Islam, as we all know appeared in a desert and many scholars try to explain the stern belief in Unity of Allah (tawheed) on this fact. In a desert concept of different gods and goddesses is difficult so is that of any kind of pluralism, complex ritualism as in an agricultural civilization. In a vast desert like that of Arabia one can hardly imagine such gods and goddesses. Not then one can say what about various gods and goddesses which were worshipped in Mecca before Islam?

If one studies the history of religion in Mecca which was great urban centre of sedantic population mainly because of important source of water, well of Zamzam, also, over a period of time, developed into a great centre of trade and finance. Originally, if we go by the Qur’an, there were no such gods and goddesses there and only one God was worshipped. Worshipping of various gods and goddesses was a distortion and these gods and goddesses were imported from the North which was agricultural region.

The sociologists who have theorized on these lines may or may not be true but it remains a fact that oneness of Allah is the foundational pillar of philosophy of Islam. Despite several deviations or distortions, this concept of tawheed (oneness of God) was never compromised and Muslims have followed it all along the history. The principle of tawheed has never been compromised in Islamic history.

Now to begin with we must understand what philosophy means and what are its functions. The word philosophy literally means love of knowledge and it began with contemplation about origin of our universe and origin of human beings and their destiny. To begin with and until late medieval ages it included knowledge of everything about us and about the universe, its origin like physics, astronomy etc. A philosopher was also supposed to be a physicist, astronomer, mathematician, atomist etc. There was no specialization as we have today.

A philosopher also dealt with the world hereafter i.e. what happens to a person after his/her death. In fact, it was most essential part of philosophy. A philosopher of course also dealt with this world too and what should be the proper order and what kind of politics would be desirable for human beings on this earth. Plato, for example, dealt with all these questions i.e. the origin of human beings, the nature of universe and also what kind of city state should be established.

Since in Greece at the time there were city states, he deals with the nature of city state in his politics and ideal political order. Philosophy also dealt with logic and logic is the very foundation of philosophy and Aristotle dealt with this question and divided logic into two categories i.e. deductive logic and inductive logic. The philosophers also dealt with purpose of life and various philosophers threw light on this question.

Some philosophers felt human beings have been created for a definite purpose and that a human being has to ultimately end up with life in hereafter and that life here on this earth is to lay foundation for the life in hereafter. Whatever a human being does here on this earth will see its consequences on life hereafter. Some epicurean philosophers maintained that purpose of life is nothing but to enjoy pleasures of sensations and that there is no world hereafter and that human being will live once on this earth and there is no life thereafter.

This kind of philosophy is appreciated by those who want to enjoy life without accountability or those who do not believe in God. Then also there are philosophers who do not believe in God like Buddhism and Jainism, especially the later and here they believe in rigorous morality and in Jainism in mortification of flesh. For these religions desire is the root of all evils and hence desire should be curbed ruthlessly. If one gives in to desire, one will commit immoral, illegal and unethical things.

Having explained broad outlines of philosophy let us now come to our main topic Islam and philosophy. What is nature of philosophy in Islam and what issues Islamic philosophy deals with? What are sources of Islamic philosophy? In fact philosophy in Islam can be divided into two categories: 1) of divine origin i.e. one which is based on Qur’an and 2) human origin i.e. one that Muslims formulated on the basis of their observations or under the influence of Iran, Greece and India which had most developed philosophical inheritance of their own.

Qur’an, is of divine origin and is very rich in philosophy. It has statements about the nature of God, nature of world hereafter, moral and ethical philosophy and also about the nature of this world and also purpose of human life on this earth. Thus Qur’an covers practically all the aspects of philosophy, philosophers have discussed before and after revelation of Qur’an.


There are various statements about nature of God in Qur’an. The best is in chapter 112 which comprises of 4 lines but comprehensively describes nature of God. It says:”Say: Allah is One.

Allah is one on Whom all depend

He begets not nor is He begotten

And none is like Him.

I think this is most comprehensive statement about God which describes him without ambiguity and settles all controversies about Him. He is one, He is not dependent on anything and yet everything depends on Him, He has not been begotten or borne of anyone nor does He gives birth to anyone and that none can be like Him, He is quite unique. He cannot be likened to anything, much less to human beings. Interestingly it comes very close to statements about God in Hindu scriptures that He is nirakar (without form) and nirgun (without attributes) i.e. He can have no form and no attributes and the noted Sufi saint Mazhar Jan-i-Janan said this is highest form of tawheed.

It also comes close to God’s description as neti neti i.e. whatever description of God is given it is said this is not, this is not. Thus according to Qur’an Allah is both transcendent as well as everywhere, closer than what Qur’an calls habl al-warid i.e. closer than life-vein. In other words Allah is transcendant and immanent too. Also, Allah is formless and cannot be seen but one finds evidence in Qur’an for Allah having ear, eyes and hand and, it is on this basis that followers of Imam Ash’ari believe that on Day of judgment Allah will be seen sitting on throne and He will have all these organs like hands, ears and eyes.

But those who know the intent of Qur’an explain it as saying these verses should not be taken in literal sense but only in allegorical sense. Neither Allah can be seen nor does He have body and organs. Qur’an, it must be noted, should be understood at different levels, at intellectual level as well as at the level of ordinary common person. Qur’an is meant for all and hence uses both common and plain language capable of being understood by both ordinary people as well as allegorical language which can be understood by intellectuals of high caliber.

Qur’an itself says it has those verses which are direct, plain and clear and calls them as muhkamat (firm, clear and having no element of doubt as to its meaning) and mutashabihat (i.e. those verses which can create doubt or are not clear as to its meaning). This verse also shows that there are some verses in the Qur’an which are capable of being understood in different ways.

It was quite natural as when Qur’an was revealed most of the people were either illiterate or very less literate without intellectual accomplishment and there were few who had very high intellectual accomplishment. Since Qur’an was meant for all and also for future generations it had to have both categories of verses. Also, Qur’anic teachings were soon to spread in all parts of the world where there were people of high intellectual accomplishments like in Persia, India and other places with ancient civilizations and great intellectual accomplishments.

But let alone mutashabihat differences of interpretation arose even in muhkamat Many were content with manifest meaning (zahiri) meaning of the Qur’anic verses and many believed that zahiri meaning is meant for only ordinary people but for intellectually accomplished know there is hidden meaning of the Qur’an which they call ta’wil (inner meaning of the Qur’an).


Qur’an talks about the life hereafter i.e. after death. This life on earth is but temporary and life after death permanent. Life on earth is to prepare for life after death. Now there can be different interpretations for Qur’anic statements on life after death. The word used by Qur’an for life after death is akhirah i.e. that comes after. Here also Qur’an uses both allegorical and non-allegorical. Some take it in plain physical sense and some take these verses in allegorical sense.

However, among Muslims there is consensus that the dead will be raised on the Day of Judgment called qiyamah literally meaning day of standing up and accounting for. Whereas others maintain there is no fixed Day of Judgment but every moment is moment for accounting for human soul. But many think Qiyamat is not a fixed day to take place on a particularly appointed day.

When people asked the Prophet when Qiyamat will take place Qur’an said the counting of days is different for Allah from your counting. It is very meaningful answer as we know time on earth is very different from universal time, if there is anything like that. There is difference from time and duration and time depends on planet and sun and so on. All this we know from theory of relativity but Qur’an gave answer not in scientific terms but not to contradict it.

Philosophy of time is much debated philosophy and we do not propose to discuss it here.

Many Muslim philosophers like Iraqi and others have discussed philosophy of time. It has important place in Islamic philosophy. Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, the noted poet, has also discussed it in his six lectures later published under the title of Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.

Thus Islam believes in life after death and in fact gives more importance to it than this worldly life. In fact the Sufis liken this worldly life to bubble of water which emerges from the ocean temporarily and merges with it again and becomes part of the vast ocean. We all emerge on the surface of Ocean to be merged into it forever. Thus Ghalib says in one of his verses that if I had not come into existence I would have been part of ultimate reality i.e. Allah and my coming into existence separated me from this Reality and thus my coming into existence is my loss i.e. I became human from being the ultimate Being.

Thus for Sufis human existence is separation from ultimate Reality and extinction of life is nothing but annihilation into Allah’s Being (fana fi’Allah) and hence Sufi’s death is generally referred to as wisal bi’Allah i.e. meeting with God and thus he becomes eternal. Thus to die is to gain eternal life. And to exist is to be evanescent.

What is purpose of life? Why did human being came into existence? Qur’an gives different replies to it. On one level it says I created humans and jinns to serve Me (51:56). Now the words ‘to serve Me’ can be interpreted very differently. In fact the word used is li y’abudun and ‘abada also means to worship also to serve. Well, ‘to serve’ has much wider meaning and hence more suitable. To serve Allah is to serve His creation. Thus human beings have come into existence to serve the purpose for which Allah has created them. Thus service to Allah’s creation becomes the main motive.

Also, when Allah created Adam and Eve He asked angles to bow before Adam. All angels bowed except one who said “Adam is inferior to me and I cannot bow before him”, and thus came to be described as Satan. Why Allah asked angels to bow before Adam? Angles are not capable of any evil as they are pure good but Adam has potential for both good as well as evil and yet he resists evil and tries to be good which is much more challenging than being only capable of good and doing good. It involves no challenge at all. That is why Allah ordered all angles to bow before Adam that he resists evil and does good. Thus he is a degree above angles.

Thus to serve Allah one has to resist all evil and try to be good and then only one can serve Allah. Among Sufis we find one more interesting theory which has been borrowed from Plato. Sufis believe that Allah created intellects (uqul) and then asked them to accept His godhood (uluhiyyah). One intellect declared faith in His uluhiyyah and came to be designated as ‘aql-e-awwal, next who accepted came to be called as ‘aql-i-thani and so on until ‘aql-i-‘ashir (10th intellect) and remaining turned into black heavy matter from pure light and now it is for the 10th intellect to turn those who refused to accept godhood back into pure light.

Thus it is 10th intellect also called ‘ashir-e-mudabbir (the 10th intellect who manages) who created this universe and human beings into it to turn them back into pure light and in every cycled some souls will be turned into pure light those who successfully resist evil and do good deeds. Thus it will take millions of years to turn all souls into pure light. Thus this becomes the purpose of life for Sufis. Isma’ilis also believes in similar theory more or less.

The chapter 103 named Al-‘Asr (Time) also throws similar light on purpose of creation. It thus says: “By the time!-

Surely human being is in loss,

Except those who believe and do good, And exhort one another to Truth,

And exhort one another to patience.

Thus to strive for good is main purpose of life. Those strive for good and resist evil successfully serve the purpose for which they have been created and they will enter paradise and those who go for evil and are indifferent to good will enter hell. There is physical description of heaven and hell in Qur’an but those who are more knowledgeable go for deeper meaning of heaven and hell which are not physical but understand them in spiritual sense. What Sufis call to turn a soul into pure light is real heaven and if the soul remains black matter is real hell.


Qur’an is essentially a book of morality and guidance. What are moral values in Qur’an? Qur’an repeatedly deals with these morals and its moral philosophy is very clearly spelled out. No human life can be successful without these moral values. Though in ultimate sense Allah is without attributes (nahi ‘an al-sifat) but in figurative sense Allah possesses these attributes which are moral values.

Thus Allah’s one of the attributes is Haq (Truth). Truth has to be taken both in technical as well as in moral-spiritual sense. In technical sense to believe in Islam is to affirm truth and to negate Islam or the basic tenets of Islam is kufr (unbelief) but truth also means to speak what one believes to be correct and in conformity with objective reality and in that sense it becomes moral. One should never speak lie or what is untrue.

Islamic morality lays great emphasis on ‘adl (justice) and after truth it is most central to Islam. It can be said to be offshoot of truth. A truthful person will always be a just person. And a lier will always be an unjust one. Thus truth as a value is important from both points of view as far as Islamic moral philosophy is concerned. The Qur’an says repeatedly that be witness truthfully and do justice as it is closest to piety.

Another important value, contrary to general impression is compassion. Compassion and mercy are two important attributes of Allah and a Muslim begins any work by invoking these attributes of Allah. Allah has been described as al-Rahman, al-Rahim i.e. Allah is Compassionate and Merciful. It is a believer’s duty to be merciful and compassionate towards others. All the more as these are Allah’s attributes.

Generally Islam has unfortunately been associated with war and violence. Nothing can be un-Islamic than this. Non-violence is the value and violence is purely contextual and of totally of defensive nature. Qur’an has clearly laid down the principle behind it in this respect: Fight in the way of Allah those who fight against you and do not be aggressor as Allah does not love aggressors (2:190)

It is principle which can become part of moral philosophy, not what is exigencies of situation. The verses like 2:244,3:167, 4:76, 9:12, 9:29, 9:26, 9:123 and so on are purely contextual and were revealed to fight against those who broke peace treaties or attacked Muslims fraudulently or suddenly. No where Qur’an says that attack those unbelievers who are peaceful just because they are non-believers.

As far as peace is concerned peace of Hudaibiyah is the norm and peace of Hudaibiyah was dictated by the unbelievers of Mecca and Prophet (PBUH) accepted most humiliating conditions just in the interest of peace and to avoid war. The tribal structure of Arab society was more responsible for violence than Islam. Islam in its root meaning means to surrender weapons so that peace could be established and hence a religion was named after peace.

Islam laid down norms for peace but just because of that violent nature of Arab tribal structure could not change. It was centuries of inheritance. And since these Arabs accepted Islam does not mean they became ideal Muslims and tribal nature of their society changed. It continued to be violent and unfortunately this became part of Islamic society. Social structure has its own dictates. It should be clearly understood that peace and non-violence are essential part of moral philosophy of Islam.

Jihad is also peaceful striving for a cause and Sufis have always explained it as struggle against oneself, one’s desire and even called it jihad-e-akbar (greatest struggle) as it is not easy to control ones desires and to keep it under check. Jihad can never be used for conquering territory, much less for spreading Islam. The rulers have misused jihad for territorial expansion. It is unethical and immoral. Greed for more power and more territory is irreligious act. Power ultimately remains in the hands of few, whole community never enjoys power. Common Muslims never participated in wielding power.

Thus jihad should be striving for moral betterment and spiritual upliftment, nothing less, nothing more.

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