TOPIC: ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY – UNDERSTANDING AND ITS DYNAMIC HISTORY

SUBJECT : THE HISTORY OF ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY

Compiled by : Rusmanhaji

I. TOPIC: ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY – UNDERSTANDING AND ITS DYNAMIC HISTORY

A. Understanding

The history of philosophy is the study of philosophical ideas and concepts through time. Issues specifically related to history of philosophy might include (but are not limited to): To what degree can philosophical texts from prior historical eras be understood today?

  1. 1.      The Definition of Philosophy

Philosophy is that kind of knowledge in which the characteristics of the absolute existent are discussed; it is that knowledge in which the qualities of ‘being’ are studied; and, as is commonly said, it is that knowledge in which the states of an existent qua existent are discussed.

  1. 2.      Research methodology in Philosophy

Rational knowledge is that knowledge whose propositions can be proved true or false by a rational method, and empirical knowledge is that whose propositions can be proved true or false by an empirical method.

  1. 3.      Muslim Usage of Philosophy

Having taken the word ‘philosophy’ from the Greeks, Muslims gave it an Arabic form and an Eastern nuance, using it to mean pure rational knowledge. Philosophy in the common Muslim usage did not refer to a special discipline or science; it embraced all rational sciences, as opposed to transmitted  sciences,  such  as  etymology,  syntax (al Nahw), declension (al Sarf), rhetoric (al Ma’ani wal Bayan), stylistics, prosody (aruz), exegesis (tafsir), tradition and jurisprudence. Because the word had a generic meaning, only someone who comprehended all the rational sciences of his time, including theology, mathematics, the natural sciences, politics, ethics and domestic economy, would be called a philosopher. Thus it was said that, ‘Whoever is a philosopher becomes a world of knowledge, analogous to the objective world.

When Muslims sought to reproduce Aristotle’s classification of the sciences, they used the words falsafah or hikmah. In their eyes, philosophy was the rational science, which had two branches: the theoretical and the practical. Theoretical philosophy addresses things as they are; practical philosophy addresses human actions as they ought to be. Theoretical philosophy is threefold: theology or high philosophy, mathematics or middle philosophy and natural science or low philosophy. High philosophy, or theology, in turn comprehends two disciplines, general phenomenology and theology per se.

Mathematics is fourfold, each of its areas being a science in itself: arithmetic (al Hisab), geometry (al Handasa), astronomy (al Hay’ah) and music. Natural science has numerous divisions. Practical philosophy is divisible into ethics, domestic economy and civics. The complete philosopher comprehends all these sciences.

  1. True Philosophy

In the philosophers’ view, one area enjoys special prominence among the numerous areas of philosophy. It is called first philosophy, high philosophy, the supreme science, the universal science, theology or metaphysics. The ancients believed that one of the features distinguishing this science from all others is its firmer foundation in demonstration and certainty. Another is that it presides over all other sciences; it is in truth the queen of the sciences because the others depend on it totally, but it has no such dependence on them.

While The Islamic Philosophy is called Abrahamic Philosophy

  1. 5.      Abrahimic Philosophy

Abrahamic philosophy, in its loosest sense, comprises the series of philosophical schools that emerged from the study and commentary of the common ancient Semitic tradition which can be traced by their adherents to Abraham (“Father/Leader of many” Hebrew (“Avraham”) Arabic  (“Ibrahim”), a patriarch whose life is narrated in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and as a prophet in the Qur’an and also called a prophet in Genesis 20:7).

The standard text common to all of these subsequent traditions are what is known as the Hebrew Bible, roughly the first five books of the Old Testament, starting with the book of Genesis through to Deuteronomy. However, each of them added substantially different texts to their emerging canons, and hence their respective philosophical developments varied widely.

 Islamic philosophy, Early Islamic philosophy, and Modern Islamic philosophy

Islamic philosophy as Henry Corbin describes is a philosophy whose development, and whose modalities, are essentially linked to the religious and spiritual fact of Islam.[2] In the other word, 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.[3]

B.     Dynamic History

1.      Religious roots

Theoretical questions were raised right from the beginning of Islam, questions which could to a certain extent be answered by reference to Islamic texts such as the Quran, the practices of the community and the traditional sayings of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, and his Companions.1] In fact, rational argumentation about Islamic doctrines starts with Quran itself, and has been followed up in the utterances of the Muhammad and especially in the sermons of Ali. This despite the fact that their style and approach are different from those of the Muslim theologians.[2]

Though nothing definite can be said about the beginnings of theology among Muslims, what is certain is that discussion of some of the problems, such as the issue of predestination, free will and Divine Justice, became current among Muslims during the first half of the second century of Islam coincides with 8th century. Perhaps the first formal centre of such discussions was the circle of Hasan al-Basri(d.728-29). [3] Later several theological schools have emerged from 8th to 1oth century. Mu’tazili theology originated in the 8th century in Basra (Iraq) by Wasil ibn Ata (d.748 A.D.).[4]

2.      Transaltion Movement of Scientific and philosophical works (Transferring of Greek philosophy)

The early conquests of the Muslims brought them into close contact with centers of civilization heavily influenced by Christianity and also by Greek culture. Many rulers wished to understand and use the Greek forms of knowledge, some practical and some theoretical, and a large translation project started which saw official support for the assimilation of Greek culture. This had a powerful impact upon all areas of Islamic philosophy. Neoplatonism definitely became the prevalent school of thought, following closely the curriculum of Greek philosophy which was initially transmitted to the Islamic world.[5]

3.      Periods

Henry Corbin has divided the history of Islamic philosophy into three periods.[6]

a.      Early Development of Islamic philosophy

1). Avicenna, the founder of Avicennism

The first period of Islamic philosophy coincides with Islamic golden age. During this time pure philosophical thought is usually used Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism thought as its sources. But it also influenced by Islamic thought and culture. Falaturi has shown in his research that how Hellenistic philosophy diverged in the context of Islamic culture. On the other hand Corbin has shown how mystic aspect of Islam, especially Shia affected philosophy. This period begins with al-Kindi and ends with Averroes(d.1198).[6] On the other hand there were crucial theological debates between Muslim theologians. These discussion also helped to rise of rational debates about religion, especially Islam.

Avicenna is one the most prominent figures of this period. He is a thinker who attempted to redefine the course of Islamic philosophy and channel it into new directions. Avicenna’s metaphysical system is built on the ingredients and conceptual building blocks which are largely Aristotelian and Neoplatonic, but the final structure is other than the sum of its parts.[7] In the Islamic Golden Age, due to Avicenna‘s successful reconciliation between Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism along with Islamic theology, Avicennism eventually became the leading school of early Islamic philosophy by the 12th century. Avicenna had become a central authority on philosophy by then.[8] Although this school was highly criticized by Muslim theologians, such as al-Ghazali, philosophers, like Averroes, and Sufis, Avicenna’s writings spread like fire and continued until today to form the basis of philosophic education in the Islamic world. For to the extent that the post-Averroistic tradition remained philosophic, especially in the eastern Islamic lands, it moved in the directions charted for it by Avicenna in the investigation of both theoretical and practical sciences.[7]

2). Mystical philosophy

After the death of Averroes, Islamic philosophy in the Peripatetic style went out of fashion in the Arab part of Muslim world, until the nineteenth century. Mystical philosophy, by contrast, continued to flourish, although no thinkers matched the creativity of Ibn Arabi or Ibn Sab‘in. In the Persian-speaking part, Islamic philosophy has continued to follow a largely Illuminationist curriculum, which is introduced by Suhrawardi. [3][6]

3). Transcendent Theosophy

The third period, according to Corbin, begins in the sixteenth century after emergence of Safavid dynasty in Persia.[6] The most prominent figure of this period is Mulla Sadra who introduced Transcendent Theosophy as a critical philosophy which brought together Peripatetic, Illuminationist and gnostic philosophy along with Ash’ari and Twelvers theology, the source of which lay in the Islamic revelation and the mystical experience of reality as existence. [9][10] This philosophy becomes dominant form of philosophy in Iran since 19th century. Shah Wali Allah extended Suhrawardi school of thought to the Indian subcontinent. [3]

b. Modern era

َ            New trends have emerged during 19th and 20th centuries due to challenge of western philosophy and Modernity to traditional Islamic philosophy. On one hand some of the scholars such as Al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh sought to find rational principles which would establish a form of thought which is both distinctively Islamic and also appropriate for life in modern scientific societies, a debate which is continuing within Islamic philosophy today. Muhammad Iqbal is one of the prominent figure of this group who provided a rather eclectic mixture of Islamic and European philosophy. On the other hand some thinkers reacted to the phenomenon of modernity by developing Islamic fundamentalism. This resuscitated the earlier antagonism to philosophy by arguing for a return to the original principles of Islam and rejected modernity as a Western imperialist intrusion.[3] In Iran, the effects of mystic philosophers especially Mulla Sadra is great and philosophers who are more loyal to traditional Islamic philosophy, have tried to keep alive this school and use it to deal with Modernism. Allameh Tabatabaei is the most prominent figure of this group. [11] Nowadays Seyyed Hossein Nasr tries to introduce traditional Islamic philosophy and dealt with the Islamic response to the challenges of the modern world.[12] Finally, there have been many thinkers who have adapted and employed non-Islamic philosophical ideas as part of the normal philosophical process of seeking to understand conceptual problems such as Hegelianism and Existentialism. Therefor modern Islamic philosophy is thus quite diverse, employing a wide variety of techniques and approaches to its subjects. [13]

 

  1. C.    Influences of Islam on Philosophy

1-      Paying attention and giving direction and importance to some specific issues and problems such as discussion about God, His attributes and His actions.

2-       Bringing up new and unprecedented issues, such as restitution of the extinct (I’adat al ma’doom) in resurrection, simplicity of God, divine decree and predestination, Throne of God, the reality of resurrection and….

3-      Introducing new methods of discussion and demonstration, such as the demonstration of the Righteous (burhane siddiqin) or (burhane imkaan) or the verse (law kana fihimaa aalihaton illa llaah lafasadataa)

4-      Correcting the mistakes of philosophical discussions such as the issue of hoduth or ghedam of the universe (yajib vojud al ma’lul inda illatihit taammah) while all was believing in hoduthe zamaani.

  1. Closing

This article is made and taken from various sources such as internet, text book from lecture, and other articles till become the article entitled: Islamic Philosophy – Understanding And Its Dynamic History. It is hoped that this article can meet the task of the second semester examination of the History of Islamic Philosophy. Comments and corrections will be highly appreciated for the betterment of the next article.

 

Footnotes

  1. Rorty, Richard. Philosophy and Social Hope. Penguin.1999: 47-48.
  2. Corbin (1993) p.xiv
  3. LEAMAN, OLIVER (1998). Islamic philosophy. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved December 30, 2007
  4. An Introduction to ‘Ilm al-Kalam by Morteza Motahhari
  5. Martin et al., 1997
  6. Corbin (1993), pp. xvi and xvii
  7. Avicenna“. Encyclopedia Iranica. http://www.iranica.com/newsite/articles/v3f1/v3f1a046.html. Retrieved on 2007-12-30. 
  8. Nahyan A. G. Fancy (2006), p. 80-81, “Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection: The Interaction of Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in the Works of Ibn al-Nafīs (died 1288)”, Electronic Theses and Dissertations, University of Notre Dame.[1]
  9. Mulla Sadra (Sadr al-Din Muhammad al-Shirazi) (1571/2-1640)
  10. Leaman (2007), pp.146 and 147
  11. See:
    • Leaman (2000), p.410
    • Nasr (1996), pp.324 and 325
  12. Fakhri (2004), p.322
  13. Leaman (2000), p.410

References

2 Comments

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2 responses to “TOPIC: ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY – UNDERSTANDING AND ITS DYNAMIC HISTORY

  1. May I suggest the following book;

    How Early Muslim Scholars Assimilated Aristotle and Made Iran the Intellectual Center of the Islamic World: A Study of Falsafah

    Author: Farshad Sadri
    Foreword: Carl R. Hasler
    Publisher: Edwin Mellen Pr (June 30, 2010)
    ISBN-10: 0773437169
    ISBN-13: 978-0773437166

    This work demonstrates how falsafah (which linguistically refers to a group of commentaries by Muslim scholars associated with their readings of “The Corpus Aristotelicum”) in Iran has been always closely linked with religion. It demonstrates that the blending of the new natural theology with Iranian culture created an intellectual climate that made Iran the center of falsafah in the Medieval world. The author begins this book by exploring the analytical arguments and methodologies presented as the subject of the first-philosophy (metaphysics) in the works of Aristotle (in particular “The Nicomachean Ethics” and “Rhetoric”). Then, he tells the tale of the Muslims’ progression as they came to own and expand upon Aristotle’s arguments and methodologies as a measure of their own sense of spirituality. Last, Sadri surveys the implications of that sense of spirituality as it is amalgamated within the Iranian culture and today’s Islamic Republic of Iran. The author’s aim is to present a different perspective of falsafah (as it is received by Muslims and assimilated within Iranian culture), while maintaining a sense that captures the texture of everyday life-experiences in today’s Islamic Republic of Iran. This work is thus about (contemporary) Iranian falsafah and how it remains faithful to its tradition (as falsafah has actually been integrated and practiced by Iranian scholars for the last eleven centuries). It is a tradition that has taken on the task of understanding and projecting a sense of order upon the multiplicity of forms, ideas, examples, and images that have passed through Iran from East and West; it is a story that has gathered, sheltered, and introduced a style and order of Iranian Islamic (Shi’at) falsafah.
    Reviews

    “While Sadri’s monograph is written in an engaging, quasi-autobiographical style, still it is rich in philosophical exposition and insight coupled with a clearly developed explication of Islamic religious/philosophical thought in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In turn this is used to explain Iranian culture as it can be understood in contemporary analysis.” – Prof. Carl R. Hasler, Collin College

    “The interdisciplinary approach allows [the author] to introduce a chronicle of his people that encompasses the dynamic growth of the intellectual and religious thought in the Middle East. A thoughtful study for scholars of comparative religion, Sadri juxtaposes Medieval Islam with Medieval Christianity, showing the philosophical foundations that distinguish these two contemporary religions.” – Prof. Linda Deaver, Kaplan University

    “Taking as his point of departure the fate of Aristotle’s corpus in medieval Christianity and in medieval Islam, Sadri offers a masterful account of how the current status of Western and Iranian identity can be read through the palimpsest of a philosophical/religious recovery of Aristotle’s practical philosophy.” – Prof. Charles Bambach, University of Texas, Dallas

    Table of Contents

    Foreword
    Acknowledgments
    Introduction
    1. Commentaries on Aristotle
    2. Commentaries on Aristotle and Islam
    3. Commentaries on Islam
    4. Commentaries on Islam and Iran
    5. Commentaries on Iran
    Endnotes
    Bibliography
    Index

    Subject Areas: Cultural Studies, Islamic Studies, Philosophy

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