Muslim Thought

Here are some important people who made significant contributions to Muslim Thought, and three main sections named as Classical, Medieval and Contemporary eras in which a time interval for each one of them is given. No doubt that there may be some objections to the selected names or to the time intervals, but let it be known that we tried here to make an evaluation from the perspective of the Systematization of the Thought, and determined the starting and ending dates of the eras by regarding the events which may be considered as the turning points in Muslim history. Hence, we decided on A.D. 610 as the starting date of Classical Era, which represents the critical moment in Muslim history, the time Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received “the first revelation.” Likewise, we decided on A.D. 1258, the date of collapse of Abbasid Empire, as the starting date of Medieval Era, and A.D. ~ 1850 as the starting date of Contemporary Era, the period in which the West's influence over Muslim world became apparent. And we separated the third era into subsections for it has a special importance in the project of the Systematization of the Thought. To put it another way, Muslim Thought keeps on developing since Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani called on all Muslims to join in revivalist movement in mid-19th century. After that time, Muslim Thought has signalled that it may grow into a robust ideology, and in the course of time it turned out to be the one enabling to use a “self-confident discourse.” But this is not enough. In order to reach the aim of social and political transformation of the Muslim world, Muslim Thought should be systematized, and Muslims should have a good knowledge of both the Muslim Thought and the Western Thought. Moreover, a “comparitive” study should be done between Islam and Modernity, and the prevailing paradigm i.e. Modernity/Postmodernity must be overcome. That is why we put particular emphasis on Contemporary Era and seperate it into subsections. If we manage to do this, i.e. if we have a good knowledge of this era, we believe that we have the knowledge required to change the world.

As to the reason why we designated the name of this section as “Muslim Thought” instead of “Islamic Thought”, we can say the followings: As is known, Islam is a “religion” not a “thought.” It is unfair to equate it with the products of “human thinking” because its “origin” is different. However, there is no doubt that Muslims have “thoughts” and this is what we call “Muslim Thought.” In addition to that, only the views compatible with Qoran and Sunnah deserve to be named as “Islamic.” Therefore, all the views of the schools of thought in Muslim history are to be considered as “pretensions to the truth” not “the truth” itself because all of them are the products of human reason. So, we believe that all the views of the persons cited in the category of Muslim Thought can readily be criticized.

Let it be known that we made the “list” on the following grounds: Muslim world faced an “external” challenge in Classical Era coming especially from the schools of “philosophy” and “sufism”, and tried to respond it. At the beginning, the theologians made an effort to take up the challenge but their performance were not up to the mark. However, the thought developed and systematized in the course of time and Ummah responded competently to the challenge of philosophy by Al-Ghazali, and to that of sufism by Ibn Taymiyyah. We face a similar situation in Contemporary age, and again Muslim world faced an “external” challenge. But this time, the challenge has come from ‘Modernity.’ The ulema and intellectuals of the time has made an effort to take up this challenge in just the same way as the theologians of the Classical Era did, but their performance at the beginning has not been up to the mark, too. Let it be known that the Ummah will not be able to respond competently to this challenge unless the thought is systematized. Therefore, what should be done today is to make a scholarly effort in just the same way as the Ummah did in Classical Era. But we face a problem here: in making a ‘comparative’ analysis, who will represents the Muslim Thought in face of the Western Thought? In another saying, can all names cited as scholars or “philosophers” in our history be readily included in the scope of “Muslim” Thought? It seems impossible because some of them are dehris (secularists) while some others are interpretors of Qoran; some of them claimed to be a prophet, while the others tried to reconcile Islam with philosophy. So, we can not put all of them in the same category. For example, we exluded dehris (secularists) from the list of “Muslim Thought” because they rejected the Muslim idea of “creation”, arguing that nature exists from all eternity and lasts forever. But we put those who try to reconcile Islam with philosophy or sufism on the list. Nonetheless, it should be remembered that we did it just because they allege that their views do not contradict with Islam. Verily this does not mean that their ideas or arguments are in accord with Islam and that we confirm them. For instance, both Avicenna and Al Farabi, who are regarded as the notable “Muslim” philosophers, and Ibn Arabi and Al-Suhrawardi, who are considered as the notable sufists, advocate arguments incompatible with some tenets of Islam. Nevertheless, they never admit they are heretics, rather they assert that they seek merely “the truth.” The same is true for Contemporary Muslim Thought. “Modernist” Muslims of the era has also tried to reconcile Islam with Modernity and argued that they did it in the name of Islam. But no doubt that claiming to be a “Muslim” does not require that Muslim’s arguments also deserves to be named as “Islamic”, just as granting credence to someone’s claims does not require that we give credence to all of them.

Here is yet another problem, which is more important than the former one. Muslim Ummah suffered not so much from heretics or from their arguments throughout our history but have been affected negatively by accommodative attempts. Here is truth and falsehood mixed together, and this may be dangerous to the general public. It is the responsibility of the Ulema or the intellectuals to warn the public about the danger and try to eliminate the risks by taking the useful steps and propose a “radical” solution to the problem. What needs to be done to solve the problem is to make a scholarly or professional endeavor so as to seperate the truth from the falsehood. This is what al-Ghazali tried to do in opposing the philosophers in Classical Era. A similar endeavor should be undertaken against those who seek for reconciling Islam with Modernity in contemporary era. As is known, there is a great confusion in the minds of people all over the world as to whether the modernity represents the universal truth. In order to remove this confusion, Muslims should have a good knowledge of, and criticize competently the arguments of advocates of reconciliation of both Classical and Contemporary Era. That is why we put those philosophers of Classical Era such as Avicanna and Al-Farabi, and those thinkers such as Muhammad Arkoun and Hassan Hanafi on the list of “Muslim Thought.” In sum, our purpose here is to know ins and outs of the “external” ideology in order to respond the challenge posed by it competently.

Indeed, we could have put those philosophers such as Avicenna, Al-Farabi and Ibn Arabi on the list of Western Thought because their “way of thinking” or the manner in which they handled the matters is peculiar to the Greek philosophers. As is known well, the trio of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle who represent the highest peaks of Greek thought first systematized this method of thinking. Hence, Ibn Taymiyyah called the “Muslim” philosophers simply the “disciples” of the Greek trio. The reason we did not put those names on the list of Western Thought is that the historians specialized in Western thought or well-versed scholars in the history of thought inclined to adopt this approach. Nonetheless, we are aware of the fact that those who are called as “Muslim philosophers” tried to reconcile Islam with Greek thought, and that they used the very patterns or manners of Greek philosophers in doing this. Thus, we see no harm in putting their names on the list of the Western Thought just as the Greek philosophers of the Classical Era.

However, we would like to state here that we should focus on Contemporary Muslim Thought rather than Classical Muslim Thought in order to reach the aim of the project i.e. systematization of the Thought. This is because the Ummah successfully responded to the external challenge in Classical Era but could not yet responded competently to that of Modernity in Contemporary Era. So, we did not need to put all the thinkers in Classical Era on the list but found it sufficient to give those ones who represent best the ideas of both philosophy and sufism a place. If we have a good knowledge of them, this is enough, we believe, to have full-fledged knowledge about the “ideological” dispute in Classical Era.  On the other hand, we put the important figures of Mu’tazilah, Cahmiyya, Kadariyya and Murjiah on the list of Classical Era because they generally did not embrace opinions contrary to the very principles of Islam or showed no contempt for sacred things. Likewise, we saw no harm in putting the important figures of “ascetic sufism” on this list because they did not pose heretic ideas or committed the sin of shirk (idolatry), as seen frequently in “philosophical sufism” but just initiate bid’ah i.e. innovation in practical matters. Bid’ah, on the other hand, is mardud (something “rejected”) but practising it does not make the faithful an infidel.

Additionally, we would like to emphasize that there may be some risks if we embrace a wholly “rejectionist” approach towards the “external” effects due to the fact that all the views expressed on behalf of “philosophy” and “sufism” in Classical Era and of “Modernity” in Contemporary Era can not be regarded as non-Islamic. Here we should hold an attitude towards them just as Al-Ghazali did in Classical Era, and try to “separate” the “neutral” ones from those which contains elements of shirk or kufr. And beyond all question, we need not to reject the “neutral” ones. In another saying, there is no harm in adopting the “acceptable” things. This is because, as the Prophet says, “wisdom is a lost property of the faithful. He/she has the right to pick it up wherever he/she finds it.” 

In this section, we did not put also “scientists” such as Al-Biruni and Ibn al-Haytham on the list because our goal here is not to make an analysis of Muslim civilization but rather to settle account with external elements posing an “ideological” challenge to Muslim world. From our standpoint, “science” i.e. the knowledge acquired through observation and experiment may fairly be regarded as “the common property” of mankind and many persons from different cultures has contributed to the scientific progress. So, there is no direct relationship between the “correctness” or “falsehood” of a belief system or an ideology and the scientific progress. That is why we did not put “scientists” such as Al-Biruni and Ibn al-Haytham on the list.  

As to the classification of the names, it can be said that they should be evaluated with respect to their level of significance. Because some people contributed Muslim Thought much more than some others. For example, the contribution made by Abu Hanifa to fıkh (jurisprudence) can not be considered equal to that of Sarakhsi. The former is a Mujtahid e Mutlaq who first systematized fıkh while the latter is a Mujtahid fil Mazhab i.e. a scholar who wrote valuable books in accordance with the principles laid down by a Mujtahid e Mutlaq. Likewise, the contribution made by Al-Ash’ari to kelâm i.e. theology can not be considered equal to that of Al-Taftazani. The former first determined the basic principles of kelâm, while the latter made a relatively little contribution to this discipline. Our aim in giving such a “list” here is to bring neatly the name of persons who made valuable contributions to Muslim Thought to the public attention and thereby to make a humble contribution to the studies which will be done in advance to have a good knowledge of this Thought.

It is to be noted also that it would not be enough to make a study on names alone.  Besides, an additional study on the basis of events and concepts should be made. For instance, the main secred text of Islam i.e. Qoran, the anonymous documents, the historical events such as Crusades, Mongol Attacks and Conquest of Constantinople are also important in terms of having a good knowledge of Muslim Thought/Civilization. So, it appears that an “overall” study should be done in order to realize the aim of getting full-fledged knowing.[1]  And in the final stage of this endeavor, a study concerning the concepts should be made.

Let it be known that the arguments of the persons listed here is to be criticized from the perspective of the Systematization of the Thought and on Islamist grounds. At the present time, there is already a criticism toward them but what has not been done or what could not be done is that these arguments has not still been criticized on Islamist grounds and by means of an overall study yet. And that is what we try to do in the process of the Systematization of the Thought. 

↩ [1] The method to be followed in this study is explained in the section of The Project.