The effect of the Qur’an and Hadith an concepts of Islamic philosophy1

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The close nexus between the Qur’an and Hadith, on the one hand, and Islamic philosophy, on the other, is to be seen in the understandign of the history of philosophy, The Muslims identified Hermes, whose personality they elaborated into the “three Hermes”, also well known to the West from Islamic sources, with Idris or Enoch, the ancient prophet who belongs to the chain of prophecy confirmed by the Qur’an and Hadith, (On the Islamic figure of Hermes and Hermetic writings in the Islamic world see L. Massignon, “Inventaire de la literature arabe”. appendix 3 in A. J. Festugiere and A. D. Nock, la Revelation d’ Hermes Trismegiste, 4vols ( Paris, 1954-60), S. H. Nasr, Islamic Life and Thought (Albany, 1981): 102-19, F. Sezgin, Geschichte der arabischen Schrifttums, 4(Leiden, 1971).) And they considered Idris as the origin of philosophy, bestowing upon him the title of Abu’l – Hukama (the father of philosophers). Like Philo and certain later Greek philosophers before them and also many Renaissance philosopher in Europe, Muslims considered prophecy to be the origin of philosophy, confirming in a Islamic from the dictum of Oriental Neoplatonism that “Plato was Moses in Attic Greek” The famous Arabic saying “philosophy issues from the niche prophecy ( yanba’u’l- hikmah min mishkat al- nubuwwah) has echoed through the annals of Islamic history and indicates clearly how Islamic philosophers themselves envisaged the relation between philosophy and revelation.

It must be remembered that al- Hakim (the Wise, from same root as hikmah) is a Name of God and also one of the name of the Qur’an. More specifically many Islamic philosophers consider Chapter 31 of the Qur’an, entitled Luqman, after the Prophet known proverbially as a hakim, to have been revealed to exalt the value of hikmah, which Islamic philosophers identify with true philosophy.

This chapter begins with the symbolic letters alif, lam, mim followed immediately by the verse, “The are revelations of the wise scripture [ al- kittab al- hakim]” (Pickthall translation), mentioning directly the term hakim. Then in verse 12 of the same chapter it is revealed, “And verily We gave Luqman wisdom [al- hikmah], saying: Give thanks unto Allah, and whosoever giveth thanks,he giveth thanks for [ the good of ] his soul. And whosoever refuseth- Lo! Allah is Absolute, Owner of praise.” Clearly in this verse the gift of hikmah is considered a blessing for which one should be grateful, and this truth is further confirmed by the famous verse, “He giveth wisdom [hikmah] unto whom He will, and he unto whom is wisdom is given, he truly hath received abundant good”.( 2: 269).

There are certain Hadith which point to God having offered prophecy and philosophy or hikmah, and Luqman chose hikmah which must not be confused simply with medicine or than branches of traditional hikmah but refers to pure philosophy itself dealing with God and the ultimate causes of things. These traditional authorities also point to such Qur’anic verses as “And He will teach him the Book [ al-kitab] and Wisdom [al- hikmah]” (3: 48) and “Behold that which I have given you of the Book and Wisdom” (3:81): there are several where kitab and hikmah are mentioned together. They believe that this conjunction confirms the fast that what God has reveled through revelation He had also made available through hikmah, which is reached through aql. itself a microcosmic reflection of the macrocosmic reality which is the instrument of revelation.(See for example the introduction by one of the leading contemporary traditional philosophers of Persia, Abu’l –Hasan Sha’rani, to Sabziwari, Asrar al- hikam (Tehran, 1960): 3) On the basis of the doctrine later Islamic philosophers such as Mulla Sadra developed an elaborated of the intellect in its relation to prophetic intellect and the descent of the Divine Word, or the Qur’an, basing themselves to some extent on earlier theories going back to Ibn Sina and other Muslim Peripatetics. All of this indicates how closely traditional Islamic philosophers identified itself with revelation in general and the Qur’an in particular.

The relation of the Qur’an’s comprehension and interpretation with growth of Islamic philosophy
Islamic philosophers meditated upon the content of the Qur’an as a whole as well as on particular verses. It was the verses of a polysemic nature or those with “unclear outward meaning” (mutashabihat) to which they paid special attention. Also certain well- known verses were cited or commented upon more often than others, such as the “Light Verse” (ayat al-nur) (24:35) commented upon already by Ibn Sina in his Isharat and also by many later figures. Mulla Sadra was in fact to devote one of the most important philosophical commentaries ever written upon the Qur’an, entitled Tafsir ayat al-nu, to this verse, ( Edited with introduction and Persian translation by M. Khwajawi (Tehran, 1983).)

Western studies of Islamic philosophy, which have usually regarded it as simply an extension of Greek philosophy, (The writings of H. Corbin are a notable exception) Have for this very reason neglected for the most part the commentaries of Islamic philosophers upon the Qur’an, whereas philosophical commentaries occupy an important category along with the juridical philosophical, theological (kalam) and Sufi commentaries. The first major Islamic philosopher to have written Qur’anic commentaries is Ibn Sina, many of whose commentaries have survived.( See M. Abdul Haq, “Ibn Sina’s” Interpretation of the Qur’an” The Islamic Quarterly, 32 (1) (1988):46-56.) Later Suhrawardi was to comment upon diverse passages of the Sacred Text, as were a number of later philosophers such as Ibn Turkah al- Isfahani.

The most important philosophical commentaries upon the Qur’an were, however, written by Mulla Sadra, whose Asrar al- ayat and Mafatih al- ghayb (This monumental work has been edited in Arabic and also translated into Persian by M. Khwajawi who has printed all of Mulla Sadra’s Qur’anic commentaries in recent years. It is interesting to note that the Persian translation entitled Tarjuma-yi mafatih al-ghayb (Tehran, 1979) includes a long study on the rise of philosophy and its various schools by Ayatullah Abidi Sharudi, who discusses the rapport between Islamic philosophy and the Qur’an in the context of traditional Islamic thought.) are among the most imposing edifices of the Islamic intellectual tradition, although hardly studied in the West until now. Mulla Sadra also devoted one his major works to commenting upon the Usul al-kafi of Kulayni, one of the major Shi’ite text of Hadith containing the sayings of the Prophet as well as the Imams. These works taken together constitute the most imposing philosophical commentaries upon the Qur’an and Hadith in Islamic history, but such works are far from having terminated with him. The most extensive Qur’anic commentary written during the past decades, al- Mizan, was from the pen of Allamah Tabataba’i, who was the reviver of the teaching of Islamic philosophy in Qur’an in Persia after the school World War and a leading Islamic philosopher of his century whose philosophical work are now gradually becoming known to the outside world.

Tawhid led Muslims to know the former philosophers
Certain Qur’anic themes have dominated Islamic philosophy throughout its long history and especially during later period when this philosophy becomes a veritable theosophy in the original and not deviant meaning of the term. Theosophia corresponding exactly to the Arabic term al -hikmat al-ilahiyyah (or hikmat-o ilahi in Persian). The first and foremost is of course the unity of the Divine Principle and ultimately Reality as such or al-tawhid which lies at the heart of the Islamic message. The Islamic philosophers were all muwahhid or followers of tawhid and saw authentic philosophy in this light. They called Pythagoras and Plato, who had confirmed the unity of the Ultimate Principle, muwahhid while showing singular lack of interest in later forms of Greek and Roman philosophy which were sceptical or agnostic.

How Islamic philosophers interpreted the doctrine of Unity lies at the heart of Islamic philosophy. There continued to exist a tension between the Qur’anic description of Unity and what the Muslims had learned from Greek sources, a tension which was turned into a synthesis of the highest intellectual order by such later philosophers as Surawardiand Mulla Sadra,(See I. Netton, Allah Transcendent (London, 1989) which deals this tension but mixes his account with certain categories of morden European philosophy not suitable for the subject.) But in all treatment of this subject from al- Kindi to Mulla Ali Zunuzi and Hajji Mulla Hadi Sabziwari during the thirteenth/ nineteenth century and even later, the Qur’an doctrine of Unity, so central to Islam, has remained dominant and in a sense has determined the agenda of the Islamic philosophers.

The Qur’an led us to comprehend the existence of the world
Complementing the Qur’anic doctrine of Unity is the explicit assertion in the Qur’an that Allah bestows being and it is this act which instantiates all that exists, as one finds for example for in the verse, “But His command, when He intendeth a thing. Is only that saith unto it: Be! And it is [ kun fa-yakum]”(36-81) The concern of Islamic philosophers with ontology is directly related to the Qur’anic doctrine, as is the very terminology of Islamic philosophy in this domain where it understands by wujud more the verb or act of existence (esto) than the noun or state of existence (esse). If Ibn Sina has been called first and foremost a “philosopher of being,” (See E. Gilson, Avicenne et le point depart de Duns Scot, Extrait des archives d’histoire doctrinale et littteraire du Moyen Age (Paris, 1927), and A. M. Goichon, “L’ Unite de la pensee avicennienne,” Archives Internationale d’ Histire des Sciemces, 20-1 (19520: 290ff.) and he developed the ontology which came to dominate much of medieval philosophy, this is not because he was simply thinking of Aristotelian these in Arabic and Persian, but because of the Qur’anic doctrine of the One in relation to the act of existence. It was as result of meditation upon the Qur’an in conjunction with Greek thought that Islamic philosophers developed the doctrine of Pure Being which stands above the chain of being and is discontinuous with it, while certain other philosopher such as a number of Isma’lis considered God to be beyond Being and identified His act or the Qur’anic kun with Being, which is then considered as the principle of the universe.

It is also the Qur’anic doctrine of the creating God and creation ex nihilo, with all the different levels of meaning which nihilo possesses, (See D. Burrell and B. McGinn (eds), God and Creation ( Notre Dame, 1990 246ff. For the more esoteric meaning of ex nihilo in Islam see L. Schaya, La Creation en Dieu (Paris, 1983), especially chapter6: 90ff. ) that led Islamic philosophers to distinguish sharply between God as Pure Being and the existence of the universe, destroying that “block without fissure” which constituted Aristotelian ontology. In Islam the universe is always contingent (mumkin al- wujud) while God is necessary (wajib al- wujud), to use the well- known distinction of Ibn Sina .(This has been treated more amply in Chapter16 below on Ibn sina See also Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines (Albany, 1993), chapter 12.) No Islamic philosopher has ever posited an existential continuity between the existence of creatures and the Being of God, and this radical revolution in the understanding of Aristotelian ontology has its source in the Islamic doctrine of God and creation as asserted in the Qur’an and Hadith.(See T. lzutsu, The Comcept and Reality of Existence (Tokyo, 1971).) Moreover, this influence is paramount not only in the case of those who asserted the doctrine of creation ex nihilo in its ordinary theological sense, but also for those such as-al-Farabi and IbnSina who were in favour of the theory of emanation but who none the less never negated the fundamental distinction between the wujud (existence) of the world and of God.

As for the whole question of “newness” or “eternity” of the world, or huduth and qidam, which has occupied Islamic thinkers for the past twelve centuries and which is related to the question of the contingency of the world vis-à-vis the Divine Principle; it is inconceivable without the teachings of the Qur’an and Hadith. It is of course a fact that that before the rise of Islam Christian theologians and philosophers such as John Philoponus had written of this issue and that Muslims had known some of these writings, especially the treatise of Philoponus against the thesis of the eternity of the world. But had it not been for the Qur’anic teachings concerning creation, such Christian writings would have played an altogether different role in Islamic thought. Muslims were interested in the arguments of a Philoponus precisely because of their own concern with the question of huduth and qidam, created by tension between the teachings of the Qur’an and the Hadith, on the one hand, and the Greek notion of the non-temporal relation between the world and its Divine Origin, on the other.

The Qur’an led philosophers to comprehend God’s knowledge
Another issue of the great concern to Islamic philosophers form al- Kindi to Mulla Sadra, and those who followed him, is God ‘s knowledge of the world. The major Islamic philosophers, such al- Farabi, Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi, Ibn Rushd and Mulla Sadra, have presented different views on the subject while, as with the question of huduth and qidam, they have been constantly criticized and attacked by the mutakallimun, especially over the question of God’ s knowledge of particulars. (The criticisms by al- Ghazzali and Imam Fakhr al- Din al-Razi of this issue, as that of hudth and qidam, are well known and are treated below. Less is known, however, of the criticism of other theologians who kept criticizing the philosophers for their possibility of God knowing particulars rather than just universals.) Now, such an issue entered Islamic philosophy directly from the Qur’anic emphasis upon God’s knowledge of all things as asserted in numerous verses such as, “And not atom’s weight in the earth or the sky escapeth your Lord,, nor what is less than that or greater than, but it is written in a clear Book” (10:62) .It was precisely this Islamic insistence upon Divine Omniscience that placed the issue of God’s knowledge of the world at the centre of the concern of Islamic philosophers and caused Islamic philosophy, like its Jewish and Christian counterparts, to develop extensive philosophical theories totally from the philosophical perspective of Graeco- Alexandrian antiquity. In this context the Islamic doctrine of “divine science” ( al -ilm al-laduni) is of central significance for both falsafah and theoretical Sufism or al-ma’rifah.

This issue is also closely allied to the philosophical significance of revelation (al-wahy) itself. Earlier Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Sina sought to develop a theory by drawing to some extent, but not exclusively, on Greek theories of the intellect and the faculties of the soul. (See F. Rahman, prophecy in Islam, Philosophy and Orthodoxy (London, 1958), where some of these theories are described and analysed clearly, but with an over-emphasis on the Greek factor and downplaying of the role of the Islamic view of revelation itsef.) Later Islamic philosophers continued their concern for this issue and sought to explain in a philosophical manner the possibility of the descent of the truth and access to the by knowledge based on certitude but derived from sources other than the senses, reason and even the inner intellect. They, however, pointed to be the correspondence between the inner intellect and that objective manifestation of the Universal Intellect or Logos which is revelation. Which still using certain concepts of Greek origin, the later Islamic philosophers such as Mulla Sadra drew heavily from the Qur’an and Hadith on this issue.

Turning to the field of cosmology, again one can detect the constant presence of Qur’anic themes and certain Hadith. It is enough to meditate upon the commentaries made upon the “Light Verse”and “Throne Verse” and the use of such explicitly Qur’anic symbols and images as the Throne (al- arsh), the Pedestal (al-kursi), the light of the heavens and earth ( nur al- samawat wa’l- ard), the niche (mishkat) and so many other Qur’anic terms to realize the significance of the Qur’anic and Hadith in the formulation of cosmology as dealt with in the Islamic philosophical tradition. ( On this issue see Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, and Nasr, “Islamic Cosmological”, in Islamic Civilization, 4,ed.A. et al. (Paris, forthcoming).) Nor must one forget the cosmological significance of the nocturnal ascent of the Prophet (al-mi’raj) which so many Islamic philosophers have treated directly, starting with Ibn Sina. This central episode in the life of the Prophet, with its numerous levels of meaning, was not only of great interest to the Sufis but also drew the attention of numerous philosophers to its description as contained in certain verses of the Qur’an and Hadith. Some philosopher also turned their attention to other episodes with a cosmological significance in the life of Prophet such as the “cleaving of the moon” ( shaqq al-qamar) about which the ninth/ fifteenth –century Persian philosopher Ibn Turkah Isfahani wrote a separate treatise.(See H. Corbin, En Islam iranien, 3 (Paris ,1971): 233ff.)

The Qur’an led us to comprehend resurrection
In no branch of Islamic philosophy, however, is the influence of the Qur’an and Hadith more evident than in eschatology, the very understanding of which in the Abrahamic universe was alien to the philosophical world of antiquity. Such concepts as divine intervention to mark the end of history, bodily resurrection, the various eschatological events, the Final Judgment, and the posthumous states as understood by Islam or for that matter Christianity were alien to ancient philosophy whereas they are described explicitly in the Qur’an and Hadith as well as of course in the Bible and other Jewish and Christian religious sources.

The Islamic philosophy were fully aware of these crucial ideas in their philosophizing, but earlier ones were unable to provide philosophical proofs for Islamic doctrines which many confessed to accept on the basis of faith but could not demonstrate within the context of Peripatetic philosophy. We see such a situation in the case of Ibn Sina who in several works, including the Shifa, confesses that he cannot prove bodily resurrection but accepts it on faith. This question was in fact one of the three main points, along with the acceptance of qidam and the inability of the philosophers to demonstrate God’s knowledge of particulars, for which al- Ghazzali took Ibn Sina to task accused him of kufr or infidelity. It remained for Mulla Sadra several centuries later to demonstrate the reality of bodily resurrection through the principles of the “transcendent theosophy” (al-hikmat al- muta’aliyah) and to take both Ibn Sina al- Ghazzali to task for the inadequacy of their treatment of the subject. ( Mulla Sadra dealt with debate in several of his works especially in his Glosses upon the Theosophy of the Orient of Light ( of Suhrawardi) (Hashiyah ala hikmat al- ishraq). See H. Corbin, “Le theme de la resurrection chez Molla Sadra Shirazi (1050/1640) commentateur de Sohrawardi (587/1191)” in Studies in Mysticism and Religion- Presented to Gershom G. Scholem (Jerusalem, 1967): 17-118.) he most extensive philosophical treatment of eschatology (al-ma’ad) in all its dimensions is in fact to be found in the Asfar of Mulla Sadra.

It is sufficient to examine this work or his other treatises on the subject such as his al- Mabda’ wa’l-ma’ad or al-Hikmat al-arshiyyah to realize the complete reliance of the author upon the Qur’an and Hadith. His development of the philosophical meaning of ma’ad is in reality basically a hermeneutics of Islamic religious sources, primary among them the Qur’an and Hadith. Nor is this fact true only of Mulla Sadra. One can see the same relation between philosophy and the Islamic revelation in the writings of Mulla Muhsin Fayd Kashani, Shah Waliullah of Delhi, Mulla Abd Allah Zunzi, Hajji Mulla Hadi sabziwari and many later Islamic philosophers wiring on various aspects of al-ma’ad. Again, although as far the question of eschatology is concerned, the reliance on the Qur’an and Hadith is greater during the later period, as is to be seen already in Ibn Sina who dealt with it in both his encyclopedic works and in individual treatises dealing directly with the subject, such as his own al- Mabba’ wa’l-ma’ad. It is noteworthy in the context that he entitled one of his most famous treatises on eschatology al-Risalat al- adhawiyyah, drawing from Islamic religious term for the Day of Judgment.

In meditating upon the history of Islamic philosophy in its relation to the Islamic revelation, one detects a movements toward ever closer association of philosophy with the Qur’an and Hadith as falsafah became transformed into al-hikmat al-ilhiyyah. Al- Farabi and Ibn Sina, although drawing so many themes from Qur’anic sources, hardly ever quoted the Qur’an directly in their philosophical works. By the time we come to Suhrawardi in the sixth/ twelfth century, there are present within his purely philosophical works citations of the Qur’an and Hadith. Four centuries later the Safavid philosophical works in the form of commentaries on the text of the Qur’an or on certain of the Hadith. This trend continued in later centuries not only in Persia but also in India and the Ottoman world including Iraq.

As far as Persia is concerned, as philosophy became integrated in to the Shi’ite intellectual world from the seventh/ thirteenth century onwards, the sayings of the Shi’ite Imams began to play an ever greater role, complementing the Prophetic Hadith. This is especially true of the sayings of Imams Muhammad al-Baqir, Ja’far al- Sadiq and Musa al- Kazim, the fifth, sixth and seventh Imams of Twelve –Imam Shi’ism, whose sayings are at the origin of many of the issues discussed by later Islamic philosophers .(The late Allamah Tabataba’i, one of the leading traditional philosophers of contemporary Persia, once made a study of the number of philosophical problems dealt with by early and later Islamic philosophers. He once told us that, according to his study, there were over two hundred philosophical issues treated by the early Islamic philosophers and over six hundred by Mulla Sadra and his followers. Although he admitted that this approach was somewhat excessively quantitative, it was an indication of the extent of expansion of the fields of interest of Islamic philosophy, an expansion which he attributed almost completely to the influence of the metaphysical and philosophical utterances of the Shi’ite Imams which became of ever greater concern to many Islamic philosophers, both Shi’ite and Sunni, from the time of Nasir al- Din al- Tusi onwards.) It is sufficient to study the monumental but uncompleted Sharh Usul al – kafi of Mulla Sadra to realize the philosophical fecundity of many of the sayings of the Imams and their role in later philosophical meditation and deliberation.


History of Islamic philosophy – seyyed Hossein Nasr- pages:30to36


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