Muslim philosophy or Islamic philosophy is a development in philosophy that is characterised by coming from an Islamic tradition. Two terms traditionally used in the Islamic world are sometimes translated as philosophy—falsafa (literally: “philosophy”), which refers to philosophy as well as logic, mathematics, and physics; and Kalam (literally “speech”), which refers to a rationalist form of Islamic theology.
Philosophy as defined by ancient thinkers is the Science of wisdom. It embraces all branches of knowledge, hence a philosopher in the time of the Greeks was recognised as a truly wise man.
Greek philosophy had become dead in Europe and its teaching was banned by the Church as its knowledge made people inactive and irreligious. The Arabs revived Greek philosophy and it was through Kindi, Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes that the West learnt about Aristotle, Plate and Socrates. Arabian philosophy began with the warm reception of Greek philosophy in Arabia, when it had “vanished from its original soil, and whilst western Europe was still too crude and ignorant to be its home. Arabian philosophy at the outset of its career in the 9th A.D. century was able without difficulty to take possession of these resources for speculative thought which Latins had barely achieved at the close of the 12th century by the slow process of rediscovering the Aristotelian Logic from the commentaries and verses of Boethius”.
The Abbasid Caliphate which was influenced by Persian culture provided the most congenial atmosphere for the development of learning especially philosophy, Secular philosophy found its first entrance into, the Muslim world through the Persian administrators of the early Abbasid Caliphate. The Abbasid Caliph Harun-ar-Rashid had some of the works of Aristotle translated into Arabic for the first time. His successor Mamun-ar-Rashid founded the well-known Darul Hukama (House of Wisdom) where the translation of books from’ foreign languages into Arabic was made by eminent translators who were employed on handsome salaries by the talented Caliph. His great patronage of learning attracted men of letters from all parts of the world who were engaged in translation and research work. The translation of the works of Aristotle and Plate paved the way for the growth of Islamic philosophy. The harmonization of Greek philosophy with Islam was started by Al-Kindi, continued by Farabi and was completed by Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd. Of the great Muslim philosophers Al-Kindi belonged to Basrah, Farabi, Ghazali and. Ibn Sina hailed from Turkistan and Persia, while Ibn Rushd, Ibn Bajja and Ibn Tufail who rivalled their Eastern counterparts were natives of Muslim Spain.
Al-Kindi (d’.873 A.D.), who is the greatest philosopher of the Arab race is known as the ” Philosopher of the Arabs”. He translated and wrote commentaries on a number of works by Aristotle. Being a natural philosopher he elaborately discussed the doctrine of soul and intelligence. The divine intelligence is the cause of the existence of the world. According to him, the world as a whole is the work of an extremely active cause, the divine intelligence, whose activity is transmitted in many ways from above to the world. Between God and the world of bodies is the world of soul, which created the world of Heavenly spheres, In so far as the human soul is combined with the body, it is dependent on the influence of heavenly bodies, but in its spiritual origin and being it is free. Both immortality and freedom could be attained in the world of intelligence. It was in. De Intellectu, the Latin translation of Al-Kindi’s philosophical work, the ‘West discovered for the first time the doctrine of intelligence.
Towards the close of the 10th century A.D. there flourished in Basrah a Philosophical Society known as Ikhwan-al-Safa (Brethren of Purity). They tried unsuccessfully to reconcile religion with science. Their encyclopedic work consisting of 51 treatises contain the idea of goodness and moral perfection. They had a leaning towards Pythagorean speculations. Abu Masr Farabi (d/950 A. D.) whose philosophical system according to George Sarton,” is a syncretism of Platonism, Aristotelianism and Sufism, was the founder of the Turkish School of Philosophy. He was an exponent of Neo-Platonic Philosophy, a system which was originated by Al-Kindi and was developed by Ibn Sina. There is a marked difference between the philosophical approach of Farabi, which is deductive, rational and abstract and that of Zakariya Razi which is inductive, experimental and concrete. The two systems in fact present two sides of the same picturer Razi being a naturalist emphasised the experimental side while Farabi having been inclined towards mysticism looked to the speculative and abstract side. In Ibn Sina these two systems are reunited though Ibn Sina is more methodical in his approach. The difference between Farabi and Ibn Sina is more pronounced on the question of the immortality of the soul which is accepted by the former and rejected by the latter. Like Plate, Farabi is a mystical thinker, whose reasoning finally leads him to mysticism and metaphysics. He was a Savant in the true sense of the word, and led a life of minimum wants. With him like all other mystics contemplation dominated action. He has tried to give philosophical and rational explanations of such intricate religious problems as prophecy, inspiration, heavens, destiny and Celestial Throne. Prophecy according to him is a form of moral perfection rather than an innate gift. In this way he is recognised as the founder of philosophical theology, which later on found its great exponent in Fakhruddin Razi. He was also the first to preach practical morality by recognising that the faculty of discerning good from evil is possessed by oneself.
Zakariya Al-Razi (865–925 A. D.) the eminent physician and scientist of Islam composed a number of metaphysical, philosophical and ethical works which have perished and only a few pieces are still available. Al-Razi professes the existence of five eternal principles in metaphysics–namely the Creator, the soul, matter, time and space, In spite of his pessimistic outlook in metaphysics he is opposed to asceticism and believes in working for the welfare of the people. Like Aristotle he does not blame human passion but only its excessive indulgence. He believed in the evolution of scientific and philosophical knowledge and in this respect he is much ahead of his predecessors.
Ibn Sina (980–1037 A. D.) the most illustrious name amongst the oriental Muslims, whose rational philosophy tried to explain religious dogmas in the light of reason and thus invited severe criticism from Imam Ghazali. Like his predecessors he tried to harmonise abstract philosophy with religion. His main philosophical works are Kitab-as-Shifa, (The Book of Recovery), Al-Najat (The Salvation) and The Isharat (Instructions). His Kitab-as-Shifa, dealing with metaphysics, physics and logic had deeply influenced Western as well as’Eastern philosophy. His philosophical works reflected a conflict between materialism and idealism. He expounded the philosophical doctrines of Farabi and followed him in logic and epistemology. He has more clearly brought out the dualism of mind and matter, God and the world. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is more definitely laid down by him. His philosophy brings out his scientific and progressive outlook. His compromise with Muslim theology did not find favour in orthodox circles and his philosophical works were burned in Baghdad. He explained the moving, changing and developing state of nature. His philosophy is the necessary link between the philosophy of Farabi and Ghazali on one hand and that of Ibn Rushd (Averroes) on the other.
Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (1058-1111 A. D.) the great Muslim theologian and philosopher realised that the study of secular philosophy had resulted in an indifference towards religion. He renounced the life of pleasure and wandered in the Islamic world in search of mental peace. The conflict which had started in him gave him no rest and was fully brought out in his monumental work Ihyaal Ulum, which ranks amongst the greatest ethical works of Islam. He attacked the rationalistic and materialistic views of his predecessors including that of Ibn Sina and ultimately found solace in mysticism. His severe criticism of materialistic philosophy was afterwards answered by Ibn Rushd (Averroes). In Islam the theological system entrenched itself towards the end of the 12th century A. D. in the narrow orthodoxy of the Isharites. The entire ethical philosophy of Al-Ghazali rests on the foundation of mysticism. He had himself gone through the different phases of worldly life–namely scholastic discussions, the pride of high office, popularity among the people and the pomp and wealth. He had personally experienced the effects of such contacts on one’s character. He has described these experiences in his immortal Ihyaal Ulum. His writings started a school of religious philosophy and influenced such outstanding thinkers as Maulana Rum, Shaikhul Ashraq, Ibn Rushd and Shah Waliullah. Al-Ghazali was mainly responsible for infusing mysticism into Persia and directing it into the right channels. He tried to reconcile the tenets of Islam with the teaching of the prevailing philosophy and science but not in a purely rational way as done by Farabi and Ibn Sina. His Ihyaal Ulum was widely read by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike and influenced Thomas Aquinas and even Blaise Pascal.
Ibn Rushd (1126–1198 A. D.) better known as Averroes in the West is undoubtedly the greatest philosopher of Islam, Together with Ibn Masarra and Ibnul Arabi, he Forms the trio of the great philosophers of Muslim Spain. The first two were essentially mystics while the third (Averroes) was a rationalist. He rose to be the greatest commentator of and exponent of Aristotelian philosophy. It was through his commentaries that the West learnt about Aristotle.
His Chief philosophical work is Tahafut-al Tahafut (The incoherence of the incoherence) which was written in refutation of Al-Ghazali’s work, Tahafut-al-Fahasifa (The destruction of philosophy). The philosophical writings of Averroes invited severe criticism and stirred up critical reactions throughout the Islamic world. A strong refutation of Ibn Rushd’s arguments in Tahafut-al-Tahafut was made by a Turk, Mustafa Ibn Yusuf al-Bursavi, commonly known as Khwaja Zada (d/1487-88 A.D). This once more established the strength of faith and the weakness of human understanding. But contrary to Muslim reactions, Averroes philosophical writings had a deep influence on Christian Europe. Alfred Gillaume in his article on philosophy and theology in the Legacy of Islam. writes that’ “He (Averroes) belongs to Europe and European thought rather than to the East,,.. Averroism continued to be a living factor in European thought until the birth of modern experimental science, Latin is said to have preserved more than one of Ibn Rushd’s works which Arabic has lost”.’
Regarding predestination, Ibn Rushd maintained that man was neither the absolute master of his destiny nor bound by fixed, immutable decrees. According to him the truth lies in the middle, i.e. Al-Amr Bain · Al-Amrain. Human actions depend partly on free will and partly on outside causes. These causes spring from the general laws of nature–God alone knows their sequence. According to him man should make the utmost effort to attain perfection by which he means, complete identification with the alive intellect. This human perfection can be attained through study, speculation and negation of desires-specially those relating to senses.
This philosophy was considered to be irreligious in Muslim Spain where the society was formulated on true Arabic lines. Being a rational philosopher, his ideas were incompatible with the religious sentiments of orthodox Muslims and he was accused of being an atheist. But according to Philip K. Hitti, ‘He was a rationalist and claimed the right to submit everything save the revealed dogmas of faith to the judgment of reason, but he was not a free-thinker or unbeliever. His view of creation by God was evolutionary not a matter of days but of eternity”.”
Averroism had a great influence on Europe. Jews became the greatest exponents of Averroism in the West. In Southern P;rance, the philosophical thought was influenced by Averroists. At Oxford Averroes was known as the great commentator and Bacon ranked him alongside Aristotle and Ibn Sina (Avicenna). Averroism continued to be taught in the universities of Northern Italy including Padua which was its great centre. Other well-known philosophers of Muslim Spain were Ibn Baija, Ibn Tufail and Ibnul Arabi. Ibn Bajja (d/1138 A.D.) known as Avempace in the West has explained in his treatise Tadbir al-Mutawahhid (The Regime of Solitary), how man unaided can attain union with the active intellect. He considered that gradual perfection of the human spirit through union with the Divine is the object of philosophy. The Philosophus Antodiduclus of Ibn Tufail(d/ll85 A.D.) became a world classic.
Ibnul Arabi (1165–1240 A. D.) the greatest speculative genius of Islamic Sufism was born in Murcia(Spain). According to Ibnul Arabithe divine power manifests itself in the form of a perfect man which is of course, Muhammad (Peace be on him). His writings on mysticism influenced not ‘only Persian and Turkish SuFi cirCles but also Duns Scots, Roger Bacon and Raymond Lull. The greatest exponent of mysticism in the East was Al-Suhrawardi (1191 A. D.).
Nasiruddin Toosi (1201–74 A.D.) wrote a large number of philosophical, metaphysical and theological treatises. In orthodox circles his fame chiepy rests on these treatises. His Kitab al-Fasul dealing with metaphysics was written in Persian, which was translated into Arabic by al-Jurjani. His great philosophical work Tajrid al-dqaid (AI-KaEam) is his most popular work on which a large number of commentaries have been written in Arabic, Persian and Turkish. His outstanding work on ethics entitled, Ikhlaq-i-Naasiri (Nasirian Ethics) is one of the best books on the subject and is still taught in Arab schools.
Islam had developed a Religious Philosophy of its own which is called Ilm-ul-Kalaam or Science of the word. The secular and scholastic philosophy receded into the background in the East after the vehement criticism of such philosophy by Imam Ghazali. But the philosophical and religious writings of Ghazali gave a fillip to religious philosophy and especially to mysticism and produced such outstanding religious philosophers as well as mystics as Fakhruddin Razi, Nasiruddin Toosi, Fariduddin Attar, Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, Ameer Khusro and Dr. Iqbal. The development of Islamic philosophy, thus took a new turn in which the later philosophers have made outstanding contributions–both through Prose and Poetry.