Book six influence of Muslim Thought

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Influence of Muslim Thought

Chapter LXVIII

Muslim philosophy influenced Western thought in several ways. It (1) initiated in the West the humanistic movement; (2) introduced the historical sciences and (3) the scientific method; (4) helped the Western scholastics in harmonizing philosophy with faith; (5) stimulated Western mysticism; (6) laid the foundations of Italian Renaissance and, to a degree, moulded the modem European thought down to the time of Immanuel Kant, in certain directions even later.'

1. The Muslims were the first humanists and they gave a humanist bend to the Western mind. They were the first to reveal to the West that outside the prevailing Catholic Church it was not all darkness and barbarism but untold wealth of knowledge. They captured and further developed all the intellectual achievements of Greece and transmitted them to the West before any direct contact between the Greek intellect and the Western mind was established. It was through their influence that ancient and contemporary men outside the Christian West also began to be looked upon as human and even possessed of higher civilizations.2

Nothing can prove their own humanism better than the fact that within eight years of the establishment of Baghdad they were in possession of the greater parts of the works of Aristotle (including the spurious Mineralogy, Mechanics, and Theology, the last of which was actually an abridged para­phrasis of the last three books of Plotinus' Enneads), some of the works of Plato and the Neo-Platonists, the important works of Hippocrates, Galen, Euclid, Ptolemy, and subsequent writers and commentators, and several Per­sian and Indian writings on mathematics, astronomy, and ethics. All this

I M. M. Sharif, "Muslim Philosophy and Western Thought," Iqbal, Vol. VIII, No. 1, Lahore, July 1959, pp. 1-14.

2 Ibid.



A History of Muslim Philosophy

Influence of Muslim Thought on the West

was taking place in the Muslim world when Greek thought was almost un­known in the West. While in the East "al-Ras_hid and al-Maman were delving into Greek and Persian philosophy their contemporaries in the West, Charle­magne and his lords, were reportedly dabbling in the art of writing their


Humanism spread to Western Europe through contact between the Muslims and the non-Muslims in Spain; to Italy by a similar contact in Sicily; and throughout Europe by the impress of a higher culture received by the Crusaders in Syria and Asia Minor.

Since Islam originated from monotheism, it conceived idolatry as its real enemy and acted with the purpose of subduing it first in the Arab lands and then throughout the world. The Qur'an accepts Christianity and the Jewish religion as divine religions; therefore, it did not instigate any struggle against them. However, Christianity first conceived of Islam as a competitor and, therefore, attacked it directly. The Arian and Nestorian sects of Christianity had a positive outlook on Islam since they were monotheistic in outlook. As compared to Islam the doctrine of the Trinity and the Monophysite mode of thinking retained the residues of idolatry. The places of ancient Jupiter, Apollo, Venus were given to God, Jesus, and Mary. Since iconoclasticism of Islam was against their frame of mind, the Christians started a religious struggle against Islam. The following verses from the Qur'an indicate that in Islam there is no obligatory doctrination but religious tolerance: Lakum din-u-kum wa li-ya din (yon have your religion and I have mine); la ikra'ha fi al-din (religion is not to be forced on anyone). On the other hand, the idea of proselytism is dominant in Christianity. Christianity indoctrinates that it is the only way to spread and spreading is its main duty. In spite of this principle in Christianity, the spread of Islam in all domains from the first Hijrah on not by wars but sporadically was much more rapid. Barthold sees the reason for this in the capacity of the Arabic language and in the Islamic custom of not collecting taxes and duties from defeated nations if they accepted Islam.4 Although these sociological factors play a significant role, the ease in accepting a natural and rational religion and its consistency with human idealism are additional reasons for the spread of Islam.

The Christian reaction to Islam in the East and West took different forms.

Those who criticized the new religion vehemently and did not wish to accept

it as a religion at all come first. John of Damascus in his book De Haeresibus,

considered Islam to be heresy. The first Byzantine writer who referred to the

Prophet was Theophanes the Confessor (202/817). He also attacked Islam as

severely as John. Guilbert de Nogent's (518/1124) criticism was based on

the fact that wine and pork were tabooed in Islam. As an exception,

Hilderbert de Lemans for the first time, in the Middle Ages in the West, stated

4 Hitti, History of the Arabs, p. 315. 4 Barthold, Mussulmane Culture.

that Mubammad was a real Prophet and he did produce miracles. Guillaume de Tripolis' work on Islam was written with extreme hate and was most offensive. Its descriptions were far from reality, being a mixture of mythical elements with history.s

Peter de Cluny (d. 551/1156) translated the Qur'an into Latin for the first time. His work set the foundation for St. Thomas' attacks on Islam. Two helpers named Peter de Toledo and Peter Poitier participated in Peter Cluny's attempt at translating the Qur'an. The Latin translation of an epistle on the discussion over the principles of Christianity and Islam between 'Abd al-Masill al-Kindi who was the Caliph Maman's secretary and Yahya al-Dimas_hgi was added at the end of this version of the Qur'an. This epistle indicates how tolerant the 'Abbasid Caliph was about re­ligious discussions even in the third/ninth century.e When this work was translated into Latin in the West in the sixth/twelfth century, very bitter and offensive expressions were used for Islam in the preface to the Latin translation. Casanova and Muir critically investigated whether or not this epistle really belonged to the third/ninth century. Massignon has looked for a relationship between the epistle of this al-Kindi-who has no relation to the philosopher al-Kindi-and that of Yabya ibn 'Adi in which the Trinity is defended.? The problem has not yet been solved.

St. Thomas referred to Islam and to its theologians. He is the first to give his criticisms a philosophical orientation. Raymond Lull (633-716/ 1235-1316) studied Arabic at Majorca and Muslim philosophy in Bugia near Tunisia. It was he who suggested to the then Pope to start the moral crusade against Islam. This suggestion which was met at first with complete disinter­estedness was later accepted by the Popes after Raymond's long endeavour to that effect; it became indeed the foundation of the Missionary movement. Raymond translated Asma' al-Hnsna (The Beautiful Names of God) of Mullyi al-Din ibn 'Arabi. He adapted several passages from Futahdt al-Makkiyyah (The Revelations of Mecca). He wrote an epistle relating to the discussions of a Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew. Although he wrote many epistles and books about Sufistic theology and philosophy, yet he essentially preserved his enmity against Islam.

At the same time Constantine Porphyrogenitus was referring to the Pro­phet with respect and politeness in a passage of his work on history. Ibn Sab'in, an adherent of tasawwu/, in a book entitled al-Ajwibah 'an al-As'ila al-$agaliyyah (Answers to Sicilian Questions) answered the questions asked on Aristotle's philosophy by the King of Naples and Emperor of Germany.

4 Gustave E. Von Grunebaum, Medieval Islam, Chicago, 1946.

Risalah'Abd Allah Ibn Isma'il al-Hae_himi ila'Abd al-Masih Ibn Ishaq al-Kindi

(a work of the third/ninth century written in defence of Christianity), London, 1885.

Petits traites Apologitiques de Yahya ben 'Adi, Arabic text with French

translation by Augustin Wrier, Geuthner, Paris, 1920.



A History of Muslim Philosophy

Influence of Muslim Thought on the West

Yet the moral tension between the two worlds did not ease. Dante in the section on "Inferno" of the Divine Comedy describes the Prophet in the eighth sphere of the underworld in a most atrocious manner, although, as Asin Palacios in his studies of his Divine Comedy demonstrates, he owed to ibn 'Arabi his entire topic, his manner of synthesis, and his idea of moral ascension. Since all the publications in the West against Islam for centuries after the Middle Ages had continuously been written by adaptations, trans­lations, imitations, copying without any mention of source, they were no more than expressions of a complex against Islam as a faith.

It was at first rather difficult for the Western philosophers to get rid of religious, imperialistic, and racial prejudices and look at Islam and the East with understanding. In spite of the fact that Renaissance became possible only through profiting by Muslim works on philosophy, and science and their trans­lations and interpretations thereof for centuries, the attitude of some Western people who were hostile to the very civilization that created these works indi­cates how deep-rooted the religious, political, and racial prejudices were. From the eleventh/seventeenth century on, Western philosophers gradually got rid of their prejudices against Islam. Cultural and intellectual influences from the Muslim East for centuries were instrumental in bringing about that change.

From the twelfth/eighteenth century on, the attitude of Western free thinkers took a truly humanistic turn. The libre penseurs took a stand against negative and malicious publications. Edward Sale, in the preface he wrote for his translation of the Qur'hn in 1147/1734, likens the Prophet to Thesee and Pompillus. He praises his philosophy, his political views, and his realism. Boulainvilliers in his book, The Life of the Prophet, going one step further tried to prove that Islam is superior to Christianity in rationalism, realism, and its consistency with the nature of man. Savory in the preface he wrote for his translation of the Qur'an completed in 1198/1783, describes Muhammad as "one of the marvellous persons who appear in the world from time to time." Due to its importance, Savory's translation was again published ten years ago.8

This sympathetic attitude towards Islam evoked a strong reaction in Voltaire. He made extremely offensive and insolent statements about Islam and the Prophet of Islam.

Kant praised Islam in his La Religion dans les limites de la simple raison. "Islam," he said, "distinguishes itself with pride and courage, for it propagates faith not by miracles but by conquests, and it is founded on courageous asceti­cism. This important phenomenon is due to the founder who propagated the conception of the unity of God. The nobility of a people who were freed from idolatry has been an important factor in bringing about this result. The spirit of Islam is indicated not in conformity without will but in voluntary adherence to the will of God, and this, above all, is a noble quality of a high

4 Gustave E. Von Grunebaum, op. cit.

order."9 In his Mahomet, Goethe, with great sympathy and enthusiasm, describes the power of the new faith exalted against idolatry, and the sincere adherence of its believers to it. This work of Goethe is in the nature of an aswer to Voltaire's work bearing the same name.10 Goethe read the Qur'an in 1184/ 1770 and annotated certain verses which were later referred to in Megerlin's German version of the Qur'an. By this time the Prophet of Islam was well known in Germany as the founder of a "Natural Religion," and a protagonist of intellectual advance. Megerlin's translation of the Qur'an (1186/1772) and that of Boysen's (1187/1773) were published in Germany in addition to Turpin's work, The Life of Muhammad, in which Mubammad is described as a "great Prophet," "powerful mind," "true believer," and "the founder of natural religion."

Auguste Comte, in his "Law of Three Stages of Social Development," con­siders Islam to be the most advanced phase in his so-called theological stage and regards it even as preparatary to the metaphysical stage" Oswald Spengler compares Islam with the Protestant faith. In Mubammad he sees the puritan personality of a Luther or a Calvin. According to him, Islam calls for the same kind and quantity of "Illumination" and "Intellect" as was insisted on by Confucius, Buddha, Lessing, and Voltaire."

Although Nietzsche severely attacks Christianity in all his works, particularly in his Antichrist" he did not include Islam in his adverse judgment. On the other hand, he mentioned it with praise. Eduard von Hartmann, in his book entitled The Religion of the Future, remarks that, although Hebrew religion is an advance over paganism, the conception of monopolistic and rationalist God rather hinders its progress; and he concludes that monotheism finds its most powerful way of expression in Islam.14

Carlyle designates Islam as a very superior faith and thinks that Mubammad is the hero of the prophets." He refutes the false accusation made against the Prophet and states that "this kind of opinion is shame on us."

Thus, Orientalism, interest in which began during the seventh/thirteenth century merely through religious fanaticism and with the aim at establishing missionary organization, gradually became a subject of methodical research.16

9 E. Kant, La Religion dan8 lee limites de la simple raison, French translation

by J. Gibelin, J. Vrin, Paris, 1943, pp. 230-40.

10 Goethe, Mahomet (French translation).

11 Auguste Comte, Systems de la politique positive, Vol. III, p. 470.

12 Oswald Spengler, Le Declin de l'Occident, trad. de l'allemand par M. Tazerout,

Vol. II, pp. 173-298.

13 F. Nietzsche, Der Antichrist.

14 Eduard von Hartmann, La Religion de 1'Avenir, p. 148.

15 Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship, French translation by Jean Izoulet, Armand Colin, 1928, pp. 67-122.

10 La Conquete du Monde Mu8ulman: La Oroisade Spirituelle chez lea musulma $, de Saint Francois d'Assise a Raymond Tulle, 1912; H. Z. Ulken, Islam Dusuncesine Giris, Istanbul, 1954.



A History of Muslim Philosophy

After the twelfth/eighteenth century those who possessed intensive knowledge
of Arabic began to occupy themselves with the study of Islamic sciences,
principles of Islam, and the history of Muslim nations. The number of those
who got rid of their prejudices and subjective views and who knew how to
take truth seriously increased as scientific research became more extensive.
Dieterici, Sebillot, Quartermere, de Slane, Pococke, Sylvestre de Sacy,
Fleisher, Wustenfeld, Horten, de Boer, Masson Oursel, Goichon, L. Gardet,
Massignon, Rene Guenon, M. Asin Palacios, E. G. Browne, Nicholson, Sir
Hamilton Gibb are among them. We may add that Orientalism today is
oriented towards understanding Islam and other Eastern religions by serious

scholarship, although there still are some who carry on their studies for imperial or missionary purposes.17

In the above account an attempt has been made to show how, starting with thorough antagonism to Islam, the West gradually moved towards a humanis­tic approach to Islamic culture. But this humanistic attitude was directed not only towarlls Islam but also to other Eastern religions. August Wilhelm Schlegel, from 1234/1818 to the time of his death, occupied himself with Oriental studies. From 1239/1823 to 1246/1830 he published the journal I ndische Bibliothek in three volumes and also edited the Bhagvad Gita and the Ramayana. These efforts mark the beginning of Sanskrit scholarship in Germany.

How the Jews and Christians in the West followed in the footsteps of

Muslim thinkers in their recapture of Greek learning, and how they captured Muslim thought itself will be shown later.

2. A large part of the Qur'iin refers to the past and takes the mind of the reader to the rise and fall of nations in the days gone by. In fact, it lays special emphasis on history as well as on nature as sources of knowledge. This Qur'anic attitude to history developed a true historical sense amongst the Muslims who in due course produced next to Herodotus world's first great historians like al-Tabari, al-Mas`iidi, ibn Hayyan, ibn ghaldiin, and others. One of them, al-Birdni, laid down for the first time in history the principles of historical criticism. The Muslims were, thus, the first after Herodotus to

develop the historical sense and to lay open the various historical sciences before the West.

3. The greatest boon that the Muslim East bestowed upon the West was the scientific or inductive method of inquiry. Although most of the Muslim thinkers used the inductive method in their scientific investigation in different fields, the two of them who particularly expounded this method were Mubammad bin Zakariya al-Rdzi and ibn Haitham. Ibn Hazm, writing on the scope of logic, emphasized sense-perception as a source of knowledge. Later ibn Taimiyyah in his refutation of Aristotelian logic showed that induction was

1P Rene Guenon, "L'esoterisme islamique," Plslam et l'Occident, 1947; F. Bon­jean, "Culture occidentale et culture musulmane," ibid.; Ph. Guiberteau, "Islam, Occident et Chritiente," ibid.; F. Bonjean, "Quelques causes d'in-comprehension entre," ibid.

Influence of Muslim Thought on the West

the only form of reliable inference. Suhrawardi Magtiil too offered a systematic refutation of Greek logic. It was the method of observation and experiment which led al-Birimi to the discovery of reaction time, al-Kindi to the formula that sensation is a response of the organism proportionate to the stimulus, and ibn Haitham to his findings in optics"

The influence of Muslim method of observation and experiment on the West has been recognized by Briffault in the following terms. "Numerous Jews followed William of Normandy to England and enjoyed his protection ... establishing a school of science at Oxford; it was under their successors at that Oxford school that Roger Bacon learned Arabic and Arabic science. Neither Roger Bacon nor his later namesake has any title to be credited with having introduced the experimental method. Roger Bacon was no more than one of the apostles of Muslim science and method to Christian Europe; and he never wearied of declaring that knowledge of Arabic and Arabic science was for his contemporaries the only way to true knowledge. Discussions as to who was the originator of the experimental method ... .are part of the colossal misrepresentation of the origins of European civiliza­tion. The experimental method of the Arabs was by Bacon's time widespread and eagerly cultivated throughout Europe; it had been proclaimed by Adel­hard of Bath, by Alexander of Neckam, by Vincent of Beauvais, by Arnold of Villeneuve, by Bernard Silvestris, who entitles his manual Experimentarius, by Thomas of Cantimpre, by Albertus Magnus."Is

Science is the most momentous contribution of Arab civilization to the modern world, but its fruits were slow in ripening. Not until long after Moorish culture had sunk back into darkness did the giant to which it had given birth rise in its might. It was not science only which brought Europe back to life. Other and manifold influences from the civilization of Islam com­municated its original glow to European life.2s

"Although there is not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive influence of Islamic culture is not traceable, nowhere is it so clear and momentous as in the genesis of that power which constitutes the paramount distinctive force of the modern world, and the supreme source of its victory­natural science and the scientific spirit. 1121

"The debt of our science to that of the Arabs does not consist in startling discoveries of revolutionary theories; science owes a great deal more to Arab culture, it owes its existence. The ancient world was, as we saw, pre-scientific. The astronomy and mathematics of the Greeks were a foreign importation never thoroughly acclimatized in Greek culture. The Greeks systematized, generalized, and theorized, but the patient ways of investigation, the accumula­

10 Sir Mohammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam,

Lahore, 1954, p. 129.

10 Briffault, The Making of Humanity, London, 1928, pp. 200-01. R0 Ibid., p. 202.

21 Ibid., p. 190.



A History of Muslim Philosophy

Influence of Muslim Thought on the West

tion of positive knowledge, the minute methods of science, detailed and pro­longed observation and experimental inquiry were altogether alien to the Greek temperament. Only in Hellenistic Alexandria was any approach to scientific work conducted in the ancient classical world. What we call science arose in Europe as a result of a new spirit of inquiry, of new methods of investigation, of the methods of experiment, observation, and measurement, of the development of mathematics in a form unknown to the Greeks. That spirit and those methods were introduced into the European world by the Arabs."3E

4. In the West, even up to the ninth/fifteenth century, philosophy and science were regarded as antagonistic to religion. Hence the teachings of Aristotelianism and Averroism were banned, Bruno was burnt, Kepler was persecuted, and Galileo was forced to retract. Muslim thinkers, following Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, harmonized faith with reason and made possible, for themselves and for Europe, unhampered development of both.

5. European mysticism was also much influenced by the mysticism of Islam. Arthur J4 Arberry observes in The History of Sufism that "it is impossible, for example, to read the poems of the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross without concluding that his entire process of thinking and imagi­native apparatus owed much to those Muslim mystics who had also been natives of Spain." In the beginning of the eighth/fourteenth century, Raymond Lull wrote on mysticism. He was an accomplished scholar and founder of a school of Oriental languages at Rome. His mystical writings are "beyond question" influenced by Sufi speculation. These are only a few examples of what Arberry regards as "unquestionably a general process." In later times the influence of Persian mystical poetry on so great a genius as Goethe is too well known to be mentioned.

Miguel Asin Palacios, in his study of the influence of the Muslim conception of the next world on the Divine Comedy, investigated ibn 'Arabi's influence on Dante. The relationship between ascension to heaven in Dante's book and the Ascension (mi'raj) in Islam bad already caught the attention of some scholars. Ozanam, a thirteenth/nineteenth-century French scholar, in his great study of Dante, mocked at those who thought that the work of the poet from Toscana was "a lonely monument of the Middle Ages" and he considered the poet an erudite who was considerably well informed and who made use of all past experiences. According to him, "two roads, one going north and the other south, lead Dante to the old Eastern sources. He maintained that the relationship between the Saracens and Europe was very close at that time." Dante had read the Latin versions of the works of many Muslim philosophers and adherents of tasavrwu/, at least those of ibn Sina and al­Ghazali. Following Ozanam and d'Ancona, Charles Labitte, in the preface he wrote for Brizeux's translation of the Divine Comedy into French, maintained that the theme must have been borrowed from the world of Islam. At that
22 Ibid., p. 191.

time, Modi de Goeje and some other authors held similar views. More recently Edgard Blochet published two studies on this problem: Etudes sur l'mistoire Religieuse d' l'islam, 1307/1889, and Les Sources de la Divine Comedie, 1319/ 1901. In these studies he defended the view that the idea of ascending to heaven came directly from Islam. According to Blochet, in a verse in the Qur'an, there is a reference to mi'raj (ascension to heaven) though no details are given. Many of these details are the products of public imagination in Islam and they must have been due to more ancient sources. He finds the roots especially in Mazdaism. He relates the mi'rdj description in the Mazdakite poet Artay Viraf's literary work based on Zend-Avesta. Barthelemy translated Artay Viriif's Namak and in his foreword demonstrated similarities between the Divine Comedy and the Mazdakite book. Blocbet claimed that the idea of ascending to heaven in Dante was transmitted both from the Persian and Islamized sources.

Asin Palacios' conclusions are more precise. Not being satisfied with mere comparison between the texts, he studied the sources of Dante and thereby demonstrated how these depended on Islamic works, i. e., on their translations. By emphasizing the special significance of ibn 'Arabi's "Revelations" he solved the problem with great success. Ibn Masarrah al-Jibali from Mercier and Cordova who specialized in ibn 'Arabi's doctrine of tasawwuf, demonstrated the influence of this doctrine on Western scholastics, in general, on the priests of the Franciscan denomination, and on Dante who was till then known as a follower of Aristotle and of St. Thomas in particular.

Palacios' book is composed of four parts: (1) comparison of the Divine Comedy with lailat al-isra and mi'rdj; (2) comparison of the Divine Comedy with Muslim descriptions of the next world ('uqba); (3) Islamic elements in the Christian legends before Dante; (4) studies and determination of the transmission of Islamic works to Christian Europe in general. In the first part, Asin studies the development of the idea of mi'rdj in Islam. He traces this with reference to different texts and footnotes and compares each separately with the Divine Comedy. Many phantasies were created in the public imagi­nation about a verse in the Qur'an on mi'rdj 23 All these got incorporated in the descriptions of descent to hell at night (isra) and the Ascension to heaven (mi'raj). The theme of mi'raj, which public imagination worked on, is used as a mystic symbol by ibn 'Arabi. Several adherents of tasawwuf, e.g., Junaid Bagh_dadi, Bayazid Bistami, etc. had used the moral symbol before. In ibn 'Arabi's work it received a more significant place. Later, in the books entitled Mi'raj Nameh and in Nizami Ganjeh's Mak_bzan al-Asrar the event of Ascension to heaven is related in great detail. Muslim miniature artists illustrated these works with many drawings about this spiritual journey.

The construction of Dante's hell is the same as that of ibn 'Arabi's hell. Both are large funnel-shaped edifices composed of several storeys. Spiral stair­

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