Rethinking nature of philosophy in Islamic tradition

The Habib University (HU) on Tuesday held a session on the nature of philosophical discourse in the Islamic tradition with the University of Exeter’s Prof Sajjad Rizvi.
The session, titled ‘Global Philosophy, Intellectual History, and Askesis: What is Philosophy in the Islamic Traditions?’ was moderated by Noman Naqvi, HU comparative humanities associate professor.

Rizvi, a historian whose research deals with the need for a de-colonial and reparative study of Islam, is the director of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter and supervises graduate students broadly in Islamic intellectual history, especially philosophy, theology and Quranic exegesis.

The aim of the session was to indicate ways in which one could rethink about the nature of philosophy in Islam and locate it within the growing discourse on global philosophy that transcended the narrow confines of the analytic or continental philosophies in the Western context.

The study of religion and of Islam in particular, Rizvi said, urgently required a de-colonial turn for Muslims to overcome the amnesia of their intellectual traditions. Philosophy, he said, in the world of Islam needed to be taken out of the ghetto of the study of Islam and placed within the wider context of the proper study of metaphysics, the pursuit of the good, and the ultimate questions of what it meant to be a human.

Touching upon the scope of philosophy in the modern traditions, he said that there were thinkers in the German tradition who made distinction between what they considered to be philosophical and what they did not.

The discussion also diverted towards the nature of human language and the difference between prose and poetry. According to the speaker, the way we tended to separate the use of poetic language and prosaic language in modern world was different from the past traditions. When we look at precolonial and pre-modern texts, he said, we do not find this difference.

To explain his point, he gave the example of Saadi, a major Persian poet and prose writer of the medieval period who is considered one of the greatest literary figures of the history. Gulistan, which is a landmark of Persian literature, is perhaps the single most influential work of prose, Rizvi remarked but he also asked whether the work prosaic or poetic.

The speakers said that there was a problem in the way we currently studied philosophy. The globalisation, he said, took place through a process of colonialism. Speaking on how we could bring philosophy in the Islamic tradition, he said, there elements like Tasawwuf and mysticism had philosophical content.