Ahmed Siddiqi Emory University
This essay explores the political implications of the debate between medieval Islamic philosophy and theology regarding the soteriological importance of hardship. Reviewing key works by al-Ghazali and al-Zamakhshari, I show that these theologians assert that divine rewards in the afterlife must be earned through the fulfillment of burdensome religious obligations. I subsequently turn to al-Fārābī’s Fuṣūl Muntaza‘a. I argue that al-Fārābī, though ultimately critical of that version of piety that seeks to make earthly life difficult for the sake of divine reward, simultaneously advocates for the popular adoption of just such a view. Finally, I discuss the precise manner in which the Fuṣūl pertain to modern political debates in the Muslim world regarding the relationship between reason and revelation. I argue that al-Fārābī’s profound understanding of religious psychology makes clear the shortcomings of both a pious embrace of hardship as the key to salvation and a purely worldly politics.
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