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Islamic Philosophy

Oliver Leaman

ISBN: 978-0-745-64599-5 November 2009 Polity 288 Pages


Although Islamic philosophy represents one of the leading philosophical traditions in the world, it has only recently begun to receive the attention it deserves in the non-Islamic world. This important text provides a concise and accessible introduction to the major movements, thinkers and concepts within that tradition, from the foundation of Islam to the present day.

Ever since the growth of Islam as a religious and political movement, Muslim thinkers have sought to understand the theoretical aspects of their faith by using philosophical concepts. Leaman outlines this history and demonstrates that, although the development of Islamic philosophy is closely linked with Islam itself, its form is not essentially connected to any particular religion, and its leading ideas and arguments are of general philosophical significance. The author illustrates the importance of Islamic thought within philosophy through the use of many modern examples. He describes and contrasts the three main movements in Islamic philosophy ? Peripatetic, Sufi and Illuminationist ? and examines the Persian as well as the Arabic traditions. Wide coverage is given to key aspects of Islamic philosophy, including epistemology, ontology, politics, ethics and philosophy of language, providing readers with a balanced view of the discipline. The second edition has been thoroughly revised and updated throughout, including the addition of two new chapters on recent debates surrounding Islam's need for an enlightenment, and on the future of Islamic philosophy.

The new edition of Islamic Philosophy will continue to be essential reading for students and scholars of the subject, as well as anyone wanting to learn more about one of the most significant and influential philosophical traditions in the world today.

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Preface to the Second Edition viii

Author’s Note and Abbreviations xi

Glossary xii


The growth of Islam 2

Neoplatonism 3

Major thinkers 5


What is Islamic philosophy? 13

Early reactions to Greek philosophy in Islamic culture: the Great Debate 22

Al-Ghazali and philosophy: the question of creation 24

The nature of time 26

Mulla Sadra on change 28

Iqbal on time 29

Ibn Rushd on time 31

What can God do? 33

Miracles and meaning 34

The afterlife 36

What can God know? 37

Philosophical accounts of religious concepts 39

How free is God? 40

Essence, existence and miracles 41

The meaning of words 45

Meaning and unity 46

bi-la kayfa 48

Ibn Taymiyya on talking about God 49


The notion of Islamic science 52

Science and rationality 55

The nature of knowledge 56

What is knowledge for? 58

Imagination 60

Ibn Sina on knowledge and the ‘oriental’ philosophy 63

Sufi sm, knowledge and imagination 65

Knowledge by presence 67


Mysticism as a system 71

Being 74

Mysticism as a science 76

The perfect man 80

The deepening of prayer 82

Criticisms of Sufism 84


Being and existence in Islamic philosophy 87

Ibn Rushd vs Ibn Sina on existence 87

Mulla Sadra vs al-Suhrawardi on existence 88

The equivocality of being 90

Mulla Sadra and mysticism 94

The imaginal realm 95

Different routes to one truth and the role of imagination 98

Allegory and meaning: the imaginal realm again 99

Prophecy and its psychological basis 101

Is being really the fi rst question in metaphysics? 104

6 ETHICS 106

Theological background: Mu_tazilites vs Ash_arites 106

Ethics and divine power 107

Al-Ghazali’s attack on objectivism in ethics 108

Trusting authority 112

The need for guidance 116


Plato vs Aristotle 118

The diversity of human beings 122

Islamic accounts of history 123

The notion of the ‘medieval’ 125

Liberalism vs Islam 129

The case of jihad 133

Modern political consequences 137


Philosophy and religion 142

The notion of cultural contact 146

The Andalusi connection 148

Getting back to basics 151

Falsafa and hikma: philosophy and wisdom 155

The concept of religious reason 156

The concept of inclusive reason 158

Robinson Crusoe and Hayy ibn Yaqzan 160


The case of Ibn Rushd 164

Ibn Rushd on meaning 165

Ibn Rushd and elitism 169

The Enlightenment Project 173

Ibn Rushd as a critic of mysticism 175

The implications for language 176


The West as decadent 182

Confronting tradition 183

Islamic exceptionalism 186

Did al-Ghazali destroy Islamic philosophy? 188


Jewish and Muslim reactions to modernity 195

Moses Mendelssohn and Muhammad _Abduh 196

Islamic exceptionalism again 197

The Enlightenment and theology 200

Christianity as the symbol of modernity 202

The need for an Enlightenment 204

The lack of radicalism in Islamic Qur’an commentary 207

References and Bibliography 211

Guide to Further Reading 223

Index 225

  • A concise and accessible introduction to the major movers, thinkers and concepts within the Islamic philosophical tradition
  • The text outlines the history of Muslim thinkers’ use of philosophical concepts to understand the theoretical aspects of Islam
  • The book addresses the significance of Islamic philosophy for philosophy generally, as distinct from its religious significance
  • Filled with modern examples to illustrate the author’s point
  • The text addresses the three main movements in Islamic philosophy, Peripatetic, Sufi and Illuminationist, as well as looking at such key aspects as epistemology, ontology, politics, ethics and philosophy of language
  • A thoroughly revised and updated second edition with two new chapters on recent debates surrounding Islam’s need for an enlightenment, and on the future of Islamic philosophy
  • Essential reading for students and scholars of Islamic Philosophy, as well as anyone interested in one of the most significant and influential philosophical traditions in the world today