7 Things We Can Learn from Islamic Philosophy: Honoring World Philosophy Day

11/17/2016 03:54 pm ET

Many people in the West are surprised when they hear the term "Islamic Philosophy". An eminent professor of interreligious study asked me if philosophy in Islam was merely a hobby. Islam as a religion historically has enriched the philosophical discussion from the Middle Ages to the current world. What I mean particularly by Islamic philosophy is the use of rational examination to reach the ultimate truth within an Islamic context. It is rational because Muslim philosophers including al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Avicenna, Sheikh Ishraq, Ibn Tufail, Averroes, and Mulla Sadra emphasized they followed pure reasoning regardless of where it led. It orients itself toward ultimate truth because it tries to get a clear understanding of the fundamentals of the world, life, and knowledge. It is connected to the Islamic context because it grew up dealing with questions of a religious nature within the Islamic culture (i.e. Creation, the nature of Revelation, the tension between Reason and Revelation, the Islamic concept of Resurrection). This maybe more common among the multiple areas of academic study, but as yet the practical implications of Islamic Philosophy which are relevant to Muslims in the West has not been fully explored. It means getting familiarity with this key concepts of Islamic Intellectualism is not necessary only for scholars of Islam and Philosophy, but also for bridge-builders, peace-makers, human and women's rights activists who are concerned with free-speech, democracy, cross-cultural study and pluralism. My arguments follow:

1. To enhance our understanding of Islamic culture.

The position of Philosophy in Islam is more or less the same position of Philosophy as in Christianity/Catholicism. Catholicism cannot be understood without St. Tomas Aquinas and Islamic Theology cannot be understood without Avicenna. Even the majesty of Ibn Timiyyah, the father of Salafism, cannot be reached, if his criticism of Philosophy and Sufism is neglected. Thus, to have an authentic knowledge of the foundations of Islamic culture we have to look at Reason and Revelation in Islam which is discussed through Philosophy.

2. To increase our knowledge of current Islamic movements.

The pioneers of Islamism in the Middle East were inspired with philosophical thought and imagination. Muhammad Iqbal in Pakistan and Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran were Philosophers. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, deriving from al-Afghani, has Socio-Philosophical roots. Even the original source of the Taliban in India was rooted in the Philosophical and the Mystical ideas of Shah Waliullah of Delhi. Re-interpreting the faith, approaching Islam rationally and applying Islam to the current world are common among all these various Socio-Political Movements which have a hand in shaping recent events.

3. To understand the first meeting between Islam and the West.

Mostly people consider the first meeting of Islam and the Western culture through the Crusades, Modernization, and Colonialism. To the contrary, the first meeting happened very earlier, at the preliminary of Islam and very harmonious way. It led to the establishment of the "House of Wisdom" around 800 C.A. It inspired Muslims in the Translation Movement where they learned from other culture, the Western culture among them. It has a very profound effect on Islamic Theology, Sufism, and Philosophy. It is a unique example of Islamic openness to others. Studying Islamic Philosophy brings us directly to the heart of the issue equipping us with new tools.

4. To improve our ideas about dialogue among Civilizations.

Like other faiths, Islam emphasizes the authenticity of each person and religious group. The contribution of Islamic Philosophy suggests how dialogue among different Civilizations is possible and fruitful. For instance, al-Farabi focuses on various levels of language which makes dialogue possible. He, also, tried to understand Plato and Aristotle in a way which harmonizes them with each other, first, and then with Islam, secondly. The Illuminative School of Philosophy in Islam harmonized the Ancient Persian Culture with Western Platonic Philosophy. This previous approach helped this school to adjust in India to its new Culture. These historical models offer us previous successful examples of dialogue among Civilizations.

5. To shift Political concerns to Cultural and mutual understanding.

Westerners and Muslims need a mutual understanding rather than merely temporary coalitions. Decreasing hate and violence requires a knowledge of the causes and motivations which occurs through deep and unbiased understanding. The rationality of Islamic Philosophy provides us with that opportunity. In addition, since this Philosophy takes us to the heart of Islamic Intellectualism it connects us to the foundations of that Culture.

6. To explore the capacity for peaceful Islam.

Islamic Philosophy like all Philosophical Schools promotes Rationality and Humanism. Al-Farabi's disciples are known as Muslim humanists. Averroes was a major Muslim Jurist, on e of the greatest scholars of Shariah, and did not apply lots of Islamic punishments and had a respectful position toward women during his times heading the highest level of the Judiciary (Islamic Court). Several exegeses for the Quranic verses have been left by these Philosophers and can advance more moderate and peaceful use of Islamic rules.

7. To support intellectualism and rationalization across the world.

As people of the Twenty First Century we are gifted with many chances to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of consciousness, democratic systems, and human and women's rights. These are the result of Centuries of intellectual struggle done by our ancestors. It requires us to analyze of our times and move humanity forward toward such human values. Regarding the Islamic World, who are suffering severely from violence, Islamic Philosophy can abate much of the suffering and counter Textualism promoted by Fundamentalists.

Of course, like St. Thomas Aquinas in Christianity, Muslim Philosophers have their opponents within Islam. Moreover, we cannot expect from the Islamic Philosophy all of the answers but it can contribute to the whole. I would like to end this paper by using this beautiful poem of Rumi's, "Still, if it is impossible to drain (drink) the Oxus, one cannot deny one's self as much (water) as will slake" (Translated by Nicholson).

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