ADVANTAGES

In the West knowledge of most of Aristotle's texts was lost, but notin the East. They were translated into Syriac, and Arabic, andeventually (in Muslim Spain) into Latin, and re-entered ChristianEurope in the twelfth century accompanied by translations of the greatArabic commentaries. In the initial prophetic period of Islam (CE610–32) the Qur'an was given to Mohammad, who explained it andreinforced it through his own teachings and practices. The notion ofGod's (Allah's) commands is again central, and our obedience to thesecommands is the basis of our eventual resurrection. Disputes aboutpolitical authority in the period after Mohammad's death led to thesplit between Sunnis and Shiites. Within Sunni Muslim ethical theoryin the Middle Ages two major alternative ways developed of thinkingabout the relation between morality and religion. The first, theMu'tazilite, was given its most developed statement by ‘Abdal-Jabbar from Basra (d. 1025). ‘Abd al-Jabbar defines awrongful act as one that deserves blame, and holds that the right andwrong character of acts is known immediately to human reason,independently of revelation. These standards that we learn from reasonapply also to God, so that we can use them to judge what God is and isnot commanding us to do. He also teaches that humans have freedom, inthe sense of a power to perform both an act and its opposite, thoughnot at the same time. (For Mu'tazilite ethical theory, see SophiaVasalou,Moral Agents and Their Deserts: The Character of Mu'taziliteEthics and George Hourani, Islamic Rationalism: The Ethics of‘Abd al-Jabbar.) The second alternative was taught by al-Ashari(d. 935), who started off as a Mu'tazilite, but came to reject theirview. He insists that God is subject to none and to no standard thatcan fix bounds for Him. Nothing can be wrong for God, who sets thestandard of right and wrong. This means that ‘if God declared lying tobe right, it would be right, and if He commanded it, none couldgainsay Him’ (The Theology of al-Ash'ari, 169-70). Withrespect to our freedom, he holds that God gives us only the power todo the act (not its opposite) and this power is simultaneous to theact and does not precede it. A figure contemporary with al-Ashari, butin some ways intermediate between Mu'tazilites and Asharites, isal-Maturidi of Samarqand (d. 944). He holds that because humans havethe tendency in their nature towards ugly or harmful actions as wellas beautiful or beneficial ones, God has to reveal to us by commandwhat to pursue and what to avoid. He also teaches that God gives ustwo different kinds of power, both the power simultaneous with the act(which is simply to do the act) and the power preceding the act (tochoose either the act or its opposite). (For the work of al-Maturidi,see Ulrich Rudolph, Al-Maturidi and Sunni Theology inSamarkand.)

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