The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Modern Islamic philosophy

Modern Islamic philosophy revives some of the trends of medieval Islamic philosophy, notably the tension between Mutazilite and Asharite view of ethics in science and law, and the duty of Muslims and role of Islam in the sociology of knowledge and in forming ethical codes and legal codes, especially the fiqh (or "jurisprudence") and rules of jihad (or "just war"). See list of Islamic terms in Arabic for a glossary of key terms used in Islam.

Key figures representing important trends include:

  • Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi who is credited with creating modern Islamist political thought in the 20th century, argued that science was itself merely re-discovering that all matter and energy obeys laws, and that Kafir claims that humankind was free of obligation to comprehend and obey such laws, had to be resisted by Muslims. Caliphate and Monarchy was his most important work. He established the Jamaat-e-Islami in India. This and the Egyptian Ikhwan al Muslimin ("Muslim Brotherhood") were revivals of the tarika tradition and committed to religious, political, and intellectual reform of Islam. Nasser exploited the latter to gain power in 1952 but then turned against the Brotherhood, murdering and torturing many members. The leader Sayed Qutb was executed with five others in 1966. But the key difference between the Indian Maududi and the Egyptian Qutb was that the former accepted democratic means, albeit of a limited form. This contrasts with Qutb who developed a liberation theology, requiring "true" Muslims to declare war on anyone who opposed their ultimate goal.
  • Muhammad Iqbal sought an Islamic revival based on social justice ideals and emphasized traditional rules, e.g. against usury. He argued strongly that dogma, territorial nationalism and outright racism, all of which were profoundly rejected in early Islam and especially by Muhammad himself, were splitting Muslims into warring factions, encouraging materialism and nihilism. His thought was influential in the emergence of a movement for independence of Pakistan, where he revered as the national poet. Indirectly this strain of Islam also influenced Malcolm X and other figures who sought a global ethic through the Five Pillars of Islam. Iqbal can be credited with at least trying to reconstruct Islamic thought from the base, though some of his philosophical and scientific ideas would appear dated to us now. His basic ideas concentrated on free-will, which would allow Muslims to become active agents in their own history. His interest in Nietzsche (who he called 'the Wise Man of Europe') has led later Muslim scholars to criticise him for advocating the dangerous ideals, that according to them have eventually formed in certain strains of pan-Islamism. Some claim that the Four Pillars of the Green Party honor Iqbal and Islamic traditions.
  • Fazlur Rahman was professor of Islamic thought at University of Chicago, and an expert in Islamic philosophy. Not as widely known as his scholar-activist contemporary Ismail Raji al-Faruqi , he is nonetheless considered an important figure for Islam in the 20th-century. He argued that the basis of Islamic revival was the return to the intellectual dynamism that was the hallmark of the Islamic scholarly tradition (these ideas are outlined in Revival and Reform in Islam: A Study of Islamic Fundamentalism and his magnum opus, Islam). He sought to give philosophy a free-reign, and was keen on Muslims appreciating how the modern nation-state understood law, as opposed ethics; his view being that the shari'ah was a mixture of both ethics and law. He was critical of historical Muslim theologies and philosophies for failing to create a moral and ethical worldview based on the values derived from the Qur'an: 'moral values', unlike socioeconomic values, 'are not exhausted at any point in history' but require constant interpretation. Rahman was driven to exile from his homeland, Pakistan, where he was part of a committee which sought to interpret Islam for the fledging modern state. Some of his ideas from English (which he claimed were from the Islamic tradition) were reprinted in Urdu and caused outrage among conservative Muslim scholars in Pakistan. These were quickly exploited by opponents of his political paymatser, General Ayyub Khan , and led to his eventual exile in the United States of America.
  • Modern Islamists movements are considered the 'dominant' voice today, though this belies the reality. Some Islamists (the word itself has yet to be well-defined, since there is no overall global "Islamist" movement) have entered the limited democratic processes in the Gulf States, and others, such as those in Pakistan, have long been on the political stage. The vast majority of Muslims remain within, what has been termed, Traditional Islam , which is largely apolitical and accomodationist (and so a subject of criticism from certain activists). Advocates of violence, like Qutb , were opposed to the traditional scholars of al-Azhar, because they regard thenm as complicit in the crimes of the secular state. One general feature of Islamist movements is that they advocate creation of "the Islamic state", though this often means "Islamisation" of the modern nation-state.

In general, the first two trends are more commonly understood in the Islamic World whereas the latter, later, trends, are more known in non-Muslim and Muslim-minority nations, or ones receiving substantial aid from developed nations. Some argue that this suggests that these trends are insincere and that alternations between fundamentalism and secular military dictators are somehow inherently part of the politics of the Arab World in particular. One response is that such trends were likewise observed in other regions, e.g. Latin America, with Communism as a form of fundamentalism, and that those regions often democratize once outside interference is limited.

Last updated: 02-10-2005 02:39:47
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01