Al-Ghazālī’s Virtue Ethical Theory of the Divine Names: The Theological Underpinnings of the Doctrine of Takhalluq in al-Maqṣad al-Asnā

Abstract Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī’s (d. 505/1111) al-Maqṣad al-Asnā fī Sharḥ Maʿānī Asmāʾ Allāh al-Ḥusnā (“The Highest Aim in Explaining the Meanings of God’s Most Beautiful Names”) is more than just a commentary on the ninety-nine names of God. In setting out to expound on a virtue ethical theory of th...

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Bibliographic Details
Published in:Journal of Islamic ethics
Main Author: Casewit, Yousef
Format: Electronic Article
Language:English
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Published: Brill 2020
In: Journal of Islamic ethics
Year: 2020, Volume: 4, Issue: 1/2, Pages: 155-200
Further subjects:B Takhalluq
B Ashʿarism
B al-Qushayrī
B Divine Names
B al-Ghazālī
B Theosis
B Sufism
B Virtue Ethics
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Summary:Abstract Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī’s (d. 505/1111) al-Maqṣad al-Asnā fī Sharḥ Maʿānī Asmāʾ Allāh al-Ḥusnā (“The Highest Aim in Explaining the Meanings of God’s Most Beautiful Names”) is more than just a commentary on the ninety-nine names of God. In setting out to expound on a virtue ethical theory of the divine names, the Maqṣad in effect amounts to a sustained theological meditation upon one of the most fundamental paradoxes of monotheism: how to locate and affirm both divine incomparability ( tanzīh ) and comparability ( tashbīh ). In order to avoid any semblance of theological immanentism, or “the affirmation of God’s comparability” ( tashbīh ), al-Ghazālī begins by positing that an unbridgeable chasm, or irreducible “disparity” ( tafāwut ), separates the Lord from the servant. This chasm accounts for a disconnect not only between God’s unqualified Essence and the human being, but also between the transcendent meanings ( maʿānī ) that reside in the Essence and our limited apprehension of those transcendent meanings in the mind. At the same time, he insists that this chasm does not annul the ethical relevance and ontological reality of the attributes ( taʿṭīl ). Rather, the latter are somehow comparable ( tashbīh ) and do serve as prototype for human ethical conduct. In addressing this apparent paradox, al-Ghazālī’s Maqṣad exudes a palpable theological anxiety. This article explores the ways in which he addresses this theological conundrum by grounding his treatise in Ashʿarī theology and Sufi ethics. It closely analyses his cautious use of diction, hyper-systematised exegetical methodology, and staunch commitment to a set of hermeneutical principles which serve to undergird his virtue ethical theory of the divine names. Later generations of commentators picked up on al-Ghazālī’s theological anxiety, and critiqued the work for excessive immanentism ( tashbīh ), excessive transcendentalism ( tanzīh ), or excessive hermeneutical systematisation ( takalluf) .
ISSN:2468-5542
Contains:Enthalten in: Journal of Islamic ethics
Persistent identifiers:DOI: 10.1163/24685542-12340042