By Dr. Ragheb Elsergany
By common sciences we mean human and social sciences. There were many common sciences that open societies and others learned about before Islamic civilization. Former civilizations left a good impact on common sciences from which Muslims benefited. Muslims copied from these sciences what suited their faith and culture. Muslims then made their splendid contributions which have had their own impact on these sciences until today. Perhaps the most outstanding of these sciences are philosophy, history, and arts.
First: Science of Philosophy
Definition of philosophy
The word philosophy is originally a Greek word. It consists of two parts; (philien), which means (love), and (Sophia), which means (wisdom). Therefore, a philosopher is a person who loves wisdom or who is (a wisdom lover).
Muslim philosophers put many definitions for philosophy, one of which was that by Al-Kindi in which he said: “It is the knowledge of things as they are in reality according to human capacity, because the purpose of a philosopher in his knowledge is to reach the true thing and in his work is to work on the true basis”
Muslims’ knowledge of science of philosophy
The science of philosophy appeared and Muslims learned about it only after the translation activities started, specifically in the First Abbasid era. The books by Greek philosophers, which were widely available in the Mediterranean, between Alexandria, Antakya, and Harran, paved the way for this to happen. In addition, Al-Ma’mun used to have a correspondence with Roman kings, the Byzantines, to get hold of books and manuscripts, particularly books written by philosophers. Constantine, the capital of Romans, was known as the city of wisdom.
The Romans sent Al-Ma'mun philosophy books and others. Skilled translators responded to Al-Ma’mun’s request and translated them into Arabic or rendered them with their texts through Syriac translations. The Syriac people had translated many books about Greek philosophy before the arrival of Muslims.
Their most famous translators included: Sergios, Sophronius, and Sawiris.
Stance of Muslim scholars on philosophy
Soon after Greek philosophy, along with the other Greek sciences, was translated and became accessible to Muslims, Muslim scholars differed in their stance on Greek philosophy. Some of them rejected it, opposed it and believed it was a door to misguidance and corruption. That was the position of hard-line faqihs (Islamic jurisprudence). Some others took a moderate line based on criticism and scrutiny, taking from it what they believed was right and rejected what they believed was wrong. That was the stance of Mu’tazilites and many of the Ash’arites, such as Al-Ghazali who drew a distinction between three parts in Greek philosophy: “A part that must be considered a kind of disbelief, a part that must be considered Bid’ah (undesirable innovation in religion), and a part that basically must not be denied”.
Some scholars admired and appreciated Greek philosophy. So, they dedicated themselves to studying Greek philosophy, which they tried to imitate and work along its line. That was the line of Al-Kindi and his followers.
Some Muslim scholars, in the Arab Mashreq or Maghreb or Andalusia, devoted part of their attention to Greek philosophy, as the abovementioned example shows, and expressed their strong admiration of that philosophy. However, they were not, as some Orientalists tried to depict them, mere keepers of Greek heritage or a bridge on which this heritage passed from old Greece to Europe in medieval times and the times that came after.
Anyone who studies the heritage of Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina or Ibn Rushd, for example, will find out that those philosophers, even in their explanation and stigmatization of Greek philosophy, had their own innovative input which unmasked their original thinking. This is an undeniable fact. It can be denied only by those who have deep-rooted detestable fanaticism and hatred towards everything that is Oriental or Islamic. Perhaps one of the most outstanding aspects of originality of philosophers in this field becomes clear in the outcome of their attempts to reconcile between philosophy and religion or between mind and soul. These attempts were preceded by other efforts to reconcile between Plato (427 – 347 B.C) who had an idealistic, Sufi tendency, as was understood, and Aristotle (384-322 B.C) who adopted a rational approach.
Muslim scholars’ contributions to development of philosophy
The Muslim scholars’ marked contributions to the science of philosophy and its development were demonstrated in verifying the information that came in Greek books and publications, correcting any mistakes in them, linking scattered, distant fragments of information in them, putting sufficient relevant explanations, and then adding new information that Muslim scholars came up with and no one from the former generations knew it. That led to multi-layered philosophical thinking in Islam, most importantly including: science of theology, Sufism, pure and Islamic philosophy. This is a brief summary about each.
1- Science of Ilm al-Kalam (theology)
This science is considered to be one of the first fruits of Islamic thought. As Ibn Khaldun defined it, the science of theology is: “It is a science that involves arguing with rational proofs in defense of articles of faith and refuting innovators who deviate in their beliefs”
This science is considered to be exclusively attributed to Muslims, at least in its beginning. It was started to defend religious faiths and explain or interpret them in a rational way when misguidance and irreligion appeared. Through this science, the great philosophical schools emerged and so did the splendid work of Muslims in interpreting the universe and discovering natural laws and reaching a concept for existence, movement, and cause that runs counter to the Greek concept and with which they were ahead of Europe’s modern thinkers and philosophies.
Perhaps it was the attention theologians paid to reflection and reason in their approach that led some Orientalists to regard the science of theology an object of innovation in Islamic philosophical thinking and evidence of Muslims’ intellectual originality. In this regard, French Orientalist Renan says: “The original movement in Islamic philosophy should be sought in the various schools of the theologians."
Sufism is regarded as one of the fields of Islamic philosophical thinking. This is because, though in its essence a spiritual experience a Sufi goes through, thinking mixes with reality and science mixes with work in this experience. Sufism is, therefore, not a pure philosophy interested in rational, theoretical study of the nature of existence with the purpose of reaching an integrated metaphysical theory free of contradictions. But Sufism is a special philosophy on life where passion blends with thought and mind blends with heart, with the purpose of understanding the true existence. Based on this, Sufism involved opinions, schools, and theories that are considered to be the fruit of the integration of three human capacities: rationality, emotion, and behaviour.
We should point out here that as Sufism is an organized concealment of a religious experience, whatever it is, and the results of this experience in the soul of the individual practising it, Sufism is by this description a human phenomenon of a spiritual nature not limited by time or space boundaries and not exclusive to a nation or a human race.
3- Pure philosophy
It is the philosophy of those who admired Greek philosophy and were devoted to studying, explaining and analyzing that philosophy and authored books along its line, such as Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Bajah and Ibn Tufayil
Most famous Muslim philosophers
He is Abu Yusuf Ya’qub Ibn Is-haaq Al-Kindi Al-Kufi (185-256 A.H/805-873 A.D). Many people view Al-Kindi as the founder of the Arab Islamic philosophy. Al-Kindi deservedly deserved the title of (the philosopher of the Arabs), as he left behind more than two hundreds books about various sciences. Al-Kindi’s most important book about philosophy was his valuable book: (Al-Falsafah al-ula fima dun al-tabi’yat wa al-tawhid) (On First Philosophy).
Al-Kindi laid the foundation for explaining the problem of free will in a philosophical way. Al-Kindi noticed that the real action was not the result of intention or will and that the will of man is a psychological power moved by thoughts. Al-Kindi believed in causality. Al-Kindi also underlined the idea of Providence under which the universe is subject to fixed rules.
Al-Kindi was also interested in mathematics and astronomy. Al-Kindi wrote books about medicine and medications and also left his marks on geography, chemistry, mechanics and music. Some Orientalists regarded him as one of twelve figures that represented the height of human thought.
He is Abu Nasr Muhammad Ibn Tarhan Al-Farabi (259-339 A.H/872-950 A.D) and is regarded as one of the greatest Muslim philosophers. Al-Farabi is known as the second teacher because he studied and explained the books of Aristotle, the first teacher. It was at his hands that Aristotelian philosophy reached its highest point of flourishing. Al-Farabi was known among Europeans as (Alpharabius), because, thanks to his explanation, ideas and approach, he managed to bring Greek philosophy closer to Islamic thinking, which did not happen before at the hands of Al-Kindi.
One of Al-Farabi’s most famous and important books is his book: (Ara Ahl al-Madina al-fadilah) (Opinions of the Residents of a Splendid City) in which he explained the ideal human society system. Al-Farabi tried and explained the different aspects of Islam and the multiple sides of the Arab Islamic culture in the light of his own philosophy. Al-Farabi did research in the science of theology, faith, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and legislation. Al-Farabi’s books were translated into Latin in medieval times and were published in Paris in (1638 A.D). They had a great philosophical impact on Europe.
3) Ibn Sina
He is Abu Ali Al-Husayn Ibn Abdallah Ibn Sina (370-428 A.H/980-1037 A.D). He was known as Al-Sheikh Al-Ra'is (leader among the wise men) and the third teacher after Aristotle and Al-Farabi. Ibn Sina’s was no less famous as a doctor than a philosopher. Sarton regarded him as one of the greatest scholars of Islam and one of the most famous international scholars.
Ibn Sina authored many books about philosophy that testify to his skilfulness in framing and developing philosophy. Some of them were translated into European langauges. Ibn Sina’s most important philosophical books included: (Al-Shifaa) (The Remedy), in which he covered the sciences of philosophy, (Al-Najah) (Deliverance), which was the abridgement of (Al-Shifaa), Al-Isharat wa'l-tanbihat (Remarks and Admonitions), and nine messages on wisdom and others. 
4) Ibn Rushd
He is Abu Al-Walid Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Rushd Al-Qurtubi Al-Andalusi (died 595 A.H/1198 A.D). Ibn Rushd is viewed as one of the greatest Muslim philosophers in Andalusia. Ibn Rushd is considered to be one of the greatest explainers of Aristotle’s philosophy to the point that he was known as (Al-Sharih) (The explainer). Ibn Rushd was the one who differentiated between the teachings of Aristotle and Plato. Ibn Rushd was also distinguished with his careful examination of matters. Ibn Rushd was even not very happy with many of Aristotle’s opinions which did not agree with religion.
The West copied the philosophy of Ibn Rushd in its entirety. Therefore, Ibn Rushd’s philosophy opened the door of research and discussion before the moderate European philosophical thinking. The school of (Al-Rushdiyah) emerged among Europeans to adopt rationality when researching. Two of his important books were: (Fasl al-maqal fima bayn al-hakima wa al-shariyah min al-itisal) (known in English as: On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy), and (Manahij al-adillah fi a’qaid al-millah) (The Book of the Exposition of the Methods of Proofs in the Teachings of Religion)).
In general, Islamic philosophy is considered to be a continuation of human thinking and even represented a progress for it in some aspects. Islamic philosophy took from old philosophies and then contributed to their refinement, added new things to them and paved the way for the other philosophies that came after. Islamic philosophy pushed Christian philosophy strongly forward, triggered the European renaissance and nurtured its men in the modern time.
The impact of Islamic philosophy can be pointed out objectively in that it raised many issues and problems in Europe that earned the attention of universities and institutes and were the themes of research, studies and books. Islamic philosophy preoccupied different cultural environments. Such issues included soul and its reality, the theory of knowledge, the problem of the ancientness of the world, the theory of emanation, the attributes of the Creator, the problem of Providence, good and evil, the problem of existence and identity or the possible and the obligatory etc.
1. Look: Yahiya Huwaydi: Muqadimah fi al-falsafah (Introduction to Philosophy) p 22
2. Rasa’il Al-Kindi al-falsafiyah (Al-Kindi’s philosophical messages), 1/172
3. Yaqut Al-Hamwi: Mu’jam Al-Bildan (Dictionary of countries) 7/87
4. Look: Abd-al-Munim Majid: Tarikh al-hadarah al-Islamiyah fi al-usur al-wustah
(History of Islamic civilization in medieval times) pp 220,221
5. Al-Ghazali: Al-Munqiz min al-dalal (The saviour from misguidance) p 101
6. Look: Abd-al-Maqsud Abd-al-Ghani: Fi al-falsafah al-Islamiya (On Islamic philosophy) pp 22,23
7. Look: Hamid Tahir: Madkhal li dirasit al-falsafah al-Islamiyah
(Introduction to studying Islamic philosophy) p 21
8. Ibn Khaldun: Al-Ibar wa diwan al-mubtada wa al-khabar (Examples and subject
and predicate divan)
9. Look: Ali Sami Al-Nashar: Nash’at al-fikr al-falsafi fi al-islam
(Birth of philosophical thought in Islam) 1/31, and Abd-al-Maqsud Abd-al-Mughni:
Fi al-falsafah al-Islamiyah (On Islamic philosophy) p 24.
10.Look: Abu Al-Wafa Al-Taftazani: Dirasat fi al-falsafah al-Islamiyah (Studies on Islamic Philosophy) p 18
11.Look: Abd-al-Maqsud Abd-al-Ghani: Fi al-falsafah al-Islamiyah (On Islamic philosophy) p 25
12.Look: Abu Al-Alaa Afifi: Al-tasawwuf, al-thawwrah al-rawwhiyah fi al-Islam (Sufism, spiritual revolution in Islam) p 56
13.Ibn Bajah Al-Andalusi: He is Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Yahiya Ibn Bajah (died 533 A.H/1139 A.D),
a philosopher infatuated with naturalisms, astronomy, medicine and poetry. One of his books: “Itisal al-a’qal” (Connection of mind). Look: Ibn Khalan: wafiyat al-ayan (deaths of notables) 4/429.
14.Ibn Tufayil: Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Abd-al-Malik Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Tufayil Al-Qaysi Al-Andalusi,
(494 – 581 A.H/ 1100-1185 A.D), a doctor, philosopher, and poet who worked in the courtyard of Caliph Al-Muwahidi Abu Ya’qub Yusuf, author of Hay Ibn Yaqzan story. Look: Al-Zirikli: Al-A’lam (The great people) 6/249
15 Ibrahim Madkur: Fi al-falsafah al-Islamiyah (On Islamic philosophy) 2/144
16 Look: Qadri Hafiz Tawqan: Turath al-Arab Al-Ilmi (Scientific heritage of Arabs) p27,
and Fawqiyah Mahmud: Maqalat fi asalat al-Mufakir al-Muslim (Articles on the originality of the Muslim thinker ) p 49
17 Abd-al-Munim Majid: Tarikh al-hadarah al-islamiyah fi al-usur al-wusta
(History of Islamic civilization in medieval times) p 224
18 Rahim Kazim Muhammad Al-Hashmi, and Awatif Muhammad Al-Arabi: Al-Hadarah al-Arabiyah
al-Islamiyah (Arab, Islamic civilization) p 188
19 Look: Abd-al-Munim Majid: Tarikh al-hadarah al-islamiyah fi al-usur al-wusta
(History of Islamic civilization in medieval times) p 225
20 Ibid p 227 and Rahim Kazim Muhammad Al-Hashmi, Awatif Muhammad Ahl-Arabi:
Al-hadarah al-arabiyah al-islamiyah (Arab, Islamic civilization) p 188
21 Look: Abd-al-Maqsud Abd-al-Ghani: Fi al-falsafah al-islamiyah (On Islamic philosophy) p 88