Ibrahim Y. Najjar and Majid Fakhry
Abu’l-Walid Ibn Rushd, known in European sources as Averroes, was born in Cordova, Spain, in 1126 C.E. He studied Arabic letters (Adab), jurisprudence (Fiqh), Kalam, medicine and philosophy with a number of teachers, some of whose names are given in the sources. In 1169, he was introduced to the Caliph, Abu Ya`qub Yusuf, by Ibn Tufayl (d.1185), the leading philosopher of the period and court physician to the Caliph. Abu Ya`qub Yusuf was an avid reader of Aristotle, we are told, but complained of his “intractable and abstruse idiom”. As a result of this meeting, Averroes was asked to expound the works of Aristotle for the use of the Caliph and was appointed religious judge (qadi) of Seville and shortly after chief judge of Cordova. In 1182, he was appointed physician royal at the court of Marrakech.
Upon the succession of the Caliph’s son, nicknamed Al-Mansôur, Averroes continued to enjoy the royal patronage, but in 1195, yielding to public pressure, the Caliph ordered the books of Averroes to be burnt, on an undefined charge of irreligion or heresy, and the teaching of philosophy and the sciences was banned, with the exception of astronomy, medicine, and arithmetic. In the same year Averroes was exiled to Lucena, to the southeast of Cordova; though shortly after he was restored to favor. In 1198, he died in Cordova at the age of seventy-two.
Averroes’ writings on philosophy, jurisprudence, theology, and medicine, which have all survived in Arabic or Hebrew and Latin translations, place him in the forefront of writers on these subjects in the world of medieval Islam and beyond. He was recognized in Western Europe, starting with the thirteenth century, which witnessed the translation of his commentaries on Aristotle, as The Commentator, or as Dante has put it, che gran commento feo. These Latin translations early in that century caused a genuine intellectual stir in learned circles and laid the ground for the rise of Latin Scholasticism, one of the glories of European thought in the later Middle Ages. However, apart from his contribution to Aristotelian scholarship, which was almost unmatched until modern times, Averroes has dealt more thoroughly than any other Muslim philosopher with theological questions, including the perennial question of the relation of faith and reason, which became the pivotal issue in the Scholastic disputations of the thirteenth century and beyond in Western Europe. His contribution to those disputations is embodied in three theological treatises: The Decisive Treatise (Fasôl al-Maqal), written in 1179; The Exposition of the Methods of Proof (Al-Kashf `an Manahij Al-Adilla), written in the same year; and a short tract dealing with the question of God’s eternal and unchanging knowledge of particulars or contingent entities. To this trilogy should be added his systematic rebuttal of Al-Ghazali’s onslaught on Islamic Neoplatonism in the Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-Falasifah), written in 1195 and entitled the Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-Tahafut).
In the first of these works, The Decisive Treatise, Averroes sets out the appropriate methodology for the solution of the problem of the relation of religion and philosophy (hôikmah), and more specifically the way in which philosophical or logical methods of reasoning can be used in religious controversies, or applied to the interpretation of the texts of Scripture . He begins by defining philosophy as The investigation of existing entities in so far as they point to the Maker; I mean, in so far as they are made, since existing entities exhibit the Maker.It follows, he goes on to argue, that the study of philosophy is indeed recommended by the religious law (Shar’i), as appears from a number of Qur’anic verses, such as 59;2, which urges people of understanding to reflect¯ and verse 7: 184, which asks: Have they not considered the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth and all the things God has created?” For surely, Averroes asserts, reflection and consideration are forms of logical reasoning or deduction (qiyas), or the extraction of the unknown from the known. He then proceeds to rebut the claim of the literalists and traditionalists that the use of deduction, which the first generation of Muslim scholars have shunned, is an “innovation”on the ground that juridical deduction, which is analogous to logical deduction, was subsequently practiced by the next generation and was regarded as perfectly legitimate.
Next, Averroes proceeds to ask whether demonstration (burhan), which is the highest form of logical deduction, is compatible with the explicit or implicit prescriptions of Scripture (Shar’i). His answer is that, like the jurist who draws out or deduces his legal decisions from the sacred texts by recourse to interpretation (ta’wil), the philosopher is perfectly justified in resorting to interpretation in his attempt to elicit, by means of rational deduction, the nature of reality and the way in which it leads to the knowledge of the Maker. He then defines interpretation as the act of eliciting the real connotation of (Scriptural) terms from their figurative connotation without violating the rules of the Arabic language.
However, it should be noted that not all the texts of Scripture (i.e. the Qur’an) admit of interpretation; only those parts of it which the Qur’an itself has designated as ambiguous (mutashabihat), as against those parts which it has designated as “sound” or unambiguous (muhôkamat) in verses 3: 57. With respect to the former the Qur’an stipulates that their interpretation is imperative, but only God and those well-grounded in knowledge are qualified to interpret it. By those well-grounded in knowledge, Averroes is categorical, only the philosophers or “people of demonstration” are intended, followed, in the order of their aptitudes to understand the intent of Scripture, by the “dialectical’ class (or the Mutakallimun), and the “rhetorical” class (or the public at large). This threefold division of mankind is confirmed, according to Averroes, by the Qur’an itself which states in verse 16: 125, addressing the Prophet: Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and mild exhortation and argue with them in the best manner.
The second treatise, or Exposition (al-Kashf) gives, as a sequel to this methodology, a substantive statement of those articles of faith which are essential for salvation, or as Averroes puts it, without which the faith (of the Muslim believer) is not complete. This statement, which is reminiscent of similar statements found in Medieval Scholastic treatises, such as St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, opens with a chapter on the demonstration of God’s existence, followed by a discussion of God’s unity, His attributes and His transcendence or freedom from imperfection. This first part is then followed by a discussion of divine actions, which include the creation of the world, the commissioning of Messengers, the meaning of the divine decree and predestination, divine justice, and the nature of resurrection. The book closes with a discussion of the rules of interpretation, which had been at the center of the first volume or The Decisive Treatise, already discussed. Here Averroes reiterates his thesis that the statements of Scripture are either explicit, and hence do not call for any interpretation, or ambiguous and hence should be interpreted exclusively by the learned, or “those well-grounded in knowledge”, as the Qur’an has put it. However, this interpretation should not be divulged to the general public, who are not able to fathom its meaning.
Earlier in The Exposition Averroes had argued that none of the Muslim sects, whether the literalists, the Ash`arites, the Mu`tazilites or the Esoterics (i.e. the Sufis), who accuse each other of innovation or heresy, are found upon close scrutiny to have conformed, in their interpretations or claims, to the intent of the lawgiver (the Prophet) and are therefore all guilty of innovation or heresy. This leads him to undertake at the outset to draw up a list of those articles of faith which are not open to question and to define the rules of sound interpretation.
The first rule is that none of the Islamic sects mentioned above is competent to formulate the principles of sound interpretation; only the philosophers or the learned are. The second rule is that Scripture, which addresses the three classes of men, the learned, the theologians and the common people, actually uses the three corresponding methods of proof, the demonstrative, the dialectical, and the rhetorical, to ensure that the intention of the lawgiver is understood by them all. The third rule is that interpretation should be properly understood or applied. According to Averroes, false interpretations are at the root of the rise of heretical sects in Islam, totaling, according to a Prophetic tradition (Hôadith 72), of which only one was destined to be saved.
The line of demarcation between those parts of Scripture which may and those parts which may not be interpreted and should be accepted by the masses or common people at their face value, is clearly drawn by Averroes. It is evident from his various statements in The Exposition and elsewhere that interpretation is to be sought; firstly, in those cases which have not been the object of consensus (ijma`) by the community; secondly, where the statements of Scripture appear to be in conflict with each other; and thirdly, where those statements appear to be in conflict with the principles of philosophy or natural reason. Averroes, who was committed to the complete harmony of religious and philosophical truth, proceeds next to set forth the principal propositions around which consensus can be achieved without violating any rational or philosophical precepts, and which can be regarded as constituting the substance of an acceptable Islamic Credo, so to speak.
The list begins with those propositions that purport to demonstrate the existence of God and his unity. Here Averroes reviews and then rejects the favorite arguments of the Mutakallimun, including the Ash`arites, which rest upon the premise of the temporality of the universe (hôuduth). This argument which goes back to the philosopher al-Kindi (d.c.866), who was known for his Mu`tazilite sympathies, and beyond him to John Philoponus, known in the Arabic sources as the Grammarian (d.586), states that the world, being created in time (hôadith or muhôdath) must have a Creator or Originator (Muhôdith) who created it in time. The first premise of this argument, as Averroes observes, is supposed to be the corollary of the thesis generally adhered to by the Mutakallimun that the world is made up of indivisible particles or atoms, which by nature are evanescent. However, this thesis, according to him, is far from being demonstrable in a manner accessible to the general public or even skilled logicians.
The second argument, favored by the Ash`arites, as propounded by al-Juwayni (d.1086), Al-Ghazali’s illustrious teacher, is the argument from contingency, which Avicenna (d.1037) himself had adumbrated. It states that the world’s being contingent (ja’iz or mumkin) requires that there be a determinant who is not contingent, whom Avicenna designated the Necessary Being. Averroes rejects this argument on the ground that the major premise, the contingency of the world, is purely rhetorical and rests on the repudiation of the universal principle of causality, which entails that the world is causally ordered in a way which manifests the wisdom of its Creator. Thus, whoever repudiates this principle, not only repudiates that wisdom, but is unable in fact to offer a coherent proof of God’s existence. He is, consequently, forced to concede that the world is the product of the blind forces of chance, or simply random (‘Ittifaq).
Significantly, Averroes proposes two alternative proofs for the existence of God, that of providence and that of invention, to both of which “the Precious Book” (the Qur’an) has drawn attention, as he puts it, in a variety of verses. The former rests on the premise that all existing entities here below have come to exist in order to subserve the interests of mankind and for this reason are necessarily due to a willing and intending Agent and cannot be the product of chance. The other argument rests on the premise that everything in the world is “invented” or made by an Inventor or Maker, who is God.
Averroes then goes on to argue that the knowledge of God as Inventor or Maker of the world is not possible, unless one knows the reality of things, whereby the reality of invention exhibited in all existing entities is revealed to him.
With respect to the attributes of God, explicitly given in the “Precious Book”, they are in fact the so-called seven attributes of perfection found in man; namely, life, knowledge, power, will, hearing, sight, and speech, which attributes the Mutakallimun, whether Mu`tazilites or Ash`arites, actually concurred in. However, Averroes disagrees with both sects regarding the mode of predicating them of God. Thus the Ash`arites hold that the attributes of knowledge and will are eternal, adding that God knows created entities by means of an eternal knowledge and wills them by means of an eternal will.
Both notions, according to Averroes, are logically absurd. For knowledge is consequent on the existence of its object and so is will. It follows that God knows an entity when it comes to exist or ceases to exist as He wills it to exist or to cease to exist. To contend that God knows and wills entities created in time by means of an eternal knowledge and will leaves unexplained the lapse of time intervening between God’s will to create an entity in time and its actual coming to exist in time, in the light of God’s infinite power.
The explicit teaching of Scripture, according to Averroes, is simply that created entities are known to God and willed by Him at the very moment He wishes them to exist; it does not determine whether such knowing and willing are temporal or eternal. Such knowledge and will are entirely different from our own and the mode of predicating them of God is unknown to us, as he has stated in The Incoherence. In The Decisive Treatise and The Appendix he states that God’s knowledge of the object is the cause of that object, whereas our knowledge is the effect of the object.
As for speech, around which controversy raged for centuries between the Mu`tazilites, who held that God’s speech, as embodied in the Qur’an, is created or temporal, and the Hôanbalites and the Ash`arites, who believed it to be uncreated or eternal, Averroes’ position is that speech is the corollary of knowledge and action. God, as the supreme Knower and Maker, must be capable of speech, and this speech is revealed to mankind through the prophets, either directly or indirectly through the intermediation of angels.
However, there is an additional part of God’s speech, which He communicates to the learned, who are the heirs of the prophets in the form of demonstrative knowledge, by which Averroes undoubtedly meant the highest form of philosophical discourse. On the question of the status of the Qur’an, which is God’s speech, Averroes distinguishes between the meanings of the words denoting this speech and the words we use in speech; the former are created by God, the latter are our own work, “by God’s leave”.
With respect to the two attributes of hearing and seeing, Averroes takes the line that God must possess those two attributes, by reason of the fact that hearing and sight bear on certain apprehended properties which pertain to existing entities, but are not apprehended by reason¯. God, being the Creator or Maker of these entities must be capable of knowing everything pertaining to them and must, accordingly, possess the two attributes of hearing and sight, whereby they are thoroughly known, not only as objects of thought, but as objects of sense, as well.
The first part of The Exposition, as we have seen, deals with God’s existence and his attributes, or de Deo Uno, as the Medieval Latin Scholastic treatises have it; the second part deals with His actions. Under this rubric, Averroes deals with five questions: the creation of the world, the commissioning of prophets, divine justice, the divine decree, and resurrection.
With respect to the first question, Averroes inveighs against the Ash`arite methods of proving that the world is the creation of God on the grounds that they are neither demonstrative, nor suited to the learned, “common”, or general public, since they base those proofs on complex premises which confuse, rather than instruct the latter, and fall short of the criteria of demonstration laid down by the former. The method Scripture itself has adopted is actually the simple method commonly agreed and resting on the principle of providence. The crux of this method is the observation that everything in the world is ordered according to a fixed causal pattern which is conducive to serving the universal goal of the existence and well-being of mankind, as the Qur’an itself asserts in a series of verses. By repudiating the principle of causality, as we have seen, the Ash`arites have abandoned the world to the vagaries of chance and cast doubt on divine wisdom, which is revealed in this orderly pattern and is the key to demonstrating the existence of its Author.
The question of the duration of the world, which was at the center of Al-Ghazali’s attack on the Muslim Neoplatonists Al-Farabi and Avicenna, and beyond them Aristotle, gives Averroes the opportunity to counter Al-Ghazali’s arguments and reassert Aristotle’s thesis that the world is eternal and indestructible. In The Decisive Treatise, he argues that the differences between Al-Ghazali and the Ash`arites, on the one hand, and “the ancient philosophers”, with Aristotle at their head, on the other, are purely semantic, and are not so divergent as to justify the charges of irreligion (Kufr) leveled at the philosophers by Al-Ghazali.
In fact, the Ash`arites, contrary to their allegations, cannot produce a single Qur’anic verse in support of their thesis that the world has a beginning in time. Rather the contrary, many Qur’anic verses appear to assert that the form the world is created in reality, but its existence and temporal duration are continuous a parte ante and a parte post. Thus, verse 11: 7, which states that it is He who created the heavens and the earth, while His Throne rested on water¯, implies on the surface of it that the Throne, water, and the time which measures their duration existed prior to the moment of creation.
Similarly, verse 41: 11, which states: Then he arose to heaven which consisted of smoke¯, implies that the heaven was created from something already existing, which is smoke.
In The Exposition, Averroes justifies the use of such language on the ground that Scripture, in its attempt to instruct the common people, has resorted to the method of “sensuous representation” accessible to them, since creation out of nothing and in no time is something which the common people, and even the learned, are unable to grasp. In such cases it is the duty of the learned to interpret such representations; that of the common people to accept them at their face value. Averroes, who never in fact abandoned the Aristotelian thesis of an eternal universe, whilst willing to entertain the Islamic concept of a created universe, believed it necessary to distinguish between continuous (da’im) and discontinuous (munqati`) creation, as he has put it in The Incoherence. The former, the eternal creation is certainly more appropriate where the actions of the Omnipotent Creator are concerned, since it is inconceivable that an interval or lapse of time should intervene between His willing and His action, as is the case with finite agents.
On the question of commissioning prophets or divine Messengers to mankind and the probative grounds of authenticating their claims to be genuine Messengers or emissaries of God, Averroes is critical of the Ash`arite thesis that miracle is an essential warrant of the truthfulness of prophetic claims. The Qur’an itself, he argues, confirms this point, as appears from those verses in which the Prophet is said to have declined to meet the challenge of his hearers to cause springs to gush out from the ground for us (Qur’an 17: 90), on the ground that he was nothing other than a human messenger” (17: 93). This is confirmed by God’s own refusal, in verse 17: 60, to send down miraculous “signs” to sway the unbelievers. The only miracle the Prophet resorted to in summoning mankind to believe in his message was “the Precious Book” whose miraculousness is affirmed in such verses as 17: 89, which challenges men and jinn to come up with the like of this Qur’an, without any prospect of success, even if they were to back one another up.
The evidence for the miraculousness of the Qur’an is then given by Averroes as follows. First, the theoretical and practical prescriptions which it has laid down are not the product of human ingenuity, but rather of divine revelation, especially since the Prophet who transmitted them to mankind was illiterate. Compared to the prescriptions embodied in the Scriptures of Jews and Christians, those of the Qur’an are far superior.
Secondly, the prognostications embodied in the Qur’an confirm the Prophet’s claims. (Significantly, Averroes does not give any instances of those prognostications, unlike the majority of the commentators and biographers of the Prophet.) Thirdly, the Qur’an’s literary excellence sets it apart from any product of the pen of the greatest Arab literary masters and cannot for that reason be the product of human deliberation or reflection.
Averroes, then, concludes the discussion of miracles by comparing the miracles attributed to Jesus and other `divine messengers’, such as Moses, to the Qur’an, Muhôammad’s greatest miracle. For him, the miraculousness of the former is extrinsic, whereas that of the latter is intrinsic, and this proves conclusively that it is superior.
The third and fourth questions of the second part of The Exposition deal with two related issues of moral theology, predestination and divine justice. With respect to the first question, Averroes rightly observes that the evidence of Scripture (Shar`) is found upon close scrutiny to be conflicting. Thus we find in both the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet statements which appear to support free will or acquisition (iktisab, kasb) and its opposite. This has led to the rise of three rival sects; the Mu`tazilites, who support free will; the Determinists, who deny it; and the Ash`arites, who tried to mediate between the two parties and introduced in the process the concept of “acquisition”. What is more, observes Averroes, even the evidence of reason appears to be conflicting, due to the diametrically opposed arguments which can be advanced in support of both free will and predestination. Thus determinism (jabr) may be criticized on the ground that it renders religious obligation meaningless and any provision for the morrow, in the expectation of bringing about certain advantages and warding off certain disadvantages, entirely irrational. This in turn would render all human arts and crafts futile. To reconcile the two views, as Scripture itself appears to demand, we should understand, as Averroes argues, that human actions are the product of those internal faculties which God has implanted in us as well as those external forces which allow for the realization of our deliberately chosen aims. It is because those forces operate in accordance with a thoroughly rigorous causal pattern which God has imposed on the whole natural order, and which is in fact synonymous with the “Preserved Tablet” or the divine decree, that our own actions become possible and accord with our own deliberation and choice.
In defending the principle of causality against the attacks of Al-Ghazali and the Ash`arites in general, who held that this principle conflicts with the consensus of Muslims that God is the Sole Agent, and accordingly is at liberty to act freely and miraculously in the world, Averroes argues that the term “agent” admits of two senses, real and figurative. God is indeed the real and ultimate Agent, who operates by means of those figurative, secondary agents or causes that He not only creates, but preserves in existence. This is confirmed by both reason and observation. For, but for the specific natures and properties pertaining to existing entities as we know them, on the one hand, and the influence of external, physical agencies, such as the stars, wind, rain, and sea, on the other, it would not be possible for plants, animals or humans to subsist, let alone to act effectively in the world. The Qur’an itself confirms this, in those verses which speak of God subjecting day and night, the sun and the moon and whatever is in heavens and on earth to mankind (Qur’an 28:�73; 45:12; 14:33) as an instance of His mercy.
For all these reasons, Averroes concludes that neither the Mu`tazilite (or libertarian) position nor the Hanbalite (or deterministic) position is tenable. The Ash`arite position, which purports to mediate between the two positions, is meaningless. For it rests almost exclusively on the alleged difference between the voluntary movement of the hand, which they call acquired or free, and the compulsory movement of convulsion. However, since neither movement, according to them, is due to us, but rather to God, the difference between the two movements turns out to be semantic or even fictitious; it does not contribute in the least to the solution of the problem of free will or acquisition.
With respect to divine justice, the Ash`arites, according to Averroes, have taken the position which is repugnant to both reason and religion, that justice and injustice are entirely dependent on divine commands and prohibitions, so that no action is just or unjust in itself. It follows on this view that the worst sins, such as blasphemy or disobeying God’s orders, would have been just had God commanded them. The Qur’an itself, however, has asserted repeatedly that God is not unjust to his servants” (verses 8:53; 22:�10 etc.) and elsewhere that Surely, God is not unjust to people, but people are unjust to themselves” (10:45).
Averroes next examines the arguments advanced by the Ash`arites in support of their view that God is entirely at liberty to do what He pleases. They refer to the statements in the Qur’an which speak of God leading astray and guiding aright. Those statements, he argues, should not be taken at face value, because they are contradicted by those other verses, such as verse 39: 9, which asserts, that God does not approve of disbelief in his servants¯, and hence will not lead them astray. The right interpretation of the verses which speak of God leading astray or guiding aright is that they refer to His prior will which stipulated that there shall exist among the innumerable variety of existing entities some wayward people; I mean, some who are disposed by their own natures to go astray, and that they are driven thereto by what surrounds them of internal and external causes that lead them astray see p. 117. Thus the responsibility for leading people astray is not God’s, but rather their own natures, the external causes operating on them or the two together.
Averroes does not question the thesis that God is the Creator of both good and evil; he simply argues that this thesis should be properly understood. God, in fact, creates the good for its own sake, whereas He creates evil for the sake of the good that may ensue upon it, so that His creating evil cannot be said to be unjust. Add to this the fact that if we compare the evil ensuing upon the creation of a certain entity, such as fire, with the parallel good, we will find that the good is definitely preponderant. The common people should be urged to accept the view that God creates both good and evil at its face value, lest they should question the measure of God’s power and in particular whether He is capable of creating that which is absolutely good or free from evil. That possibility is, for Averroes, logically foreclosed, since the creation of the absolutely good, or God’s equal, is logically impossible.
The last substantive question dealt with in The Exposition is that of resurrection or survival after death (ma`ad), which had been at the center of the controversy between the philosophers and the Mutakallimun from the earliest times and which Al-Ghazali regarded as the third grievous error of the philosophers, especially those, like Avicenna, who stopped short of bodily resurrection. For Averroes, survival after death is something upon whose reality all religious scriptures are in accord with the demonstrations of the learned. The various religious scriptures, however, disagree regarding the mode of such survival. Some have regarded it as spiritual, pertaining to the soul only; others to both soul and body. However, the difference between the various scriptures turns on the kind of “representations” they resort to in speaking of the fate of the soul after death, which in perfect agreement with the philosophers, they all regard as immortal. Thus, some religious creeds represent the pleasures and pains in store for the soul in the hereafter in gross sensuous terms, such as the Garden and Hellfire, because such representations are more effective in compelling the assent of the general public, as is the case with this our own religion, which is Islam. Other religions (presumably Christianity) resort to “spiritual representations”, which are less effective in compelling the assent of the common people.
Averroes proceeds next to distinguish three categories of Muslim sects, regarding the mode of survival after death. (1) Some Muslims, he observes, have held that the mode of man’s existence in the hereafter is identical with his existence in this world with one difference; namely, that the former is permanent, while the latter is ephemeral; (2) others have held that the mode of man’s existence in the afterlife is spiritual, as the Sufis have held; (3) still others have held that the corporeal existence of mankind in the hereafter is different from the corporeality of the present life.
The last view appears to be the one with which Averroes is in sympathy and is characterized by him as the one appropriate to the ‚lite; that is, the philosophers. It is absurd, he argues, that the same body which has disintegrated at death and turned into dust; which changed into a vegetable, which was consumed by a male, and subsequently turned into semen, which gave rise to an infant, can be resurrected unchanged after death. It is more reasonable to assume that the resurrected body is analogous to, rather than identical with, the terrestrial body. Averroes concedes, in conclusion, that the obligation incumbent on the believer is to assent to that mode of resurrection commensurate with his understanding, so long as he does not question the fact of resurrection, or as he consistently says, survival after death (ma`ad). This survival, he adds, is confirmed by the Qur’an which speaks in verse 39: 43 of the death of the soul as something analogous to sleep. What is corrupted in both cases is actually the organ or instrument (alah), not the soul itself. He even compares this view to Aristotle’s statement in De Anima (408 b21), that were the old man given an eye similar to that of the young man, he would be able to see just as well as the young man. The inference here appears to be that the body is to the soul what the instrument or organ is to its user, as Plato had actually held. Aristotle himself had struggled hard in De Anima to rid himself of this view of his master.
As mentioned earlier, the whole treatise closes with an appendix On the Canon of Interpretation¯, in which Averroes lists the cases in which interpretation of scriptural passages is permissible and those in which it is not. He inveighs in this connection against those, who like Al-Ghazali, were unwilling to recognize this distinction and consequently the class of people to whom those interpretations may be divulged. The result has been that they led the common people astray and contributed to the rise of sectarian strife in Islam. He expresses the wish at this point to have the opportunity to discuss the totality of the statements of Scripture and elicit in the process what should be interpreted or not, and if interpreted, to whom (such interpretation) should be addressed; I mean, regarding those passages of the Qur’an and the traditions of the prophet [Hadith]¯ (see p. 131).
Averroes never fulfilled this wish, as far as we know, but The Exposition stands out nonetheless as a remarkable instance of his judicious and rigorous application of the method of interpretation and remains unparalleled in the whole history of Islam. Of his predecessors, only Al-Kindi (d.c.866) comes closest to shouldering this task of scriptural interpretation, upon which the Hôanbalites, the Malikites, and, to a lesser extent, the Ash`arites had frowned. Al-Kindi’s performance in that respect, at least as far as those of his works which have reached us are concerned, pales into insignificance when compared to this determined effort of Averroes to apply the canons of rational discourse to the problematic or ambiguous passages of Scripture.