Abu ‘Ali al-Husayn ibn Sina popularly known by his Latinized name Avicenna is perhaps one of the most resounding Islamic philosophers of the Renaissance period. His volumes of impressive work have left an undeniable imprint in different spheres of human endeavor. Chief among some of his most brilliant literature is The Canon, a book that has continued to serve as reference manuals in the medical profession across leading European countries. Besides his major work The Canon, his other book Summa the Cure had a significant impact on highly revered philosophers and religious Scholars, especially upon Thomas Aquinas.
Today, Avicenna is arguably one of the first major Islamic philosophers who made an attempt to synthesize philosophical beliefs together with religious doctrines. In light of these, this article will attempt to unravel Avicenna’s views on Islam and metaphysics.
Avicenna was born in 980 Afshana, a small village near Bukhara present day Uzbekistan. According to reports, his father Ismail was a local Samanid governor while his mother Setereh was a respected woman from Bukhara. History has it that Avicenna’s family moved to Bukhara when he was only a child. At Bukhara, the young Avicenna studied Hanafi jurisprudence under the tutelage of Isma‘il Zahid and medicine with some unspecified scholars. At the early age of 10, Avicenna had memorized the whole Quran, much to the envy of his peers who saw him as an exceptional child.
His education was also aided by the magnificent library of the physicians at the Samanid court. It was at this library that Avicenna developed his affinity for science and philosophy. Because of his quest for knowledge, Avicenna was said to have mastered all sciences at the age of 18. Due to his extraordinary performance and intelligence, Avicenna was indoctrinated into the Samanid court of Nuh ibn Mansur where he served as a physician.
In the event of his father’s death, Avicenna was offered an administrative post in Samanid. However, he was forced to relocate to Gurganj in Khwarazm, shortly after the Qarakhanids took over Bukhara in 999. In 1012, his sojourn continued as he later moved south of Jurjan in Khurasan in search of a patron. At Jurgen Avicenna found himself in Buyid where he served as a physician. It was at Buyid he built a close acquaintance with Majd Al-Dawla. Notwithstanding, his prominence grew in Ishafan where he was recognized as a very knowledgeable physician and philosopher. Sadly, Avicenna died of colic diseases in 1037.
Avicenna’s Views on Islam
As a devout Islamic scholar and philosopher, Avicenna sought to integrate rational philosophy with Islamic theology. His quest was to finally prove the existence of God and how the world was divinely created through reason and logic. Today, Avicenna’s views regarding Islam have been widely influential, forming the very core of most Islamic teachings and other religious curricula. During his lifetime, Avicenna wrote a series of short treatises regarding Islamic theology. One of such treatises was dedicated solely to Islamic prophets whom Avicenna considers inspired philosophers. Also, Avicenna engaged in logical and philosophical interpretations of the Quran; where he argued that Quranic cosmology agrees to his philosophical system. Overall Avicenna’s treatises allied his philosophical writings to Islamic ideas especially regarding issues like the body’s afterlife.
Avicenna’s religious views have today giving rise to three different schools of thought. These schools include the following:
- Al-Tulsi school of thought: These groups of people firmly applied Avicenna’s philosophy to give meaning to scientific advances and political events.
- Al-Razi school of thought: Scholars in this school of thought considered Avicenna’s theological works distinct from his philosophical concerns.
- Al-Ghazali school of thought: These group of scholars used parts of Avicenna’s philosophical beliefs in a bid to attain greater spiritual knowledge using different mystical means.
Avicenna’s other prominent views on Islam and theology, in general, are firmly embedded in his texts that comprised of his proof of prophecies. In that text, Avicenna brings to light some Quranic verses to back his claim. As an intelligent religious thinker, Avicenna argued that Islamic prophets ranked higher than philosophers.
Avicenna’s Views on Metaphysics
European scholastics thoughts strongly influenced Avicenna’s metaphysics. Regarding metaphysics, Avicenna strived to make a clear-cut distinction between essence and existence. According to him, the essence is concerned with the nature of things. As such, it should be separated from its mental and physical realization. According to him, this variation applies to everything except God. Avicenna’s theory of essence states three distinct modalities:
- He posits that essence can occur in the external world as regard qualities and futures peculiar to that reality.
- Essence can exist in mind as ideas closely related to qualities and mental existence.
- Thirdly, essence can exist on their own bereft of any mode of existence.
Also, his concept of Divine existence is one of the cardinal preaching of his metaphysics. To Avicenna, divine existence bestows meaning and value upon all that exist. Avicenna claimed that existence cannot be inferred from the essence of existing things, rather, existence is the agent that adds existence to an essence.
Furthermore, Avicenna’s metaphysics encapsulates the concept of dual characterization between theology and ontology. He established a definite connection between theology and ontology; in this regard, Avicenna argued that existence of God is part of existence. These dual conceptualizations of Avicenna’s metaphysics; mirrors a twofold way of investigating existence or being itself.
Finally, Avicenna’s metaphysics endorses Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction which states that fact could not be both true and false at the same time. In a radical approach, he says, “Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.”
In a Nutshell
Avicenna remains one of the most highly revered religious thinkers in recent times. His works on religion and philosophy, in general, has left much to be envied. At last, the world can indeed celebrate a man whose achievements’ spans through different fields of study.
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