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Page last edited on 22 April, 2003

Groundwork on Islamic Philsophy


Chapters in this essay

Groundwork on Islamic Philosophy

Relative to Western philosophy, the field of Islamic philosophy has remained largely dormant for the past few hundred years.   The rigor of intellectual thought in Islam has been lost and contemporary Muslim thinkers are faced with the enormous challenge of re-interpreting and integrating the tremendous intellectual achievements of the West with that of earlier Islamic thinkers and the Quran (the Muslim holy book).

This endeavor is of crucial importance to any new Islamic intellectual renaissance.    With the rise of Western science and philosophy, serious new challenges have been posed to the very fundamental principles of epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics, espoused by the classical thinkers of Islam.   These issues need to be addressed, as Muhammad Iqbal, perhaps the first modern Muslim philosopher to deal with these problems in any comprehensive manner, writes:
“With the reawakening of Islam, therefore, it is necessary to examine, in an independent spirit, what Europe has thought and how far the conclusions reached by her can help us in the revision and if necessary, reconstruction, of theological thought in Islam.”  (Iqbal 6)

The current undertaking will by no means meet the challenge put forth by Iqbal.  It will, however, attempt to at least lay out some of the issues in Islamic epistemology, metaphysics and philosophy of religion.    The difficulty of studies in this field, is compounded by the fact that there is very little academic material available on Islamic philosophy, and much of it remains to be translated from their original languages.   Even if translated, many of the issues in modern philosophy have changed over time and it is not clear how to relate the medieval debates with the modern ones.   In short, there is a significant period of intellectual lapse on the Islamic side, between the middle ages and today.   Despite these problems, there is a need to present intellectual thought in Islam in an easy to understand yet rigorous manner, that maybe contribute towards enhancing further studies between western and Islamic philosophy.  Both traditions have much to gain from each other.

It is important to understand the basic framework and essentials tools used by Islamic philosophers in order to critique and build upon their works.   Modern western philosophy has already dismissed many of the claims of medieval thinkers.  It is now worth evaluating if the earlier claims are worth of a reexamination.

It is peculiar that many of the modern western arguments have close analogues in the earlier Islamic thinkers.  Some have suggested that perhaps, this shows the influence of Islamic thought on European thought. Many of the classic works of Islamic philosophy were translated into latin from arabic at the beginning of the European renessaince.  These along with translated greek manuscripts greatly impacted the development of western thought.   This influence is best seen in the works of the likes of, Descartes and Acquinas.  In anycase, I think, the material is best viewed as a progression of thought from the Greeks onto the Muslims and then to Europe, and not as two different and opposed points of view.
There are three major, purely rational, arguments for the existence of God that have had a significant influence on the history of philosophy of religion.  These are namely, the Cosmological, Teleological and Ontological arguments.   Other arguments put forth for the existence of God are the arguments from morality and probability.  This paper will examine the three major arguments as they are presented in modern philosophy and compare them with arguments for the existence of God presented by ancient and modern Islamic philosophers.   It will also attempt to clarify the role of philosophy in Islamic thought, and how Muslim philosophers have attempted to reconcile faith and reason.

The main argument against the existence of God, has been the problem of evil.  This has posed many problems to the theist, and Islamic philosophy is only beginning to tackle the problem in western terms.

Another stream of arguments for God’s existence, recently proposed in contemporary western philosophy are the proofs from religious experience.  This is a theme also present in Islamic philosophy and the second part of this project will examine this issue.

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Last updated on 22 April, 2003

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