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Development of Muslim Sects and Philosophy

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Development of Muslim Sects and Philosophy During the lifetime of the prophet (S.A.W) there is nothing like conflicts, contradictions, or disputes existed among the Muslim ummah. This is because that any arising question or problem was referred to the prophet (S.A.W) for its answer or solution. In not more than one verse Allah has enjoined the companions and Muslims in general to refer all their questions and problems to prophet (S.A.W) and to make him their unquestioned leader and chief judge in all aspect of life. This of course, made any conflicts and disputes impossible among the Muslim ummah in the prophet era. The beginning of Muslim sects and contradictions could be traced back to eventual sickness of the prophet (S.A.W). While in his sickbed, the prophet (S.A.W) ordered for a pen perhaps to write some important instructions for the companions. Suddenly, the companions engaged in conflicts; while some were ready to obey the prophet’s order other said no, the prophet would need to rest so that no one should disturbed him. This is the beginning of Muslim conflicts in their history. Moreover, another conflict came up after the death of the prophet (S.A.W) over who would succeed him. While some were supporting Sayyid Abubakar other were supporting Sayyid Aliyu. The supporters of Abubakar reasoned that he was the first friend of the prophet (S.A.W), the first to accept Islam and being the representative of the prophet (S.A.W) in his absence. They asserted that these qualities would make him the Caliph. On the other side, Aliyu’s supporters argued that the Khilafah must in person of Aliyu because he is the cousin and the son-in-law of the prophet (S.A.W). But the problem was resolved with the major consensus of choosing Abubakar as the first Caliph. It was clear that there was another quarrel over where the prophet would be buried. However, the conflict was resolved and was buried at Madinah in reference to ´´ the prophets are buried where they died``.

The ultimate division of Muslim ummah became clear after the assassination of Uthman bn Affan, the third caliph of the prophet (S.A.W). With the assassination of Uthman, Aliyu became the fourth. He confronted with resistance from some factions and made him to move his capital from Madinah to Kufah (Iraq). Aliyu was first opposed by an alliance led by the prophet wife, A’isha and latter by Ibn Az-zubair, both were demanding Aliyu to fish out the murderers of Uthman. The parties were almost clashed at the battle of camel but the conflict was amicably resolved and Aliyu escourted A’isha to her home. Another opposition came up to Aliyu from Mu’awiyya and the two parties combated at the battle of Siffin (656 C.E). But the battle was stopped before either of the parties achieved victory. The parties agreed to arbitration issued by Mu’awiyya. At this time, the supporters of Aliyu became divided; while some agreed to arbitrate along side with their leader Aliyu others refused arguing that ´´ there is no arbitration but to Allah``. This group constituted the Muslim sect known as Khawarij. From this moment onwards, the problem of division among the Muslim ummah began to become prevalent. Aliyu was assassinated by a kharijite partisan (661 C.E) and Mu’awiyya proclaimed himself as caliph. In this time, the hidden shi’ah group conceptualized Al-hussain son of Aliyu as the legitimate caliph after his father. When Mu’awiyya was succeded by his son, yazid, shi’ah re-emerged and apparently exposed themselves as die-hard supporters of Ahl-bayt (Aliyu’s family). TheY opposed the reign of Mu’awiyya and that of his son, Yazid, in addition to the previous caliphs; they frankly support Al-hussain as the legitimate caliph of Muslim ummah.

Mu’utazilites followed after shi’ah when a question arose about the grave sin. Wasil ibn attah held different opinion with his master (Hassanul basari) about this concept. Having criticized his master wasil was expelled from the school and thus founded the Mu’utazilites school of thought. Ash’ariyya is another Musli sect founded by Abul-hassanul-ash’ari in an attempt to defend the authentic view of Islamic theology against the heresies of khawarij and mu’utazilite. Let us now examine each sect while outlining their principles.


Khawarij were the offshoot of Aliyu’s followers who withdrew themselves from Aliyu as a result of his acceptance of arbitration issued by Mu’awiyya. They founded their own group with their leader in person of abdullahi bn wahab arrasibiy. They believed in the notion that ``no arbitration but to God´´. Being Aliyu had accepted the arbitration, they described him as unbeliever and even clashed with his people in which Aliyu was eventually killed.


1. khawarij believed that there is no judgment but to god. In this sense the acceptance of any arbitration from individual is disbelief. Thus the considered Aliyu, Abu musa al-ash’ari and like as unbeliever for their acceptance of arbitration.

2. For a Muslim to commit a great sin, according to them is also disbelief.

3. To fight unbelievers and non khawarij is religious obligation and whosoever refuse to do is unbeliever.

4. The also believed that khilafa is only legitimate to whom Muslim umma voted for, regardless of religion, ethnic or status: it is not entitled to a particular man or restricted to a specific family. Thus they opposed shi’a belief in this sense.

5. They adopt the idea of attaqiyya’ (concealment of belief).


This group had their origin from Ansar as early as after the death of prophet (S.A.W) who believed that the khalifa must be in the parson of aliyu and after him, then his family, rather than abubakar or else. The shi’ites only becomes apparent after the reign of Mu’awiyya and the ascension of his son, yazid to power. Shi’as asserted that before the prophet death she has absolutely identified his successor, and this successor must be aliyu who is ma’ asum as the prophet; and his children were entitled to khalifa after him. In general, shi’ates are the typical supporters of ahlil-bayt.


1. They belief in their own tauheed-there is only one god and that siffa and speech of Allah (Qur’an) were not part of personal of allah.

2. According to shi’a khalifa is compulsory and that the imam must be mu’asum and must come from prophet’s family. By this the shi’a considered the all four rightly guided khalifs as illegitimate leaders.

3. They believe in mahdi al-muntazar (awaiting messiah).

4. They also adopt the idea of ‘attaqiyya’ as khawarij.

5. They believe in six (6) fundamental pillars of Islam as they included jihad.

6. They adopt the system of mut’ah (temporary marriage).


This sect was founded by wasil bn Atta in a conflict with his master, hassanul-basari over the position of who commit a grievous sin in islam. Wasil believed that such a parson is neither believer nor unbeliever. Thus, they brought about the notion ‘Al-manzila bainal-manzilatian’ (intermediary status). As a result, Wasil was expelled by his master. Mu’utazilite developed further and expended the application of human reasoning and gave it prominence over the revelation (Qur’an). They argued that the revelation must follow the way of reason. In this regard, according to them, while human reason is independent, revelation is subordinate to reason. It is with the development of mu’utazilite that the philosophy found its ground in Islamic world as we shall see later.


1. Mu’utazilate believed that human reason is the only salvation in life and gave it prominence over the revelation.

2. They believe in intermediary position of those commit a grievous sin.

3. they have their own particular set of view about tauheed.


In an attempt to define the view of ahlus-sunna, another sect was founded by abul-hassanul-ash’ari who stood in opposition against the previous sects. Unlike mu’utazilite, Ash’ariyya argued that human reasoning is limited under circumstances; and it must work in conformity to revelation; revelation must be superior to human reason. They also believe that speech of Allah (Qur’an), and his attribute (siffat) were the personal of him and not created as mu’utazilite declared. By that time onwards, Ash’ariyya have been the dominant sect in the sphere of tauheed and Ilm-al-kalam.


1. Revelation is superior to human reason.

2. Speech of Allah and his attribute were his personal.

3. Allah’s knowledge extends from general law of the universe to individual as well.


Definition: It is absolute that philosophy has no any definite meaning as it concept has been changing from time to time, however, the definition provided by Plato and Ar-razi seen to be the most common in use. According to Ar-razi for instance, he defined philosophy as the ´`established of right and truth``. This definition is the same for Plato and Al-kindi. However, Al-kindi emphasized that the noblest philosophy is to first, know the cause of the truth (Allah), then the truth itself. He asserted that both revelation and true reason follow different path but reach to the same conclusion. The ancient Greek philosophy is began with Socrates who stated that the existence of God can be known only by studying one self spiritual nature not to look at the nature of the universe. Plato on the other hand, argued that to study the nature of yourself and the universe you can established the existence god. Aristotle was considered as the great Greek philosopher who expanded philosophy to the study of all aspect of life and contributed a lot to it development. i.e philosophy began with Socrates; and it was revived by Plato; and it become more revived and more prevalent with the work of Aristotle. As we have stated earlier, with the development of Mu’utazilite thought, philosophy found its way to Islamic world through the concept of Ilm-al-kalam (rational theology).

In essence, mu’utazilite has three main principle dogmas: • God is an absolute unity and no attribute can be ascribed to him; • Man is a free agent; • All knowledge necessary for salvation of man emanates from his reason; humans could acquire knowledge before, as well as, after revelation, by the sole light of reason. In an attempt to defend their principles against the orthodox Islam of their days (Ahlus-sunna), mu’utazilite looks for support in philosophy and pursued a rational theology called Ilm-al-kalam. As a result, Muslim inherited Greek philosophy in trying to reconcile religion and reason. The translation of Greek philosophy was finally achieved during Al-mamun era (813-833C.E), in the great learning center ``House of Wisdom`` founded by Al-mamun in Baghdad. This period of translation is known as ``transmission of knowledge`` the chief translator in this was Hunain bn Ishaq. With the vast translation of greek, Persian and Indian works, philosophy was introduced to Muslim world. Thus, we now have ‘(Islamic philosophy’

Islamic philosophy can be understood at that trend of Muslim thought which continues the type of Greek philosophy created by Socrates, and then Plato, followed Aristotle. It was however, improved and greatly enhanced and continued in Islamic world by Muslim thinkers. Lecture courses of Aristotle became the major course of study by Muslim philosophers. The great Muslim philosophers of the time include: Al-farabi (865-925c.e), al-kindi (800-883c.e), idn-rushd (1128-1198c.e), Ar-razi (865-925c.e), Ibn-sina (980-1037c.e), Al-ghazzali (1058-1128c.e), and among others. The three thinkers: Al-farabi, Ibn-sina and Al-kindi studied the works of Aristotle and that of Plato and became influenced a lot by their opinions and teachings. This is why some Muslims considered them as heretic Muslim or Non-Muslim philosophers.


Aristotle attempted to demonstrate the unity of god; but from his view he maintained that matter was eternal; this means that the god was not the creator of the world. Also, his assertion that god’s knowledge extends only to the general laws of the universe, and not to individual and accidental happenings; this means that god is not perfect in his knowledge. But thanks to the work of Ar-razi who in his book ‘doubts about Galen’ destroy the Aristotle theory and his concept about the god and the universe. Al-farabi maintained that the world, soul, time and space were also eternal. In his theory about the politics and society he says `` if at a given time philosophy is not at all associated with the government, the state, after a certain interval, will inevitably perished``. He also stated that the Qur’an is nothing but a translation of philosophical truth into a symbolical language. Ibn-rushd however, maintained that the creation of his world is not only a possibility-as Ibn-sina declared-but a necessity. He also developed the idea of separation of philosophy and religion. His theory was later become influential in the development of modern secularism. Ibn-rushd is thus, regarded as the founding father of secularism in Western Europe.

Finally, Al-farabi and Ibn-rushd were the most influenced by the views of Aristotle and Plato. Theories of Plato and Aristotle are known as Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism. Most of their theories are highly unorthodox and contradictory to Islamic points of view.


Al- Farabi (870-950C.E)

Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn al-farakh al-farabi was born in a small village Wasij, near farab in Turkistan in 259A.H (870C.E). He received his earlier education at his home town and later on moved to Baghdad for higher education. He mastered different languages and became highly versatile and was even regarded as expert in languages. As a scientist and philosopher, he studied extensively in many branches of knowledge. His intellectual contributions to knowledge especially in philosophy were innumerable; many of his work were in philosophy, science, logic sociology mathematics and e.t.c. It was said that, many of his books have been lost; the available ones were numbered about 117. While 43 are the books on logic, 11 on metaphysics, 7 on ethics, 7 on political science, 17 on medicine, and 11 are commentaries on Greek works. Among his famous books include: Ara-ahl-al- madinah al-fadilah, Fusus al-hikam, and Kitab al-ihsa al- ulum. Finally, due to his numerous works on philosophy, Al-farabi was regarded as the second teacher (Al-mu’allim at-thani) after Aristotle. For centuries, his works aimed at interrelating philosophy and Sufism and in the end of the time this paved the way of Ibn Sina’work.

Al-Kindi (800-873C.E)

Abu Yusuf Yaqub Ibn Ishaq Al-kindi was born in 800 at kufa and was become the contemporary caliph Al-mamun. He was the first Muslim-Arab philosopher, mathematician, physician, astronomer, and geographer; he made a remarkable contribution to all these fields of knowledge. In mathematics, he wrote 4 books on number system and laid the foundation of modern Arithmetic. In physics, he contributed to geometrical optics and his works on this field latter influenced the famous scientist, Roger Bacon. He wrote much on medicine and provided the effective system of dosage (drugs usage) of his time. Among his famous books that were translated into Latin in latter times include: Ikhtiyarat al-Ayyam, Ilahyat e- Aristu, ad-duniya Murakkhaba and e.t.c. Al-kindi died in the year 873C.E, during the reign of Al-mu’uta Mu’utamid, another Abbasid Caliph.

IBN SINA (980-)

His full name was Abu Ali al-Hussain ibn Abdullah ibn Sina. He was born at Isfahan near Bukhara (modern Russia) in the year 980C.E and studied Qur’an and various fied in sciences as early as at the age of ten. He latter, studied philosophy from various Greek works; he studied medicine while he was early young and became the distinguished greatest medical doctor of his time and his works were latter on, influenced the field of medicine. When traveled to Jurjan, Ray and finally, to Hamadan, he wrote his great book ‘Al-Qanun fi- al- Tibb’. Ibn Sina was the famous physician, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer of his time. His contribution in medicine excelled and ranked over the works the great physician Ar-razi and that of Galen. His independent, intellectual, and original contributions in medicine alone, include the recognition of contagious diseases and Tuberculosis, the description of 760 drugs for illnesses; and he was also the first to describe meningitis and made remarkable contributions to Anatomy, Gynecology and child health. His work in philosophy was ‘Kitab al-shifah. His contribution in physics were the study of energy, light, heat, mechanics and vacuum. He also made investigation on specific gravity and used an air thermometer. Finally, Ibn Sina died while in Hamadan in the year 1037C.E.


His full name was Abu hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-tusi Al-ghazzali and was born at Khorasan (modern Iran) in the year 1058C.E He received his education and study from Nishapur and Baghdad where he attained the peak of standard scholarship in religion and philosophy. He was latter, appointed as professor at Nizhamiya University of Baghdad. A few years latter however, he resigned from academic pursuits and ignored worldly affairs and became renowned Sufi (mystics). This is of course, his period of mystical transformation. Ghazzali’s remarkable contributions were in philosophy, theology, and Sufism. In philosophy, he first, sought to rectify the problematic trends in theology and tried to affiliate the possible phases of philosophy to religion. His famous book in this field of philosophy was ‘Tahafut al- falasafah (the destruction of the philosophers)’, Ihya al-Ulum al- Islamiyya’ (the Revival of the Religious Science)’,. With his clarified thought and influential force of argument, Al-ghazzali was able to make synthesis between religion and reason. Finally, Al-ghazzali also wrote on Astronomy and some of his books were translated into European languages in the middle ages. He died in the year 1128C.E at Baghdad.

IBN RUSHD (1128-1198C.E)

Abul-waleed Muhammad bn Ahmad bn Muhammad popularly known as Ibn Rushd in Cordova (modern Spain) in the year 1128C.E; both his father and grandfather had been judges. He mastered jurisprudence (Fiqh) from his grandfather, a renowned well-versed scholar in Malikiya school. He also studied philosophy from Ibn bajjah and Abu ja’afar haroon. Ibn Rushd contributed a lot in philosophy, logic medicine, music and jurisprudence. He wrote his book in medicine titled ‘Kitad al- Kulliyat fi- al-tibb’ where he provided much information on diagnosis, cure and prevention of disease. This book was letter, translated into Latin as ‘Colliget’. Some of his books also include: ‘Tahafut al- tahafut’, ‘Kitab fi Harakat al-falaq’, and ‘Bidayat al-mujtahid wa-Nihayati al-muqtasid’ Finally, Ibn rushd was said to have written about more than 20,000 pages in different books on philosophy, medicine and jurisprudence and was died in 1198C.E. ‘Allah is the All-knowing the Best’


i- M.M Sharif: A History of Muslim Philosophy. V.1-2

ii- Routledge: Encyclopaedia of the History of Arabic Sciences

iii- S. Hussain Nasr: History of Islamic Philosophy


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