The word ḥikma has a wide range of connotations in Islamic scholarly disciplines. It is a subtle and elusive notion, with various shades of meaning that differ across disciplines and intellectual fields. Looking at the myriad uses of the term, one might draw the conclusion that ḥikma encompasses almost all knowledge within human reach. In an effort to arrive at a more precise definition of the term, this study begins with an examination of the etymological roots of ḥikma and its use in Qur’ānic studies and Sufism, before moving on to more in-depth treatment of the term within the context of Islamic philosophical literature.
Arabic lexicographers provide a relatively expansive compendium of definitions for ḥikma, discuss the semantic permutations of its root ḥ-k-m, and present lexicographical materials attesting to the primary meanings of this word during pre- and early Islamic times. According to their records, the word ḥikma is a noun derived from the root ḥ-k-m, meaning “to restrain” (mana‘a).
One of the earliest concrete usages of this root can be attested to the expression ḥakamat al-lijām (the bit of a beast’s bridle), from which other abstract usages are derived metaphorically. The object of the restraint in question can include injustice (ẓulm), ignorance (jahl), or foolishness (safah), and ḥikma can thus be defined respectively as justice (‘adl), knowledge (‘ilm), or forbearance (ḥilm). In this context, everything that prevents a person from acting in a corrupt manner or from committing a blameworthy action can be described by verbs derived from the root ḥ-k-m, i.e., ḥakama, ḥakkama, or aḥkama (Al-Khalīl b. Aḥmad, III, p. 66–67; Ibn Durayd, I, p. 564; al-Azharī, IV, p. 114; al-Jawharī, V, p. 226; Ibn Sīda, III, p. 51; al-Zamakhsharī, p. 89; Ibn Manẓūr, II, p. 953; al-Fīrūzābādī, III, p. 97; Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī, XVI, p. 161–162).
Ibn Fāris (d. 395/1005) argues that just like the word ḥukm, which originally meant preventing a person from committing injustice (al-man‘ min al-ẓulm), ḥikma connotes a sense of restraining, for it keeps a person from ignorance (jahl) (Ibn Fāris, Mu‘jam, I, p. 311 and Mujmal, II, p. 94). This semantic proximity between the words ḥukm and ḥikma can be seen in narrations in which ḥukm and ḥikma are used interchangeably (Ibn al-Athīr, p. 223; Ibn Manẓūr, II, p. 951-952; Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī, XVI, p. 165).
Ibn Durayd (d. 321/933) offers the following definition of ḥikma, as it appears in the report (khabar) “Ḥikmah is the stray camel of the believer” (al-ḥikma ḍāllat al-muʾmin):
“Every word that exhorts you (waʿaẓatka), restrains you (zajaratka), and calls you (daʿatka) to a noble deed or deters you (nahatka) from a disgraceful thing/deed is a ḥikma and ḥukm. And this is the interpretation of the saying of the Prophet Muḥammad, “Indeed, some poetry is ḥukm and some eloquent style (bayān) is magic (siḥr)” (Ibn Durayd, I, p. 564).
Some other scholars explain the word ḥukm in this khabar or ḥadīth as “profitable discourse (kalām nāfiʿ) restraining a person from ignorance and foolish behavior (safah) and forbidding them” (Ibn al-Athīr, p. 223; Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī, XVI, p. 165). It is also defined as “admonitions (mawāʿiẓ) and proverbs (amthāl) profitable to men” (Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī, XVI, p. 165).
Ḥikma, therefore, includes epistemological as well as practical components. As Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276/ 889) says: “Ḥikma denotes knowledge and practice; a man is not called ḥakīm unless he combines the two (al- ḥikmatu al-‘ilmu wa-al-‘amalu, lā yusammā al-rajulu ḥakīman ḥattā yajma‘ahumā)” (Ibn Qutayba, p. 32).
Some Western scholars – including Josef Horovitz, Arthur Jeffery, and Franz Rosenthal – argue that the root ḥ-k-m was originally used in Arabic to express primarily juridical and administrative activity, as opposed to its use in other Semitic languages where it had long denoted “wisdom” (Horovitz, p. 72; Jeffery, p. 111; Rosenthal, p. 37). They argue that the use of the words ḥikma and ḥakīm in this latter sense of “wisdom” and “wise” was a later foreign import into the Arabic language. An examination of the use of this root in Arabic in pre-Islamic times, however, calls this argument into question. The root ḥ-k-m was used to describe pre-Islamic Arabic gnomic literature (ḥikam/ḥikmiyyāt). It was also used to describe sages (ḥukamā’ al-‘arab), including the famous Luqmān b. ‘Ād, whose wise sayings were in circulation during the period. Arabic lexicographers provide further material undermining the “foreign import” argument. During pre- and early Islamic times, therefore, derivatives of the root ḥ-k-m in Arabic were in fact related to the idea of “wisdom.”
The word ḥikma occurs twenty times in the Qur’ān and in half of these it is coupled with the word kitāb (book). This juxtaposition leads Muslim exegetes of the Qur’ān to think that ḥikma is closely related to divine revelation in the form of revealed books or the extension and practice of this revelation in prophetic practice (Sunna). Accordingly, al-Shāfiʿī (d. 204/820) asserts that in the Qurʾānic instances where the words kitāb and ḥikma are mentioned together, the ḥikma refers to the Sunna of the Prophet (Al-Shāfiʿī, p. 44-45)
The Qur’ān states that God is the ultimate possessor of ḥikma. God is called al-Ḥakīm, one of the Most Beautiful Names of God (al-asmā’ al- ḥusnā). But He bestows this gift upon His servants as well. The Qur’ān says that God has given ḥikma to the Prophets in general (3:81) and to the ones from Abraham’s progeny (4:54) – including David (2:251, 38:20), Jesus (3:48, 5:110, 43:63), and Muḥammad (2:151, 3:164, 4:113, 17:39) – in particular. In addition to these prophets, the Qur’ān states that God gives ḥikma to whomever He wills and that those who are given ḥikma have indeed been given much good (2:269). A case in point is Luqmān, who is not typically regarded in Muslim writings as a prophet in the technical sense of the word, but is seen as a pious and upright person who has enjoyed ḥikma (31:12).
Qurʾānic references to the ḥikma of the prophets can also be classified according to the verb they use. Ḥikma is something “given” (the verb atā) by God 1) to the prophets in general (3:81); 2) to the family of Abraham (4:54); 3) to David (2:251, 38:20); 4) to Luqmān (31:12); and 5) to whomever He wills (2:269). It is something “brought” (the verb jāʾa bi-) by Jesus to clarify certain misconceptions to his people (43:63). Ḥikma is something “sent” (the verb anzala) to the believers (2:231) and to Muḥammad (4:113); it is something “revealed” (the verb awḥā) to Muḥammad (17:39); and it is something “to be remembered” (the verb dhakara) by the wives of Muḥammad (33:34). Ḥikma is something to be practiced in calling others to the way of the Lord (16:125), and it is something far-reaching (54:5). It is also something “taught” (the verb ʿallama) by God to Jesus (3:48, 5:110). Interestingly, the Prophet Muḥammad is the only human being described in the Qurʾān as “teaching” ḥikma (2:151, 3:164, 62:2).
The earliest Muslim commentators of the Qur’ān, including Ibn ‘Abbās (d. 68/687), Ibrāhīm al-Nakhā‘ī (d. 95/714), Mujāhid (d. 104/722), al-Ḍaḥḥāk b. Muzāḥim (d. 106/723), and Qatāda (d. 118/736), define ḥikma in various ways depending on its Qur’ānic context. These include: “hitting upon the truth in speech and action (al-iṣāba fi al-qawl wa-al-fi‘l),” “knowledge of religion (al-‘ilm bi-al-dīn),” “comprehension (fiqh),” “intellect (‘aql),” “understanding (fahm),” pious fear of God (khishya), “moral scrupulousness (wara‘),” and “prophethood (nubuwwa)” (Al-Ṭabarī, V, p. 576-579).
In some Qur’ānic instances, the word ḥukm seems to be used in the same sense as ḥikma. In three cases, this ḥukm is also paired with kitāb (3:79, 6:89, 45:16). The Qur’ān, furthermore, mentions the names of the Prophets Lot, Joseph, Moses, Solomon, and John (the Baptist) as having been given ḥukm.
In their interpretations of ḥikma in the Qur’ān, Muslim commentators emphasize the practical aspect of ḥikma and argue that there is a causal relationship between sincere piety and receiving ḥikma, as mentioned in the ḥadīth, “Whoever worships God sincerely for forty days, the springs of ḥikma gush out from his heart to his tongue” (Quoted in al-Suyūṭī, II, p. 69).
In the writings of the early Sufi masters, ḥikma is positioned between practical/applied (‘amalī) and epistemological (‘ilmī) concepts. Al-Qushayrī (d. 465/1074) states that the early Sufis conceived of ḥikma as connected inherently with the practical concepts of taqwā (God-fearingness/God-consciousness), zuhd (asceticism), wara‘ (moral scrupulousness), akhlāq (good morals), and ‘ibādāt (acts of worship) on the one hand, and with the epistemological concepts of ilhām (inspiration), kashf (unveiling), ma‘rifa (gnosis), sirr (secret), and haqīqa (reality) on the other. By engaging in the practices of the former category, one could achieve the epistemological fruits of the latter. In al-Qushayrī’s words, “When the servant renounces (zahada) this world, God entrusts [him to] an angel who implants ḥikma in his heart” (Al-Qushayrī, p. 62). Taken as a whole, these two categories together constitute the final destination of Muslim spirituality, the declaration of God’s unity (tawḥīd). For Sufis, the real knowledge of everything, including ḥikma, is not simply a matter of rational “knowing,” but of existential “being” at the same time.
In the context of their epistemological constructs, Sufis relate ḥikma mainly to ‘ilm (knowledge), ma‘rifa (gnosis), ‘aql (intelligence), qalb (heart), and fiqh (comprehension). Ḥikma thus emerges as a broad term which can be defined variously as “wisdom,” “sagacity,” “rationale,” “underlying reason,” “knowledge,” or “mystic aphorism,” depending on the context.
Abū Ṭālib al-Makkī (d. 386/996) states that ḥikma, like many other Sufi concepts, has both exoteric/outward (ẓāhir) and esoteric/inward (bāṭin) aspects. The ẓāhir and bāṭin dimensions of ḥikma lie in a subtle harmony with each other. In the view of Sufis, al-Makkī says, God possesses the attributes of power (qudra) and ḥikma at the same time; He makes things available or visible (aẓhara al-ashyā’) out of His attribute of qudra and He regulates things according to His ḥikma. A person who trusts in God thoroughly (mutawakkil) does not fall into error regarding the affirmation of His ḥikma, because of what he sees in the world as a result of God’s qudra. These two attributes (qudra and ḥikma) operate in a very subtle way. Even though there might be situations in which qudra and ḥikma seem to be at odds, according to Sufis this is only an outward appearance. In reality, the two work together in perfect harmony. A mutawakkil, therefore, without being distracted by seemingly unpleasant occurrences in this world, should unfailingly keep this fundamental inner balance in his mind in the course of his religious life, for believing in fate (qadar) includes the essential principle that both good (khayr) and evil (sharr) are created by God Who is All-Powerful (qādir) and All-Ḥakīm at the same time (Al-Makkī, Qūt al-qulūb, II, p. 23-24).
A more sophisticated definition of ḥikma emerges in the writings of al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī (d. ca. 300/912). Al-Tirmidhī understands ḥikma as the core of esoteric knowledge coming from ma‘rifa, as opposed to ordinary outward knowledge (‘ilm). In this context, ḥikma is not equal to ma‘rifa, but rather is only an initial rank of ma‘rifa, the first step in the process of transition from exoteric knowledge to esoteric knowledge. Unlike ‘ilm, which can be acquired through conventional learning, ḥikma is ultimately a gift from God, and thus cannot be attained by mortal means. One can, however, make oneself worthy to receive it through a process of existentially and experientially training one’s soul. Because the reception of ḥikma is, in al-Tirmidhī’s view, a process, his explanation of the term varies depending on how far along one is in that process, i.e. one’s spiritual station (maqām). Complicating matters further, al-Tirmidhī also talks about different levels of meaning even within a given spiritual station. Possessing al-ḥikma al-‘ulyā (the highest or supreme ḥikma), for instance, is a distinguishing characteristic of the real friends of God (awliyā’), while ordinary people may possess al-ḥikma al-maḥdūda (the limited ḥikma). The former belongs only to the prophets and eminent saints, and is also called ḥikmat al-ḥikma (the ḥikma of the ḥikma, or the real ḥikma), which al-Tirmidhī connects to the Qur’ānic notion of “the most firm handle (al-‘urwa al-wuthqā)” (2:256) [Al-Tirmidhī, p. 381]. In his terminology, al-ḥikma al-‘ulyā comprises the principles (uṣūl) of ḥikma and embodies the knowledge of the beginning (‘ilm al-bad’), of the primordial covenant/pact (‘ilm al-mīthāq), of the measures (‘ilm al-maqādīr), and of letters (‘ilm al-ḥurūf). This knowledge is revealed only to the distinguished (kubarā’) among the saints and other saints take it from them unquestioningly (Al-Tirmidhī, p. 362).
In his tafsīr, al-Tustarī (d. 283/896) relates an explanation of ḥikma by the Prophet Muḥammad, who states that the Qur’ān is God’s ḥikma among His servants. The Prophet likens the religious condition of people who learn the Qur’ān and practice its instructions to prophethood, with the exception that they do not receive revelation or have prophetic mission (Al-Tustarī, p. 42). Another Prophetic statement also defines ḥikma as the Qur’ān. According to this account, those who learn the Qur’ān in their youth receive an innate familiarity with it to such an extent that it is as if the Qur’ān becomes a part of their body, which will thus be protected from hell-fire. On the authority of previous scholars, al-Tustarī further defines the Qur’ānic ḥikma variously as the Qur’ān itself, understanding the Qur’ān, intellect, prophethood, comprehension in religious matters, following the Messenger of Allah, fear of Allah, and the like (Al-Tustarī, p. 42-43)
In a similar manner, al-Makkī states that God gave prophethood to distinguished individuals among the people of purity and sealed (khatama) it with the Prophet Muḥammad. Like prophethood, ḥikma is one of the greatest Divine blessings given to mankind (Al-Makkī, ʿIlm al-qulūb, p. 19-21). Unlike prophethood, however, God has kept its door unreservedly open to mankind and will continue to do so until the day of resurrection.
In al-Sulamī’s (d. 412/1021) view too, ḥikma is a spiritual epistemological concept so lofty that its horizons come very close to prophethood. On the authority of Abū Bakr al-Warrāq (d. 280/893), al-Sulamī reports :
“The ḥukamā’ are the successor[s] (khalaf) of the prophets. There is no prophethood anymore, but there is ḥikma, which means perfecting matters (iḥkām al-umūr). One of the first signs of ḥikma is long silence (ṭūl al-ṣamt) and talking [only] when it is necessary” (Al-Sulamī, Ṭabaqāt al-ṣūfiyyah, p. 226).
For Sufis, ḥikma is a very noble thing and reaching it requires effort. Those who aspire to attain ḥikma should first follow the practices of lengthening silence (ṭūl al-ṣamt) and speaking only as much as necessary (al-kalām ‘alā qadr al-ḥājah) [Al-Makkī, ʿIlm al-qulūb, 53]. Al-Qushayrī emphasizes this fundamental point, reporting, “The Sufis (ḥukamā’) have inherited ḥikma by means of silence (ṣamt) and contemplation (tafakkur)” (Al-Qushayrī, p. 63).
Al-Hārith al-Muḥāsibī (d. 243/857) also notes that silence (ṣamt) is the primary way to attain ḥikma. Only by properly practicing silence can one take full control of one’s heart, which in turn will elevate one’s silence, reflection (naẓar), and speech (kalām) to the level of contemplation (tafakkur), consideration (‘ibra), and remembrance or mindfulness (dhikr), respectively (Al-Muḥāsibī, p. 56-57). Silence is thus an indispensable means of attaining ḥikma. Al-Muḥāsibī’s account of ḥikma in relation to other epistemological concepts is practically oriented, in line with his dim view of any knowledge that is not paired with right practice sincerely carried out.
We find further practical elucidation of ḥikma in al-Sulamī’s writings on the authority of earlier Sufis. He cites Ma‘rūf al-Karkhī (d. ca. 200/816), for instance, as saying, “Whoever does his practice well, ḥikma is sent down to his heart” (Al-Sulamī, Ziyādāt, p. 20). Al-Sulamī also reports a supplementary definition of ḥikma as follows:
“No one would become ḥakīm until he becomes ḥakīm in his acts (af‘āl), words (aqwāl) and states (aḥwāl). Otherwise such a person would be described as speaking (nāṭiq) through/by ḥikma, but not as being a ḥakīm” (Al-Sulamī, Ḥaqāʾiq, I, p. 378).
In order to attain ḥikma one is expected to abandon this-worldly things completely, for the light of ḥikma illuminates (istanāra) a ḥakīm only after he has given up this world (Al-Sulamī, Ṭabaqāt, p. 81). On the authority of Abū Hurayrah (d. 58/677), al-Makkī asserts that no one can attain ḥikma through a merely intellectual search. Rather, if a person practices that which he knows to be good and abandons that which he knows to be evil, ḥikma is with him even if he is not aware of this fact (Al-Makkī, ‘Ilm al-qulūb, p. 66). Al-Makkī states that a similar methodology of interdependent knowledge and practice was also in use among the earlier religious nations before Islam, and cites the words of the Prophet, “Whoever practices that which he knows, God bestows upon him knowledge of that which he does not know (man ‘amila bi-mā ya‘lamu warrathahu Allāhu ‘ilma mā lam-ya‘lam)” (Al-Makkī, Qūt al-qulūb, I, p. 285).
In early Sufi manuals, ḥikma is treated as both a theoretical and practical concept. So far as its epistemological origin and function is concerned, ḥikma relies strictly on religious and spiritual acts of worship. In his exposition on the Sufi sciences and states, al-Kalābādhī (d. 380/990) writes that the sciences of the Sufis are the sciences of the spiritual states that can only be acquired by means of acts performed with sincerity. The first science in this regard consists of the legal prescriptions (al-aḥkām al-shar‘iyya) which lay out the ways in which a Muslim should regulate his personal and social life. This first science requires, as a precondition, acquiring a thorough knowledge of theology (‘ilm al-tawḥīd) as understood by the people of the Sunna (ahl al-sunna). If a person engaged in such study receives Divine support, he is able to drive all doubts and evil thoughts out of his mind and set himself to putting his knowledge into action. At this stage, the first thing necessary for him is the knowledge of the vices of the soul (āfāt al-nafs), its real traits, how to educate it, and how to train it in the acquisition of good characteristics. He must also possess knowledge of the ‘‘Enemy’’ (‘aduww) and the temptations of this world, and how to take precautions against them. All of this, according to al-Kalābādhī’s terminology, is the science of ḥikma, beyond which a Sufi may attain the sciences of gnosis (ma‘rifa) and allusion (ishāra) to improve and perfect his knowledge (Al-Kalābādhī, p. 97-100).
In the view of Sufis, ḥikma is a very precious thing and is not given to anybody on the basis of one’s family, social standing, wealth, or physical qualities. Rather, God gives ḥikma to his distinguished servants, like Luqmān (Al-Makkī, ‘Ilm al-qulūb, p. 93). In order to receive ḥikma, a person must prepare himself for it through the obligatory and supererogatory acts of worship indispensable to a decent spiritual life. Even then, as a gift from God, there is no guarantee that one will be granted ḥikma at the end of these efforts. Sufi masters note, however, that while one’s personal strivings cannot guarantee that one will receive ḥikma, those who have received it have in all cases followed such meticulous spiritual practice.
According to Sufis, as much as ḥikma is a magnificent heavenly gift given to only a small number of distinguished people, it is also an immense responsibility placed on the shoulders of those who receive it. Those who have been given ḥikma ought to speak and act scrupulously in accord with this exclusive treatment, for they are expected to prove the truth and sincerity of their words by means of actions. They may not be excused for certain small mistakes for which ordinary people might normally be pardoned. This scrupulousness also requires that they should not give ḥikma to undeserving people, who might misunderstand and misrepresent it (Al-Sulamī, Ṭabaqāt, p. 261). Ḥikma is so precious that by its nature it requires compliance to its significance and demands and makes a person completely dedicated to the service of truth in every manner, in word as well as deed (Al-Sulamī, Ṭabaqāt, p. 483). In this context, Sufi sources relates a saying attributed to Jesus, “Do not give ḥikma to those who are not worthy (ahl) of it, as they would waste it. But do not keep qualified people from it either, since this would be treating ḥikma unjustly” (Al-Sulamī, Ṭabaqāt, p. 32). The idea of treating ḥikma as a very high degree of knowledge that should not be improperly divulged to undeserving or uninitiated persons can be seen in the writings of Muslim philosophers as well. The latter, like the former, underline that ḥikma is ultimately a gift from God and requires its holders to follow through on their words in their deeds in a morally and religiously compatible context.
Ḥikma in the Greek Philosophical Heritage
In Islamic philosophical literature the term ḥikma is used in a much wider sense than falsafa, in the sense of Hellenistic philosophy. The concept of ḥikma contains almost all knowledge within human reach, and in this context it also transcends ‘ilm (science). This inclusive use of ḥikma is evident in the names of the earliest Muslim scholarly institutions, namely the Bayt al-ḥikma (House of ḥikma) – the Khizānat al-ḥikma (Storehouse of ḥikma) being its initial form – founded in 215/830 in Baghdad by the ʿAbbāsid caliph al-Maʾmūn (r. 198-218/813-833). According to the report of Ibn al-Nadīm (d. 379/990), this institution functioned as a scientific research center, library, and translation office (Ibn al-Nadīm, p. 353–356). This use of the word ḥikma indicates that, from its first usage, Muslims understood ḥikma as a comprehensive concept related to almost any sort of intellectual activity – including philosophy – in the quest for truth.
In the formative period of their scholarly disciplines, Muslims were the recipients of a Greek intellectual heritage that did not make a definitive distinction between philosophy and science. Many eminent Greek sages, including Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, were described by Arabic-writing intellectuals as ḥukamā’, meaning equally scientists and philosophers. They interpreted Aristotle’s philosophy in line with that of Plato and thought that the purpose of these two great philosophers was the same. That this argument of reconciliation found support in Muslim lands can be seen in al-Fārābī’s (d. 339/950) work The Harmony between the Views of the Divine Plato and Aristotle (al-Jam‘ bayn ra’yay al-ḥakīmayn Aflāṭūn al-ilāhī wa-Arisṭūṭālīs). In it, al-Fārābī argues not only that the two primary philosophical authorities agree with one another, but also that philosophical convictions do not necessarily conflict with religious doctrines. Rather than contradicting religion, true philosophy is instead viewed as the intellectual expression of religious beliefs. Accordingly, historians of Islamic philosophy ascribed ḥikma exclusively to those sages whose knowledge and actions together conformed to the moral and religious principles outlined in the authoritative religious texts; they did not view philosophy as idle speculation or the mere exercise of thought, since if that were the case they would have described every person who was engaged in thinking as a ḥakīm.
In terms of the relation of philosophical knowledge to revelation, Muslim philosophers conceptualize two kinds of ḥikma: one prophetic or sacred, the other philosophic or intellectual. The first is purely and directly God-given, for personal intellectual efforts are insufficient to attain this ḥikma. The second is dependent on personal intellectual efforts, but, as mentioned below in the writings of al-Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā (d. 428/1037), one’s intellectual capacity is ultimately God-given. This being the case, both kinds of ḥikma are directly or indirectly God-given, and this idea thus confirms the Qur’ānic principle outlined in 2:269, namely that it is God Who gives ḥikma to whomever He wills. In this context, Plato is reported to have said:
“One of the things that facilitate a man’s quest for wisdom (ṭalab al-ḥikma) is the assistance (given to him) by fortune (bakht). By ‘fortune’ I do not mean that whose cause is unknown [i.e., luck], but I mean the divine fortune (al-bakht al-rubūbī) (i.e., divine causation) only, which illuminates the intellect (‘aql) and guides it toward essential natures of things” (Quoted in Gutas, Greek Wisdom Literature in Arabic Translation, p. 122).
In the earliest days, the falāsifa regarded Empedocles, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as five pillars of ḥikma (asāṭīn al-ḥikma al-khamsa), and this ḥikma was, in their view, originally derived from the ‘‘prophetic niche’’ (mishkāt al-nubuwwa). They often characterized these ancient philosophers in praiseworthy religious terms, including ḥakīm (in the case of all five personalities), zāhid (i.e., ascetic, in the case of Socrates), and ilāhī (i.e., divine, in the case of Plato). Both Plato and Aristotle, for instance, are said to have talked constantly about God and the necessity of being in His service by way of worshipping, thanking, and praising Him with utmost conscientiousness (Al-Mubashshir b. Fātik, p. 129-130 and p. 185-186, respectively). The falāsifa thus believed that the earliest philosophers began falsafa out of a religious motivation in their effort to attain knowledge of the utmost principle/s of beings created by God (mabda’/mabādi’ al-mawjūdāt allatī khalaqahā Allāh) [Al-Sijistānī, p. 3-5]. This belief is also apparent in the falāsifa’s eager embrace of metaphysical ideas to establish the existence of God philosophically, and their general inattention to the atheistic (dahrī) arguments of the past.
Muslim historians of philosophy accord two Qur’ānic figures, Luqmān and Idrīs, an important place in the origin of philosophy. Luqmān is affiliated directly with the beginning of the Greek philosophical heritage, while Idrīs is identified with Hermes (a complex figure relating to the beginning of almost every branch of knowledge). It was a convention among the earliest translators of Greek philosophical works to render the Greek word “sophia” as “ḥikma,” or to Arabize the whole compound word as “falsafa” and “faylasūf.” Muslim historians state that the ancient Greeks used to call their scientists (‘ulamā’) falāsifa, whose singular is faylasūf, meaning “lover of ḥikma (muḥibb al-ḥikma).” These philosophers were the most respected and knowledgeable people of their time, for they cultivated all the branches of knowledge (funūn al-ḥikma), including the logical, mathematical, physical, metaphysical, and political sciences (Ṣā‘id al-Andalūsī, p. 20-21). In addition to associating the historical origin of philosophy with the prophetic institution, Muslim historians of Greek philosophy also characterize the leading philosophers of antiquity by personal, moral, and religious qualities in line with those of the ḥakīm. These philosophers, for instance, combine their knowledge with their actions and do not give ḥikma to undeserving people, to which end they use a symbolic language to speak of it.
According to al-‘Āmirī (d. 381/992) in his Kitāb al-Amad ʿalā al-abad, one of the earliest extant works in the history of Islamic philosophy and a relatively complete historical account of the origin of Greek philosophy, the first person to whom people in the Near East attributed ḥikma was Luqmān the Ḥakīm, mentioned in the Qur’ānic verse 31:12. Luqmān was a contemporary of the prophet David, and both lived in greater Syria (bilād al-Shām). Empedocles is said to have kept company with Luqmān, to have learned from his ḥikma, and after returning to Greece to have used the symbolic language of the ḥakīm to speak of Luqmān’s teachings. The Greeks attributed ḥikma to Empedocles due to his affiliation with Luqmān, and he was the first Greek to be called ḥakīm (Al-‘Āmirī, p. 70).
Al-‘Āmirī states that after Empedocles, Pythagoras was the next Greek to whom people attributed ḥikma. Pythagoras studied geometry (handasa) under the Egyptians, then began to keep company with Solomon’s disciples in Egypt who had moved there from greater Syria. From them he learned the physical and metaphysical/divine sciences (al-‘ulūm al-ṭabī‘iyya wa-al-’ulūm al-ilāhiyya), after which he returned to Greece and imparted these sciences, i.e., geometry, physics, and the science of religion (‘ilm al-dīn), to that land. He also singlehandedly discovered the science of melodies, and systematized them under ratios and numbers. He claimed that he had benefited from the ‘‘niche of prophethood’’ (mishkāt al-nubuwwa) in acquiring these sciences (Al-‘Āmirī, p. 70). Pythagoras viewed ḥikma as “the medicine of souls (ṭibb al-arwāḥ)” (Ibn Hindū, 160), and stressed to his students that ḥikma needs to be kept alive by way of action and told them not to write it down (Ibn Hindū, 157), for the deeds (af‘āl) of a ḥakīm are more praiseworthy in God’s eyes than his mere words (lisān) [Al-Mubashshir b. Fātik, p. 62]. When he himself would speak of ḥikma, Pythagoras would express it symbolically to conceal it from undeserving and ignorant people (Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, p. 63).
In Islamic sources on the history of Greek philosophy, Pythagoras is portrayed as a sincere believer in religious and moral principles. He emphasized that pure ḥikma belongs to God alone. In his view, the love of ḥikma is dependent on one’s love for God (maḥabbat Allāh), and whoever loves God acts in harmony with the way He loves things to be. By acting in such a way one comes closer to God, and in doing so one attains eternal salvation (Al-Mubashshir b. Fātik, p. 62). Like his role model Empedocles, Pythagoras believed that above this physical world there exists a spiritual world (‘ālam rūḥānī), a world of light (nūrānī) that the pure soul (al-nafs al-zakiyya) longs for and whose beauty and splendor cannot be understood by reason alone. One may be granted access to the spiritual world only after cleansing one’s soul of all blameworthy moral characteristics, such as vanity, arrogance, hypocrisy, envy, and the like. Only then may such a person become worthy of the knowledge of the spiritual world and divine ḥikma (al-ḥikma al-ilāhiyya) (Sā‘id al-Andalūsī, p. 22; Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, p. 61-62).
After Pythagoras, al-‘Āmirī writes that ḥikma was also attributed to his follower Socrates, who specialized in the metaphysical/divine sciences (al-ma‘ālim al-ilāhiyya) and shunned worldly pleasures. He publicly disagreed with the Greeks on religion and challenged the leaders of the polytheists with rational arguments and logical proofs (Al-‘Āmirī, p. 70). The records of Muslim historians state that Socrates spoke of ḥikma only symbolically (Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, p. 71), and defined it as “the means (sullam) to reach God” (Ibn Hindū, p. 167). Following Pythagoras, he disapproved of writing ḥikma down, out of respect for its sacred purity. In his view, such an act could result in giving ḥikma to undeserving people (Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, p. 70-71).
According to al-‘Āmirī, the next Greek figure to whom people attributed ḥikma was Plato. Embracing the ḥikma of Pythagoras and Socrates, Plato combined the metaphysical/divine sciences with the physical and mathematical sciences. In his books Plato too used a symbolic and obscure language. Towards the end of his life, he authorized his advanced and most able students and associates to teach his classes, and isolated himself from people in order to devote himself exclusively to the worship of his Lord (Al-‘Āmirī, p. 72; Al-Mubashshir b. Fātik, p. 126-127). Plato is reported to have authored a book dealing specifically with the unity of God, entitled Kitāb al-Tawḥīd (Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, p. 86). He defined ḥikma as “the light of the soul (ḍiyā’ al-nafs)” (Al-Mubashshir b. Fātik, p. 130), and said, “A person who only speaks of ḥikma is not a ḥakīm, but rather, the ḥakīm is one who puts ḥikma in action” (Al-Sijistānī, p. 38; Al-Mubashshir b. Fātik, p. 141 and 174). In addition to the epistemological or philosophical function of ḥikma, Plato underlines that it is also a means of purifying the soul and making its possessor similar to the eternal Cause (al-‘illa al-qadīma), since “the goal of ḥikma (ghāyat al-ḥikma) is adorning human souls and warding off vices from them” (Quoted in Gutas, Greek Wisdom Literature in Arabic Translation, p. 116).
Al-‘Āmirī reports that Aristotle followed Plato as the next possessor of ḥikma. He was the teacher of Alexander the Great, before he studied under Plato for some twenty years in order to learn ḥikma (Al-‘Āmirī, p. 74; Al-Mubashshir b. Fātik, p. 178-184). Muslim scholars characterize Aristotle in religious terms similar to his abovementioned predecessors in Greek philosophy. He is said to have written a book on the unity of God (tawḥīd) and entitled it “Godship/Lordship” (rubūbiyya). (Ibn Juljul, 25). For him, ḥikma was of the utmost value. The philosophical method (manṭiq) to attain it thus had to be as precise and as perfect as possible, and free of any kind of imperfection, including error (zalal), confusion (labs), or uncertainty (shubha) [Al-Mubashshir b. Fātik, 180; Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa, p. 89]. Aristotle used to advise Alexander constantly to turn away from this-worldly things and aspire to eternal happiness (Ṣā‘id al-Andalūsī, p. 26-27).
Al-‘Āmirī concludes that these five figures were deservingly characterized as ḥukamā’ and that no one else among the Greeks was called ḥakīm. Others Greek scholars were ascribed a particular art or way of life to distinguish them. For instance, Hippocrates, Homer, and Archimedes were characterized as physician (ṭabīb), poet (shā‘ir), and geometer (muhandis), respectively (Al-‘Āmirī, p. 74).
In this context al-‘Āmirī relates an interesting story in which he highlights the traditional Islamic conception of ḥikma as a combination of knowledge and action. In it he writes that Galen, having composed numerous books, wanted people to attribute ḥikma to him by calling him “Ḥakīm” (Sage) instead of “Ṭabīb” (Physician). The people found this request inappropriate, saying that even though he was knowledgeable in medical topics, he did not have a firm conviction in metaphysical matters, for he was still in doubt as to whether or not the world was created in time, whether the Hereafter was real, and whether the soul was a substance or an accident. They considered such doubts to be imperfections that prevented him from attaining divine ḥikma and thus from being called ḥakīm in the proper sense of the word (Al-‘Āmirī, p. 74).
Al-‘Āmirī also took issue with contemporaries of his who attributed ḥikma to Abū Bakr al-Rāzī (d. ca. 307/925) for his proficiency in medicine, on the basis of his erroneous convictions in metaphysical matters, such as his belief in the five eternal principles (Al-‘Āmirī, p. 74). He related that even his own master Abū Zayd al-Balkhī (d. 322/934), who was a competent scholar in numerous sciences and a true believer in religious matters, would not allow anybody to attribute ḥikma to him. Reciting the Qur’ānic verse 2:269, al-Balkhī would humbly portray himself as an imperfect person who was not worthy of such a respectful description. In his view, one had to go into deep contemplation regarding the meaning of this verse before ascribing ḥikma to anyone. Al-‘Āmirī notes that al-Balkhī’s own teacher al-Kindī (d. ca. 260/873) followed the same practice (Al-‘Āmirī, p. 76).
Alongside Luqmān and the “five pillars of ḥikma” (Empedocles, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle), Muslim historians record another figure as a main channel of ḥikma (Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah, p. 31-33, three are in called Hermes: Hermes the First or Trismegistus, al-muthallath bi-al-ḥikma, Hermes the Second and Hermes the Third). This is Hermes (Trismegistus), the Father of the Sages (abū al-ḥukamā’). He is a key figure with respect to the historical contact between religion and philosophy, for historians identify him recurrently with the Qur’ānic Idrīs who is described as “a true man, a prophet” (19:56) whom God raised up to “a high place” (19:57), and who is depicted as the father of the ḥukamā’ in the writings of Muslim historians of ancient times. Thus, in his personality, Hermes combines both religious and philosophical knowledge, and this belief follows from the notion that philosophy originated from ‘‘the niche of prophetic revelation’’ (mishkāt al-nubuwwa). Such a combination facilitated the integration of Greek science and philosophy into the Islamic world-view, for Muslims could regard this intellectual heritage within their extended prophetic tradition (Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah, p. 31-33). Hermes is also considered to be the founder of the sciences extending from Jābir b. Ḥayyan’s (d. ca. 184/800) alchemical studies to Abū Bakr al-Rāzi’s chemical works. In addition, he was the earliest authority on Suhrawardī’s (d. 587/1191) philosophy of illumination (ḥikmat al-ishrāq) (al-Suhrawardī, Ḥikmat al-ishrāq, p. 107-108: the author calls Hermes wālid al-ḥukamā’, “the father of philosophers”).
In summary, Islamic sources on Greek philosophical heritage treat ḥikma as a very high degree of knowledge that derives from the prophetic institution by way of Luqmān and David. When they wanted to speak of ḥikma the ancient philosophical figures would use a symbolic language to protect it from unworthy people, and in like fashion they were reluctant to write it down on paper, feeling that it was a thing to be practiced instead.
Ḥikma in Islamic Philosophy
On the basis of such a historical perception of philosophy both al-Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā treat ḥikma as a very precious thing to be protected from undeserving or ignorant people. Al-Fārābī argues that, because it is based on demonstrative methods, the absolute ḥikma is not within the reach of every person. Rather, it is only the elect (khāṣṣa) of the community who can properly enjoy this science. The rest of the sciences are based either on persuasion or representation by way of images and address the vulgar (‘āmma). They are thus to be used in the instruction of the masses, or the multitude of the nations (jumhūr al-umam) (Al-Fārābī, Taḥṣīl al-sa‘āda, p. 36-38). Ibn Sīnā also sees ḥikma as a heavenly thing to be protected from unworthy people. He articulates his view on the matter in his discussion of prophethood. For Ibn Sīnā too, religious and philosophical truths are essentially the same, for religion expresses philosophical truth in the language of symbols and images. But a prophet must avoid using philosophical language when speaking to the masses to the extent that he must refrain from mentioning to them that there is knowledge that is beyond their reach and hidden from them. Rather, a prophet is expected to let the masses know of God’s majesty and greatness through symbols and similitudes based on their conventional understanding of majesty and greatness. A prophet is likewise expected to bring metaphysical concepts, including the real natures of the resurrection and the afterlife, closer to their understanding by way of parables derived from what they can comprehend and conceive (Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifā, p. 443). Ibn Sīnā cites the example of the foremost prophets and Greek philosophers, including Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato, who made use of symbols and signs in their works to hide their secret doctrines. According to Ibn Sīnā, Aristotle to an extent abandoned this tradition in Greece, for Plato blamed Aristotle for divulging ḥikma and making knowledge manifest, in response to which Aristotle asserted that even though he had done so, he still left many intricate statements in his books which can only be comprehended by distinguished intellectuals. Ibn Sīnā applies the same practice to the Islamic religion and says that there is nothing unusual in the case of the Prophet, who brought knowledge (i.e., ḥikma) first to the uneducated nomad and then to the whole human race (Ibn Sīnā, Risālah fī Ithbāt al-nubuwwāt, p. 48).
In his al-Ishārāt, Ibn Sīnā states that his words regarding the fundamental principles of ḥikma speak only to divinely gifted intellectuals (Ibn Sīnā, al-Ishārāt, II, p. 147). Accordingly, he closes al-Ishārāt by saying that, in this work, he has presented the crème of the truth (zubdat al-ḥaqq) and the best pieces of ḥikma (qafiyy al-ḥikam) to his reader in subtle expressions (fī laṭā’if al-kalim). In return, Ibn Sīnā expects his reader to protect this truth from the ignorant (jāhilūn), the vulgar (mubtadhalūn), those who were not given sharpness of mind, skill, and habit, those who are excessively engaged with commoners, and those who lack philosophical nature and taste. Instead, Ibn Sīnā continues, his reader is to teach this truth gradually to those who have trustworthy, pure hearts and good conduct, namely those who are capable of philosophical inquiry. His reader is also to enjoin such reliable persons to do the same with respect to teaching the truth to other people. Finally, Ibn Sīnā warns his reader that if he divulges or loses this truth, God will be the arbitrator between them (Ibn Sīnā, al-Ishārāt, IV, p. 161-164).
In transition from this general perception to more specific treatment of ḥikma in the works of the major Muslim philosophers, we would like to examine the discussions of three primary philosophical figures from the formative period of Islamic philosophy, namely al-Kindī, al-Fārābī, and Ibn Sīnā. In their works, we can follow how these ideas developed in Islamic philosophy. We can also see their treatment of philosophy in reference to the Qur’ānic and prophetic ḥikma, as well as their primary motives for entering into philosophical inquiry and their expectations from this enterprise.
Al-Kindī (d. ca. 260/873)
As can be observed in the writings of al-Kindī, for Muslim philosophers, attaining ḥikma was the greatest achievement of mankind. Muslim thinkers do not ascribe falsafa to a particular prophetic tradition, and do not talk about a distinctively Islamic – as opposed to Christian or Jewish – philosophy, but only a philosophy of humankind. This point is of paramount importance to contemporary studies on Islamic philosophy, especially with respect to designating it exclusively as “Arabic” or “Islamic.” (Gutas, “The Study of Arabic Philosophy in the Twentieth Century”). Muslim philosophers openly professed their religious convictions to be Islamic, but they viewed their philosophical inquiry and Qur’ānic revelation to be complementary. Al-Kindī thought of philosophy as ḥikma, and the history of philosophy as a search for universal truth. He pictured this history as a cooperative and cumulative tradition, and saw it as a progressive process of intellectualizing eternal truth, which again is ḥikma. He gratefully appreciated the efforts of all previous philosophers in this quest, regardless of their status, success, or ethnicity. He expressed his position in this regard saying:
“We must not be ashamed of appreciating the truth and of acquiring it wherever it comes from, even if it comes from races remote (al-ajnās al-qāsiya) and nations different from (al-umam al-mubāyana) us. For the seeker of truth, nothing is dearer than the truth itself, and there must not be any disparagement of the truth, nor belittling either of one who speaks it or of one who conveys it. No one is [ever] diminished by the truth; on the contrary, everything is ennobled by the truth itself” (Al-Kindī, p. 103).
Al-Kindī held the work of all philosophers as a contribution to the intellectual advancement of mankind and as an instrument leading to further knowledge of the real nature of things. Yet, like al-Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā who followed him, al-Kindī did not see himself as a passive recipient of the philosophers of the past. He instead took it upon himself to improve their intellectual legacy by completing their statements, mending the deficiencies of their systems, and perfecting their methods. Al-Kindī viewed himself as a link in the unbroken chain of custodians of truth or ḥikma, made up of representatives from every human generation throughout history, who themselves were both guardian and guarantor of mankind’s intellectual progression (Al-Kindī, p. 102).
In al-Kindī’s view, the ultimate goal of philosophy is to attain true knowledge of God. He states that the noblest part of philosophy and the highest in rank is the “the first/primordial philosophy (al-falsafah al-‘ūlā),” namely, knowledge of the First Truth (‘ilm al-ḥaqq al-awwal), Which is the cause of all truth. Therefore, according to al-Kindī’s argument, only the one who fully understands (muḥīṭ) this most noble knowledge deserves to be called the perfect and most noble philosopher in the proper sense of the word (Al-Kindī, p. 98-101).
Al-Kindī’s portrayal of Aristotle and the primary objectives of his philosophy are noteworthy. Al-Kindī’s reception of the Aristotelian system is exemplified in his writings on the purpose of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. In his fī Kammiyat kutub Arisṭūṭālīs, which deals with the number and contents of the Aristotelian corpus, al-Kindī states that the purpose of Aristotle’s Metaphysics is an exposition of immaterial things, of the unity of God (tawḥīd Allāh), and of His Most Beautiful Names (asmā’uhu al-ḥusnā); the Metaphysics also explains, al-Kindī continues, that God is the complete cause of the universe and its absolute sustainer through His perfect organization (tadbīrihi al-mutqin) and complete wisdom (ḥikmatihi al-tāmmah) [Al-Kindī, 384]. In al-Kindī’s view philosophy refers to the knowledge of the true nature of things (Al-Kindī, p. 104). This knowledge includes the knowledge of divinity (‘ilm al-rubūbiyya), of unity (waḥdāniyya), and of virtue (faḍīla). It further comprises knowledge of everything useful (nāfi‘) and of the way to it, while at the same time protecting its possessor against anything harmful (ḍārr).
According to al-Kindī’s statements, the authentic prophetic message is totally compatible with true philosophy, for the essence of what the true messengers brought from God teaches the affirmation (iqrār) of the divinity of God alone and adherence to virtues, which are praiseworthy in His presence, while, at the same time, it necessitates the relinquishment of vices of any kind (Al-Kindī, p. 104). Al-Kindī thus believes that religion and philosophy both teach the same fundamental metaphysical and ethical principles. Throughout his personal philosophical inquiry, al-Kindī invokes divine assistance in his efforts to establish satisfactory proofs of the existence and unity of God. He charges himself with this crucial mission so that he can be among those whose intentions God likes and whose actions He accepts (Al-Kindī, p. 105). In his exposition on his understanding of prophethood and prophetic knowledge as opposed to philosophical knowledge al-Kindī notes that prophetic knowledge occurs through revelation, while philosophical knowledge is attained through philosophical pursuit. He regards the human sciences (al-‘ulūm al-insāniyya) to be of a lower rank (martaba) than divine knowledge (al-‘ilm al-ilāhī), because the acquisition of the latter does not necessitate personal study, effort, logical inquiry, or time. Such knowledge is peculiar to the prophets to the exclusion of the rest of humankind. It comes to the prophets instantly and effortlessly, and this fact indicates that it is from God. The prophets receive this knowledge through the will of God by their souls’ being purified and illuminated for the truth (Al-Kindī, p. 372-373).
Al-Kindī sees philosophy as ḥikma and repeatedly tries to show that the pursuit of philosophy is compatible with the teachings of Islam. He argues that philosophy is the knowledge of the true natures of things, especially of Divinity, which brings philosophy into harmony with the essence of the prophetic messages. In this regard, one might describe al-Kindī’s efforts as a kind of philosophy of tawḥīd, and one could find historical support for such a assertion in the writings on the history of Islamic philosophy, since his major work fī al-Falsafah al-Ūlā was also known under the title Kitāb al-Tawḥīd (Ṣā‘id al-Andalusī, p. 52), though we do not know for sure whether or not al-Kindī himself gave this title to his work.
Al-Fārābī (d. 339/950)
The traditional Islamic conception of ḥikma as a combination of knowledge and action is echoed in al-Fārābī’s philosophical writings as well. This is the case especially in his political philosophy. In this context, al-Fārābī argues that philosophy combines theoretical virtues with practical ones, whereas he describes knowledge of the theoretical sciences, which lacks the faculty for exploiting them for the benefit of others, as “defective philosophy (falsafa nāqiṣa)” (Al-Fārābī, Taḥṣīl al-sa‘āda, p. 39).
In his Taḥṣīl al-sa‘āda, al-Fārābī outlines the historical reception of philosophy as ḥikma (Al-Fārābī, Taḥṣīl al-sa‘āda, p. 35). He reports an account relating that philosophy existed in ancient times among the Chaldeans of present-day Iraq. He does not specify any personal name or religious group as the originator of this science. Al-Fārābī is perhaps referring to the prophetic tradition beginning with Abraham, who is said to have lived in that region, or may have Hermes (the Third) in mind, since this Hermes is reported to have lived in the same region and revived many sciences. Without going into such historical details, however, al-Fārābī simply states that from the Chaldeans philosophy reached the people of Egypt, and then the Greeks; it remained in Greece until it was transmitted to the Syrians, and then the Arabs. Accordingly, the linguistic means of this science were Greek, Syriac, and Arabic, in succession. Al-Fārābī informs us that the Greeks who possessed this science used to call it “unqualified/absolute ḥikma (al-ḥikma ‘alā al-iṭlāq) and the highest ḥikma (al-ḥikma al-‘uẓmā)” (Al-Fārābī, Taḥṣīl al-sa‘āda, p. 38).
Al-Fārābī asserts that a person who attains true happiness may be called ḥakīm, but only the necessary existent (God) possesses ḥikma in the ultimate sense of the word (Al-Fārābī, Kitāb al-Ta‘līqāt, p. 382). He argues that in comparison to its usage pertaining to God, ḥikma may be used with respect to man only figuratively. He reports that on the basis of man’s faculty of intellection (ta‘aqqul), some people call those practicing such intellection “ḥukamā’.” Al-Fārābī finds this designation inappropriate, for ḥikma in his view is the most excellent knowledge of the most excellent of existents, while human intellection merely knows things human. Man is neither the most excellent thing in the world, nor the most excellent of existents. Due to such essential imperfections, human intellection cannot truly be called ḥikma, save figuratively (bi-al-isti‘āra wa-al-tashbīh) (Al-Fārābī, Fuṣūl al-madanī, p. 133).
According to al-Fārābī’s writings, ḥikma is the means of true happiness (sa‘āda) [Al-Fārābī, Fuṣūl al-madanī, p. 133-134]. In Fārābīan epistemology, ḥikma is held as the highest and most perfect kind of knowledge, and the definition of ḥikma as “the most excellent knowledge of the most excellent existents” is related primarily to God. Furthermore, al-Fārābī’s treatment of ḥikma goes beyond his epistemology, as it has ontological as well as ethical connotations.
Ibn Sīnā (d. 428/1037)
Throughout his philosophical works, Ibn Sīnā uses the word ḥikma in the sense of philosophy in general and of metaphysics in particular. (Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifā, p. 443). In the former case, he defines ḥikma as “the perfecting of the human soul through the conceptualization of things and the verification of theoretical and practical truths insofar as it is possible for man” (Ibn Sīnā, ‘Uyūn al-ḥikma, p. 63). This definition indicates that Ibn Sīnā’s conception of ḥikma also presupposes combining knowledge with action. His reference to Qur’ānic verse 2:269 further testifies that Ibn Sīnā also treats philosophy as ḥikma (Ibn Sīnā, ‘Uyūn al-ḥikma, p. 64). Like al-Kindī and al-Fārābī, Ibn Sīnā identifies ḥikma with metaphysics and designates it as “the first philosophy (al-falsafah al-ūlā)” and “the divine science (al-‘ilm al-ilāhī)” (Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifā, p. 3-5).
As far as the subject matter of the divine science is concerned, Ibn Sīnā argues that the existence of God is just one of the things, not the only thing, sought in this science (Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifā, p. 5). He phrases its subject matter as “being,” which is the first and most essential concept of the mind that does not need any prior explanation (Ibn Sīnā, Kitāb al-Najāt, 235 and al-Mabda’ wa-al-ma‘ād, p. 1-23). The subject matter of the divine science is thus “the existent inasmuch as it is an existent (al-mawjūd bi-mā huwa mawjūd)”, and the things sought in this science are those that come unconditionally with the existent, inasmuch as it is an existent (Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifā, p. 13). In relation to the divine science, Ibn Sīnā conceptualizes the existence of God within the framework of the concept of “being.” According to Ibn Sīnānian ontology, the most complete and perfect being is God, Who deserves to be called the Absolute Being (al-mawjūd al-muṭlaq), and in this regard the divine science does investigate the existence of God. Starting from the Absolute Being, the divine science also investigates the principles of the other sciences (Ibn Sīnā, Kitāb al-Najāt, p. 235). Ibn Sīnā further describes this science as “knowledge of God (al-ma‘rifa bi-Allāh),” and states that since it consists of a knowledge of the things that are separable from matter in definition and existence, it is called “the divine science” (Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifā, p. 15). As far as its significance in relation to other sciences is concerned, Ibn Sīnā asserts that, in its own right, the divine science should be prior to all the other sciences, but that, from the human perspective, it is posterior to all of them (Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifā, p. 21).
In Ibn Sīnānian philosophical terminology, besides its use in the sense of theoretical philosophy (al-ḥikma al-naẓariyya), ḥikma also has an ethical connotation in practical philosophy, or al-ḥikma al-‘amaliyya. In this context, ḥikma is the third virtue, alongside temperance (‘iffa) and courage (shajā‘a). Unlike al-ḥikma al-naẓariyya, in which the means of the attainment of the abovementioned objective is independent of human actions and states, in al-ḥikma al-‘amaliyya it is this-worldly actions and behavior that lead to the perfecting of the human soul. Ibn Sīnā describes any strictly intellectual efforts to concentrate on knowledge of al-ḥikma al-‘amaliyya as futile attempts and deception, for this type of ḥikma is ḥikma in action (Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifā, p. 455).
In conclusion, the Qur’ānic notion of ḥikma was influential in spurring Muslim intellectuals’ interest in Greek philosophy and its leading figures. Ibn Sīnā, for example, describes his view of philosophy by referring to the Qur’ānic verse 2:269, in which those who are given ḥikma are characterized as being given much good (Ibn Sīnā, ‘Uyūn al-ḥikma, p. 64). Early Muslim philosophers regarded their philosophical inquiry as the continuation of humankind’s everlasting search for truth in general and for knowledge of God in particular. Ibn Sīnā, again, uses the word ḥikma in the sense of metaphysics and defines it as knowledge that yields certainty (yaqīn) of God (Ibn Sīnā, al-Shifā, p. 15). This universal and undying character of philosophical truth was the most attractive dimension of philosophical activities for the falāsifa. They envisioned and situated themselves as the representatives of this intellectual tradition in their own times. In their inquiries, the falāsifa believed that their efforts to attain sublime truth were in harmony with the Qur’ānic notion of ḥikma, the search for which, moreover, was strongly recommended by the Prophet by any decent means possible (Ibn Fātik, p. 1-2). They did not view philosophy as idle speculation, and felt that ḥikma required them to complete their words with their actions. As al-Kindī says, “The aim (gharaḍ) of the philosopher is, with respect to his knowledge, to attain the truth (iṣābat al-ḥaqq), and with respect to his action, to act truthfully (al-‘amal bi-al-ḥaqq)” (Al-Kindī, p. 97).
The Adab writer Ibn Qutaybah’s definition of ḥikma as a combination of knowledge and action appears to be prevalent across the spectrum of Islamic disciplines in their formative period. One might even call this definition the traditional Islamic conception of ḥikma, as it also echoes in the writings of early Muslim philosophers for whom the philosophy, which is a sublime truth, combines the theorical and the practical vertues, and the effort to reach it are in harmony with the Qur’ānic concept of Ḥikma.
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