the most important work is his four-volume Justār-hāyī dar Falsafeh Islāmī (جستارهایی در فلسفه اسلامی) which is a thorough presentation of his philosophical views and conclusions.
The interview in Farsi with Arabic subtitles can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/R00Icv_voN0
Instead of writing subtitles for the video, I transcribed it in a written interview format so that it is easier for readers to understand the flow of arguments. This is a slightly advanced interview and there is a use of heavy philosophical jargon.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Salam ‘Alaykum and we thank you for giving us this opportunity. Our first question is regarding your great affinity towards Islamic philosophy. Did you have this affinity since a young age, such that you had questions and philosophical inquiries, or no, was this something you were exposed to once you entered the seminary and were introduced to great scholars like ‘Allāmah Jawādi Āmulī, ‘Allāmah Miṣbāḥ, and only then did this affinity towards philosophy develop?
Ustad Fayyazi: ‘Alaykum Salam. I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Shayṭān. I begin in the name of Allah the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. All praise be to Allah and may His blessings be upon the Messenger. First and foremost, I would like to express my thanks to you and your team for this great cultural project and initiative that you have undertaken. We hope that you all are enveloped within the special considerations of the Imam (a) of our time, and that you become one of his helpers.
Yes, when I entered the seminary, the atmosphere in it was that of Uṣūl (legal theory) and Fiqh (jurisprudence). I entered the seminary in 1962 and after completing the introductory studies I became occupied with the study of Fiqh and Uṣūl like the rest of the seminarians. However, I did use to feel that philosophy should not be a subject that a person remains unfamiliar with, but yet still I did not look at it with a very serious lens either like the other fundamental subjects taught in the seminary. This was until I came to know my teacher Ayatullah Jawādi Āmulī (may Allah increase his blessings), who said to me, “If you wish to study Uṣūl seriously, then it is imperative that you study philosophy.”
Likewise, at the Dar Rāh-e Ḥaqq institute, I studied under my teacher Ayatullah Miṣbāḥ [Yazdī] and he forced me to begin teaching philosophy. He asked for those very first series of my philosophy lessons to be recorded. The revolution had recently taken place, it was around 1979-1980. Due to the blessings of the revolution and due to the grace of a leader like Imam [Khumaynī] who himself was a scholar of the intellectual and mystical sciences, a lot of new institutions began to open up and philosophy became a mandatory subject in the curriculum of many schools.
When others began to listen to the audio recordings of my lessons, they believed I had presented an excellent explanation of philosophy. One of our friends who was a classmate at our early stages of studies saw me one time on the street and said, “I used to study the book Bidāyah al-Ḥikmah but I never understood anything from it. However, when I began listening to your audio recordings, I realized that philosophy is capable of being understood.”
This is what led to my philosophy classes being organized in different schools, such as the institute that is now known as University of Qom but at that time it was called High Educational and Legal School of the Seminarians of Qom. The Institute of Ayatullah [Ja’far] Subhānī invited me too, and until 1986 I was also teaching Fiqh and Uṣūl [alongside philosohpy]. However, after 1986 I got so busy with philosophy that I put aside Fiqh and Uṣūl. It was necessary for me to do that.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): You have a lot of novel ideas and opinions in philosophy, as well as critiques, for example on Unity of Existence (waḥdat shakṣī wujūd) you have a different view, on the fundamentality of existence and quiddities (aṣālat al-wujūd wa al-māhīyyah) you have a different view, on the topic of determinism and free-will (jabr wa ikhtiyār) you have a view etc. Do your ideas create and form a new philosophical school of thought or are these merely particular ijtihādī views within Mullā Ṣadrā’s school of thought the school of thought of Sadra and Transcendent Philosophy? Can we call it Neo-Sadrian?
Ustad Fayyazi: Others have to decide what they want to call it, I do not want to express an opinion on that. At the end of the day, for anyone who goes a little deep into philosophy, it is natural that views begin to conform to whatever conclusions they have arrived at. For example, in aṣālat al-wujūd I believe existence (wujūd) has primacy, but quiddity (māhīyyat) also actually exists alongside wujūd, and it is not like what others say. Rather I believe, the opinion of Mullā Ṣadrā was also exactly this and he is the origin of this thought.
Ṣadrā believed that water exists in the ocean; Shaykh al-Ishrāq would say there is water without existence, but Ṣadrā would say this is nonsensical. Water existing without existence means it does not exist. This is while it actually exists, and you yourself say “water exists”. If water exists, it is because it has existence. Existence is existing due to its very essence (bil-dhāt), but water exists because of existence. In other words, a cause comes and gives water existence so it becomes existent.
Thus, existence (wujūd) is fundamental in its being existent (mawjūdīyyat), and quiddities also become existent due to that same existence. What is in external reality is wujūd plus the māhīyyat that exists due to this former wujūd; both exist in reality and in actuality. One’s existence is of its own essence, while the other’s existence is due to the former. If quiddity exists, its existence is not due to its own essence, but due to the existence it was given.
I believe Mullā Ṣadrā also believed in this and I also wholeheartedly believe in this. Though our teachers and great scholars believe Mullā Ṣadrā believed in something else. They say what I have concluded is not really aṣalat al-wujūd, rather it is aṣalat al-wujūd wa al-māhīyyat, but I say no, what I believe in is indeed aṣālat al-wujūd.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): So this is your reading and interpretation of the fundamentality of existence that Mullā Ṣadra puts forth. This is what is meant by the fundamentality of existence and the conventionality (i’tibār) of quiddities.
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, this is what it is. It is not the case that both are fundamental. We say quiddities in their essence are conventional because they are not existent (mawjūd) nor non-existent (ma’dūm). Something that is existent nor nonexistent is not from the things in the realm of reality (ḥaqā’iq). In the realm of reality, everything either exists or is non-existent. Quiddities on the other hand – in their essence – are not existent nor nonexistent. They are merely a rational convention (i’tibār ‘aqlī). The intellect takes every existent and breaks it down into i) wujūd and ii) māhīyyat. The intellect then says that māhīyyah does not have wujūd in its essence nor non-existence, hence it becomes a convention. We call this i’tibār nafs amrī (fact of matter).
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Is this quiddity abstracted from extra-mental reality or is it merely an intellectual concept?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, it is abstracted from extra-mental reality and it exists in external reality in actuality. That which is in the ocean is really water, just like the existent of water is also actually existing, it is a body of liquid and so on.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): With all these different opinions, do you see yourself trying to establish a new philosophical school of thought, or are these merely particular opinions on some matters, but in general you are not really outside the school of thought of Mullā Ṣadrā.
Ustad Fayyazi: In my opinion when all my ideas are put together, it becomes something other than the ideas of Mullā Ṣadrā. This is what we have produced in these 4 volumes of Justār-hāyī.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): When you sit with your great teachers and your colleagues from among the scholars and discuss these matters, do you feel that your ideas are on shaky grounds, or no, do you feel despite those discussions and critiques that are done on you, that your views are on very solid grounds?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, yes, it is definitely the latter. I have discussed these matters a lot and over the course of these discussions, I have arrived at the conclusion that the ideas I put forth are so strong that they do not crumble in the face of critique.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): So they do not accept your ideas, but Mullā Ṣadrā does?
Ustad Fayyazi: No, only in the fundamentality of existence do I believe Mullā Ṣadrā held the same opinion as me, but the rest of the discussions are not like this. In the Unity of Existence (waḥdat al-wujūd) I am severely against the opinion of Mullā Ṣadrā, likewise in many other discussions. Ṣadrā says the effect (ma‘lūl) is a copulative existence (wujūd al-rābit), I am severely against this. In the topic of causal necessity (zarūrat-e ‘illī), which all the philosophers accept, but I am severely against them. I have many opinions against mainstream philosophers.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): My second question is that Transcendent Philosophy is made up of three components: Quran, Burhān and ‘Irfān. Some say that to understand the third component, you must study mysticism, and for example, we must study the school of thought of Ibn ‘Arabī, especially books like Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam, only then can we understand Mullā Ṣadrā. We see scholars like Imam Khumaynī, Shāhabādī, Sayyid ‘Alī Qāḍī and others had a lot of attachment to the school of Ibn ‘Arabī, especially his book Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam. What is your opinion on the mystical school of Ibn ‘Arabī. Do you believe a teacher of Islamic philosophy must be familiar with this book and utilize it? Or do you believe one does not need to study mysticism and Mullā Ṣadrā can be perfectly understood without studying mysticism?
Ustad Fayyazi: The former point that scholars mention is very correct and precise. Mullā Ṣadrā was infatuated with mysticism, especially the mystical school of Ibn ‘Arabī, with the same interpretation that was popular at that time, such as the commentary of Qaysarī and others. He tried to put the thoughts of Ibn ‘Arabī in a philosophized way. Though he had his own views and methodology in theoretical ‘Irfān, he wanted to grant the views of Ibn ‘Arabī a philosophical colour. If anyone wants to understand the words of Mullā Ṣadrā, they must absolutely study mysticism and must know the views of Ibn ‘Arabī.
However, does this mean Ibn ‘Arabī’s words are correct? No way. Ibn ‘Arabī believed existence (wujūd) is a single simple entity, and while existence is a single simple entity, all the rest of creation also exists through this single simple entity. He would say unity exists within multiplicity. Multiplicity all exists, the Messenger exists, the Prophets exist, I – Ibn ‘Arabī – also exist. Still, all of our existence is with the existence of al-Ḥaqq, not due to the existence of other than al-Ḥaqq.
This is the explanation of Unity of Existence of Ibn ‘Arabī which Mullā Ṣadra – according to us – also believed in. This is the final and ultimate view of Mullā Ṣadrā. When he believes in gradation (tashkīk), it means Unity of Existence within Multiplicity, of that very same single Existent (i.e. Unity is multiplicity and multiplicity at the same time unity).
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Whether you call it gradation in existence or gradation in manifestations, the point is the same?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, both of these phrases, their reality is the same. At the end of the day, they are saying there is only existence, which is one single simple entity, and all other existences exist in actuality but with that very same single simple entity. Mullā Ṣadrā wanted to philosophize this view.
We say, waḥdat al-wujūd has more than 20 interpretations. This is one interpretation, and we are severely against it. However, there are other correct interpretations of it too.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): What is the correct and precise interpretation of waḥdat al-wujūd that you have alluded to, briefly?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, we believe there is a single existence that is infinite, which exists due to its own essence. The rest of creation also exists, but they are other than that infinite existence. This is completely against the concept of unity that Mullā Ṣadra puts forth. We say, that the unity which is a single simple entity is a quality of Allah only. The rest of creation also has existence, but their existence is other than the existence of al-Ḥaqq. They are all limited existents, but all of them are contained in that infinite unlimited existence without that infinite existent being these limited existents nor these limited existents being that infinite existent.
So we believe that an unlimited existent exists, which then created, and some of those creations have a material substance while others have an immaterial substance, and some are accidental attributes in the material or immaterial entities. However, all of them are existents with an existent other than that of Allah’s existence, but they are in need and completely dependent upon Allah.
Some respond by saying, if that existent is infinite, then where do these limited creations exist? We say they are contained within one another. In order to give an example for the mind to understand, we say, imagine a never-ending light that covers everything, and it creates prisms. These prisms exist, but their place is where light also exists, the light exists and passes through every part of the prism, but the light is light, and it is not a prism, and prism is a prism, but it is not light.
In this example, the difference between the light and prism with Allah and the rest of creation is that whether light exists or not, the prism will exist and whether the prism exists or not the light will exist. However, this is not the case with Allah and the rest of creation. The rest of creation in relation to Allah is absolutely dependent and is completely linked to His existence.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Does this not create a question about the independence of these creations, that they have a degree of existence of their own?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, they do have a degree of existence.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): But others say only Allah has existence because His existence has filled up everything and there is no room for the existence of another thing. They say our category (sinkh) is different; things can either be existing, or non-existing, or they can be a third category which they called tajallī or maẓāhir or ayāt – manifestations and signs. They say the category of these creations is different from the category of the existence of Allah. When we say this, Allah then becomes more sacred and sublime.
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, they do have a degree of existence. We do not call this a category, we call it being existent (mawjūdīyyat). The nature of their being existent is different. He is Necessary (wājib) and Needless (ghanī), they are contingent (mumkin) and dependent (faqīr). His existence entails complete independence in His very essence. The way they both exist is different, but both of them do exist, meaning they do not have non-existence in them. In this aspect they are both the same, and their genus is the same, although we should not call it a genus, it is like a genus.
Existence (wujūd) has an ambiguous state: it can be infinite, perfect, independent in its very essence, or it can be purely dependent, and finite, but both have existence in contrast to non-existence.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): In this way, you have maintained the right of Allah, and the right of creation, and you can say contingent beings are not non-existent rather they have a degree of existence.
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, when we say this only then does the concept of responsibility make sense, creation has meaning and so on.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): If someone from the outside looks into this and sees these very precise philosophical and mystical differences, will they really consider these to be a serious difference between your interpretation and the common mainstream interpretation of Unity of Existence? Or will they consider this to be just a very small difference in a very particular matter?
Ustad Fayyazi: No, there is a huge difference. They deny existence to anything other than that of Allah. They say there is nothing other than Allah, but we say there is something other than Allah. There is something that is not Allah, and it exists, and it is this entire creation, and the entire creation has an existence which is not the existence of Allah. They say, creation has existence, and it is the same existence as that of al-Ḥaqq. This is a very fundamental difference.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): In other words, they say the rest of creation is a God in its descended (tanazzul) and determined (ta’ayyun) form?
Ustad Fayyazi: Tanazzul and ta’ayyun are just mere words they have to use to make others understand them. In actuality, they believe in extra-mental reality there is only one single simple entity without any plurality (ta’addud) from any perspective. There is al-Ḥaqq, and the rest of creation is the very same existence as that of al-Ḥaqq.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): They say all of creation are like the rays and manifestations of that one single simple existent.
Ustad Fayyazi: We will ask them, do these manifestations and rays exist or not? They will say they exist with the existence of Allah, while we say they exist due to the creation (ījād) of Allah.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): What problematic consequences do you see in the view of those ascribe to Unity of Existence? Does this not result in Allah and his creation becoming one and the same?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, they themselves admit to this.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): This congruity has very problematic consequences because the correct view is that Allah is other than his creation?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): But they must have some justification and explanation for it, so that this congruity is not considered problematic.
Ustad Fayyazi: Sure, you must ask them their justification.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): They do say Allah is in everything but not in physical nearness, and He is different from everything but not in physical separation. They say this created entity is surely not God, but it is a copulative relationship because it is a mere manifestation of God. We cannot say it is not God either since God is infinite and present everywhere. But you say, this is very problematic.
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, we say this is so problematic that it has no answer. When they try to answer this critique, they end up saying something in which they end up negating the existence of anything other than Allah.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): They seem to fall into a form of sophism.
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): There was another question. When we see great big scholars like Imam Khumaynī and others showing so much attention to the school of Ibn ‘Arabī, do you not see that as a teacher of philosophy there may be aspects of Ibn ‘Arabī that are beneficial such as in ethics, philosophy, exegesis etc.?
Ustad Fayyazi: As I said, studying Ibn ‘Arabī is necessary. Anyone who wants to understand Mullā Ṣadrā must understand Ibn ‘Arabī and his thoughts. However, someone like Imam [Khumaynī] does not have the same interpretation of Ibn ‘Arabī as Mullā Ṣadrā did. As I said, there are 21 interpretations of Unity of Existence which I have gathered so far.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): My question was more regarding other aspects of Ibn ‘Arabī’s school, such as in exegesis, ethics, etiquettes, worship etc.
Ustad Fayyazi: We don’t have an issue with a lot of those aspects.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): For example, in the book Adāb al-Ṣalāt which you are doing a commentary on, it has terms like Fayḍ al-Aqdas, Fayḍ al-Muqaddas, Ta‘ayyun al-Awwal, al-Thāni, Marātib al-Fanā’, and other similar jargon.
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, but I believe all these matters do have a correct understanding and interpretation as well. In my opinion, Imam [Khumaynī] who himself admits to this, what he says in the interpretation of Ibn ‘Arabī is different from what Mullā Ṣadrā would say, and likewise other scholars. The understanding of Imam [Khumaynī] is different, and that understanding does not have the problematic and corrupt consequences, that we believe the views of Ibn ‘Arabī and Mullā Ṣadrā have.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): So Imam [Khumaynī] had a very specific understanding of this view and it is that view that you comment on and explain?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, yes. However, note that we do not accept the understanding of Imam Khumaynī either, rather we have our own understanding. But the understanding of Imam [Khumaynī] is not the understanding which Mullā Ṣadrā gets from Ibn ‘Arabī.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): For your weekly Akhlāq lessons, you chose the book Adab al-Ṣalāt, was it because it has many ethical and spiritual points and you tend to focus on those?
Ustad Fayyazi: No, not just that. I focus on the same points that Imam [Khumaynī] also focuses on and can be defended because Imam [Khumaynī] had his own interpretation of Ibn ‘Arabī. Imam [Khumaynī] when he speaks of Ibn ‘Arabī, it is what he has understood from Ibn ‘Arabī, it is that which he is explaining. We do not see that interpretation of Ibn ‘Arabī as one full of problematic consequences, unlike the interpretation of Mullā Ṣadrā.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Of course, in a book such as Adāb al-Ṣalāt, Imam [Khumaynī] also uses a lot of narrations and verses of the Quran within what he is explaining.
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, yes, definitely.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Given you have critiques on Ibn ‘Arabī and Mullā Ṣadrā, do you consider yourself closer to Maktab-e Tafkīk? Or do you have some fundamental issues and critiques on Maktab-e Tafkīk as well? Some say you are more of a theologian rather than a philosopher – is this correct?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, this is what they say, but may Allah bless Khwāja [Naṣīr al-Dīn] al-Ṭūsī (r) when he wrote Tajrīd al-I’tiqād he came and utilized philosophy for general discussions such as the topics of substances and accidental attributes, such that the first and second section of the book is actually what Mullā Ṣadrā expounds on in a lot of detail in the first 5 volumes of al-Asfār.
Why? Because Khwāja was a prolific thinker and he saw that theology without philosophy will not have the degree of certainty that it requires. I believe the method of Khwāja is a very noble method. However, the better way to put this is that theology became more philosophized, not that a philosopher became a theologian.
When they say that a philosopher has turned into a theologian, if they mean that a philosopher uses his philosophy and engages with theological topics, then this is correct. However, this does not mean his philosophy has truly become theology, rather his philosophy has shed light on theological topics and then gives theology a more rational explanation and justification. We consider this approach of Khwāja very solid, and the foundations of Kalām only become stronger when it utilizes philosophy.
When you want to investigate my own views, you will see that all of them are being discussed in a philosophical way. All the views have been proven with a philosophical methodology and the opposing views have been refuted with a philosophical methodology. When we want to give an opinion on a topic, we offer a philosophical method, the same method that a philosopher uses such as the employing of a minor premise, a major premise, all of them being rational premises, we have done the same thing.
The evidence our opponents give and consider them to be rational, we have also investigated them and have pointed out the flaws in many of their premises one by one. We have said for example that our opponents say a certain premise is an axiom, but it is not an axiom; they thought a certain premise may be reflective, but that may not be the case. Hence their argument becomes fallacious. We have thus used the exact same philosophical methodology, alas some still say this is kalām.
As far as the conclusions are considered. After having sat with the senior scholars of Maktab-e Tafkīk many times, they very clearly say we have no issue with philosophy. We have a problem with a number of issues that exist in philosophy, for example Unity of Existence, corporeal resurrection etc. These same issues that the scholars of Maktab-e Tafkīk have a problem with, I have the same problem. Therefore, I have taken those thoughts and ideas and have critiqued them using a philosophical methodology and have arrived at conclusions that the scholars of Maktab-e Tafkīk really like.
For example, in philosophy, the concept of causal necessity is very much emphasized, but I have critiqued this concept and have said causal necessity is not correct such that whenever there is a complete cause (‘illah tāmmah) the effect (ma’lūl) must also always exist. Rather, necessity itself is a result of a cause being a requisite (mūjab), not that it is complete. In other words, if a cause is a requisite, then requisition is within it. When a required cause is there, the effect will exist, however, if a complete cause is there and the doer (fā‘il) has free-will, they are mukhtār, then there is no necessity for an effect to exist because freedom of choice (ikhtiyār) is an essential quality for the doer.
An essential quality of a doer means that in every single circumstance they can choose to do a certain act or choose not to.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Otherwise, it will become coerced (majbūr).
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, freedom of choice will have no meaning. In fact, even once the doer decides (irādah), it remains within the domain of their choice. Up until the point where they do the act, they can always change their decision. I can choose to stand up from my chair, but until I do not get up, I can always change my decision.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): The philosophers on the other hand say, whether you like it or not, once the complete cause is present, the act will necessarily happen. So whether you like it or not you will definitely stand up from your chair (according to them) …?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, we negate this causal necessity. The Maktab-e Tafkīk applaud us for this view and say how gracefully has this individual come and critiqued this position.
One time an Afghan student from Jamiatul Mustafa came to me, he was a very strong student. He said he wanted to write his PhD on causal necessity. I said to him, why would you come to me, I don’t even believe in it. At that time, Dr. Abbasi who is now the head of Jamiatul Mustafa, was the head of the education department. The student said he has sent me to you, because I want to prove causal necessity and I want to mention your critiques on it so I can respond to them.
I said that is fine. At the end when he wanted to defend his thesis, he said, I wanted to prove causal necessity, but I ended up writing my thesis critiquing causal necessity. After he saw my arguments, he said there was no way to prove it and he did not have any response to my critiques. At the end, he defended his thesis which was a critique of causal necessity.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): You say that some of the scholars of Maktab-e Tafkīk are pleased when they read some of our conclusions, but you must still have some critiques on their principles and methodologies, such as the fact that they say you must not enter the field of interpretation of religious texts without any preconceived rational or philosophical assumptions.
Ustad Fayyazi: That claim of theirs undermines their own methodology – though I must say not all proponents of Tafkīk say this and the ones I have sat with do not say this – but yes, we do not accept the Maktab-e Tafkīk in general. We may have some areas where we have similar opinions, but they very explicitly say that we consider the intellect to be reliable up until we prove God, or the necessity of prophethood, or the day of judgement, even to identify the Prophet and his veracity. Once these are all proven, they say you must bid farewell to the intellect.
We say no, the intellect cannot be abandoned. The intellect did not get its binding force (ḥujjīyyah) from you or anyone else, rather its ḥujjīyyah is in its very essence. It is always ḥujjah, and if you negate the binding force of the intellect, then all the things you earlier proved with it also become doubtful. You need the intellect to arrive at Waḥī, but you also need it to analyze.
The Quran says:
لَوْ كَانَ فِيهِمَآ ءَالِهَةٌ إِلَّا ٱللَّهُ لَفَسَدَتَا
[21:22] Had there been gods beside Allah, in the heavens and the earth, both of them would have fallen in disorder.
There is no doubt that this verse is a rational argument. The Quran in more than 100 verses says the following concept:
قَالَتْ رُسُلُهُمْ أَفِى ٱللَّهِ شَكٌّۭ فَاطِرِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ
[14:10] Is there any doubt about Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth?
These verses are saying go and use your intellect, is it possible to even doubt the existence of Allah? Is there any doubt about Allah, this rhetorical question is telling humans to go refer to their intellects. How can you say we do not have anything to do with the intellect? If that is your position, then you are essentially an Akhbārī; i.e. you understand an apparent meaning from the Quran, an apparent meaning from the words of the infallible, but then you do not give yourself permission to think, reflect, and contemplate over these apparent meanings. This is while the Quran and the Imams (a) have constantly emphasized that we must reflect, think and contemplate.
Even the verse Had there been gods beside Allah, in the heavens and the earth, both of them would have fallen in disorder, it has more than 20 interpretations. Some of our great jurists like Āqā Jamāl al-Khwānsārī (d. 1713) said this verse is oratory. Āqā Jamāl al-Khwānsārī was not a mediocre person. He has a treatise on Mabda and Ma’ad, and says this verse is an example of oratory.
Since he could not present this verse in a proposition that is in the form of burhān, he had to say what he did. We on the other hand believe this is an example of the Quranic miracle, that it speaks in a way that a person who is at the level of oratory can also understand it and it will convince them, and those who are at the level of Ibn Sīnā and greater who do not care about oratory, that this verse is a strong burhān for them. This is from the miracles of the Quran, that while the verse may look like oratory, it has different layers and can be a burhān at the same time. Someone who has the mindset of burhān will understand the definitive argument contained in it, and one who is at the level of oratory will also be convinced by it.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): This verse Is there any doubt about Allah, they often say this verse reconciles with the argument through Fiṭrah. Does it have both a Fiṭra and Burhānī exegesis?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, yes, because it is possible for a person to utilize the verse as a burhān, such as the part of the verse which says Allah is fāṭir al-samāwat (Originator of the heavens). There is a principle that says a quality (waṣf) alludes to it being a cause. So the quality “Originator of the heavens” leads you to both the argument of contingency and necessity (al-imkān wa al-wujūb) as well as Ibn Sīnā’s argument of the veracious (burhān al-ṣiddiqīn).
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): This does not negate the idea that humans have a deep innate nature as well that points to this reality?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, it does not.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Ustād, another question I had was that many philosophers and teachers of philosophy, after years of study and engaging with philosophy, near the end of their lives show a bit of regret. They say for example why did we not spend this much time with Uṣūl al-Kāfī, or Tawḥīd al-Ṣadūq or Nahj al-Balāgha or Ṣaḥīfa al-Sajjādīyyah etc. Do you also have a similar inclination and feeling? Or do you say that the fact I had so much affinity with philosophy, now that I go to the Quran and Nahj al-Balāgha I understand those texts much better and more precisely?
Ustad Fayyazi: We say they felt regret over not utilizing and using Quranic verses and narrations more, if you pay attention to their words, you will see that is what they are regretting. They do not show regret that they spent time studying philosophy. They show regret over continuing their entire life on that journey and we say this regret is justified.
We do not want philosophy for itself, it is merely an instrumental tool for us, for those religious matters that cannot be tackled except with philosophy, such as the existence of God, monotheism, resurrection, the necessity of prophethood, and understanding those things that appear in the Quran and Sunnah.
I once said in a meeting that some of our philosophers say why did we not utilize Quranic verses more? I said, we have no doubt that all our scholars believe the Quran is abandoned (mahjūr), but have you found even one jurist in the history of Tashayyu‘ who showed regret saying I wish I would have used the Quran more? I personally have not found any jurist like this. The reason for this is that jurists understand the Quran to the extent that their legal theory allows them to understand. However, the Quran has an apparent and inner meaning, and if anyone wants to reach the inner meanings of the Quran – to arrive at all the meanings is not even possible for normal humans, it is only for the vicegerent of Allah, and the Prophets, as the Quran says:
وَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ تِبْيَـٰنًۭا لِّكُلِّ شَىْءٍۢ
[16:89] We have revealed to you the Book as an explanation of all things
The Quran was revealed to him (p) and it is an explanation for all things for the Prophet (p). Or the Quran says:
وَأَنزَلْنَآ إِلَيْكَ ٱلذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ
[16:44] And We have sent down to you ˹O Prophet˺ the Reminder, so that you may explain to people what has been revealed for them,
The Quran is not a mubayyin (one who explains), rather it needs an explainer. Hence why the Prophet (p) said, the Quran and his family will “never separate”. He (p) did not say, “You should not create a separation between them.” He (p) said, these two things cannot be separated. So if you want to benefit from the Quran, you cannot do so without an explainer. We believe those who study philosophy will understand something which others cannot understand. There is such an ocean of knowledge in the Quran, that it is for this reason that the philosophers regret not having spent enough time with the Quran and ḥadīth, because they only sufficed with studying the prerequisite instrumental subject which was philosophy. They regret not being able to expound and benefit from the verses and the ḥadīth in a way that others could not do so.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): So the words of Imam Khumaynī when he says that I did not attain any wisdom (ḥikmat) from Fuṣūṣ, nor did I go on any journey (safar) with al-Asfār, and nor did I attain any affinity (uns) with al-Miṣbāḥ, you mean to say that what the Imam meant is that these books were merely tools…
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, they were just meant to be tools to benefit from the ocean that exists in the Quran and Sunnah.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): They regretted not having spent enough time with the Divine texts…
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, not that they regretted studying philosophy, to begin with.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): When it comes to Western philosophy, to what extent do you think we can benefit from some of the theories that are proposed there? Do any of their theories create any real questions and challenges for Islamic philosophers? When we look at ‘Allāmah and Shahīd Muṭahharī, we see that they were able to benefit from it. Some say if a Muslim philosopher studies Western philosophy there are some things which are very good and can be utilized, as it is said, wisdom is the lost property of a believer. Do you accept this, or do you think all of Western philosophy is all just atheistic and materialistic philosophy?
Ustad Fayyazi: The verse says:
ٱلَّذِينَ يَسْتَمِعُونَ ٱلْقَوْلَ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ أَحْسَنَهُۥ
[39:17-18] So, give the good news to My servants those who listen to what is said and follow the best of it.
We must listen to the words of others, and we must try to understand them. Though not anyone who has just studied some logic, rather an expert who has understood and studied Islamic philosophy properly, then for these experts it is necessary for them, in fact, for some it is obligatory. Yes, in the works of Western philosophers there are ideas that are worthy of attention and they can be utilized and they can even be accepted.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Especially those philosophers who are closer to faith and accept the notion of God?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, but it is important to be attentive towards one point. All believers in whatever they engage in, they should know:
اَللّٰهُ وَلِىُّ الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا يُخۡرِجُهُمۡ مِّنَ الظُّلُمٰتِ اِلَى النُّوۡرِ وَالَّذِيۡنَ كَفَرُوۡۤا اَوۡلِيٰٓـُٔهُمُ الطَّاغُوۡتُۙ يُخۡرِجُوۡنَهُمۡ مِّنَ النُّوۡرِ اِلَى الظُّلُمٰتِ
[2:257] Allah is the Guardian of those who believe, He brings them out of every darkness into light. And those who disbelieve, their guardians are the evil ones; they bring them out of light into all kinds of darkness
When we go to them it is not because we are going to benefit from them, even though they may have good things to say, but those ideas are good only because they are true in accordance with our intellect and our foundations. However, to say that we will accept their views just like that, then no. Their guardians (awliyā) are Shayṭān, and it will only take them to darkness.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): But some of them, their guardians may not be Shayṭān, perhaps they are believers and weak (mustaḍ’afīn).
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, sometimes they may be believers and weak.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): For example, when we look at the existential philosophy of Kierkegaard, some of them compare his ideas with the ideas of some of our Islamic philosophers and mystics, that some of his ideas have certain precise points that can be accepted. However, you have said elsewhere that [25:44] They are only like cattle. You have said this in a very general and absolute way, such that all the philosophies of the world from the past and present and contemporary era, you have summarized them under the slogan of cattle.
Ustad Fayyazi: No, no. I said this statement so that any random person does not go towards those discussions. It was from the perspective of warning. I have a number of people who did not have a very good grasp of our philosophy, but went towards them [Western philosophical ideas] and then became complete relativists. This relativity means they themselves are not sure about their own views and beliefs. They will say something and say this is what we understand, but do we truly know if this is true or not? They will say no, we do not know. They will say this about every belief. When I saw this, I said someone must be lower than a calf to follow another calf. The Quran says:
إِنَّ شَرَّ ٱلدَّوَآبِّ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟
[8:55] Indeed, the worst of all beings in the sight of Allah are those who persist in disbelief,
These are the worst of all beings, as is also clear from their actions and behaviour. They commit the biggest crimes and tell the biggest lies, they attribute lies to others and they know very well these are lies.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): But these are their politicians, not some philosopher who is sitting in some corner. This is like many of our own politicians.
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, that is correct, but even some of their philosophers will prefer their own nationality and state and will put forth all of that which they have and know at the mercy of their state. For us to complete our proof on people, we mentioned these verses. If someone wants to go study them, then first come and study [our philosophy] – they are all relativists, sometimes when I sat with some of their big scholars they came and very easily say that the Law of Non-Contradiction is merely a proposition that you have understood and act by, but it may not be true in reality.
They believe in these types of matters, so for a person who is intelligent, for them to go toward a person who is claiming to be ignorant, is absurd. The person himself says what I believe in is relatively correct and true right now, but tomorrow it might be something else.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Ustād, for this very reason do you not think we need a science that teaches us the tools and principles of knowledge, one where Ṣadrian philosophy can play a significant part in it, or is our current study of legal theory enough to do ijtihād in theology, ethics, exegesis?
Ustad Fayyazi: The principles of knowledge need philosophy and legal theory, but jurists nowadays themselves are admitting that legal theory was meant to address some issues which it never did. For this reason, they recently wrote a book called al-Fā’iq, because there were some Uṣūlī topics that they had never investigated in detail in legal theory in the past.
Likewise, we do not claim our philosophy has discussed all the topics that it should have discussed. We have only been given a little knowledge:
مَآ أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ ٱلْعِلْمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًۭا
[17:85] and you were not given of knowledge but little
We do not say what we have is enough, we are constantly learning new things. We say whatever the seminary already has at its disposal should be utilized, just like the jurists said there are new issues pertaining to Uṣūl that must be discussed and now they have officially added them to the books, likewise there are some issues in philosophy that should be investigated beforehand so when you go to the Quran and Sunnah you are comfortable with dealing with them.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Our time is almost over Ustād. You have spent years in Islamic philosophy, do you believe our heritage has the ability to give continuation to a civilization, particularly an ethical and moral one?
Ustad Fayyazi: We believe that beliefs and ideas are the basis of action and behaviour. Human behaviour can be of two types: one that is based on reasoning, and contemplation, which is considered humane behaviour, and another set that is based on affinities and inclinations which are called animalistic behaviour. An animal does things simply because they want to do certain things, but if a human wants to do something then all of its acts should be based on thought – is this action to their benefit or not? Is the action a cause of their bliss or not?
If we want our practical life to be humane then we must be people of contemplation, reasoning and contemplation. It is reasoning and reflection that makes our life sacred, because it is with reflection that we reach Allah, the necessity of Waḥī and Day of Judgement. If we want to have this level of reflection, we cannot do so without philosophy.
Hence why we need philosophical discussions, so that our life becomes humane life. If we do not want to live this way, then we should not call ourselves human. At that point, we become just like the Quran says, like cattle, but rather lower than cattle, and heedless. These humans are heedless of some realities and live their lives just like animals.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): Ustād, is philosophy as a whole still enjoyable for you, or do you only enjoy some issues in it?
Ustad Fayyazi: It is very natural, that there are some issues that have a very real and direct impact on the practical life of a human.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): What is that one discussion that had a huge impact on yourself?
Ustad Fayyazi: Yes, for example, the discussion on the fundamentality of existence in the way we have explained it and presented it, casts a shadow on all other topics in philosophy.
Hadi Al Lawati (Interviewer): We thank you greatly Ustād, we benefited from you, and thank you for giving us your valuable time.
Ustad Fayyazi: May Allah prolong your respect.
Sayyid Ali studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College of London in 2018. In the seminary he engaged in the study of legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is currently completing his Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and is the head of a private faith-based school in Toronto, as well as an instructor at the Mizan Institute and Mufid Seminary.