Providence and Predestination in Al-Ghazali

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Abstract

This essay seeks to show that contemporary interreligious dialogue, like contemporary theology, best proceeds by way of philosophically erudite ressourcement. As regards Christian-Muslim dialogue, this requires tapping into the major classical exponents of Muslim philosophy and theology, as exemplified in the work of David Burrell. Inspired by Burrell, the present essay focuses on the contribution of al-Ghazali to Muslim thinking about predestination, a central theme in the Qur’an and arguably in the Bible as well. In order to set the stage for the engagement with al-Ghazali, the essay begins by comparing Joseph Ratzinger's concerns that predestination as commonly understood implies a ready-made web according to which God saves some and damns others, with ‘Umar al-Ashqar's interpretation of the Qur’an along these lines. Al-Ghazali's view, while advocating a strong version of predestination, is more philosophically and theologically nuanced, and it provides a basis for Christian and Muslim dialogue about how to characterize the relationships between divine and human agency, faith and reason, and divine wisdom and will. This ongoing dialogue will find in classical Christian theology valuable ways of addressing, with contemporary import, the same problems that concern al-Ghazali.

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