The Source of Knowledge on Metaphysics in Ibn Rushd’s Thought | Wasat No. 30/December 2019



The Source of Knowledge on Metaphysics in Ibn Rushd’s Thought

01 December 2019 12:03 am // Written by Ustaz Mas'udin Syarifuddin

In the contemporary world, information is shared effortlessly through various technological platforms and media. The massive flow of information, in one hand, enables to transform people, on the other hand, spreads the falsehood. The characteristic that pundits describe this period is the post-truth era,[i] where personal subjective opinion becomes a basis of judgement on truth and reality, thus, underrate the established worldview and major institutions that traditionally shaped the world for hundred years, including the commonly accepted knowledge and practices derived from the authority respected and followed by certain epistemic system that includes religious traditions.  

In that perspective, this article attempts to bring Ibn Rushd’s thought into the contemporary context and shed light to a particular issue, and that is the source of knowledge on metaphysics as understood from reading of his specific works namely Fasl Al-Maqal Fi Ma Bayn Al-Hikmah Wa Al-Shari`ah Min Al-Ittisal and Al-Kashf `An Manahij Al-Adillah Fī `Aqa’id Al-Millah.

The significance of sharīʿah in Ibn Rushd’s thought

Ibn Rushd described the erroneous development in his society seemed to have caused three tremendous consequences, which is relevant to discuss in the contemporary time. First is the literalist, in which the understanding of the truth is based on literal reading of the terms as such interpolated in the Qur’an and Hadith. While, second is the opposite side, in which to be understood and interpreted using the framework and the requirement of mere rational judgment concocted in abstract ideas. While the third is the group based its argument of the truth on the reality of merely sublime mystical aspect.

It was emphasized in Ibn Rushd’s works that discussion on contradicted views should establish on epistemic foundation. Differences, in his view, occur due to diverse interpretations to arrive at certain ruling understood from a particular term in shariʿah, which may be derived from different methodology, especially when the explicit term to rule a particular event is not found, which require mujtahids to exercise logical inferences through the application of the ijtihad instruments.[ii] If that is proper in the field of practical knowledge, more so in the theoretical knowledge, as he argued.[iii] In his later works written around 1179 – 1180 CE, Ibn Rushd argued that shariʿah can be applied as common framework and effective way to maintain the cohesion of socio-political life and simultaneously to allow the development of true knowledge and meaningful intellectual discourses to take place.

Based on his propagation on possible various spectrums of the truth and reality, Ibn Rushd argued that shariʿah methodology in presenting its propositions in order to explain the existence of God hold the only authority, therefore, it is the most valid source of knowledge with a final-apodictic certainty in explaining the complex metaphysical problems. However, that is acquired and obtained by humans’ faculties of reasoning will form two possible dimensions, first carries literal and simple meaning of the term, second carries deep interpreted meanings of the term. Despite that, according to Ibn Rushd, the outcome of knowledge with its various dimensions is to maintain the authority of shariʿah (al-‘adalah al-shariyyah), to uphold knowledge integrity (al-fadilah al-ilmiyyah) and moral virtues (al- fadilah al-khuluqiyyah) and to be equipped with high intellectual capability (al-fitrah al-faiqah).[iv]

Sharʿiah method of inference on metaphysics in Ibn Rushd’s thought

Ibn Rushd argued that the formal terms interpolated in shariʿah are an effective solution to circumvent cyclical discourses debated among intellectuals on the elite topics that have eventually intruded public domain. Based on the terms inducted from the Qur’ān, Ibn Rushd theorized two arguments to derive into metaphysical truth. First is dalil al-ʿinayah, meaningfulness and purposiveness argument of the existence, where human being posited as the epitome of all creature,  in which all existents are designed to fit those meanings and purposes with specified roles for each and particular reality.[v] Second is dalil al-ikhtira’, discovery argument of the substance of the existent, emphasizing the role of knowledge to discover the substance from a particular existent, thus, to find its teleological purpose in respect to other realities, in which they may be unified in more perfect form by identifying their remote causes and in virtue with other realities and finally their first cause, who is God, Allah the Almighty, Who is the Creator of such perfect order[vi]. These two arguments, according to Ibn Rushd, are a method endorsed by shariʿah and science in proving the existence of God and to infer on His attributes and actions.[vii]

Ibn Rushd further argued, as shariʿah constituted the metaphysical aspect of Islam, it assigns the people of grounded knowledge in explaining and interpreting the terms associated with the metaphysics in Islam in variance and correspondence to the levels of intellects of people in society. That was clarified when he stated the main objective of shariʿah is to convey the true knowledge to all people, which contains the true understanding of God and all the existents according to their true reality, especially, concerning with the noblest of them, and pertaining to the knowledge that explains the happiness and the suffering of the hereafter.[viii] Subsequently, if shariʿah intended to address humankind by dialectical or rational arguments per se, then, majority of the public will not have a contact to the truth that will cause them to suffer from misery in their souls, which resulted from the negation of its epitome to be guidance for all humankind to the righteous part.

On this basis, Ibn Rushd has demonstrated that shariʿah solitary proficient, thus, carried miraculous prowess to communicate the truth to all levels of people in society and, therefore, optimize their perfection both theoretically and practically and both for knowledge and moral perfection of human being.  

Shari`ah rules of ta’wil in Ibn Rushd’s thought

As consistently observed, the confronting view stated in Ibn Rushd’s relevant works that terms in shariʿah carry two dimensions in relation to human understanding. First dimension represents the truth and reality in direct meaning called zahir Second dimension represents deeper meanings interpreted from those terms called mu’awwal/batin. The categorization realized due to cultural dispositions of individual persons and the different levels of intelligence as the result of learning to identify the meaning relating to metaphysical aspects as such found in shariʿah. Hence, the discourses without proper methodology on the metaphysical aspects of shariʿah will lead into the bewilderment and cyclical fruitless debate. Therefore, Ibn Rushd argued that only direct meanings of the terms are communicated to the public, while their deeper meanings are discussed by the people of grounded knowledge (al-rasikhun fi al-ʿilm).[ix]

Ibn Rushd’s rules of ta’wil, which demonstrate the dimensions of shariah in respect to the metaphysical aspect of Islam is significant to understand, in which realities manifested in virtue of their lesser or greater participation in their formal and final cause (secundum prius et posterius). This condition related to the intellect that all people are not of the similar level, which shariʿah as divine guidance to all humankind has represented them in order to arrive respectively at two main aspects of knowledge, which are the affirmation and the conception of the truth. For the method of affirmation, truth may be presented in three ways; rhetorical, dialectical and demonstrative.[x] Meanwhile, for the conception of the truth is achieved in two ways, as it is and by its representation.[xi] Hence, there are things related to metaphysical realm of Islam expressed in shariʿah which do not accept any further interpretations, in the manner that they are absolute and ultimate e.g. the existence and the essence (dzat) of Allah, the prophecy, the truth about the day of judgement, the hereafter, hell and paradise, and so on. While some of them are accepting further explanations and interpretations, by which metaphors are employed to express their reality e.g. attributes and actions of Allah, descriptions about the day of judgement, hell and paradise and so on.

The first classification of the second type is if the meaning reflected in shariʿah is not the real meaning intended in such word been expressed, but none is assured why such metaphorical expressions are required until one has learned through many disciplines of knowledge in order to derive certain meaning.[xii] The second classification if one knows immediately why that metaphor been applied to express the reality and realizes it is really metaphorical with little endeavour in preponderating its reality.[xiii] The third classification if one knows immediately and understands that it is metaphorical expression of a particular reality but only decipher it after some times of why it is presented in metaphorical expression.[xiv] The last classification if one knows why such expression required metaphorical application long after he knows that it is a metaphor through many efforts of reflection.[xv] Each of these degrees of reality, according to Ibn Rushd, only can be interpreted cautiously by considering the five degrees of reality explained by Imam Al-Ghazaly’s in his book “Al-Tafriqah”: al-wujud al-dzaty, al-wujud al-hissy, al-wujud al-khayaly, al-wujud al-‘aqly and al-wujud al-shibhy.[xvi]


The article demonstrated the authority of shariʿah in extrapolating the metaphysical aspects of Islam in Ibn Rushd’s thought. The proposition has two functions, to maintain the cohesion of socio-political life and to allow meaningful discourse and promote knowledge culture. As it was pointed out that the discourse on complex metaphysical matter must be based on certain epistemic framework and sound methodology. It is also established that Ibn Rushd propagated shariʿah as the principle source of knowledge on metaphysics for the common and the learned people. To realize such double authority, shariʿah contains the terms that carry multiple spectrums instituted as zahir and mu’awwal as the formal construct as well as the deeper meaning of metaphysical aspects of Islam. Hence, rules of ta’wil is proposed as a proper procedure to interpret particular terms of shariʿah in extrapolating the metaphysical aspects of Islam to outreach the people and enrich the discourses in guided and meaningful way.



[i] Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. English Oxford Dictionaries Online, ‘Post-Truth’, accessed December 30, 2016,

[ii] Ibn Rushd, Abu Al-Walid Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad (1982), Bidayah Al-Mujtahid wa Nihayah Al-Muqtasid, vol. 1, no. 6, Beirut: Dar Al-Maʿrifah, p. 2.

[iii] Ibn Rushd, Abu Al-Walid Muḥammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Ahmad Muhammad Al-Andulusy Al-Maliky (2015), Fasl Al-Maqal Fi Taqrir Ma Bayn Al-Shariʿah Wa Al-Hikmah Min Al-Ittisal, Ed. Muhammad Abdu Al-Wahid Al-ʿAsary, Beirut: Markaz Dirasat Al-Wahdah Al-ʿArabiyyah, p. 94.

[iv] Ibid., p. 89

[v] Ibid., pp. 118 – 119.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid., p. 122.

[viii] Ibid., p. 115.

[ix] Ibid., p. 98.

[x] Ibid., p. 116.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibn Rushd, Abu Al-Walid Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad (2007), Al-Kashf ‘An Manahij Al-Adillah Fi ‘Aqa’id Al-Millah, Ed. Mustafa Hanafy, Beirut: Markaz Dirasat Al-Wahdah Al-‘Arabiyyah, p. 205.

[xiii] Ibid., p. 205

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Ibid., pp. 206 – 207. See chapter 3 “Maratib Al-Wujud Wa Amthilatuh” of “Faysal Al-Tafriqah Bayna Al-Islam Wa Al-Zandaqah”.

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