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Islamic Thought

Moosa Raza

Translated by Charles E. Butterworth
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2005, pp. 179, Rs. 495.00

By Ebrahim Moosa ; John L. Esposito
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2005, pp. 349; pp. 359, Rs. 595.00; Rs. 395.00


Rumi, the great thirteenth century mystic wrote in his mathnavi: Beshtar ashab-e jannat ablah and Ta ze sharr-e failsufi mirahand (Most of the dwellers of Paradise are simple folk –for they remained aloof from the mischief of philosophy).   By the time of Rumi, the mystics of Islam had already concluded that only one path to God was the path of simple faith, direct experience and ecstatic union with God.   There has been an eternal conflict between the philosopher and mystic in the world of Islam since the very beginning of the intellectual movement. The Oxford University Press has chosen to bring out two books on two of the greatest representatives of Islamic thought under its series entitled Studies in Islamic Philosophy. Alfarabi, the philosopher was born in 870AD and lived to the ripe old age of eighty. Alfarabi was of Turkish origin and spent most of his working life in the court of Sayf al Dawla, the Shia ruler of Hamdan. But he was a true student of Greek philosophy, having studied Plato, Aristotle, Porphyry and the neo-platonists and incorporated the thinking of these philosophers into the realm of Islam and its religious beliefs. Farabi believed, with some truth as modern scholarship has shown, that philosophy had come to an end everywhere in the world and had found a new home and a new life in the world of Islam. He also believed that human reason is superior to religious faith and the perfect philosopher was superior to the prophet. This was a very bold stand to take in the tenth century (fourth century Islam). It would have shaken the beliefs of his contemporaries – especially the ulema of Islam. He mitigates the likely impact of this claim by asserting that the Prophet was a perfect philosopher and it was because of the perfection of his reason that revelation was vouchsafed him. It follows therefore that a virtuous religion is nothing but truth that “a human being ascertains either by himself by means of primary knowledge or by demonstration” (Book of Religion – Aphorism 4).   Any religion that is not in consonance with human reason is therefore, implies Farabi, an errant religion. Farabi also postulates in the same book that virtuous religion is similar to philosophy but goes on to argue that all virtuous laws are subordinate to the universals of practical philosophy.   The role of the Prophet, as a law giver, is ...

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