Islam: The Religion of… Logic? (1/3)

Often described as the Religion of Peace, Islam had a golden age spanning from the 8th-12th century (CE). This is the first in a three-part post on logic and rational thought in Islam. Each post will look at a different relationship analytical thought has had with the Arab-speaking populous.

Liberalisation of Science and Philosophy
During the Golden Age great advances were made, importantly the House of Wisdom was set up in Baghdad. From here the first ever international scientific venture in history began; Wherein, large volumes of written knowledge from Persian, Greek, Latin, European and Indian origin were translated to Arabic. The great Arabic polymaths such as Al-Kindi, who had the earliest writings on encryption by frequency analysis and wrote On the Use of the Indian Numerals, worked from the House of Wisdom. The biggest star of the Golden Age was ibn Sina (Avicenna) who made so many contributions – the biggest being The Canon of Medicine which, written in 1025, was used as a medical standard from England to China for about 600 years. Like many thinkers were at the time, Avicenna was also a logician and he disliked Aristotelian logic. For example when looking at ‘if p, then q’ he believed it too presumptuous to assert an such a strong relation between p and q. His response, ‘q while p’, is the beginnings of Temporal Logic. Below are some examples of his Temporalis (While Logic) :

  • Whenever the Sun is out, then it is day
  • It is never the case that if the Sun is out, then it is night
  • It is never the case that either the Sun is out or it is day
  • If, whenever the Sun is out, it is day, then either the Sun is out, or it is not day
Considered the Founder of Optics, and with it Experimental Physics, ibn Al-Haythem appears on the Iraqi dinar. He also divided the first rigorous attempt at testing - making him the Founder of the Scientific Method.

Ibn Al-Haythem (Alhazen), a Persian Islamic thinker whom worked from the House of Wisdom, is considered the Founder of Optics and with it Experimental Physics. He also devised the first rigorous attempt at testing – making him the Founder of the Scientific Method.

Dialectical Exploration of Theology (kalam)
Baghdad may have had the House but Basra had the Circle, the circle of Al-Hasan Al-Basri (Hasan) to be exact. In this gathering of minds instead of scientific discussion there was theological questions emerging. Questions asked were to do with the nature of God, His attributes, good and evil, how to understand the Qur’an. Not all Muslims supported the idea of kalam but those who did would relish the chance to debate other religions – especially ahl al-kitab (People of the Book). A practitioner of kalam is called a mutakallim, and this word was used for non-Muslims aswell. From these endeavours there later developed Jewish Kalam, schools of thought in this time influenced each other a great deal. There was even athiest mutakallimun such as Ibn al-Rawandi. The first Muslims that practiced early on were the Qaadariyah (believers in Free Will) who were mockingly compared to Zoroastrians and the Jahmites (believers in Quranic Createdness and non-literal interpretations of the Qur’an). These early terms were for people holding certain singular dogmas. Later, as kalam evolved, three distinct schools of thought emerged (the Mu’tazila, Ash’ari and Maturidi). The next post looks specifically at the Mu’tazila.

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