Rāzī, Fakhr Al-Dīn Al-

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RĀZĪ, FAKHR AL-DĪN AL- , Muammad ibn ʿUmar (ah 543606/11491209 ce), was a celebrated twelfth-century Muslim theologian and a prolific scholar. The period in which Rāzī flourished is marked by a cautious reassessment of some of the basic principles of Neoplatonic philosophy, after a period in which this tradition had suffered strong criticism, primarily in the writings of the famous Muslim theologian al-Ghazālī (d. 1111). Rāzī was the principal protagonist of this reassessment of the philosophical tradition, particularly as it had been expounded and established by Ibn Sīnā (d. 1037). Although he was not a philosopher in the strict sense, Rāzī's mature theological works manifest an unquestionable Avicennian influence. But what he perceived as being the excesses of the Neoplatonic tradition he sought to moderate, in order to accommodate its fundamental theories within the traditional framework of Muslim rational discourse. Thus his works arguably represent the most successful synthesis of the conflicting traditions of Muslim philosophy (falsafa ) and Muslim speculative theology (kalām ).


Rāzī was born in Rayy, near modern-day Tehran, in 1149. Not much is known of his early years, but most Muslim biographers agree that it was Rāzī's father, iyāʾ al-Dīn, the city's main preacher (khaīb ), who was responsible for the education of his son in the two principal Muslim sciences of jurisprudence (fiqh ) and theology (kalām ). In accordance with the scholastic tradition to which his father belonged, Rāzī received his training in the Shāfiʿī branch of jurisprudence and in the Ashʿarī school of theology, both of which were classical Sunnī affiliations. His formation in philosophy took place in Marāgha (Azerbaijan) at the hands of Majd al-Dīn al-Jīlī, who also happened to be the teacher of the famous illuminationist philosopher, Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī. It should also be noted that al-Jīlī's teacher had been a student of al-Ghazālī himself.

Having completed his formative studies in Rayy, Rāzī set off for Khwārazm. There he engaged in serious disputations with the Muʿtazila (upholders of the kind of rationalism to which Sunnī Islam, as championed by Rāzī, was vehemently opposed). Khwārazm was at that time the only remaining Muʿtazilī stronghold, after the decline of the movement in Baghdad, and the opposition stirred up by Rāzī was such that he was soon forced to leave the town and return to Rayy. From there he traveled on to the major towns of Transoxiana, and reportedly even as far as the Indian frontier, before finally returning to settle in Herāt. He died there in 1209.

During his early years Rāzī was of very modest means. But his fortunes quickly changed after he entered into a series of high-profile relationships, most notably with the Ghūrid rulers of Ghazna, Ghiyāth al-Dīn and his brother Shihāb al-Dīn. Later on, Rāzī's travels took him to Khurasan, where he was welcomed by the Khwārazm-Shāh ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Tekesh, whose generous patronage he enjoyed. Ibn al-Athīr, a medieval Muslim historian, informs us that these relationships brought Rāzī enormous wealth. The legal schools (madrasah ) set up in his name in various towns added considerably to his fame. Throughout these various sojourns, however, he was never quite free of controversy. Rāzī was undoubtedly an impressive speaker and his proselytizing sermonsas well his ruthless public criticisms of doctrines associated with various Muslim groups, among them anbalīs, the Karrāmiyya, and Ismaʿīlīswon him many dangerous enemies. On one notorious occasion his scurrilous attack against the head of the Karrāmiyya (an extreme anthropomorphist sect active in Ghūr) led to serious public disturbances, and to Rāzī's subsequent expulsion from the town.


By any standard, Rāzī was a prolific scholar. Close to a hundred works can be attributed to him with near certainty, although some biographers have suggested twice this number. The range of subjects covered by Rāzī is indeed encyclopedic: he wrote works on history, exegesis, theology, jurisprudence, philosophy, rhetoric, medicine, ethics, geometry, astrology, and physiognomy. He composed a well-known treatise on the theory and practice of magic, but it seems that he abandoned the field after his research did not meet with any real success. Of the range of subjects that Rāzī covered, his principal contributions to Muslim intellectual thought are to be found in his theological writings; his two commentaries (shar s) on Ibn Sīnā's work (one on the latter's Kitāb al-Ishārāt wa ʾl-Tanbīhāt, another on his ʿUyūn al-ikma ); and his voluminous commentary on the Qurʾān, the Mafātī al-Ghayb (The keys to the unseen).

Though Rāzī wavered on certain Ashʿarī doctrines (viz., atomism, God's attributes, and the theory of human "acquisition" of acts), he was generally a staunch defender of this school of kalām, as can be seen in his major theological works (al-Muaal, Lawāmī ʿ al-Bayyināt, al-Arba ʿīn ). Rāzī, however, would devote the large part of his theological writings to the development of what may be termed a Muslim "philosophical" theology (almost a third school of kalām, after Muʿtazilism and Ashʿarism). One of his earliest efforts in this respect is a work entitled al-Mabāith al-Mashriqiyya (Oriental investigations). Here, as elsewhere, Rāzī's debt to two philosophers is obvious: Abūʾl-Barakāt al-Baghdādī (d. after 1164/5) in physics, and Ibn Sīnā in metaphysics (especially Ibn Sīnā's al-Shifā ʾ and al-Najāt ).

Rāzī took exception, however, to certain Avicennian fundamentals, most notably the emanationist principle that from the "one" can only issue one, the notion of God's knowledge being limited to universals, and the eternity of the universe. Rāzī refuted these concepts at length, and further refined Ibn Sīnā's proof for God as the "necessary being" by drawing a subtle distinction between essence and being. Rāzī's al-Maālib al- ʿāliya min al- ʿilm al-ilāhī (The noble pursuits of the science of divinity) possibly represents the best example of his synthetic approach to theology, since in this work Rāzī makes use, somewhat eclectically, of the methods of Muslim kalām and those of Avicennian philosophy. Rāzī's magnum opus, however, on account of its sheer breadth and sophistication, remains his commentary on the Qurʾān. Here, dogmatic principles are affirmed through a combination of philosophical and theological arguments interwoven in such a way that one cannot discern the traditional separation between the two. Finally, Rāzī's contribution to the field of Islamic ethics has been neglected, although it has recently been shown to be quite significant.

A deeply religious individual, Rāzī believed that he could reassert the fundamental principles of the Muslim faith through a synthesis of arguments drawing on traditional kalām and Neoplatonic philosophy. Notwithstanding his famous deathbed renunciation of the methods of rational discourse, Rāzī's contribution to Muslim intellectual thought remains considerable.


Anawati, Georges C. "Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī." In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed. Edited by H. A. R. Gibb et al., vol. 2, pp. 751755. Leiden and London, 1960. A necessary follow-up article, in which the main aspects of Rāzī's life are put into perspective, together with a summary of the contents of each of Rāzī's main works.

Ceylan, Yasin. Theology and Tafsīr in the Major Works of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī. Kuala Lumpur, 1996. Surveys key philosophical and theological issues examined by Rāzī in his Qurʾanic commentary and major kalām works.

Cooper, John. "Al-Razi, Fakhr al-Din." In The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward Craig, vol. 8, pp. 112115. London and New York, 1998. A brief but useful synopsis of Rāzī's main objections to Ashʿarism and Ibn Sīnā's theories.

Fakhry, Majid. A History of Islamic Philosophy. 2d ed. New York, 1983. Chapter 11, "Theological Reaction and Reconstruction," pp. 312332, deals with Rāzī's place within the overall framework and development of Muslim philosophy.

Iskenderoğlu, Muammer. Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and Thomas Aquinas on the Question of the Eternity of the World. Leiden, 2002.

Kholeif, Fathalla. A Study of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and his Controversies in Transoxiana. Beirut, 1966. A critical edition and translation of Rāzī's autobiographical account of his famous disputations in Transoxiana, with a good biographical introduction and follow-up analysis of the topics of these disputations.

Shihadeh, Ayman. "Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī on Ethics and Virtue." Ph.D. diss., Oxford University, 2002. The only in-depth study of Rāzī's ethics; constitutes an original contribution to studies on Rāzī and provides a comprehensive bibliography of Rāzī's published and unpublished works.

Street, Tony. "Concerning the Life and Works of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi." In Islam: Essays on Scripture, Thought, and Society, a Festschrift in Honour of Anthony H. Johns, edited by Peter G. Riddell and Tony Street, pp. 135146. Leiden, 1997.

Feras Q. Hamza (2005)