The Story of Islamic Philosophy

Ibn Ṭufayl, Ibn al-ʿArabī, and Others on the Limit between Naturalism and Traditionalism

By Salman H. Bashier

Subjects: Islam, Sufism, Religion, Middle East Studies, Philosophy
Paperback : 9781438437422, 209 pages, July 2012
Hardcover : 9781438437439, 209 pages, October 2011

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Table of contents

1. The File of Illuminationist Philosophy and the Purpose of Writing Hayy

The Legend of Eastern Philosophy
Eastern and Western Schools of Philosophy
Plato and Aristotle: The Heart and the Voice of Islamic Philosophy
The Purpose of Writing Hayy

2. The Introduction
Mystical Expression and Experience: Fundamental Sūfi Concepts
Knowledge1, Knowledge2, and Ghazālī’s Niche of Lights
Ibn Sīnā’s Liminal Depiction of the Mystical Experience
Salāmān and Absāl: The Hermetistic Version
Ibn Sīnā’s Version
3. The Naturalistic Account of Hayy’s Birth
Ibn Tufayl’s Method of Concealment
Spontaneous Generation
A Liminal Depiction of the Chain of Existents
In the Earth of Barzakh
Plato’s Myth of Spontaneous Generation
4. The Traditionalistic Account from the End
Divine Origins and Illuminative Gradations
Imitation and Interpretation
Ibn Ṭufayl’s Liminal Declaration
5. The Origination of the World
Between Plato and Aristotle
Aristotle’s Concept of the Infinite
Ibn Tufayl’s Liminal Stand
6. The Shadow of Fārābī
Philosophy’s Ultimate Mission
The Origination of Language
The Quest for Unity
The Development of Meanings
Two Conceptions of Dialectic
7. The Shadow of Ibn Bājja
Ibn Bājja on the Chain of Existents and Self-Intellection
The Presence of the Parable of the Cave
8. The Traditionalistic Account from the Beginning
The Emphasis on Balance and Equilibrium
The Discovery of Fire
The Sleepers in the Cave
The Encounter Between Moses and al-Khadir
Moses in Fusūs al-Hikam

9. Gilgamesh: The One Who Saw the Abyss
The Builder of the Great Walls and the Man-As-He-Was-In-the-Beginning
Intercourse as an Act of Writing
In Company with Gilgamesh
Enkidu’s Death
The Quest for Eternal Life
The Encounter with Utnapishtim
In the Underworld
10. The Tale of Bulūqiya Between Ibn al-‘Arabī and Gilgamesh

The Tale of Hāsib Karīm al-Dīn
The Quest for the Plant of Life
The Mystical Dimension

Offers a new interpretation of medieval Islamic philosophy, one informed by Platonic mysticism.


In this innovative work, Salman H. Bashier challenges traditional views of Islamic philosophy. While Islamic thought from the crucial medieval period is often depicted as a rationalistic elaboration on Aristotelian philosophy and an attempt to reconcile it with the Muslim religion, Bashier puts equal emphasis on the influence of Plato's philosophical mysticism. This shift encourages a new reading of Islamic intellectual tradition, one in which boundaries between philosophy, religion, mysticism, and myth are relaxed. Bashier shows the manner in which medieval Islamic philosophers reflected on the relation between philosophy and religion as a problem that is intrinsic to philosophy and shows how their deliberations had the effect of redefining the very limits of their philosophical thought. The problems of the origin of human beings, human language, and the world in Islamic philosophy are discussed. Bashier highlights the importance of Ibn Ṭufayl's Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, a landmark work often overlooked by scholars, and the thought of the great Sufi mystic Ibn al-ʿArabī to the mainstream of Islamic philosophy.

Salman H. Bashier is a Polonsky Postdoctoral Fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute in Israel. He is the author of Ibn al-Arabi's Barzakh: The Concept of the Limit and the Relationship between God and the World, also published by SUNY Press.