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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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Islam spread more rapidly than all other religions of
which there exists a historical record. Only a century
after its inception in Mecca (the year of the Hegira,


1 A.H., i.e., A.D. 622), the new religion dominated an
area extending from the Iberian peninsula in the West
to the steppes of Central Asia in the East. Moreover,
to the same degree that its expansion was rapid, the
consolidation of this newly conquered domain into a
new world civilization was profound and permanent.
Islam developed its characteristic art within a century
of its birth and its own learning and arts and sciences
a hundred years later. By the end of the third century
A.H. (tenth century A.D.) the intellectual life of Islam
had reached the peak of its activity and Islamic civili-
zation had itself become, through the assimilation of
the heritage of many previous civilizations, the new
focus of intellectual life in the world.

The lands which became rapidly consolidated into
the Islamic world contained centers where most of the
philosophical and scientific life of previous ages had
flourished. The intellectual activity of Athens had long
ago been transferred to Alexandria and adjacent schools
like that of Pergamum; and then through channels of
eastern branches of Christianity, such as the Monoph-
ysites and Nestorians, this heritage had already be-
come planted upon the soil of what was later to be-
come the heart of the Islamic world, in such centers
as Antioch, Edessa, and Nisibis. The more esoteric
aspect of the Greco-Alexandrian tradition connected
with Neo-Pythagoreanism and Hermeticism had also
become established in the same region in the cult of
the Sabeans of Harran, who combined in their religious
and intellectual life the Hermetico-Pythagorean ideas
of Alexandria with astronomical and astrological ideas
drawn from late Babylonian and Chaldean sources.

Besides the intellectual heritage of the Mediter-
ranean world, that of the Persians and Indians also
became available to the Muslims. Already during the
Sassanid period the Persian king, Shapur I, had estab-
lished a school in Jundishapur to rival that of Antioch
(fourth century A.D.). In this school Persian and Indian
learning, written mostly in Pahlavi and Sanskrit, be-
came as significant as the Greco-Alexandrian learning
in Greek and Syriac. This school became important
especially in medicine and astronomy and by the
seventh century A.D. it was probably the most impor-
tant medical center in the world, combining the scien-
tific traditions of the Greeks, the Persians, and the

All these centers and many others became a part
of the Islamic world, and their activity in fact con-
tinued in certain cases for several centuries after the
Islamic conquests, in the hands of the Christians, Jews,
or Zoroastrians who now became minorities with rec-
ognized rights in the new world civilization. The very
fact that these minorities as “people of the book” were
allowed to survive in the new order itself made the
transmission of the non-Islamic sciences to Muslims
much easier. When the time came for Islamic society
to take cognizance of the presence of this heritage and
to integrate it into its own perspective, there were
translators and men of learning already present within
its own borders. The scholars belonging to these mi-
nority religious communities, or those having recently
embraced Islam, knew either Greek or Syriac if they
were Christians or Sabeans, and Pahlavi if they were
Zoroastrian. They were also masters in the sciences in
question as well as being well versed in Arabic, which
by now was not only the religious language of Islam
but also the language of discourse and learning of
Islamic civilization. When the need for non-Islamic
learning was felt by Muslims, the means to acquire it
was ready at hand.

But neither the presence of centers of learning nor
scholars and translators would be sufficient to explain
the remarkable enthusiasm and determination with
which the Islamic world set out to make the knowledge
of the ancients its own. This can be particularly appre-
ciated when one realizes that the Byzantine civilization
whose tongue was in fact Greek did not display the
same amount of interest in the sciences of the ancient
world. Islamic civilization set out deliberately and
through concerted effort to master Greek, Persian, and
Indian learning and science at the time when it was
the most powerful nation on earth and had no military,
political, or economic motive for turning attention to
these sciences.

The main reason must therefore be sought in the
characteristics of the Islamic revelation itself. Islam is
a religion based on knowledge—and not on love as
is for example Christianity—a knowledge in which the
intellect (al-'aql) itself plays the positive role of leading
man to the Divine. Islam also considers itself as the
last religion of humanity and, by virtue of this very
fact, a return to the primordial religion (dīn al-haqlanīf)
and the synthesis of all religions that have preceded
it. These two characteristics taken together made it
both possible and necessary for Muslims to come to
know the learning of earlier civilizations and to assimi-
late those elements which harmonized with its world
view into Islamic civilization.

Being essentially a “way of knowledge,” Islam could
not remain indifferent to any form of knowledge. From
the point of view of knowledge, a doctrine or idea is
either true or false; it cannot be brushed aside and
ignored, once its existence is known. Plato and Aristotle
had expressed views about God, man, and the nature
of things. Once known, their views could not be simply
ignored. They were either true, in which case they
should be accepted into the Islamic scheme of things
considered in its universal sense, or they were false,


in which case they should be refuted. But in either
case they had to be studied and known.

In considering itself as the last religion of man, Islam
has always believed that all that confirms its truths—
which can be ultimately summarized in the axial and
central doctrine of unity (al-tawḥīd)—is “Islamic” and
legitimately its own. Moses and Christ are stars in the
firmament of Islam irrespective of their role in Judaism
and Christianity. Seen in this light, all that affirmed
“unity” in both its metaphysical and cosmological
senses in the non-Islamic sciences and philosophies,
belonged legitimately to Muslims, and the Islamic
intellectual elite did not feel any religious inhibitions
in making these ideas its own. This was especially true
since Muslims, like Philo before them and like certain
Christian theologians in the West during the Middle
Ages and the Renaissance (such as those who spoke
of the “atomism of Moses”), considered philosophy and
the sciences to have been derived from revelation, from
“the niche of prophecy” to use the Koranic term.

The figure of Hermes is particularly significant in
this connection. Already the Hermes associated with
the Alexandrian school of alchemy and the Corpus
symbolizes the synthesis of Greek and
Egyptian traditions of science and cosmology. In Islam
Hermes became identified with the antediluvian
prophet Idrīs, mentioned in the Koran (Quran), and
the Hebrew Enoch. The figure of Hermes was more-
over elaborated to include three different figures each
associated with an aspect of the arts and sciences.
Hermes Trismegistus as known in the West comes, not
from Alexandrian, but from Islamic sources. Through
the three Hermes, considered as the founders of science
and philosophy and the first associated with the
prophet Idrīs, Islam was able to legitimize the incor-
poration of the intellectual heritage of previous civili-
zations into its own world view, to the extent that this
heritage was itself compatible with the genius of the
Islamic revelation.

The immediate source of the spark which ignited
the fire of intellectual activity and translation of Greek,
Syriac, Pahlavi, and Sanskrit texts into Arabic, more
than any possible utilitarian motives to benefit from
medicine and astrology, was the debates held in
Damascus, Basra, Kufa, Baghdad, and other Muslim
cities between Muslims and scholars and theologians
of other religions. Often these debates were held in
the presence of the caliphs or religious authorities,
especially the Shi'ite Imams. In these debates, where
open discussion was usually permitted, the Muslims
found themselves on the defensive before the weapons
of logic and philosophy with which their adversaries
were armed. Soon the Muslims realized that in order
to defend the tenets of the faith itself they had to arm
themselves with the same weapons. The challenge of
a theologian like John the Damascene could only be
answered with a theology of similar intellectual con-
tent. Therefore, the Muslims sought to master the logic
and philosophy of their religious opponents, especially
those Christians who were thoroughly acquainted with
Greek philosophy and logic. This movement not only
led to the concerted effort to translate, leading to the
founding of such vast institutions as the “House of
Wisdom” (Bayt al-ḥikmah) of al-Ma'mūn in Baghdad
whose specific function was translation of works into
Arabic, but it was also instrumental in the particular
way in which Muslim theology was formulated, as we
see in the case of the Christian hypostases and the
Islamic Divine Attributes.

The golden age of translation lasted for a period of
nearly 150 years, from about 150 (767) to 300 (912).
During this period a large number of basic Greek texts
in philosophy and the sciences, in the most general
sense, were rendered into Arabic, sometimes directly
from the Greek, at other times through the interme-
diary of Syriac. Special attention was paid to the works
of Aristotle and his commentators, of which there are
more translations in Arabic than in European lan-
guages, and also to classical mathematical and astro-
nomical treatises such as those of Euclid, Archimedes,
and Ptolemy. Medico-philosophical treatises, especially
those of Galen, were also translated extensively as were
many works in the occult sciences whose original
Greek or Syriac version is lost. In fact Arabic is today
a valuable source of knowledge for Greek philosophy
and science, especially of the later period, precisely
because of the large number of texts translated and
preserved as well as the high quality of many of the
translations. Altogether from the point of view of
quality and quantity alike the transmission of the
learning of the ancient world to Muslims through the
medium of Arabic is one of the most startling phenom-
ena of cultural history; for not only was it instrumental
in bringing into being Muslim sciences and philosophy
but it also played indirectly a vital role in the crea-
tion of medieval and Renaissance science and philos-
ophy in the West, and even influenced China and

The greatest translators belong to the Abbasid pe-
riod, the most important being Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq, who
founded a school of translation known for the exactness
and fluency of its renderings. Almost as significant was
Ibn Muqaffa', a Persian convert to Islam from
Zoroastrianism, whose translations from the Pahlavi
helped found the new philosophical and scientific style
of prose that was being established in the Arabic lan-
guage. But even before the Abbasid period translations
had been made and contact established between


Islamic religious circles and non-Islamic forms of
learning. The figure of Imam Ja'far al-Ṣādiq, the sixth
Shi'ite Imam, and his interest in the non-Islamic sci-
ences have often been taken by modern scholars as
being apocryphal tales not to be accepted seriously.
More recent research, however, has revealed that there
is no reason whatsoever for doubting these traditional
claims or for denying the link between the Imam and
Jābir ibn Ḥayyān, the father of Islamic alchemy. It is
most likely that the great flowering of interest in the
non-Islamic sciences during the Abbasid period goes
back to earlier contacts during the late Umayyad era
when from the inner processes within Islam itself there
grew the possibilities of contact with the non-Islamic
sciences and their legitimization and integration into
the Islamic tradition. It is, in fact, upon the properly
Islamic basis of the first century A.H., to which was
added the heritage of the ancient world through the
movement of translation, that Islamic intellectual his-
tory began to elaborate and manifest itself from the
second century A.H. (eighth century A.D.) onward.

The earliest intellectual activity in Islam is con-
cerned with those Islamic sciences which are properly
speaking known as “transmitted” (al-'ulūm al-
) such as Koranic commentary, the traditions
of the Prophet (Ḥadīth), questions concerning the sa-
cred law of Islam, theology (Kalām), as well as the
sciences dealing with language, prosody, etc. This
whole group of sciences is usually distinguished in the
Islamic classification of the sciences from the “intellec-
tual sciences” (al-'ulūm al-'aqlīyah), such as philoso-
phy and mathematics, which in contrast to the first
group need not be learned through transmission, and
may be acquired through the innate intelligence pos-
sessed by man.

During the first Islamic century, while the efforts
of most men of learning were concentrated in the
domain of the religious sciences, particularly the Koran
and Ḥadīth, in Basra and Kufa there began to develop
contending schools of grammar which soon turned to
different philosophies of language, the first more in-
clined towards Aristotelian and the second toward
Stoic logic. Some of the earliest philosophical and
metaphysical ideas in Islam are to be found in these
early schools of grammar, and this type of philo-
sophical analysis of language and rhetoric in fact con-
tinued throughout the Islamic period and was espe-
cially developed among some of the Andalusian Muslim
thinkers like Ibn Ḥazm of Cordova. The metaphysical
significance of the sounds and letters of the Arabic
language, the sacred language of Islam, is also impor-
tant in the esoteric and mystical aspect of Islam known
as Sufism. This aspect of the Islamic tradition left its
influence upon men like Raymond Lull (early four
teenth century) and others in the West who were
interested in the esoteric significance of language.

Of the transmitted sciences the one that is closest
to the mainstream of Islamic intellectual history as far
as philosophy and the sciences are concerned is Kalām,
usually translated as theology, although the significance
of theology in Christianity and that of Kalām in Islam
are not by any means the same. The science of Kalām
has its roots in the earliest debates in the Islamic com-
munity on the questions of free will and predestination,
the created or uncreated nature of the Koran, the
relation of faith to works, the definition of who is a
believer, etc. Concerning these basic religious questions
there arose different groups during the first century
A.H. such as the Murji'ites, Qadarites, and Khawārij;
each sought to answer one of these questions in such
a way that it became known as a community possessing
a particular and definable opinion vis-à-vis the majority
of Muslims.

From these early movements there grew the first
systematic theological school, named the Mu'tazilah
and founded by Wāṣil ibn 'Atā'. This school, which
gained the ascendency during the caliphate of al-
Ma'mūn and continued to be influential up to the fifth
(eleventh) century in Baghdad and after that for many
centuries among the Zaydīs of the Yemen, sought to
preserve Divine Unity from all that would blemish its
transcendence. But in so doing it chose a rationalistic
interpretation of the Divinity which tended to view
God more as philosophical abstraction than as a Reality
Who is the fountainhead and basis of revealed religion.
The Mu'tazilites proffered five main principles upon
which their different followers agreed and for which
they have become celebrated: the Unity of God, His
Justice, promise of reward and threat of punishment
for good and evil acts, belief in the possibility of a
state between belief and unbelief, and finally emphasis
upon ordering the good and prohibiting the evil. The
main Mu'tazilite figures such as Naẓẓām and 'Allāf
were powerful logicians and dialecticians to be
reckoned with in the history of Islamic theology. It
is they who for the first time developed the theory
of atomism which is peculiar to Kalām and which was
later developed extensively by the Ash'arites.

The most significant influence of the Mu'tazilites
was, however, most likely in providing an atmosphere
in Sunni Islam more conducive to the reception of the
philosophical and scientific heritage of the pre-Islamic
days. It is not accidental that their period of ascend-
ancy in Baghdad coincides with the height of activity
in the translation of works into Arabic. There are also
certain similarities, although there is not in any sense
identity, between the Mu'tazilites and Shi'ite theolo-
gians. The latter in turn were more sympathetic to the


Hermetico-Pythagorean tradition and Greco-Alex-
andrian philosophy in general than the Sunnis, not
for any rationalistic reason but because of the more
esoteric character of Shi'ism, which permitted the
integration of certain forms of Greco-Alexandrian sci-
ence and philosophy into its perspective. In its support
of the cause of coming to know and to understand this
non-Islamic heritage, however, Shi'ism was favorable
to the climate created by the Mu'tazilites in Baghdad,
although in other fundamental questions, such as the
meaning and role of the Imam, the two differ com-

At the end of the third (ninth) century the dominance
of Mu'tazilite Kalām in Sunni circles was challenged
by the new theological school of Ash'arism founded
by Abu'l-Ḥasan al-Ash'arī and developed by his disci-
ple Abū Bakr al-Bāqillānī. This school, which opposed
the rationalistic tendencies of the Mu'tazilites, sought
to reestablish the concrete presence of God by charting
a middle course between “tashbīh” and “tanzīh,” or
by giving anthropomorphic qualities to God on the one
hand, and abstracting all qualities from Him on the
other. It thus depicted a conception of the Divinity
much closer to the ethos of Islam and for this reason
soon began to replace Mu'tazilite Kalām. Of course
a sizable and significant element of the Islamic com-
munity was opposed to all forms of Kalām as a human
intrusion into the Divine order. But to the extent that
Kalām continued to be pursued in the Sunni world,
Ash'arism replaced Mu'tazilism and has continued to
be dominant to this day. The school of the Māturīdites,
which sought a more intermediate course between the
demands of reason and the dicta of revelation, was
never able to gain a great deal of popularity although
it was able to survive on its own. Shi'ite theology,
however, took the opposite direction from Ash'arism
and became more and more sympathetic to gnosis
(al-'irfān) and theosophy (al-ḥikmah), while Ash'arism
became the arch opponent of philosophy (falsafah) and
all the theosophical and philosophical schools that were
based on a systematic and rational—although not
rationalistic—approach to knowledge.

The significance of Ash'arite Kalām in Islamic
thought, besides the role it played as the opponent of
philosophy and therefore the force that often caused
the philosophers to take particular positions and an-
swer particular questions, was its development of the
theory of atomism already begun by the Mu'tazilites.
There is an “atomic” element in the Semitic, nomadic
mentality that is clearly reflected in the Arabic lan-
guage. This is the tendency of going from one truth
to another by an intuitive jump and not by a continu-
ous process. The Arabic sentence itself reflects this fact;
the subject and the predicate are connected, not by
a copula as in Indo-European languages, but by an
invisible link which must be grasped intuitively. This
“atomism” was bound to make itself manifest on the
level of thought as well, even though Ash'arism was
not exclusively Arabic by any means. Some of the
greatest Ash'arite theologians like al-Juwaynī, al-
Ghazzālī and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī were Persians. But
here it became a matter of “style of thinking” that
through Islam spread beyond the confines of those who
were racially Arabs.

The atomism of Kalām divides all sensible reality
into atoms or units (technically “parts that cannot be
divided,” juz' lā yatajazzā') which unlike the atoms
of Democritus and Epicurus possess neither length nor
dimension. The atoms of Kalām are units without
length or breadth but which combine to form bodies
possessing dimensions. It is a particular form of atom-
ism for which both Indian and Epicurean origins have
been posited without any great certainty, but which
in any case differs from the classical atomism of
Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius.

The Ash'arites, moreover, divided time, space, and
motion into atomic units as well. As a result the con-
tinuous nexus between cause and effect is denied by
them. If there is no substantial continuity between
things, as well as between moments of time and points
of space, how can there be causality? The whole cosmic
matrix was segmented and atomized. To fill this “gap,”
the Ash'arites appealed to the Divine Will. For them
it is the Divine Will which relates two moments of
existence together and gives homogeneity to the world
about us. Fire appears to “cause” heat. It is however
only the mind which, by observing the phenomenon
of heat connected with fire thinks that one causes the
other. Actually it is God who wills the fire to be hot;
He could will that it be cold tomorrow without there
being any logical contradiction whatsoever. Miracles
are in fact called khāriq al-'ādah, that which breaks
the habit of the mind to connect two phenomena
together as cause and effect. One sees here arguments
very similar to what Hume was to offer many centuries
later in order to destroy the validity of the idea of
necessity in causality, without, however, positing the
Divine Will as the nexus between two phenomena
which the mind conceives as cause and effect. In fact
some of the examples of Hume are the same as those
of the Ash'arites which makes one think that perhaps
he had become acquainted with them through the
Latin translations from the Hebrew translations of
Averroës' Tahāfut al-Tahāfut and Maimonides' Dalālat

Not being bound by Aristotelian physics, the
Ash'arites were free to develop what one might call
a “philosophy of nature” of their own based on this


conception of the discontinuity of things. Within this
scheme they developed ideas which are of great inter-
est in the history and methodology of science and
appear as particularly attractive today when in sub-
particle physics a similar situation exists and causality
in the classical sense is denied. Strangely enough, the
Ash'arite theologians, with a few exceptions like al-
Rāzī, were not interested in the sciences of nature at
all. Their aim in developing this atomism was to break
the hold of reason upon the understanding of reality
and open the human mind to the possibilities of under-
standing the verities of revelation. They were not
concerned with the development of the sciences but
ironically enough developed theories about time, space,
motion, and causality which were fecund in the later
development of physics and which appear of particular
interest in retrospect.

In Islamic civilization disciplines are clearly defined
and, although we can speak of the “philosophy” of
Kalām in English, when Muslims speak of philosophy
(al-falsafah) or theosophy (al-ḥikmah), they refer to
particular schools with well-defined methods and ends
and very distinct from Kalām. Islamic philosophy,
properly speaking, began in the third (ninth) century
after the translation of philosophical texts into Arabic
and their gradual elaboration and assimilation by
Muslim thinkers. Traditional Islamic sources mention
Irānshahrī as the first person in Islam to have devoted
himself to philosophy. He, like his successors such as
al-Fārābī, believed that the original home of philoso-
phy was the East and that in reviving interest in phi-
losophy he had brought philosophy back to its original
abode. Besides a few segments cited in later texts no
writings of this mysterious figure have survived, and
so we have to turn to al-Kindī, the Latin Alkindus,
as the first Muslim philosopher who left behind an
appreciable corpus, and who must be credited with
founding the Peripatetic (mashshā'ī) school of Islamic
philosophy, almost the only school that became known
in the Latin West.

Al-Kindī in contrast to most Muslim philosophers,
who were Persians, was an Arab of aristocratic descent.
He was born in Basra about 185 (801), studied there
and in Baghdad, where he later became famous at the
court of the caliphs, and finally died in the same city
about 252 (866) after having fallen from grace at court.
Having received the best education of his day and
having been in the current of the intellectual life of
the Abbasid capital at the very moment when the great
wave of translation reached its peak, al-Kindī helped
more than any other figure to establish the Peripatetic
school of Islamic philosophy, a school that is based on
Aristotle, as seen primarily through the eye of his
Alexandrian Neo-Platonic commentators and inter
preted according to the unitary principle of Islam.

This Peripatic school combined Neo-Platonic and
Aristotelian teachings, partly because of the unitary
vision of philosophy held by Muslim thinkers and also
due to the fact that Muslims considered the last parts
of the Enneads of Plotinus to be the Theology of
Aristotle, and took the epitome of Proclus' Elements
of Theology
to be the Kitāb al-'ilal which came to be
known later in the Latin world as Liber de causis,
attributed again to the school of Aristotle. There thus
developed a Neo-Platonic interpretation of Aristotelian
metaphysics centered around the doctrine of the One
and the emanation of the intellects and grades of being
from it, a new synthesis which is not found with the
same accent and color in any school of Greek philoso-
phy. This is especially true because the Muslims
emphasized being and the distinction between the
Necessary Being, or God, and the possible being which
comprises all things in the universe, and they stressed
the contingent nature of these things.

Strangely enough in the development of this elabo-
rate metaphysical and philosophical system al-Kindī
held certain views which are particularly his own and
which were not followed by the later Peripatetics. He
believed in creation ex nihilo, more in line with Muslim
theologians than philosophers, and had a conception
of the classification of the sciences more akin to certain
Latin scholastics than to his fellow Muslim Peripatetics.
He was also profoundly impregnated with Neo-
Pythagoreanism, more than were later Peripatetics,
although in Islam, in contrast to the Latin West, the
Aristotelian and Pythagorean-Platonic traditions did
not remain completely distinct; the most famous
Peripatetic philosophers were also master musicians
and some were outstanding mathematicians.

In many other domains, however, al-Kindī opened
avenues of thought that were followed by later Muslim
thinkers. Like them, he was as much interested in the
sciences as in philosophy and is therefore like the other
Muslim Peripatetics a philosopher-scientist rather than
just a philosopher. Also like later thinkers he was
intensely interested in the harmony between philoso-
phy and religion, although the path he trod was not
pursued by his successors. He also set the tone for
philosophical and scientific inquiry and is credited with
a statement that characterizes the method and spirit
of nearly all the members of this school: “We should
not be ashamed to acknowledge truth and to assimilate
it from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is
brought to us by former generations and foreign peo-
ples. For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of
higher value than truth itself; it never cheapens or
abases him who reaches for it, but ennobles and
honours him” (Walzer [1962], p. 12).


Al-Kindī left behind an enormous corpus of nearly
270 works on practically every domain of knowledge
from logic and philosophy to metallurgy, pharmacol-
ogy, and the occult sciences. Most of this vast corpus
has been lost, while a few of the basic works, such
as On First Philosophy and On the Intellect, survive
in Arabic, and a few also survive in Latin and Hebrew.
Yet, al-Kindī was extremely celebrated among Muslims
as well as among the Latins. His fourfold division of
the intellect, based upon the commentary of Alexander
of Aphrodisias (fl. A.D. 200) on Aristotle's De anima
and contained in al-Kindī's treatise on the intellect,
was not only very influential in Islamic philosophy but
through the translation of this treatise into Latin as
De intellectu came to be well known in the West.
Al-Kindī was regarded throughout the Occidental
Middle Ages as one of the universal authorities of
astrology, and during the Renaissance Cardanus con-
sidered him to be one of the twelve most important
intellectual figures of human history (Nasr, 1964a).

The new intellectual perspective of Muslim
Peripatetic philosophy begun by al-Kindī was estab-
lished on a firm basis by al-Fārābī (the Latin Alfa-
rabius), whom some consider more than al-Kindī to be
the real founder of Islamic philosophy. By now the
center of Islamic civilization, especially its intellectual
aspect, was shifting to a certain extent to Khorasan
where the new Persian language and culture were also
being born; and it is in this region that al Fārābī was
born about 257 (870) and where he received his earliest
education. Later he came to Baghdad both to learn
and teach, and finally he migrated to Aleppo where
he died in 339 (950). Al-Fārābī is entitled the “Second
Teacher,” after Aristotle, on whom Muslims bestowed
the title of the “First Teacher,” to be followed in this
tradition by Saint Thomas Aquinas and Dante. In this
context “teacher” means more than anything else the
function of clarifying the limits and boundaries of the
domains of knowledge and classifying and ordering the
sciences, a task that Aristotle achieved in the context
of Greek civilization and al-Fārābī performed for
Islam. Al-Fārābī is the author of the first influential
work on the classification of the sciences, which was
twice translated into Latin as De scientiis and played
a share in determining the curricula of a “liberal arts”
education in both East and West during the Middle

Al-Fārābī was also a “second Aristotle” in the sense
that he commented upon the works of the Stagirite,
especially the Metaphysics and the Organon, making
the meaning of these works fully available to Muslim
circles. Moreover he wrote himself many works on
logic and must be considered as the father of this
science among Muslims. Much of the exact philo
sophical and logical terminology in Arabic is due to
this genius who was the master of many tongues.

Al-Fārābī must also be considered as the founder of
political philosophy in Islam. In this domain he relied
upon the political ideas of Plato's Laws and Republic
rather than Aristotle's Politics, although his discussion of
the virtues is akin to Aristotle's ethics. Al-Fārābī sought
to harmonize the Platonic conception of the philoso-
pher-king and divine law (nomos) with the Islamic idea
of the prophet-ruler and divine law or Sharī'ah. His
attempt was significant enough to have left a mark
upon nearly all later speculations in this domain as we
see for example in the writings of Averroës (Ibn Rushd,
1126-98) who also commented upon Plato's Republic.
Al-Fārābī's major political work, Treatise on the Opin-
ions of the Citizens of the Ideal State,
remains the most
popular and influential work of its kind in the history
of Islamic philosophy.

In his more general and popular works al-Fārābī set
out to harmonize the different philosophical schools,
especially those of Plato and Aristotle, with each other
and with the tenets of the Islamic religion. His
Harmonization of the Opinions of Plato and Aristotle,
in which through a Neo-Platonic interpretation of both
Plato and Aristotle he sought to demonstrate the unity
of their points of view, set the tone for the general
vision of later Muslim philosophers who saw different
schools of philosophy, not as contending and opposing
philosophies, but as different expositions and aspects
of the same perennial wisdom which Steuchius and
Leibniz were later to identify as the philosophia
But in his more scientific and less popular
works such as Philosophy of Plato and Philosophy of
he discusses both philosophers directly and
without reference to their Neo-Platonic interpretation,
and seems to be fully aware of the differences in their
points of view within the general harmony discussed
in his better known works.

With al-Fārābī the metaphysical and philosophical
doctrines characteristic of the Muslim Peripatetics and
based on the “philosophy of being,” the triadic emana-
tion of the many from the One, and an elaborate
cosmology and psychology based on the multiple states
of being, issuing from the One and returning to It, are
already found in their characteristic Muslim formula-
tion. It remained for the great genius of Avicenna to
give them their most complete elaboration and
elucidation in a systematic whole.

Between al-Fārābī and Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā, 980-
1037, whose medical treatise was the standard text
for about 400 years, 1100-1500) there were many
intellectual figures of note both in Baghdad and
Khorasan. Al-Sijistānī continued the philosophical tra-
dition in Baghdad which now became mostly devoted


to logic, and al-'Āmirī made Khorasan the new home
of Islamic philosophy by living and teaching there all
his life. The latter is also of interest in that he sought
to integrate the political and administrative thought
of Sassanid Persia with Islam to form a political philos-
ophy rather than turning only to Greek sources, and
wrote perhaps the most passionate defense of Islam
written by a Peripatetic philosopher.

Ibn Sīnā, or Avicenna as he is known in the West,
crowned over two centuries of philosophical thought
with an expression of Peripatetic philosophy which was
so profound as to leave its effect upon all later Islamic
thought. Wherever and whenever the arts and sciences
have been cultivated in Islam, his spirit has hovered
over them as their “guardian angel.” More than that
he may in many ways be considered as the founder
of scholastic philosophy in its systematic formulation.

Avicenna was born near Bukhara in 370 (980) in a
family devoted to learning. By the age of ten he had
mastered the religious sciences, by sixteen was a well-
known physician, and by eighteen had overcome all
the difficulties in understanding the Metaphysics of
Aristotle, thanks to the commentary of al-Fārābī. His
precocity is proverbial in the East even today. From
the age of twenty-one until his death in 428 (1037)
he wandered from one court in Persia to another as
physician and even vizier, spending most of this period
in Ispahan and Hamadan where he finally died. During
this turbulent life his intellectual activity continued
unabated. Sometimes he even wrote on horseback
while going to a battle. The result was over 220 works
which include the Book of Healing, the largest ency-
clopedia of knowledge ever written by one man, and
the Canon of Medicine, which became the best known
medical work in East and West and gained him the
title of “Prince of Physicians.”

The universal genius of Avicenna, the greatest of
the philosopher-scientists in Islam, hardly left any field
untouched. In metaphysics he established the ontology
which characterizes medieval philosophy and left a
profound mark upon Saint Thomas and especially Duns
Scotus. The distinction between necessary and possible
being, and between existence and essence or quiddity,
the identity of the act of intellection with existence
in the generation of the heavenly intelligences, and the
emphasis upon the role of the tenth intellect as the
illuminator of the human intellect in the act of knowl-
edge, are outstanding features of this most perfect
formulation of Muslim Peripatetic philosophy elabo-
rated by Avicenna.

Of no less significance is his study of natural philoso-
phy. There, although continuing the Aristotelian tradi-
tion of hylomorphism, he continued the criticism begun
by John Philoponus (fl. fifth century A.D.) against
Aristotle's theory of projectile motion and developed
the impetus theory and the concept which later be-
came known in the West as inclinatio, the father of
the fundamental concept of momentum in modern
physics. His gelogical studies contain many original
features and, in fact, under the name of De mineralibus,
the section of the Book of Healing on geology and
mineralogy had come to be known in the West for
centuries as a work of Aristotle. It is, in fact, only in
the section on natural philosophy in the Book of Heal-
that the study of all the three kingdoms, carried
out so brilliantly in the case of animals and plants by
Aristotle and Theophrastus, was brought together for
the first time. The Canon also contains both important
medical theories and new observations on medical cases
as well as studies of the pharmaceutical properties of

In addition to these and many other philosophical
and scientific contributions, Avicenna, toward the end
of his life, wrote a series of works intended for the
“elite” in which he sought to expound what he called
the “Oriental Philosophy.” Although some of this
corpus is lost, enough survives to enable us to recon-
struct the contours of this philosophy, or rather
theosophy (al-ḥikmah), which he contrasted with the
Peripatetic philosophy meant for the multitude. In this
“Oriental Philosophy” the role of intellectual intuition
and illumination (ishrāq) becomes paramount, and
philosophy turns from the attempt to describe a ra-
tional system to explaining the structure of reality with
the aim of providing a plan of the cosmos so that with
its help man can escape from this world which is
regarded as a cosmic crypt. Henceforth, in the East
the primary role of philosophy became to provide the
possibility of a vision of the spiritual universe. Philoso-
phy thus became closely wedded to gnosis as we see
in the Illuminationist theosophy of Suhrawardī more
than a century after Avicenna.

Curiously enough this aspect of Avicenna's works
did not become known in the West, and this fact is
most of all the cause of the great difference existing
between Islamic and Latin Avicennism. In the East
Avicenna provided the first step in the journey towards
illumination; even his Peripatetic philosophy became
integrated by later philosophers and theosophists into
a greater whole, in which the development of the
rational and logical faculties itself becomes a prepara-
tion for illumination. In the West his philosophy be-
came influential at Oxford and Paris from the twelfth
century A.D. and influenced many figures like Roger
Bacon, who preferred him to Averroës, or Saint
Thomas, whose third argument for the proof of the
existence of God is based on Avicennan sources, or Duns
Scotus, who used Avicenna as the “point of departure”


for the theological system that challenged Thomism
in the fourteenth century. Altogether, however, in the
West the influence of Avicenna was not as great as
that of Averroës and it is not possible to speak with
full justice of a definite “Latin Avicennism” as one
speaks of “Latin Averroism.” But there is, to use the
term of Gilson (Gilson, 1929), definitely an “Avicen-
nizing Augustinism” one of whose best known expo-
nents being William of Auvergne. But the latter was
especially insistent on emptying the Avicennan cosmos
of the angels who play such an important role in
Avicenna's ontology, cosmology, and theory of knowl-
edge. In doing so he helped to secularize the cosmos,
which was still sacred in Avicennan philosophy, and
indirectly prepared the background for the Copernican
revolution, which could only occur in a secularized
cosmos. The difference in the interpretation of
Avicenna in East and West is one of the factors that
indicate the parting of ways between Islamic and
Christian civilizations after the Middle Ages following
centuries during which they had pursued a parallel

Besides the predominant Muslim Peripatetic school
which reaches its culmination with Avicenna there
were other philosophical and religious schools that
must be considered. From the second (eighth) century
Neo-Pythagorean and Hermetic philosophy were culti-
vated in certain circles, sometimes combined together.
Followers of these schools differed from the Peripate-
tics in their apophatic theology, interest in immediate
rather than distant causes in natural philosophy,
attraction toward Stoic rather than Aristotlelian logic
with its emphasis on the disjunctive syllogism, interest
in Hippocratic rather than Galenic medicine, and of
course their special devotion to mathematical symbol-
ism and the occult sciences. As far as the mathematical
Neo-Pythagorean philosophy is concerned, its best
known exposition is found in the Epistles of the Breth-
ren of Purity, a collection of fifty-two treatises which
exercised a widespread influence throughout the
Islamic world. Being from a general Shi'ite back-
ground, these treatises were later adopted by the
Ismā'īlīs, who came to develop a philosophy of their
own, distinct from the Peripatetics, a philosophy which
reached its peak with Nāṩir-e Khusraw who, in con-
trast to the early Peripatetics nearly all of whom wrote
in Arabic, composed his philosophical works in Persian.

As for Hermeticism, it was naturally associated with
alchemy. The first well-known Muslim alchemist, Jābir
ibn Ḥayyān, wrote many treatises on Hermetic philos-
ophy and was opposed to Aristotelian natural philoso-
phy. Interestingly enough, his corpus, too, was adopted
by the Ismā'īlīs who, in fact, added to it works of their
own authorship but attributed to Jābir. Other famous
alchemical texts, such as the Emerald Table and the
Turba philosophorum, also belong to the same Islamic
Hermetical and alchemical tradition based on earlier
Alexandrian, Byzantine, and Syriac sources. And the
Picatrix, so well known in the West, is a translation
of the Aim of the Wise of al-Majrīṭī, the Andalusian
scientist and alchemist of the fourth (tenth) century,
or his school. All of these texts contain an exposition
of a Hermetical philosophy which was a rival to the
better known Peripatetic school. In the West also the
translation of these and other texts brought into being
Latin alchemy and Hermeticism which throughout the
Middle Ages and the Renaissance, from Lull to
Paracelsus and Fludd, provided a strong rival for
Aristotelianism. Of course, occasionally there was
parallelism rather than opposition; Peripatetic and
Hermetico-occult sciences were combined together. In
fact, the first introduction of Aristotle's natural philos-
ophy into the West came through the astrological work
of Abū Ma'shar, the Latin Albumazar, which in the
translation of John of Seville was known as liber
introductorius maior.
The earlier interest of the Latins
in Islamic science had caused Adelard of Bath (fl.
twelfth century) to translate a shorter work of Abū
Ma'shar into Latin which prepared the ground for the
wide reception of the larger astrological work through
which Aristotelian physics reached the West twenty
years before any of his specific works on natural phi-
losophy became known in Latin.

The tradition of “anti-Aristotelian” philosophy, par-
ticularly in physics, is to be found among other Muslim
philosophers and scientists of the period. Among the
earliest of these is Muḥammad ibn Zakarīyā' al-Rāzī,
so well known in the West as Rhazes, who was born
about 251 (865) and died in 313 (925). Al-Rāzī, who
was an alchemist, physician, musician, and philosopher,
was much more respected by Muslim and also Jewish
philosophers for his medicine, in whose clinical aspect
he was the foremost medieval authority, than for his
philosophy. But his philosophical ideas, although not
of great importance in the later tradition of Islamic
philosophy, have recently attracted much interest be-
cause of the often unique views of al-Rāzī.

Al-Rāzī was not a follower; he considered himself
as a master on equal footing with Plato and Aristotle.
For this reason also he felt free to criticize them. In
certain fields, especially ethics and cosmology, there
are elements of pure Platonism untouched by Neo-
Platonic influences evident in him. In cosmology he
posited five eternal principles which present similari-
ties to the Timaeus but reveal even more relations with
Manichean cosmogony and cosmology. But in any case
al-Rāzī was opposed to Aristotelian physics and often
criticized the Stagirite on his views in natural philoso-


phy. He had a particular love for Galen and a re-
markable acquaintance with his works. He wrote
specifically of his preference for Galen over Aristotle.
He also opposed the general view of Muslim philoso-
phers on the necessity of prophecy, whose existence
he did not deny but whose necessity he did not accept.
This was in fact the main reason why he did not have
any appreciable influence upon later Islamic philoso-
phy, which is essentially “prophetic philosophy.”

Another great scientist, al-Bīrūnī, who lived 362
(973)-ca. 442 (1051), an admirer of al-Rāzī but opposed
to his “anti-prophetic” philosophy, likewise wrote
against Aristotelian natural philosophy. Al-Bīrūnī,
whom some consider as the most outstanding Muslim
scientist, was more of a mathematician, historian, and
geographer than a philosopher in the usual sense, and
it is through his scientific works that his philosophical
views must be sought. This remarkable thinker com-
bined the mind of a mathematician and a historian.
He was the author of the first scientific work on com-
parative religion, the incomparable India, as well as
the real founder of geodesy, and the author of one of
the most elaborate astronomical treatises in the history
of this science. It is in these works, and especially in
a series of questions and answers exchanged with
Avicenna, that al-Bīrūnī reveals his acute sense of
observation and analysis which made him opposed to
certain tenets of Aristotelian physics such as the con-
cept of “natural place.” He, in fact, wrote openly on
many subjects which were against the prevalent natural
philosophy, such as the possibility of elliptical motion
of the planets and the movement of the earth around
the sun, and remarked justly that the helio- or geocen-
tric question was one to be solved by physics and
theology and not by astronomy alone, in which
parametrics could be measured the same way whether
the sun or the earth was placed at the center.

Ibn al-Haytham, in Latin Alhazen, who lived ca. 354
(965)-430 (1039), was a contemporary of al-Bīrūnī, and
was likewise a critic of Peripatetic philosophy in many
ways. The author of the best medieval work on optics,
which influenced Witelo and Kepler, Alhazen was also
a remarkable experimental physicist and astronomer.
He must be credited with the discovery of the principle
of inertia in physics and with placing the science of
optics on a new foundation. His mathematical study
of the camera obscura, the correct explanation of the
course of light in vision—as opposed to the Aristotelian
view—the explanation of reflection from spherical and
parabolic mirrors, study of spherical aberration, belief
in the “principle of least time” in refraction, and ap-
plication long before Newton of the parallelogram for
resolving a velocity into its components are among his
outstanding scientific accomplishments.

But even more important in the long run for the
philosophy of science was Alhazen's insistence upon
the crystalline nature of the spheres. In Greek science,
while the Aristotelians insisted that the aim of science
was to know the nature of things, the Platonic mathe-
maticians and astronomers generally believed that their
aim was to “save the phenomena.” The Ptolemaic
spheres were convenient mathematical inventions that
aided calculation and had no physical reality. Perhaps
the most important heritage that Islamic science
bestowed upon the West was the insistence that the
role of all science including the mathematical must be
the search for knowledge of the reality and being of
things. The emphasis upon the crystalline nature of the
spheres by Alhazen was precisely a statement of this
belief. Physics in Muslim eyes was inseparable from
ontology. This quest for the real in mathematical
physics and astronomy was so thoroughly adopted in
the West that even during the scientific revolution no
one doubted that the role of physics was to discover
the nature of things. Newton was actually following
a philosophy of physics that Alhazen and other Muslim
thinkers had bestowed upon all sciences of nature, not
only the Aristotelian but also the mathematical and
geometric sciences of Euclid, Ptolemy, and their suc-
cessors. The modern debate concerning the nature of
modern science and whether it deals with an aspect
of reality or simply with models convenient for mathe-
matical calculation, debates which have been carried
out among such men as E. Meyerson, Cassirer, and
Northrop and the positivists and the analysts reveals
in retrospect the significance of the realism imparted
to mathematical physics by Alhazen and certain other
Muslim thinkers.

During the fifth (eleventh) century, altered political
and social conditions, brought about by the reunifica-
tion of much of the Islamic world by the Seljuqs (or
Seljuks), favored Ash'arite theology over philosophy
and the “intellectual sciences.” The new university
system which had come into being, and, in fact, which
served as a model for the earliest medieval universities
in the West, now began to emphasize the teaching of
theology or Kalām in some places almost exclusively,
and attacks began to be made by outstanding theolo-
gians against the philosophers of the Peripatetic school.
In fact so many debates were held between the theolo-
gians and the philosophers that methods and arguments
of Kalām entered into the domain of philosophy itself.
Even in Latin philosophical texts reference is often
made to the loquentes (“spokesmen”) of the three
revealed religions, loquentes being derived from its
root in a manner parallel to the derivation of mutakal-
(that is, scholar of Kalām) and having the same


Of the theologians who were most influential in
determining the future intellectual life of Islam, al-
Ghazzālī and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī are particularly
significant. Many modern scholars have considered
al-Ghazzālī as the most influential figure in Islamic
intellectual history. He is certainly one of the most
important. Coming at a decisive moment in the history
of Islam he imparted a direction to it which has per-
sisted ever since, especially in the Sunni world. Al-
Ghazzālī was both a Sufi (a Muslim mystic) and a
theologian, and he criticized rationalistic philosophy
in both capacities. On the one hand he sought to curtail
the power of reason and make it subservient to revela-
tion; on the other hand he tried to revive the ethics
of Islamic society by breathing into it the spirit of
Sufism and by making Sufism official in the religious
schools and universities. He was eminently successful
on both accounts.

Al-Ghazzālī was not in any way opposed to logic
or the use of reason and in fact composed treatises on
logic. But what he did oppose was the claim of reason
to comprehend the whole truth and to impose its
partial views even in domains where it had no authority
to assert itself. Therefore, while making use of reason
he sought to criticize the rationalistic tendencies in
Peripatetic philosophy. To this end he first summarized
the views of the Peripatetics, especially Avicenna who
was the foremost among them, in a work called The
Purpose of the Philosophers
(al-Maqāṩid), which was
translated into Latin and through which Latin scholas-
tics came to consider the author (whom they called
Algazel) as a Peripatetic. Then he set out to criticize
these views in his Incoherence of the Philosophers, a
work which broke the back of rationalistic philosophy
and, in fact, brought the career of philosophy, as a
discipline distinct from gnosis and theology, to an end
in the Arabic part of the Islamic world. The response
of Averroës to al-Ghazzālī was like an Indian summer
for this early Peripatetic school and did not exercise
any appreciable influence upon the later course of
Islamic philosophy and thought. Al-Ghazzālī also
composed numerous works on Sufism of which the
monumental Iḥyā' 'ulūm al-din (Revivification of the
Sciences of Religion
) is the most notable and remains
to this day the outstanding work on Sufi ethics.

The second theologian, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, who
like al-Ghazzālī hailed from Persia, continued the
attacks of al-Ghazzālī by selecting a single work, al-
Ishārāt wa' l-tanbīhāt
(Book of Directives and Remarks)
of Avicenna, and criticizing it thoroughly. This most
learned of theologians applied his immense learning
to criticizing and demolishing the philosophical syn-
thesis of Avicenna of which the Book of Directives and
is perhaps the most concise testament. But
by now the Kalām, applied to criticizing the philoso-
phers, had itself become philosophical and was far
removed from the simple assertions of al-Ash'arī. In
fact, with al-Rāzī and later theologians like him a
philosophical Kalām developed which along with
Sufism mostly replaced philosophy in the Sunni world
and especially in the Arab world, and was also of much
influence among Muslims of India.

Meanwhile during the fifth (eleventh) and sixth
(twelfth) centuries a great deal of intellectual activity
took place in the Islamic West, that is, in Andalusia,
Morocco, and the surrounding regions, a fact of partic-
ular significance for the history of European philoso-
phy, and in the domain of Sufism for the whole later
intellectual history of Islam. Both Ash'arite theology
and Peripatetic philosophy reached the Islamic West
much later than their birth in the East. In fact we do
not encounter any eminent representatives of either
school in Andalusia until the sixth (twelfth) century.
The first outstanding theologian and philosopher of
Andalusia was Ibn Ḥazm, who lived 383 (993)-456
(1064), and who developed an independent school of
theology, which he combined with law and the philos-
ophy of language. This synthesis reflected all of the
manifested and externalized aspects of the divine
revelation combined into a unity. Ibn Ḥazm also com-
posed the first systematic work on religious sects and
heresiography, for which he has been called the first
“historian of religious ideas.” He is also the author of
the famous Dove's Neck-ring which is a beautiful ex-
pression of the Platonic philosophy of love in its
Islamic form.

In the sixth (twelfth) century a religious reformer,
Ibn Tūmart, who was deeply influenced by al-Ghazzālī,
began a movement which resulted in the establishment
of the Almohads, and the flowering of philosophy in
the Islamic West. Before this period there had occa-
sionally been Sufis who had taught cosmological and
metaphysical doctrines, such as Ibn Masarrah who
developed a particular form of cosmology based on
“pseudo-Empedoclean” fragments, a cosmology in
which bodies themselves possess different degrees of
existence. This cosmology was to have an influence
upon the Jewish philosopher Ibn Gabirol (Latin name,
Avicebron; A.D. 1021-58), who in his Fons vitae
(“Fountain of Life”) employs a similar scheme, and also
upon the master of Islamic esotericism, Ibn 'Arabī.

But the regular cultivation of philosophy began with
Ibn Bājjah after the Almohad conquest. Ibn Bājjah, who
was well-known to the Latins as Avempace (d. A.D.
1138) is best known for his Tadbīr al-mutawaḥḥid
(Regime of the Solitary or Hermit's Rule), a philo-
sophical protest against worldliness which terminates
with the philosopher's reaching illumination in soli-


tude. In contrast to al-Fārābī and also Averroës,
Avempace did not develop a political philosophy de-
voted to the creation of the ideal state, but found the
role of philosophy to consist in its helping the individ-
ual to reach inner illumination. Avempace also wrote
a commentary on Aristotle's Physics in which he con-
tinued the criticism of John Philoponus and Avicenna
against the Aristotelian theory of projectile motion, but
in another vein; also he proposed what can be inter-
preted as the first new medieval development of quan-
titative relations to describe this type of motion. He
therefore represents, as E. A. Moody has shown
(Moody, 1951), an important development in medieval
dynamics and influenced late medieval physics, which
was developed by such men as Bradwardine, Oresme,
and Nicolas of Autrecourt. The Pisan Dialogue (1632)
of Galileo contains the “impetus theory” coming from
Avicenna through the Latin critics of Aristotle and a
dynamics which has appropriately been called by
modern historians of science “Avempacean.”

Ibn Ṭufayl, Avempace's successor, was both a
philosopher and physician, like many a Muslim
philosopher before and after, and also like some of the
Jewish philosophers such as Maimonides, who were so
close to Muslims during this period. His Alive Son of
the Awake,
which served as a model for the Robinson
story and was the inspiration for some of the
early Quakers as well as the source of Leibniz' philoso-
phus autodidactus,
is a philosophical romance whose
end is mystical illumination and ecstasy. Although the
title of this work is the same as that of Avicenna's, and
although Ibn Ṭufayl follows the tradition established
by Avicenna to write philosophical narratives in which
philosophical situations are depicted in a symbolic
language, the two works are not identical. Avicenna
in his philosophical narratives, or “recitals” as Corbin
calls them (Corbin, 1964a), was preparing the ground
for his “Oriental Philosophy” where the Angel acts as
the instrument of illumination; Ibn Ṭufayl was seeking
to demonstrate that revealed religion and philosophy
ultimately reach the same truth, if the philosopher
withdraws from society to meditate by himself. Ibn
Ṭufayl's emphasis upon the “inner light” shares this
important element with the Avicennan cycle of narra-
tives in that it shows the ultimate goal of true philoso-
phy to be a knowledge that illuminates; but there is
an element of “utopianism” in Ibn Ṭufayl and a tend-
ency, within the limits of medieval Muslim philosophy,
to seek to reach the divine outside the structure of
revealed religion.

The last and most celebrated of the Andalusian
philosophers, Ibn Rushd or Averroës, was more influ-
ential in the West than in Islam. He was born in
Cordova in 520 (1126) to a distinguished family of
jurists, and received the best education possible in law,
theology, philosophy, and medicine. He served as chief
judge of religious courts in Seville and Cordova and
court physician in Marrakesh. At the end of his life
because of a change in the political climate of
Andalusia he fell from grace and died a lonely figure
in Marrakesh in 595 (1198).

While the earlier Muslim Peripatetics developed
elaborate philosophical systems for which they are
known, Averroës devoted himself most of all to com-
menting on the works of Aristotle. Without including
small treatises on Aristotelian themes and doubtful
commentaries, there are thirty-eight commentaries by
Averroës on the works of Aristotle, five of which were
written in three forms: long, middle, and short. In fact
Averroës became known in the West as the commenta-
tor of Aristotle par excellence. It is by this title that
Saint Thomas Aquinas refers to him, and Dante men-
tions him as the person who wrote the great commen-
tary (il gran commento). Through his eyes the West
came to know Aristotle, and the figure of Averroës was
never separated from that of the Stagirite throughout
the Middle Ages. Averroës also wrote certain inde-
pendent philosophical works such as the Incoherence
of the Incoherence,
an answer to al-Ghazzālī's Incoher-
ence of the Philosophers,
and The Harmony between
Philosophy and Religion,
in which, like other Muslim
philosophers but in his own way, he sought to
harmonize reason and revelation by giving each its due
as an independent way of reaching the truth, but not
according to the “double truth” theory which is a
misconception of his teachings by Latin Averroists. He
also wrote on political philosophy, following upon the
path of al-Fārābī, and on Plato's Republic.

Averroës became known to the West in two different
periods. He was “twice revealed” to quote the state-
ment of H. A. Wolfson (Wolfson, 1961). He was once
translated in the twelfth century and then again during
the Renaissance. The movement, begun early in the
twelfth century in Toledo to translate Arabic works
into Latin under the direction of the Bishop of Toledo,
had incited such interest that less than twenty years
after the death of Averroës his works began to be
translated by such men as Hermann the German and
Michael Scot, and the translations became rapidly
disseminated. As the result of a misunderstanding of
the Islamic background of his philosophy, Averroës
became rapidly identified as a kind of anti-religious
freethinker, and such works as Errores philosophorum
of Giles of Rome devoted special sections to the
refutation of his ideas. Actually the Muslim Ibn Rushd
and Averroës as seen by the Latin Averroists, like Siger
of Brabant (thirteenth century) or the Schoolmen, in
general are very different. The Muslim Ibn Rushd,


while an avid disciple of Aristotle, was also a firm
believer in revealed religion and its necessity. The
Latin Averroës became identified with “secular learn-
ing” and around his name rallied many forces which
were opposed to the official theology of Christianity
but which nevertheless were instrumental in the
flowering of the arts and sciences during the thirteenth
century. Strangely enough Averroës was not only
“twice revealed” but also twice misunderstood, for also
during the Renaissance many Hellenists and humanists
attacked him for not having understood Aristotle
properly, although a few continued to gaze upon him
as the surest guide to the understanding of Aristotle.

After Averroës, philosophy in the Islamic West and
the Arab world was ended, except for one or two
instances. Shortly after Averroës, Ibn Sab'īn developed
a philosophy that is much more akin to the gnosis and
illumination that was now dominating the intellectual
life of Eastern Islam; and Ibn Khaldūn in the eighth
(fourteenth) century in his Prolegomena developed the
first thorough attempt at a philosophy of history, which
has had a great influence in the West during the past
century and which must be considered as the prede-
cessor of the type of study of history and civilization
developed by Vico, Spengler, and Toynbee.

The new direction which Islamic intellectual life
took was determined most of all by the School of
Illumination (ishrāq) of Suhrawardī and the intellec-
tual and doctrinal Sufism of gnosis ('irfān) of Ibn
'Arabī. Moreover these currents established themselves
upon the basis of a newly interpreted Avicennism
rather than the “anti-Avicennan” Peripatetic philoso-
phy developed in the Islamic West. Suhrawardī, a
Persian who was born in Suhraward in 549 (1153),
studied primarily in Ispahan and after travelling
throughout the eastern lands of Islam, settled in Aleppo
where he was killed in 587 (1191). He was able to
establish during this short lifetime a new intellectual
perspective which continues to this day in the Islamic
world. This new school, which is called the School of
Illumination, is based on both ratiocination and
mystical illumination, on the intellectual training
attained through formal schooling and on spiritual
purification made possible through the practice of
Sufism. The masterpiece of Suhrawardi, the Theosophy
of the Orient of Light,
as translated by Corbin (Corbin,
1964b), begins with a criticism of Aristotelian logic and
terminates with the question of spiritual ecstasy.

Suhrawardi sought to bring together what he be-
lieved were the two authentic traditions of philosophy
and wisdom in the bosom of Islamic gnosis: the tradi-
tion of Greek philosophy going back to Pythagoras and
the tradition of wisdom of the ancient Persian sages.
He thus had a consciousness of the presence of a uni-
versal tradition, and is perhaps the first to have
employed the term “perennial philosophy.” For him
this integral tradition of wisdom implied the synthesis
of the ways of ratiocination and intuition, and strangely
enough he considered Aristotle the last of the Greek
philosophers, with whom this integral philosophy, or
rather theosophy in the original Greek sense of theo-
(“divine wisdom”), became reduced to merely
discursive knowledge. Another of the biggest sign posts
which indicates a parting of the ways between Islamic
and Western philosophy is the fact that in the West
philosophy essentially begins with Aristotle whereas
for Suhrawardī and his considerable intellectual pos-
terity it ends with him.

Suhrawardī was studied avidly in the East and his
writings were translated into languages as diverse as
Hebrew and Sanskrit. Through his teachings Islamic
philosophy spread into India for the first time. But he
was not translated into Latin and therefore was not
known directly in the West. Certain Latin authors like
Roger Bacon, however, seem to have come to know
about his ideas indirectly, and mention themes and
motifs which can be easily traced back to Suhrawardī.

A generation later than Suhrawardī, Ibn 'Arabī
performed a pilgrimage in the other direction coming
from Andalusia to settle in Damascus. This giant of
Islamic gnosis and the authority par excellence on
Islamic esoteric doctrine was born in Murcia in 560
(1165) and after spending his youth in Andalusia set
out for the East as the result of a vision of the Prophet
of Islam. After spending some time in Egypt and
encountering difficulty from certain esoteric religious
scholars, he went to Mecca to write, in this holiest of
Islamic cities, the al-Futūḥāt al-makkiyyah (“Meccan
Revelations”) which is a summa of esoteric knowledge
in Islam. Later he settled in Damascus, there to write
his most celebrated work, the Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam (“Bezels
of Wisdom”) and to die in 638 (1240). Not the least
remarkable aspect of his life, which was so intertwined
with visions and wonders, is the enormous corpus of
several hundred works he has left behind, works which
transformed the intellectual life of the Islamic world
from Morocco to Indonesia.

Sufism, which is the esoteric aspect of the Islamic
revelation and is completely rooted in the Koran and
prophetic traditions, had not for the most part ex-
plicitly formulated its doctrinal teachings before Ibn
'Arabī. The earliest Sufis had presented the pearls of
gnosis through the silence of their spiritual presence
or through allusion. Rarely had they spoken openly of
all aspects of Sufism even when occasionally someone
like al-Ghazzālī or 'Ain al-Quḍāt Hamadānī had writ-
ten on some particular aspect of Sufi doctrine.
Suhrawardī also belonged to the Sufi tradition but his
task was the establishment of a kind of “isthumus”
between discursive philosophy and thought, and pure


gnosis. It was therefore left to Ibn 'Arabī and his
disciples to formulate explicitly the teachings of Sufism
in vast doctrinal treatises dealing with metaphysics,
cosmology, psychology, and anthropology, and of
course with the spiritual significance and symbolism
of various traditional sciences. These works were
henceforth studied in various official centers of Muslim
learning in addition to the special centers where Sufi
teachings were imparted.

Ibn 'Arabī was not directly translated into Latin,
but he and the Sufis in general exercised some influence
through the esoteric contact that came to be made
between Islam and Christianity by way of the Order
of the Templars and the fideli d'amore. Some of the
ideas of Ibn 'Arabī, such as the correspondence be-
tween the heavens and the inner state of being and
certain cosmological symbols, are particularly discern-
ible in Dante and also in Raymond Lull. The “gnostics”
among Christian mystics such as Master Eckhart,
Angelus Silesius, and Dante himself in fact reveal cer-
tain similarities to Ibn 'Arabī and his school, often due
more to a similarity in spiritual types than to historical
influences, which in this order must of necessity remain
at the level of providing a means of expression or a
particular language of symbolism, rather than the vi-
sion itself from which flows the truths expressed by
these mystics. In the same way Sufism itself did not
make any more use of Neo-Platonism or Hermeticism
than finding therein an appropriate means of expression
for its own verities coming from Islamic teachings that
make the Sufi vision possible.

After the seventh (thirteenth) century intellectual
contact between Islam and Christianity came nearly
completely to an end, only revived in the twentieth
century. Spain, which had been the main point of
contact, ceased to play this role after its reconquest
by the Christians, mostly because the Jews, who had
acted as an intermediary, were dispersed or found
themselves in a different cultural climate, and because
the Christian mozarabs, that is, those who had adopted
Arab ways, also disappeared. It is of interest to note
that the Jews, who had written their theology and
philosophy in Arabic until the twelfth century, began
to write in Hebrew only after the destruction of
Muslim power in Spain. The contacts made possible
in Sicily and in the Holy Land also came to an end
about the same time due to the Crusades, and two sister
civilizations which had followed a similar and parallel
course for centuries each began to follow its own way.

But contrary to what most Western sources have
written, the intellectual life of Islam did not by any
means come to an end merely because of the termina-
tion of this contact. In the seventh (thirteenth) century
the philosophy of Avicenna was revived by Khwājah
Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, an intellectual figure of the first
magnitude who also revived the study of mathematics
and astronomy. In fact it was he and his student Quṭb
al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī who proposed the first new medieval
model for planetary motion, as shown by the recent
research of E. S. Kennedy and his collaborators, which
was later employed by Copernicus and which
Copernicus most likely learned through Byzantine
Greek sources. It was also al-Ṭūsī who established
the first astronomical observatory as a scientific institu-
tion in the modern sense, which through the observa-
tories of Samarkand and Istanbul became the model
for the earliest modern European observatories such
as those of Tycho Brahe and Kepler.

Al-Ṭūsī answered the charges brought against
Avicenna by al-Rāzī and other theologians, and revived
his teachings and trained many outstanding philoso-
phers himself. Henceforth Persia, which had provided
most of the Islamic philosophers up to that time, be-
came almost the exclusive home of philosophy.
Gradually the teachings of Avicenna, Suhrawardī, and
Ibn 'Arabī as well as the theologians became synthe-
sized in vast metaphysical systems which reach their
peak during the eleventh (seventeenth) century with
Mīr Dāmād and Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī. These meta-
physicians, who are the contemporaries of Descartes
and Leibniz, developed a metaphysics which was no
less logical and demonstrative than those of their
European contemporaries and yet which included a
dimension of gnosis and intuition which the European
philosophy of the period lacked completely. Quite
justly Corbin has called Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, whom
many Persians consider as the greatest Islamic philoso-
pher, a combination of a Saint Thomas and a Jacob
Böhme, which the context of Islam in its Persian
manifestation alone could make possible (Corbin,
1964b). Moreover, these dominant intellectual figures
of the Safavid period (A.D. 1502-1722) established a
new school of philosophy which has survived to this
day in Persia itself as well as in the Indo-Pakistan
subcontinent and other surrounding regions where the
influence of Persian culture has been felt.

As for its significance for the West, this philosophical
tradition presents a most interesting parallel, in fact
the only one that exists with which Western philosophy
itself can be compared. Based in their discursive aspect
upon the same Greek sources and inspired by two
religions that are akin in many ways, Islamic and
Western philosophy finally developed in two com-
pletely different directions. When one studies the
existenz philosophy of the German existentialists or the
nihilism of some of the French existentialists, one
should also study the philosophy of Being of a man
like Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, who draw the mind to intel-
lectual horizons very different from what has become
familiar in contemporary Western philosophy.


In the same way then that Islamic intellectual life
was influential for centuries in the West to the extent
that the ideas in the two worlds have a nearly in-
separable history, the later development of Islamic
philosophy and the living tradition of philosophy and
gnosis that have survived in the Islamic world to the
present day can once again provide ideas that can be
of great fecundity on the soil of Western intellectual
life. This influence of thought appears at least among
the few who through the dim glass of phenomenology,
existentialism, structuralism, etc., are searching for a
more penetrating vision of reality than those systems
of discursive, earthly, and rationalistic philosophy
which the West has been able to provide for them since
the seventeenth century.


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Matheson (Lahore, 1959); idem, DieMaurische Kultur in
(Munich, 1970). H. Corbin, Avicenna and the
Visionary Recital,
trans. W. Trask (New York, 1960); idem,
with the collaboration of S. H. Nasr and O. Yahya, Histoire
de la philosophie islamique,
Vol. I (Paris, 1964a); idem, Le
livre des pénétrations métaphysiques
of Ṣadroddīn Shīrāzī
(Tehran-Paris, 1964b). P. Duhem, le système du monde, Vols.
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avicennant,” Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du
Moyen Age,
4 (1929), 5-149. Ibn Khaldūn, The Muqaddimah,
trans. F. Rosenthal, 3 vols. (New York, 1958). M. Mahdi,
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tion scientifique mondiale
(Leiden, 1966). E. A. Moody,
“Galileo and Avempace,” Journal of the History of Ideas,
12, 2 (1951), 163-93; 3, 375-422. S. H. Nasr, Three Muslim
(Cambridge, Mass., 1964a), p. 133; idem, An Intro-
duction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines
Mass., 1964b); idem, Ideals and Realities of Islam (London,
1966); idem, Science and Civilization in Islam (Cambridge,
Mass., 1968). S. Pines, Beiträge zur islamischen Atomenlehre
(Berlin, 1936). G. Sarton, Introduction to the History of
3 vols. (Baltimore, 1927-48). F. Schuon, Under-
standing Islam,
trans. D. M. Matheson (London, 1963).
M. M. Sharif, ed., A History of Muslim Philosophy, 2 vols.
(Wiesbaden, 1963-66). G. von Grünebaum, Medieval Islam
(Chicago, 1956). R. Walzer, Greek into Arabic (Oxford,
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Speculum (July 1961), 373-93, and (Jan. 1963), 88-104;
idem, Philosophy of the Kalam (Cambridge, Mass., 1971).


[See also Alchemy; Astrology; Atomism; Buddhism; China;
Cosmology; Dualism; Experimental Science; God; Love;
Optics; Prophecy.]