New MBZ University video series outlines the history of Islamic philosophy

Professor Ebrahim Bourshashen explores the development and impact of the Muslim world's greatest thinkers

The online series launched by Mohamed Bin Zayed University for Humanities in Abu Dhabi will cover a different strand of Islamic philosophical thought each month. Photo: MBZUH
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Mohamed bin Zayed University for Humanities has just launched Muslim Philosophers, a video series taking viewers through the rich world of Islamic philosophy.

Presented by the Abu Dhabi university's director of philosophical studies, professor Ebrahim Bourshashen, the online series will cover a different strand of Islamic philosophical thought every month.

In the the inaugural episode, What is Islamic Philosophy?, Bourshashen outlines how Islamic philosophy has attempted to address philosophical problems inherited from the Greek tradition. He explores how Islamic thinkers tackled issues of prophecy, freedom, divine providence and the relationship between a divine being and creation, among other topics.

“These are issues related to religions that the Greeks did not address. Islamic philosophy focuses on these problems and the conditions that gave rise to them," Bourshashen says.

"We also talked about the goals and objectives of Islamic philosophical tradition and how Islam has brought it together as a way of thinking, adopting principles from various civilisations and different teachings."

The episode explores how the growth of Islamic civilisation spread a new branch of philosophy, based on the teachings of the Holy Quran, with Arabic as its language, across the world. These ideas are shown to have been enriched through a cultural exchange and dialogue between other ancient civilisations, especially the Greeks.

Meanwhile, the second episode details the life of ninth century thinker Abu Yusuf Yaqub ibn Ishaq Al Kindi — often hailed the "father" of Islamic philosophy. The episode outlined the polymath's pioneering influence on the development of Islamic philosophy.

Bourshashen says Al Kindi was a theologian first and a philosopher second; a pioneer who paved the way for the emergence of a new tradition.

“Talking about Al Kindi is a great opportunity to discuss the reception of society at that time of Islamic philosophical thought, and since philosophy was embodied in both Plato and Aristotle, the episode discussed Al Kindi's link to Greek philosophical practice as well as it its leading proponents."

The third episode of Muslim Philosopher covers the life of Abu Nasr Al Farabi, who built on Alexandrian philosophy from the fifth and sixth centuries. A follower of Plato and Aristotle, Al Farabi took Greek philosophy in new directions.

“His goal was not to translate the intellectual material and present it to society as it is," Bourshashen says. "Rather, he wanted to highlight his being a part of the Muslim community, so he established a philosophical tradition that expressed his spiritual and civic spirit and philosophy."

The subject of the fourth episode is Abu Bakr Ibn Bajja, and his contribution to philosophy, mathematics, logic and nature. Considered a pioneer of Islamic philosophy in the Maghreb, Ibn Bajja was also widely regarded for his advancements in medicine, poetry and music.

Aside from his perspectives on Aristotle's treatises in natural science, and the medical writings of Hippocrates and Galen, Ibn Bajja offered notable commentaries on Al Farabi's work. Bourshashen says Ibn Bajja's book on music is among the finest in the field, highlighting the intricate relationship between music and mathematics.

The Muslim Philosophers project follows other popular digital series, such as Scholars Summers and The Values of Islam.

Coming episodes will focus on the lives and works of Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina, Ibn Tufail and Abu Hamid Al Ghazali.

Muslim Philosophers is available to watch on the Mohamed bin Zayed University for Humanities YouTube account.

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Updated: August 17, 2022, 9:57 AM