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Philosophy in Persia: On Seyyed Hossein Nasr & Mehdi Aminrazavi

Written by eastern writer on Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The scientific study of philosophical thinking in the Arabic-Islamic world is a relatively young science. European observers considered Arabic-Islamic philosophy only as a station in the transmission of the ancient Hellenistic heritage, accrediting it no originality of its own. This Euro-centric view is now seen as unfounded. While there are still many desiderata, e.g. the scientific handling of many, not yet critically edited texts, the research in this field can already look back on an impressive output. Hans Daiber provides a nearly complete overview of the current situation of research in the field of Arabic-Islamic philosophy in his extensive Bibliography of Islamic Philosophy. Quite a significant number of summary overviews also exist, including the two-volume History of Islamic Philosophy, which was published by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman and contains contributions of several authors of varying quality.

What exactly is referred to when talking about Arabic-Islamic philosophy? Does it include only philosophy of Hellenistic heritage (falsafa) in the stricter sense of the word, or does it also embrace dogmatic and mysticism? There is no agreement on this. The question of which fields are to be included under the label of »philosophy« in the Arabic-Islamic region was and is dealt with in different ways within the Muslim tradition itself as well as in modern research. On the one hand, there is a strict separation between philosophy on the one side and dogmatic as well as mysticism on the other side. On the other hand, however, the intellectual history of development of the post-classical period, that is, the period of Avicenna (d. 428/1037), was marked by an increasing synthesis between gnostic mysticism, philosophy and theology, especially in the Islamic East. In modern research there is also the tendency to use the extensive definition of philosophy – as is done in the already mentioned anthology of Nasr and Leaman.

More questions arise still: Do we talk about »Islamic« philosophy, excluding philosophers of Jewish faith that wrote in Arabic and had eminent significance for the development of philosophy in the Islamic region, such as Abû l-Barakât al-Baghdâdî (d. after 1164-65) or Ibn Kammûna (d. 1284-85)? Moreover, the term »Islamic philosophy« postulates an inherent link of philosophy to the inner aporia of Islamic belief, which makes the connection to the Hellenistic heritage take a backseat. On the other hand, the term »Arabic philosophy« soon proves to be limited, as it immediately excludes all those philosophers of the Islamic region that wrote in other languages, such as Persian.

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