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Arab Philosopher


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Narrated by John Lescault

Download mp3 file: On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy

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We maintain that the business of philosophy is nothing other than to look into creation and to ponder over it in order to be guided to the Creator,—in other words, to look into the meaning of existence. For the knowledge of creation leads to the cogniscance of the Creator, through the knowledge of the created. The more perfect becomes the knowledge of creation, the more perfect becomes the knowledge of the Creator. The Law encourages and exhorts us to observe creation. Thus, it is clear that this is to be taken either as a religious injunction or as something approved by the Law. But the Law urges us to observe creation by means of reason and demands the knowledge thereof through reason. This is evident from different verses of the Quran. For example the Quran says: "Wherefore take example from them, ye who have eyes." That is a clear indication of the necessity of using the reasoning faculty, or rather both reason and religion, in the interpretation of things. Again it says: "Or do they not contemplate the kingdom of heaven and earth and the things which God hath created." This is a plain exhortation to encourage the use of observation of creation. And remember that one whom God especially distinguishes in this respect, Abraham, the prophet. For He says: "And this did we show unto Abraham: the kingdom of heaven and earth." Further He says: "Do they not consider the camels, how they are created; and the heaven, how it is raised." Or still again: "And (who) meditate on the creation of heaven and earth, saying, O Lord thou hast not created this in vain." There are many other verses on this subject: too numerous to be enumerated.

Now, it being established that the Law makes the observation and consideration of creation by reason obligatory — and consideration is nothing but to make explicit the implicit — this can only be done through reason. Thus we must look into creation with the reason. Moreover, it is obvious that the observation which the Law approves and encourage must be of the most perfect type, performed with the most perfect kind of reasoning. As the Law emphasises the knowledge of God and His creation by inference, it is incumbent on any who wish to know God and His whole creation by inference, to learn the kinds of inference, their conditions and that which distinguishes philosophy from dialectic and exhortation from syllogism. This is impossible unless one possesses knowledge beforehand of the various kinds of reasoning and learns to distinguish between reasoning and what is not reasoning. This cannot be done except one knows its different parts, that is, the different kinds of premises.

Hence, for a believer in the Law and a follower of it, it is necessary to know these things before he begins to look into creation, for they are like instruments for observation. For, just as a student discovers by the study of the law, the necessity of knowledge of legal reasoning with all its kinds and distinctions, a student will find out by observing the creation the necessity of metaphysical reasoning. Indeed, he has a greater claim on it than the jurist. For if a jurist argues the necessity of legal reasoning from the saying of God: "Wherefore take example from them O ye who have eyes," a student of divinity has a better right to establish the same from it on behalf of metaphysical reasoning.

One cannot maintain that this kind of reasoning is an innovation in religion because it did not exist in the early days of Islam. For legal reasoning and its kinds are things which were invented also in later ages, and no one thinks they are innovations. Such should also be our attitude towards philosophical reasoning. There is another reason why it should be so, but this is not the proper place to mention it. A large number of the followers of this religion confirm philosophical reasoning, all except a small worthless minority, who argue from religious ordinances. Now, as it is established that the Law makes the consideration of philosophical reasoning and its kinds as necessary as legal reasoning, if none of our predecessors has made an effort to enquire into it, we should begin to do it, and so help them, until the knowledge is complete. For if it is difficult or rather impossible for one person to acquaint himself single-handed with all things which it is necessary to know in legal matters, it is still more difficult in the case of philosophical reasoning. And, if before us, somebody has enquired into it, we should derive help from what he has said. It is quite immaterial whether that man is our co-religionist or not; for the instrument by which purification is perfected is not made uncertain in its usefulness, by its being in the hands of one of our own party, or of a foreigner, if it possesses the attributes of truth. By these latter we mean those Ancients who investigated these things before the advent of Islam.

Now, such is the case. All that is wanted in an enquiry into philosophical reasoning has already been perfectly examined by the Ancients. All that is required of us is that we should go back to their books and see what they have said in this connection. If all that they say be true, we should accept it and if there be something wrong, we should be warned by it. Thus, when we have finished this kind of research we shall have acquired instruments by which we can observe the universe, and consider its general character. For so long as one does not know its general character one cannot know the created, and so long as he does not know the created, he can have no knowledge of the Creator. Thus we must begin an inquiry into the universe systematically, such as we have learned from the trend of rational inference. It is also evident that this aim is to be attained by the investigation of one part of the universe after another, and that help must be derived from predecessors, as is the case in other sciences. Imagine that the science of geometry and astronomy had become extinct in our day, and a single individual desired to find out by himself the magnitude of the heavenly bodies, their forms, and their distances from one another. Even though he were the most sagacious of men, it would be as impossible for him as to ascertain the proportion of the sun and the earth and the magnitude of the other stars. It would only be attainable by aid of divine revelation, or something like it. If it be said to him that the sun is a hundred and fifty or sixty times as big as the earth, he would take it to be sheer madness on the part of the speaker, though it is an established fact in the science of astronomy, so that no one learned in that science will have any doubt about it.

The science which needs most examples from other sciences is that of Law. For the study of jurisprudence cannot be completed except in a very long time. If a man today would himself learn of all the arguments discovered by the different disputants of diverse sects, in problems which have always excited contentions in all the big cities, except those of Al-Maghrib, he would be a proper object to be laughed at on account of the impossibility of the task, in spite of the existence of every favourable circumstance. This is similar not only in the sciences but also in the arts. For no one is capable of discovering by himself alone everything which is required. And if this is so in other sciences and arts, how is it possible in the art of arts - philosophy?

This being so, it becomes us to go back to the Ancients, and to see what observations and considerations they have made into the universe, according to the tests of inference. We should consider what they have said in this connection and proved in their books, so that whatever may be true in them we may accept and, while thanking them, be glad to know it, and whatever be wrong, we should be warned by it, be cautioned, and hold them excused for their mistake.

From what has been said, it may be taken that a search into the books of the Ancients is enjoined by the Law, when their meaning and purpose be the same as that to which the Law exhorts us. Anyone who prevents a man from pondering over these things, that is, a man who has the double quality of natural sagacity and rectitude in the Law, with the merit of learning and disposition - turns away the people from the door by which the Law invites them to enter into the knowledge of God, and that is the door of observation which leads to the perfect knowledge of God. Such an action is the extreme limit of ignorance and of remoteness from God.

If, by studying these books, a man has been led astray and gone wrong on account of some natural defect, bad training of the mind, inordinate passion, or the want of a teacher who might explain to him the true significance of things, by all or some of these causes, we ought not on this account to prevent one fit to study these things from doing so. For such harm is not innate in man, but is only an accident of training.

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