Original Research: Cross-cultural Religious Studies

Philosophy versus theology in medieval Islamic thought

Ishraq Ali, Khawla Almulla
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 79, No 5 | a9305 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v79i5.9305 | © 2023 Ishraq Ali, Khawla Almulla | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 July 2023 | Published: 30 November 2023

About the author(s)

Ishraq Ali, Institute for Marxist Religious Studies in New Era, Hangzhou City University, Hangzhou, China; and, School of Philosophy, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China
Khawla Almulla, Department of Islamic Studies, College of Sharia and Islamic Studies, King Faisal University, Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia

Abstract

The encounter of the medieval Muslims with Greek philosophy undeniably shaped the course of their philosophical and theological thought. This encounter led to the complex and contentious issue of ‘philosophy versus theology’. Medieval Muslim thinkers needed to develop a response to the issue of philosophy versus theology. The present article will first highlight the response of the Islamic theologians to their encounter with Greek philosophy in the form of three major trends in medieval Islamic theology: (1) strong opposition to the application of reason and rationalist approach to Islamic doctrines, and strict adherence to the actual text of the Qur’an and the Hadith, (2) the adoption of Greek philosophy, and the application of reason and rationalist approach to explain and defend Islamic religion and (3) acknowledging the significance of reason in exploring the matters related to the natural world but, at the same time, stressing the subordination of reason to revelation. This article will discuss Atharism, Muʿtazilism and Ashʿarism as the representatives of the first, second and third trends, respectively. The response of the medieval Islamic theologians to the issue of philosophy versus theology serves as a context in which medieval Muslim philosophers carried out their philosophy–theology debate. The article will proceed to show that some medieval Muslim philosophers, such as Abu Bakr Al-Razi, subordinated religion or revelation to philosophy or reason. Other medieval Muslim philosophers, such as Al-Ghazali, subordinated philosophy to theology. The third group of medieval Islamic philosophers represented by Alfarabi argued for the reconciliation and harmonious co-existence of philosophy and religion.

Contribution: This article highlights the response of medieval Islamic theologians and philosophers to the issue of philosophy versus theology that was caused by their encounter with Greek philosophy.


Keywords

medieval Muslim philosophy; medieval Muslim theology; philosophy versus theology; Atharism; Muʿtazilism; Ashʿarism; Abu Bakr Al-Razi; Al-Ghazali; Alfarabi

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities

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