Fakhr al-Din al-Razi

(544-606 /1149-1209)


Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad b. `Umar b. al-Husayn Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, also known as Abu’l Fadl, Abu’l Ma’ali, al-Imam, Ibn al-Khatib, Khatib al-Rayy and Shaykh al-Islam. He was the most celebrated and prolific scholar among his contemporaries. He was initially interested in alchemy, but later wrote more in the fields of exegesis, theology, philosophy, law, medicine, linguistics, physics, history, heresiography, astronomy, logic, astrology, and physiognomy.


Al-Razi was born in Rayy in 544/1149. Little is known of his early life, but his biographers all agree that his father, Diya’ al-Din, known as Khatib al-Rayy, was his first teacher in kalam and fiqh. After his father died, he took lessons in various Islamic sciences from Majd al Din al-Jili and jurisprudence from al-Kamal al-Samnani. He was very persuasive when he spoke, used precise Arabic and Persian, and had a clarity of mind, critical attitude and a highly trained memory. He was characterized by an independence of thinking and rational approach. He broached many controversial problems, and had no hesitation in drawing on non-Muslim and heretical views in his philosophical analyses. Al-Razi had many opponents and major allegations were made against him.

Al-Razi travelled throughout the Muslim  world, recorded in his own sixteen-chapter account of the places he visited, the scholars he met, and summaries of their discussions (Munazarat Fakhr al-Din al Razi fi Bilad Ma Wara’ al-Nahr). He attracted students from every part of the Muslim  world and it is said that when he moved from place to place, at least three hundred students would follow him. He settled in Herat, where a madrasa was built for him. Once, in a public audience, a heated discussion led to harsh words between al-Razi and Ibn al-Qudwa, a Karramite leader, which led to accusations. The sultan’s cousin accused al-Razi of kufr, because he read Ibn Sina and Aristotle, and the populace became so incensed that al-Razi’s life was threatened. Al-Razi discreetly left the city and the year of his exile had such an impact that scholars described it as sanat al-fitna.

In every dispute, Al-Razi began with his own line of thought or outlined the various alternatives to the solution and then concisely indicated his choice of preferred alternatives. He reproduced the views of his opponents exactly and impartially. He invariably did not choose the short answers, but established his own position at length, though he did not repeat his own arguments.

On the question of the existence of God, al-Razi contributes an organized presentation with elaborate philosophical and theological proofs, shaping an eclectic new type of reasoning. His proofs are from i) the contingency of the substances, ii) the contingency of accidents, iii) the originatedness of substances and iv) the originatedness of accidents. In his fourth argument from the originatedness of accidents, he has two strands: the subjective and the objective. These, al-Razi says, can be inferred from the Qur’an, interpreting 41:53: “We shall show them Our portents on the horizons and within themselves…” and points to other verses which signify phenomenal events as proofs for God’s existence.

In the subjective he gives examples of the development of human beings from the stage of embryo to maturity. The objective argument, he says, is based on common observation such as the nature of plants, minerals, cosmological movements, etc. The fifth argument is from design and order in the universe, and according to al-Razi, can be included in all his four preceding arguments. The harmony and balance in the world is evidence of the absolute knowledge of the Creator, from which His very existence can be concluded.

A major accusation against al-Razi was that he believed in sorcery and that his book al-Sirr al-Maktum fi Mukhatabat al-Nujum advocated it. M. S. Ma`sumi  says that the contents of the book do not justify this view, and that al-Razi very clearly acknowledged the study of astrology as a branch of knowledge, but did not believe in astrology. He distinguished between what is permitted by Islam and what is not [Mafatih, vol. 1. pp. 430-36; Mabahith, vol. 2. p.423]. In Munazarat, he draws on al-Farabi and Ibn Sina to conclude that there is no connection between the heavenly movements and events in the sub-lunar world, and that astrology cannot therefore be a real science [Munazarat, p. 32].

Al-Razi died in Herat in 606/1209. In his Wasiyya, which he dictated to a student before his death, he says that he had not sufficiently distinguished the useful from the harmful in his writings, states dissatisfaction with philosophy and theology, preferring the Qur’anic approach in the pursuit of truth over philosophy, and says the human intellect disintegrates in the face of complicated issues, therefore advising against deep contemplation of unsolvable problems.


Unpublished Manuscripts by Al-Razi, Fakhr al-Din Muhammad b. ‘Umar:

al-Matalib al ‘Aliya, Istanbul, Fatih Ms. no. 3145

al-Matalib al ‘Aliya, Istanbul, Laleli Ms. no 2441

Mulakhkahas, British Museum, Oriental Ms. no 2360

Nihayat al-‘Uqul fi Dirayat al-Usul, Istanbul, Hamidiye Ms. no. 782

Risala fi l-Tawhid, Istanbul, Fatih Ms. no. 5426/2

Wasiyyat al-Imam al-Razi, Istanbul, Esad Efende, 3774/9


See also:

Ceylan, Yasin (1996), Theology and Tafsir in the Major Works of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, Kuala Lumpur.

Kholeif, Fathalla (1966), A Study on Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and His Controversies in Transoziana, Beirut.

Kraus, Paul (1938), “The Controversies of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi” in Islamic Culture, vol.12, pp. 131-153.

Ma’sumi, M. Saghir Hasan (1967) “Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and His Critics” in Islamic Studies, vol. 6 pp. 355-374.