Islamic Philosophers


From its beginnings a series of theoretical questions were raised about Islam. Most questions, as far as practices of the community and the traditional sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions, would be answered by the Qur'an. But from this birth of questions, Islam saw the creation of what was to become the Islamic sciences. Which heavily consisted of religious laws, the Arabic language, and forms of theology that represented differing understandings of Islam.

Early Philosophers

Al-Kindi (Alkindus)

Abu Yusuf Yaqub Ibn Ishaq al-Kindi born in Kufa, Irag (ca.800 CE) was a philosopher, mathematician, physicist, astronomer, physician, and geographer. On account of his numerous contributions to Islamic philosophy and society he al-Kindi is known as “the philosopher of the Arabs.”
  • Works
    On First Philosophy
    On First Philosophy
Most of al-Kindi's philosophical works are centered around the translation movement initiated by the 'Abbasid caliphs before al-Kindi's birth. As an up and coming philosopher al-Kindi oversaw one of the main groups of translators in the Ninth Century, the Kindi Circle, which translated some of today's most famous philosophical works from Greek to Arabic. Aside from translations al-Kindi wrote hundreds of treaties on scientificexternal image ArabAlKindi.jpg and philosophical disciplines, his most famous being On First Philosophy. Although this metaphysical treatise drew heavily from Aristotle, many of his ideas also include shared thoughts and criticisms on other philosophers such as Plato, Porphry, and Proclus. The treatise describes the truths of philosophy, with the knowledge as the first truth. Just as Aristotle, al-Kindi argued that by studying the natural world, where knowledge can first be gained, one learns the unity and divinity of God. Al-Kindi also justified the importance of intellect by contesting the idea that intellect continued on after death of the physical body. Al-Kindi also concluded that the One Truth, which would be God, does not have any characteristics or any physical features that can be attributed by the human mind. Al-Kindi also differed from other Hellenistic thinkers in his belief that time is something that is finite. All things including matter and movement have had a definite beginning and because of that, they will then have a definite ending.
(Keshia Owens)

Ibn Sina (Avicenna)

Abu Ali al-Hussain Ibn Abdallah Ibn Sina was born in Afshaneh near Bukhara, Uzebekistan (ca. 980 CE). Ibn Sina was one of the most famous physicians, philosophers, encyclopaedist, mathematicians, and astronomers of his time. Like many philosophers of this period, his work was also influenced by Aristotelian tradition, Muslim theology, and Neoplatonic influences. Yet, his philosophical encyclopedia, Kitab al-Shifa, was notably his most impressive work. It took the views of knowledge, once thought to be a solely philosophical issue and considered it a science. Ibn Sina stressed the importance of gaining knowledge and develops a system of gaining knowledge based on four divisions, which included: sense perception, retention, imagination, and estimation. He then classified the field of knowledge into subcategories such as, theoretical knowledge: physics, mathematics, and metaphysics. Ibn Sina then classified practical knowledge as: ethics, economics, and politics.

  • Contributions
As far as metaphysics, Ibn Sina developed a clear distinction between essence and existence. Ibn Sina provides the idea that essence considers only the nature of things and therefore should be considered apart from the mental and physical realization. Ibn Sina says that this distinction applies to everything in the world except for God, who would be the first cause of all things and is thus both the essence and existence. Also included in his metaphysical beliefs was the argument that the soul is something that is incorporated within us and is indestructible. The soul in Ibn Sina's view is able to have a choice between good and evil, which therefore leads us to rewards and punishment.
(Keshia Owens)

Ibn Rushd (Averroes)

A statue done in the image of Averroes.
A statue done in the image of Averroes.

-Known as Averroes in the West, born in 1128 A.D. in Cordova, died in 1198 A.D. in Morocco. His father and grandfather were judges. He received his education in Cordova and lived a quite life, devoting most of his time to his studies of philosophy, law, and medicine under the direction of Abu J’afar Haroon and Ibn Baja. Appointed physician in the capital of Morocco by Caliph Abu Yaqub where soon his views on theology and philosophy drew the Caliph’s wrath and all his books were burnt. Then he was banished to Lucena. As a result of intervention of several scholars, Ibn Rushd was forgiven four years later and recalled back to Morocco.

“According to Ibn al-Abbar, Ibn Rushd’s writings spread over 20,000 pages, the most famous of which deal with philosophy, medicine and jurisprudence. On medicine alone he wrote 20 books. Regarding jurisprudence, Ibn Jafar Thahabi has held his book Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa-Nihayat- al-Muqtasid as possibly the best book on the Maliki School of Fiqh.”

Ibn Rusha has made remarkable contributions in philosophy, logic, medicine, music, and law. He has many well-known books especially in medicine including his book Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb, written before 1162 A.D. where he sheds light on various aspects of medicine, including the diagnoses, cure and prevention of diseases. The book takes a wider scope of Ibn Sina’s al-Qanun.

“His most important work in philosophy, Tuhafut al-Tuhafut, written in response to Philosopher al-Ghazali’s work of Greek philosophy. Ibn Rusha was criticized by many Muslim scholars for this book, which, nevertheless, had a profound influence on European thought, at least until the beginning of modern philosophy and experimental science.”

He wrote several commentaries on the works of Aristotle, which were then known through Arabic translations. These works include: the shortest Jami, which is considered to be a summary of the subject of Aristotle’s work. Also, Talkhis and the longest Tafsir. These three commentaries seem to correspond to different stages in the education of pupil. Shorter version being meant for beginners, the intermediate for students familiar with the subject, and Tafsir, the longest, being meant for more advanced studies. In face, Tafsir, was an original contribution to Aristotle’s philosophy as it was largely based on his analysis including interpretation of Qu’ranic concepts. In the field of music, he also wrote a commentary on Aristotle’s book De Animai, later being translated into Latin by Sir Mitchel the Scott.

He also made contributions to astronomy he wrote an exposition on the motion of the sphere called Kitab fi-Harakat al-Falak where he summarized Almagest (in English meaning The Great Book, it is a treatise of mathematical and astronomical thought of stars and planetary paths, originally written in Greek) and divided it into two parts: description of the sphere and the movement of the spheres.

His view of fate is man is neither in full control of his destiny nor is it fully predetermined for him.
<Work by Justin Moorehead>

  • Medieval Sourcebook: Ibn Rushd (Averroës), 1126-1198 CE: Religion & Philosophy, c. 1190 CE <>
  • Averröes, The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, trans. Mohammed Jamil-al-Rahman (Baroda: A. G. Widgery, 1921), pp. 14-19, 122-131, 204-229, 242-249, 260-283, 300-308.


Alfarabi, the founder of Islamic political philosophy, was also known to the Arabs as the 'Second
Master' (after Aristotle) and the Father of Islamic Neoplatonism'. Neoplatonism a way of thinking in a way of ideal forms, as your thoughts get away from the idea the less authentic it becomes. He was also described as 'the founder of Arab Neo-Platonism and the first major figure in the history of that philosophical movement since Proclus' by Majid Fakhry (1983). His full name was Abu Nasr Mohammad Ibn al-Farakh al-Farabi. He was born in a small village Wasij, near Farab in Turkistan in 259 A.H. (870 A.D.) and was Persian decent, he died at 80 years old in Damascus in 339 A.H./950 A.D.

Education & Contributions:
As a very educated man, he got an education at Farab and Bukhara then later went on to more complex studies in Baghdad. He learned several languages, many areas of studies (writing, music, sociology, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, logic, and technology, he was also a major political scientist. He traveled to several places throughout the Arab world in his lifetime. Taking on jobs varying from a gardener to a judge, then started to teach for a profession.Many of his books have been lost but 117 are known. An interesting fact about Al-Farabi is their is no documented autobiography on him.
According to Al-Farabi, “human beings, like any natural species, have a perfect state toward which their actions tend” This interpretation is the way one is molded and shaped in life determines the way they handle situations. He has had a great influence on many prominent thinkers in the Arabic world and throughout to
Christian medieval Europe. Alfarabi's concept of "the virtuous city or al-Madina al-fadila ," one of his best known books, is inspired with the Neoplatonic concept of God and concludes with an in-depth analysis of the trilogy, Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. This book categorized four different types of corrupt cities: ignorant city (al-madina al-jahiliyya), the dissolute city (al-madina al-fasiqa), the turncoat city (al-madina al-mubaddala) and the straying city (al-madina al-dalla). The virtuous city is where the concept of happiness comes into play where people who work together will achieve happiness. All of his work and contributions have paved the way for Ibn Sina's and many others work therefore after him.
" Al-Farabi used as his principle of creation the process of emanation, the idea that reality continually flows out of the source of perfection, so that the world was not created at a particular time. He also did an enormous amount of work on Greek logic, arguing that behind natural language lies logic, so that an understanding of the latter is a deeper and more significant achievement than a grasp of the former. This also seemed to threaten the significance of language, in particular the language – Arabic – in which God transmitted the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad." His negative view on God or Allah could be quite controversial in the religious culture, saying he is merely an immaterial substance, as he is pointing out what he is not and questioning the origination of the universe.


^Pictures Done of Al-farabi & A cover of Al-farabi and the Foundation of islamic Political Philosophy
This picture shows Al-Farabi's intelligence in the field of music with an actual manuscript of 8 String Oud. This was discovered by Naseer Shamma.
This picture shows Al-Farabi's intelligence in the field of music with an actual manuscript of 8 String Oud. This was discovered by Naseer Shamma.

*University of Chicago Press. 2001, Hardcover. Web. Feb. 21, 2010. * Al-farabi Image *<> Web. Feb.24, 2010
*Marvin, Chris. 1995-2000 "Abu Al-Nasr Al-Farabi." Trinity College. Web. Feb. 20, 2010.
*R. Lerner and M. Mahdi, "Islamic political philosophy: Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Averroes" Fordham University. Web. Feb. 20, 2010.
*Netton, Ian Richard."al-Farabi, Abu Nasr (c.870-950)" 1998, Routledge. Web. Feb. 20 2010. Philosophy (JA82.L4).

*Mahdi, Muhsin S. . University of Chicago Press, 2001. Web. Feb 19, 2010. ****
*Leaman, Oliver (1998). Islamic philosophy. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Web. February 20, 2010.


Picture drawn for Al-Ghazali

Muhammad ibn Muhammad Al-Ghazali was a great Jurist, theologian, psychologist, and mystical thinker. He was born in 1058 AD in Tus in Persia and died in the same place in 1111 AD. The period from the 8th century to the 12th century is known as the Islamic golden age. In his home town, he learned a lot of traditional Islamic religious sciences. When he was 23 years old, he started his first trip by becoming a student of the famous Muslim scholar Abu’l Ma’ali Juwani, who was known as Imam Al-Haramayn. He became the head of Nizamiyyah College at Baghdad in 1091 AD.
In 1095, he faced a lot of spiritual crisis, which caused him to abandon his career, leading him to leave Baghdad and going to Mecca for pilgrimage. Later after that, he decided to give up his wealth to his family and live in Sufism, the way poor people live. He traveled and visited many places like Damascus, Jerusalem, Median, and Mecca. Then, he returned to his home town, Tus, where he spent the next several years in privacy. In 1106, he went back to Baghdad to give a couple of lectures at the Nizamiyyah of Nishapur. He died few years later in Tus in 1111.
Works and contributions
Last page of Ghazali's autobiography

Ghazali had more than 70 books under his name on Islamic sciences, early Islamic philosophy, Islamic psychology, and Sufism. One of his major books is his 11th century book titled “The Incoherence of the Philosophers”, which caused a huge turn in Islamic epistemology.
The Incoherence of the Philosophers:
This book marked a turning point in the Islamic philosophy especially for its rejections of Aristotle and Plato. This book took the group of Islamic philosophers from the 8th until the 11th centuries, (among them Ibn Sina and Al-Farabi), who based their philosophy upon the Ancient Greeks. Ghazali actually criticized Aristotle, Socrates and some other Greek writers and labeled them with their methods and ideas as corrupters of the Islamic faith. In the next Century, Ibn Rushd wrote a book in response to Ghazali’s Incoherence named “The Incoherence of the Incoherence.”
The Revival of Religious Sciences:
This is one of Al-Ghazali’s major works. It is known as “Ihya Ulum Al-Din”, or (The Revival of Religious Sciences). This involves most fields of the Islamic sciences like Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh), Theology (kalam), and Sufism. Its four sections are Acts of worship, Norms of Daily Life, The ways to Perdition, and The ways to Salavation. Also, there is a Persian version of it under The Alchemy of Happiness.
Other Contributions
Persian version of Alchemy of Happiness.

Al-Ghazali had many other contributions in many different fields. On top of these are Atomism, Biology and Medicine, Cosmology, and Psychology. He also had a great influence on Ijtihad, which is the process through which Islamic scholars can generate new rules for Muslims. Most of his works was in Arabic and few of them were in Persian.
Ghazali's Pen Case.

· Haque, Amber (2004), "Psychology from Islamic Perspective: Contributions of Early Muslim Scholars and Challenges to Contemporary Muslim Psychologists", Journal of Religion and Health
· Ibn Rushd (c.1180) Tahafut al-tahafut (The Incoherence of Incoherence), Trans, S. Van den Bergh, Averroes' Tahafut al-Tahafut, 2 vols, London: Luzac, 1969. (A translation with detailed annotations of Ibn Rushd's refutation of al-Ghazali’s criticism of philosophy.)
· <>

Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi
Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi (1154-1191) was a 12th century Iranian philosopher who founded Illuminationist philosophy, an important school of Islamic mysticism which greatly influenced Islamic philosophy. His argument for the priority of essence over existence and his idea of existence as a mental concept was in disagreement with traditional views of the nature of existence and reality. His influences include various Greek philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, and several others.
Suhrawardi expressed his disagreement with and criticism of several areas of the previous peripatetic philosophy of Ibn Sina. His own new philosophy based on illumination with a focus on mystical knowledge was his way of clearly breaking away from the peripatetic theories of Ibn Sina. Suhrawardi’s Illunationism is a complex philosophy which relates luminous properties and intensity of lights to properties of existence, reality, self-awareness, and knowledge.
Suhrawardi’s construction of this Illuminationist school of philosophy represented a paradigm shift in Islamic philosophy as he attempted to restore the ancient foundation of philosophy in intuitive thinking and mystical knowledge. Suhrawardi’s Illuminationism had a significant influence on developments of later key figures in Islamic philosophy, including Mulla Sadra. He continues to stand out as a major contributor to Islamic philosophy.

  • Butterworth, Charles E. Iranian Studies. 1999. Vol. 32.
  • Leaman, Oliver. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 1998. Vol. 25.
  • Rizvi, Sajjad H. “An Islamic Subversion of the Existence-Essence Distinction? Suhrawardi’s Visionary Hierarchy of Lights.” Asian Philosophy. 1999. Vol. 9.
  • Walbridge, John. “Suhrawardi, a Twelfth-Century Muslim Neo-Stoic?” Journal of the History of Philosophy. 1996. Vol. 34.

Late Philosophers

Mulla Sadra

MullaSadra.jpgSadr al-Din, Muhammad bin Ibrahim bin Yahya Al-Qawmi Al-Shirazi, simply know as Mulla Sadra, is one of the most important philosop​hers in the modern times. He was born in Iran around 1571 and died in 1641. Only a little is known about him to most of the people, and one reason for this could be that unlike most of the Islamic philosophers, he was one of the Shia philosophers.
His intellectual formation began as he grew up in Shiraz and received the basic education. Around 1590, he left to the city of Isfahan, and that was to characterize the cultural rebirth of the Safavid Empire. After that, he moved back to Kahak, a village near Qum for about 15 years. The reason for this seems to be that he was invited to teach and lead the new madrasa (school) in Shiraz, which was dedicated to the intellectual sciences.

The school of Transcendent Theosophy:
This was the period when his school was formed. After the formation of his school, he became known as the Sadr Al-Muta’allihin (“master of the theosists”). The main concept of his school is based on his philosophy about the idea of “existence precedes essence” and that was a key foundational concept of existentialism which was not popularized in the West until Jean-Paul Sartre in the 20th century.

Later of his life, it’s made clear that the true knowledge is the self-knowledge and is mainly generated through one’s experience. In one of his books, Mafatih Al-Ghayb “Keys to the Unseen”, Mulla Sadra says: “Know, may God guide you, that many of those involved in the pursuit of knowledge deny that knowledge, which comes from the unseen, upon which the mystics and Gnostics rely, yet it is more powerful and a better foundation for judgment than all other types of knowledge.”
Another concept of Mulla Sadra’s philosophy is the theory of “substantial motion”, which is based on “the premise that everything in the order of nature, undergoes substantial change and transformation as a result of self-flow and penetration of being, which gives everything its entity.”

List of his works:
Mulla Sadra was known for having a lot of books about the concept of his philosophy, and here are some of them:
1. Al-Hikmat al-muta‘aliyah fi’l-asfar al-arba‘ah, a philosophical encyclopedia.
2. al-Tafsir (A commentary upon the Qur`an)
3. Iksir al-‘arifin, a Gnostic and educative book.
4. al-Tanqih, dealing with formal logic
And many more...

Rizvi, Sajjad H. Reconsidering the Life of Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzī (d. 1641): Notes towards an Intellectual Biography. Vol. 40. British Institute of Persian Studies, 2002.

Other modern Islamic philosophers:

Many of those philosophers were influenced by the philosophers of the golden age. They also faced the challenge of the West to traditional Islamic philosophical and cultural principles. From the 19th century, Islamic philosophers tried to put a new definition of Islamic philosophy. There is also this interest in illuminationist and mystical thought in that area, in Iran more specifically. The influence of people like Mulla Sadra and Al-Suhrawardi has remained strong and effective. Some of those philosophers affected by them are Henry Corbin, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Mahdi Ha’iri Yazdi, and Ayatollah Khomeini.
Other philosophers in the area are Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani, Mustafa Abd Al-Raziq, and Muhammad Abduh. Those people had the idea that Islam is naturally rational and need not be abandoned in the face of the encroachment of Western forms of scientific and cultural thought.
· Nasr, S.H. (1996) 'Islamic Philosophical Activity in Contemporary Persia: A Survey of Activity in the 50s and 60s', in M.A. Razavi (ed.) The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia, Richmond, VA: Curzon. (Useful account of the forms of philosophical thought in Iran during this period.)
· Laroui, A. (1976) The Crisis of the Arab Intelligentsia: Traditionalism or Historicism?, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. (Argument for the replacing of traditional Islamic issues with Western ones, since the Islamic world needs to transcend its past to come into real contact with modernity.)

Allessandra Frontera: Al-Farabi
Keshia Owens: Ibn Sina, Al-Kindi & Introduction
Justin Moorehead: Ibn Rushd
Mustafa Al-Naser: Mulla Sadra, Al-Ghazali, and Other modern philosophers