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Islamic philosophy

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

Definition

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 Islam, which is believed to be a revealed religion 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 Judaism, Christianity and Islam, 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

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 Muslims. [Oliver Leaman, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Formative influences

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 Quran), Greek philosophy which the early Muslims inherited as a result of conquests when Alexandria, Syria and Jundishapur came under Muslim rule, along with pre-Islamic Iranian and Indian philosophy. 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.

Classical Islamic philosophy

In early Islamic thought, which refers to philosophy during the Islamic Golden Age, two main currents may be distinguished. The first is Kalam, that mainly dealt with Islamic theological questions, and the other is Falsafa, that was founded on interpretations of Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism. There were attempts by later philosopher-theologians at harmonizing both trends, notably by Avicenna who founded the school of Avicennism, Averroes who founded the school of Averroism, and others such as Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen), Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, Ibn Tufayl (Abubacer) and Ibn al-Nafis.

Kalam

Independent minds exploiting the methods of ijtihad sought to investigate the doctrines of the Qur'an, 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 (Arabic: qadara, to have power), who affirmed free will, and the Jabarites (jabar, force, constraint), who maintained the belief in fatalism.

At the second century of the Hijra, a new movement arose in the theological school of Basra, Iraq. A pupil, Wasil ibn Ata, 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 Mutazilite (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 salvation 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 philosophy, and are one of the first to pursue a rational theology called Ilm-al-Kalam (Scholastic theology); 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-Muslims, 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 Asharite concepts.

Falsafa

From the ninth century onward, owing to Caliph al-Ma'mun and his successor, Greek philosophy was introduced among the Persians and Arabs, and the Peripatetic school began to find able representatives among them; such were Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), and Ibn Rushd (Averroës), all of whose fundamental principles were considered as criticized by the Mutakallamin.

During the Abbasid caliphate a number of thinkers and scientists, some of them heterodox Muslims or non-Muslims, played a role in transmitting Greek, Hindu, and other pre-Islamic knowledge to the Christian West. They contributed to making Aristotle known in Christian Europe. Three speculative thinkers, the two Persians al-Farabi and Avicenna and the Arab al-Kindi, combined Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism 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 Spain Arabic philosophic literature was translated into Hebrew and Latin, contributing to the development of modern European philosophy. The philosopher Moses Maimonides (a Jew born in Muslim Spain) was also important.

Some differences between Kalam and Falsafa

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 Creator 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 prophecy. One other point shocked the faith of the Mutakallamin — the theory of intellect. The Peripatetics taught that the human soul 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 immortality 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 God 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 Time, and claimed that just as Space 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, omnipotent, and omniscient.

Main protagonists of falsafa and their critics

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-Ghazali (1005-1111) among the Persians, and to Judah ha-Levi (1140) among the Jews. It can be argued that the attacks directed against the philosophers by Ghazali 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, Ibn Bajjah (Avempace) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes), 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 Persian Ghazali 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 Kalam give us more information concerning God and His attributes than the prophet did?" (Ib. iii. and iv.) Aristotelianism finds no favor in Judah ha-Levi'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.

Ibn Rushd (or Ibn Roshd or Averroës), the contemporary of Maimonides, 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 Ibn Bajjah and Ibn Tufail, who only follow the teachings of Ibn Sina and Al-Farabi. 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 Averroist school of philosophy, were later influential in the development of modern secularism. Ibn Rushd is thus regarded as the founding father of secular thought in Western Europe.

But while Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, 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 Ibn Tibbons, Narboni, Gersonides—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 Joseph ben Judah, 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 Henry Corbin.)

Jewish philosophy in the Islamic world

The oldest Jewish religio-philosophical work preserved is that of Saadia Gaon (892-942), Emunot ve-Deot, "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 ex nihilo, just as the Bible 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 Guide for the Perplexed 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.

Post-classical Islamic philiosophy

The death of Ibn Rushd (Averroes) effectively marks the end of a particular discipline of Islamic philosophy usually called the Peripatetic Arabic School, and philosophical activity declined significantly in western Islamic countries, namely in Islamic Spain and North Africa, though it persisted for much longer in the Eastern countries, in particular Iran and India.

Since the political power shift in Western Europe (Spain and Portugal) 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 Ottoman scholars and especially those living in Muslim kingdoms within the territories of present day Iran and India, such as Shah Waliullah and Ahmad Sirhindi. 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 Ibn Arabi and Mulla Sadra. These new schools are of particular importance, as they are still active in the Islamic world. The most important among them are:

Illuminationist school

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

In logic in Islamic philosophy, systematic refutations of Greek logic were written by the Illuminationist school, founded by Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi (1155-1191), who developed the idea of "decisive necessity", an important innovation in the history of logical philosophical speculation.

Transcendent school

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

The idea of "essence precedes existence" is a concept which dates back to Avicenna and his school of Avicennism as well as Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi and his Illuminationist philosophy. The opposite idea of "Existence precedes essence" was thus developed in the works of Averroes and Mulla Sadra as a reaction to this idea and is a key foundational concept of existentialism.

For Mulla Sadra, "existence precedes the essence and is thus principle since something has to exist first and then have an essence." This is primarily the argument that lies at the heart of Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Theosophy. Sayyid Jalal Ashtiyani later summarized Mulla Sadra's concept as follows:

More careful approaches are needed in terms of thinking about philosophers (and theologians) in Islam in terms of phenomenological methods of investigation in ontology (or onto-theology), or by way of comparisons that are made with Heidegger's thought and his critique of the history of metaphysics.

Philosophy of history

The first detailed studies on the subject of historiography and the first critiques on historical methods appeared in the works of the Arab Ash'ari polymath Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who is regarded as the father of historiography, cultural history, and the philosophy of history, especially for his historiographical writings in the Muqaddimah (Latinized as Prolegomena) and Kitab al-Ibar (Book of Advice). His Muqaddimah also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of state, communication, propaganda and systematic bias in history, and he discussed the rise and fall of civilizations.

Franz Rosenthal wrote in the History of Muslim Historiography:

Social philosophy

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

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

Contemporary Islamic philosophy

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 Suhrawardi’s Hikmat al-Ishraq (Illumination Philosophy) or, at the latest, Mulla Sadra’s Hikmat-e-Mota’aliye or Transcendent (Exalted) Philosophy. Another unavoidable name is Allama Muhammad Iqbal who reshaped and revitalized Islamic philosophy amongst the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent in the early 20th century Beside his Urdu and Persian poetical work, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is a milestone in the modern political philosophy of Islam.

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

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

Criticism

Philosophy as such has not been without criticism amongst Muslims, both contemporary and past. Abu Hanifa, whom the Hanafi school of thought 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 athaar (narrations) and the path of the Salaf, and beware of all newly invented affairs, for verily they are innovations. Malik ibn Anas, for whom the Maliki 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 Salafi 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". Oliver Leaman, 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 al-Ghazali, who is famous for his critique of the philosophers, was himself an expert in philosophy and logic. 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

Further reading

  1. Corbin, Henry (1993). History of Islamic Philosophy. London and New York: Kegan Paul International.
  2. History of Islamic Philosophy (Routledge History of World Philosophies) by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman [ed.]
  3. History of Islamic Philosophy by Majid Fahkry
  4. Islamic Philosophy by Oliver Leaman http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/H057
  5. The Study of Islamic Philosophy by Ibrahim Bayyumi Madkour
  6. ''Falsafatuna (Our Philosophy) by Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr

External links

References

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