RELS 228-02



Ibrahim Kalin

Smith Hall 432

Phone 508-793-3948



Course Description: This course is intended to be an introduction to the major issues, figures, and texts of Islamic philosophy and theology. Philosophy and theology represent two main intellectual perspectives in the Islamic tradition and have produced a vast literature. We shall first attempt to answer the question of what Islamic philosophy and theology is and how they figure in the larger context of Islamic religion. In dealing with philosophy, we shall analyze its historical rise and development, the translation movement from the 8th to the 10th century, and its interaction with Greek and Hellenistic traditions of philosophy. While dealing with such towering figures of Islamic philosophy as Kindi, Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ghazali, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Hazm, Ibn Tufayl, Ibn Bajjah, Suhrawardi, the school of Ibn al-Arabi, Nasir al-Din Tusi, and Mulla Sadra, we will also discuss the central issues and concepts of Islamic philosophy, including existence (wujud) and essence (mahiyyah), God’s existence and knowledge of the world, knowledge (‘ilm) and its foundations, cosmology, causality (‘illiyyah) and its role in sciences of nature, and political thought.


Kalam will be the focus of the other part of the course. We shall discuss its prominent representatives as well as the major issues. Classical Kalam debates center around a number of theological issues including God’s names and qualities, free will and determinism, reason and revelation, ethics, and political philosophy. We will examine these issues within the larger context of Islamic thought and try to see how Kalam arguments have been articulated from the demotion of Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam, through its golden age in the 10th and 11th centuries. To complement this, we shall study such figures of Kalam as Wasil ibn Ata, the founder of the Mu’tazilite school, Nazzam, al-Jahiz, Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash’ari, the founder of the Ash’arite school, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, and the later theologians.


Since this is a seminar course, we will have a number of readings from Muslim philosophers and theologians to familiarize ourselves with the language and nomenclature of Islamic thought. The selections will be in English; hence no pre-knowledge of Arabic or Persian is required. You must come to class well prepared and with your readings. Since we meet once a week, no absence is allowed without an acceptable excuse and without my prior consent.


You will write weekly paragraphs and post them on the Blackboard Discussion Board. The weekly paragraphs will be between 250 and 300 words and consist of your critical evaluation of the material to be discussed in class. In the paragraphs, you should concentrate on a specific concept, theme or question, and develop several ‘talking points’. Lastly, each one of you will have a class presentation on a topic of your choice to be approved by me. You will have the option of developing your presentation topic into your final 10-page paper.






Assignments and Grade Policy: Weekly Paragraphs (15%), Class Attendance and Participation (15%), Presentation (20%), one 5-page essay (20%) and one 10-page (30%).


Office Hours: Monday           11:00-12:00

Wednesday      1:30-2:30


Due Dates:      Weekly paragraphs are due the Monday of every week

5-page essay is due on March 17

                        10-page paper is due on April 23





Required Readings:


1. M. Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy, (New York: Columbia University Press)


2. O. Leaman, An Introduction to Classical Islamic Philosophy (Cambridge University Press)


3. S.H. Nasr, Three Muslim Sages, (Delmar: NY Caravan Books)


4. R. Martin, M. Woodward, D. Atmaja, Defenders of Reason in Islam (Oxford: Oneworld Publications)


5. Majid Fakhry, Al-Farabi, Founder of Islamic Neoplatonism: His Life, Works and Influence (Oneworld Publications)


6. Majid Fakhry, Averroes: His Life, Work (Oneworld Publications)


7. Mahdi Aminrazavi, Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination (Curzon



A packet of selected readings is on ERES (The ERES password is  philosophy)






Outline and Reading Schedule


Jan 21             Introduction: The Meaning and Sources of Islamic Philosophy and Theology

                        History, pp. 1-36

Leaman, pp. 1-37

Talking points: A historical outline of Islamic intellectual tradition. What is the meaning of the words philosophy and kalam? What do they mean in the Greek philosophical world, the Islamic tradition, medieval Christian philosophy, and today? Can philosophy be religious? What is the difference between philosophy and kalam? What are the stages of development of philosophy and kalam in Islam?


Jan 28              Kalam Born: Early Kalam, Major Representatives and Issues

                          History, pp. 37-65

                          Defenders, pp. 1-45

Talking Points: How did the early kalam debates influence the development of                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Islamic thought? Why did the kalam debates have such a major political significance in early Islamic history? Keeping these points in mind, how does one become a theologian? Is kalam separable from politics?


Feb 4               Kalam Divided: The Mu’tazilite and Ash’arite Schools

                        Defenders, pp. 59-115

Talking Points: What are the main tenets of the Mu’tazilite school of kalam? Why are they called the ‘rationalists of Islam’? Is this appellation justified? What does it mean to be a ‘rationalist’ in theology? What is the Mutazilite view of reason? What are the 5 principles of Mu’tazilism? How does Qadi Abd al-Jabbar explain and justify them?


Feb 11             Ash’arite Kalam in the Classical Period

                        History, pp. 203-233

Ash’ari, pp. 151-166 (ERES)

Talking Points: What are the main points of contention between Ash’arism and Mu’tazilism? Can Ash’ari be called an ‘anti-intellectualist’? What is his position on reason? Can theology dispense with reason? Is atomism a reasonable theory to explain the structure of the world? Is it tenable?


Feb 18                         Later Kalam: Interaction with Other Intellectual Trends

                        History, pp. 312-323

Talking Points: Why did Kalam become gradually more and more philosophical and mystical at the same time? How can we understand the revival of kalam in the 13th and 14th centuries? What did kalam loose when it became the ‘orthodoxy’ of the Sunni Islam?


Feb 25             Beginnings of Systematic Philosophy: Kindi and the Peripatetic School

History, pp. 66-94,

                        Atiyeh, pp. 17-43 (ERES)

Kindi’s On the Intellect (ERES)

Kindi’s On First Philosophy (ERES)

Talking Points: Why is Kindi called the first philosopher? What is ‘first philosophy’ according to Kindi? How and why is it different from other fields of knowledge? What are the main issues Kindi seeks to cope with? How can one define Kindi’s epistemology today? Is he a rationalist, empiricist, idealist? Or do you think these terms are inadequate for Kindi?


Mar 3               Farabi: From Cosmology to Political Philosophy

History, pp. 107-128,

Al-Farabi, pp. 40-51, 66-91, 101-122

Leaman, pp.147-190

Farabi’s On the Perfect State and Political Regime (ERES)

Talking Points: What are the main features of Farabi’s cosmology? What does emanation mean? Why and how is it different from creation? Is it a radical departure from the creationist context of Abrahamic faiths? Is Farabi justified in connecting his cosmology and political philosophy in the way he does? In what ways is he similar to and different from Plato? Where does ethics fit in here? Is ethics derived from religion, philosophy, political authority, or another source? What are the limits of rationalist ethics according to Farabi?


* * Spring Break March 5-15 * *



Mar 17             Ibn Sina and the Problem of Being

                        Nasr, pp. 1-51

Leaman, pp. 107-143

Avicenna on Theology (ERES)

Talking Points: Is being the central problem of philosophy? How would you describe Ibn Sina’s contributions to the study of being? What does it mean to make a distinction between essence and existence? If, as Ibn Sina claims, being cannot be defined, can the philosopher ever hope to discuss what being is? How is knowledge related to being? Can we develop an epistemology without a proper and/or corresponding ontology?


Mar 24             Ibn Sina Between Philosophy and Mysticism

                        Avicenna on Mysticism (ERES)

Talking Points: What does the word ‘mysticism’ mean in the context of Islamic thought? Is the Platonic intellectualism of the Muslim philosophers another name for crypto-mysticism? Does Peripatetic philosophy leave any space for mystical knowledge? Can there be such a thing as mystical knowledge? How is it different from, say, philosophical or logical knowledge?


Mar 31             Reactions to Philosophy as Discourse: Ghazali and His Critique

                        History, pp. 217-233

Leaman, pp. 41-106

Ghazali’s Deliverance From Error (ERES)

Talking Points: Why does Ghazali attack the Peripatetic philosophers? What is his attack focused on? What is his view on the non-philosophical sciences and logic? How can we read his autobiography in its historical context and today? Is his ‘crisis of doubt’ comparable to that of Descartes?


Apr 7               Ibn Rushd: The ‘Deep’ Peripatetic Responses

History, pp. 270-292

Averroes, pp. 31-55

Leaman, 228-236

Averroes’ Incoherence of the Incoherence (ERES)

Averroes’ On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy (ERES)

Talking Points: What is Ibn Rushd’s philosophical project? Why does he criticize both Ibn Sina and Ghazali? What does it mean to be a jurist and philosopher at the same time? How does Ibn Rushd defend philosophy as a religious duty? Is such a thing possible?


Apr 14             Strangers in the Land of Philosophy: Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Tufail, and Ibn Bajjah

History, pp. 323-332

Ibn Khaldun (ERES)

Ibn Bajjah (ERES)

Ibn Tufail (ERES)

Talking Points: What is Ibn Bajjah’s ‘solitary life’? Can he be called an individualist? Does Ibn Tufail provide enough evidence for natural theology in his story of Hayy ibn Yaqzan? Why does Hayy end up being a believer rather than a disbeliever or agnostic? What are the ethical implication of the story? What does the story tell about man’s social life? Does Ibn Khaldun provide any answer to these questions? What is his ‘science of society’? Is it our modern social or social sciences, or something else? Can we explain contemporary Muslim societies through his concept of ‘group solidarity’?


Apr 21             When Philosophy Goes Beyond Formal Logic: Suhrawardi and the Rise of Philosophical Mysticism

                        Nasr, pp. 52-82

Aminrazavi, pp. 78-120

Leaman, pp. 191-205

Suhrawardi’s Philosophy of Illumination (ERES)

Talking Points: What is light and illumination in Suhrawardi’s philosophical vocabulary? Why is self-knowledge important? How is it different from the knowledge of objects? What is the difference between knowledge as representation and knowledge as presence? Where can we find Suhrawardi’s ‘imaginary geography’? Why do you think Suhrawardi had a such deep impact on Islamic thought?


Apr 28             Philosophy as Mysticism: Ibn al-Arabi, Mulla Sadra, and Later Islamic Philosophy

Nasr, pp. 83-121

History, 234-256, 304-311

Ibn Arabi (ERES)

Chittick (ERES)

Talking Points: If Ibn Arabi is a mystic and does not claim to be a philosopher, why should we study him in this class? What sorts of challenges do his philosophy of being present to the Avicennan concept of being? How is his ‘transcendent unity of being’ different from pantheism? What was Mulla Sadra’s grand project? What is ‘transcendent wisdom’? How is it different from the other schools and philosophers we have studied so far? What are the core ideas of Sadra’s cosmology, ontology and epistemology?


May 5              Islamic Intellectual Tradition: Past, Present and Future

History, pp. 333-367

Defenders, pp. 199-231

Talking points: What kind of a role did Islamic philosophy and theology play in Islam’s encounter with modernity in the 19th and 20th centuries? How do the Muslim thinkers consider the Islamic intellectual tradition today? What are the chances of Islamic philosophy and theology in a world dominated by modern Western philosophy? Is there a revival of Islamic thought?







Selected Bibliography for Further Research on Islamic Philosophy and Theology:


Binyamin Abrahamov, Islamic Theology: Traditionalism and Rationalism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998).


M. Aminrazavi, Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination , London, 1996.


G.C. Anawati and L. Gardet, Les grands problemes de la theologie musulmane, Paris, 1967.


A.J. Arberry, Revelation and Reason in Islam, London, 1956.


Arnaldez, Roger, Averroes: A Rationalist in Islam (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000).


Atiyeh, George, al-Kindi: The Philosopher of the Arab, (Islamabad: Islamic Research Institute, 1966).


Charles E. Butterworth (ed), The Political Aspects of Islamic Philosophy: Essays in Honor of Muhsin S. Mahdi (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992).


W. Chittick, The Heart of Islamic Philosophy: The Quest for Self-Knowledge in the Teachings of Afdal al-Din Kashani (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).


-------, The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn al-Arabi's Cosmology, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998).


-------, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989).


H. Corbin (with S.H. Nasr and O. Yahya), History of Islamic Philosophy, (London, 1993).


-------, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978).


-------, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).


-------, En islam iranien, aspects spirituels et philosphiques, 4 vols., (Paris: Gallimard, 1971).


W.L. Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument, (New York, 1979).


Herbert A. Davidson, Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes on Intellect: Their Cosmologies, Theories of the Active Intellect, and Theories of Human Intellect (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992)


-------, Proofs for Eternity, Creation, and the Existence of God in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).


Majid Fakhry, Ethical Theories in Islam (Leiden/New York: E.J. Brill, 1994).


-------, Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Mysticism: A Short Introduction (Oxford: Oneworld, 2000).


R. Frank, The Metaphysics of Created Being According to Abu'l‑‑Hudhayl al‑Allaf, (Istanbul, 1966).


-------, Al-Ghazali and the Asharite School, (Durham, 1994).


L. Gardet and G.C. Anawati, Introduction a la theologie musulmane, (Paris, 1948).


Al-Ghazzali, Deliverance from Error (and other texts), translated by R. McCarthy, (Louisville, 2000).


-------, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, (Tahafut al-Falasifah), translated by M.E. Marmura, (Provo, 1997).


I. Goldziher, Muslim Studies (trans. of Muhammedanische Studien), (Chicago, 1966).


L.E. Goodman, Jewish and Islamic Philosophy: Crosspollinations in the Classic Age (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999).


-------, Avicenna, (London: Routledge, 1992).


Peter Heath, Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sina) with a translation of the Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992).


M. Horten, Die philosophischen Ansichten von Razi und Tusi, (Bonn, 1910).


-------, Die philosophischen Systeme der spekulativen Theologen im Islam, (Bonn, 1912).


G. Hourani, Islamic Rationalism: The Ethics of 'Abd al Jabbar, (Oxford, 1971).


------- (ed.), Essays on Islamic Philosophy and Science, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975).


A.C. Hunsburger, Nasir Khusraw, (London, 2000).


Arthur Hyman and James J. Walsh (eds.), Philosophy in the Middle Ages: the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions, (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 1973).


Ibn Rushd, Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al‑tahafut), trans. S. van den Bergh, (London, 1969).


T. Izutsu, The Concept and Reality of Existence, (Tokyo, 1971).


Mohammed `Abed al-Jabri, Arab-Islamic Philosophy: A Contemporary Critique, translated from the French by Aziz Abbassi (Austin: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1999).


al-Kindi, Metaphysics, a translation of Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi's treatise "On First Philosophy" (fi al-falsafah al-ula) with introduction and commentary by Alfred L. Ivry. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1974).


W. Klein, The Elucidation of Islam's Foundation, New Haven, 1940.


Joel L. Kraemer, Philosophy in the Renaissance of Islam: Abu Sulayman Al-Sijistani and His Circle (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986).


O. Leaman, Averroes and His Philosophy, (Oxford, 1988).


-------, An Introduction to Medieval Islamic Philosophy, (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985).


D.B. MacDonald, The Development of Muslim Theology, Jurisprudence and Constitutional Theory, (New York, 1965).


Mahdi, Muhsin, Alfarabi and the Foundation of Islamic Political Philosophy: Essays in Interpretation, (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2001).


G. Makdisi (ed.), Ibn Qudamah, Censure of Speculative Theology, (London, 1962).


M.E. Marmura (ed.), Islamic Theology and Philosophy, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984).


R. McCarthy, Freedom and Fulfillment, (Boston, 1980).


-------, The Theology of al‑Ash'ari, (Beirut, 1953).


M. McDermott, The Theology of Al‑Shaikh al‑Mufid, (Beirut, 1978).


R. Martin  et al.  Defenders of Reason in Islam, (Oxford, 1997).


W. Montgomery Watt, Free Will and Pre‑destination in Early Islam, (London, 1948).


-------, The Formative Period of Islamic Thought, (Edinburgh, 1973).


P. Morewedge (ed.), Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism, (Delmar, 1981).


S. Munk, Melanges de philosophie juive et arabe, (Paris, 1859).


Nader, Le systeme philosophique des mu'tazila, (Beirut, 1956).


S.H. Nasr, (with M. Aminrazavi), Anthology of Philosophy in Persia, vol. 1 and 2, (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999-2000).


-------, The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia, (Surrey: Curzon Press, 1996).


-------, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines , (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993).


-------, Science and Civilization in Islam, (Chicago, 2000).


------- (ed.), Isma'ili Contributions to Islamic Culture, (London, 1977).


S.H. Nasr, and O. Leaman (ed.), History of Islamic Philosophy, 2 vols., (London: Routledge,1996).


Ian Netton, Allah Transcendent: Studies in the Structure and Semiotics of Islamic Philosophy, Theology, and Cosmology, (London: Routledge, 1989).


-------, Muslim Neoplatonists: An Introduction to the Thought of the Brethren of Purity (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991).


S. Pines, Beitrage zur islamischen Atomenlehre, Berlin, 1938.


C.A. Qadir, Philosophy and Science in the Islamic World , (London: Routledge, 1988).


Fazlur Rahman, Prophecy in Islam: Philosophy and Orthodoxy, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979).


F. Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant:  The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970).


M. M. Sharif, A History of Muslim Philosophy, 2 vols., (Wiesbaden, 1963‑1966).


Suhrawardi, The Philosophy of Illumination: a New Critical Edition of the Text of Hikmat al-ishraq with English translation, notes, commentary, and introduction by John Walbridge and Hossein Ziai, (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1999).


D. Urvoy, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), (London, 1991).


J. van Ess, Die Erkenntnisslehre des 'Adudaddin al‑Iji, (Wies‑baden, 1966).


-------, Theologie und Gesellschaft Im 2 Lund 3 Jahrundert Hidschra: Eine Geschichte Des Religioesen Denkens Im Fruehen Islam, 5 vols., (Berlin, 1993).


-------, Zwischen Hadith und Theologie, (Berlin, 1975).


John Walbridge, The Wisdom of the Mystic East: Suhrawardi and Platonic Orientalism, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001).


-------, The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000).


-------, The Science of Mystic Lights: Qutb al-Din Shirazi and the Illuminationist Tradition in Islamic Philosophy, (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1992).


R. Walzer, Greek into Arabic, (Oxford, 1962).


-------, Al‑Farabi on the Perfect State, (New York, 1985)


W.M. Watt, Islamic Philosophy & Theology, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)


H.A. Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Kalam, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976). 


-------, Studies in the History of Philosophy and Religion, 2 vols., (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973‑77).


G. Ha'iri Yazdi, The Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992).


H. Ziai, Knowledge and Illumination, (Atlanta, 1990).