Muslim Philosophers: Imam Al-Farabi, the Aristotle of the Muslim World

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Abu Nasr al-Farabi was one of the greatest medieval thinkers of the East who made an extensive contribution into the development of the classical philosophy, mathematics, the theory of music. Al-Farabi also influenced the development of the philosophical thought of the West.His works were translated into Latin and Hebrew (the languages of science in those days) and were circulated among European scholars. He was nicknamed the Second Teacher (after the First Teacher Aristotle). In Kazakhstan, he is honoured with the naming after him of a university and several streets in various cities. Al-Farabi is one of the scientific authorities who hold weight and influence in the West.

Imam al-Farabi was born in 870 in the town of Farab in the then Samanid Empire. His nationality cannot be defined with certainty. Back then the Samanid Empire included such centres of learning as Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara. Al-Farabi took studies in each of them. The main centre of science being the Caliphate and its capital Baghdad, this is where Imam al-Farabi headed after comleting his initial education at home.

Bagdad was attracting intellectuals from all over the world back then. In Baghdad there was a famous school of translators who would translate and comment on the works of Plato, Aristotle, Galen, Euclid. Al-Farabi immersed himself into ancient Greek wisdom. Islam does not prohibit such studies. Its only requirement is to withstand from shirk (forfeiture of faith), to recognize the One Allah and to pray to the One Allah. The acquisition of other knowledge is not prohibited, furthermore, it is encouraged. This is where its benefit to scholars lay as compared to the Christians who forbade to resort to the lore of the ‘Gentiles’.

Very soon al-Farabi became a renowned scholar. In 941 he moved to Damascus where he would spend the rest of his life. In Damascus al-Farabi completed his Treatise on the Ideal City. In Damascus, al-Farabi had to make his living as a garden keeper by day and scientist by night until he was taken under the protection of the Hamdanid ruler Sayf al-Dawla who mwas a patron of many outstanding people of the time.

Al-Farabi indulges in philosophical studies and enlarges and develops Aristotle’s philosophy. Apart from this, al-Farabi develops his own concept of the organization of society based on the political and ethical ideas of Greek philosophers, first of all Plato and Aristotle, and on the social concepts of Ancient Middle East – the ideal city headed by the ruler philosopher and religious leader in one, a city where the citizen’s good is the chief concern and where good and justice rule and where evil and arbitrariness are opposed. The antagonist of an ideal city is the depraved city where the rulers only care for bodily pleasures and riches.

Music, mathematics, astronomy, natural sciences. The interests of this scholar were versatile and in each one of them al-Farabi made innovative contributions. This is exactly where the person of al-Farabi serves as a good example of the aspiration for and advancement of knowledge, on the path towards Allah, in whose footsteps we must all follow. “O my father, indeed there has come to me of knowledge that which has not come to you, so follow me; I will guide you to an even path.” (19:43)