What Is Islamic Philosophy by Roy Jackson


In the book What Is Islamic Philosophy, Roy Jackson seems to address some controversial but essential issues that need to be given a second thought. The issues that are presented in the book are capable of acting as a bridge between different cultural legacies and intellectual perceptions. What Is Islamic Philosophy is a book that digs deep into the subjects under study by highlighting important issues on diverse topics. All subjects presented in the book are sensitive and they can lead to a heated debate; hence, they could have not been addressed into details than the way Jackson (2014) looked at them.

The interpretation of the book can vary from one person to another based on differences in understanding the author’s point of view. It is not easy to tell the reason behind the author’s interest in the subjects of his book. For example, one can hardly understand whether Jackson is a Muslim by creed or whether he is a mere scholar of the areas that he has chosen for his study.

However, some insights into the author’s Muslim inclination are evident from his children’s names that suggest that he is a Muslim by creed. Jackson had been exposed to the philosophical thought of the West that increased his interest in facilitating a reconciliation of conflicting traditions. This discussion provides a summary of the nine chapters of the book before giving a conclusion that highlights the main ideas that are presented in the book.

Chapter One: What is Islamic Philosophy?

The first chapter of the book looks at the question that is also used as the title of the book. Jackson (2014) reflects on an inscription that exists on the doctoral thesis of 1755 by Kant. The thesis refers to the opening Bismilla (‘in the name of God’) surah of the Qur’an (Jackson, 2014, p. 1). Based on the highly held perception, it can be argued that God, as presented as the most gracious and compassionate, is more of the importance to the Islamic worldview. On the other hand, shahada (‘no other deity but God’) can be understood as the notion that qualifies the faith.

The author is careful in communicating the scope of his book as he suggests that there are several and seemingly vague aspects of Islam’s plurality that cannot be fully addressed in his book. As such, he seems to distance himself from possible dissatisfaction with the scope of his work as he argues that he has made efforts to explain several Islamic terms but could not exhaust them due to the plurality of the faith and cultural divide (Jackson, 2014, p. 2).

The genesis of philosophy as a discipline and as a measure that is taken to understand issues that are beyond people’s understanding dates back to Aristotle and Plato’s time (Jackson, 2014, p. 3). According to Jackson (2014), the Arabic theology is highly associated with the spoken legacy or kalam, which is used alongside the reading or recitation of the Qur’an, and the revelation of wahy to point at the reason behind the Western styles rigorous reasoning that is overlooked at given times (p. 4). Jackson (2014) questions Islamic Science’s shallow perception by using a familiar concept of fiqh (legal pursuits) in comparison to the ultimate law that is known as Shari’a (p. 5). He emphasized that legal rulings should be made based on Hadith or Mohammed’s sayings and proper records that should be used as the case study besides the Qur’an.

Earlier, an extensive taxonomy was introduced. It highlights ‘ilm, or science, and ‘aql, or intelligence, as the powers that enable one to differentiate the right from the wrong. To Jackson, the powers are over and above any available laws and perceived facts and truth. The main claim presented in the chapter is based on this point. According to Jackson (2014), the Islamic philosophy is the practical implication of being human (p. 6).

However, the Qur’an recognizes the fact that not all issues have been adequately addressed and that people should have the freedom of applying their personal reasoning without increasing the conflict. There is a view that Islam is ‘non-religion’ or ‘beyond religions’ as supported by the perception that there are several concerns and trade-offs that are shared. It is this understanding that explains the acceptance of hanifs or hanufa and past intellectuals who give varied notions of non-Islamic heritages.

Chapter Two: The Greek and Persian Legacy

In chapter two, Jackson (2014) re-addresses the points that he mentioned in the first chapter with a focus on the Muslim thinkers who are presented to have divisions in their native thought (pp. 8-9). The chapter presents Hellenism as a spiritual outlook and a civilization that is specific to the Greek mythology. Trade traffics are said to have been the mediators of a more sustainable merger although spillovers were encountered as a result of some external forces like Alexander’s war on the barbarians. Jackson (2014) suggested that the Roman law considered both folk religions and the local common laws (p. 10).

He goes ahead to argue that the pre-Islamic Persian rule and the post-Roman rule were more suppressive to the extent that they showed more of military dominance than the ideology. The author observes that much loss was suffered by the Alexandrian library as a result of the clashes that occurred between christens and pagans (Jackson, 2014, p. 12). The level of damage caused was arguably more than early interventions by the Caliphs. Equally, the flight of and drain on human capital was more severe.

The original readings of Plato and Aristotle are sidelined in the efforts to understand the reason why and the manner in which the Muslim thought had turned out. Instead, Jackson (2014) suggests that the Neoplatonic revisions stand a better chance of highlighting the teachings. There are attempts to mention Syriac and Aramic words that are said to have been included in the emerging Arabic lexicon. However, the book fails to mention that the Iranian loan words that are used in Old Aramaic were also indirectly adopted. It is not mere words that were integrated as tawhid and wahy but whole, new and complex ideas (Jackson, 2014, p. 16). The notions were made simpler with a focus on dwaita or adwaita (dualism and non-dualism). It is because the tendencies are observed in ‘asma al husna or the lists of names of God.

Chapter Three: The First Muslim Philosophers

This chapter answers the question regarding what it takes to be the most human that is beyond the ansa or insan that possess the nafs. The answer provided for this aspect relates to being a Muslim or observing full adherence to the will of God (Jackson, 2014, p. 23). There are some controversies that emerge when looking at some hidden meanings of the s-l-m stem that is understood to mean ‘being subdued’ or ‘being humbled’. When cognates s-l-h are added, domains like ‘public interest, reconciliation and consolation, among others, are realized.

The analysis of the first Muslim philosophers starts by a reference that is made between the Sunni versus Shi’a divide (Jackson, 2014, p. 24). The references point to the extent to which the authority of the early caliphs’ was recognized as the precedent-setting one in addition to looking at the impacts that it had on the role that jihad plays. Although jihad’s role is mainly presented as inner conflict that is meant to lead to a perfect end or to result to a sense of beauty, perception of the Islamic statehood as either suppressive and intolerant or non-violent and pluralistic remains unclear.

Largely, a declaration of disbelief or infidelity that is expressed as takfir can be used alongside heresy and apostasy to signal defection. Although the notions are undesirable, they are still weakly acceptable. It is still unclear if the early practices that were observed under caliphs could continue based on the understanding that as at that time, infidelity involved a great damage to public interests. It is for this reason that there could be arguments that it is necessary for judgments to be postponed awaiting the day of Reckoning so that sinners face the consequences of their acts (Jackson, 2014, p. 26).

Jackson (2014) suggests that the opposing perceptions are linked by people’s fate and power (p. 26). It is based on the argument that people should face the full consequence of their acts as some people use God-imposed constraints alongside their own interests to cause unnecessary tensions in society. It is also for this reason that both the faithful and the non-faithful could have something to make them subjected to penalties (Jackson, 2014, p. 27). The schools of thought that are addressed in this chapter are looked into with reference to the legacies of renowned individuals like al Kindi, ibn Rushdi (Averroes), ibn Sina (Avicenna) and ibn Khaldun among others.

Chapter Four: God, the Soul, and the Afterlife

Chapter Four shows the irony in al Farabi’s ‘hierarchy of creation’ (Jackson, 2014, p. 46). The interesting hierarchy reflects on another one that had been proposed by Avicenna as discussed on pages from 48 to 51, relating to the celestial spheres that are regarded as spiritual entities.

Jackson addresses some conflicts of interest that relate to predetermination and posterior judgment. Contrary to discretion, the stem q-d-a is seemingly common for destiny and the judge (Jackson, 2014, p. 54). Depending on the performance quality as trustees, a status that is presumed to be neutral gives room for a Gehenna replacement or a paradise pass. The story of Iblis helps to understand the bias against critical thought and protest in Islam. The story gives a profile of the undesired traits of one who is fond of opposition or who makes several objections.

Chapter Five: Faith versus Reason

This chapter continues the debate about pure reason and submitted faith. It is discussed on an account of the implication of cross-legacy perspective on the manner in which faith and pure reason compare. Illumination is a notion that is perceived to resemble idol worshiping; hence, it has been disregarded earlier. Jackson (2014) asserts that received knowledge might not prove sufficient while independently acquired knowledge may not be lacking even in a situation when it is gained intuitively. The Qur’an is presumed to have all relevant wisdom that prophets are known to possess. However, there is some additional knowledge that is yet to be uncovered from it with the intervention of imams (Jackson, 2014, p. 69). Jackson overlooks a lot that relates to the link between the early nabi and later imam stages. In every situation, when people pursue perfection, the process can be neither static nor subjected to deadlines or hurdles (Jackson, 2014, p. 80).

Chapter Six: Islam and the State

Jackson (2014) considers the vigor and zeal of Islam that make him apply Nietzsche’s Uebermensch laden voluntarism to give an illustration of what Islamic statehood should not turn out to be (p. 88). The perspective leads to a major leverage apart from much uncertainty in that the Western writer can neither qualify as an agonistic nor a pure instrumentalist. When looking at the postulated era that was experienced during the early Islamic plurality, Jackson should realize that the explanation of modernity as given by Nietzsche does not give clear evidence that it is typically derived from Islamic reformism or the entire complexity.

Having a unique perception of God and soul as special cases could also present much costs that can hinder the convergence of the Islamic democracy to the market driven modernity. Based on the understanding, it is difficult to comprehend the reason why modern writers like Mawdudi chose the perfect ruler due to Plato’s sage king that does not contravene the Hobbesian clash of market democracy and absolutism.

Chapter Seven: Ethical Dilemmas

Jackson (2014) argues that it is possible to have counterproductive state forms regarded the inshallah way (p. 109). However, he notes that it is not right to have submission to God extended too much to the point that it hinders protests against inept rulers (Jackson, 2014, p. 110). Therefore, although it is acceptable to have external evils like suffering and health conditions tolerated, they should not be used to justify evil deeds that are willingly and knowingly done. Several arrangements that are made in society can be secured through satisfying type that is intended to foster common interest instead of taking initiatives to conceal it. Under normal circumstances, the mechanisms lack immunity to absurdity in a situation where an evil act such as rape is taken as forbidden or too sacred as opposed to an illicit sexual encounter that is consent-based. The situations can be regarded as great and minor misconduct respectively (Jackson, 2014, p. 112). Jackson (2014) argues that it is in the same way that homosexuality and extra-corporal baby cloning might be subjected to similar treatment as extramarital reproduction (pp. 116-118).

Chapter Eight: Jihad and Just War Theory

A better part of the controversial agenda presented in this chapter is discussed in the previous chapters. Starters may show interest in recalling the convention of dar as salaam versus dar al harb, or the comparison of peace and war (Jackson, 2014, p. 135). Peace and war can result based on whether the faithful can be harmed and opposed by the infidels in a persistently violent manner to the point that conversion cannot be achieved. In situations when judgments are to be made or when a case is to be heard, fight or execution can be delayed or replaced with reparation outlays, depending on the dominant school of thought. Gradual or residual jihad consideration has a hierarchy that relates to the levels of jihad that hinges on an individual’s resource limitations and ability (Jackson, 2014, p. 136).

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Chapter Nine: Islam and Shared Moral Values

This is the final chapter of Jackson’s book. In this chapter, Jackson (2014) has showed the Western civilization’s belief that liberal democracy is so superior to the point of forcing alternative worldviews and legacies to converge as a fundamentalist occurrence (p. 150). It is true yet strange that Jackson is not opposed to the attitude that he exposes. It seems that Jackson’s efforts in promoting proper understanding of Islam are not concerned with what Islam has to offer. Rather, he pursues the point that Islam is alleged to be bound to. That is, Islam is proud of the decision to get reformed. It makes it different from the Christianity-striped West that has denied the essence of undergoing such reforms.


In conclusion, the book has helped to present a clear view of the Islamic Philosophy by removing challenges that are encountered when looking at literature that simplifies broad and multifaceted subjects. The skill with which Jackson has presented his book has enabled him to succeed in having a simple and elegant work. It is possible for a less determined reader to make early judgments that the author intended to promote convergence or empathy besides advocating for cross-cultural trade. It is through a denial of uniform modernity or postmodern backing in the studied alternative legacies that the author has shown how his main claim can be refined or questioned.

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