AN INTRODUCTORY SUMMARY OF KALÂM
by Muhammad ibn-Yûsuf as-Sanûsî
an edition and annotated translation
Joseph Kenny, O.P.
published in Hamdard Islamicus, 23:2 (April-June 2000), 31-40.
I previously published in this journal the text and a translation of al-`Aqîda as-sughrâ of Muhammad ibn-Yûsuf as-Sanûsî. The present work by the same author was written to clarify various terms and presuppositions in the Sughrâ. As with his other works, he later added a commentary
As-Sanûsî, I always have to remark, should not be confused with the founder of the 19th century Sanûsiyya movement in Libya. Our as-Sanûsî lived in Tilimsân (Tlemcen), Algeria and died in 1490 around the age of sixty-three. He wrote works on the range of subjects taught in religious schools at his time, but is particularly noted for his works on kalâm.
He was not very original in his thinking; in fact originality is something he would abhor; his main aim was to present an orthodox Sunnism in a way that ordinary students could understand. His success in this is evident from the spread of his works throughout North and West Africa to this day.
Quite some time ago an edition and French translation of the Muqaddima was published by J.-D. Luciani in 1908. In preparing this edition I used Luciani's text and the Escorial manuscript #697, ff. 194b-215b, which includes the commentary. As I demonstrated elsewhere, the Escorial manuscript represents the most authentic line of transmission of as-Sanûsî's works. I therefore take that as the basis of this edition, while noting Luciani's variants.
Modes of judgement
Judgement is the affirmation or denial of something, and consists of three categories: (1) legal, (2) experiential and (3) rational.
A legal judgement is a declaration of God the Most High related to the deeds of responsible persons by way of (1) request, (2) permission or (3) institution of anything pertaining to request or permission.
Four things are included under request: (1) obligation, which is an imperative request to do something, such as believing in God and his Messenger or the five bases of Islâm, (2) recommendation, which is a non-imperative request to do something, such as the salât of dawn and the like, (3) interdiction, which is an imperative request to desist from doing something, such as associating God with another, adultery and the like, and (4) disapproval, which is a non-imperative request to desist from doing something, such as reading the Qur'ân during the inclinations and prostrations [of salât].
Permission is a prescription allowing either the doing or omission of something, without preferring either.
Institution is the setting up by a legislator of a sign of one of these five judgements. The sign may be (1) a cause, (2) a condition or (3) an impediment.
A cause is what necessitates by its existence the existence of something else, and by its non-existence the non-existence of the other thing, as far as the essence of the cause is concerned, such as the decline of the sun for the obligation of the prayer of zuhr.
A condition is what necessitates by its non-existence the non-existence of something else, but its existence does not necessitate the existence of non-existence of the other thing, as far as the essence of the condition is concerned, as the completion of the year for zakât to be due.
An impediment is what necessitates by its existence the non-existence of something else, but its non-existence does not necessitate the non-existence or existence of the other thing, as far as the essence of the impediment is concerned, such as menstruation with regard to the obligation of prayer.
An experiential judgement is the affirmation of a link between two things by their existence or non-existence, based upon repetition, although with the verifiability of exception and the absence of any effect whatsoever of the one upon the other. It is of four types: (1) the link between the existence of a thing with the existence of another, such as the link between the existence of satisfaction with the existence of eating, (2) the link between the non-existence of a thing with the non-existence of another, as the link between lack of satisfaction with lack of eating, (3) the link between the existence of a thing with the non-existence of another, as the link between hunger and the lack of eating, (4) and the link between the non-existence of a thing with the existence of another, as the link between the lack of hunger and eating.
A rational judgement is the affirmation or negation of a thing without dependence upon repetition or upon something instituting it to be so. It is of three kinds: (1) necessity, (2) impossibility, and (3) admissibility.
Something necessary is what the mind cannot conceive as non-existing, whether necessarily, such as the impenetrability of bodies, or theoretically, such as the beginning-less-ness of our Lord –ever majestic, ever high.
Something impossible is what the mind cannot conceive as existing or non-existing, whether necessarily, such as for us to move, or theoretically, such as the punishment of the obedient and the rewarding of the sinner.
Opinions on qadar
There are three schools of thought concerning actions: (1) Jabarism, (2) Qadarism, and (3) Sunnism.
According to Jabarism, all actions come into being by external power only, without a parallel power which has come into being.
According to Qadarism, voluntary actions come into being directly or mediately, solely by a power which has come into being.
According to Sunnism, all actions have their existence by an eternal power only, but for voluntary actions there is a parallel power which has come into being, yet has no effect on actions, whether directly or mediately.
Kasab is an expression of the relationship of a power which has come into being with the result of divine decree in the subject of the power.
Errors about God
There are six kinds of association of God with another: (1) the association of independence, which is the assertion of two independent divinities, such as the Magi assert, (2) the association of partition, which is the assertion that the divinity is composed of several divinities, as the Christians assert, (3) the association of bringing close, which is the worship of something other than God the most High in order to come close to God, as did the early representatives of the Jâhiliyya, (4) the association of blind imitation, which is the worship of something other than God the Most High because of allegiance to someone, as the later representatives of the Jâhiliyya did, (5) the association of causes, which is the attributing of effectivity to experiential causes, as the philosophers and natural scientists and their followers assert, (6) the association of motives, which is doing something for someone other than God the Most High.
The status of the first four, by unanimous judgement, is unbelief. That of the fifth, by unanimous judgement, is disobedience and not unbelief, while the status of the fifth requires distinction. For some assert that experiential causes produce effects by their natures; there is universal agreement that this is unbelief. Others assert that they produce effects by a power put in them by God the Most High; this is a corrupt and heretical opinion; it is disputed whether it is unbelief.
There are seven sources of unbelief and heresy: (1) Essential necessitation, which is to say that all beings derive from God by way of causality and nature, without his choice. (2) Rational reference to good, which is to say that all the actions and judgements of God the Most High are rationally founded on the objectives of ensuring advantages and preventing ruin. (3) Reprehensible blind acceptance, which is blindly following another and rallying to him without looking for the truth. (4) Experiential connection, which is concluding that there is a link between the existence or non-existence of one thing and another on the basis of their repeated association. (5) Compound ignorance, which is ignorance of the truth and ignorance of one's ignorance of it. (6) Holding the dogmas of faith simply on the level of the apparent meaning of the Qur'ân and Sunna, without distinguishing between apparent meanings that are impossible or not. (7) Ignorance of the foundations of reason, namely, of knowledge of the necessity of what is necessary, the admissibility of what is admissible, the impossibility of what is impossible, and of Arabic language, which includes knowledge of the language, grammar and expression.
Kinds of being
With regard to a subject and a determining agent, existing things are of four kinds:
(1) what is independent of both a subject and a determining agent, and that is the essence of our Lord)ever majestic, ever mighty,
(2) what is dependent on both a subject and a determining agent, and these are accidents,
(3) what is dependent on a determining agent without a subject, and these are bodies, and
(4) what exists in a subject but does not depend on a determining agent, and these are the attributes of our Lord)ever majestic, ever mighty.
Correlative possible things are six: (1) existence and non-existence, (2) measures, (3) attributes, (4) times, (5) places, (6) direction.
(1) Eternal power is an expression of an attribute that results in the existence or non-existence of all possible things, depending on the will.
(2) Will is an attribute which determines what admissible conditions should pertain to a possible thing.
(3) Knowledge is an attribute by which knowable things are discovered as they are.
(4) Life is an attribute verifying that a living thing has perception.
(5) Eternal hearing is an attribute by which existing things are discovered as they are; it is a necessarily different kind of discovery.
(6) The same thing can be said of seeing.
(6) Perception, according to one opinion, is like the preceding two.
(7) Eternal speech is an attribute inhering in the [divine] essence, expressed in different ways, but outside the genus of letters and sounds, and above particularity and universality, priority and posteriority, silence and utterance, grammar and other forms of change; it is related to all that knowledge is related to. Speech is divided into (1) information and (2) institution.
Information is what is essentially true or false. Institution is essentially neither true nor false. Truth is an expression of the correspondence of information to what something actually is, whether this agrees with one's belief or not. Falsehood is the lack of agreement of some information to what a thing actually is, whether this differs from one's belief or not.
Fidelity is preservation of one's outer and inner bodily members from involvement in anything forbidden or disapproved. Infidelity is the failure to preserve them from that.
SUCCESS IS FROM GOD THE MOST HIGH.
Joseph Kenny, "The small catechism Umm al-barâhîn or al-`aqîda as-sughrâ of Muhammad ibn-Yûsuf as-Sanûsî (d. 1490)," Hamdard Islamicus 13:4 (1990), 40-64.
For further information on him, see my thesis noted above, the introduction to my article on his al-`Aqîda as-sughrâ, noted above, and my forthcoming article on him in the Second Edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam.
Les prolégomènes théologiques de Senoussi (Algiers, 1908).
Joseph Kenny, Muslim theology as presented by M. b. Yûsuf as-Sanûsî, especially in his al-`Aqîda al-wustâ, Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1970.
The notion of "judgement" here presented in a logical framework, is broad, straddling both law and metaphysics.
Generally, "permission" is considered along with the four kinds of request listed above, making five legal categories; see Joseph Kenny, The Risâla, Treatise on Mâlikî law of `Abdallâh ibn-abî-Zayd al-Qayrawânî, an annotated translation (Minna: Islamic Education Trust, 1992), pp. 234-235.
On the question of qadar, consistently with his other works, as-Sanûsî adheres to the strict occasionalism of the Ash`arite school.
As-Sanûsî admits in his al-`Aqîda al-wustâ that this is is not real freedom of the will but only the appearance of it; it is also linked with kasb and God's just retribution in the same non-obligatory occasionalist way.
These words are an adaptation of Qur'ân 39:3.
Al-Ghazâlî, in Tahâfut al-falâsifa, ch. 17, includes natural causality among the errors of the philosophers, but at the conclusion of his book refuses to categorize it as unbelief.
The two are radically distinct in their legal consequences. Unbelief (kufr), in the case of an apostate, is punishable by death; heresy or innovation (bid`a) is not.
This position was typical of the philosophers al-Fârâbî, Ibn-Sînâ and Ibn-Rushd; see my La philosophie du monde arabe, auteurs et thèmes principaux (Kinshasa: Facultés Catholiques, 1994).
This section is directed against the Mu`tazilites.
As-Sanûsî was particularly vehement in his opposition to taqlîd in his early writings, but later softened his position; cf. my thesis cited above.
As-Sanûsî is referring to the movement known as az-Zâhiriyya.
This section lists the seven positive ma`ânî that as-Sanûsî gives in his al-`Aqîda as-sughrâ, but here, as in al-`Aqîda al-wustâ he adds perception (idrâk). In the Sughrâ, corresponding to the seven ma`ânî, he lists seven ahwâl, five negative and one essential attribute, giving a total of twenty.
Inshâ' could be translated as "command" in the broad sense of both God's law and his command that something should exist or cease to exist.