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History of Philosophy in Islam, by T.J. de Boer [1904], at

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1. The believing Muslim, in so far as custom did not maintain its dominion over him, had at first the Word of God and the example of His Prophet as his rule of conduct and opinion. After the Prophet's death, the Sunna of Mohammed was followed, in cases where the Koran gave no information,--that is to say, men acted and decided, as Mohammed had decided or acted, according to the Tradition of his Companions. But from the time of the conquest of countries in possession of an old civilization, demands which were altogether new were made of ' Islam. Instead of the simple conditions of Arab life, usages and institutions were met with there, in regard to which the Sacred Law gave no precise direction, and to meet which no tradition or interpretation of tradition presented itself. Every day added thus to the number of individual cases which had not been provided for, and yet about which one had to come to a decision, whether according to custom, or his own sense of right. In the old-Roman provinces, Syria and Mesopotamia, Roman law must have long continued to exercise an important influence.

Those jurists who attributed to their own opinion (Ra’y, opinio) alongside of the Koran and Sunna, a subsidiary authority to determine the law, were called 'Adherents of the Ra’y'. One of them, Abu Hanifa of Kufa († 767), the founder of the Hanifite School, became specially famous. But even in Medina, before the appearance of the school of Malik (715-795), as well as in that school, a harmless though restricted deference was at first paid to the Ra’y. By slow degrees, however, and in the course of opposing

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a Ra’y which was becoming a pretext for much arbitrariness, the view gained ground, that in everything the Tradition (hadith) respecting the Sunna of the Prophet was to be followed. Thereupon traditions were collected from all quarters, and explained--and in large numbers even forged--; and a system of criteria to determine their genuineness was formed, which, however, laid more stress upon the external evidence and the appropriateness of the traditionary material than upon consistency and historic truth. As a consequence of this development, the 'people of the Ra’y', who were chiefly located in Iraq (Babylonia), were now confronted by the 'Adherents of the Tradition', or the Medina school. Even Shafii (767-820), the founder of the third school of Law, who in general held to the Sunna, was numbered with the partisans of Tradition, in contradistinction no doubt to Abu Hanifa.

2. Logic introduced a new element into this controversy,--viz Qiyas or Analogy. There had been, of course, stray applications of Qiyas, even in earlier times; but, to lay down Qiyas as a principle, a foundation or a source of law,--presupposed the influence of scientific reflection. Although the terms Ra’y and Qiyas may be used as synonyms, yet there is in the latter term, less suggestion of the presence and operation of individual predilection than there is in Ra’y. The more one grew accustomed to employ Qiyas in grammatical and logical researches, the more readily could he include this principle in the institutes of jurisprudence, whether by way of reasoning from one instance to another, or from the majority of instances to the remainder (i.e. analogically), or by way of seeking rather for some common ground governing various cases,

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from which the conduct proper in a particular case might be deduced (i.e. syllogistically) 1.

The application of Qiyas appears to have come into use, first and most extensively, in the Hanifite school, but afterwards also in the school of Shafii,--though with a more limited range. In connection therewith, the question--whether language was capable of expressing the Universal, or could merely denote the Particular--became important for ethical doctrine.

The logical principle of Qiyas never attained to great repute. Much more emphasis was laid,--next to the Koran and the Sunna, the historic foundations of the Law--, upon the Idjma, that is, the Consensus of the Congregation of the faithful. The Consensus of the Congregation or, practically, of the most influential learned men in it,--who may be compared to the fathers and teachers of the Catholic Church,--is the Dogmatical principle, which, contested only by a few, has proved the most important instrument in establishing the Muslim Ethical System. Theory, however, continues to assign a certain subordinate place to Qiyas, as a fourth source of moral guidance, after Koran, Sunna and Idjma.

3. The Muslim Ethical System (al-fiqh) = 'the knowledge') takes into account the entire life of the believer, for whom the Faith itself is the first of all duties. Like every innovation the system at first encountered violent opposition:--commandment was now turned into doctrinal theory, and

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believing obedience into abstruse pursuit of knowledge: that called for protestation alike from plain pious people and from wise statesmen. But gradually the 'knowing' men or men learned in the Law (ulamā, or in the West, faqihs) were recognized as the true heirs of the prophets. The Ethical system was developed before the Doctrinal, and it has been able to hold the leading position up to the present day. Nearly every Muslim knows something of it, seeing it is part of a good religious upbringing. According to the great Church-father Gazali, 'the Fiqh' is the daily bread of believing souls, while the Doctrine is only valuable as a Medicine for the sick.

We are not called upon here to enter into the minutiae of the fine-spun casuistic of the Fiqh. The main subject handled in it is an ideal righteousness, which can never be illustrated in all its purity in our imperfect world. We are acquainted now with its principles, and with the position which it holds in Islam. Let us merely add a brief notice of the division of moral acts which was formulated by ethical teachers. According to this classification there are:

1. Acts, the practice of which is an absolute duty and is therefore rewarded, and the omission of which is punished:

2. Acts which are recommended by the Law, and are the subject of reward, but the neglect of which does not call for punishment:

3. Acts which are permitted, but which in the eyes of the Law are a matter of indifference:

4. Acts which the Law disapproves of, but does not hold as punishable:

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5. Acts which are forbidden by the Law and which demand unconditional punishment 1.

4. Greek philosophic enquiries have had a two-fold influence upon the Ethics of Islam. With many of the sectaries and mystics, both orthodox and heretic, an ascetic system of Ethics is found, coloured by Pythagorean-Platonic views. The same thing appears with philosophers, whom we shall afterwards meet again. But in orthodox circles the Aristotelian deliverance,--that virtue consists in the just mean--, found much acceptance, because something similar stood in the Koran, and because, generally, the tendency of Islam was a catholic one,--one conciliatory of opposites.

More attention indeed was given to Politics than to Ethics, in the Muslim empire, and the struggles of political parties were the first thing to occasion difference of opinion. Disputes about the Imâmat, i.e. the headship in the Muslim Church, pervade the entire history of Islam; but the questions discussed have commonly more of a personal and practical than a theoretical importance, and therefore a history of philosophy does not need to consider them very fully. Hardly anything of philosophic value emerges in them. Even in the course of the first centuries there was developed a firm body of constitutional law canonically expressed; but this, like the ideal system of duty, was not particularly heeded by strong rulers,--who viewed it as mere theological brooding,--while, on the other hand, by weak princes it could not be applied at all.

Just as little is it worth our while to examine minutely the numerous 'mirrors of Princes', which were such favourites,

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in Persia especially, and in whose wise moral saws, and maxims of political sagacity, the courtly circles found edification.

The weight of philosophic endeavour in Islam lies on the theoretical and intellectual side. With the actual proceedings of social and political life they are able to make but a scanty compromise. Even the Art of the Muslims, although it exhibits more originality than their Science, does not know how to animate the crude material, but merely sports with ornamental forms. Their Poetry creates no Drama, and their Philosophy is unpractical.


38:1 Examples of both methods occur, but usually Qiyas is equivalent to Analogy. However, in the philosophical terminology which owes its origin to the Translators, Qiyas always stands for συλλογισμός, while ἀναλογία is rendered by the Arabic mithl.

40:1 Cf. Snouck Hurgronje in ZDMG, LIII p. 155.

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