Al-Farabi’s place in Islamic philosophy

ByNoor Israr

Discerning taste in music and is currently studying development economics at UCF


October 15, 2022

.Noor Israr looks at a historic personality

Al-Farabi’s place in Islamic philosophy had a very rich tradition and it was served by philosophers of high intellect who contributed substantially to the philosophical tradition. Hailing from areas now comprising modern Kazakhstan, Abu Nasr Muhammad bin Tarkhan al-Farabi, known in the West as Alpharabius substantially delved into the fields of political philosophy, logic, ethics, metaphysics, mathematics, and cosmology. His outstanding contribution to Islamic political thought earned him the sobriquet of the Mu’alim al Thani or the second teacher in the tradition of Aristotle who is rated as the first teacher as al-Farabi took pains in preserving the original Greek texts through his treatises and the result was that his efforts greatly influenced the following generations of intellectuals such as Avicenna and Maimonides.

Fortunately, al-Farabi’s works were preserved from the ravages of the Middle Ages and the subsequent world of learning is fortunate to have received his works such as Summary of Plato’s Laws, Siyasatu’l-Madaniyah, Ara’s ahli’l-Madinatu’l-Fadilah, Jawami’u’s-Siyasat, and Ijtima’atu’l-Madaniyah. These works are indeed priceless and have provided guidelines to generations to come and he has laid tremendous emphasis on the role of teachers as he considered them the foundation of society. He laid down several rules for teachers honestly striving to train the young students in Al-Farabi’s place in Islamic philosophy. No scholar should start the study of philosophy until he gets very well acquainted with natural sciences. Al-Farabi devoted his enormous talent to reflecting on nature by stating that human nature rises only gradually from the sensuous to the abstract, from the imperfect to the perfect.

Al-Farabi Demonstrations

It also dwelt upon the intricate subject of mathematics and rates it as very important in training the mind of a young philosopher, it helps him pass from the sensuous to the intelligible and further it informs his mind with exact demonstrations. He also states that the study of logic is an instrument to distinguish the true from the false should precede the study of Al-Farabi’s place in Islamic philosophy proper. He also extensively wrote on purely philosophical subjects based upon neo-Platonic ideals and has fine-tuned ideals of the Ideal City with the difference that he provides a lot more material than found in the writings of Plato and that distinguishes him as individualistic in his own right.

As was quite obvious Al-Farabi then shifted to the crucial subject of the role of the head of the Islamic state and he began from the nature of the workers of leadership and impresses his readers that what is wanted for the office is the power of making proper deductions. In this context, Al-Farabi’s Rais should be such a superior man, who, by his very nature and upbringing, does not submit before any power or instructions of others and must have the qualities to convey his orders to others for complete submission. Al-Farabi strongly advocates the rule of philosopher-prophet, whose moral and intellectual perfection permits him to perceive God, under the guidance of the divinely revealed Shariat. Al-Farabi then describes the virtues of his ideal head of state.

Hereditary Leadership

Despite defining the characteristics of an ideal ruler Al-Farabi realized that such qualities were difficult to be found in one single human being so he said that one without just five or six of these qualities would make a fairly good leader. If however, even five or six of them are not found in a person, he would have one who has been brought up under a leader with these qualities and would thus see to prefer some kind of hereditary leadership with the important condition that the heir should follow the footsteps of his worthy predecessor. In case even such a person is not available it is preferable to have a council of two or five members possessing an aggregate of these qualities provided at least one of them is an Hakim

Al-Farabi has also devoted much of his philosophical attention to the shape and kind of state other than the ideal state. He begins by mentioning: the state of Necessity whose inhabitants aim at the necessities of life, like food, drink, clothing a place to live, and carnal gratification and they generally help each other in securing these necessities of life; Vile State (Nadhala): Its citizens strive for wealth and riches for their own sake; Base and Despicable State: Its inhabitants concentrate on the pleasures of the senses, games and other pastimes.

This state is the one in which men help one another to enjoy sensual pleasures such as games, jokes, and pleasantries and this is the enjoyment of the pleasures of eating and merry-making. This state is the happy and fortunate state with the people of ignorance, for this state only aims at attaining pleasure after obtaining first the necessities of life and then abundant wealth to spend;

Timocracy (Madina Karama)

It contains a variety of honors. The citizens of these honor-loving states assist each other in gaining glory, fame, and honor. The honors fall into two groups. The first is a personal relationship between one who is worthy to be honored because of some virtue in him and the others who accord him honor and respect because they recognize him as their superior. The second kind of honor is accorded to men because of their wealth, or because of they have been victorious, exercise authority, or enjoy other distinctions.

This state in the opinion of Al-Farabi is the best of all the states; Tyranny (Taghallub): It receives from the aim of its citizens; they co-operate to give victory over others, but refuse to be vanquished by them. Al-Farabi sets out to distinguish between despotic states and define tyranny or despotism according to aim, mastery over others and over their possessions for power’s sake, within or externally, by force and conquest or by persuasion and achieving enslavement. His despotic rule is a mixed one and thus often resembles timocracy or plutocracy;

Democracy (Madina Jama’iya)

It is marked by the freedom of its inhabitants to do as they wish. They are all equal and nobody has mastery over another. Their governors only govern with the explicit consent of the governed. Democracy contains good and bad features and it is therefore not impossible that at some time the most excellent men grow up there, so that philosophers, orators, and poets come into being. It is thus possible to choose from the elements of the ideal state.

Apart from the aforementioned classification of the states, which seems to be idealistic, Al-Farabi has a definite place for the trait of political character over other nations. He initiates reasons for this mastery and says that it is sought by a people owing to its desire for protection, ease, or luxury and all that leads to the satisfaction of these necessities. In this powerful state, they might be able to get all they desire. There is nothing against human nature for the strong to overpower the weak, so nations that try to get other nations under their control consider it quite proper to do so. The Weekender


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