Friday, September 9, 2016
(10) Al-Ghazali, Ninety-nine Beautiful Names of God
I am an atheist, but I do not belive that science would be the whole truth of the world and on the other hand I respect other people's beliefs, as long as they are not against basic human rights (which leaves out e.g. racism).
Since young I have been reading religious and mythological classics from Edda to Gilgames, from Tao Te Ching to the Quran. I have found many of these works highly interesting both from a philosophical and from a poetical point of view, but no book in this 'genre' has so far been so philosophical and poetical at the same time as Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali's (1058-1111) The Ninety-nine Beautiful Names of God, which I am just finishing here on my couch.
Thinking about the history of Western philosophy Al-Ghazali is the man who first expressed philosophically his doubts for the information provided by our senses. Descartes stole the idea or just picked up one of its echoes (European philosophy is full of Arabic and Islamic influence) for his Discourse on Method (1637), where this doubt became the base of Western rationalist paranoia.
Al-Ghazali is one of my favorite non-modern philosophers, but in the The Ninety-nine Beautiful Names of God he is quite a literary author as well. This Persian theologist studied philosophy, theology and e.g. sufism in the area of today's Iran and Irak, and taught in the university of Al-Nizamiyya in Bagdad. But he definitely was a writer too.
According to the historical legacy of Islam there are 99 beautiful names anchored to God, and Al-Ghazali runs through The Avenger, The Dutyful One, He Who Times All Things Perfectly, The Light, The Guide, and many others. The names sound enigmatic and they are consciously kept obscure (no retarded pedagogy here). They are springboards for philosophical speculations. The book is written in a warm, poetical way, inviting the reader to think about issues that are so hard to grab that one maybe has, in the end, to discuss them in a poetic manner.
One of my favorites, The Equitable, The Impartial, The Just (al-'Adl) includes a poetic description of how human beings are built, a beautiful explanation of societal and somatic order, which feels like already paving the way for philosophers of the body like Deleuze and Irigaray (who try to rethink the order), at the same time as it shows (this aspiration is not shared by these later Western philosophers) a high respect for all well-working orders, so high that one has to ask what is more important, a well-working order or a singular deed which by first sight looks like the right thing to do.
The Wonderful Originator, The Unprecedented and Incomparable Inventor, The Absolute Cause (al-Badî, 95) explains why only God can be really original: all our worldly originality is just relational. This relational aesthetics is also one of the strengths of the book. One just has to start swimming in it, and start to get the whole picture piece by piece.
As a lecturer of visual culture theory I cannot by express my love for Light (al-Nûr).
"(T)hat which itself is visible and makes others visible is called a light. When existence is contrasted with non-existence, (it becomes obvious that) visibility pertains to existence and that there is not darkness darker than non-existence. That which is free of the darkness of non-existence, rather from the possibility of non-existence, and brings everything else from the darkness of non-existence to the visibility of existence is worthy of being called light. (...) Just as there is not a particle of the light of the sun which does not point to the existence of the illuminating sun, so also there is not a particle of all the things that exist in the heavens and the earth and that which is between them which does not by the (mere) possibility of its existence point to the necessary existence of its creator.