Often when people think of the history of Philosophy their mind wanders to Grecian Philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates and Plato and for more recent philosophers we cast our minds to Averroes, Rousseau and Diderot and Maimonides. However, this warped view of philosophy completely disregards arguably the most important period of philosophy.
After Islam had been established through the Umayyad Empire, theological talks began, and during the 8th Century, a school of thought called the Mu’tazilites grew. Their central term was kalam, which encompassed all their theological ideas such as the concepts of monotheism and ideas on predestination. During 8th Century, the Abbasid Empire took over and al-Mansur began to fund the Translation movement. This was the mass translation of Greek philosophers from Aristotle to Plato to Plotinus. This in turn created The Baghdad School a school of Philosophers who commented on these translations, who were prevalent in 10th century and soon the great philosophers we know of were born. Avicenna and Averroes.
During the ‘Renaissance’, travellers from the west began to collect this knowledge which had been translated, debated and developed by the translation movement. This spread of knowledge particularly took place during the Crusades which took place from 11th to 13th century. Thus the West built the foundations of philosophy within its own societies and certainly we can see the effects of this throughout the centuries. Namely, during the 18th century when the French and other countries in Europe used Greek philosophy to fuel their age of enlightenment, which was soon followed by the French Revolution and overthrow of the monarchy in 1793. However, there are many examples of the life changing events brought about by the effort of the Middle East and surrounding areas to keep the practice of philosophy alive. They continued in the face of opposition, challenge to their faith and difficulties in translation but without this there would be no history to find or future to speak of in philosophy.
Once again it is the constant need to Westernise every aspect of society and culture which leads to this ignorance. It is so important to educate people on true history but as the famous quote goes ‘history is written by the victors’ and so this period of philosophy has a layer of dust over it. The history of the world and every aspect of culture is so much more diverse than can ever be imagined and more often than not, comes from places we least expect. In today’s climate it would certainly not be someone’s first thought that the survival of philosophy, progressive debate and science was primarily rooted in the efforts of the Islamic Empires of the 8th-10th century.
Featured image: Socrates and his Students, illustration from ‘Kitab Mukhtar al-Hikam wa-Mahasin al-Kilam’ by Al-Mubashir, Turkish School, (13th c) Photo by Bridgeman