The Al-Mahdi Institute held its first academic workshop of the year on 20–21 February 2023 by celebrating the launch of the AMI Islamic Philosophy and Theology Workshop. This two-day event marked the beginning of a new and exciting phase in the Institute’s ongoing commitment to promoting research and scholarship in the different Islamic disciplines and was the first of a series of workshops devoted to the examination of the core beliefs and doctrines of Islam. The workshop attracted a number of leading academics from around the world to present on the theme of the inaugural workshop titled Islamic Perspectives on God and (Other) Monotheism(s).
The emergence of Islam in the early seventh century occurred in a context in which the presence of religious others had a direct influence on the nature and content of the revelations that were revealed to the Prophet Muḥammad and the teachings that he conveyed to the early Muslim community. Even core doctrines of the faith such as the unity of God (tawḥīd) had to be presented over the course of the Prophet’s life through an engagement with and response to other religious communities. Islam thus emerged in a context of rival theologies, be it the religious beliefs of the Arab polytheists (mushrikūn) or the “corrupt” monotheisms of local Jewish and Christian communities. The process of “othering” however soon turned in an inward-facing direction as Muslims themselves began debating doctrinal aspects of their faith soon after the Prophet’s death, as a result of which the first theological schools emerged in the early formative period of Islam. This meant that not only were there different attitudes to religious others outside of Islam, but also differring perspectives on God and religion within Islam itself. The aim of the workshop was to explore the doctrine of God’s unity from a variety of historical, theological, philosophical and contemporary perspectives thereby shedding light on the commonalities and differences between different factions within Islam.
The two-day workshop was divided into seven panels exploring the topic of Islamic monotheism and Muslim attitudes towards other religious monotheisms from a variety of methodological perspectives. There were 17 papers in total by internationally acclaimed experts in the fields of theology, philosophy, religious studies, intellectual history, philosophy of religion and Islamic studies. Proceedings on the first day began with a panel on “Early Perspectives on God and Monotheism in Islam” with Professor Aaron Hughes and Dr. Romain Louge each presenting on the early development and formation of the Islamic doctrine of tawḥīd through polemical enounters and exchanges with previous Abrahamic traditions and the ensuing challenges these presented to the early Muslim community in the process of integrating and othering other religious dispensations. Panels 2 and 3 focussed on Sunnī and Shīʿī perspectives on God and monotheism in Islam. In his paper Dr. Syamsuddin Arif presented a fascinating account of a controversy in the later Sunnī theological tradition sparked by Saʿd al-Dīn al-Taftāzānī’s comments on the Qurān-inspired kalām proof of God’s unity and whether or not it ought to be counted as a real demonstration. Professor Jon Hoover then discussed Ibn Taymiyya’s tawḥīds examining closely the ways in which the fourteenth-century Mamluk scholar categorised different dimensions of Islamic monotheism. Dr Zoheir Esmail’s paper provided a foray into Shīʿī devotional literature and examined exegetical approaches to the notion of God’s so-called numerical oneness in the writings of Sayyid ʿAbdullāh Shubbar. This was then followed by an insightful presentation by Dr. Khalil Andani in which he responded to a long-held criticism of Ismaili theology concerning the nature of the godhead and whether or not it is capable of being predicated with positive attributes. The final panel of day focussed on philosophical perspectives on Islamic monotheism. The first paper by Dr. Wahid Amin presented a curious and philosophically challenging criticism of the doctrine of divine unity that had emerged from the writings of the Illumationist philosopher Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrwardī and then later popularised by Ibn Kammūna. Professor Ali Fanei’s paper examined the close link between our conceptions of God and morality. The final paper of the day was delivered by Dr. Yusuf Daşdemir which looked at Ibrāhīm al-Kūrānī’s contribution to the logical and linguistic understanding of the kalimat al-tawḥīd.
The first panel of the second day was devoted to Sufi perspectives on Islamic monotheism and comprised three papers examing the thought of three of the most influencial Sufi figures in Islamic history. Dr. Dunja Rašić gave an interesting summary of Ibn ʿArabī’s critique of the philosopher’s methods and approach to metaphysical questions and why in his view the method of philosophical analysis through discursive reasoning was insufficient to arrive at metaphysical truths such as the unity of God. Dr. Pavel Basharin focussed on al-Ḥallāj’s reflections on tawḥīd by offering a close study and analysis of his Kitāb al-Ṭawāsīn. The panel concluded with an inspiring talk by Professor Gholamreza Aavani on the theopoetics of divine unity in Rūmī’s Mathnawī. The sixth panel of the workshop turned our attention to Islamic perspectives on other monotheisms. Professor Sajjad Rizvi spoke briefly on the history of Muslim-Christian polemics in Islam before turning to the history of such encounters in Qajar Iran. He then outlined the method and contents of Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī’s rebuttal to Henry Martyn in a work titled Ḥujjat al-islām aw-burhān al-milla. The second paper of the panel was delivered by Dr. Saiyad Nizamuddin Ahmad in which he presented on Dārā Shikōh’s intellectual writings, which unfortunately have been neglected in the study of Islam of in India. The final panel of the workshop began with Dr. Celene Ibrahim’s presentation on how theological doctrines such as God’s unity are expressed and negotiated in a modern multifaith context and how the diversity of faith traditions can come together for meaningful dialogue. The penultimate paper of the workshop by doctoral candidate Mr. Javad Taheri provided a critique of ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāʾī’s metaphysics and offered some contemporary solutions through an appeal to the grammatical philosophy of David Burrell. The final paper of the workshop delivered by Dr. Yaser Mirdamadi explored possible ways in which theists and atheists could each accept the other’s point of view without leading to a kind of relativism or accusations of irrationality.
The inaugural Islamic Philosophy and Theology workshop was an intellectually stimulating event that showcased the breadth and diversity of the various Islamic perspectives on God and other monotheisms whilst at the same time demonstrating the importance of continuing to promote shared academic spaces in which scholars can present and debate their research. The Al-Mahdi Institute in colloboration with AMI Press hopes to publish the papers that were presented at the workshop in an edited volume in 2024.
|Presenter||Title of Paper||View Abstract|
|Professor Aaron W. Hughes (University of Rochester)||Religious Others and the Shaping of Orthodoxy in the Early Islamic Period||Click here|
|Dr Romain Louge (Saint Eugene d’Endoume, Archdiocese of Marseilles)||The Influence of Christian Theology on the Development of Tawḥīd in Early Kalām||Click here|
|Dr Syamsuddin Arif (University of Darussalam, Indonesia)||Debating the Qurʾānic Argument for Monotheism: Philosophical Theology in Some Sunnī Kalām and Exegetical Works||Click here|
|Professor Jon Hoover (University of Nottingham)||The Tawḥīds of Ibn Taymiyya||Click here|
|Dr Khalil Andani (Augustana College)||Shīʿī Ismāʿīlī Tawḥīd: From Dual Negation to Metonymic Affirmation||Click here|
|Dr Zoheir Esmail (Independent Researcher)||Visions of Tawḥīd: Sayyid Shubbar’s reconciliation of Imām al-Sajjād’s words in the 28th Supplication of al-Ṣaḥīfa al-Sajjādīya, “You have, my Lord, numerical oneness!” (laka yā ilāhī waḥdānīyat al-ʿadad!)||Click here|
|Dr Wahid M. Amin (Al-Mahdi Institute)||Mullā Ṣadrā and His Commentators on Ibn Kammūna’s Argument Against Divine Unity||Click here|
|Dr Ali Fanaei (Al-Mahdi Institute & Mofid University, Iran)||God as a Moral Agent||Click here|
|Dr Yusuf Daşdemir (University of Jyväskylä)||Contributions of Ethnographic Fieldwork to the Fiqhī Discourse on Family Life||Click here|
|Dr Dunja Rašić (University of Belgrade)||Philosophical Sufism and Philosophy in Conversation: Ibn ʿArabī’s Critique of Pure Reason||Click here|
|Dr Pavel Basharin
(Russian State University for the Humanities)
|Al-Ḥallāj’s Reflections on Tawḥīd||Click here|
|Professor Gholamreza Aavani (Iranian Academy of Philosophy)||The Theo-Poetics of Divine Unity (tawḥīd) in the Mathnawī of Rūmī||Click here|
|Professor Sajjad Rizvi (University of Exeter)||Ṣadrīan Metaphysics as ‘Islam’s Argument’ (Ḥujjat al-Islām) against Henry Martyn||Click here|
|Dr Saiyad Nizamuddin Ahmad (Florida International University, Miami, Florida)||The Light of God in the Fire-Temple: Dārā Shikōh’s Engagement with Vedānta||Click here|
|Dr Celene Ibrahim (Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy Groton School, Groton, MA)||Divine Unity and Moral Subjectivities: Comparative Approaches and Tradition-Specific Paradigms for Cultivating the Moral Self||Click here|
|Javed Taheri (University of Groningen)||Towards a New Understanding of the Shīʿī Doctrine of Tawhīd: A Burrellian Reading of Ṭabāṭabāʾī’s Concept of Monotheism||Click here|
|Dr Yaser Mirdamadi (Institute of Ismaili Studies)||Friendly (A)theism: A Philosophical-Theological Defense||Click here|