The rise of the academy

Ma'mui n's state-sponsored translation movement was centred in a new Academy of Philosophy, the ''House of Wisdom'', in Baghdad. Ma'mui n appointed the well-respected court physician of Hiarui n al-Rashid, Yuhanni ibn Misawayh, as the Academy's first head.7 Skilled translators under the direction of Yuhanna himself were actively engaged in translating texts from the Syriac and subsequently from the Greek in the identified philosophical tradition. The most important translator of this period was Hunayn ibn Ishaq (809-73). His Arabic versions of the Greek philosophical tradition, executed in a highly refined, scholarly manner, contributed immensely to the rise of philosophy in Islamic lands.8

In addition to Ma'mUn, other members of the Arab tribal aristocracy, such as the BanU MUsa family, also patronised translators and scholars from a range of ethnic and religious backgrounds. The participation of learned scholars and members of religions other than Islam in the state-endowed centres and in scholarly activity in general had a very positive effect on the rise of falsafa, and prominent Jewish and Christian philosophers are counted among those responsible for contributing to its refinement in Islamic history.

Baghdad exercised power over vast regions from the Indus valley to North Africa, and an Islamic universal worldview was sought to uphold the legitimate authority of the caliphate as world power. Umayyad factions which had questioned the caliphate's authority of universal rule from different points of view, including the doctrinal, persisted, and in some cases became more refined. This led to the definition of a set of critical political issues, which were later addressed by theologians such as al-Baqillani and 'Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi. In addition to doctrinal issues a set of political-philosophical questions concerning rule and legitimacy, justice, knowledge, the role of leadership in the city, law and the position of lawgiver was stated within an Islamic framework. These questions were later examined systematically by Islam's greatest political philosopher, al-Farabi, whose Platonist-inspired principles of politics became the standard for all later Islamic political theories.

This Greek heritage became the most sought-after tool in the construction of a rational base for the revealed teachings of a defined Islamic theology, thus serving to defend it.9 As an example, the religious doctrine of creation and the position of a willing and knowing creator possessing choice came to be discussed in terms of Aristotelian notions of causality and of the position of the cause of causes. The creator's ''attributes'' (sifat), and one in particular, that of the qur'anic ''All-Knowing'' ('alim), were discussed in terms of Aristotelian principles of intellectual knowledge as interpreted by the later Peripatetic commentators of the school of Alexandria.

Dependence on Greek philosophy had a two-sided impact. The Greek philosophical methods, principles and techniques were hailed for their power, demonstrating solutions to problems of immense value to the Muslim community. At the same time they caused a reaction from the traditionalist segments of society along with literalist religious scholars, particularly the Hanbalites. This polarity has forever defined the position of philosophy in Islam.

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