Political Theory

Hardship, Recompense, and Divine Law: Al-Fārābī on the “Virtue of Struggle”

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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