What Is the Relationship Between Philosophy & Theology Within Islam?

Hellenistic thought influenced the arch, a prevalent feature in Islamic architecture.
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Historically, Hellenistic philosophy influenced much of Islamic thought. Islamic theologians from The Golden Age of Islam (610 - 1258 CE) elaborated on the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle along with other Greek philosophers. These ancient Greek thinkers inspired Muslim philosophers to create prodigious volumes of Islamic philosophy and theology. Many scholars consider this era the intellectual zenith of Islamic civilization.

1 The Father of Islamic Philosophy

The wellspring of Islamic philosophy begins with Al-Kindī (801-873 CE). His pursuit of Hellenistic philosophy set the stage for many other Islamic thinkers. Aristotle plays a distinct role in Al-Kindi’s examination of philosophical inquiries such as ontology and epistemology. However, much of Al-Kindi’s work is strictly philosophical in nature without much elaboration on Islamic theology.

2 Metaphysics and The Pursuit of Knowledge

Hellenistic philosophy provided a vehicle of thought for Muslim scholars to elaborate on metaphysics and cosmology in conjuction with the Quran, Islam’s holy text. Philosophers such as Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) adhered to decidedly Aristotelian models of thought to reinforce their metaphysical views. Reason and logic were considered necessary to comprehending God and Truth according to these thinkers. As a result, the pursuit of knowledge was considered in the highest regard and often considered an act of faith.

3 Ibn Rushd and Modern Philosophy

Most of what of the contemporary world knows about Ancient Greek philosophy and philosophical methods of inquiry stems from The Golden Age of Islam. In particular, contemporary knowledge of Aristotle and his sophisticated methodologies concerning logic and reason results from the exhaustive and elaborate works of Ibn Rushd (1126-1198 CE). In fact, most of Christian Europe owes its knowledge of Aristotle to this profound Muslim philosopher. According to Robert Pasnau, a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, various Christian theologians, from Thomas Aquinas to John Duns Scotus, read the voluminous texts of Ibn Rushd to further their own understanding of Aristotle. At the time, only cursory knowledge of Hellenistic Philosophy existed in Europe. Interestingly enough, Christian scholars deeply influenced by Ibn Rushd were known as Averroists (Averroes being the Latin form of ‘Ibn Rushd). This resulting influence informed the development of modern philosophy, laying the groundwork for proper philosophical discourses in logic, reason, and metaphysics.

4 The Dilemma of Contemporary Islamic Theology

According to many Islamic historians and scholars, the nexus of philosophy and theology during Islam’s Golden Age provided a necessary foundation of critical thought that allowed for a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of Islam. Epistemological evaluations provided a more critical analysis of the Quran that many Islamic scholars believe added to the enterprise of faith rather than detracted from it.

Jim Booth is a writer living in Los Angeles. He is currently pursuing graduate work in Philosophy and Religion. The study of faith, in all its various guises, has been a paramount pursuit for him. He has published work in 'The Seattle Review (2005),' 'Rattle (2003),' and 'Zouch (2011).'