Isma'ilis. However, Islamic philosophy taken as a whole cannot be defined by Islam as a religion, nor did it ever become the ''handmaiden of theology''. Certain later trends did confine philosophical investigation within structures guided by the theologians, but a genuinely philosophical tradition distinct from theology continued, although in the later centuries this was cultivated by fewer and fewer scholastic figures, whose main investigations lay in the religious sphere and who were known to the community as ulema.1
After the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries philosophy as a distinct discipline died out almost entirely in Sunni Islam outside Iranian centres of learning, such as Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, Maragha, and Zanjan, where it was kept alive in scholastic centres, despite being marginal to mainstream scholastic activity. While Muslim thinkers were very careful to distinguish theology from philosophy, and some addressed this point in their writings,2 the most enduring sets of problems that formed the core of philosophical activity were all defined by early theological debates. These were first posed by the Mu'tazila, then studied and re-examined by perhaps the most philosophically inclined religious thinkers in early Islam, the Isma'ilis,3 and later emphatically debated by the Ash'arite theologians, whose methods in the early period to some extent restricted philosophy. These problems included (1) creation, (2) atomism and the nature of reality, (3) causality, (4) anthropomorphism, (5) God's attributes, (6) God's knowledge, (7) free will and predestination, and (8) issues of immortality, resurrection, and reward and punishment. Questions of methodology were also posed: for example, the applicability of analogy to doctrine and the necessity of defining a technical vocabulary capable of expressing abstract concepts beyond the semantics of ordinary speech.
In addition to these fundamentally significant problems in the determination of normative Muslim behaviour and the limits of human thinking and action, the theological outlook as a whole determined once and for all the two main types of authority in Islamic intellectual history: the transmitted (naqli), and the rational ('aqli). The tension between these two types of authority has played a significant role in the unfolding Muslim attitudes within political and ethical as well as more abstract domains to the present. Later philosophers addressed this issue, but adherents of the supremacy of transmitted authority finally prevailed, albeit in the context of the large-scale integration of falsafa issues within later kalam. This framework, as broadly described here, forever marked philosophical investigation in the religion.
Was this article helpful?