Syed Ameer Ali.

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accident subsists in a subject, though its subsistence therein
is only by virtue of some idea (in the human mind). Mu'ammar
and his followers were in consequence of this doctrine called
Idealists ( ^UJi ^ts-^j,). Abu Ali Mohammed ibn Abdul

Wahhab, known as Abu Ali al-Jubbai, maintained that action
pertains to man in the way of origination and first production ;
and ascribed to man moral good and evil, obedience and dis-
obedience, in the way of sovereignty and prerogative ; and
that free-will ( <ulkI-Vi ) is a pre-requisite to action, and a
power additional to bodily completeness and soundness of the
members. Abu'l Ma'ali al-Juwaini,' * Imdm-ul-Haramain {i.e.
of the two sacred cities), who, however, did not call himself a
Mu'tazila, and is generally claimed by the upholders of the
opposite doctrine as belonging to their body, held that the
denial of ability and free-will is something which reason and
consciousness disavow ; that to affirm an ability without any
sort of efficacy is equivalent to denying ability altogether, and
that to affirm some unintelligible influence (of ability), which
constitutes a motive cause, amounts to the denial of any special
influence, and that, inasmuch as conditions and states, on the
principle of those who maintain them, are not to be charac-
terised as existing or non-existing (but must be explained by
reference to their origin), action on the part of man (regarded
as an existing state) is to be attributed really to his own ability,
— though not in the way of origination and creation, for by
creation is meant the causing of something to come into being
by supreme power which was not previously in existence ; and
that action depends for its existence upon ability (in man),
which itself depends for its existence upon some other cause,
its relation to that cause being the same as the relation of
(human) action to (man's) ability, and so one cause depends
upon another until the causa causans ( <-k~)li ^4-** ), the
Creator of causes and of their operations, the Absolute Self-

1 Died 1085.


sufficing, is reached. " This view," adds Shahristani, " was
borrowed by Abu'l Ma'ali from the Philosophers of the theistic
school, but he presented it in the garb of the Kaldm (scholastic
theology)." 1

This is the general outline of the philosophical notions of the
Mu'tazilas respecting some of the most burning questions which
have agitated the mind of man in every age and country, and
have so frequently led to sanguinary strifes and fratricidal
wars both in the East and in the West.

As the assertors of divine Unity, shorn of all anthropo-
morphic conceptions, and the advocates of moral responsibility,
they naturally called themselves ashdb-nl-' adl wa't-tauhid,
" upholders of the unity and justice of God," and designated
their opponents Mashabbihas (" assimilators " or anthropo-
morphists). They reasoned thus: If sin emanated from, or
was created by God, and man was pre-ordained to commit it,
the imposition of any penalty for its commission would make
the Creator an Unrighteous God, — which is infidelity : thus
reason and revelation both tell us that piety and sin, virtue
and vice, evil and good, are the product of human volition ;
man has absolute control over his actions, though he has been
told what is right and what is wrong. Evil and good depend
upon what is just ; for God's creation is ruled by justice.
Reason and justice are the guiding principles of human actions ;
and general usefulness and the promotion of the happiness of
mankind at large, the chief criterion of right and wrong. Has
not God Himself declared that " the two Paths were shown to
mankind for their own good ? Has He not Himself called
upon them to exercise their understanding ? " Rationalists
and Utilitarians, they based the foundations of the moral law
on the concordance of Reason with positive revelation. They
walked in the footsteps of the Master and his immediate
descendants. They upheld the doctrine of Evolution in
regarding every law that regulates the mutual relations
of man to man as the result and outcome of a process
of continuous development. In their ideas of the long

1 Comp. Juwaini's views with those of Ibn-Rushd (Averroes). Shahristani
evidently had not made himself acquainted with the views of the Fatimide
Imams; Shahristani, part i. pp. 70, 71. The views of Abu'l Ma'ali do not
commend themselves to the " orthodox " Shahristani.


antiquity of man on earth, 1 they occupy a vantage ground
in relation to the natural philosophers of the modern

Mu'tazilaism spread rapidly among all the thinking and
cultured classes in every part of the Empire, and finding its
way into Spain took possession of the Andalusian colleges
and academies. Mansur and his immediate successors en-
couraged Rationalism, but made no open profession of the
Mu'tazilite doctrines. Mamun, who deserves more justly than
any other Asiatic sovereign the title of " Great," acknowledged
his adhesion to the Mu'tazilite school ; and he and his brother
Mu'tasim and nephew Wasik, endeavoured to infuse the
rationalistic spirit into the whole Moslem world. Under them
Rationalism acquired a predominance such as it has not gained
perhaps even in modern times in European countries. The
Rationalists preached in the mosques and lectured in the
colleges ; they had the moulding of the character of the nation's
youth in their hands ; they were the chief counsellors of the
Caliphs, and it cannot be gainsaid that they used their influence
wisely. As professors, preachers, scientists, physicians, viziers,
or provincial governors, they helped in the growth and develop-
ment of the Saracenic nation. The rise of the Bani-Idris in
Western Africa, and the establishment of the Fatimide power
imparted a new life to Mu'tazilaism after its glory had come
to an end in Asia.

The question now naturally occurs to the mind, how is it
that predestinarianism and the subjection of Reason to blind
authority, though discountenanced by the Prophet and the
Philosophers of his family, became finally predominant in the
speculations and practice of the Moslem world ? Before we
furnish an answer to this inquiry, let us trace the development
of another phase of the Moslem intellect. Mu'tazilaism has
been, with considerable plausibility, compared to the scholastic
philosophy of the Middle Ages in Europe. Scholasticism is
said to have been the " movement of the intellect to justify
by reason several of the dogmas of the Faith." Mu'tazilaism
also directed its endeavours to establish a concordance between

1 They derived this notion from a Hadis reported from Ali, Bihdr-ul-Anwdr,
chapter on Creation.


Reason and positive revelation. But there the parallel ends.
In the Christian Church, the dogmas requiring explanation
and justification were many. The doctrine of the trinity in
unity, of the three " Natures " in one, of original sin, of tran-
substantiation, all gave rise to a certain intellectual tension.
The dogmas of the Church accordingly required some such
" solvent " as scholasticism before science and free thought
could find their way into Christendom. In Islam the case
was otherwise ; with the exception of the unity of God — the
doctrine of Tauhid, which was the foundation of Mohammed's
Church — there was no dogma upon which insistence was placed
in any such form as to compel Reason to hold back its
acceptance. The doctrine of " origin and return " — mabdd
( f*xj-c ) and madd ( ±Im ), " coming (from God) and returning
(to Him) " — and of the moral responsibility of man, was founded
on the conception of a Primal Cause — the Originator of all
things. That the Ego will not be entirely lost after it has
been set apart from its earthly habiliments, that it will exist as
a self-conscious entity after the dissolution of the body, is a
notion which has been shared alike by the wise and the ignorant.
Some few have denied a future existence, but the generality
have believed in it, though all have differed as to the nature of
that existence. So also as regards moral responsibility, there
is great divergence of opinion on the mode in which man shall
discharge the obligation ; but there is little difference on the
question that he is responsible for the use or misuse of his
powers. On both these questions the words of the Teacher
allow the greatest latitude of judgment ; so long as the original
conceptions were retained and accepted, Mohammed's Church
permitted the broadest and most rationalistic view. Hence it
was that Islam passed at once from the Age of Receptivity into
the Age of Activity, from the Age of Faith into the Age of
Reason, without any such intermediate stage as was required
in Christianity.

In the Prophet's time, as well as under the Rdshidin Caliphs,
no doubt, free independent inquiry was naturally, and perhaps
rightly, discouraged. But no questioning was avoided, no
doubt was silenced by the terror of authority, and if the teacher
was unable to answer the question, the inability was avowed in


all humility. 1 Mu'tazilaism holds therefore a distinctive place
in the development of the human intellect. It bears an analogy
to European scholasticism, but in reality it is akin in genius
to modern rationalism. Scholasticism worked under the shadow
of the Church. Mu'tazilaism worked in conjunction with the
heads of the Church. The real scholasticism of Islam came

The cultivation of the physical sciences gave a new direction
to Saracenic genius. A body of thinkers sprang up, who
received the generic name of Hukamd (pi. of hakim, a scientist
or philosopher), whose method of reasoning was analogous to
that of modern science. They were mostly Mu'tazilas, but the
conceptions of a few were tinged by the philosophical notions
of Aristotle and the Neo-Platonic school of Alexandria. Though
bigotry and ignorance stigmatised them with the opprobrious
epithets of infidel and heretic, historical verity must admit that
they did not exclude themselves from Islam, nor advance any
theory for which they were unable to find a warrant in the
sayings of the Founder of the Faith or his immediate

The doctrine of evolution and progressive development to
which these philosophers adhered most strongly has been
propounded in clear terms by one of their prominent repre-
sentatives, the famous Al-Hazen. The philosophical notions
on this subject may be summarised thus : "In the region of
existing matter, the mineral kingdom comes lowest, then
comes the vegetable kingdom, then the animal, and finally the
human being. By his body he belongs to the material world,
but by his soul he appertains to the spiritual or immaterial.
Above him are only the purely spiritual beings, — the angels, 2 —
above whom only is God ; thus the lowest is combined by a
chain of progress to the highest. But the human soul per-
petually strives to cast off the bonds of matter, and, becoming
free, it soars upwards again to God, from whom it emanated."
And these notions found expression later in the Masnavi of

1 The answer was, " God knows best."

2 The author of the Goithar-i-Murad, to which I shall refer later in some
detail, explains that what are called in " the language of theology " " angels,"
are the forces of nature in the language of Hikmat.


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" Dying from the inorganic we developed into the vegetable kingdom.
Dying from the vegetable we rose to the animal. And leaving the animal we
became men. Then what fear that death will lower us ? The next transition
will make us angels. From angels we shall rise and become what no mind
can conceive ; we shall merge in Infinity as in the beginning. Have we not
been told, ' All of us will return unto Him ' ? "

The greatest of the philosophers were al-Kindi, al-Farabi,
Ibn-Sina, Ibn-Baja, Ibn-Tufail, and Ibn-Rushd. 1

Al-Kindi 2 (Abu Yusuf Ya'kub ibn Ishak), surnamed the
Philosopher par excellence, was a descendant of the illustrious
family of Kinda, and counted among his ancestors several of
the princes of Arabia. His father, Ishak bin as-Sabbah, was
the governor of Kufa under al-Mahdi, al-Hadi, and Harun.
Al-Kindi, who prosecuted his studies at Basra and Bagdad,
rendered himself famous under the Caliphs Mamun and
Mu'tasim by the versatility of his genius and the profoundness
of his knowledge. He wrote on philosophy, mathematics,

1 Shahristani mentions several others, such as — Yahya al-Nahwy, Abu'l
Faraj al-Mufassir, Abu Sulaiman al-Sajzy, Abu Bakr Sabit bin Kurrah, Abu
Sulaiman Mohammed al-Mukaddasi, Abu Tamam Yiisuf bin Mohammed
Nishapuri, Abu Zaid Ahmed bin Saha al-Balkhi, Abu Muharib al-Hasan bin-
Sahl bin Muharib al-Kumy, Ahmed bin Tayyeb al-Sarrakhsy, Talha. bin
Mohammed al-Nafsy, Abu Hamid Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Safzari, Tsa bin
Ali al-Wazir, Abu Ali Ahmed^ bin Muskuya, Abu Zakaria Yahya bin 'Adi
al-Zumairi, Abu'l Hasan al-'Amri. He does not mention a single Spanish

2 813 to 842 a.c. ; see Appendix II.


astronomy, medicine, politics, music, etc. Versed in the
languages of the Greeks, the Persians, and the Indians,
thoroughly acquainted with their sciences and philosophy, he
was selected by Mamun for the work of translating Aristotle
and other Greek writers into Arabic. " Cardan," says Munk,
" places him among the twelve geniuses of the first order who
had appeared in the world up to the sixteenth century."

Abu Nasr Fdrdbi (Abu Nasr Mohammed bin Mohammed
Turkhan al-Fdrdbi), so called from his native city of Farab in
Transoxiana, was a distinguished physician, mathematician,
and philosopher. He is regarded as the most learned and
subtle of the commentators of Aristotle. He enjoyed the
patronage of Saif ud-dowla Ali bin Hamdan, Prince of Aleppo,
and died at Damascus in the month of Rajab 339 a.h.
December (950 a.c). Among his various works some may be
mentioned here to show the tendency of the Arab mind in that
prolific age. In the Encyclopedia of Science (Ihsd ul-ulum)
he gives a general review of all the sciences. A Latin epitome
of this work gives an idea of the range over which it extends,
being divided into five parts dealing with the different branches
of science, viz. language, logic, mathematics, natural sciences,
and political and social economy. Another celebrated work
of Farabi, largely utilised by Roger Bacon and Albertus
Magnus, was his commentary on Aristotle's Organon. His
Tendency of the Philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, his treatise
on ethics, entitled as-Sirat ul-Fazild, and another on politics,
called as-Siydsat ul-Medineyya, which forms part of a larger
and more comprehensive work bearing the name of Mabddi-
ul-Moujudat, show the versatile character of his intellect.
Besides philosophy and medicine, Farabi cultivated music,
which he elevated into a science. He wrote several treatises
both on the theory and the art of music, as well as the manu-
facture of musical instruments. In one he compared the
systems of music among the ancients with that in vogue in
his own time. Abu'l Kasim Kinderski, no mean judge, places
Farabi on a level with his great successor, Ibn-Sina. 1

1 See also the 'Uydn-ul-Masdil (Dieterici's ed. p. 52), where he establishes
by deductive reasoning that Creation is the work of a Supreme Intelligence,
and that nothing in the universe is fortuitous or accidental.


Of Ibn-Sina I have already spoken as a physician. As a
philosopher he occupies a position hardly inferior to that of
the great Stagyrite. He was unquestionably the master-spirit
of his age, and in spite of the opposition raised against him by
fanaticism and self-interest, he left his impress in undying
characters on the thoughts of succeeding ages. His voluminous
works testify to the extraordinary activity of his mind. 1 He
systematised Aristotelian philosophy, and filled " the void
between God and man " in Aristotle's fragmentary psychology
by the doctrine of the intelligence of the spheres conceived
after a scientific method. The great object of the Arabian
philosophers was to furnish the world with a complete theory
of the unity of the Cosmos which would satisfy, not the mind
only, but also the religious sense. And accordingly they
endeavoured to reconcile the ethical and spiritual with the
philosophical side of science. Hence the development of the
theory of the two intellects — the passive Reason, or Abstract
Soul, in contact with material forms, and subject through
them to change and death ; and the Active Reason (Akl-i-
fa'dl), conversant with the immutable, and so remaining un-
changed in itself. By patient discipline of the heart and soul
man can elevate himself to conjunction with this Higher
Reason. But the discipline needed was as much moral and
spiritual as intellectual. Ibn-Sina represented these ideas in
the highest degree. He was the truest and most faithful
exponent of the philosophical aspirations of his time. " For
ethical earnestness it would be hard to find anything more
impressive than the teaching of Avicenna." A severely logical
treatment of his subjects is the distinctive character of his
writings. His main endeavour was directed towards the
demonstration of the theory that there existed an intimate
connexion between the human Soul and the Primary Absolute
Cause — a conception which is traced in every line of Jalal
ud-din Rumi.

Shahristani gives a brief but exhaustive sketch of Ibn-Sina's
views, culled, as he says, from his various books. After
describing Ibn-Sina's treatment of the sciences, logic, and other

1 His two greatest works on philosophy and science, the Shi fa and the
Najdt, still exist intact.


cognate subjects, Shahristani states that the Philosopher
discussed metaphysics under ten theses ; under the first five,
he deals with the origin of knowledge, experimentation, induc-
tion, and deduction ; matter and force ; the relation of cause
and effect ; the primary and accidental, universals and
particulars. Under the sixth and seventh he demonstrates
that the Primal Cause — the being whose existence is necessary
by virtue of his Essence — is one and Absolute. Under the
eighth and ninth he deals with the unity of the Cosmos, the
relation of human souls to the Primal Cause and the Active
Intellect, the first created. And lastly, he discusses the con-
ception of future existence, the doctrine of " Return " ( &U* ).
He proclaims the individual permanence of the human soul,
and argues that it will retain its individuality after its separation
from the corporeal body ; but that the pleasure and pain of
the future existence will be purely spiritual, depending on the
use or misuse by man of his mental, moral and physical powers
to attain the Perfection. He argues under the last head the
necessity for mankind of prophetism. The Prophet expounds
to men the Divine laws, explains to them the ethical demands
of God and Humanity in parables comprehensible to common
folk, which appeal to and settle their hearts. The Prophet
dissuades from jealousy, rancour, and misdeeds ; lays the
foundations of social and moral development, and is God's
veritable messenger on earth.

Abu Bakr Mohammed ibn Yahya, surnamed Ibn-nl-Sdyeh,
popularly called Ibn-Baja, corrupted by the European
scholiasts into Avenpace, is one of the most celebrated philo-
sophers among the Arabs of Spain. He was not only a
distinguished physician, mathematician, and astronomer, but
also a musician of the first rank. He was born at Saragossa
towards the end of the eleventh century of the Christian era,
and in 1118 a.c. we find him mentioned as residing in Seville.
He afterwards proceeded to Africa, where he occupied a high
position under the Almoravides. He died at Fez in 1138 a.c.
Several of his works have come down to us in their entirety
and show the free range of the Moslem intellect in those

Ibn-Tufail (Abu Bakr Mohammed ibn Abdul Malik ibn-


Tufail al-Kaisi) was born in the beginning of the twelfth century
at Gaudix (Wadi-ash) , a small city of Andalusia, in the province
of Granada. He was celebrated as a physician, mathematician,
philosopher, and poet, and was held in great esteem at the court
of the first two sovereigns of the Almohade dynasty. From
1163 to 1 184 he filled the office of vizier and physician to Abu
Ya'kub Yusuf, the second Almohade king. Ibn-Tufail died
in Morocco in 1185 a.c. He belonged to the contemplative
school of Arab philosophy which was designated Ishrdki,
an offshoot of ancient Neo-Platonism, and akin in its
aspirations to modern mysticism. His contemplative philo-
sophy is not founded on mystical exaltation, but on a
method in which intuition is combined with reasoning.
His famous work, called Hayy ibn Yakzdn, represents the
gradual and successive development of intelligence and the
power of perception in a person wholly unassisted by outside
instruction. 1

Ibn-Rushd or Averroes (Abu'l Walid Mohammed ibn Ahmed)
was born in 520 a.h. (1126 a.c.) at Cordova, where his family
had for a long time occupied a prominent position. His grand-
father was the Kdzi ul-Kiizat of all Andalusia under the
Almoravides. Ibn-Rushd was a jurisconsult of the first rank,
but he applied himself mainly to medicine, mathematics, and
philosophy. Introduced to Abu Ya'kub Yusuf by Ibn-Tufail,
he was received with great favour by that sovereign. In
1169-1170 we find him holding the office of Kazi of Seville,
and in 1182 of Cordova. For a few years after the accession
of Ya'kub al-Mansur to the throne of the Almohades, Ibn-
Rushd enjoyed the consideration and esteem of that monarch,
but when the pent-up Berber fanaticism burst forth he was
the first to fall a victim to the fury of the lawyers and Mullahs
whom he had offended by his philosophical writings, and who
were jealous of his genius and his learning. Ibn-Rushd was
without question one of the greatest scholars and philosophers
the Arab world has produced, and " one of the profoundest
commentators," says Munk, " of Aristotle's works." Ibn-
Rushd held that the highest effort of man ought to be directed
towards the attainment of perfection, that is, a complete

1 See Appendix III.


identification with the Active Universal Intellect ; that this
perfection can only be attained by study and speculation, and
abandoning all the desires which belong to the inferior faculties
of the soul, and especially to the senses, — but not by mere
sterile meditation. He also held that prophetic revelations
were necessary for spreading among mankind the eternal
verities proclaimed equally by religion and philosophy ; that
religion itself directs their search by means of science ; that it
teaches truths in a popular manner comprehensible to all
people : that philosophy alone is capable of seizing the true
religious doctrines by means of interpretation ; but the ignorant
apprehend only the literal meaning. On the question of pre-
destination he held that man was neither the absolute master
of his actions nor bound by fixed immutable decrees. But the
truth, says Ibn-Rushd, lies in the middle, k^j<^\ ur^y ^ 1
words used by the Fatimide Imams, and explained by them
somewhat similarly. Our actions depend partly on our own
free will and partly on causes outside us. We are free to wish
and to act in a particular manner ; but our will is always
restrained and determined by exterior causes. These causes
spring from the general laws of nature ; God alone knows their
sequence. It is this which, in the language of theology, is
called Kazd and Kadar. Ibn-Rushd's political theories were
directed against human tyranny in every shape. He regarded
the Arab republic under the Rashidin Caliphs as the model
government in which was realised the dream of Plato.
Mu'awiyah, he says, in establishing the Ommeyyade autocracy,
overthrew this ideal, and opened the door to all disasters.
Ibn-Rushd considered women to be equal in every respect to

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 46 of 55)