Friday, February 29, 2008

331)Muslim Philosophy and the Sciences(IIS Review Article); Quotes of Aga Khan IV.

"In this context, would it not also be relevant to consider how, above all, it has been the Qur'anic notion of the universe as an expression of Allah's will and creation that has inspired, in diverse Muslim communities, generations of artists, scientists and philosophers? Scientific pursuits, philosophic inquiry and artistic endeavour are all seen as the response of the faithful to the recurring call of the Qur'an to ponder the creation as a way to understand Allah's benevolent majesty. As Sura al-Baqara proclaims: 'Wherever you turn, there is the face of Allah'.The famous verse of 'light' in the Qur'an, the Ayat al-Nur, whose first line is rendered here in the mural behind me, inspires among Muslims a reflection on the sacred, the transcendent. It hints at a cosmos full of signs and symbols that evoke the perfection of Allah's creation and mercy"(Aga Khan IV,Speech, 2003, London, U.K.)

"From the seventh century to the thirteenth century, the Muslim civilizations dominated world culture, accepting, adopting, using and preserving all preceding study of mathematics, philosophy, medicine and astronomy, among other areas of learning. The Islamic field of thought and knowledge included and added to much of the information on which all civilisations are founded"(Aga Khan IV, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA, 1996)

"Above all, following the guidance of the Holy Quran, there was freedom of enquiry and research. The result was a magnificent flowering of artistic and intellectual activity throughout the ummah" (Aga Khan IV, AKU, 16 March 1983, Karachi, Pakistan)

"In Islamic belief, knowledge is two-fold. There is that revealed through the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) and that which man discovers by virtue of his own intellect. Nor do these two involve any contradiction, provided man remembers that his own mind is itself the creation of God. Without this humility, no balance is possible. With it, there are no barriers. Indeed, one strength of Islam has always lain in its belief that creation is not static but continuous, that through scientific and other endeavours, God has opened and continues to open new windows for us to see the marvels of His creation"(Aga Khan IV, AKU, 16 March 1983, Karachi, Pakistan)

"The tapestry of Islamic history is studded with jewels of civilization; these jewels poured forth their light and beauty; great statesmen, great philosophers, great doctors, great astronomers; but these individuals, these precious stones were worked into a tapestry, whose dominant theme was Islam, and this theme remained dominant regardless of the swallowing up of foreign lands, foreign cultures, foreign languages and foreign people"(Aga Khan IV, 30 Jan 1970, Hyderabad, Pakistan).

This is a re-post of an outstanding review article on "Muslim Philosophy and the Sciences" by Dr Azim Nanji, Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies. Parts of it have recently been receiving some attention on Ismaili Mail's Spirit and Life Blog as well as on Facebook. It is worth a thorough read by all you cybersurfers out there:


The pursuit of knowledge is central to the Qur’anic message. The goal of knowledge is not mere contemplation but the discovery of action that leads to ulti­mate felicity. In the intellectually fertile, diverse, multi-faith, multi-ethnic, and stimulating environ­ment of classical and medieval Islamic civilisation, an intense de­bate existed among competing intellectual disci­plines. This debate, which endured across continents and centuries even as these disciplines evolved, fo­cused on the issues of the identity and foundations of “real” knowledge that one ought to acquire and make the basis for action.

The Search for Knowledge

For many, such knowledge was to be found in Islamic law derived from the traditional sources of the Qur’an and the Prophetic Tradition. Salvation, then, re­quired living a life in conformity with the law. For others, real knowledge was esoteric and mystical, and hence the path to salvation lay in seeking the right teacher and be­ing initiated into devotional practices leading to union with God. Still others thought real knowledge consisted of a rational understanding of God’s nature and attributes, His creation of the world, its dependency on Him, and His bounty and mercy to the creatures of this world as manifested in prophecy. For them, salvation lay in the practices instituted by prophets, provided that the per­formance of these practices was grounded in rational knowledge. Yet others regarded real knowledge to be the philosophical wisdom of the ancients as found in the Neoplatonised Aristotelian view of the world. Salvation, they held, was living in conformity with the ethical prin­ciples of this system, namely intellectual self-improve­ment and virtuous living, which allowed the soul to achieve immortality through the “Active Intellect”.

A naive analysis of these formulations would pit the “foreign” or secular sciences derived from the ancients (in particular, the Greeks) against the “religious” or revealed sciences, echoing the erroneous, but nonethe­less prevalent, paradigmatic view of the incompatibility between reason and religion. In the classical and medieval Islamic context, the interaction between secular and religious sciences had profound consequences, for this interac­tion was the process by which knowledge whose ori­gins were non-Islamic was appropriated and then naturalised into a civilisation with a different ethos. Within this interaction, both secular and religious sci­ences adopted methods and doctrines from each other in the course of centuries of critical and sometimes acrimonious, debate. Three philosoph­ical movements can be broadly identified within the historical evolution of this interaction: religious or the­ological philosophy (kalam), Islamic Hellenistic philos­ophy (falsafa), and mystical philosophy. The scientific tradition in Islamic civilisation was pri­marily allied to the second of these, namely Islamic Hellenistic philosophy.

The geography of the early Islamic empire was fun­damental to the emergence of the intellectual disci­plines of classical and medieval Islamic civilisation. The Arabian Peninsula, home to the Prophet Muhammad, was at the periphery of the centres of learning of Late Antiquity. Within a few decades after Muhammad’s death, Muslim armies had gained control of a vast region from the Atlantic to the borders of India. As a result, such Hellenistic centres of learning as Alexandria and Antioch where Aristotelian, Neoplatonic, Platonic, and other texts had been studied over centuries, as well as the centres of Manichean, Bardaisanite, Buddhist, Jewish, and Christian learning, now were part of a nom­inally single empire, where, in time, Arabic became the language of intellectual discourse. Language was just one of the elements uniting this vast and diverse em­pire. Other elements include a measure of cultural uni­formity, aesthetic sensibility, patronage, the struggle to find meaning and discover norms of practice and behaviour in the Islamic message, and, most importantly, an attitude of reverence toward knowledge derived from the Qur’an. Material factors also played a role, in particular, the availability of paper. The discovery of its manufacture originated in China but spread across the Islamic empire in the eighth century. Since books could now be produced cheaply, the pace of the dissemina­tion of knowledge accelerated. A flourishing book trade ensued, indicative of a desire for knowledge, which, in turn, fuelled further intellectual activity.

Read further:

Easy nash aka easynash

The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)