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Contemporary Islamic philosophy refers to Islamic philosophy in the 20th century. New movements have emerged during this time due to encounters with modernity and Western philosophy.

On one hand, some scholars such as Al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh sought to find rational principles which would establish a form of thought which is both distinctively Islamic and also appropriate for life in modern scientific societies, a debate which is continuing within Islamic philosophy today. Muhammad Iqbal is one of the prominent figure of this group who provided a rather eclectic mixture of Islamic and European philosophy. On the other hand, some thinkers reacted to the phenomenon of modernity by developing Islamic fundamentalism. This resuscitated the earlier antagonism to philosophy by arguing for a return to the original principles of Islam and rejected modernity as a Western imperialist intrusion.[1] The other group, who are more loyal to traditional Islamic philosophy, have tried to keep alive this school and use it to deal with Modernism. Allameh Tabatabaei is the most prominent figure of this group.[2]

Also contemporary Islamic philosophy revives some of the trends of medieval Islamic philosophy, notably the tension between Mutazilite and Asharite views of ethics in science and law, and the duty of Muslims and role of Islam in the sociology of knowledge and in forming ethical codes and legal codes, especially the fiqh (or "jurisprudence") and rules of jihad (or "just war"). See list of Islamic terms in Arabic for a glossary of key terms used in Islam.

Key figures of modern Islamic philosophy

Key figures representing important trends include:

  • Muhammad Iqbal sought an Islamic revival based on social justice ideals and emphasized traditional rules, e.g. against usury. He argued strongly that dogma, territorial nationalism and outright racism, all of which were profoundly rejected in early Islam and especially by Muhammad himself, were splitting Muslims into warring factions, encouraging materialism and nihilism. His thought was influential in the emergence of a movement for independence of Pakistan, where he was revered as the national poet. Indirectly this strain of Islam also influenced Malcolm X and other figures who sought a global ethic through the Five Pillars of Islam. Iqbal can be credited with at least trying to reconstruct Islamic thought from the base, though some of his philosophical and scientific ideas would appear dated to us now. His basic ideas concentrated on free-will, which would allow Muslims to become active agents in their own history. His interest in Nietzsche (who he called 'the Wise Man of Europe') has led later Muslim scholars to criticise him for advocating dangerous ideals that, according to them, have eventually formed in certain strains of pan-Islamism. Some claim that the Four Pillars of the Green Party honor Iqbal and Islamic traditions.
  • Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, who is credited with creating modern Islamist political thought in the 20th century, argued that science was itself merely re-discovering that all matter and energy obey laws, and that Kafir claims that humankind was free of obligation to comprehend and obey such laws, had to be resisted by Muslims. Caliphate and Monarchy was his most important work. He established the Jamaat-e-Islami in India. This and the Egyptian Ikhwan al Muslimin ("Muslim Brotherhood") were revivals of the tarika tradition and committed to religious, political, and intellectual reform of Islam. Nasser exploited the latter to gain power in 1952 but then turned against the Brotherhood, murdering and torturing many members. The leader Sayed Qutb was executed with five others in 1966. But the key difference between the Indian Maududi and the Egyptian Qutb was that the former accepted democratic means, albeit of a limited form. This contrasts with Qutb, who developed a liberation theology, requiring "true" Muslims to declare war on anyone who opposed their ultimate goal.
  • Muhammad Hamidullah (9 February, 1908 - 17 December, 2002) belonged to a family of scholars, jurists, writers and sufis. He was a world-renowned scholar of Islam and International Law from India, who was known for contributions to the research of the history of Hadith, translations of the Qur'an, the advancement of Islamic learning, and to the dissemination of Islamic teachings in the Western world.
  • Allameh Tabatabaei was a Shi'i Muslim philosopher and marja. He was the teacher of Mortaza Motahhari and Musa al-Sadr.
  • Morteza Motahhari was a lecturer at Tehran University. Motahhari is considered important for developing the ideologies of the Islamic Republic. He wrote on exegesis of the Qur'an, philosophy, ethics, sociology, history and many other subjects. In all his writings the real object he had in view was to give replies to the objections raised by others against Islam, to prove the shortcomings of other schools of thought and to manifest the greatness of Islam. He believed that in order to prove the falsity of Marxism and other ideologies like it, it was necessary not only to comment on them in a scholarly manner but also to present the real image of Islam.
  • Ali Shariati was a sociologist and a professor of Mashhad University. He was one of the most influential figures in the Islamic world in the 20th century. He attempted to explain and provide solutions for the problems faced by Muslim societies through traditional Islamic principles interwoven with and understood from the point of view of modern sociology and philosophy. Shariati was also deeply influenced by Mowlana and Muhammad Iqbal.
  • Musa al-Sadr was a prominent Muslim intellectual and one of the most influential Muslim philosophers of 20th century. He is most famous for his political role, but he was also a philosopher who had been trained by Allameh Tabatabaei. As Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr said: "his great political influence and fame was enough for people to not consider his philosophical attitude, although he was a well-trained follower of long living intellectual tradition of Islamic Philosophy". One of his famous writings is a long introduction for the Arabic translation of Henry Corbin's History of Islamic Philosophy.
  • Syed Zafarul Hasan was a prominent twentieth-century Muslim philosopher. From 1924 to 1945 he was professor of philosophy at the Muslim University, Aligarh - where he also served as Chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Dean of the Faculty of Arts. There, in 1939, he put forward the 'Aligarh Scheme'. From 1945 until the partition of the sub-continent, Dr Hasan was Emeritus Professor at Aligarh. Dr. Zafarul Hasan was born on February 14, 1885. He died on June 19, 1949.
  • Ismail al-Faruqi looked more closely at the ethics and sociology of knowledge, concluding that no scientific method or philosophy could exist that was wholly ignorant of a theory of conduct or the consequences a given path of inquiry and technology. His "Islamization of knowledge" program sought to converge early Muslim philosophy with modern sciences, resulting in, for example, Islamic economics and Islamic sociology.
  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a political ecologist, argues that khalifa in Islam is fundamentally compatible with ideals of the ecology movement and peace movement, more so than conventional interpretations of Islam. He argues for an ecology-based ecumenism that would seek unity among the faiths by concentrating on their common respect for life as a Creation, i.e. the Earth's biosphere, Gaia, or whatever name. Pope John Paul II has made similar suggestions that "mankind must be reconciled to the Creation", and there is a Parliament of World Religions seeking a "global ethic" on similar grounds.
  • Fazlur Rahman was professor of Islamic thought at the University of Chicago and McGill University, and an expert in Islamic philosophy. Not as widely known as his scholar-activist contemporary Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, he is nonetheless considered an important figure for Islam in the 20th century. He argued that the basis of Islamic revival was the return to the intellectual dynamism that was the hallmark of the Islamic scholarly tradition (these ideas are outlined in Revival and Reform in Islam: A Study of Islamic Fundamentalism and his magnum opus, Islam). He sought to give philosophy free rein, and was keen on Muslims appreciating how the modern nation-state understood law, as opposed to ethics; his view being that the shari'ah was a mixture of both ethics and law. He was critical of historical Muslim theologies and philosophies for failing to create a moral and ethical worldview based on the values derived from the Qur'an: 'moral values', unlike socioeconomic values, 'are not exhausted at any point in history' but require constant interpretation. Rahman was driven to exile from his homeland, Pakistan, where he was part of a committee which sought to interpret Islam for the fledging modern state. Some of his ideas from English (which he claimed were from the Islamic tradition) were reprinted in Urdu and caused outrage among conservative Muslim scholars in Pakistan. These were quickly exploited by opponents of his political paymaster, General Ayyub Khan, and led to his eventual exile in the United States.
  • Akbar S. Ahmed is an anthropologist, filmmaker and an outstanding scholar on Islam, International Relations/Politics and Contemporary Islamic philosophy from Pakistan. He is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University in Washington DC and was the High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK. He has advised Prince Charles and met with President George W. Bush on Islam. His numerous books, films and documentaries have won awards. His books have been translated into many languages including Chinese and Indonesian. Ahmed is “the world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam” according to the BBC.
  • Javed Ahmad Ghamidi is a well-known Pakistani Islamic scholar, exegete, and educator. A former member of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who extended the work of his tutor, Amin Ahsan Islahi. He is frequently labeled a modernist for his insistence on the historical contextualization of Muhammad's revelation in order to grasp its true moral import.
  • Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a well-known proponent of cultural reconciliation between the Muslim World and the West, basing his views on Classical Islamic governance's similarity to Western governance models in terms of religious freedoms and democratic inclination. Abdul Rauf is a highly-visible American-Egyptian Imam at New York's Masjid al-Farah in addition to being Founder and Chairman of Cordoba Initiative, a non-profit organization seeking to bridge the divide between the Muslim world and the West.
  • Mohammad Azadpur is an associate professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University. He teaches courses on Islamic philosophy, mysticism, and political philosophy. His research focuses on Alfarabi and Avicenna, and he does comparative work between Islamic and Heideggerian thought as well.


  1. ^ Islamic philosophy, by Oliver Leaman
  2. ^ Nasr (1996), pp. 324 and 325

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