‘Through the assiduous study of mathematics and Aristole’s books it is possible to acquire knowledge of what is true.’
Known as Yasqib Ibn Ishaq al-Kindi, Al Kindi is often referred to as the ‘first Islamic philosopher’ (or ‘first philosopher of the Arabs’), in as much as he actively studied the works of the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and offered a systematic approach to explaining the many topics relating to Islamic philosophy, which were extensively debated during his life-time. This included issues such as the nature of creation, immortality, the knowledge of god, and the subject of prophecy. Although not all of his ideas were accepted within the consensus of Islamic thinking, nevertheless, his ideas about immortality and the individual soul have stood the test of time, as has his ability to clearly discern and define human knowledge, as being distinct from ‘revealed’ knowledge. Although he fully embraced the agency of human knowledge, he never deviated from the idea that revealed (or ‘prophetic’) knowledge was superior, and in the final analysis, easier to attain.
Al Kindi was born in Basra (Iraq), and was educated in Baghdad, where he eventually served under caliphs al-Min’mun (813-833 CE), and al-Mu’tasim (833-842 CE) as a personal tutor, and was recognised as a preeminent astrologer. He studied Greek, Persian and Indian wisdom, and was responsible for Greek philosophical texts being imported into the State funded Academy in Baghdad, where they were carefully translated into Arabic, and studied by Islamic scholars. Al Kindi’s willingness to read widely, and learn from wisdom traditions outside of Islamic theology, led to the establishment of logic and reason within the Islamic tradition, whereby another layer of interpretive discourse was developed, through which Islamic theology could be interpreted. Al Kindi did not perceive this process as one culture invading (and displacing) another, but understood the different wisdom traditions as being representative of distinct methods of using the human mind to solve mundane and supramundane issues of human existence. This demonstrates that ‘difference’ can be accommodated without necessarily disrupting prevailing cultures or modes of thought (religious or otherwise).