Criticism of the view point of western scholars concerning Islamic philosophy

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Although of course a single reality in itself, Islamic philosophy nevertheless has had and continues to have several historical “embodiments” which are also reflected in how the subject is studied in both East and West. There is first Islamic philosophy in Persia and certain adjacent from Iraq to India. When one sits at the feet of a master of this discipline in Isfahan, Tehran or Qom one experiences a living tradition and an organic bond to figures such as Ibn Sina (the Latin Avicenna) and al-Farabi who lived, visited or taught in those very cities or in cities nearby over millennium ago. In this “embodiment” Islamic philosophy has had a continuous history going back to the earliest Islamic centuries an based not only on written texts but also an oral tradition transmitted from master to disciple over numerous generations. Moreover, in this ambience Islamic philosophy, called falsafah and later hikmah, is an Islamic intellectual discipline in contention, debate, accord or opposition with other intellectual disciplines but in any case it was and remains a part and parcel Islamic intellectual life despite the opposition of many jurists. One need only look at the number of students studying Islamic philosophy today in Qom in Iran, that is, in the premier centre of religious studies in that land, to realize how true is this assertion and how significant is Islamic philosophy even in comparison with jurisprudence, not to speak of kalam or theology which it overshadows in those intellectual circles in many ways.

Disappearing of philosophy in the west
Then there is the tradition of Islamic philosophy in the Arab part of the Islamic word. Although often called “Arabic philosophy” in the West because of the predominant but not exclusive use of Arabic as its language of discourse, strangely enough in the Arab world with the exception of Iraq and to some extent Yemen, this philosophy was to have a shorter life as an independent intellectual perspective than in Persia, being consumed in land west of Iraq after the seventh/ thirteenth century by kalam on the one hand and doctorial Sufism (al-ma’rifah or al- irfan) on the other. In this world falsafah as a separate discipline came to be marginalized in the centres of Islamic learning, replaced by kalam and usul al-figh and often considered as a foreign intrusion. In fact it was not until the last century that Islamic philosophy was revived in Egypt by Jamal al Din al- Afghani (Astrabadi) who had been a student of the school of Mulla Sadra in Persia before migrating to Cairo. But in any case, despite the appearance of number of sell-known scholars of Islamic philosophy in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon since Jamal al- Din‘s days, the relation between falsafah and the Islamic sciences in most parts of the Arab world has been different from what from what one finds in such places as Iran and certain centres of Islamic learning in the lndo – Pakistani subcontinent. Nor has there been the continuous oral tradition in the domain of philosophy in the Arab world that one finds in Iran and domain of philosophy in the Arab world that one finds in Iran and adjacent areas. To some extent this situation also hold true for Turkey although the tradition of Islamic philosophy survived in a continuous manner there longer than it did in Egypt, the Arab Near East and North Africa.

There is also an Islamic philosophy seen by the West as part of its own intellectual tradition and usually referred to as Arabic philosophy. This view saw Islamic philosophy as having stopped abruptly with Ibn Rushed (the Latin Averros), when the influence of Islamic philosophy upon the West diminished and gradually died out. For over seven centuries in such places as Paris, Louvain, Padua and Bologna this version of Islamic philosophy has been taught as part and parcel of Western intellectual history. Moreover, this Eurocentric view of Islamic philosophy has been taken in West for Islamic philosophy itself, a view that has been confirmed during this century by much of the scholarship from the Arab world, some of whose well- known figures have found in the European identification of Islamic philosophy with Arabic philosophy a solid theoretical support the suppositions of Arad nationalism. In any case this understanding of Islamic philosophy, held mostly in Catholic circles and by those interested in medieval European philosophy and theology, has produced a number of great scholars who, however, until quite recently have preferred to remain impervious to the eight centuries of Islamic philosophy after Averroes and fact that Islamic philosophy is not only “medieval” but also contemporary if not modern.

Parallel with this view that of Jewish philosophy which developed in a remarkably similar fashion to Islamic philosophy and which also used to a large extent the same language and vocabulary as Islamic philosophical Arabic at least until the destruction of Islamic rule in Spain after which Western Jewish philosophy parted ways from Islamic modes of thought. But any case there is such a thing as the Jewish understanding of Islamic philosophy and a close rapport between the two from at least the third/ninth to the seventh /thirteenth centuries, a link which is reflected not only in the development of school of Jewish though closely parallel to those of Islam but also in the contribution of a number of Jewish scholars in the late thirteen/ nineteenth and early fourteenth/twentieth centuries to the early modern studies of Islamic philosophy in Europe and America.

writing “history of philosophy” in western way
Also, from the middle of the thirteen/ nineteenth century onwards, with the rise the discipline of the history of philosophy in Germany and then other European countries, combined with the development of Oriental studies, the attention of a number of Western scholars turned to Islamic philosophy , which they sought to study “scientifically”. This Orientalistic view of Islamic philosophy, while contributing much to the editions of texts and historical data, was primarily philological and historical rather than philosophical, the appearance of figure such as Henry Corbin being quite exceptional. At best this view has dealt with Islamic philosophy in the context of cultural history or the history of ideas but hardly even as philosophy. The fact that in the West the study of Islamic philosophy continues to be largely confined to departments of Oriental, Middle Eastern of Islamic studies, and is rarely treated in philosophy departments, is not only due to the narrow confines of much of modern philosophy, which has reduced philosophy to logic and linguistics. It is also due to a large extent to the way in which Islamic philosophy has been studied and presented by Orientalists for over a century.

To make matters even complicated it is necessary to point also to the understanding of Islamic philosophy by three generations of Muslim scholars themselves , scholars who, Muslim, have learned their Islamic philosophy from Western sources and still look upon their own intellectual identity through the eye of others. The latter groups have produced a number of works in Arabic, Turkish, Urdu and English-and much less so in Persian –which seem to deal with Islamic philosophy from the Islamic point of view but in reality reflect works of Western scholars which they try to accommodate to their own situation. One needs only to look number of universities in Pakistan and India, the land of such figures as Shah Waliullah of Delhi, where the History of De Boer is still taught, a work according to which Islamic philosophy came to an end six hundred years before Shah Waliullah.

All these “embodiments” of the Islamic philosophical tradition have received treatments in various of Islamic philosophical which have appeared in both Islamic and Western languages during the past few decades although most available works still reflect the Western views of Islamic philosophical, whether it be the older school going back to the medieval period or modern Orientalism which shares one major feature with the earlier school in that it also considers Islamic philosophical to have come to an end with Ibn Rushd or soon thereafter.


History of Islamic philosophy – seyyed Hossein Nasr- pages:11to13


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