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Background Information

Greek philosophy was the major formative influence on the later philosophical traditions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. In all three, the theories of the Greeks, particularly Plato and Aristotle, were employed to clarify and develop the basic beliefs of the religious traditions.

In the Islamic tradition the starting point was the work of Plato and Aristotle. The 9th-century Neoplatonist al- Kindi was followed by al-Farabi, who drew on both Plato and Aristotle to create a universal Islamic philosophy.

The most important of the medieval Muslim philosophers, however, was Avicenna (ibn Sina). Starting from the distinction between essence and existence, Avicenna developed a metaphysics in which God, the necessary being, is the source of created nature through emanation. Both his metaphysics and his intuitionist theory of knowledge were influential in the later Middle Ages as well as in the later history of Islamic thought.

The philosophical tradition did not go unchallenged, however. The 11th-century theologian and mystic al-Ghazali mounted a critique of philosophy, specifically Avicenna's, that is rich in argument and insight. Al-Ghazali's Incoherence of the Philosophers provoked a response by Averroes ibn Rushd entitled the Incoherence of the Incoherence, in which al-Ghazali's arguments are countered point for point. Averroes was best known, however, as an interpreter of Aristotle and excited great influence on all subsequent thinkers in the Aristotelian tradition.

In the later Middle Ages the historian and philosopher Ibn Khaldun produced a trenchant critique of culture, and the elaboration of metaphysics and epistemology was carried on in the theosophical schools of Islamic mysticism.


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 reinterpreting 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, p. 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 renaissance. 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 Aquinas. In any case, 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.


Philosophy is concerned with the fundamental questions about nature and reality. Al-Kindi called philosophy the most exalted science, since it dealt with issues which are universal. Al-Kindi (Alkindus, 800 &endash; 873 CE) is recognized as the first Arab or Muslim philosopher. He defines philosophy as the love of wisdom, from the Greek words philo (friend) and sophia (wisdom) [Kindi, pp.18-19].

Ibn Rushd (Averroes) goes a step further and states that the Quran makes the study of philosophy obligatory upon all believers. Ibn Rushd (Averroes, 1128 &endash; 1198 CE) is considered a major Aristotelian Muslim and Spanish philosopher. He states that philosophy is nothing more than the study of beings and reflection upon them.

The Quran encourages mankind to "Reflect, you have vision." At another place it states, "have they not studied the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and whatever things God has created?" Here God is urging the readers to study the world and how and why objects and beings exist. Ibn Rushd concludes that God requires man to try to obtain demonstrative knowledge of His existence. But prior to having demonstrative knowledge, Man must be able to have dialectical, theoretical and logical knowledge. That is for man to learn he must know the basis of reasoning. Hence, philosophy is not only necessary but also commanded by the divine [Ibn Rusd, pp. 44-46].

Al-Ghazzali finds serious problems with the philosophers of his era. He writes, "they have abandoned all the religious duties of Islam imposes on its followers." He thinks that the kind of reasoning used by philosophers would never result in the proof of the existence of God. Al-Ghazzali (Algazel, 1058 &endash; 1111 CE) was an extremely influential orthodox Muslim thinker who rebuffed many of the claims of the 'philosophers' who claimed they could proof God by reason alone.

Ibn Rushd admits that philosophy may have its harms as a discipline, but these harms are no greater than those resulting from the study of medicine or law. Since, the study of philosophy is commanded by God Himself, it is obligatory, although it is possible to misuse the science for other purposes [Ibn Rushd. pp. 47].

As Al-Kindi and most Muslim philosophers agree philosophy cannot reach as far as revelation can. Hence, the basis of our actions should be based upon Islam, whereas philosophy ought to be considered as an independent discipline. It should also be noted that the thrust of Ghazzali's argument is not against philosophy, but rather its use. His main concern is that the philosophers are drawing conclusions from their 'arguments' that are not valid.

Muhammad Iqbal sees no contradiction between faith and reason. Iqbal (1877-1938 CE) in this century is considered the poet-philosopher of Islam, his works have been extremely influential in the revival of Islamic thought. He was born in (what is now) Pakistan but studied in Britain and Germany, thus providing insight into both philosophical traditions. He thinks that both thought and intuition arise from the same source and don't oppose each other, but rather are complimentary.

Reason aims at understanding the physical world and existence, whereas religious experience aims at transcending this world and achieving the knowledge of the ultimate. Iqbal then thinks that it is necessary for Muslims to engage themselves in the study and science of philosophy in order to redefine Islamic culture, which is now confronted with a more advanced western civilization. If Muslim thinkers fail in this challenge, then Muslim thought may be absorbed by Western philosophy, as the two cultures begin to integrate further.

This debate is not uniquely Islamic, similar debates have persisted in Christian thought as well. While religious tensions in Europe were hindering analytical thought, it was flourishing in Muslim lands. As the Churches influenced decreased a more dynamic movement emerged in Europe brining with it a whole new worldview moving towards reason and away from dogma. Today many Christian theologians also use philosophy to justify their positions, as is similar among certain Muslim groups. The irritating problem, however, is to uphold the conclusion of these theists on purely philosophical grounds, in the face of a challenge from radical skepticism.

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