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© Journal of Islamic Studies 2 £ (1991) pp.

180-194

PASCAL AND ISLAM

MARY HOSSAIN
Department of French, The Queen's University of Belfast

Western scholars studying al-Ghazall, the eleventh-century 'Reviver


of Islam', have often noticed similarities between his work and that of
the seventeenth-century Christian writer and scientist, Blaise Pascal, and
have sought to situate him in the Western consciousness by such a
comparison. Conversely, a Muslim reading the Tensies1—Pascal's
unfinished and fragmentary apologia—may equally well be struck, in
spite of Pascal's intention to write a work designed to lead directly and
only to Christian dogma, by its applicability in many respects to Islam.
This is paradoxical in that part of Pascal's plan is to eliminate Islam
as a rival explanation of the human condition. The aim of this paper
is to examine that paradox by placing the similarities between Pascal
and al-Ghazall in the context of Pascal's anti-Islamic polemic. The
emphasis will be on apologetic method and the conclusion will suggest
an Islamic application for Pascal's 'order of the heart'.
Several critics have touched on similarities between the two writers,
especially in the relative roles of the heart and the reason as organs of
knowledge.1 Others have carried their investigations further; M. Asin
Palacios, in particular, has made an extensive comparison of their use
of a 'wager argument' to convince the unbeliever that he should opt
for the existence of God and should give up the pleasures of this life
in order to gain those of the next.3
Attempts have also been made to find a route by which al-GhazalTs
1
References are to the translation by A. J. Krailsheimer, Penguin Classics (Hannonds-
worth, 1966), which follows the order established by L. Lafuma (ed.), Blaise Pascal,
Pensia (Paris, 1962), referred to hereafter as L.
1
R. Serrier, 'Ghazill ou le "Pascal" des musulmans', En Terre d'lslam, 40 and 41
(1930); A. J. Wensinck, La Pensie de GbaxaU (Paris, 1940); M. Smith, Al-GhazzaJi the
Mystic (London, 1944); L. Gardet and M. M. Anawati, Introduction a la tbiologie
musulmane (Paris, 1948); F. Jabre, La Notion de la certitude selon al-Ghazatt (Paris,
1958).
' M. Asin Pakcios, 'Los precedentes musulmanes del 'Tari" de Pascal', Boletin de la
Biblioteca Menindex y Pelayo, 2 (1920), 171-232, reprinted in Huellas del Islam (Madrid,
1941), 162-233.
PASCAL AND ISLAM l8l

ideas could have influenced Pascal. Various aspects of al-GhazalTs work


were known in the West and influenced Christian writers, especially
theologians: Gundisalvus, Bar Hebraeus, and Thomas Aquinas have all
been mentioned in this connection;4 but either these writers have drawn
on aspects of al-Ghazall which are of no relevance to Pascal or there
is no evidence that he read them. Among Pascal's contemporaries,
Barthelemy d'Herbelot, whose Bibliotheque orientate was published
posthumously in 1697, well after the writing of the Pensies (1657-9),
certainly knew and quoted from the works of al-Ghazall. However,
although Pascal may have known d'Herbelot, there is absolutely no
evidence of influence.
The only connection that has so far been established, bearing in mind
that Pascal's library was dispersed and that, in his contacts with Port-
Royal—the group of Jansenist solitaries dedicated to a life of piety—
he had the opportunity at least to study many works he may not have
mentioned, is the Pugio Fidei adversus Mauros et Judaeos of Raymon
Marti written in the twelfth century and published in Paris in 1651.
Pascal is known to have consulted this work, which quotes frequently
from the Munqidh and the Tahafut, in order to find information on
Judaism. He could easily have read the section containing those al-
Ghazall paraphrases—mainly on the subject of the philosophers, their
usefulness or danger, the nature of prophecy, and the existence of
another faculty beyond reason—which anticipated his own thought,
although, as I have shown in a previous article, the Latin intermediary
waters down the directness of al-Ghazall to such an extent that it is
difficult to pinpoint precise borrowings.5
Marti enlists al-Ghaza"ITs help when attacking the philosophers, quot-
ing him as if he were a Christian, while elsewhere in the book, as its
title indicates {adversus Mauros), he counters the arguments of Islam.
Indeed he makes one of the traditional points taken up later by Pascal:
* A general luminary of the influence of al-Ghaiill on Christian writers, but one
which contains many errors and misprints, can be found in M. M. Sharif, A History of
Muslim Philosophy (Karachi, 1966), D. 1359-67. V. M. Poggi has analysed the influence
of al-Munqidh min al-Dalal in Un dassico deila spirituality musulmana (Rome, 1967),
an analysit which it summarized in the Introduction (xlii-xlv) by R. J. McCarthy to hit
translation of the Munqidh, Freedom and Fulfillment; An Annotated Translation of Al-
GhaxitTt 'al-Munqidh min al-Dalal' and Other Relevant Works of al-Ghatali (Boston,
Mass., 1980). The influence on Thomas Aquinas has been studied recently by T. Hanley,
'St. Thomas' use of al-GhazitTs Maqasid al-Falasifa', Medieval Studies, 44 (1982),
243-70. For Bar Hebraeus, see the Book of the Dove together with tome chapters from
hit Ethikon, trans. A. J. Wensinck (Leyden, 1919).
' M. Hossain, 'Pascal and al-GhazJlT, Seventeenth-Century French Studies, 6 (1984),
151-63. For textual parallels between al-Ghazall and Marti tee V. Poggi, Vn dassico
deila spirituality musulmana, ch. 4. Pascal mentions the Pugio Fidei in Pensies 277 and
483.
l8x MARY HOSSAIN

that the Prophet of Islam came without miracles and spread his religion
instead through force of arms and through the enticements of a life of
pleasure.* This passage, interestingly enough, is actually supported by
a reference to al-Ghazan", who is quoted as saying that of all men the
Arabs are closest to animals.
Marti thus exemplifies a general trend, discernible from the Middle
Ages onward, in which Muslim philosophers are admired, while the
religion of Islam and the Prophet of Islam, on whom these philosophers
base their lives, are denigrated. In order to make this distinction, it was
often assumed, by Marti and others, that the Muslim philosophers
rejected some aspects of Islam, especially with regard to paradise, and
adopted a spiritual 'Christian' position.7 Dante provides another
example, situating Avicenna, Averroes, and Saladin with virtuous
heathens in the first circle of Hell, while consigning the Prophet to a
dreadful punishment in almost the lowest circle.8 Later, in seventeenth-
century Paris, the Maronites Gabriel Sionita and Abraham Ecchelensis,
while to some extent furthering a factual knowledge of Islam, also
separated the philosophical achievements of the Arabs from a religion
which they detested.' In a parallel development travellers to the Muslim
world admired the Muslims' piety, cleanliness, fasting, and prayers,
while disconnecting these virtues from the life of the Prophet who, up
to the seventeenth century at least, was generally depicted as an immoral
and fraudulent impostor.
Pascal, whose method of persuasion and ideas on belief are so akin
to those of al-GhazaB, and who may have been influenced by them, is
caught in the same paradox.
Pascal's attack on Islam, as L. M. Heller has shown, is influenced by
the general tradition of anti-Islamic polemic and may have drawn on
Grotius in particular; there are also elements of originality in the way
he reworked his material. The main features of the medieval canon as
reused by Pascal are Islam's perceived lack of prophecy, of miracles,
and of mystery, unsatisfactory moral teaching, ridiculous description of
paradise, conversion by force of arms, and prohibition on reading the
' See Oeuvret de Blaise Pascal, ed. L. Brunschvicg, Grands Ecrivaini (Paris, 1925),
XTV (Pensies ID), 39, note 2. The quotation it from Pugio Fidei, pt. D, ch. VIII (not
ch. VII, the reference given by Brunschvicg.) This work has, as I will show, more than
this 'one fleeting reference to Mohammedanism* (L. M. Heller, 'Anti-Islamic Polemic in
Pascal's Pensies with Particular Reference to Grotius' De Veritate Religionis Christianae",
Neo-Philologus, 55 (1971), 246-60, 253).
7
See N. Daniel, Islam and the West, The Making of an Image (Edinburgh, 1960),
149.
1
See E. Said, Orientalism (London, 1978), 68-9.
' See N. Daniel, Islam and the West, 296.
PASCAL AND ISLAM 183

Scriptures.10 These are contrasted with Christianity in an antithetical


movement which is both derived from the traditional treatment of Islam
and highly characteristic of the Pensies as a whole:
Difference between Jesus Christ and Mahomet. Mahomet not foretold, Jesus
foretold.
Mahomet slew, Jesus caused his followers to be slain.
Mahomet forbade reading, the Apostles commanded it.
Pascal, however, takes this contrast to the point of paradox. The
fragment continues:
In a word, the difference is so great that, if Mahomet followed the path of
success, humanly speaking, Jesus followed that of death, humanly speaking,
and, instead of concluding that where Mahomet succeeded Jesus could have
done so too, we must say that, since Mahomet succeeded, Jesus had to die.
(L.209)
In the religious atmosphere of Port-Royal and in close contact with
its leaders Arnauld and Nicole, it was inevitable that Pascal would
select traditional points of attack, and that he would be drawn to this
polemical version of Islam rather than to the more objective view
gradually emerging in academic circles. The difference between the two
approaches appears very clearly in a debate between Arnauld and the
biblical critic, Richard Simon, after Pascal's death. Simon's approach,
in the chapter 'De la creance et des coutumes des Mahometans' of his
Histoire critique de la criance et des coutumes des nations du Levant,
1684, and in the 'Reponse de Monsieur Simon aux difficultes que
Monsieur Arnauld lui a proposers sur le Mahometisme', published as
part of the Lettres cboisies, is, as he says himself, that of a historical
writer rather than the author of a 'livre de controverses'.11 He therefore
finds it unnecessary to indulge in 'grosses injures' against the 'faux
Prophete'; he will leave that to 'Messieurs de Port-Royal'." Arnauld,
on the other hand, is concerned about the effect such a moderate
approach will have on two groups of people: young men travelling
to the Levant, who will think that Islam is not as bad as it is made
out to be, and libertins, who think that all religions lead equally to
10
See L, M. Heller, 'Anti-Islamic Polemic in Pascal's Pensies...' The falsity of these
attacks on Islam should not need demonstrating, but see N. Daniel, Islam and the 'West,
and, for Pascal's assertion that Muslims are forbidden to read the Scriptures, M. Hossain,
'A False Antithesis in Pascal's Pensies}', French Studies Bulletin, 8 (1983), 1-3.
11
Histoire critique de la criance et des coutumes des nations du Levant, par le sieur
de Moni [Richard Simon] (Frankfurt, 1684), ch. XV. R. Simon, Lettres cboisies (Amster-
dam, 1730), ID. 244-59. See also J. Steinmann, Richard Simon et let origmes de I'exigese
biblique (Paris, I960).
" Lettres choisies, 245.
184 MARY HOSSAIN

salvation.1* This relativity, which, as C. D. Rouillard has shown, was


creeping in also through travellers' accounts of the pious practices of
the Muslims,14 and its effect upon the libertins were also of concern to
Pascal. Indeed the liasse (bundle of fragments given a preliminary
classification by Pascal) entitled 'Falseness of other Religions' constantly
stresses what he perceives as the unique qualities of Christianity:
The sign of the true religion must be that it obliges men to love God. That is
quite right, yet while none enjoined it, ours has done so.
It must also have understood about concupiscence and weakness; ours has
done so.
It must have provided the remedies; one is prayer. No other religion has
asked God to make us love and follow him. (L. 214)
(After hearing the whole nature of man.) For a religion to be true it must have
known our nature; it must have known its greatness and smaliness, and the
reason for both. What other religion but Christianity has known this? (L. 215)
These fragments are in the same liasse as those which explicitly refer
to Islam, and they seem to be aimed particularly at Islam within the
general category of other religions. Arnauld's concern about the effect
on the libertin of a neutral presentation of Islam points to a more
central role in the Pensies for Pascal's anti-Muslim polemic, which
critics have often seen as embarrassing and tendentious, or have tended
to ignore." Pascal was, of course, no missionary trying to convert
Muslims, nor did he imagine that his readers were likely to leave
Christianity for Islam, but it was essential to his argument that this
dangerous relativism be demolished, just as philosophies leading to a
vague deism should be counteracted, in order to leave no room for
anything other than Christianity.
Not only is Arnauld's general attitude reflected by Pascal, but the
specific points stressed by Arnauld in his criticism of Simon are also
the ones taken up in the Pense'es: paradise, miracles, and morality.
Arnauld complains that Simon has not emphasized the infamous nature
of the Muslim paradise (Tinfamie de son paradis') but has instead
excused it on the grounds that the descriptions are parables.1* He
reminds Simon that one of the main arguments against Islam is its lack
" Ibid. 249 and 254.
14
C. D. Rouilkrd, The Turk in French History, Thought and Literature 1520-1660
(Paris, 1940), 337 f.
" P. Topliss, for example, in The Rhetoric of Pascal (Leicester, 1966), 216, calU his
treatment 'as superficial as it is tendentious'. Concise studies like those of A. J. Krail-
sheimer, Pascal (Oxford, 1980), and J. Cruickshank, Pascal, Pensies (London, 1983),
ignore it.
" Lettres choisies, 245.
PASCAL AND ISLAM 185
17
of miracles and complains that Simon has not made this point. He
compares Simon unfavourably with Grotius, who had, in his view,
correctly treated the subject by contrasting Jesus restoring sight to the
blind with the Prophet saying he would make people believe in him,
not through miracles but through force of arms.1' He then says that
Simon has failed to castigate Islamic morality—fornication and revenge
both, according to Arnauld, being approved of in Islam.1' Simon replies
to these specific points that, no matter what Grotius says, it is a fact
that Muslims attribute miracles to their Prophet and that Muslims have
a good moral code, especially in the worship of one God, charity to
one's neighbour, and patience, the latter being a virtue he wishes
Arnauld had." Generally Simon insists that Muslim writers should be
the source of information on Islam, whereas Arnauld takes his informa-
tion from Grotius and Hoornbeeck. Among 'orientalists' Simon prefers
Pocock, who had similarly refuted Western myths by turning to Muslim
sources, and strongly criticizes Grotius, who merely repeated old,
unverified stories.
Pascal shares with Arnauld a polemical attitude based on contrast
and a reliance on some of the same themes. The fact that Arnauld
quotes Grotius with approval lends support to the view that Pascal
drew specifically on Grotius for information about Islam, even though
these themes appear in many works sharing the same polemical tradi-
tion.21 It is clear that Pascal was in this same tradition, and would have
had no interest in the new information being brought by 'orientalists'
such as d'Herbelot and Simon.
It is, however, significant that Pascal is not as virulent as Arnauld:
for him the Muslim paradise is ridiculous rather than infamous; and
Pascal admits that the Bible also has 'obscurities as odd as those of
Mahomet' (L. 218). This comparison was dropped by the Port-Royal
committee, which published the first edition of the PensSes after Pascal's
death, and is just one of many indications that Port-Royal did not fully
understand Pascal's purpose and that Arnauld was not happy with
Pascal's tendency to move away from the conventional position." Unlike
Grotius, and after him Arnauld, Pascal does not seem to be particularly
interested in gratuitously vilifying the Prophet or Islam, but in integrat-
17
For the importance given to miracles by Pascal see P. Topliss, The Rhetoric of
Pascal, 225-8.
11
Lettres choisies, 247-50. " Ibid. 255-6. » Ibid. 248 and 256-9.
11
See L. M. Heller, 'Anti-Islamic Polemic in Pascal's Pensies...' J. Mesnard, Posad
(Paris, 1962), 160, notes that both Grotius and Marti were well known at Port-Royal:
the Pugio Fidei was published by Joseph de Voisin, a friend of Arnauld, and Grotius
was later translated by the abbe Goujet, biographer of Nicole.
"• See L. M. Heller, 'Anti-Islamic Polemic in Pascal's Pensies...', note 14, and
P. Topliss, The Rhetoric of Pascal, 154 and 255-6.
186 MARY HOSSAIN

ing his attack on them into an intellectual structure, which will highlight
the uniqueness of Christianity. In this example his argument is that the
Bible has both admirable clarity and obscurity, the obscurity to be
explained symbolically, whereas, since the clear meanings of the Qur'an
are ridiculous (paradise), there is no need to take its obscurities as
mysteries. While not drawn to those who looked for the spiritual
meaning of Qur'anic descriptions of paradise, Pascal was also not
content with the simple vituperation of conventional polemic. Similarly
the antithetical presentation, which is evident in, for example, Grotius,
is integrated into Pascal's overall presentation of Christianity as the
only religion which explains and solves man's dual nature.
In this context it is useful to come back to al-Ghazall and to see how
arguments such as the duality of man, which Pascal sees as unique to
Christianity, are, in fact, also used by the Muslim writer."

Knowledge of weakness and greatness


Pascal emphasizes the need to know oneself, in order to know one's
duality—both weakness and greatness—so that one may conclude that
only Christianity, with its doctrine of the Fall and Redemption, can
explain and resolve this duality. Al-Ghazall makes the same points, but
they lead him to conclude that people should rise from the rank of
beasts to that of angels by what he calls the 'alchemy of happiness',
following the teaching of the Prophets and 'purifying their hearts from
baser qualities in the crucible of abstinence'. The similarity in the
arguments can be seen from the following passages.
True knowledge is knowledge of the self and God:
Knowledge of self is the key to the knowledge of God, according to the saying:
'He who knows himself knows God.' ... But real self-knowledge consists in
knowing the following things: What art thou in thyself, and from whence hast
thou come? Whither art thou going, and for what purpose hast thou come to
tarry here awhile, and in what does thy real happiness and misery consist?1*
Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies all his dignity and his merit;
and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to
begin with ourselves, and with our author and our end."
Knowledge of the self must not lead to pride or self-abasement;
knowledge of both the greatness and the wretchedness of man is
required:
u
An objection to the link between the dual nature of man and Christianity was
made by Voltaire, who pointed out that many other myths and religions could account
for the same duality {Lettres philosophiques, ed. F. A. Taylor (Oxford, 1946), 94).
" Al-GhaziU, The Alchemy of Happiness, trans. Claud Field (Lahore, 1964), 19-20.
All subsequent quotations from this work are also taken from this translation.
" L.620.
PASCAL AND ISLAM 187

It is necessary for him, at the same time that he is conscious of his superiority
as the climax of created things, to learn to know also his helplessness, as that
too is one of the keys to the knowledge of God."
It is dangerous to explain too clearly to man how like he is to the animals
without pointing out his greatness. It is also dangerous to make too much of
his greatness without his vileness. It is still more dangerous to leave him in
ignorance of both, but it is most valuable to represent both to him.27

Attack on reason
Although knowledge of both aspects is necessary, both writers, in order
to counteract the main danger of the age, which came from an excessive
self-confidence and reliance on reason, stress man's weakness more than
his greatness, often using similar examples:
As to his intellect, a slight disarrangement of matter in his brain is sufficient
to destroy or madden him; as to his power, the sting of a wasp is sufficient to
rob him of ease and sleep ... In truth, man in this world is extremely weak
and contemptible."
Pascal has a whole section entitled 'vanitc' in which he lists the
numerous things which destroy the power of reason, including the
following passage:
Everyone knows that the sight of cats, or rats, the crunching of a coal, etc., is
enough to unhinge reason ... We have another principle of error in illnesses,
which impair our judgement and sense."
Reason is unsatisfactory when applied to matters of religion; it 'can
be bent in any direction', 10 and is open to distortion when applied in
an inappropriate field.31 Al-Ghazatf points out that arguments in math-
ematics are demonstrative, as are the arguments of logic, and cannot
be satisfactorily applied to religion:
To be sure, the philosophers themselves are guilty of a kind of injustice in the
case of this science of logic. This is that in logic they bring together, for
apodeictic demonstration, conditions known to lead undoubtedly to sure and
certain knowledge. But when, in metaphysics, they finally come to discuss
questions touching on religion, they cannot satisfy those conditions, but rather
are extremely slipshod in applying them.11
Formal worship, for example, cannot be explained intellectually:
In a similar fashion it became necessarily evident to me that the reason for the
effectiveness of the remedies of the acts of worship, with their prescriptions
u
The Alchemy of Happiness, 32. " L. 121.
" The Alchemy of Happiness, 32. " L. 44. » L. 820.
" Lettres provincides, in Pascal, Oeuvres completes, ed. L. Lafuma (Parii, 1963),
Lcttre 18, 466-7.
" R. J. McCarthy (trani.), Munqidh, 75.
188 MARY HOSSAIN

and determined quantities ordained by the prophets, cannot be perceived by


means of the intellectual resources of men endowed with intellect. On the
contrary, they must be the object of blind obedience to the prophets who
perceived these properties by the light of prophecy, not by intellectual
resources."
Similarly Pascal prefers to say 'You must believe that because Scrip-
ture, which says it, is divine' rather than 'it must be believed for such
and such a reason.'*4

The heart
Both Pascal and al-Ghazall develop a three-fold division of the senses,
the reason, and the heart. Pascal, in several famous fragments, says that
true belief comes to the heart: 'It is the heart which perceives God and
not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not
by the reason.'" Al-Ghazall, in a passage which is a remarkable preced-
ent for Pascal's concept of the three orders, each quite separate and
having its own sphere of action, also places faith beyond both reason
and the senses.3'
Given that true faith comes to the heart, both writers appeal predom-
inantly to the heart of the unbeliever, but without neglecting reason
altogether. Al-Ghazall came to a realization of various truths: 'at one
time by fruitional experience, at another time by knowledge based on
apodeictic proof, and again by acceptance founded on faith'.37 Pascal,
in his notes on the organization of the TensSes, thought it important
psychologically to show that religion was both attractive and not con-
trary to reason.3*

Know your opponent


Pascal realized that persuasion through the heart has to take into
account the various attitudes of possible readers in a way that a mathem-
atical proof does not. Al-Ghazali also saw the need to make a study of
the kind of opinions held by those he wishes to convince: 'I knew, of
course, that undertaking to refute their doctrine before comprehending
it and knowing it in depth would be a shot in the dark.'39 'For a period
of time I next addressed myself successively to individuals, questioning
those who were remiss in fulfilling the Law. I would ask a man about
his specious reason for that and inquire into his belief and his inner
convictions.'40
An opponent Pascal knew well was the 'honn&te hommc', the edu-
u
" Ibid. 901. " L. 820. L. 424. " Munqidb, 96-7.
" Ibid. 101. » L. 12. " Munqidb, 70. « Ibid. 103.
PASCAL AND ISLAM 189

cated man of the world who wanted to lead a cultured, civilized, and
moral life, but saw no need to call upon religion other than in the most
conventional way. The end of the wager fragment is clearly aimed at
attracting this sort of person: 'Now what harm will come to you from
choosing this course? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, full
of good works, a sincere, true friend.'41 Al-Ghazall, as part of a similar
plea, appeals to the same desire to be successful in this life.41
One way of attracting an opponent was to agree with him up to a
point. As al-Ghazall writes: 'My aim was to give the fullest account
possible of their specious argumentation and then to prove its error to
the hilt.'43 Pascal repeats the arguments of the sceptics, agreeing with
them until he reaches the point where, having carried them along with
him so far, he can turn round and show them that their scepticism is
one half of the argument only and ultimately wrong. Conversely, he
follows the arguments of the dogmatists until he can show them that
they too have seen only one side of the question. Having accepted the
argument of both sides up to a certain point, he can then show that
truth is indeed accessible, as the dogmatists say, but not by human
reason alone, and that doubt exists, as the sceptics say, but can be
overcome by the knowledge which comes to the heart.44
Al-Ghazall adopts a similar approach to scepticism when he describes
his own descent into doubt and his return to belief in 'the necessary
truths of the intellect*. He regained certainty, not through rational
demonstration but through 'a light which God most high cast into my
breast'.45 The fact that al-Ghazall relates a personal experience, whereas
Pascal outlines the main arguments of sceptics and dogmatists, is per-
haps only a superficial difference. The relation of a personal experience
can also be a rhetorical device and indeed is used quite frequently by
Pascal elsewhere in the Penstes.**
Although true belief comes to the heart, the third category—the
senses—is also important. Both Pascal and al-Ghazall point out the
need for practical observance of religious rituals in order to reinforce
the weak belief which can come from reason:
Then back that up by sampling what he said about the acts of worship and
their effect on the purification of hearts. Consider, for example, how right he
was—God's blessing and peace be upon him!—in his saying: 'Whoever acts
according to what he knows, God will make him heir to what he does not
know.'47
41
L 418.
** See M. Asin Palados, 'Los precedentes musulmanes del "Pan" de Pascal', 196,
quoting from Kitab al-Arbam (Cairo, AH 1328), 213.
•» Mtmqidh, 83. ** L. 131, 110. " Munqidb, 64-7.
** e.g. L. 201: 'The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread.'
47
Mwujidb, 99-100.
190 MARY HOSSAIN

Pascal, at the end of the wager fragment, seeing that the unbeliever
is intellectually convinced but still does not truly believe, advises him
to take holy water and have masses said. In this he is asked to follow
'those who were once bound like you and who now wager all they
have'.*1 Al-GhazalT also sees the need for an example to imitate: 'If a
man finds himself sluggish and averse from austerity and self-discipline
he should consort with one who is proficient in such practices so as to
catch the contagion of his enthusiasm.'4'
This psychological approach to the question of conversion would
however be useless without the style of the writers concerned. Here too
we find a similarity between al-Ghazah" and Pascal, which is evident
even in translation. Both are excellent writers, varying their tone from
one of passionate indignation at the thoughtlessness of the world to
amusing examples of folly. Compare, for example, the two extracts:
Shame upon thee, 0 soul, for thy overweening love of the world! If thou dost
not believe in heaven or hell, at any rate thou believest in death, which will
snatch from thee all wordly delights and cause thee to feel the pangs of
separation from them, which will be intenser just in proportion as thou hast
attached thyself to them. Why art thou made after the world? If the whole of
it, from East to West, were thine and worshipped thee, yet it would all, in a
brief space, turn to dust along with thyself, and oblivion would blot out thy
name, as those of ancient kings before thee. But now, seeing thou hast only a
very small fragment of the world, and that a defiled one, wilt thou be so mad
as to barter eternal joy for it, a precious jewel for a broken cup of earthenware,
and make thyself the laughing-stock of all round them?10

Nothing is so important to man as his state: nothing more fearful than eternity.
Thus the fact that there exist men who are indifferent to the loss of their being
and the peril of an eternity of wretchedness is against nature. With everything
else they are quite different; they fear the most trifling things, forsee and feel
them; and the same man who spends so many days and nights in fury and
despair at losing some office or at some imaginary affront to his honour is the
very one who knows that he is going to lose everything through death but feels
neither anxiety nor emotion."
The similarity is even evident in much shorter passages. For example,
al-Ghazab": 'Whoever will seriously contemplate the past eternity during
which the world was not in existence, and the future eternity during
which it will not be in existence ...'" Pascal: 'When I consider the brief
span of my life absorbed into the eternity which comes before and
after ...'" Generally there is the same note of exasperation, and the
same contrast between the way people behave with regard to this life
and to the next. Both use the language of ordinary people and homely
•* L. 418. *' The Alchemy of Happiness, 98. » Ibid. 99-100.
" L. 427. " The Alchemy of Happiness, 52. " L. 68.
PASCAL AND ISLAM IJI

examples taken from everyday life rather than the specialized reasoning
and terminology of the theologians.
In various fragments and opuscules Pascal outlined two different
ways of reaching the truth and then convincing others. The scientific
method—I'esprit gSomitrique—appeals to the reason (entendement)
and works in a straight line, defining its terms and proving its proposi-
tions. The other method (I'esprit de finesse) persuades through the will
(volontS) or the heart (coeur). Since it is important to keep the changing
attitudes of each prospective reader in view, yet impossible to do this
while maintaining the linear reasoning of the 'geometric method', Pas-
cal, deriving his inspiration from religious texts, described a method
which is like a wheel, where each point on the circumference will relate
back like a spoke to the central point that has to be proved.54
This 'convergent proof can be seen in Pascal's projected arrangement
of the fragments of his apology. Various elements of an argument for
the truth of Christianity are brought forward: the grandeur and
wretchedness of the human condition; the vanity of man, the inadequacy
of his reason, his inability to reach by his own efforts either truth or
happiness, his intimation that such absolute truth and happiness do
exist, the greatness of his thinking mind in comparison with the material
world; then proofs from the Bible: miracles, prophecies, figurative
explanations. Instead of each of these aspects leading directly to the
next and ultimately to Christian dogma, each one is related back to the
central point, which, for Pascal, is Jesus: 'Jesus Christ is the object of
all things, the centre to which all things tend. Whoever knows him
knows the reason for everything.'" This 'convergent proof had its
origins in Pascal's response to criticisms of the Bible:
Order. Against the objection that there is no order in Scripture.
The heart has its order, the mind has its own, which uses principles and
demonstrations. The heart has a different one. We do not prove that we ought
to be loved by setting out in order the causes of love; that would be absurd.
Jesus Christ and St Paul possess the order of charity, not of the mind, for
they wished to humble, not to teach.
The same with St Augustine. This order consists mainly in digressions upon
each point which relates to the end, so that this shall be kept always in sight."
Al-Ghazau" seems to have had similar thoughts. His reflections on the
difficulty of relying exclusively on miracles as a proof of prophetic office
point in the same direction:
Furthermore, if your faith were based on a carefully ordered argument about
the way the apologetic miracle affords proof of prophecy, your faith would be
M
De I'Esprit giometrujue et de I'Art de persuader in Pascal, Oeuvret completes, ed.
rit. 348-59 (especially 355-6), and L, 512 and 298.
" L. 449. " L. 298.
192 MARY HOSSAIN

broken by an equally well-ordered argument showing how difficulty and doubt


may affect that mode of proof. Therefore, let such preternatural events be one
of the proofs and concomitants that make up your total reflection on the
matter.*7
Reaching further back than al-Ghazab", it is possible to sec in the
order of the Qur'an itself an example of the 'order of the heart'. Indeed,
bearing in mind that some writers, unlike Pascal, have seen disorder in
the Qur'an and contrasted it with the orderliness of the Bible,51 it is
paradoxically possible to see in the Qur'an an even better example of
this different kind of order described by Pascal. The apparent lack of
order in the Qur'an has often been remarked by non-Muslims. Hasan
Gai Eaton sums up as follows: 'There is nothing here that accords with
the occidental's sense of order; on the contrary, he finds only a world
of words to which he has no key.'5' The same point is made by Seyyed
Hossein Nasr: 'Many people, especially Non-Muslims, who read the
Quran for the first time are struck by what appears as a kind of
incoherence from the human point of view. It is neither like a highly
mystical text nor a manual of Aristotelian logic, though it contains both
mysticism and logic. It is not just poetry although it contains the most
powerful poetry.'*0
In an image which has a similar effect to that of Pascal, Muslim sages
have described the Qur'an as 'a net with which God catches fish, that
is, human souls. He plays the game of the fish, who like to swim about
from one place to another and who cannot be still, but He places a net
before them into which they run and in which they are caught through
this very process of moving from one place to another'.*1 Here the
centre to which all arguments return is Allah; whatever is mentioned
in the Qur'an takes the reader back to his need for submission to Allah,
to Islam.
This multiple yet unified structure, leading not just to intellectual
conviction but to deep emotion and true faith, is confirmed by the
Qur'an itself in Sura al-Zumar:
God bestows from on high the best of all teachings in the shape of a divine
writ fully consistent within itself, repeating each statement [of the truth] in
manifold forms—[a divine writ] whereat shiver the skins of all who of their
Sustainer stand in awe; [but] in the end their skins and their hearts do soften
at the remembrance of [the grace of] God. Such is God's guidance: He guides
therewith him that wills [to be guided]—whereas he whom God lets go astray
can never find any guide."
" Munqidh, 100. " See N. Daniel, Islam and the West, 60.
" Gai Eaton, Islam and the Destiny of Man (London, 1985), 73.
*° Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ideals and Realities of Islam (London, 1966), 47.
" Ibid. 54.
" 39: 23. The Message of the Qur'an, translated and explained by Muhammad Asad
(Gibraltar, 1980).
PASCAL AND ISLAM 193

In spite of the differences between Christianity and Islam, and in


spite of a long history of misunderstanding and distortion—amply
illustrated in Pascal's anti-Muslim fragments—the same ideas and the
same apologetic method appear in the defenders of both religions.
Looking beyond the question of direct influence, which has yet to be
proved, and despite the difficulties of comparing two writers separated
by language, time, and geographical location, the similarities between
Pascal and al-Ghazafi"—of which only a few have been mentioned
here—are quite striking. Both share the same desire to bring the
waverer, the indifferent, and the unbeliever back to a faith in revealed
religion, perhaps because both lived at a time when faith was in danger
from secular philosophies. Both knew through personal experience that
abstract appeals to reason were not enough to restore faith; they relied
more, therefore, on an appeal to the heart, employing many of the same
persuasive techniques.
By placing the Venskes in the context of Port-Royal one can see how
easily Pascal could be drawn to the polemical presentation of Islam as
exemplified by Grotius and Arnauld. Yet he is also known to have read
Marti, who did indeed occasionally follow the traditional line, as in the
passage already quoted, but who, more frequently, using his direct
knowledge of Islam, employed a much more subtle approach. In the
same chapter on miracles, for example, which contains the standard
contrast between Christ coming with miracles and the Prophet coming
with force of arms, Marti quotes Qur'anic references to the miracles of
Jesus as evidence of their truth;*3 in a later chapter he quotes verses
from the Qur'an, and ahadith from Bukhari and Muslim, in praise of
Jesus and Mary. Indeed he sees this praise of Mary as a fulfilment of
Mary's prophecy that she would be praised by future generations.*4 In
other words, Marti assumes the truthfulness of the Qur*an and uses his
knowledge positively to make a point in favour of Christianity. Pascal
takes only one tentative step in this direction when he writes: 'The
Koran says that St Matthew was a good man, so he was a false prophet
either in calling good men evil or in disagreeing with what they said
about Christ.'"
L. M. Heller suggests that Pascal, if he had been given the ten years
he said he needed to finish the work, 'might well have deepened his
" Pugio Fidei, pt. II, ch. VTO, 11. ** Ibid., pt. HI, ch. VTI, 14.
" L. 207. The appeal to the Qur'in as witness to the truthfulness of the apostles is
seen by N. Daniel {Islam and the West, 49) as an argument instigated by Marti. However,
as far as I can gee, it occurs not in the Pugio Fidei, but only in his Explanatio simboli
apostolorum (ed. S. J. March, 'En Ram6n Marti y la seva "Explanatio simboli apostolo-
rum'", in Anuari 1908, Barcelona, Institut d'esrudis Catalans, 454), a work which Pascal
would not have read.
194 MARY HOSSAIN

understanding of Islam, and basing his refutation on more accurate


information, come up with a more sympathetic, more original, but no
less firm case against the Prophet and his Book'.** By having Marti as
a reference book, however, he already had the outline of a more subtle
attack on Islam, but seems to have preferred the more aggressive and
combative arguments of Grotius, even though he did not indulge in the
latter's gratuitous offensiveness. He therefore belongs to that line of
Christian apologists who, wittingly or unwittingly, used in defence of
religion arguments employed by Muslim philosophers and theologians
while simultaneously picking up lines of attack on Islam which are
patently false. In spite of his closeness to the spirit of al-Ghazall, it
seems that, in his treatment of Islam as well as of other topics in the
Pensies, Pascal's love of antithesis led him to accept and elaborate a
distorted contrast which undermines the argument of the PensSes as a
whole.*7
" L. M. Heller, 'Anti-Islamic Polemic in Pascal1! Pensies ...', 258.
" For comments on Pascal's use of antithesis see P. Topliss, The Rhetoric of Pascal,
287.