The Jihad of The Falasifa

Author: Joel L. Kraemer
Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, Vol. 10, 1987

The Falasifa, living in an Islamic environment, accommodated their conviction of the supremacy of reason with the absolute claim of Islam, its universal mission, its summons to mankind by persuasive and coercive means, i.e. by jihad. In facing the idea of jihad, a cornerstone of the Islamic creed, the Falasifa might have followed the recourse of Sufis and others who preached spiritual holy war (jihad al-nafs), that is, suppression of one’s lower drives. The Falasifa did not generally opt for this path. Instead, they tended to fit the concept of jihad into the fabric of their own political philosophy, which was inspired principally by Hellenic sources, mainly Plato. With Hellenic concepts in mind, they often employed Islamic vocabulary on the linguistic level. For instance, Alfarabi used the word imam for the philosopher-king of the best polis (al-Madina al-fac/ila), which is obviously modeled on the ideal city depicted by Plato in the Republic. s Moreover, closer to our main theme, he used the word mujahid for the warrior in this ideal regime and employed the word jihad in discussing warfare against the enemies of this city. My point, or my main point, is this: Despite the patina of Islamic vocables on the linguistic level, the Falasifa diverge radically from true Islamic doctrine on substantive questions concerning the nature of the best polity and the purpose of justified warfare. I present this divergence as a cardinal example, or test case, demonstrating the fundamental alienation of the Falasifa from the ultimate aspirations of the society in which they lived and as a parade instance of their artful accommodation to the Islamic lexicon by means of a hermeneutic and rhetorical reinterpretation of root concepts. This understanding of the task of the Falasifa differs from the more common presentation of their objective as one of harmonizing, synthesizing or blending the thought of classical political philosophy with Islamic ideology. The word “accommodation,” I submit, expresses more precisely what they were about. The distinction between accommodation language and harmony idiom is not merely semantic; it bears upon the basic issues concerning the best polity and the purpose of warfare, for instance.

Kraemer, Joel L., The Jihad of The Falasifa, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, Vol. 10, 1987, pp 288-324.

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