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School of Modern Languages
Georgia Institute of Technology
ARBC 2031 Arts Sciences and
Technology through History
Fall 2018
Tuesday and Thursday 3:00-4:15 Swann Building 206

Philosophers of Medieval Islam
Yahay Ibn ‘Adiy
Ibn Sina
Ikhwan al‐Safa
Ibn Rushud
Musa Ibn Maymun
Ibn Arabi
Jalal al‐Din al‐Rumi
• The Question of “Islamic Philosophy” 8th‐13th century
• Seyyed Hossein Nasr: Sacred Silence in “Sufism” and the Vedanta
The Question of Islamic Philosophy
• Philosophy Produced in Arabic or Persian?! [Translation Movement]
• Philosophy produced by Muslims, but this would be too narrow also?!
[A good deal of philosophy of the time was produced by non‐
• Some scholars would argue that the basis of all work in Islamic
philosophy is the opposition between religion and reason, between
faith and philosophy, and between Islam and Greek thought. (History
of Islamic Philosophy, 2)[Disputed topic among scholars]
The Question of Islamic Philosophy
• Islamic philosophy addresses entirely universal philosophical issues.
“For example, the question of how it is possible to know God will take
a particular form within an Islamic context, given the emphasis on the
unity of God. Knowing God will involve knowing a being from which
all anthropomorphic description is removed. Yet this is not a uniquely
Islamic issue, since many religious philosophies will have an account
of how it is possible to know a God who cannot be described in terms
which apply to God’s creation.” (History of Islamic Philosophy, 3)
The Question of Islamic Philosophy
• What is philosophical about the discussion “knowledge of God” is its
use of very abstract concepts to make sense of the idea of such
knowledge. (Ibid, 3).
• What is Islamic about the discussion is its conception of God and
God’s Qualities. (Ibid, 3).
The Questions of Islamic Philosophy
• Perhaps, he tried to introduce Greek concepts in the language that
would strike a resonance with his Muslim compatriots. That is to say,
his priority was not as much to convey the nature of the argument to
the Islamic community as to show that this is an argument which is
both relevant and interesting to his contemporaries.
• Perhaps he was arguing that Greek form of thought is compatible
with Islam. That is, he is representing an originally Greek argument in
a manner which would make sense to his audience, in this case using
Islamic language.(Ibid, 6)
• Perhaps al‐Farabi was deliberately trying to pass off Greek thought as
being far more religious, or at least Islamic, than it really was.(Ibid, 6)
The Questions of Islamic Philosophy
• Some scholars would argue that there was a genuine attempt to
create a space for Greek concepts and applying them to Islamic
issues. And that is what is “Islamic” about philosophy. Consider for
example the translation of “Law” (Ibid, 6):
• Greek terms like “nomos” (law) is not translated as “namus,” an Arabic term
coined to convey the same meaning as the Greek term.
• For example, al‐Farabi used “Shari’ah,” the term for law in Arabic.
• “Shari’ah” is a term with religious connotations, which is absent from the
Greek notion of law.
• What did al‐Farabi mean?
The Question of Islamic Philosophy
The terms used for Islamic philosophy
hikmah al‐ilahiyyah
al‐hikmah al‐mutaaliyah
The Questions of Islamic Philosophy
How the Islamic philosophers understood the definition and meaning of the
concept of philosophy and the terms hikmah and falsafah?
From the term philosophia and many of the definitions from Greek sources
which were to find their way into Arabic.
Some of the definitions of Greek origin most common among Islamic
philosophers are as follows:
The Question of Islamic Philosophy
1. Philosophy (alfalsafah) is the knowledge of all existing things qua existents
(ashya’ al‐mawjudah bi ma hiya mawjudah)?
2. Philosophy is knowledge of divine and human matters.
3. Philosophy is taking refuge in death, that is, love of death.
4. Philosophy is becoming God‐like to the extent of human ability.
5. [Philosophy] is the art (sina’ah) of arts and the science (Him) of sciences.
6. Philosophy is predilection for hikmah.
The Question of Islamic Philosophy
Abu Ya‘qub al‐Kindi
The Islamic philosophers used these definitions inherited from ancient
sources and identified them with the Qur’anic term hikmah, believing
the origin of hikmah to be divine. (Ibid, 22‐3)
The first of the Islamic philosophers, Abu Ya’qub al‐Kindl wrote in his
On First Philosophy, “Philosophy is the knowledge of the reality of
things within people’s possibility, because the philosopher’s end in
theoretical knowledge is to gain truth and in practical knowledge to
behave in accordance with truth.” (Ibid, 23)
Abu Nasr Al‐Farabi
Abu Nasr Al‐Farabi, while accepting this definition, added the
distinction between philosophy based on certainty hence
demonstration and philosophy based on opinion, hence dialectic and
sophistry, and insisted that philosophy was the mother of the sciences
and dealt with everything that exists. (Ibid, 23)
Ibn Sina
Ibn Sina accepted these earlier definitions while making certain
precisions of his own. In his seminal work ‘Uyun al‐Hikmah, he says “Al‐
hikmah [which he uses as being the same as philosophy] is the
perfection of the human soul through conceptualization [tasawwur] of
things and judgment [tasdiq] of theoretical and practical realities to the
measure of human ability.” But he went further in later life to
distinguish between Peripatetic philosophy and what he called
“Oriental philosophy” (al‐hikmat al‐mashriqiyyah) which was not based
on reasoning alone but included realized knowledge and which set the
stage for the hikmat al‐ishraq [enlightnment] of the last philosopher al‐
Suhrawardi. (Ibid, 23)
Ikhwan al‐Safa
Ibn Sina’s foremost student Bahmanyar identified falsafah closely with
the study of existents as Ibn Sina had done in his book al‐Shifa,
repeating the Aristotelian dictum that philosophy is the study of
existents qua existents. Bahmanyar wrote in the introduction to his
Tahsil, “The aim of the philosophical sciences is knowledge of
existents.” (Ibid, 23)
Ikhwan al‐Safa’ who lived in the fourth/ tenth century and who were
contemporary with Ibn Sina was to echo ever more loudly over the
ages wherever Islamic philosophy was cultivated. The Ikhwan wrote,
“The beginning of philosophy (falsafah) is the love of the sciences, its
middle is knowledge of the realities of existents to the measure of
human ability and its end is words and deeds in accordance with
knowledge.” (Ibid, 23)
Seyyed Hossein Nasr: Sacred Silence in “Sufism”
and the Vedanta

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