Falsafa, which is derived from the Greek philosophia, was the standard term used by intellectuals in the medieval Near East to describe the enterprise we today call “philosophy,”
They sometimes used the Arabic translation of philosophia, hikma or “wisdom,” to refer to this activity as well. The use of the Greek loan word falsafa as the primary description of this intellectual movement suggests this activity’s initial origins and primary impetus, namely, the Greek philosophical and scientific traditions to which thinkers in the Islamic world were heirs.
Some of the definitions of Greek origin most common among Islamic philosophers are as follows:
l Philosophy (al falsafah) is the knowledge of all existing things qua existents
l Philosophy is knowledge of divine and human matters.
l Philosophy is taking refuge in death, that is, love of death.
l Philosophy is becoming God-like to the extent of human ability.
l It [philosophy] is the art (sind’ah) of arts and the science (ilm) of sciences.
l Philosophy is predilection for hikmah.
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.
Islamic philosophy or Arabic philosophy is the systematic investigation of problems connected with life, the universe, ethics, society, and so on as conducted in the Muslim world.
The Qur’an and Hadith as source and inspiration of Islamic philosophy
Islamic philosophical tradition which has had a twelve-century-long continuous history and is still alive today. Hence, it becomes abundantly clear that Islamic philosophy, like everything else Islamic, is deeply rooted in the Qur’an and Hadith. Islamic philosophy is Islamic not only by virtue of the fact that it was cultivated in the Islamic world and by Muslims but because it derives its principles, inspiration and many of the questions with which it has been concerned from the sources of Islamic revelation despite the claims of its opponents to the contrary.
All Islamic philosophers from al-Kindi to those of our own day such as ‘Allamah Tabatabai have lived and breathed in a universe dominated by the reality of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet of Islam. Nearly all of them have lived according to Islamic Law or the Shari ah and have prayed in the direction of Makkah every day of their adult life. The most famous among them, such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes), were conscious in asserting their active attachment to Islam and reacted strongly to any attacks against their faith without their being simply fideists. Ibn Sina would go to a mosque and pray when confronted with a difficult Problem,’ and Ibn Rushd was the chief qadi or judge of Cordova (Spanish Cordoba) which means that he was himself the embodiment of the authority of Islamic Law even if he were to be seen later by many in Europe as the arch-rationalist and the very symbol of the rebellion of reason against faith. The very presence of the Qur’an and the advent of its revelation was to transform radically the universe in which and about which Islamic philosophers were to philosophize, leading to a specific kind of philosophy which can be justly called “prophetic philosophy.
Islamic philosophy is related to both the external dimension of the Qur’anic revelation or the Shari `ah and the inner truth which is the heart of all that is Islamic. Many of the doctors of the Divine Law or Shariah have stood opposed to Islamic philosophy while others have accepted it. In fact some of the outstanding Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Rushd, Mir Damad and Shah Waliullah of Delhi have also been authorities in the domain of the Sacred Law. The Shari ah has, however, provided mostly the social and human conditions for the philosophical activity of the Islamic philosophers.
The Divisions of Philosophy
It should be noted, first of all, that Islamic philosophy covered a much wider range of subjects than we would consider to be included within philosophy today.
According to al-Khuwarizmi, a tenth century encyclopaedist, philosophy was divided into two major branches: theoretical and practical. Each of these branches in turn consisted of three subdivisions.
Thus theoretical philosophy was made of:
l Metaphysics or theology, which dealt with non-material things,
l Mathematics, which had to do with both non-material and material things, and included arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, and mechanics,
l Physics, which dealt with material things, and included such sciences as medicine, meteorology, mineralogy, botany, zoology, chemistry, and finally psychology or the science of the soul.
The three subdivisions of practical philosophy were:
l Ethics, that is, individual or personal ethics,
l Economics, which in those days meant household or family ethics,
l Politics, which could be said to be the ethics of the city or the state.
Logic, which was the basis for all of these sciences, both theoretical and practical, was sometimes considered a third major branch of philosophy.
A much simpler division of philosophy into six main categories is given by al-Ghazali, an eleventh century theologian divides philosophy into mathematics, logic, physics, metaphysics, politics, and ethics.
The Abbasid Khilafah
The Abbasid Caliphate (ALA-LC: al-Khil?fah al-‘Abb?s?yyah), was the third of the Islamic caliphates to succeed the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The Abbasid dynasty descended from Muhammad’s youngest uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib (566–653 CE). They ruled as caliphs from their capital in Baghdad, in modern Iraq, after taking over authority of the Muslim empire from the Umayyads in 750 CE (132 AH).
The Abbasid caliphate first centered their government in Kufa, but in 762 the caliph Al-Mansur founded the city of Baghdad, north of the Persian capital city of Ctesiphon. The choice of a capital so close to Persia proper reflects a growing reliance on Persian bureaucrats, most notably of the Barmakid family, to govern the territories conquered by Arab Muslims, as well as an increasing inclusion of non-Arab Muslims in the Ummah. Despite this cooperation, the Abbasids of the 8th century were forced to cede authority over Al-Andalus and Maghreb to the Umayyads, Morocco to the Idrisid dynasty, Ifriqiya to the Aghlabids, and Egypt to the Shi’ite Caliphate of the Fatimids. The political power of the caliphs largely ended with the rise of the Buyids and the Seljuq Turks.
Although Abbasid leadership over the vast Islamic empire was gradually reduced to a ceremonial religious function, the dynasty retained control over its Mesopotamian demesne. The capital city of Baghdad became a center of science, culture, philosophy and invention during the Golden Age of Islam. This period of cultural fruition ended in 1258 with the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols under Hulagu Khan. The Abbasid line of rulers, and Muslim culture in general, reentered themselves in the Mamluk capital of Cairo in 1261. Though lacking in political power, the dynasty continued to claim authority in religious matters until after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt when the position of caliph was formally surrendered to the Ottoman Sultan Selim I.
Within the period of the Abbasid Caliphate, a rise of culture, imperial and academic progression occurred, which served to assist in the development of Islamic Civilization. The Abbasid dynasty also illustrated the relationship between the Islamic and European world.
Main Discussion on the topic
One of the common definitions for “Islamic philosophy” is “the style of philosophy produced within the framework of Islamic culture.” Islamic philosophy, in this definition is neither necessarily concerned with religious issues, nor is exclusively produced by Muslims. Their works on Aristotle was a key step in the transmission of learning from ancient Greeks to the Islamic world and the West. They often corrected the philosopher, encouraging a lively debate in the spirit of ijtihad. They also wrote influential original philosophical works, and their thinking was incorporated into Christian philosophy during the Middle Ages, notably by Thomas Aquinas.
The first Muslim philosopher of note was al-Kindi. He was of Arab descent and died sometime before 870 A.D. Next was al-Razi (Rhazes), who died about 925 or 935 A.D. and was known for his rejection of revealed religion. Al-Farabi, who died in 950 A.D. was of Turkish descent and was known among Muslims as the “second teacher,” Aristotle being the first. He was most famous for his works on political theory. Ibn Sina (Avicenna), who died in 1037 A.D., was without doubt the most influential of all the Muslim philosophers on the later development of
Islamic philosophy and theology. Ibn Rushd (Averroes), a Spaniard who died in 1198 A.D., was known mainly for his commentaries on Aristotle. Finally, al-Tusi, who died in 1273 A.D., although not as well known in the West as the previous philosophers mentioned, was nevertheless very influential in the later development of Islamic philosophy and theology.
Al-Kindi (ca. 800–865)
The first Muslim philosopher to write on Greek philosophy in the Muslim world was al-Kind?. He wrote many works on Greek science and philosophy, and laid the foundation for others to follow in studying philosophical works. He had a firm conviction that the Greek heritage contained important truths that Muslims could not afford to overlook. As a mathematician, he realized the importance of Aristotelian logic, however, al- Kindi found Aristotelian metaphysics contradictory, particularly the view of the eternity of the world. He believed that Aristotle did not offer valid logical support for that argument. Al-Kindi, in his mathematical philosophy, presented an argument that actual infinity is self-canceling. In his philosophy of nature, he showed matter, motion, and time to be closely related concepts (this is an advanced concept relative to most philosophical thought in the Middle Ages). Furthermore, since matter cannot be eternal, and cannot generate its existence (cf. essence and generation argument) then its motion and time are not eternal either. Al-Kindi was the first Muslim philosopher to note clearly that the metaphysics of the Greek philosophers first, contradicts itself, and second, contradicts Islamic belief. He also gave a preliminary religious basis for studying these fields.
Al-Kind? proved to be a difficult Muslim thinker to study, for a variety of reasons. He was a scientist, a philosopher of science, a rigorous mathematician, and a man of letters with a high command of Arabic. One not well versed in all of these topics, or without a solid grasp of scientific Arabic terminology, would not be able to fully appreciate Al-Kind? or his contributions.
Al-Kind? was followed by Al-Farabi who served in the Hamdanid court in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Al-Farabi was able to formulate philosophy in a manner more palatable to
Muslim tastes. His efforts were aimed at expounding philosophy in Islamic terms. It is worthwhile to note that during his lifetime, he was not a well-known figure in the field. Actually, Ibn-Sina (980–1037)6 popularized his writings. Al-Farabi then became known as the Second Teacher in the Muslim world (Aristotle being the first). Al-Farabi also laid important groundwork in other major fields of philosophy, most importantly political philosophy, and is credited with popularizing neo-Platonism in the Muslim world.
The concept of prophethood—namely that God selected messengers and endowed them with enlightenment and truth through prophecy, by direct communication from God, or indirectly through angels—is an important aspect of Islamic belief that had to be explained philosophically. Al-Farabi formulated this concept in Greek philosophical terms. He equated two sources of knowledge, namely revelation and philosophy as the two roads to enlightenment and truth. Al-Farabi accomplished a great deal in all major fields of philosophy, including metaphysics, logic, music theory, ethics, and politics. Not only did he make a brave attempt to reconcile philosophy with Islamic doctrine, he also attempted to reconcile philosophy with itself, in a work on the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle.
The third most important figure among Muslim philosophers is Ibn-Sina or Avicenna, as he is known in the West. Ibn-Sina also wrote about all areas of philosophy, and is credited with popularizing the philosophy of the elite. There are many legends surrounding his life, and numerous books falsely attributed to him, according to scholarly accounts. His writings on philosophy range from short works to encyclopedia-length work, such as the famed Al-Shifa.
Ibn-Sina also wrote on a wide variety of sciences including medicine. Outside of philosophy, he is famous for his medical encyclopedia, Al-Kanun al-Tibb (Canon of medicine), 10 from which the English term ‘canon’ comes from. This work includes all branches of medicine from pharmacology to surgery.
Al-Ghazali, an important figure in the history of Muslim thought, was a scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, and a theologian by training who delved into philosophy out of necessity. He was also a gifted writer with a keen knack for clarifying terse subjects. Al-Ghazali categorized philosophy—in the Muslim world of his time— into three distinct rulings according to Islamic law. The first category is Kufr (heresy); by this Al-Ghazali asserts that some of the teachings of philosophy are contrary to the teachings of Islam to the point that they cannot be rationally reconciled. The second category is bid’aah (unnecessary innovation); Al-Ghazali states that these teachings contradict the teachings of philosophy itself, that they are incoherent at best and otherwise destructive and run counter to philosophy and its stated goals of being coherent, logical, and consistent. The third category is mubah (allowable), meaning that some of the teachings of philosophy are useful to Islam, namely logic, math, astronomy, and physics.
To prove his point, Al-Ghazali did two things; first, he wrote a summary of philosophical teachings concentrating on metaphysics and logic, entitled Al-Maqasid Al-Falsifah (Aims of the philosophers). This summary proved useful beyond his design and desire and earned him the title of “the expositor of Avicennan philosophy” in the West. He firmly believed that to be able to refute philosophy, one must be competent in it. Thus, he became competent in it, much to the dismay of his colleagues who claimed that he had done what the philosophers could not do by simplifying their teachings for the layperson. Ibn Rushd vented his intellectual anger on al Ghazali years later: “How dare he bring the literature of the elite, [hidden by complex terminology and vague statements] that only the ‘select’ were meant to understand only after undergoing thorough and time consuming ‘training, study and contemplation’ to the masses?”
Second, Al-Ghazaliwrote a work entitled Tahafut alfalasifah (The Incoherence of philosophers). The Tahafut was a refutation of the metaphysics of Aristotle as understood by al- Farabi and Ibn Sina, summarized in twenty points. Three of these twenty points not only lead to heresy but to outright apostasy. This work was well accepted by the scholars of his time, who heralded it as a victory for Islam—philosophy was defeated on its own battlefield, and no longer held that charm or air of mystery that Ibn Sina had sought so hard to veil it with throughout his life.
The success of al-Ghazali’s Tahafut should not be construed to denote the end of philosophy in the Muslim world.
This was hardly the case, as this book opened the door for many theologians to study philosophy with relative ease, legitimacy, and a new sense of confidence. Actually, the case can be made that Al-Ghazalipopularized the works of Ibn Sina in religious circles, and these works continue to be studied today.
Ibn Tufayl (1106-1185)
A major figure in Andalusia who contributed to the misunderstanding of al-Ghaz?l? was Ibn Tufayl, a personal physician of the Almohad caliph Abu Yacqub Yusuf (1163– 1184). Ibn Tufayl dabbled in neo-Platonism and followed the esoteric teachings of Ibn Sina throughout his flourishing medical career. He was the celebrated author of the fictional philosophical tale entitled Hayy bin Yaqzan (Living son of awake). This philosophical parable is set on an island in the Indian Ocean (perhaps modern day Sri Lanka), and tells the story of Hayy, a child who grows up on the island without any human contact, raised by a gazelle. As Hayy grows up, he discovers natural religion. Later, a shipwrecked sailor teaches him human language and religion, and much to their surprise, they find many points of agreement.
Ibn Tufayl makes the point that religion can be arrived at naturally without the aid of revelation. Interestingly, this concept is not foreign to Islam, which sees itself as the “natural religion.” Surprisingly, this neo-Platonist became the mentor of the most famous Arab Aristotelian, Ibn Rushd.
Ibn Rushd (1126–1198)
Ibn Rushd, known as Averroes in the West and sometimes as the Commentator, fared well in the West, better than he did among his own people.17 Ibn Rushd made a brave attempt to extract Aristotle’s ideas on politics from Plato’s Republic. He not only commented on all of the existing works of Aristotle, but also summarized them and wrote grand commentaries on them. He wrote Tahafut al-Falasifah, as a point-by-point refutation of al-Ghaz?l?’s criticism of philosophy.
The success of his refutation is widely debated, because he only defended what he believed were Aristotle’s doctrines, sometimes with little else save pure sophistry. Ibn Rushd believed that the peak of philosophical teachings ended with the master, Aristotle. Not surprisingly, later scholars saw this as an attempt to defend Aristotle and not as a functional or useful refutation of al-Ghaz?l?’s criticism of philosophy. The philosophical ideas that al-Ghaz?l? was attacking were the ideas of Ibn-Sina and Al-Farabi, only some of which came from Aristotle; the majority came from Plato and Plotinus. To his credit, Ibn Rushd had quite an influence on the medieval philosophy of Europe, through the Latin translation of his works. He also cast doubt on the authenticity of the attribution of the Theology of Aristotle to Aristotle. The work, as mentioned above, was a compilation of certain chapters from Plotinus’ Enneads. Shortly after this peak of philosophical interest, Muslim political influence waned in Andalusia. The political upheavals thereafter left the historical records in a shambles and not easily examined. The rest of the Muslim world had its share of political intrigue: its intellectual history and the role of Greek philosophy is yet to be written.
Ibn Taymiyyah, one of Islam’s most forceful theologians who, as a member of the Pietist school founded by Ibn Hambal, sought the return of the Islamic religion to its sources: the Quran and the sunnah, revealed writing and the prophetic tradition. He is also the source of the Wahabiyah, a mid-18th-century traditionalist movement of Islam.
Ibn Taymiyyah was born in Mesopotamia. Educated in Damascus, where he had been taken in 1268 as a refugee from the Mongol invasion, he later steeped himself in the teachings of the Pietist school. Though he remained faithful throughout his life to that school, of whose doctrines he had an unrivalled mastery, he also acquired an extensive knowledge of contemporary Islamic sources and disciplines: the Quran (Islamic scripture), the Hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad), jurisprudence (fiqh), dogmatic theology, philosophy, and Sufi (Islamic mystical) theology.
His life was marked by persecutions. As early as 1293 Ibn Taymiyyah came into conflict with local authorities for protesting a sentence, pronounced under religious law, against a Christian accused of having insulted the Prophet. In 1298 he was accused of anthropomorphism (ascribing human characteristics to God) and for having criticized, contemptuously, the legitimacy of dogmatic theology.
Fakhruddin Razi, was a Persian Sunni Muslim theologian and philosopher who wrote in Arabic. He was born in 1149 in Ray (today located in Iran), and died in 1209 in Herat (today located in Afghanistan). He also wrote on medicines, physics, astronomy, literature, history and law. He should not to be confused with Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, also known as Rhazes.
He first studied with his father, and later at Merv and Maragha, where he was one of the pupils of al-Majd al-Jili, who in turn had been a disciple of al-Ghazali. He was accused of rationalism, despite the fact that he restored many to the orthodox faith. While he was a leading proponent of the Ash’ari school of theology, he expressed regret for having upheld the school’s philosophy and dialectic while on his death bed. His commentary on the Koran (Qur’an) was the most varied and many-sided of all extant works of the kind, comprising most of the material of importance that had previously appeared. He devoted himself to a wide range of studies, and is said to have expended a large fortune on experiments in alchemy. He taught at Ray and Ghazni, and became head of the university founded by Mohammed ibn Tukush at Heart.
The impact of Islamic philosophy in the land of Islam was enormous. It was originated at a time when Islam had a great influence on everyday life. Philosophy continued to exert a great influence on Muslim thinkers in later generations. In fact, the Muslim theologians who lived after Al-Ghazaliwere so influenced by philosophy that they incorporated the methodology of philosophy, especially its logic and epistemology, into their own theological works. Islamic Philosophy always leads to one main conclusion, that the power of Allah was supreme and his words are absolute true. Without philosophy’s constant encouraging of science development, the large number of discoveries made by the Muslims may never have taken place. At last it can be said that the Muslims were responsible for creating the foundation for the “building” of philosophy that the renaissance thinkers would later “construct”.
The Writer is a student of CSE at the International Islamic University of Chittagong.