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Fakhr al-Din al-Razi

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Title Imam al-Mushakkakin
Era Islamic Golden Age
Madh'hab Shafi`i
Main interest(s) Islamic theology, Kalam, Tafsir, Sharia, Fiqh, Islamic literature, Muslim history, Islamic philosophy, Islamic ethics, Islamic metaphysics, Islamic logic, mathematics, science, astronomy, Islamic cosmology, Islamic physics, Islamic psychology, medicine, alchemy, astrology
Notable idea(s) Post-Avicennian logic, inductive logic, criticism of "first figure", psychological analysis of pleasure, development of multiverse theory, multiple worlds and universes, criticism of Earth's centrality
Notable work(s) Tafsir al-Kabir, Major Book on Logic, Sharh Nisf al-Wajiz lil Ghazzali, Sharh al-Isharat li Ibn Sina, Sharh Uyun al-Hikmah, Matalib al-'Aliya, Book on the Soul and the Spirit and their Faculties, etc.

Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Umar ibn al-Husayn al-Taymi al-Bakri al-Tabaristani Fakhr al-Din al-Razi[1] (Arabic/Persian: أبو عبدالله محمد بن عمر بن الحسین فخرالدین الرازي), also known as Fakhruddin Razi or Imam Razi, was a well-known Persian[2][3] polymath:[4] a Sunni Islamic theologian of the Ash'ari school, Islamic legal scholar of the Shafi'i school, Madrasah professor, and expert in a wide variety of disciplines, including the traditional Islamic fields of Sharia law, Fiqh jurisprudence, Islamic literature, Tafsir exegesis, Kalam theology, Arabic grammar and Muslim history; the Islamic philosophies of ethics and metaphysics; the formal sciences of logic and mathematics; the natural sciences of astronomy, cosmology and physics; Islamic psychology;[5] medicine;[6] and the occult arts of alchemy and astrology.[7] He was born in 1149 CE (543 AH) in Ray, Iran, and died in 1209 CE (606 AH) in Herat, Afghanistan.


Razi was born in Ray now a district of modern Tehran. He studied Kalam, Fiqh and other Islamic sciences from his father, Diya'uddin known as Khatib al-Rayy. He then studied from Majduddin al-Jili and Kamal Samnani. He was from the Shafi`i school of Islamic law and Asharite school of Islamic theology. He was also known as Ibn al-Khatib and Khatib al-Rayy. According to some sources, his family traced its lineage to the first Muslim Caliph, Abu Bakr. According to William M. Slane, "the relative adjectives al-Taymi al-Bakri indicate here that Fakhr al-Din al-Razi was a descendent of the Khalif abu Bakr, one of whose ancestors was Taym the son of murrah the son of Ka'b..."[8] He is mostly known as Imam Razi in Iran and Afghanistan.

Razi traveled to Khwarazm, Khorasan, Transoxiana, and India. He attracted a large number of students in each city that he went. He recorded the account of the places he visited, the scholars he met, and summaries of their discussions in his book Munazarat Fakhr al-Din al Razi fi Bilad Ma Wara' al-Nahr. As a result of his discussions in various cities, he found many opponents such as the Mutazilites, Hanbalites (who opposed philosophy and Kalam), Batinites and Qarmatians of whose teachings Razi criticized. The "relentlessness and sometimes obvious delight with which al-Razi" used an "extensively ramifying dialectic" method to "home in on his victims earned him among philosophers the sobriquet of Iman al-Mushakkikin (Leader of the Doubters)." He settled in his late years of life in Herat, where a mosque was built for him, and died in 1209.[5]

A well-known anecdote is told of his rhetorical prowess: Razi was training his students sitting in front of a pond filled with water. Razi, via arguments and philosophical reasoning, proved to his students that the pond was empty. His students then threw him in the pond, and asked him if the pond was empty, why was he drowning in it?

In his Wasaya (Testament), which he wrote before his death, he writes:

I have explored the ways of kalam and the methods of philosophy, and I did not see in them a benefit that compares with the benefit I found in the Qur'an. For the latter hurries us to acknowledge that greatness and majesty belong only to Allah, precluding us from involvement into the explication of objections and contentions. This is for no other reason than because human minds find themselves deadened in those deep, vexing exercises and obscure ways of Kalam and Philosophy.

Major worksEdit

The Great CommentaryEdit

In Islamic theology, Razi's major work was the Tafsir-e Kabir (The Great Commentary), his eight-volume Tafsir (exegesis) on the Qur'an, also named as Mafatih al-Ghayb (The Keys to the Unknown). This work contains much of philosophical interest. One of his "major concerns was the self-sufficiency of the intellect." He believed that proofs based on tradition (hadith) "could never lead to certainty (yaqin) but only to presumption (zann), a key distinction in Islamic thought." However, his "acknowledgement of the primacy of the Qur'an grew with his years." Al-Razi's rationalism undoubtedly "holds an important place in the debate in the Islamic tradition on the harmonization of reason and revelation." In his later years, he also showed interest in mysticism, though this never formed a significant part of his thought.[5]


His most imporant work on Sharia law and usul al-fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) was the Al-Mahsul fi 'Ilm al-Usul, also known as the Al-Mahsul. Like his predecessor Al-Ghazali (1058–1111), al-Razi applied inductive logic to Islamic law, particularly in cases that have multiple legal precedents.[9]

Eastern Discussions and Commentary on the IsharatEdit

His most important works on Islamic philosophy were the Mabahith al-mashriqiyya fi 'ilm al-ilahiyyat wa-'l-tabi'iyyat (Eastern Studies in Metaphysics and Physics), also known as Mabahith al-mashriqya (Eastern Discussions), as well as the Sharh al-Isharat (Commentary on the Isharat), a commentary on the physics and metaphysics of the Kitab al-Isharat wa-'l-Tanbihat (Book of Remarks and Admonition) by Ibn Sina (980-1037), known as "Avicenna" in the West. Al-Razi was generally quite critical of early Islamic philosophers influenced by the Peripatetic school, particularly Ibn Sina, and was by extension critical of the Peripatetic school's founder Aristotle. The person who did the most to defend Ibn Sina's philosophy against the criticisms of al-Razi was Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201-1274), whose commentary on the Kitab al-Isharat was in large measure a refutation of al-Razi's opinions.[5]

In Islamic metaphysics, al-Razi departed from previous scholars, including the Ash'ari and Mu'tazili theologians as well as the Avicennan philosophers, in his views on existence and essence. Al-Razi held that "existence is distinct from, and additional to, essence, both in the case of creation and in the case of God, and that pure existence is merely a concept." He also achieved fame for his refutation of the emanationist principle ex uno non fit nisi unum ("only one can come from one") supported by the Avicennan philosophers. In Ibn Sina's formulation, "if an indivisible single thing were to give rise to two things, a and b, this would result in a contradiction, for the same single thing would be the source of both a and of not-a ( TeX equation)." Al-Razi's refutation was based on the idea that "the contradictory of 'the emanation of a' is 'the non-emanation of a', not 'the emanation of not-a'."[5]

Major Book on LogicEdit

In Islamic logic, al-Razi wrote the Kitab al-Mantiq al-Kabir (Major Book on Logic). He criticised Aristotle's "first figure" and formulated an early system of inductive logic, foreshadowing the system of inductive logic developed by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).[10] He also applied inductive logic to Islamic Sharia law and Fiqh jurisprudence.[9] Al-Razi's work was seen by later Islamic scholars as marking a new direction for Islamic logic, towards a Post-Avicennian logic. This was further elaborated by his student Afdaladdîn al-Khûnajî (d. 1249), who developed a form of logic revolving around the subject matter of conceptions and assents. In response to this tradition, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi began a tradition of Neo-Avicennian logic which remained faithful to Ibn Sina's work and, over the following centuries, existed as an alternative to the more dominant Post-Avicennian school founded by al-Razi.[11] In the 14th century, the Islamic sociologist and historiographer Ibn Khaldun, in his Muqaddimah (1377), noted the importance of al-Razi's work in the evolution of Islamic logic since the 12th century:

"Treatment of [the subject as newly conceived] has become lengthy and wide-ranging—the first to do this was Fakhraddîn ar-Râzî (d. 1210) and, after him, Afdaladdîn al-Khûnajî (d. 1249), on whom Eastern scholars rely even now… The books and ways of the ancients have been abandoned, as though they had never been."[11]

Commentary on Uyun al-HikmahEdit

Al-Razi dealt with the natural sciences from an Islamic perspective. His conception of physics as well as metaphysics was based on the underlying theory of occasionalism established by his predecessor Al-Ghazali and supported by the Ash'ari school of Islamic theology, which rejected the Avicennan notion of tabi'ah (physics) as "an effective causal principle inherent in natural phenomenal processes." The theory of occasionalism, which argues that God is the direct cause of natural processes, was defended and further strengthened by al-Razi's expertise in the natural sciences. His Sharh Uyun al-Hikmah (Commentary on Uyun al-Hikmah), a commentary on Avicenna's Uyun al-Hikmah, was divided into three parts: logic (mantiq); physics (tabi'iyyat), which covers "the traditional ground from space, bodies, time, motion to meteorology and psychology"; and metaphysics (ilahiyyat), which includes "discussion of matter and form, substance and accidents, and theology and eschatology." Al-Razi defined physics as "the science which studies existents (al-mawjudat) that are constituted of matter (al-maddah)," and as the "science whose subject matter is the body (al-jism) insofar as it undergoes change (al-taghayyur), and is in motion (yataharrak) and repose (yaskun)." In other words, he viewed physics as "the study of material bodies that undergo change and are either in motion or repose." He also wrote the following about the relation of physics to mathematics and metaphysics:[12]

If the quiddity of a thing (al-mahiyyah) is in need of matter (al-maddah) for [realising] its external (al-khariji) and mental (fi al-dhihn) existence, then it is [included in] the science of physics (al-ilm al-tabi'i), which is the lowest science (al-'ilm al-asfal). If the quiddity [of a thing] is in need of matter for [realising] its external existence, but is independent of matter for its mental existence in the sense that the mind can grasp it without considering its materiality (maddatiha), then it is [included] in the science of mathematics (al-ilm al-riyadi), which is the intermediate science (al- ilm al-awsat). If the quiddity is independent of matter for [both] its external and mental existence, then it is [included in] the highest science (al ilm al-a la) and the first philosophy (al-falsafat al-ula).

Matalib al-'AliyaEdit

See also: Islamic cosmology, Islamic astronomy, and Islamic physics

Multiverse theoryEdit

In dealing with his conception of physics and the physical world in his Matalib al-'Aliya, he discusses Islamic cosmology and Islamic astronomy. He criticizes the idea of the Earth's centrality within the universe, and "explores the notion of the existence of a multiverse in the context of his commentary" on the Qur'anic verse, "All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds." He raises the question of whether the term "worlds" in this verse refers to "multiple worlds within this single universe or cosmos, or to many other universes or a multiverse beyond this known universe." In volume 4 of the Matalib, Al-Razi states:[12]

It is established by evidence that there exists beyond the world a void without a terminal limit (khala' la nihayata laha), and it is established as well by evidence that God Most High has power over all contingent beings (al-mumkinat). Therefore He the Most High has the power (qadir) to create a thousand thousand worlds (alfa alfi 'awalim) beyond this world such that each one of those worlds be bigger and more massive than this world as well as having the like of what this world has of the throne (al-arsh), the chair (al-kursiyy), the heavens (al-samawat) and the earth (al-ard), and the sun (al-shams) and the moon (al-qamar). The arguments of the philosophers (dala'il al-falasifah) for establishing that the world is one are weak, flimsy arguments founded upon feeble premises.

Al-Razi rejected the Aristotelian and Avicennian notions of a single universe revolving around a single world. He describes their main arguments against the existence of multiple worlds or universes, pointing out their weaknesses and refuting them. This rejection arose from his affirmation of atomism, as advocated by the Ash'ari school of Islamic theology, which entails the existence of vacant space in which the atoms move, combine and separate. He discussed more on the issue of the void in greater detail in volume 5 of the Matalib.[12] He argued that there exists an infinite outer space beyond the known world,[13] and that God has the power to fill the vacuum with an infinite number of universes.[5]

Al-Razi also argues that each of these universes may have its own possible "natural order" or physical laws. That other natural orders are possible, he argues, points to a willing maker who chooses one of many possibilities. [4]

Celestial mechanicsEdit

He also participated in the debate among Islamic scholars over whether the celestial spheres or orbits (falak) are "to be considered as real, concrete physical bodies" or "merely the abstract circles in the heavens traced out year in and year out by the various stars and planets." He points out that many astronomers prefer to see them as solid spheres "on which the stars turn," while others, such as the Islamic scholar Dahhak, view the celestial sphere as "not a body but merely the abstract orbit traced by the stars." Al-Razi himself remains "undecided as to which celestial models, concrete or abstract, most conform with external reality," and notes that "there is no way to ascertain the characteristics of the heavens," whether by "observable" evidence or by authority (al-khabar) of "divine revelation or prophetic traditions." He concludes that "astronomical models, whatever their utility or lack thereof for ordering the heavens, are not founded on sound rational proofs, and so no intellectual commitment can be made to them insofar as description and explanation of celestial realities are concerned."[12]

Temporal finitismEdit

He presents an argument for the creation of a temporally finite universe, based upon the ideas of motion and rest. He describes the opposing arguments for an eternal universe with eternal bodies, and then argues that had a body (jism) "been eternal, in eternity it would have been either in motion or at rest." According to al-Razi, "both alternatives are absurd," therefore, a "body cannot be eternal."[14]

Book on the Soul and the Spirit and their FacultiesEdit

Al-Razi wrote a book on Islamic psychology, or Nafs, entitled Kitab al Nafs Wa’l Ruh (Book on the Soul and the Spirit and their Faculties). The work deals with both human psychology and animal psychology along the same lines. In this work, he analyzed the different types of pleasures as sensuous and intellectual, and explained their comparative relations with one another. He asserted that "a careful scrutiny of pleasure would reveal that it consists essentially in the elimination of pain." He then gives the following example: "the hungrier a man is, the greater is his enjoyment of pleasure of eating." He also argues that "the gratification of pleasure is proportionate to the need or desire of the animal" and that when "these needs are satisfied or desires fulfilled, the pleasure actually turns into revulsion," as "excess of food or sex results not in more pleasure, but in pain."[15] He argued that the "excessive quest for bodily pleasure" amounts to "a repudiation of humanity"[16] and that humans are not created in order to occupy themselves with the satisfaction of their bodily pleasures, "but rather to achieve intellectual apprehensions and contemplate the Divine Presence and gaze on the Divine Lights." According to al-Razi, human needs and desires are endless, and "their satisfaction is by definition impossible." He argues that "the important matter of this world is not accomplished through constant improvement and fulfillment but rather through abandoning and avoiding them." He then concludes that mental pleasure is more "noble and perfect than the sensual pleasure" and suggests that "the excellence and perfection" of a human is only realized by means of science, knowledge and "excellent manners," rather than "eating, drinking, and mating."[17] He also wrote a treatise dealing with physiognomy, entitled the Kitab al-Firasa.[18]

Science of EthicsEdit

In Islamic ethics, al-Razi held that "God alone, through revelation, determines moral values for man, it being these which give rise to praise and blame." According to al-Razi, "God himself was beyond the moral realm and acted from no purpose extraneous to himself, be it out of pure goodness or for the benefit of his creation." Building on the ideas of Al-Juwayni (1028-1085) and Al-Ghazali, al-Razi's "solution to the problem posed for divine subjectivists by God's threats of punishment and reward was to acknowledge a subjective rational capacity within man allowing him to understand what causes him pleasure and pain and thus enabling him to perceive where his advantage lies." In his Ilm al-Akhlaq (Science of Ethics), al-Razi built upon the ethical writings of Al-Ghazali, particularly the Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din, providing a systematic framework for ethics based on psychology. The Science of Ethics was also influenced by the ideas of Al-Baghdadi (1080-1165).[5]

Commentary on Canon of MedicineEdit

Al-Razi's Sharh Kulliyyat al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (Commentary on Canon of Medicine) was a medical commentary on Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine (1025). Al-Razi also discussed medical theories in his Matalib al-'Aliya, such as the formation of a sperm.[13]

Occult artsEdit

Al-Razi was generally quite critical of the occult arts of alchemy, astrology and magic. He studied these subjects extensively and wrote a critical study on the occult arts.[7]


The world is a garden, whose gardener is the state;
The state is the sultan whose guardian is the Law;
The Law is a policy, which is protected by the kingdom;
The kingdom is a city, brought into being by the army;
The army is made secure by wealth;
Wealth is gathered from the subjects;
The subjects are made servants by justice;
Justice is the axis of the prosperity of the world.

Jami' al-'ulum

Ibn al-Subki quotes the following lines :

The daring of minds ends in shackles,
Most of mankind's undertakings are folly.
Our souls are indifferent to what our bodies do,
And the sum of our lives is affliction and harm.
We did not benefit from our lifelong search
Except in collecting what these said, and those.
Atop many a mountain men have triumphed
And gone, while the mountains remained.
How many men and states have we seen
Goaded to disappear one and all.

List of worksEdit

Al-Razi had written over a hundred works on a wide variety of subjects. His major works include:

  • Tafsir al-Kabir (The Great Commentary)
  • Al-Bayan wa al-Burhan fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Tughyan
  • Al-Mahsul fi 'Ilm al-Usul
  • Al-Mutakallimin fi 'Ilm al-Kalam
  • Ilm al-Akhlaq (Science of Ethics)
  • Kitab al-Firasa (Book on Firasa)
  • Kitab al-Mantiq al-Kabir (Major Book on Logic)
  • Kitab al-nafs wa l-ruh wa sharh quwa-huma (Book on the Soul and the Spirit and their Faculties)
  • Mabahith al-mashriqiyya fi 'ilm al-ilahiyyat wa-'l-tabi'iyyat (Eastern Studies in Metaphysics and Physics)
  • Matalib al-'Aliya
  • Muhassal afkar al-mutaqaddimin wa-'l-muta'akhkhirin (The Harvest of the Thought of the Ancients and Moderns)
  • Nihayat al 'Uqul fi Dirayat al-Usul
  • Risala al-Huduth
  • Sharh al-Isharat (Commentary on the Isharat)
  • Sharh Asma' Allah al-Husna (Commentary on Asma' Allah al-Husna)
  • Sharh Kulliyyat al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (Commentary on Canon of Medicine)
  • Sharh Nisf al-Wajiz li'l-Ghazali (Commentary on Nisf al-Wajiz of Al-Ghazali)
  • Sharh Uyun al-Hikmah (Commentary on Uyun al-Hikmah)


  1. Ibn Khallikan. Wafayat Al-a'yan Wa Anba' Abna' Al-zaman. Translated by William MacGuckin Slane. (1961) Pakistan Historical Society. pp. 224.
  2. Richard Maxwell Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760,University of California Press,1996, - Page 29
  3. Shaikh M. Ghazanfar, Medieval Islamic Economic Thought: Filling the Great Gap in European Economics,Routledge, 2003 [1]
  4. Langermann, Y. Tzvi (1998), "al-Baghdadi, Abu 'l-Barakat (fl. c.1200-50)", Islamic Philosophy, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy,, retrieved 2008-02-03
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 John Cooper (1998), "al-Razi, Fakhr al-Din (1149-1209)", Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Routledge),, retrieved 2010-03-07
  6. Muammer İskenderoğlu (2002), Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and Thomas Aquinas on the question of the eternity of the world, Brill Publishers, p. 59, ISBN 9004124802
  7. 7.0 7.1 Manfred Ullmann, Die Natur- und Geheimwissenschaften im Islam, Handbuch der Orientalistik, Abteilung I, Ergänzungsband VI, Abschnitt 2 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), pp. 388-390.
  8. Ibn Khallikan. Wafayat Al-a'yan Wa Anba' Abna' Al-zaman. Translated by William MacGuckin Slane. (1961) Pakistan Historical Society. p. 224 (annotation by the translator).
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hallaq, Wael B. (1985-1986), "The Logic of Legal Reasoning in Religious and Non-Religious Cultures: The Case of Islamic Law and the Common Law", Cleveland State Law Review 34: 79-96 [91-3]
  10. Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, "The Spirit of Muslim Culture" (cf. [2] and [3])
  11. 11.0 11.1 Tony Street (July 23, 2008). "Arabic and Islamic Philosophy of Language and Logic". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved on 2008-12-05.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Adi Setia (2004), "Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi on Physics and the Nature of the Physical World: A Preliminary Survey", Islam & Science 2, archived from the original on 2012-07-10,, retrieved 2010-03-02
  13. 13.0 13.1 Muammer İskenderoğlu (2002), Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and Thomas Aquinas on the question of the eternity of the world, Brill Publishers, p. 79, ISBN 9004124802
  14. Muammer İskenderoğlu (2002), Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and Thomas Aquinas on the question of the eternity of the world, Brill Publishers, p. 110, ISBN 9004124802
  15. Haque, Amber (2004), "Psychology from Islamic Perspective: Contributions of Early Muslim Scholars and Challenges to Contemporary Muslim Psychologists", Journal of Religion and Health 43 (4): 357–377 [370]
  16. Haque, Amber (2004), "Psychology from Islamic Perspective: Contributions of Early Muslim Scholars and Challenges to Contemporary Muslim Psychologists", Journal of Religion and Health 43 (4): 357–377 [370-1]
  17. Haque, Amber (2004), "Psychology from Islamic Perspective: Contributions of Early Muslim Scholars and Challenges to Contemporary Muslim Psychologists", Journal of Religion and Health 43 (4): 357–377 [371]
  18. Yusef Mourad, La physiognomie arabe et le Kitab al-firasa de Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (Paris, 1939).


For his life and writings, see:

  • G. C. Anawati, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition, ed. by H.A.R. Gibbs, B. Lewis, Ch. Pellat, C. Bosworth et al., 11 vols. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1960-2002) vol. 2, pp. 751-5.

For his astrological-magical writings, see:

  • Manfred Ullmann, Die Natur- und Geheimwissenschaften im Islam, Handbuch der Orientalistik, Abteilung I, Ergänzungsband VI, Abschnitt 2 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), pp. 388-390.

For his treatise on physiognomy, see:

  • Yusef Mourad, La physiognomie arabe et le Kitab al-firasa de Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (Paris, 1939).

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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