Islamic Studies Fakhr al-Din al-Razi
Frank Griffel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 August 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0214


Fakhr al-Din Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Razi (b. c. 1149–d. 1210) was one of the most important philosophers and theologians of the post-classical period of Islam, that is, the period after al-Ghazali (d. 1111). In philosophy, Fakhr al-Din rearranged the structure of the philosophical summa in the Islamic East and thus also the curriculum of philosophical studies. His work completes the process of integrating the discourse of Aristotelian philosophy (falsafa) into Muslim rationalist theology (kalam), a process that began with the works of Ibn Sina (Avicenna, d. 1037). Original in his own thinking, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi was influenced by the systematic philosophy of Ibn Sina but developed an alternative that aimed at avoiding philosophical realism and essentialism. In theology he adopted teachings of Ibn Sina and “the falasifa” (meaning the teachings of Ibn Sina and his followers) and did not shy away from accepting suggestions made by Mu’tazilite authorities, particularly Abu Husayn al-Basri (d. 1044) and his successors. Fakhr al-Din’s works were widely studied, particularly during the 13th and 14th centuries. His commentaries on Ibn Sina’s works, in which he often keeps a critical distance to falsafa, became the subject of super-commentaries that are among the most influential texts in Arabic philosophy and Islamic theology. Even more influential, however, was his monumental Qur’an commentary Mafatih al-ghayb (Keys to the unknown), in which, through a well-structured rationalist analysis, he aims at resolving most questions that are brought up in the text of revelation. With the caveat that the study of post-classical Muslim philosophy and theology is not far advanced, we can nevertheless say that Fakhr al-Din al-Razi was the most influential theologian in the period between 1150 and 1450 and the most influential writer of philosophy within the Ash’arite tradition.

General Overviews

Despite his importance for post-classical Islamic intellectual history, the study of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi is not well advanced. Monograph studies on him are still rare. Among those available, Celan 1996 (cited under Teachings on Theology) and Arnaldez 2002 are descriptive while Shihadeh 2006 and Jaffer 2015 (cited under Qur’an Commentary) are more analytic works. Many of his texts, among them his most important book on philosophical theology, al-Matalib al-‘aliya (The elevated [also: advanced] subjects), were only edited in the last quarter of the 20th century and have hardly been studied. His Muhassal afkar al-mutaqaddimin wa-l-muta’akhkhirin (Summary of the thoughts of ancients and later scholars) was available in print much earlier (since 1905) and was used as a textbook of theological instruction at al-Azhar seminary in Cairo and other places of Muslim theological education. This triggered an interest in him by European scholars of the early 20th century, manifest in Horten 1910 (cited under Treatments of Philosophy) and Horten 1967 (cited under Teachings on Theology), and by historians of Muslim theology, as found in works such as Gardet and Anawati 1946. A number of monograph studies are available in Arabic, of which the most comprehensive is al-Zarkan 1963. A general introduction, and a monograph devoted to the life and works, that would provide a synthesis of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s teachings is, however, still a desideratum.

  • Anawati, Georges C. “Fakhr al-Din al-Razi.” In Encyclopeadia of Islam. 2d ed. Vol. 2. Edited by Bernard Lewis, Charles Pellat, Joseph Schacht, et al., 751–755. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1965.

    A more detailed treatment than Griffel 2011 with reports of his most important works. In light of more recent research, however, often outdated.

  • Arnaldez, Roger. Fakhr al-Dîn al-Râzî: Commentateur du Coran et philosophe. Paris: J. Vrin, 2002.

    Discusses Fakhr al-Din’s life, the issues brought up in al-Munazarat fi bilad ma wara’a l-nahr (Disputations with scholars in Transoxania), and presents his Qur’an commentary and two of his philosophical works, al-Mabahith al-mashriqiyya (Eastern investigations) and the commentary on Ibn Sina’s Pointers and Reminders, offering paraphrastic summaries.

  • Dughaym, Samih. Mawsu’at mustalahat Fakhr al-Din al-Razi. Beirut: Maktabat Lubnan, 2000.

    Dictionary of important terms used by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi with key quotations from his works in which these terms are explained and/or used.

  • Gardet, Louis, and Georges C. Anawati. Introduction à la théologie musulmane: Essai de théologie comparé. Paris: J. Vrin, 1946.

    Among other sources relies on Fakhr al-Din’s Muhassal afkar al-mutaqaddimin wa-l-muta’akhkhirin (Summary of the thoughts of ancients and later scholars) and introduces that work in a separate chapter.

  • Griffel, Frank. “Fakhr al-Din al-Razi.” In Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy. Vol. 2, Philosophy between 500 and 1500. Edited by Henrik Lagerlund, 665–672. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-9729-4

    A brief introduction to Fakhr al-Din’s life and works. Griffel aims to determine his position within larger developments in Islamic philosophy and theology.

  • Shihadeh, Ayman. “From al-Ghazali to al-Razi: 6th/12th Century Developments in Muslim Philosophical Theology.” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 15.2 (2005): 141–179.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0957423905000159

    A study of the general atmosphere and the questions with which 12th-century Islamic philosophy and theology were concerned. It starts with al-Ghazali (d. 1111) and explains the attitude of his two followers, Sharaf al-Dīn al-Mas’udi (d. after 1186) and Ibn Ghaylan al-Balkhi (d. c. 1190), and how Fakhr al-Din differed from them.

  • Shihadeh, Ayman. The Teleological Ethics of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006.

    Most thorough of the five monographs on Fakhr al-Din. Focuses on his theory of human actions and of ethical value and obligations, but also offers much information about his teachings in other fields. Includes a biography of Fakhr al-Din, a chronology of his writings, and an edition of his late work Dhamm ladhdhat al-dunya (Disregarding the pleasures of this world).

  • al-Zarkan, Muhammad Salih. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi wa-araʼuhu al-kalamiyya wa-al-falsafiyya. Cairo: Dar al-Fikr,c. 1963.

    Still the most comprehensive attempt to document Fakhr al-Din’s life and his works though not always reliable. Includes an extensive and very valuable bibliographical survey of Fakhr al-Din’s works, listing 194 extend as well as lost writings.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.