Mawqif al-‘Aql wa ‘l-‘Ilm wa ‘l-‘Alam by Shaykh al-Islam Mustafa Sabri

About the Author:

Shaykh Mustafa Sabri was born in Tokat (Turkey) in 1869. He memorized the Holy Qur’an as a child. He completed his education in Istanbul. He was elected to the Ottoman Parliament in 1908. He was later appointed Shaykh al-Islam (the highest religious authority of the Ottoman Empire) in 1919. He died in Egypt in 1954.

Regarding the book Mawqif al-‘Aql, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah said, “It is, without doubt, the book of the century.”

A Translated Sample of the Book:

We do accept that perfection cannot be conceived without the existence of a perfect being. A perfect being can only be conceived in mind, combined with its existence, even with its existence outside mind. In other words, it can be conceived with the concept of its existence outside, as the place of this combination is the concept where there is space for the existent and non-existent and two existing things mutually requiring each other or two non-existent things likewise. Yet, the occurrence of a perfect thing together with its external existence, in mind does not necessarily mean that that thing really exists outside. Our logicians maintained that there is no limit to the concepts in human mind. Human mind may feel compelled to adding the concept of external existence to the concept of perfection because God is conceived as a perfect being, then say that perfect being exists outside, without the combined existence of the existences in mind having to have an effect in reality…….

Let me explain further what I said above: There is no doubt about the truth of the statement: “God is the being with perfect attributes”. However, those who adopted this argument before and after Descartes are not aware of the fact that the statement above cannot be used to prove the existence of God. In other words, “God is the being with perfect attributes” though it is true, cannot be a premise to prove the existence of God. That is why it is true for all those who believe in His existence. But, this is not the case for those who do not believe in God. For them, He does not exist, nor does He have perfect attributes. Whoever attempts to prove the existence of God, should not assume His existence nor His perfect attributes until one comes up with a clear proof. We do not hesitate to attribute perfection to Him because first we believed in His existence through a proof other than the ontological argument then it became obvious for us that the proposition “God has the perfect attributes” is true. The truth of that proposition depends on the existence of the subject, which is God, as this is a condition required by the old logic. As for those who do not know if God exists and do want to find out from His perfect attributes or who knows He exists and wants to prove it for those who do not know, with the proof of perfectness, they should know that the proposition “God is perfect” used in their proof is an affirmative one whose truth logically depends on the existence of its subject which they are trying to prove. Therefore, it is a question begging argument which is incorrect according to logicians.

How subtle the point of logic in requiring the existence of subject for the affirmative propositions while this requirement is not necessary for the negative ones! For example, the proposition “the bird phoenix flies” is untrue while the proposition “phoenix does not fly” is true. Since such a bird does not exist, anything said affirmative about it, is untrue while everything said negative about it, is true. This is one of the subtle points of logic, I mean, the old formal logic despite the belittling of logic by Egyptian intellectuals today.

True that nothing is wrong in a proposition in dictionaries such as “Phoenix is a big imaginary bird”. This does not conflict with what we said earlier about the logical rule which says an affirmative proposition cannot be true without the existence of its subject, because propositions in dictionaries are descriptive statements explaining the meanings of words. The logicians do not consider such descriptive statements as logical propositions. But if you insist that it is an affirmative proposition like other logical propositions which can be true or untrue, and that it is still true as a proposition despite the requirement of logic for the existence of its subject to be true, the answer is that the descriptive statement “phoenix is a bird…” in dictionaries is an assertion on the word “phoenix”, as its the name of a bird. There is no doubt that the word “phoenix” exists in the language even if it is a name without the named object. Therefore, the assertion is still true as the subject (the name of the bird in this case, not the bird itself) exists.

In sum, thanks to logic and its subtlety, we have seen three points in this discussion:

  1. Subject in affirmative propositions must exist while this is not necessary for the negative propositions,
  2. There is no limit to human imagination without necessarily being true or real,
  3. Descriptive statements are considered explaining things as existing or non-existing concepts for which there is no limit in human mind even if they look like affirmative propositions.

The second point above is the one that misled the proponents of the ontological argument whereas the first point should have opened their eyes (to see the incorrectness of the ontological argument)

Download Here: Volume 1, 2, 3, 4

10 thoughts on “Mawqif al-‘Aql wa ‘l-‘Ilm wa ‘l-‘Alam by Shaykh al-Islam Mustafa Sabri

  1. salamu alaykum

    Jazakallah khair.

    I have been struggling to know how imagination was equaled with reality. Unlike the cosmological argument were empirical reality is considered and existance of God is neccessitated; this ontological argument simply proves the validity of IMAGINING the real existance of a perfect being(God). But it does not have anything to prove that imagining so neccessitates actual real existance.

    Im curious to know how WLC or others who defend this argument answer this problem.

    Moreover, could you explain what is the rational proof that God, if existing, has to be neccessarily perfect and impossible to be weak ?

    • Shaykh al-Islam Mustafa Sabri in fact discusses St. Anselm’s ontological argument in Mawqif al-‘Aql. You can read an English summary of it from page 86 in Mehmet Kadri Karabela: One of the Last Șeyhülislâms, Mustafa Sabri Effendi (1869-1954): His Life, Works and Intellectual Contributions (a master’s thesis submitted at McGill University). It’s available online.

      • Though I should also say, he doesn’t defend the argument at all. In fact, he agrees with its detractors and even says pre- and post-Decartes users of the argument made a similar error.

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