Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi


Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi : biography

865 – 925

Notable books in English:

  • Spiritual Medicine
  • The Philosophical Approach (Al Syrat al Falsafiah)
  • The Metaphysics

On Religion

A number of contradictory works and statements about religion have been ascribed to Razi. According to al-Biruni’s Bibliography of Razi (Risāla fī Fihrist Kutub al-Rāzī), Razi wrote two "heretical books": "Fī al-Nubuwwāt (On Prophecies) and "Fī Ḥiyal al-Mutanabbīn (On the Tricks of False Prophets). According to Biruni, the first "was claimed to be against religions" and the second "was claimed as attacking the necessity of the prophets." In his Risala, Biruni further criticized and expressed caution about Razi’s religious views, noting an influence of Manichaeism. However, Biruni also listed some other works of Razi on religion, including Fi Wujub Da‘wat al-Nabi ‘Ala Man Nakara bi al-Nubuwwat (Obligation to Propagate the Teachings of the Prophet Against Those who Denied Prophecies) and Fi anna li al-Insan Khaliqan Mutqinan Hakiman (That Man has a Wise and Perfect Creator), among others, listed under his works on the "divine sciences". None of these works are now extant.

Other views and quotes that are often ascribed to Razi are found in a book written by Abu Hatim al-Razi, called Aʿlām al-nubuwwa, and not in any extant work of Razi. Abu Hatim was an Isma’ili missionary who debated Razi, but whether he has faithfully recorded the views of Razi is disputed. According to Abdul Latif al-‘Abd, Islamic philosophy professor at Cairo University, Abu Hatim and his student, Ḥamīd al-dīn Karmānī (d. 411AH), were Isma’ili extremists who often misrepresented the views of Razi in their works. This view is also corroborated by early historians like al-Shahrastani who noted "that such accusations should be doubted since they were made by Ismāʿīlīs, who had been severely attacked by Muḥammad ibn Zakariyyā Rāzī".Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and Mehdi Amin Razavi, An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia, vol. 1, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 353, quote: "Among the other eminent figures who attacked Rāzī are the Ismāʿīlī philosopher Abū Ḥatem Rāzī, who wrote two books to refute Rāzī’s views on theodicy, prophecy, and miracles; and Nāṣir-i Khusraw. Shahrastānī, however, indicates that such accusations should be doubted since they were made by Ismāʿīlīs, who had been severely attacked by Muḥammad ibn Zakariyyā Rāzī" Al-‘Abd also points out that the views allegedly expressed by Razi contradict what is found in Razi’s own works, like the Spiritual Medicine (Fī al-ṭibb al-rūḥānī). Al-‘Abd considers the content of the Spiritual Medicine to be a refutation to the claims made by Abu Hatim about Razi’s religious views.

According to Abu Hatim, Razi offered harsh criticism concerning religions, in particular those religions that claim to have been revealed by prophetic experiences. Razi asserted that "[God] should not set some individuals over others, and there should be between them neither rivalry nor disagreement which would bring them to perdition." He argued,

On what ground do you deem it necessary that God should single out certain individuals [by giving them prophecy], that he should set them up above other people, that he should appoint them to be the people’s guides, and make people dependent upon them?

Concerning the link between violence and religion, Razi expressed that God must have known, considering the many disagreements between different religions, that "there would be a universal disaster and they would perish in the mutual hostilities and fighting. Indeed, many people have perished in this way, as we can see."

He was also critical of the lack of interest among religious adherents in the rational analysis of their beliefs, and the violent reaction which takes its place:

If the people of this religion are asked about the proof for the soundness of their religion, they flare up, get angry and spill the blood of whoever confronts them with this question. They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed.