Love, law, and reason in the thought of Al-Ghazali and Aquinas

Allison, Anthony (2013) Love, law, and reason in the thought of Al-Ghazali and Aquinas. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.
Printed Thesis Information:


The present work is an exploration of the relationship between love and law in Islam and Christianity through the works of al-Ghazālī (c.1056-7-1111 C.E.) and Thomas Aquinas (c.1224/5-1274 C.E). In doing so, it aims to provide the historical theological perspective of two thinkers, each pivotal to their respective tradition, with a view to contributing to contemporary Christian-Muslim discourse, which, since the 2007 Common Word initiative, has had a strongly scholarly focus on love. Notably, however, this discourse has tended to avoid discussion pertaining to how we ‘act out’ such love, particularly in regard to legal frameworks. To redress the balance of scholarly discourse, this thesis aims to present key aspects of al-Ghazālī’s and Aquinas’ thought in order to provide the conceptual background necessary to understand and then synthesize how they likely conceived of the love-law relationship. From this, it becomes clear that for al-Ghazālī, the relationship between the heart, intellect, and various categories of knowledge is integral in fostering love for God. In a similar manner, the intellect for Aquinas is integral and its formation is based on our cumulative knowledge and experience. The key facet of the intellect for both is its ability to abstract from particulars to universals. This position is essential to the thought of both writers as God for them is beyond creation and yet in some sense also reflected in and intimately related to creation. As such, the intellect acts as a ‘bridge’ between the immanent and the transcendent. It is both affected by the knowledge gained through this-worldly legal frameworks and the other-worldly divine attributes in which it can share: this includes the divine attribute of love. The extent to which one can share the latter is dependent on the extent to which one is formed by the former. The intellect is, however, aided in this process by the gratuitous gift of revelation, which acts as immanent ‘certain’ knowledge of the transcendent.

Such thinking provides the background for a detailed exploration of love and law. Towards this end, first noted is how both authors consider this-worldly law to be an appropriation of other-worldly law, represented by The Preserved Tablet for al-Ghazālī and the eternal law for Aquinas. Reasoning is essential in mankind’s attempt to understand this divine, other-worldly paradigm, although man is aided by a partial manifestation of ‘certain’ knowledge within the created order by way of revelation. Human reasoning on law results in this-worldly legal frameworks, which, in some sense, aim to provide knowledge of God either explicitly or implicitly by way of orientating towards the maintenance of the common good. However, as all good is derivative of God, this-worldly law, whether orientated to a temporal or ultimate good, should be understood as orientation to God. Inclining to our good according to our nature is something both al-Ghazālī and Aquinas maintain is ‘in-built’ within us. At its most fundamental level this good is God, but it does not exclude the material goods and objects that constitute the necessities of life. Thus law orientated towards the good (to whatever degree) encourages orientation to God (to some degree). Inclination to the good is natural within our being, and both al-Ghazālī and Aquinas define love, in the first instance, as inclination to the good according to our nature. The more we are inclined to the good, the more ‘goodness’ is made manifest within us; that is, the more we ‘participate’ in or ‘reflect’ the divine attributes. Thus the more law-abiding we are, the more we are drawn to the good. This eventually forms the intellect in such a way that it is drawn to the good in itself: al-Ghazālī calls this ‘contentment’ and Aquinas calls this ‘charity’. Based on their respective positions, this thesis will therefore firstly argue that the relationship between love and law for al-Ghazālī and Aquinas is as follows: before one can love, one must know, and law provides knowledge; however, such knowledge reflects a gratuitous gift from the creator and therefore divine love underpins the knowledge that enables human love.

In course of this study, it will become evident that both al-Ghazālī and Aquinas have a strong apophatic-cataphatic emphasis to their work. That is, their methodologies affirm issues of immanence and transcendence, the knowability and unknowability of God. The only ‘certain’ knowledge for both authors is that which is represented by revelation, and to which all other knowledge should be correlated. However, all other knowledge is reflective of acquired knowledge and human reasoning, which are by nature imperfect. Providing we deploy ‘reason’ effectively in relation to the ‘certain’ knowledge of revelation, we can talk about God to an extent. In such an instance, human language points towards and reflects the divine, but does not totally encapsulate or definitively define the divine. Ultimately, the divine is beyond comprehension while equally somehow reflected or detectable within creation. Indeed, for both authors, genuine experience of the divine exhausted their prolific works and words; this realisation resulted in each adopting a state of ‘silence’ at various points in their respective careers. That is, both come to an appreciation of the insufficiency of words and concepts in the face of a transcendent, immutable God.

Noting the centrality of this emphasis in both authors, this study then turns to the present day Christian-Muslim milieu touching upon the ‘reason debate’ that formed the background to the Common Word initiative. Using this as a platform, this thesis argues for a ‘re-emphasis’ or ‘re-discovery’ of the apophatic-cataphatic reasoning that both al-Ghazālī and Aquinas display for contemporary Christian-Muslim discourse. The final hope for the study is two-fold. Firstly, to encourage further discourse on how ‘love’ is ‘acted out’ between the two traditions. And secondly, to remind Christians that law has an important theological tradition within their heritage with a view to providing encouragement for further studies in the neglected area of comparative law in Christian-Muslim discourse.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available.
Keywords: Love, law, reason, Aquinas, Al-Ghazali, Christian, Muslim, common word, Islam, West, ethics, Shari'a
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BP Islam. Bahaism. Theosophy, etc
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Siddiqui, Prof. Mona and Jeanrond, Prof. Werner
Date of Award: 2013
Embargo Date: 9 May 2016
Depositing User: Dr Anthony Allison
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4258
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 13 May 2013 11:33
Last Modified: 13 May 2016 13:55

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item