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The initial conditions leading to the formation of the discipline and study of philosophy in Islam were complex, but in general it can be said that this philosophical tradition was almost entirely based on Arabic translations of Greek texts. What is commonly designated as “Islamic philosophy” is marked by wide-ranging textual traditions in the genesis and development of a predominantly syncretic yet systematic philosophy in Islamic civilisation from Andalusia to India from the ninth century to the present. The majority of its texts are in Arabic, but a large number came to be written in Persian, a process which accelerated after the twelfth century.
Islamic philosophy grew out of the desire by learned members of the community to uphold the authority of Islamic revelation against arguments increasingly posed by members of the many divergent peoples who were living in lands united by the conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries. After the establishment of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad (750), subjects of various faiths contributed to an atmosphere of relatively free debate concerning the main constructs of religion, such as God, creation, causality, free will and divine authority. Increasingly, Muslims were forced to uphold the universalist ideology of Islam from a rational perspective and within civil institutions. Thus, although the majority of the practitioners of philosophy in the Islamic world were Muslims of differing cultural, social and linguistic backgrounds, their ranks also included many notable members of other religions.
In this chapter I will discuss Arabic and Persian philosophical trends as presented in texts mainly from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and their more recent continuation. Philosophical activity continued especially in the lands marked by the geopolitical boundaries of Persianate influence, centered in the land of Iran as marked since the Safavid period beginning in 1501. Of the philosophers in the earlier, formative period of Arabic philosophy, it was Avicenna whose works made the most direct and lasting impact on all subsequent philosophical trends and schools. The structure, techniques, and language of Avicenna’s philosophy - best exemplified in his two main works, al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt and al-Shifā' - define a holistic system against which all subsequent philosophical writings, in both Arabic and Persian, are measured. Avicenna’s philosophical texts give Arabic and Persian Peripatetic philosophy its technical language and methodology, as well as setting out a range of philosophical problems in semantics, logic, ontology, epistemology, and so on. Later trends must be regarded as refinements and developments from within philosophical texts already established by the twelfth century C.E.