Islamic Philosophy

Islamic Philosophy – Introduction
Islamic Philosophy and Christian philosophy agree in some ways because both are theistic and share some biblical roots. Both affirm the supernatural and miracles. Both also use faith and reason to support their religious beliefs. Thoughtful Muslims would agree with most of what J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig say in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.1 In tandem with it, a fuller treatment of Islamic philosophy is available in Oliver Leaman’s An Introduction to Classical Islamic Philosophy.2

Islamic Philosophy is summed-up by Hammuda Abdalati as follows: “Belief in angels originates from the Islamic principle that knowledge and truth are not entirely confined to the sensory knowledge or sensory perception alone.”3

Traditions of Islamic Philosophy
The history of Islamic philosophy contains significant examples of Islamic philosophers, who sought to appropriate what they could of various philosophical traditions: Al-Farabi (872–950); Avicenna (980–1037); Averroes (1126–1198); and Al-Ghazali (1058/1111).4

Islamic philosophers were greatly influenced by Greek philosophy and sought to use it to understand, defend, and further their faith. However, their theorizing often led them astray from orthodox Islamic teachings. For example, some of them believed, following Aristotle, that the material world was eternal, though they also affirmed that it existed only because God made it to exist. Others denied physical resurrection, substituting the continued existence of the soul. Still others proposed a replacement body that looked like the original, but actually was not. Most philosophers advocated the idea that God was a Necessary Being (a being who could not not exist) and that the world was dependent upon God for its existence.5

The Kalam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God was developed by Islamic philosophers and is both commended and employed by Christian philosophers today. The cosmological argument, for example, is the argument from creation to a Creator. “It argues a posteriori, from effect to cause, and is based on the principle of causality. This states that every event has a cause, or that every thing that begins has a cause. The Kalam (Arabic: ‘eternal’) argument is a horizontal (linear) form of the cosmological argument. The universe is not eternal, so it must have had a Cause. That Cause must be considered God. This argument has a long and venerable history among such Islamic philosophers as Alfarabi, Al Ghazali, and Avicenna. Some scholastic philosophers also used it, especially Bonaventure.”6

Some Islamic philosophers ventured into mysticism. Rahman asserts that much of the Islamic philosophic tradition fell away from orthodox Islam, but was retained and furthered in Sufism, a semi-mystic sect of Islam.

Though some traditionalist Muslims believe such ventures into philosophy inherently conflict with the Qur’an and the Hadith, many others believe such attempts to explain and defend Islam with philosophical tools are entirely appropriate (though they would not be able to affirm all that Islamic philosophers have concluded).

Islamic Philosophy – Affirming Supernaturalism
Islamic philosophy argues for the existence of entities beyond the natural world; affirmation of the existence of God, for example, illustrates that Islam denies naturalism in favor of super-naturalism. Islam also affirms the existence of the human spirit beyond death, as well as the existence of angels and jinn.

Abdalati writes, “The true Muslim also believes in the angels of God. They are purely spiritual and splendid beings whose nature requires no food or drink or sleep. They have no physical desires of any kind nor material needs. They spend their days and nights in the service of God. There are many of them, and each is charged with a certain duty. If we cannot see the angels with our naked eyes, it does not necessarily deny their actual existence . . . Belief in angels originates from the Islamic principle that knowledge and truth are not entirely confined to the sensory knowledge or sensory perception alone...”7

In admitting the existence of angels, Abdalati also alludes to the Islamic view of epistemology: not all things may be known through human senses, nor may we limit the field of existence to what our senses perceive.

Islamic Philosophy – Life after Death and Resurrection
Fundamental to Islam is the belief in final judgment, necessitating an implied belief in life after death. Muslims further affirm the bodily resurrection of the dead (though they deny that Jesus died and was resurrected). “See thee not that God, Who created the heavens and the earth... is able to give life to the dead? Yea, verily He has power over all things (Qur’an 46:33). And he [unbelieving man] makes comparisons for Us, and forgets his own (origin and) Creation: He says, ‘Who can give Life to (dry) bones and decomposed ones (at that)?’ Say, ‘He will give them Life Who created them for the first time! For He is well-versed in every kind of creation’” (36:78–79).

Islamic Philosophy – Miracles
The story of Islam begins with Muhammad receiving divine visions and communicating with the angel Gabriel, indicating an acceptance of the supernatural. Indeed, the Qur’an affirms that prophets of old performed many miracles. Consider some passages regarding Moses:

    (Pharaoh) said: ‘If indeed thou hast come with a Sign, show it forth, if thou tellest the truth.’ Then (Moses) threw his rod, and behold, it was a serpent, plain (for all to see)! And he drew out his hand, and behold, it was white to all beholders! (7:106–107)

    Said Moses [to the sorcerers of Pharaoh’s court]: ‘Throw ye (first).’ So when they threw, they bewitched the eyes of the people, and struck terror into them: for they showed a great (feat of) magic. We put it into Moses’ mind by inspiration: ‘Throw (now) thy rod’: and behold, it swallows up straightaway all the falsehoods which they fake! Thus truth was confirmed and all that they did was made of no effect. (7:116–118)

    ‘Then we sent Moses and his brother Aaron, and with Our Signs and Authority manifest.’ (23:45; see, 7:106–108)
The miracles Jesus performed are also acknowledged.
    Then will God say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favour to thee and to they mother . . . and thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold, thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold, I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the Clear Signs. . . . (5:113)
These stories presuppose a view of supernaturalism wherein God intervenes in the world (miracles) and seeks to convey His will to human beings (revelation). Orthodox Islamic philosophy affirms the occurrence of miracles and the existence of supernatural beings.

Learn More! Notes:

Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).
2 Oliver Leaman, An Introduction to Classical Islamic Philosophy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002). Also, a good summary of Islamic philosophy is in Gordon H. Clark, Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980), 265f.
3 Hammuda Abdalati, Islam in Focus (Indianapolis, IN: Amana Publications, 1975), 13.
4 Al-Ghazali was a brilliant Muslim scholar, a Sufi, who challenged the philosophers and sought to defend orthodox Islamic theology.
5 See the discussion in Fazlur Rahman, Islam, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 117–127, as well as the full-scale survey and discussion in Leaman.
6 Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1999), 399.
7 Abdalati, Islam in Focus, 13.

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