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Aristotle’s influence on Muslim Philosophy and Al-Ghazali's flight to Sufism By MASARRAT HUSAIN ZUBERI









Dedicated to the new generation which is unlikely to find a more sympathetic and helpful guide than' A1-Ghazali.




Chapter One: Aristotle: His Influence on Muslim Philosophy 1

Chapter Two: Al-Ghazali: His Times and Legacy

Chapter Three: Epilogue

Appendix One: AI-Ghazali's Influence on the West

Appendix Two: Reformation and Renaissance

Appendix Three: Al-Ghazali's Last Testament






Aristotle and Imam Ghazali are two immortals of history who put their seal on European and Muslim philosophical scholarship through succeeding generations. The generations disappeared in the fold of time but their teachings continue to attract mankind. Still they remain difficult and controversial as in their own times.


 I confess to some boldness in tackling them. Since their death-Aristotle's and A1-Ghazali's - (one died in 322 B.C. and the other in 1111 A.D.) there have been, without interruption until the present, schools and scholars who have studied, expounded, adopted and re-adapted their doctrines and, methods, approved or condemned them. But their light still shines.


 I throw some light on their influence from an entirely different angle. With some daring, I defend the early Muslim philosophers, influenced by Aristotle, against Al-Ghazali and defend Al-Ghazali against the charge of snuffing Aristotelianism and thus stagnating Muslim thought over centuries.


The general 'theme of such accusation is that in his enthusiastic defence of religion, Al-Ghazali, unintentionally, shut the door to scientific enquiry. "The mystic way of the Sufi prescribed is incompatible with rational methods of science" and the accusation takes another form that "the Muslims, unfortunately, followed Al-Ghazali, and neglected, little by little, the study of sciences. Their once great civilization faded. On the other hand Ibn Rushd defended sciences and medieval Europe followed the way prescribed by him to attain it. This is the true spirit of Latin Averroeism which led to the rise of European Science.[1]


 This calumny first propagated in the West has, unfortunately, been taken up as a refrain by Muslim scholars of the present [2] day as well.


 I have, in all humility, attempted putting him in his correct historical perspective to defend Al-Ghazali against this persistent Calumny.


Though Averroeism became a symbol of intellectual revolt in the 13th-14th Century Europe, Al-Ghazali's own [3] influence cannot be ignored or belittled.


Influence of Muslim thought on the West is an engrossing subject as it played a significant part in sparking both the humanist and scientific movements. The later Reformation and the earlier Renaissance owed much to the borrowings from the East.


The Muslim East continued to outshine Europe up to early 19th Century, when the Industrial Revolution led to colonial imperialism. The diversion of international trade to new Atlantic and Indian Ocean routes spelt economic ruin to the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Coastal countries including the Ottoman Turks.


Necessity is the mother of invention and Industrial rivalry between European countries on the Atlantic Coast gave a new urgency to it. Soon they became rival claimants [4] to the glorious East which was predominantly Muslim. Their victims included the old China and the unexplored Africa as well.


So poor Al-Ghazali's flight to Sufism was not the turning point in history. It was the discovery of America and the Cape of Good Hope sea route to India.





Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. at a place called Stagira in Macedon: His father, Nichomachus, was the Court Physician to Amyntas II, King of Macedon and father of Philip and grand-father of Alexander the Great. He was still a child when his father died and was brought up by his father's friend - Proxenus - whose son later became Aristotle's son-in-law.


At the age of 17 in 368 B.C. he moved to Athens and joined Plato's famous Academy and remained there for nearly 20 years study­ing Mathematics, Physics, Ethics, Politics, Metaphysics, Rhetoric and Poetics. He stayed on at the Academy as a teacher (but still a learner) till the death of his teacher and patron, Plato, in 346 B.C. Not only the death of Plato but his natural disappointment in not succeeding him as the Head of the Academy induced him to leave Athens, otherwise too, the Academy was narrowing his own steadily growing and expanding intellectual interests.


He along with a few friends - devoted students and sympathising colleagues - decided to move to Assos in Asia Minor to visit his for­mer fellow student and member of Plato's Academy Hermias, who was then ruling there. He was not only welcomed but encouraged to settle down at Assos and establish a new Academy. It was his ambition too and a natural resultant to his growing encyclopaedic knowledge. He was unhappy with the new trends the old Academy was embarking upon Plato's nephew and successor - Spensippus, who, Aristotle sus­pected, was reducing metaphysics to mathematics. I do not support the other version that it was Spensippus himself who sent Aristotle and his friend Xenocrates to open a branch of the Athenian Academy in Asia Minor. The possibility is remote because there is no trace of any subse­quent relationship and there was sharp widening different approach of the two in the field of academic liberalisation. Hermias was more pliable. Aristotle began teaching at Assos. He even married Hermia's niece, Pythias, and had every intention to settle down there permanently. Asia Minor was also a part enshrining the cultural Greek heritage. Homer was born in Symrna - now Izmir, and sang of Helen of Troy which is on the Turkish coast of Bosphorus, Socrates visited the area and preach­ed at Bergarna. Plato travelled a lot and must have surely visited this culturally rich area.


Aristotle's stay at the newly founded Academy at Assos was cut short on a tempting offer from the Court of King Philips to return to Athens and become a tutor to his son - Alexander, to be eternally the Great.


Socrates,[5] Plato and Aristotle - the Trinity of friends and lineal teachers -.shaped the whole intellectual tradition of the West-and laid the philosophical foundations of Western Culture and Islamic scholasticism.


All the three sought a cure for the ills of the society not in politics but in philosophy and, as preached by Plato, these ills would not cease until philosophers became rulers or rulers became philosophers. Though Aristotle does show his debt to his philosopher - teacher, Plato, in so many things, his own intellect being so shining that whatever he touched he transformed and he, in his own metaphysical way, tried to put it to a test. Like Plato, who responded to his friend Dion's call to become tutor to Dionysius II of Syracuse in Sicily and risked the task of planning the training of Dionysius in severe sciences to fit him for the position of a constitutional king - a philosopher king, Aristotle accepted the request of his father's patron and friend to become tutor to his son.


Both attempts came to naught. Dionysius became tough with his Regent, exiled and later executed him. Plato left him soon. It is not known what Aristotle taught Alexander during the two years that he was with him and what Alexander learned from him. The relationship may have been intimate as both had a sharp intellect but there is no evidence that Aristotle had any direct influence on his moral or political ideals and ambitions except indirectly through his nephew, Callisthenes, who became a friend and admirer of Alexander and accompanied him as an official historian on his glorious campaigns. It is asserted that it was Callisthenes whose flattery had encouraged Alexan­der to see himself in the role of a god and when at Bactra, Alexander attempted to impose the Persian court ceremonial, including prostration before the King, on the Greeks and the Macedonians as well, even Callisthenes refused to abase himself. Though Alexander was forced to give up the attempt, Callisthenes paid the price as shortly afterwards he was held privy to another conspiracy and executed. This also led to suspicion by Alexander that even Aristotle may have had a hand in the conspiracy. But Alexander never returned to Athens and only a year later Aristotle too died.


 We have to go back to the two of this trio-Socrates and Plato-before dilating upon or understanding Aristotle.


Socrates was clearly a man of deep piety with the temperament of a mystic, though it is historical irony, that he was indicted, con­victed of impiet,. the form of irony that he himself perfected in his dialogues.


He had strong belief in one God - His universality as exhibited in Nature's orderliness and in His Divine guidance through revelations given in dreams, signs and oracles (the last being a concession to the order of the day, though he had a healthy contempt for it). The two contemporary sources we have about him are Xenophon and Plato. Xe­nophon depicts Socrates as regular in prayer, praying to God who alone knew what was good for him and so emphasised that his prayer should be "Lord, give me what is good." As Plato argues in "Phaedo," Socrates believed that soul of the man partakes of the divine and has immortality. Plato also gives abundant testimony that Socrates had a distinctly mys­tical temperament and tells of his "rapts in one of which he remained standing for 24 hours spell-bound in a trance." Plato speaks of the `Divine Voice' often heard by Socrates from childhood and according to F.M. Cornford in "Before and After Socrates" "it was neither an intuitive conscience nor a symptom of mental disorder but an interior psychic audition."


Socrates mission, as he assumed, was from God to convict the "god of falsehood" by making his fellowmen aware of their ignorance and of the supreme importance of knowledge of what is good for their soul. He admitted he was wiser than others because he alone was aware of his own ignorance.


It has been correctly said that "unfortunately no complete sepa­ration of the Socratic and the Platonic stands is possible." The main source of Socrates is Plato. Socrates left not a scrap of paper in writing. We have of Socrates what Plato has left behind. The modern scholars have, however, held that Socrates and his historical contemporaries Parmenides of Elea (who held that all is static) and the Pythagorian Timaeus were alive when Plato circulated earlier portions of his dialo­gues and must be taken to enshrine the philosophy expounded by Socrates and in the latter group Plato's own stands begin to colour the passage of Socrates' ideas through his own mind. The truth can be that he advanced Socrates' basic metaphysical approach and with his own advanced acute intellect gave it a form and new dimension. He securely laid the foundation of Socratic moral and political doctrine that man should concern himself with the development of a rational and moral personality and that this development is the key to man's felicity. Success in this depends on rational insight into the true scale of good. Men miss felicity when they accept apparent good for real. If he could ever know with assurance what absolute good[6]is he would in practice never pursue anything else.


The contribution of Plato, through "Phaedo," is to give meta-physical basis to justify faith in the immortality of the soul. He takes Socratic approach to a newer field - to give a rational clue to the structure of the universe in his theory of ideas or the doctrine of form. Plato adumbrates a passionate belief in "personal immorta­lity" - maintaining the divinity of the soul and to him its survival of death is a consequence of the divinity. So the whole life has to be spent in trying to liberate the soul from the body, "whose appetites and pas­sions interrupt and distort the pursuit of wisdom and goodness." The way for vision of the good must be prepared by an intellectual discip­line in hard thinking that leads through study of the exact sciences.


By his cross-examining technique, Socrates tried to ascertain what did the people mean when they talked of common ethical qualities like self-control or Justice or Courage or Morality. He found that he was wiser than they because he was conscious of his ignorance while they were not. The cure of ignorance is knowledge. Till one realised the importance of morals in knowledge, the confusion and contradictions would continue. Socrates argued that if only we knew what Justice was, the problems of being just would be simple and in search of that knowledge he never ceased, nor in his constant examination of himself and of others.


"Life[7] without self criticism is not worth living." But in real life Socrates was hardly an orthodox character. In the mind of most of the politicians he was linked with the scepticism and questioning of the accepted beliefs, which they blamed for their many misfortunes, what was needed, they felt, was a greater respect for the principles of conven­tional morality, not a questioning of them.[8]



To Socrates and Plato moral excellence has to be achieved through sound education and not with the control of political institutions. In "the Republic" his main concern is ethical. Plato held that each man has the capacity to make some contribution to a rational, moral and just society. To live otherwise is not only spiritually diseased, it leads to degeneration in personal and national character.


How contemporary he sounds, in his seventh[9] letter, written when he was an old man: Plato said, "I had much the same experience as many other young men. I expected, when I came of age, to go into politics. The political situation gave me an opportunity. The existing constitution was overthrown and a Committee of Thirty was set up and given supreme power. (Mind you he is talking of 404 B.C.). As it hap­pened some of them were friends and relations of mine and they at once invited me to join them ….I thought they were going to reform society and rule justly; so I watched their proceedings with deep interest. I found that they soon made the earlier regime look like a (gol­den) age. Among other things they tried to implicate my old friend Socrates in a criminal case. Not long afterwards the Thirty fell and the Constitution was changed again. Those were troublous times and many things were done to which one could object. Though for a time, they behaved moderately. Some of those in power, however, brought my friend Socrates to trial on a monstrous charge (of impiety), the last that could be made against him, and he was condemned and executed."


 Aristotle:(384,322 B. C). The portrait is after a painting by Raphael: done by Pakistani artist - Meraj.


"When[10] I considered all this, the more closely I studied the politi­cians and the laws and customs of the day; and the older I grew, the more difficult it seemed to me to govern rightly ………..At the same time law and morality were deteriorating at an alarming rate, I postponed action, waiting for a favourable opportunity. Finally, I came to the conclusion that all the existing States were badly governed and that their constitutions were incapable of reform without drastic treat­ment and a good deal of good luck. I was forced, in fact, to the belief that the only hope of finding justice for society or, for the individual, lay in true philosophy, and that mankind will, have no respite from trouble until either real philosophers gain political power or politicians become ,by some miracle, true philosophers."


Plato founded the Academy in 386 B.C. as a School for statesmen - where the would be politician might learn to be a philosopher-ruler. This was Plato's aim and hope. He wrote "the Republic" round about 375 B.C. and Part VIII on Education gives the substance what he thought should be the courses and the methods. The type of study required was meant to be one that should provoke the mind to think. The courses were (1) Arithmetic; (2) Plane Geometry (As with Arith­metic) the emphasis was on intellectual training, not practical usefulness, with the vision of the form of Good as the ultimate objective; (3) Solid Geometry; (4) Astronomy - again his purpose was not to advance physical science but to train the mind to think abstractly; (5) Harmonics; (6) Dialectics - the exercise of pure thought.


It culminates in coherent knowledge.


Knowledge - Pure Thought + Reason


Opinion - Belief + Illusion.


It is interesting to recount the Courses in the Academy.[11]


I Stage : Till 18,General education.


11 Stage : 2 years of Military Training and Service.


III Stage : Between 20-30: selection and study of mathematical studies.


IV Stage : Selection and later 5 years dialectic training.


V Stage : 35-40: Practical Experience in subordinate Offices.


VI Stage : After selection, those survive, are fully qualified Phi­losopher-Rulers and divide their time between philosophy (which they prefer) and ruling.


 In the ethical scheme of "the Republic" three distinct spheres of activity are treated. the philosopher, who yearns for wisdom; the votary of enjoyment, a slave to his appetites and the man of action trying for practical distinction. These combine in varying degrees in any man and competing claims can be harnessed into an integrated perso­nality through intellectual discipline and hard thinking and study both of the exact sciences and of metaphysics and dialectics. Degeneration both personal and moral national character is arrested further by reaffir­mation of the immorality of the soul.


The philosophy derived from Plato's Dialogues has been given the name of Platonism and Neoplatonism. The influence of Plato [12] can be traced throughout human culture from Aristotle, who influenced subsequent philosophic thought down the centuries, in the direction of semiitic culture through Jewish Philosopher Philo of Alexandria-who made a bold attempt to create a philosophical system on the basis of the old Testament, later to Christian Philosophy in the teaching of St. Augustine who was firmly Platonist and insisted on the Soul's superio­rity to and independence of mind, and finally the necessity of divine grace to illumine mind and intellect was stressed in Islamic re-statement of the revealed religion by early Muslim Philosophers through (Aris­totelian) influence.


The fame of Plato's "Republic" quite outshone that of Aristotle's "Politics" during classical antiquity. It was then generally believed anti­quity that Aristotle's main source was unpublished lectures of Plato delivered during his last years. His works in fact became well-known through Latin translations of Boethus in the 6th Century A.D. - trans­lated into Syriac and after the Syrian and the Egyptian Muslim conquests into Arabic - between (800-1000 A.D.).


Aristotle had little use of mathematical metaphysics expounded by Plato's two immediate successors at his Academy - Spensippus and Xenocrates and rejected his doctrine of transcendental, eternal forms altogether: he retained in his system that (a) the reality of anything lay in a changeless, though immanent, Form or Essence comprehen­sible and definable by reason and (b) the highest realities were eternal, immaterial, changeless, self-thinking Intellect that caused ordered movement of the universe and to which man's intellect at its highest was akin.


Recent scholarship of Randall and Werner Jaeger has made clear that Aristotle's aim is to understand, to find out way things as they are. In the Arab world much greater interest was shown in the metaphysical, political and social side of Aristotelian tradition and an attempt to reinterpret and adapt them to the conditions of contemporary Muslim world. As Randall says Aristotle sought intelligibility rather than power. Or "we can say that for Aristotle the highest Apex (Power) a man can have over the world is to understand it - to do, because he sees, why it must be done, what others do because they cannot help themselves." Aristotle wrote on every subject then known: Metaphysics, Logic, Psy­chology, Ethics, Politics; and his scientific interests in Sciences, Physics, Biology and Mathematics, Poetry and Art found fresh expression.


Aristotle was really the founder of Logic though his predecessors employed the principles of correct reasoning, it was he who classified, clarified, systematised it and made it a vehicle of judgment and proof. This had tremendous influence on Muslim philosophers. Both the (pro­cesses) of deduction and induction propounded by Aristotle were adopted by the Muslim thinkers and held sway both in the East and the West for nearly two thousand years since his times.


Aristotle also gave scientific content to metaphysics. He went beyond Plato in this respect and held that every object of experience embodies two factors - a substratum (matter) and its form or essence. Here too he goes beyond his - Teacher and Master - Plato's Form theory and expounds that there are four fundamentals which are com­mon to all spheres of the World. - (a) Matter or substratum (b) Form or Essence (c) Efficent Cause and (d) the End or the Final Cause.


Matter is the initial imperfection, It is not non-existent as Plato thought but exists as potentiality. Form consists of essential elements common to all individual objects of the same type and is the actualisa­tion of the material potentiality. All movement is change from poten­tiality to actuality and for every thing in existence there is a moving or efficient cause. The Essence is shape; it shapes and its own completion is the End.


 Inorganic things, the Essence, the Efficient Cause and the End are one sequence. The Soul is both the form of the body and its moving final cause.


There are things in existence that both move and are unmoved. Therefore there must be a third something which moves but is itself not moved. This something - the "unmoved mover" is God Himself.


He is the Pure Eternal Form without any alloy of matter, the Absolutely Perfect Actuality. He is the Absolute Spirit identical with Reason, loved by everything and sought as the Perfect Ideal by every-thing. He Produces Motion by being loved and so is the final Cause of all Activity. In Him the distinction of the Individual and the Universal completely disappears and He is the One Unified and Unifyer Absolute, But the Greek Pantheism peeps in and in the end Aristotle stumbles into believing through astromonical considerations - to postulate that different spheres should have an Unmoved Mover Spirit and there are 47 or 52 such Spirits in all - or was it his final subterfuge to escape the charge of impiety which condemned Socrates to death. In fact, like Socrates, he was indicted on the capital charge of impiety in 323 B.C. after the death of Alexander the Great - the pretext being the dedica­tory poem written on the execution of his friend and helper King Hermaels by the Persians, nearly 20 years earlier which was interpretated as deification of him. But he was "wiser" than Socrates and he hurriedly withdrew from Athens across the Strait of Evripos to Chalcis where he died at the age of 62 or 63.


Aristotle also raises the question of, the good for man. To him the highest realisation of the Essence of Man consists in the active exercise of the faculty which is so distinctive of him - namely the faculty of Reason. Man's supreme excellence, therefore, consists in proper per­formance of his functions as a rational being throughout the whole of his life. This will enable him to attain happiness which is possible only in habitual sub-ordination of the animal side of man's nature: his appe­tites, desires, passions to the rational rule and consistent exercise of Reason in search of knowledge and pursuit of truth and virtue. Virtue is the direction of the will towards the golden mean[13]- the balance be­tween excess and defect, like difference between liberality and prodi­gality, between meanness and courage, between foolhardiness and cowardice.


In his views on "Kingship" he departed from Plato's "Philoso­pher - King" idea by asserting that "it was not merely unnecessary for a King to be philosopher, but even a disadvantage. Rather a King should take the advice of true philosophers. Then he would fill his reign with good deeds, not with good words."


Since Aristotle's death there have been, without interruption until the present, Schools and Scholars who have studied, expounded, adopted and adapted his doctrines and methods, approved or condemned them. He has been studied in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and now in every known language.


The Romans received the Aristotelian thought through Boethius, a Roman Scholar and Statesman in early 6th Century, when he trans­lated Greek texts available to him into Latin. Christianity was then the official religion. But new religious movements arose earlier such as Nes­torianism after Nestorius, a monk of Antioch, who become Bishop of Constantinople, in 438 A.D. and who in 431 was condemned as heretic in the Assembly of Ephesus. The resulting persecution led to their flight to Syria and Persia. The Nestorian preachers adopted Syriac as the com­mon man's language for preaching. They translated into Syriac Greek authorities, such as Aristotle and his commentators, because some knowledge of these gave them -philosophic basis to expound their theo­logy. It was a group of Nestorian translators, who, by making Arabic versions from the Syriac, first brought Hellenistic philosophy to the Arab world.


While the Alexandrian School kept alive interest in medical and allied sciences, the Nestorian Churches in Syria and Persia were more in­terested in logic and speculative philosophy.


And they were Syrian translations which came into the hands of Arab Scholars. And among the very first Arab Scholars was Al-Kindi (185/801.260/873) who mastered the Syriac language from which he himself translated several works. He probably learnt the Greek languageas well.


Al-Qifti,[14] the renowned chronicler, says that "Al-Kindi trans­lated many philosophical books, clarified their difficulties and sum­marised their deep theories." Al-Kindi's full name was Abu Yusuf Yaqub-Ibn-Ishaq-Ibn-Al-Sabbah-Ibn-Al-Ashaz-Ibn-Qais-Al-Kindi. Just at the advent of Islam Kindah was one of the major well-known tribes to which he belonged, hence his prefix Al-Kindi. His grand-father, Al-Ashaz-ibn-Qais, was reputed to be a companion of the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h.) at whose hand he became a Muslim When Kufa and Basra were founded Al-Ashaz was amongst the first immigrants to Kufa. Al-Kindi's father Ishaq-ibn-Sabah later become so prominent that caliph Al-Mahdi appointed him Governor of Kufa.


Kufa and Basra within a century of their foundation had become centres of Islamic learning and controversial theology. Kufa was more inclined to rational studies. It was in this atmosphere of intellectual erudition that he was brought up. Like every young Muslim,he learnt Quran by heart, studied Arabic Grammer and Hadith. Knowledge and learning was for all and had become a passion with the whole com­munity. The sum total of knowledge that a cultured man in the hey day of Islamic glory was supposed to acquire included Mathematics, Astro­nomy, Music, Medicine, Ethics, Philosophy, Poetry besides Quran and Hadith and Jurisprudence based on them. The concept of knowledge was its totality-Religious, Social, Economic, Ethical, Dialetical and Al-Kindi was no exception. As he gradually became more interested in sciences and philosophy, he could not ignore the Greeks and learnt their language and acquired proficiency in Syriac again following the injunc­tion of the Holy Prophet when after learning three R's after the Battle of Badr - Zaid bin Satit was asked to learn Hebrew, which even Hazrat Umar learnt later.


It is truly said that there would be no philosophy without the Greeks, and particularly Aristotle, as whoever ventures to cut himself off from the collective experience of the past centuries will never achieve anything as a philosopher or scientist:, since the span of one individual life is much too short. "It is fitting to acknowledge the utmost grati­tude to those who have contributed even a little to truth, not to speak of those who have done much …. we should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth and to assimilate it from whatever sources it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign peo­ples. For them who seeks the truth, there is nothing of higher value than the truth itself; it never cheapens him or abases him who searches for it, but ennobles him and honours him." These are the words of Al-Kindi found in the preface of the earliest metaphysical work in Arabic dedicated by him to the reigning Caliph AI-Mustasim-billah. Al-Kindi's main contribution was his attempt to bring philosophy in accord with religion.


He puts forward the following reasoning to postulate accord be­tween philosophy and religion - Theology is part of philosophy - the prophets' revelation and philosophical truth are in accord with each other and that the pursuit of theology is logically ordained. He emphas­ised that "the totality of every useful science and the way to attain it is the getting away from anything harmful and taking care against it - the acquisition of all this is what the true prophets have proclaimed [in the name of God.] The Prophets have proclaimed the unique divinity of God, the practice of virtues ordained and accepted by Him and the avoidance of vices, which are contrary to virtues in themselves.


When he was accused of "Kufr" he lashed out against those who trade religion for a living, but in fact he did make some concessions to orthodoxy. In his treatise on "The Number of the works of Aristotle" he does give higher place to revealed religion over philosophy but there too makes a neat distinction between Prophets who receive knowledge direct from God and it is received without research, effort, study and industry and they postulate Truths through God's illumination, inspira­tion, support and direction and the ordinary human beings who have only one way of attaining knowledge, (enjoined by God and Holy Pro­phets) with research and industry; through logic, mathematics, philosophic discourses and learning.


Aristotle's "the Great Mover of the Moved" is reinterpreted by Al-Kindi who wrote "God, great is His-Praise, is the reason and agent of motion being Eternal. He can not be seen and does not move, but in fact causes motion without himself moving. He is simple in that he can not be dissolved into something simpler and He is indivisible because he is not composed and composition has no hold on Him. But in fact He is separate from the visible bodies since He is - the reason of the motion of the visible bodies." The originality of Al-Kindi lies in his reconcilia­tion of the Islamic concept of God with the philosophical ideas which were current in later Neo-Platonism in the Middle East. Keeping in mind the attributes of God In Islam, as given in the Quran, Al-Kindi sharpens them in subtler language. "God is the True one. He is transcen­dent and can be qualified by only negative attributes. He has no matter, no form, no quantity, no relation. He has no genus, no differentia, no species, no accident. He is immutable …    He is, therefore, absolute oneness nothing but oneness. Everything else is multiple."


The world in Aristotle's system is finite in Space but infinite in Time, because the movement of the world is coeternal with the Un­movable Mover. This is against not only Islamic thought but against the main Idea of all revealed religions that God created world out of noth­ing. So there was a time when there was Nothing but the Mover. He is (the Qu’ranic appellation – “the cleaver of the Earth and the Heavens.”)  Muslim philosophers faced this problem. Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina were accused of atheism because of their pro-Aristotle conception of the world being co-eternal. In fact this remain­ed a controversial point in Islamic philosophy and Al-Ghazali takes this as the first point against the philosophers. Al-Kindi, however, maintain­ed that the world is not eternal. Apart from giving mathematical theories on motion of infinity, he argued that physical bodies are composed of matter and form and move in space and time...Matter, form, space, movement and time are the five substances in every physical body. And according to Quran they move in their own orbits. Being so connected with corporeal bodies, time and space are finite, given that corporeal bodies are finite and they are finite because they can not exist and move except within definite limits. Time is not Movement: it is the number which measures the motion. Being composed of matter and form, limited in space and moving in Time, every body is finite, even if it is the body of the world. And being finite it is not eternal. God alone is Eternal. Walzer, one of the noted translator and commentator of Al-Kindi, sums up his contribution as "Revealed Truth takes the place of Plato's myth in Al-Kindi's attempt to build up, for the first time, not an Arabic Republica of Greek Philosophy but a Greek Philosophy for Muslims," which is hardly the truth.


Abu Bakr Mohammad-bin Zakarya-bin-Yahya better known as Al Razi (865-925 A.D.) was a Persian by birth and was in his times more famous as a practising doctor of medicine than a doctor of philo­sophy. As his teacher and master in medicine was Ibn-Rabban-al-Tabari whose father Rabban was well versed in Scriptures and Greek philoso­phy, his interest in philosophy was aroused. At the same time, Al Razi was a pure rationalist. He believed in reason and in reason alone. In medicine his Clinical studies reveal a very solid method of investigation based on observation and experimentation and in philosphy, though familiar with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen he never failed to assert his own opinions based on reason. On the very first page of his "al-Tibb-al-Ruhani" he exalts reason. "God, glorious is His name, has given us reason in order to obtain through it, from the present and future the utmost benefits that we can obtain. It is God's best gift to us…… we should refer to it everything and judge all matters by it. We should do according to it as it commands us to do "


Al-nazi is against prophecy, against revelation against all irra­tional thought. To him God is Perfect and Pure Intelligence. From the Soul, Life flows. He argues since we have admitted the wisdom of the Creator, we must admit that the world was created. If one asks why was it created at a given moment we say that it was because Soul attached itself to matter in that moment. God knew that this attachment was cause of evil, but after it had been brought about, God directed it to the best possible way. But some evils remained, being the source of all evil, this composition of soul and matter could not be completely purified. This could explain creation of Adam and his Fall.


Al-Razi does not believe in the eternity of the world but claims to be a Platonist, though following Galen teaches that the world came into being in time whereas matter alone is eternal. Although he denies the creation from nothingness, he gives reason for creation which is nearer to Islamic conception: God is Omniscient, Absolute knowledge, Justice and Mercy. Man should, according to Plato make himself like God, in the greatest degree possible for man. Hence the creature nearest to God's favour is the wise, the most just, the most merciful and the most compassionate. He believed in God and in his best Creation the Man because of endowment of reason; in progress through reason he had no use for Intermediaries - Prophets and their revelations. Though Abdur Rahman Badawi, Prof. of Philosophy, Cairo, calls 'him an atheist, I think this is not justified because of his strong reasons establishing the existence and unity of a Super Being.


Ar-Razi, Kindi and Farabi all wrote on Ethics and Philosophy, drawing extensively on the Greek material, but giving it new colour­ing. Abu-Nasr Al-Farabi (870-950 A.D.) has been given the name of "the Second Teacher," that is, Aristotle, the second. Since his day, the number and older of the works left behind by Aristotle or at least attributed to him which have been commented upon by Farabi, or after his example, by others, remain almost fixed. The so-called "Theology of Aristotle" was considered by Farabi, to be a genuine work. Farabi's main attempt at first was to demonstrate that Philosophic stands of Plato and Aristotle were not too different and he attempted to harmonise them with each another. He held that Plato and Aristotle differ from each other only in phraseology and that in relation to prac­tical life, their doctrine of wisdom is the same. To him, they were the two "Imams" of Philosophy.


His second attempt was to reconcile philosophy and religion both of which he held to be objectively propagating the (one) basic Truth. He gave Platonic Philosophy a pharaseology and form, without changing the content, to make it more consonant with Islamic teachings, which, he, in turn, interpreted more rationally. Dr. Ibrahim Madkour, Prof. of Philosophy, Cairo University, rightly stresses that Farabi expounds Philosophy in a religious way and philosophizes religion, pushing them in two converging directions so that they may come to an understand­ing and co-exist. He goes on to say that "Farabi has undoubtedly been the first scholar to raise a new edifice of philosophy on the basis of this accord: later philosophers have followed the lines chalked out by him: Ibn Sina has been to a certain extent occupied in the exposition and delineation of its Platonic and Aristotelian aspects; while Ibn Rushd has been busy indicating the accord between Aristotelian Phi­losophy and Religion."


I will refer to only two aspects of his quite abstruse but coordi­nated re-interpretations both of Aristotle's philosophy and the revealed religion. He classifies Intellect into (a) practical intellect which deduces what should be done and (b) theoretical intellect which helps the Soul to attain its perfection. The intellect is capable of rising gradually from intellect-in-potency to intellect-in-action and finally to acquired-intel­lect. The acquired-intellect rises to the level of communion, ecstasy and inspiration which is the highest form attainable by the chosen few. And the One who Chooses, is Himself beyond Comprehension, but illumi­nates the intelligence to reach the apex, leading to inspiration and heavenly vision. The theory of Intelligence put forward by him is based on Aristotle and Farabi himself says that his theory depends upon the third part of "De Anima" of Aristotle and/but the mystic addition is his own, introduced by him to be the link between human knowledge and revelation. He provided prophecy with a rational but higher stand and in the Middle Ages had tremendous influence - Jews & Christians also accepted it. Following his Greek Imams - Farabi wrote several treatises on "Politics," .the best known one of which is his "Model City." Plato's Philosopher King and Aristotle's King helped by the Phi­losphers are again merged and given a new pedestal. The Chief must be brave, Intelligent, lover of Knowledge, upholder of Justice and be cap-able of rising to the level of the Agent Intelligence thus getting inspiration and revelation. The agent intelligence is the source of the divine laws and guidance. He borrowed the concept from Aristotle's theory of dreams but gave it a revealing Prophetic content denied by his Master.


Al-Farabi accepted reward and punishment in a future world and pleaded that the conduct of the common man could be improved and that's why there is so much insistence on it in the Holy Quran. As a Philosopher having drunk deep at the Greek fountain, but being a Mus­lim he again equated it with the Muslim injunctions that only the souls of the good, who had lived a life resembling that of God, as far as human beings can, lose their individuality and then become part of the "Active Intellect" of the Kingdom of Heaven and the bad souls survive as Individuality and remain in utter wretchedness.


Ibn Sina (980-1037 A.D.) is one of the brightest Intellects of the world. Though influenced both by Al-Kindi and Al-Farabi he tried to reconcile religion and philosophy through allegorical interpretation. Ibn Sina was, however, a greater systematic thinker of the higher order. As his clear, exhaustive and well classified "Qanun" remained a sought out text book for medicine for centuries in the whole civilised world, the same genius manifests itself in his great, philosophical encyclopaedia `Ash-Shifa' in which he deals at length with all the philosophical, ma­thematical and natural Sciences.


It is significant how widespread and common were the Aristo­telian teachings when Ibn Sina was still a young man living with his father at Bukhara when a guest named Al-Natali arrived. Al-Natali earn­ed his living as a roving teacher of Aristotelian doctrine and introduced him to the teachings of the Master which was then preached like a religion. He learned logic, studied Euclid and attempted to study Aris­totle's metaphysics and, as he himself says, found himself utterly incap­able of understanding its meaning, until one day, he casually purchased one of Al-Farabi's books and with its help he was able to comprehend it. Al Ghazali brackets him with Farabi as the two leading interpreters of Aristotle.


When he was appointed personal physician to Nuh-bin-Mamur, the Samanid Governor of Khorassan, he found in the Prince's library many works of Aristotle, hitherto unknown to his contemporaries and he became the sole transmitter of the doctrines contained there in, par­ticularly when the whole library perished later in those turbulent times. Ibn Sina was living at the Court of Emir of Khawarazam when Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna invited the scholars of his Court but Ibn Sina decid­ed against it and went to Isfahan to the Court of Alaud Daula Mu­hammad.


It is impossible to deal here with all or even one aspect fully of his immensely rich philosophy. Very briefly his basic concepts were based on Aristotle's `De Anima' but modified in the treatment. He accepted Aristotle's definition of soul but at the same time put it as an incorporeal substance. He gives a very elaborate and unique discussion of Inner Senses, Internal Perception but differs again from the Aris­totle's concept of imagination and splits it up into five different facul­ties. Ibn Sina did not consider Prophecy like Farabi as the highest kind of imagination. He identified it through intellect with sagacity, a power of "hitting at the Truth in an imperceptible time" Wazel is of the view that he derived this from Aristotle's "Posterior Analytics" as inspiration coming from "Active Intelligence;" to my mind more of Farabi than of Aristotle's. According to most modern authorities Ibn Sina is so deeply steeped in Aristotelianism that he became the Aristotle for the whole world for centuries. The influence of Ibn Sina's thought has been enor­mous. And his millenium anniversary observed is again the indication of revivalism of his thought.


Abu-Al-Walid Mohammad-Ibn-Ahmad-Ibn-Mohammad-lbn Rushd was born in Cordova in 1126[15] AD. His father Mohammad and his grand­father Ahmad first [Ibn-Rushd] both held the high office of Chief Jus­tice of Andalus. With that family background he naturally studied the Quran, the Traditions, Jurisprudence, Arabic Poetry and Literature and as Cordova rivalled Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo as the great seat of Isla­mic learning, he pursued studies in Mathematics, Physics, Astronomy, Logic, Philosophy and Medicine.



The works of Farabi and Ibn Sina had also reached the Western corner of the Muslim world and Ibn Rushd was familiar with them all. Ibn Rushd deserves a place of honour in the long series of commentators on Aristotle, upholding his important tradition. Most of his works are lost in Arabic original but a great number of his commen­taries were translated into Hebrew and Latin and were held to be of great importance for mediaeval Jewish and Western Latin Aristotelian scholars. For more than three hundred years they read Aristotle mainly with the help of the commentaries of Averroes as he came to be known in the West and of Avicenna who was Ibn Sina. The widespread inter­est in Aristotle taken in the Muslim world is best illustrated by the story how Ibn Rushd was induced to start writing his famous commen­taries. Ibn Tufail, one of the two Maghrib philosophers (the other being Ibn Bajjah), and author of the famous story "Hayy-bin YaQzan "one day summoned Ibn Rushd and told him that Amir Abu-Yaqub" has complained to him of the difficulty of the expression of Aristotle and his translators and it would be easier for people to grasp them if some one would tackle these books, summarize them, expound their aims after understanding them thoroughly." Ibn Tufail excused himself on the plea of old age and of his work as a Minister and asked Ibn Rushd to take up the work. For over 25 years (between 1169-1195 A.D.) Ibn Rushd wrote a series of commentaries on most of the Aristotle extant works e.g. the Organon, De Anima, Physica, Metaphysics Rhetorica,  Poetica and Ethics. Aristotle's "Politica" was not available to him and therefore he wrote a commentary on Plato's "Republic." [Ibn Rushd's) commentaries were translated in Europe. They were literally incorporated in.the Latin version of Aristotle's work. He and Ibn Sina, as Averroes and Avicenna, ruled the classical and religious thou­ght of Europe for Centuries. Even Dante in his "Divine Comedy" mentions Averroes "the Great Commentator" and Avicenna along with Euclid, Ptolemy, Hippocrates, and Galen as great benefactors and prodi­gies of human intellect. Their influence on religious thought of Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine] and St. Francis of Assisi is openly acknow­ledged. Ibn Rushd in his books "the Fasl" and the Kaslif' and the "Al-Ithisal" embodies his bold views that it is the metaphysician alone, employing certain proof, competent to interpret revealed Shariah law To him, to establish the true inner meaning of religious beliefs and reve­lations is the aim of philosophy in its quest for truth. He applied Aris­totle's three arguments - demonstrative, dialectical and persuasive. In his defence of philosophers against Al-Ghazali's reasoned outburst branding them as "Kafirs," Ibn Rushd mainly based his defence on Qu­ranic Injunctions where men of Intellect are ordained to think, study and ponder deeply on the Creator and his Creations to get inner light and add to it. The objective of religion, as defined by him, is to attain the truth, the true theory and true practice (Ai-ilm al Haq, Wal-anial-al Haqq). True knowledge is the knowledge of God. To my mind, learning and knowledge have to be combined to reach the Truth. The first Kalma is only a Statement -The Second is Shahada which you can't give unless you have advanced and progressed to the state wherein you can affirm definitely that you know and stand witness to God and His revelations through His Messenger.


 Ibn Rushd says that "the way of acquiring knowledge is of two kinds: apprehension and assent. Assent is either demonstrative, dialec­tical or rhetorical - for the philosopher, for the religious teacher and for the masses, and is possible only through comprehension."


It is interesting to note, and may be valid even today, that Ibn Rushd advocates that masses should be given only orthodox explana­tions of the Scriptures and- the rest of speculative study is for the intel­lectual few, hankering after the truth. To him philosophers are those who follow the way of speculation and are eager for knowledge of the truth and those who wish to attain this knowledge they should apply demonstrative arguments to the interpretation of theological teaching of Shariah - a term which he uses to include both the text of the Qu­ran and its injunctions in practice, which we now associate with the person of the Holy Prophet (Peace be on him).


While he carried on the long tradition of attempted synthesis be­tween religious law and Greek philosophy, he went a step further. He made Plato's political philosophy, modified by Aristotle, his own and held it as valid for the Islamic State as well. If Plato's philosopher Kings are not available to rule, there should at least be Aristotle's philosophers on hand to advise and influence the King. For him Plato's ideal State is the best after the ideal State of Islam. But he looks at Plato's "Repblic" through the eyes of Ibn Sina and in his attempt at synthesis of religion and philosophy, he takes to the Aristotelian theory of Intellect and of the Unmoved Mover as modified by Farabi. To all this he gives his ethical and political philosophy a distinctly Islamic Character and tone and hence his significance as a religious-Philosopher for us too.


With Ibn Rushd we come to end of the reign of Philosopher Ulema or Imams. That he was forced to write a refutation to Al-Gha­zali's attack on philosophers shows the way the wind was blowing, soon to turn into a thunder storm of orthodox scholasticism. The right wing of the Mutazallites and in spite of the Ismailia movement, the majorityof Muslims retained their orthodoxy and regarded as 'bidat' any innovation.


The latter innovations and quiblings of the Mutazallites got mixed up with Plato and Aristotle's commentaries as dangerous to orthodoxy culminating into heresies. And coup be grace was given by the Hujjat­il-Islam-Abu Hamid Mohammad AI-Ghazali (1058-1111 A.D.); and later the meekly loving Sufism, represented by Maulana Ruud and others, beaconed to other luminary lights and the flame of Aristotle­lianism was finally snuffed. The fall of Baghdad to the Mongol hordes was the death knell - the tolling of the. bells. But that's another tale and let us tell it in the next chapter. Source:



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