As far as words for scholars go, we have both "alim" (scholar) and "allame" (scholar of nearly everything). Alim means a scholar competent in a certain field of knowledge. Allame means a treasure that hides lots of knowledge and wisdom. It is impossible to count scholars one by one throughout the history of Islam. Today, we also have many scholars. However, when we mention "allame," it does not have much meaning. "Allame" has been used in a way that implies overstatement or irony since the 17th century.
Scholar as the son of a scholar
When we speak about the Islamic tradition of knowledge, it is not about genealogy but about the relationship between the scholar and the student. "Ulema" (scholars in total), which are great and small rings in the chain of knowledge are generally poor men from the country. They become scholars thanks to their characters, interests and capabilities.
As an allame, who has been influencing Islamic thought since the 12th century, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi was also a country man and his family became poor after being rich. Despite this, he was lucky because his father was already a famous and esteemed alim. Al-Razi is sometimes referred to as "Ibn-ul Hatib" (the son of the preacher) as his father Ziya al-din Omar was a well-known preacher in the capital city of the Seljuk Empire. Ziya al-din Omar was both a good preacher and a skillful author. He wrote a book on Ash'ari theology and he was also a dervish.
Born in 1149, in Ray (the capital city of the Seljuk Empire), in a house filled with knowledge and wisdom, Fakhr al-Din first received his education from his father, naturally. Unfortunately, when he lost his father at the age of 16, he left the capital city and began his journey of knowledge.
A shining career in all sciences
Fakhr al-Din deserved the title "allame" from the very beginning, as he learned both traditional sciences like the Quran, hadith and fiqh and ones like kalaam and philosophy from significant scholars while still young. The influence of his later works may be related to his thirst for knowing and discontent with being a follower of a certain school. Al-Razi reconciled philosophy and kalaam, sufism and his knowledge of Quran and hadith in his works and thus changed some opinions in time. To reduce al-Razi is quite hard due to his progressive approach. For this very reason, we can make use of him in many ways. Probably, the best thing to do is to read al-Razi line by line, sentence by sentence. His works, which were taught in Ottoman madrasahs for a long, time have not been translated into today's Turkish yet, and this is a tragedy for us.
Even though al-Razi was a strong Ash'ari and Shafi'i, he took lessons from Ishraki, sufi, philosopher and Shii scholars, which is striking. Schools of Hanafism and Mathurudiyya with which al-Razi fought most have utilized al-Razi for centuries, which is an irony of fate. Al-razi struggled seriously with Hanafis in Central Asia. After all this, the Ottomans, the sword of Hanafism, treated al-Razi with great respect in their madrasahs and that's why our interest and respect for this master continues today in Turkey.
Two rival siblings
There are lots of interesting anecdotes about al-Razi's private life, but his rivalry with his brother Rukneddine is dramatic. Ziya al-Din Omar raised his two sons as scholars. However, when he died and his sons grew up, an unpleasant quarrel between the two brothers began. Rukneddine constantly attacked his sibling Fakhr al-Din, who was brighter and more famous than him, and eventually was imprisoned. We are still surprised that such a great alim like Fakhr al-Din reported his older brother, who constantly criticized him, to the Khawarazmshah sultan and had him imprisoned.
We have no doubt that Fakhr al-Din had an aggressive side. And there are historical records about lots of unpleasant cases between him and the Qarrami school, which was condemned a lot both in his works and sermons. An obvious intellectual conflict transformed into a clash of characters, to which we are accustomed.
Reconciliation and struggle
Previously, we argued that al-Razi reconciled different fields of knowledge like philosophy, sufism, fiqh and kalaam in his works. On the other hand, as we mentioned before, this scholar has a challenging character. Qarramis, which were strictly bound up with hadiths and tried to influence people with their over-interpretation of hadiths, were not the only group Fakhr al-Din Razi fought with. He also strongly criticized those sects which were related to or incompatible with each other like Mu'tezile, Hanbaliyya, Hanafiyyah and Maturidiyyah. He somehow communicated with people who belonged to one of these sects and some parts of these communications became maxims. This may be the reason why he wanted to be buried in a village. He was anxious about people who blamed him for rejecting the religion. He thought they could harm his tomb.
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi had severe discussions with the ulema of Hanafiyya, which was dominant in the region of Ma'wara'un Nahr, on basic issues like creation, faith, attributives of God, characteristics of being, sources of knowledge and ways of knowing. Razi was defeating his rivals by seizing on the inconsistency between their opinions thanks to his challenging personality, intelligence and knowledge. What we understand of his works, where he included these discussions, is that he regarded discussing things as inevitable. Having spoken mostly as an Ash'ari-Shaa'fi scholar, he even criticized Ghazali, one of the greatest scholars of this school.
Kalaam and tafsir core of corpus
The above sentence by Razi is the most succinct expression about his effort for reconciling the traditional and positive sciences. His works on kalaam stand in the center of this reconciliation effort. Razi is still seen as a kalaam scholar basically. He has works on fiqh, however his work on kalaam and tafsir is the core of his corpus.
Seen from today's perspective, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi is a second Ghazali. He criticized all standard opinions and schools on their consistency, which he regarded as truth just like Ghazali. Just as Ghazali made use of philosophy to criticize philosophers, Razi also had an interest in philosophy and improved himself accordingly. Even though he was against philosophers, he was peaceful enough to be inspired by Ibn Sina's opinions.
Just like other rationalists, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, too, referred to the Quran as the only source of truth toward the end of his life. To us, this must be understood as the evidence of Razi's good intention while arguing his progressive opinions. Even though his opinions changed, he was always sincere in intention.