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Islamic philosophy

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Islamic philosophy is a branch of , and is a longstanding attempt to create harmony between () and the religious teachings of ().


The attempt to fuse religion and philosophy is difficult because there are no clear preconditions. Philosophers typically hold that one must accept the possibility of truth from any source and follow the argument wherever it leads. On the other hand, classical religious believers have a set of religious principles that they hold to be unchallengeable fact. Given these divergent goals and views, some hold that one cannot simultaneously be a philosopher and a true adherent of , which is believed to be a by its adherents. In this view, all attempts at synthesis ultimately fail.

However, others believe that a synthesis between Islam and philosophy is possible. One way to find a synthesis is to use philosophical arguments to prove that one's preset religious principles are true. This is a common technique found in the writings of many religious traditions, including , and , but this is not generally accepted as true philosophy by philosophers . Another way to find a synthesis is to abstain from holding as true any religious principles of one's faith at all, unless one independently comes to those conclusions from a philosophical analysis. However, this is not generally accepted as being faithful to one's religion by adherents of that religion. A third, rarer and more difficult path is to apply analytical philosophy to one's own religion. In this case a religious person would also be a philosopher, by asking questions such as:

  • What must one actually believe to be considered a true adherent of our religion?
  • How can one reconcile the findings of science with religion?
  • How can one reconcile the findings of math with religion?

Introduction Edit

Islamic philosophy may be defined in a number of different ways, but the perspective taken here is that it represents the style of philosophy produced within the framework of Islamic culture. This description does not suggest that it is necessarily concerned with religious issues, nor even that it is exclusively produced by s. [Oliver Leaman, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Formative influences Edit

Islamic philosophy as the name implies refers to philosophical activity within the Islamic milieu. The main sources of classical or early Islamic philosophy are the religion of Islam itself (especially ideas derived and interpreted from the ), which the early Muslims inherited as a result of conquests when Alexandria, Syria and came under Muslim rule, along with pre-Islamic . Many of the early philosophical debates centered around reconciling religion and reason, the latter exemplified by Greek philosophy. One aspect which stands out in Islamic philosophy is that, the philosophy in Islam travels wide but comes back to conform it with the Quran and Sunna.

Early Islamic philosophyEdit

In early Islamic thought, which refers to philosophy during the "", traditionally dated between the 8th and 12th centuries, two main currents may be distinguished. The first is , that mainly dealt with questions, and the other is , that was founded on interpretations of and . There were attempts by later philosopher-theologians at harmonizing both trends, notably by who founded the school of , who founded the school of , and others such as (Alhacen), , (Abubacer) and .


Independent minds exploiting the methods of sought to investigate the doctrines of the , which until then had been accepted in faith on the authority of divine revelation. One of first debates was that between partisan of the Qadar (, to have power), who affirmed , and the Jabarites (jabar, force, constraint), who maintained the belief in .

At the second century of the , a new movement arose in the theological school of , . A pupil, , who was expelled from the school because his answers were contrary to then orthodox Islamic tradition and became leader of a new school, and systematized the radical opinions of preceding sects, particularly those of the Qadarites. This new school was called ' (from i'tazala, to separate oneself, to dissent). Its principal dogmas were three:

  1. God is an absolute unity, and no attribute can be ascribed to Him.
  2. Man is a free agent. It is on account of these two principles that the Mu'tazilites designate themselves the "Partisans of Justice and Unity".
  3. All knowledge necessary for the of man emanates from his reason; humans could acquire knowledge before, as well as after, Revelation, by the sole light of reason. This fact makes knowledge obligatory upon all men, at all times, and in all places.

The Mutazilites, compelled to defend their principles against the orthodox Islam of their day, looked for support in , and are one of the first to pursue a called Ilm-al- (); those professing it were called Mutakallamin. This appellation became the common name for all seeking philosophical demonstration in confirmation of religious principles. The first Mutakallamin had to debate both the orthodox and the non-, and they may be described as occupying the middle ground between those two parties. But subsequent generations were to large extent critical towards the Mutazilite school, especially after formation of the concepts.


, From Iranian scientist and philosopher who founded the school of .]] From the ninth century onward, owing to and his successor, Greek philosophy was introduced among the and s, and the school began to find able representatives among them; such were , , (), and (Averroës), all of whose fundamental principles were considered as criticized by the Mutakallamin.

During the a number of thinkers and scientists, some of them Muslims or non-Muslims, played a role in transmitting Greek, , and other pre-Islamic knowledge to the . They contributed to making known in Christian . Three speculative thinkers, , and , combined and with other ideas introduced through Islam. They were considered by many as highly unorthodox and by some were even described as non-Islamic philosophers.

From Arabic philosophic literature was translated into and , contributing to the development of modern European philosophy. The philosopher (a born in ) was also important.

Some differences between Kalam and FalsafaEdit

Aristotle attempted to demonstrate the unity of God; but from the view which he maintained, that matter was eternal, it followed that God could not be the of the world. To assert that God's knowledge extends only to the general laws of the universe, and not to individual and accidental things, is tantamount to denying . One other point shocked the faith of the Mutakallamin — the theory of intellect. The taught that the human was only an aptitude — a faculty capable of attaining every variety of passive perfection — and that through information and virtue it became qualified for union with the active intellect, which latter emanates from God. To admit this theory would be to deny the of the soul.

Wherefore the Mutakallamin had, before anything else, to establish a system of philosophy to demonstrate the creation of matter, and they adopted to that end the theory of atoms as enunciated by Democritus. They taught that atoms possess neither quantity nor extension. Originally atoms were created by God, and are created now as occasion seems to require. Bodies come into existence or die, through the aggregation or the sunderance of these atoms. But this theory did not remove the objections of philosophy to a creation of matter.

For, indeed, if it be supposed that commenced His work at a certain definite time by His "will," and for a certain definite object, it must be admitted that He was imperfect before accomplishing His will, or before attaining His object. In order to obviate this difficulty, the Motekallamin extended their theory of the atoms to , and claimed that just as is constituted of atoms and vacuum, Time, likewise, is constituted of small indivisible moments. The creation of the world once established, it was an easy matter for them to demonstrate the existence of a Creator, and that God is unique, , and .

Main protagonists of falsafa and their criticsEdit

The twelfth century saw the apotheosis of pure philosophy and the decline of the Kalam, which latter, being attacked by both the philosophers and the orthodox, perished for lack of champions. This supreme exaltation of philosophy may be attributed, in great measure, to Al- (1005-1111) among the Persians, and to (1140) among the Jews. It can be argued that the attacks directed against the philosophers by in his work, "Tahafut al-Falasifa" (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), not only produced, by reaction, a current favorable to philosophy, but induced the philosophers themselves to profit by his criticism. They thereafter made their theories clearer and their logic closer. The influence of this reaction brought forth the two greatest philosophers that the Islamic Peripatetic school ever produced, namely, (Avempace) and (), both of whom undertook the defense of philosophy.

Since no idea and no literary or philosophical movement ever germinated on Persian or Arabian soil without leaving its impress on the Jews, the found an imitator in the person of Judah ha-Levi. This poet also took upon himself to free his religion from what he saw as the shackles of speculative philosophy, and to this end wrote the "Kuzari," in which he sought to discredit all schools of philosophy alike. He passes severe censure upon the Mutakallamin for seeking to support religion by philosophy. He says, "I consider him to have attained the highest degree of perfection who is convinced of religious truths without having scrutinized them and reasoned over them" ("Kuzari," v.). Then he reduced the chief propositions of the Mutakallamin, to prove the unity of God, to ten in number, describing them at length, and concluding in these terms: "Does the give us more information concerning God and His attributes than the prophet did?" (Ib. iii. and iv.) Aristotelianism finds no favor in 's eyes, for it is no less given to details and criticism; Neoplatonism alone suited him somewhat, owing to its appeal to his poetic temperament.

(or Ibn Roshd or Averroës), the contemporary of , closed the first great philosophical era of the Muslims. The boldness of this great commentator of Aristotle aroused the full fury of the orthodox, who, in their zeal, attacked all philosophers indiscriminately, and had all philosophical writings committed to the flames. The theories of Ibn Rushd do not differ fundamentally from those of  and , who only follow the teachings of  and . Like all Islamic Peripatetics, Ibn Rushd admits the hypothesis of the intelligence of the spheres and the hypothesis of universal emanation, through which motion is communicated from place to place to all parts of the universe as far as the supreme world—hypotheses which, in the mind of the Arabic philosophers, did away with the dualism involved in Aristotle's doctrine of pure energy and eternal matter. His ideas on the separation of philosophy and religion, further developed by the  school of philosophy, were later influential in the development of modern . Ibn Rushd is thus regarded as the founding father of  in .

(or Ibn Roshd or Averroës), the contemporary of , closed the first great philosophical era of the Muslims. The boldness of this great commentator of Aristotle aroused the full fury of the orthodox, who, in their zeal, attacked all philosophers indiscriminately, and had all philosophical writings committed to the flames. The theories of Ibn Rushd do not differ fundamentally from those of and , who only follow the teachings of and . Like all Islamic Peripatetics, Ibn Rushd admits the hypothesis of the intelligence of the spheres and the hypothesis of universal emanation, through which motion is communicated from place to place to all parts of the universe as far as the supreme world—hypotheses which, in the mind of the Arabic philosophers, did away with the dualism involved in Aristotle's doctrine of pure energy and eternal matter. His ideas on the separation of philosophy and religion, further developed by the school of philosophy, were later influential in the development of modern . Ibn Rushd is thus regarded as the founding father of in .

But while , , and other Persian and Muslim philosophers hurried, so to speak, over subjects that trenched on religious dogmas, Ibn Rushd delighted in dwelling upon them with full particularity and stress. Thus he says, "Not only is matter eternal, but form is potentially inherent in matter; otherwise, it were a creation ex nihilo" (Munk, "Mélanges," p. 444). According to this theory, therefore, the existence of this world is not only a possibility, as Ibn Sina declared—in order to make concessions to the orthodox— but also a necessity.

Driven from the Islamic schools, Islamic philosophy found a refuge with the Jews, to whom belongs the honor of having transmitted it to the Christian world. A series of eminent men—such as the s, , —joined in translating the Arabic philosophical works into Hebrew and commenting upon them. The works of Ibn Rushd especially became the subject of their study, due in great measure to Maimonides, who, in a letter addressed to his pupil , spoke in the highest terms of Ibn Rushd's commentary.

It should be mentioned that this depiction of intellectual tradition in Islamic Lands is mainly dependent upon what West could understand (or was willing to understand) from this long era. In contrast, there are some historians and philosophers who do not agree with this account and describe this era in a completely different way. Their main point of dispute is on the influence of different philosophers on Islamic Philosophy, especially the comparative importance of eastern intellectuals such as Ibn Sina and of western thinkers such as Ibn Rushd. (For more discussion, refer to the History of Islamic Philosophy by .)

Jewish philosophy in the Islamic worldEdit

The oldest Jewish religio-philosophical work preserved is that of (892-942), ', "The Book of Beliefs and Opinions". In this work Saadia treats the questions that interested the Mutakallamin, such as the creation of matter, the unity of God, the divine attributes, the soul, etc. Saadia criticizes other philosophers severely. For Saadia there was no problem as to creation: God created the world ', just as the attests; and he contests the theory of the Mutakallamin in reference to atoms, which theory, he declares, is just as contrary to reason and religion as the theory of the philosophers professing the eternity of matter.

To prove the unity of God, Saadia uses the demonstrations of the Mutakallamin. Only the attributes of essence (sifat al-dhatia) can be ascribed to God, but not the attributes of action (sifat-al-fi'aliya). The soul is a substance more delicate even than that of the celestial spheres. Here Saadia controverts the Mutakallamin, who considered the soul an "accident" 'arad (compare i. 74), and employs the following one of their premises to justify his position: "Only a substance can be the substratum of an accident" (that is, of a non-essential property of things). Saadia argues: "If the soul be an accident only, it can itself have no such accidents as wisdom, joy, love," etc. Saadia was thus in every way a supporter of the Kalam; and if at times he deviated from its doctrines, it was owing to his religious views; just as the Jewish and Muslim Peripatetics stopped short in their respective Aristotelianism whenever there was danger of wounding orthodox religion.

Later Islamic philiosophyEdit

The death of (Averroes) effectively marks the end of a particular discipline of Islamic philosophy usually called the ', and philosophical activity declined significantly in western Islamic countries, namely in and , though it persisted for much longer in the Eastern countries, in particular and . Contrary to the traditional view, Dimitri Gutas and the consider the period between the 11th and 14th centuries to be the true "" of Arabic and Islamic philosophy, initiated by 's successful integration of into the curriculum and the subsequent rise of .

Since the political power shift in Western Europe ( and ) from Muslim to Christian control, the Muslims naturally did not practice philosophy in Western Europe. This also led to some loss of contact between the 'west' and the 'east' of the Islamic world. Muslims in the 'east' continued to do philosophy, as is evident from the works of scholars and especially those living in Muslim kingdoms within the territories of present day Iran and India, such as and . This fact has escaped most pre-modern historians of Islamic (or Arabic) philosophy. In addition, logic has continued to be taught in religious seminaries up to modern times.

After Ibn Rushd, there arose many later schools of Islamic Philosophy. We can mention just a few, such as the those founded by and . These new schools are of particular importance, as they are still active in the Islamic world. The most important among them are:

  • (Hikmat al-Ishraq)
  • (Hikmat Muta'aliah)

Illuminationist schoolEdit

was a school of Islamic philosophy founded by  in the 12th century. This school is a combination of ’s philosophy and ancient , along with many new innovative ideas of Suhrawardi. It is often described as having been influenced by .

In , systematic refutations of were written by the , founded by (1155-1191), who developed the idea of "decisive ", an important innovation in the history of al philosophical speculation.

Transcendent schoolEdit

is the school of Islamic philosophy founded by  in the 17th century. His philosophy and  is considered to be just as important to Islamic philosophy as 's philosophy later was to  in the 20th century. Mulla Sadra bought "a new philosophical insight in dealing with the nature of " and created "a major transition from  to " in Islamic philosophy, several centuries before this occurred in Western philosophy.

The idea of "essence precedes existence" is a concept which dates back to and his school of as well as and his . The opposite idea of "" was thus developed in the works of


's successful integration of into the curriculum in the 11th century led to increased activity in logic, mainly focusing on . (Algazel) (1058–1111) had an important influence on the use of logic in theology, making use of Avicennian logic in . and the , especially for his historiographical writings in the ' (ized as Prolegomena) and Kitab al-Ibar (Book of Advice). His Muqaddimah also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of , , and in history, and he discussed the rise and fall of s.

wrote in the History of Muslim Historiography:

Social philosophyEdit

Despite the negative consequences of thought on Islamic philosophy, it did later give rise to the beginnings of . The most famous social philosopher was the polymath (1332-1406), who was the last major Islamic philosopher from . In his ', he developed the earliest theories on social philosophy, in formulating theories of and .

His Muqaddimah was also the introduction to a seven volume analysis of . He is considered the "father of ", "father of ", and "father of the ", for being the first to discuss the topics of sociology, historiography and the philosophy of history in detail.

Contemporary Islamic philosophy Edit

(1877-1938), a notable Muslim philosopher, poet and scholar from modern day  (then )]]

The tradition of Islamic Philosophy is still very much alive today despite the belief in many Western circles that this tradition ceased after the golden ages of ’s Hikmat al-Ishraq (Illumination Philosophy) or, at the latest, ’s Hikmat-e-Mota’aliye or Transcendent (Exalted) Philosophy. Another unavoidable name is who reshaped and revitalized Islamic philosophy amongst the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent in the early 20th century[1]. Beside his and poetical work, [2] is a milestone in the modern political philosophy of Islam.

In contemporary Islamic Lands, the teaching of hikmat or ' has continued and flourished.

Among the traditional masters of Islamic philosophy most active during the past two decades may be mentioned

  • the Iranian علامه طباطبائى or ', the author of numerous works including the twenty seven-volume Quranic commentary al-Mizan (الميزان),
  • , who is credited with creating modern political thought in the 20th century, and
  • (, - , ) author of "The Religion of God". Gohar Shahi was in favor of divine love and considers it most important for an approach to God and no discrimination of caste, creed, nation or religion is accepted for Divine Love of God as every human has been gifted with an ability to develop spiritual power to approach to the essence of God.
  • (, - , ) belonged to a family of scholars, s, s and s. He was a world-renowned of and from , who was known for contributions to the research of the history of , translations of the , the advancement of , and to the dissemination of Islamic teachings in the .
  • was professor of Islamic thought at the , and an expert in .
  • ', the best student of Allamah Tabatabai, a martyr of the Iran Islamic Revolution; and
  • .
  • .- Author of Jerusalem in the Quran
  • is a well-known i , , and . A former member of the , who extended the work of his tutor, .
  • In , is a prominent metaphysical thinker.;
  • In Southern/South East Europe the teachings of the skeptic Al-Ibn Theodorakis have found considerable favour.


Philosophy as such has not been without criticism amongst Muslims, both contemporary and past. , whom the amongst Sunni Muslims takes its name from, stated when asked about the application of dialectic to issues such as nonessential characteristics and bodies that "these are the statements of philosophers. Stick to the (narrations) and the path of the , and beware of all newly invented affairs, for verily they are innovations." , for whom the school of thought is named, also rebuked philosophical discussion, once telling proponents of it that he was secure in his religion, but that they were "in doubt, so go to a doubter and argue with him (instead)." Today, Islamic philosophical thought has also been criticized by scholars of the modern movement.

There would be many Islamic thinkers who were not as enthusiastic about its potential. But it would be incorrect to assume that they opposed philosophy simply because it was a "foreign science". , an expert on Islamic philosophy, points out that the objections of notable theologians are rarely directed at philosophy itself, but rather at the conclusions the philosophers arrived at. Even , who is famous for his critique of the philosophers, was himself an expert in philosophy and . And his criticism was that they arrived at theologically erroneous conclusions. The three most serious of these, in his view, were believing in the co-eternity of the universe with God, denying the bodily resurrection, and asserting that God only has knowledge of abstract universals, not of particular things (but it should be noted that not all philosophers subscribed to these same views).

See also Edit

  • The concept of (teleportation)

Further reading Edit

  1. History of Islamic Philosophy (Routledge History of World Philosophies) by and Oliver Leaman [ed.]
  2. History of Islamic Philosophy by
  3. Islamic Philosophy by
  4. The Study of Islamic Philosophy by Ibrahim Bayyumi Madkour
  5. (Our Philosophy) by

External linksEdit

References Edit

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