Monthly Archives: November 2008



Socrates is the first well-documented Greek philosopher, no thanks to his own writing activity; he is known to have lived from 470 to 399 BC and his student Plato was the one to carefully document his words and methods. Socrates’ method was a radical breach with the past. Until then philosophy’s interest was into explaining the cosmos through reason. Philosophers wanted to know our origine and made rational theories on the origin of matter, the celestial bodies and life. Sophism was the first school of thought to bring Greek philosophy to earth and teach people to form themselves a theory and propagate it to others with the use of convincing reason. Sophism lifted philosophy to a professional scholastic level and skipped the in their eyes unanswerable question concerning creation. Socrates was the first to make man center of philosophic interest. The main question for man to solve is how to live a proper and responsible life. Important knowledge therefore is knowledge on man and society. Man has to ask himself firstly: how can you know anything when you don’t know yourself?’ ‘Know yourself’ was his first rule, for other knowledge comes from self-knowledge and who knows after all. Wisdom is acquired self-knowledge and an important aspect of that is knowing your own boundaries: awareness of your own ignorance and the fields where knowledge is missing. Self-knowledge is the starting and reference point for any other gathering of knowledge and you must ask yourself questions and test the answers’ validity first. Further knowledge comes from communicating with others as a way to exchange your knowledge with other people’s knowledge. Your and other people’s knowledge must be mirrored and tested on its truthfulness and durability. His second rule was that ‘the only thing I know is that I know nothing’ and from many detailed facts it is possible to work towards knowledge, a search method we call induction. Exchanging and thus gaining knowledge is made possible by asking the right questions through encouragement to carry on or to stop and sideway pushing with the right remarks. Socrates called this communication technique the midwive’s technique, maieutike techne; his mother and wife Xantippe both were midwives. Knowledge, according to Socrates, had to be authentic and his questions were only meant to test the solidity of acquired knowledge. Finding truth is possible by asking the right questions and in the process digging deeper into the subject by a new question following the answer. His technique of questioning people to test their knowledge has become known as the dialectic or Socratic dialogue. Socrates not only teached his students, he could be found in the open air having his dialogue with an audience too. Socrates’ favorite topics were justice, self restraint, piety, bravery and wisdom. It is possible to find a general truth and ethical standards for human behavior, the ‘essentials’, by research on other people’s knowledge and behavior and gathering the answers.

Through insight and knowledge it is possible to find virtue and virtue being a matter of intellect, everyone can achieve it. This thinking is called ‘ethical intellectualism’. Virtue is not necessarily obedience to a good public rule, virtue mainly is knowledge. When a person knows and understands what true virtue is, he may act within general principles instead of self-interest. Socrates tried to make his students aware of their actions being self-interested, even though everybody agrees that the general interest has priority over self-interest. Goodness and virtue aren’t built on nice words by a clever spokesman but on goodness and virtue being shared by everyone. It is on the field of morality that people have the least self-knowledge and the word artists (the sophists!) have an easy job here in convincing others of their moral standard. Goodness and virtue come from a life of learning and teaching and good people never stop learning and studying. Another part goodness is made of, is beauty. Masculine beauty and its benefits lead to intellectual wisdom, feminine beauty similarly leads to a good body and thus to procreation, according to Socrates.

The ultimate goal of all action is, according to Socrates, finding happiness. If a student has gained enough knowledge of a desired goal, he or she bound to act virtuously. Incorrect action is a consequence of insufficient knowledge of virtue. Virtue is for both the state and the individual the only way to happiness. Socrates did not believe in deliberate evil. Evil action comes from ignorance and everyone at least has the will to find out what is truly good for him or her and truth is the same as goodness. The state must strive towards justice, not power and wealth and knowledge is the only guidance for just actions and power without knowledge can only lead to unhappiness. ‘Ideals belong in a world only the wise man can understand’. Socrates finds it therefore necessary to elect leaders for their knowledge, not for their wealth of descent, and the ordinary civilian lacks the knowledge to elect competent leaders. Socrates disapproved of any state system, all of them giving no answer to who might possess the most intellectual baggage for leadership. Philosophers should govern the state.

Athens those days experimented with democracy, however, a true democracy it was not. Women, slaves and foreigners (they might be Greeks from outside Athens) were excluded from the right to vote in the general assembly (the Ekklesia), an institution which existed since it was founded by statesman Clisthenes (ca 570 – 507 BC). Men and women leaded secluded lives and erotic relations between boys and young men were more or less approved of, as finding beauty and wisdom among men had educational intellectual worth, provided a man was not ‘enslaved’ by his physical ‘passions’. After marriage, men had to find physical beauty in women and procreation was seen as an important part of that. Homosexual relations among adult men met more disapproval, however, pederastic relations between adult men (eromenos) and boys (erastes) were commonplace and considered a patronage relation, but nowadays in modern standards we would recognize aspects of prostitution in them. Socrates and his students lived in this world and are known to have made approving comments on homosexuality. Sexuality, even masturbation, were displayed more openly in Ancient Greece than people did and do after the arrival of Christianity. Slavery was another part of a natural and ethical world order. A slave could be as noble as a free man, but human relations are naturally determined by dominance: some people are braver and stronger and therefore able to provide patronage to others. In Classical Greece slavery gained a formal absolute status. Socrates and Aristoteles both made acquiescenting comments on the phenomenon. Freedom of religion only went so far. The state religion allowed for non-dogmatic and equal worship of several deities, mostly ancient traditional deities, among whom important leaders and thinkers, to be allowed into the ‘pantheon’, the temple for all religions, but it was not allowed to reject either any deity or introduce a new one without official consent, or reject the pantheon itself and many a philosopher was put to trial and banned or executed. This fate also fell on Socrates. He was accused of rejecting the city’s gods, introducing new deities and rejecting Athens democratic institutions. Socrates was not the man to run from civil law he had paid allegiance to and as a straight thinker he saw it as his moral duty to undergo the verdict, which he could have avoided through many legal channels, and he finally was executed.

Socrates’ sayings were recorded by his students, mostly Plato, but also Xenophon, Aristotle and Aristophanes. It is uncertain how reliable their accounts are, it is said that some writings reflect the ideas and admiration or criticism of the authors rather than Socrates’ exact words.

Universities and European institutions still like to work from this principle and use the name Socrates in their programs; the Socratic dialogue is anything but obsolete. Institutions say it can bring awareness that learning should last a lifetime and never finishes, an attitude greatly appreciated also nowadays. A new note, however, is democratisation of knowledge. A quote on the site of a teacher of Amsterdam Polytechnic school says: ‘Socratic method is not the art of teaching philosophy but of teaching how to do philosophy, not the art of teaching about philosophers but to make pupils into philosophers’ (Leonard Nelson) This teacher, Kristof van Rossem, offers training courses in Socratic Dialogues on many institutions over Europe, as many others do. Van Rossem thinks that the Socratic dialogue is a good tool at school, even primary schools, as it stimulates citizenry in young people: a good citizen actively participates in a society based on knowledge and professionalism. A teacher as leader of a Socratic dialogue is rather a stimulating, democratic facilitator than an expert who brings dogmatic knowledge. Van Rossem mentions several differences between a discussion and a dialogue, the first being ‘aimed at shaking out, it is rhetoric, aimed at decisions and actions, judging, attacking and defending, going for your own right, convincing, taking a standpoint, defensive or offensive in attitude, answering, speed and individually oriented’. A dialogue would be ‘aimed at knowing through, be dialectic, aimed at insight in the value of judgements, suspending judgements, investigating and checking, wanting to know the truth, investigation, listening to yourself and others, attitude of taking the other’s point of view, questioning, slowness and community oriented’.

Sources:,,, Socrates Fase II,, Kyle, Education and Pederasty in Ancient Greece, What is a Socratic Dialogue? Hogeschool van Amsterdam

A next question could be: is any part of Islamic revelation suited for the Socratic approach? Investigating a text without immediate aim of giving simple straight answers but with the aim to approach an issue from a different angle and then finding alternative answers through logic and exchanging views could be a good approach to better understanding of Qur’an al Kerim. Perhaps it is not the first way to understand ahadith, as these transmit sayings, actions and decisions of the Prophet saws, plus that many scholars have classified and interpreted them and channeled them into jurisprudence. That doesn’t mean it is not worth trying in a time where technology has changed living conditions deeply and literally shrunk distance between people globally. What could a Socratic dialogue on Qur’an al Kerim sound like?

A: What is man’s main task in life?
B: To serve Allah swt.
A: Firstly, what is serving?
B: It is performing actions to please the one who is being served.
A: Why is it necessary to serve Allah swt?
B: A believer loves Allah swt and wants to reach His reward
A: If there would be no reward, would you still find it necessary to love Allah swt?
B: Yes, because loving Him for Him alone is part of serving Him and serving Him is done out of love.
A: What is love for a Muslim, try and describe it please.
B: Love is not just a positive caring emotion for someone or something, it’s also an action.
A: What action?
B: Caring and sharing. You do nice things for them that they like.
A: How do you care and share for, with Allah swt?
B: You do the things that He asks in His Book.
A: What things?
B: You pray, perform the other rituals, you do good works.
A: Tell us something of these good works. What good works do you do out of love for Allah swt?
B: You treat other people, animals and other creatures well, you worship Allah swt.
A: Why is it necessary to treat others well out of love for Allah swt, is it not enough to do it for them?
B: Allah swt wants us to be caretakers of His creation, it is part of our duty to Him.
A: Now I look into your Qur’an. What doest ALM mean?
B: No-one knows, they are just letters.
A: Why are they there?
B: It is said that they are meant as a sign that man doesn’t know everything and He does.
A: What do you say they mean?
B: I say that it is not allowed to speculate on things we don’t know.
C comes in now: We should leave it to the scholars, they have better knowledge, also of things with double and obscure meanings.
A: Who says that you and I are ignorant?
C: You didn’t study fiqh.
A: Can you prove or assess my credentials?
B: Every believer has the duty to find knowledge, even if it were in China.
A: So is it allowed to search and share knowledge?
B: Yes, but you must back up your statements with evidence.
A: Did any scholar know the exact meaning of ALM?
B: I don’t thinks so.
A: Is it allowed to form your own opinion on three letters?
B: As long as you make clear that it is your opinion, why not.
A: Must you ask consent to think and speak at all?
And so forth.


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The Seven Sages and Philosophy of Nature


The first Greek philosophers of nature were Thales, Anaximander, his student Anaximenes (appr. 570 BC) and in turn the latter’s assumed students Anaxagoras (appr 500 – 428 BC) and Diogenes. They were the first to distance themselves thoroughly from mythological thinking and enter theoretical thinking. They started the tradition of trying to explain the universe and general phenomena. Their school of thought is called the Miletan School. Thales believed in one material first substance to everything else, Anaximander believed in the indinite, apeiron, as the primary substance and Anaximenes believed that air was the primary substance to everything in the cosmos. Fire had to be thin air, water was thickened air, from further thinkening earth emerged and finally that must have become stone. This must have been a gradual two way process, depending on dominance of cold or heat. Also the human soul was made of air, according to Anaximenes. Planet Earth must have come into existence the same fashion, as a flat round disk, floating on air currents encircling her. Anaximander, his teacher, assumed that the Earth had the shape of a barrel floating in space. Anaximenes proclaimed ‘like our soul, consisting of air, keeping us together, thus breath and air keeps the entire world in place’. Similar condensations of air should have led to the birth of the Sun and stars. These bodies’ fiery nature would be caused by the speed of their motion, according to Anaximenes. Planet Earth had to be centre of the cosmos, with the stars as its most remote objects. The Moon was Earth’s most proximate object, then came the Sun, then the other planets. The Sun would not turn around the Earth, she would disappear every night behind the horizon and return every morning to her usual point of rising. Anaximenes thought that the Moon itself casts no light but thanks its rays of light to the Sun.

Anaxagoras believed that everything is infinitely divisible and that even the smallest portion of matter contains some of each element. The differences in form result from different portions of the elements and their seemingly endless numbers of possible combinations. Unlike Democritus he apparently did not believe in smallest particles, atoms, that form a material. Both the big and the small are infinite. Anaxagoras believed that the mind is the supreme ordering principle, it is infinite and self-controlling, it is mixed with nothing and is itself by itself. Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to introduce an abstract philosophical concept: Nous. Nous is the thinking, omnipotent, but impersonal Spirit or Mind. Thanks to this mind a well-ordered cosmos arose from the original chaos. This Nous seems to have been a first mover that left the universe to its own devices after initial creation, in Anaxagoras’ view. In everything there is a share of everything, except mind, and mind is present in some things too. Everything is in everything, all qualities are present in even the smallest core and this enables a smooth transition from one material into another and makes birth and destruction of matter just false appearance. Living creatures possess, unlike dead creatures, Nous. This same Nous gives men and animals their soul. Men seems superior to animals, because he has hands. Visible differences in intellect are consequence of physical differences. Being an astronomer, Anaxagoras observed vortexes and spiral phenomena in nature and he believed that the universe was created through the rotary motion of a spiral, where initially all mass was united in the center and driven by a centrifugal force driven by ‘mind’, celestial bodies and other things came into being through seperation of mass. Today some say, that if the mass of a galaxy was concentrated at its center, it would have created a black hole and gravitation would be too strong for anything to escape from it. Stars and the Sun are fiery stones, but we can’t feel the heat because of their distance, according to Anaxagoras. He thought to recognize mountains and living creatures on the Moon and the Sun had to be bigger than the Peloponnesos. Anaxagoras proved that air was no vacuum but material substance by blowing up utters and a pipet that enclosed air by water and he concluded that sound had to be movement of air. Anaxagoras was highly respected in Athens, not in the least by statesman Pericles, but later he was accused of Persian sympathies and heresy when he taught that the Sun was a fiery stone and the Moon only earth. He had to leave Athens, in spite of Pericles’ protection, and return to Ionia.

Diogenes, who was a doctor, believed as well that air was the source of all Being from which all substances can be produced; the only difference between air and other Beings is its thickness. Diogenes, however, accredited air, as the first matter, intelligence. ‘The air swirling within him not only supported, but directed also. Air as source of all things is necessary as perpetual and indestructible matter, but as a soul it is also equipped with a conscience’. Diogenes also believed in an indefinite number of worlds and supported the idea that the Earth is a round ball supported by air. Diogenes, however, did not follow Anaxagoras’ dualism. Diogenes probably had atheist sympathies, which may have cost him popularity in Athens.

Fragments and quotes of the ancient philosophers’ works, no more, have been preserved and quoted by later authors, such as passages from Diogenes’ most important work ‘De natura’. Other works from his hand are possibly ‘Against the sophists’, ‘Against the philosophists of nature’, ‘On Meteorology’ and ‘On the nature of man’. Anaxagoras has written one book, of which quotes have been preserved by Simplicius. Pythagoras left us no writings. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC) was the first author to use the name ‘Presocratic’ philosophy for the ancient Greek philosophers before Socrates. Orpheus lyrics have been preserved, however, Aristotle denied their originality. Diogenes Laertius, 3rd Cent AD, wrote an extended biography on Greek philosophers. The work of these philosophers, however, meant a turning point from mythical and traditional religious thinking towards theoretical thinking and observation, even though many philosophers suffered disapproval to downright persecution in Athens. Not just devine explanations behind the univers were narrated and taught, from now on thought was given to processes and characteristics in nature and man themselves.

From Orphism to Gnosticism, Dionysos,, The Philosophy of Anaxagoras, The Philosophy of Pythagoras, Wolfram MathWorld

And thus we arrive at a man who was among the first to introduce religious skepticism and gained unrivaled status in philosophy when sophism was at its height of popularity: Socrates.

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The Seven Sages and Orphism


Greece is not the only country that had, as tradition wills, seven founders of philosophy, yet we are going to start with them. Twenty-two philosophers may have belonged to this group of seven: Cleobulus (whose daughter Cleobulina was a well-known philosopher with a political cloud too), Chilon, Periander, Miso, Aristodemus, Epimenides, Leophantus, Pythagoras, Anacharsis, Epicharmus, Acusilaus, Orpheus, Pisistratus, Pherecydes, Hermioneus, Lasus, Pamphilus and Anaxagoras, however, about four thinkers classical sources are unanimous: Thales from Milete, Bias from Priene, Solon from Athens and Pittakos from Mytilene. The latter three are known for their statesmanship, legislation and poetry. Prince Orpheus, probably son of a Thracian king, early 6th century BC, gained a mythical status for his singing and poetic skills; he was said to be a son of the Greek god Apollo. Even lions laid down at his feet to listen to his voice, according to tradition.

Orpheus’ philosophical teachings, Orphism, had no little influence on mainstream beliefs, but a it appears to have had a great influence on later philosophers as Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Plato, even on Christianity. Orphism emphasized the human nature in man and thus his immortality and continuance after death. Postmortem punishment may be expected, therefore a proper life and self-denial are necessary: an ascetic, sternly disciplined way of life. Orphism believed in re-incarnation and according tradition Orpheus had released the mysteries of Egypt to the Greeks. Orphism separated in the 6th century BC from an even older mystic cult: Dionysianism. Religion in ancient Greece was polytheistic and Dionysianism evolved mainly around the illusive god of wine, madness, theater and vegetation. These two mystery movements are anti-dogmatic, esoteric, strongly personalized and, last but not least, festive. Some currents knew violent rites, some others sexual and transcendental rituals. Dionysianism believed contrary to Orphism, in one Cosmos, without dualism or ranking. Female figures were important in Dionysianism. Orphism had a rational speculative nature and was more popular among philosophers; Pythagoras modified it into a form of Logical Mysticism and the Ophic theories of Cosmic Law, Harmony and Sympathy can be traced in Pythagorism, which, however, never became a proper or mainstream Orphic sect. Greek mysticism has ancient roots, perhaps in the Bronze Age and is influenced by ancient Buddhist thinkers in India, Thracian and Minoan traditions. Judaism, Nazareanism also left their strong traces on Orphism, also in the later Roman Mystery tradition. Various deities from different creeds appear in Orphism: the Egyptian gods Sakla (of the Dead), Ptah, Seraph, and even the Jewish deity Iao (Yah) and Kabbalistic concepts like Jehovah Tzabaoth. It was a complicated and heterogeneous mixture of concepts and characters. Empedocles, an Orphic philosopher may have held concepts resembling those of Tantric Bodhisattva with its reincarnation concept of ‘conscious incarnation of the illuminated’. Empedocles said he had passed through successive incarnations from fish to man into living god. To prove his immortality Empedocles jumped into Mount Etna, never to be seen again. The final stage of Orphism was the Platonic, from the 4th Cent BC, with two main currents, one being libertarian, spiritual and moderately hedonistic, the other unworldly mystical, logical, paternally authoritarian and ascetic, however, Orphism remained intelligent, ethical and progressive, until the end, when corruption and elitism entered. This corrupt elitism led to the successful rise of the modern Judeo-Christian current. The Roman Empire made an end to the mainstream Millennium of Mystery cults, though Orphism was one of the last of the ‘Pagan’ Mysteries to survive in the West until the late 5th Cent AD, as were Mithracism, Iseanism, Serapeanism and some others. It had its influence on especially the isolated Celtic cultures on the British islands. Some say that Pauline Christianity was a rewriting of late Orphism and that Gnosticism was even more so. In Asia Minor sects existed around the 3rd, 2nd Cent AD, that combine Orphic and Christian imagery.

Logic was an important focus of ancient Greek philosophy. An example is Epimenides’ Paradox, Epimenides of Knossos being Cretan, 6th Cent BC: ‘All Cretans are liars… One of their own poets has said so’. This is not a true paradox, since the poet may have knowledge that at least one Cretan is honest and so be lying when he says that all Cretans are liars. It may therefore be no self-contradiction in what could be a false statement by a lying person. Epimenides was a poet and considered a prophet of perhaps Central Asian shamanic descent. In ancient Greece this kind of philosophic reasoning led to highly respected status in the public debate. It shows that the thinker understands how certain relations may be differently connected to each other than at first superficial consideration appears and that deductive thinking leads to the proper answer of a puzzle or problem with unusual or unexpected starting positions. The liar paradox dwindled from people’s attention, until the twelfth century AD, when its variations were studied under the name of insolubilia. Anacharsis, early 6th Cent BC, Scythian philosopher to be become the first ‘foreigner’ to receive Athens citizenship, is seen by some as the very first Sceptic and Cynic. Philosophical skepticism is searching wheather one may find truth from one’s own convictions and scientific skepticism is searching wheather other people’s sayings have scientific value, that is are falsifiable and reliable, based on hypotheses and critical thinking. Philosophical skepticism says that the human mind is naturally uncapable of certain knowledge. Scientific skepticism is part of empirism: it says that observation leads to forming and testing a theoretical model. No theory can have a truth claim without systematic observation. Cynicism appeared only after Socrates and was founded by one of his students, Antisthenes. It taught that ascetism and denial of luxury and property was the only way towards true wisdom. It persisted until late in the Roman period.


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Prominent names of Greek scientists and philosophers known in the Prophet’s era


The realms of knowledge and science necessary to understand Islam are not only traditional and historic knowledge; in my view philosophy, law, linguistics and natural science are perhaps more important. The first three are more important than the latter, natural science, but in the modern era scientific findings on natural phenomena have been successfully used to prove the truthfulness of Islam. Later more on the reason why. It takes a lot to comprehend and above all accept the message of Islam, because it covers many fields.

The very first Greek philosophers

Greece, for a starter, was an early starter in scientific development, especially the philosophical side of it, and  Thales, Socrate, Plate and Aristotle are important names. Natural science was approached through the perspective of philosophy and its deductive methods, however, Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) introduced induction in the sense of observation of visible reality. Experimentation played no role yet; Aristotle’s approach remained within the boundaries of philosophy. Thales (624 – 546 BC) was perhaps the first and founding Greek philosopher, who was interested in water and could predict sun eclipses by calculation. In his view water was the most elementary principle of the universe and everything originates from water. Thales was famous for his arithmetic skills; according Greek tradition he had visited Egypt and re-taught the Egyptians to calculate the height of their pyramids by the size of their shadows. Other big names are Anaximandros (585 – 525 BC) who thought of the indefinite (apeiron), the one elementary substance out of which everything has come forth, without beginning, end or time and producing hot and cold, dry, humid and any other polarity or contradistinction, and Demokritos (app. 460 – 380/370 BC) who was the first to think of a theory on atomic particles in which a fabric’s structure was determined by differences in ranking, shape and size of these atoms. His theory is named atomism: the theory that says that all materials are made of innumerable indivisable particles: a-tomos (‘indivisable’). Indian Buddhists have largely contributed to Atomism; they thought that atoms flash into and out of existence, teachings that seem to be confirmed in western science (Heisenberg’s probability principle). An important axiom in atomism is metaphysical nihilism: if only atoms exist, discriminate objects don’t really exist or they are not vital. Everything is one coherent set of particles. Atomism, however, has a natural and a philosophical dimension. In those days, like in the Prophet’s era, the focus of interest was focused on the philosophical aspect. Science was very much part of religious considerations and experiments in the field of natural science were not yet practised. Cosmology was perhaps the most important focus of interest during the Antiquity. Trying to explain the mechanism of the cosmos was to be done through reason mainly, however, observation also played a big role to some thinkers. Observation of celestial bodies had led to outstanding knowledge on astronomy in several parts of the known world and this knowledge had become a solid fundament to many religious practices.

These first Greek philosophers defined many of our present notions on being and motion. The Elea-School developed the idea of reality as being in space: nothing cannot be, any substance or idea exists in feasible, tangible space. Its main representant was Parmenides (540 or 515 BC – ca 450 BC?); his main axiom was ‘For never shall this prevail, that things that are not, are’, meaning that the opposite between being and non-being is non-existent. There is no nothingness and everything exists in the spatial sphere, even ideas originate from tangible substance. Even thinking is part of being and Parmenides said ‘thinking and being are one and the same’. Another school of thought was the theory that ‘everything streams and nothing lasts’, ‘panta rhei kai ouden menei’. The Eleatists believed in a permanent static being, Heraclitus believed more or less the opposite: Heraclitus perpetual change and movement, ‘the world is the same for everyone, it was not created by men or gods, it is and will be an everlasting fire, flaming up or damping down. Heraclitus saw fire as the basic element, Parmenides water, Anaximenes air and Xenophanes earth and water.

A third important school of philosophy was sophism. The sophists were the first professional philosophers; they made philosophy a paid for teaching job, trying to teach others the art of argumentation and discussion. Every person has his own opinions, no one can decide which is true, there are no absolute fundamentals in the universe that can be found or discovered and the effort to do so is basically wast of time. Knowledge reaches us through observation and worldly success and satifaction are the best achievement human beings may reach, not truth.

A fascinating fourth school of thought, inspiring philosophers as Parmenides, Empedocles, Philolaus and Plato, was Pythagorism. Pythagoras was a mystic thinker and mathematician, but left no writings. Pythagoras and his companions were a small and close knit community with their own way of life, which even fell victim to persecution. Their theory was, says Aristoteles, ‘that numbers constitute the true nature of things and numbers have borders the same way as that objects have and borders between things or numbers are emptiness. Emptiness exists and pervades heaven from an indefinite breath – it breathes as it were into the emptiness. Emptiness differentiates the nature of things, as it is that which differentiates and distinguishes successive names and terminology in a series. This first happens for numbers, as emptiness distinguishes their nature’. Emptiness, ‘apeiron‘, is indefinite and perpetual and inspires reality: the definite and finite, ‘peiron‘, the cosmos, its nature and distinguishes it from other definites and finites, other objects, forms, ‘things’. This inspiration of apeiron into peiron makes the world a mathematical place. Purely in a mathematical way the continuum of numbers and the domain of reality, the cosmos, are a play of form and emptiness and its rules are that it must happen in a harmonious fashion. This harmony principle distinguishes Pythagorism from the older theory by Anaximandros and the Elea School. Pythagoras has also, in the same line of thinking, commented on sound and tone height. Pythagoras is famous for his calculation method of triangle line lengths, the Pythagoras axiom, which some say was derived from ancient Egyptian calculations used for the construction of their pyramids, but no proof of such do we have. Others say he may have derive his theorem on right-angled triangles, a2+b2=c2, from the Indian mathematician Baudhayana (800 BC). One of Pythagoras’ students, Alcmaeon, a philosopher and medical thinker, said that ‘we don’t think with our blood, the air or fire, it is our brain that enables us to think, smell and see and from there we form ourselves our thinking and opinion and then our knowledge. As long as the brain isn’t damaged, man has his senses and herewith I confirm that it is our brain that makes the mind speak’.

Even the evolution theory had its predecessor in ancient Greece: Empedocles (ca 492 BC – ca 432 BC), among others a doctor, poet, teacher in philosophy and statesman born in Sicily, held the strong belief that everything has emerged from the four elements earth, air, water and fire through the two opposing elemental powers he called love and hatred, in a random perpetual flow of mixture and seperation, like mixing colors of paint. Love is the building power and hatred the destructive power. Only the strongest combinations could survive. Empedocles also believed, like Parmenides, that the cosmos is eternal, has always been present and that no material goes missing. Empedocles called God ‘a circle the middle of which is everywhere and its periphery nowhere’. Aristotle later adopted most of Empedocles’ theory.


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Generals on research and development when Islam arrived


Rumor has it that Islam put a stop to scientific progress and no better symbol for this than Islamic commander Amr ibn al-‘As burning the renowned library of Alexandria. Egypt was conquered during Umar ibn al Khattabs kaliphate by Muslim troops in 641 AD and Ibn al ‘As made Memphis its new capital, where it had been Alexandria for the last thousand years. Truth is that the most important sections of this famous library had been burned on several occasions, first during the siege of the city under Julius Caesar, 47 BC, then another part was lost during emperor Aurelian fighting a revolt by queen Zenobia of Palmyra around 270 AD and zealous Christians under Byzantine Emperor Theodosius had sacked the subsidiary library at the Serapeum in 391 AD. Christian emperor Theodosious I had ordered destruction of all pagan temples among which the Serapeum in Alexandria which may have housed the remaining books of the famous library. Whether Ibn al ‘As destroyed the remaining part of the library, is most probably a popular myth spread by Edward Gibbon and Nicolas Wade (‘Burning the Book of Nature’). Bernard Lewis claims that opponents of the Shia Fatimid caliphate had spread the story of the Fatimids falsely accusing Umar ibn al Khattab for supporting a library’s destruction, which is a sin in Islam.

In the Prophet’s days, at least at a practicable travel distance, the Persian Sassanid empire was the main promotor of science and medicine and the East Roman empire, the Byzantines, its main enemy and persecutor. Byzantine emperor Zeno had the main Greek scientific centers closed and its scholars found refuge in the important Persian city of Gondeshapur, Khuzestan. Astronomy, philosophy, medicine and useful crafts in the Greek tradition came to flourish and the Persian king ordered Greek and Syriac works to be translated into Pahlavi: the written Iranian language also used at the court. The language lost its common use after about 900 AD and was then preserved by the Zoroastrian clergy. We may state therefore that in the Prophet’s days science was practised in Persia and it relied on Persians and Greeks and their tradition, however, also Indian and Chinese scholars were invited to Gondeshapur. After the Muslim conquest in 638 AD the academy of Gondashapur survived and persisted its status of institute for higher learning for several centuries. Its hospital was probably the first ever in the Muslim world. Caliph al Ma’mun, however, founded in 832 AD the famous Baytu l Hikma, the House of Wisdom, Baghdad, which gradually became the Muslim intellectual center.

Another accusation from non-Muslims is that Qur’anic verses were copied from known philosophical and scientific works, perhaps in response to people like Harun Yahya and Maurice Bucaille stating that Qur’anic text never contradicts scientific facts. What were the main ideas on science and nature in the early 7th century AD and did Qur’anic revelations correspond with them? This question has been posed and explored many a time and led to many creative and imaginative answers that are by no means to be discarded even nowadays. We start our voyage in Greece and travel clockwise to the middle and far east and end in Europe.

New York Times, NCBI,

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We may conclude that


a large heritage of early Islam does exist, both in writing and in personal property of key figures and founding fathers. Much has been carefully preserved by the Ottomans and now by the Turkish state, but also in Uzbekistan, England, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other places in Asia and Africa. Difference of opinion exists on the issue of the Prophet’s succession and on exegesis of his rulings. Therefor the different schools of thought show differences in practical fatawat on several issues, from performance of prayer to legislation on inheritance and divorce. However, unanimity prevails on key issues: the Prophet having existed at all, including the most important dates and actions, and the texts he had written down in the Book for the faithful: the Qur’an al Kerim. It is a remarkable given fact that this unanimity exists between thought schools that severely clash over other issues and this is the result of the reliable and credible way these words have been recorded. Many people have been heard and many have memorized the words identically. A question is: is the outside world willing to accept this heritage and acknowledge its historic value? For a long time this has been the case and the mainstream still does, but in recent times we have seen attempts to belittle this heritage, perhaps for political reasons. But clear proof that Islamic history is false has not yet been shown. By the way, it matters very little to the teachings of the religion what the outside world says or thinks.

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Ibadi ahadith


Ibadi Islam is mainly found in Oman and also in some places of eastern African countries like Somalia, further in Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Ibadism’s founding figures are Jabir ibn Zayd and Abu Ya’cub Yusuf bin Ibrahim al Warijlani. Their main hadith collection is Al Jami’i al Sahih, also called Musnad al Rabi ibn Habib. Many of these traditions were reported by Jabir ibn Zayd and Abu Ja’cub, however, the majority are reported Sunni ahadith. The second hadith collection is called Tartib al Musnad by Al Warijlani. Jabir ibn Zayd is seen as a reliable narrator by Sunni scholars too. Ibadism accepts the first two Caliphs Abu Bakr and ‘Umar ibn al Khattab, but critisizes ‘Uthman (introducing innovations and corruption) and ‘Ali (weak leadership). Jabir ibn Zayd was probably born in 18 of 21 AH (639 of 642 AD) in Oman, however, he grew up in Basra, where he met many of the Prophet’s companions. At young age he learned many Qur’anic verses and ahadith by heart, thanks to the large number of the Prophet’s companions he had come to know. This makes him one of the second generation transmitters of ahadith, the tabi’in. He was a frequent hajj-traveler, he is said to have performed it at least fourty times and frequented the Mesjid an Nebewi, where he gave lessons. He has met at least seventy Companions who had taken part in the Battle of Badr and knew ‘Aishah ra, the Prophet’s wife, well. He discussed with her some her political problems and her daily life with the Prophet at home. Besides ‘Aishah, Jabir ibn Zayd studied under a number of scholars who were among the Prophet’s companions, such as ‘Abdullah ibn Umar, ‘Abdullah ibn Massoud, and Anas ibn Malik. However, his most important teacher was ‘Abdullah ibn Abbas. The two became close friends with great respect for each other. It is reported that Ibn Abbas said: “If the people of Basrah would only listen to Jabir ibn Zayd, he would give them thorough knowledge of God’s book.” A man from Basrah called al-Rabie asked Ibn Abbas his views on a certain question. Ibn Abbas’s reply was: “Why ask me when you have Jabir ibn Zayd in your midst?” Among contemporaries, Jabir ibn Zayd was considered an important scholar of great merit and the leading Mufti in Basrah, issuing rulings on problems put to him. Wheather Jabir ibn Zayd indeed was the founder of a school of fiqh is a question under debate; Ibadi sources grant him this honor, Sunni sources, though recognizing and appreciating his great scholarschip and hadith knowledge, do not. Another important figure in the Ibadi movement is Abu Ubaydah Muslim ibn Abi Kareemah, student under Jabir ibn Zayd.

Ibadi Islam is the only school to survive and reach maturity since the Kharijite or Khawarij movement. The Kharijites were a party in the struggle over the issue of the Prophet’s succession which led to a civil war and the murder of Caliphs ‘Uthman and ‘Ali. Sunni Islam believes that the ummah may choose a leader and should follow him after that without rebellion, even if he should lack in piousness and rulership. Shi’a Islam believes in infallible leadership by the descendants of the Prophet. Kharijites believed that an unjust, unpious leader who deviates from the Prophet’s way is to be removed and that the caliph is not God’s representative on earth. The Kharijites succeeded in killing ‘Ali ra, but failed in murdering his competitor running for the Caliphate, Mu’awiya and his assistant Amr ibn al As. The movement also saw it as a religious duty to distance oneself from those Muslims who do not meet the demands of the religion and consider those people unbelievers, who even may be killed. For this reason, several modern ulema nickname radical groups practising takfir and killing innocent people as the new Kharijites. The high point of the Kharijites’ influence was in the years 690-730 around Basra in south Iraq, which was always a center of Sunni theology. Kharijite ideology was a popular creed for rebels against the officially Sunni Caliphate, inspiring breakaway states and rebellions (like Maysara’s) throughout the Maghrib and sometimes elsewhere.

Kharijite’s surviving school of thought, Ibadism, today maintains the view that there is no Godgiven infallible leadership that must be obeyed. The Prophet saws and the first two Caliphs in his succession, set the ideal for perfect rulership without human innovations the faithful have to aspire for, even today. Concerning the Hereafter, Ibadism thinks that it is not possible to escape Hell, where Sunni Islam thinks that believing sinners may leave it if their faith is sincere. Ibadism also thinks that Muslims will never be able to see Allah swt, nog even on Judgement Day, which Sunni Islam still holds possible, and reject any anthropomorphic descriptions and concepts of Him. Sunni Islam acknowledges all these items, however, Ibadi Islam always goes at least one step further. The modern Sultanate of Oman gave Ibadism a more or less secular, practical and modern role in the country’s rule. The present sultan dynasty Qaboos does not hold the title Imam; they first used the title Sayyid, an honorary title for any member of the royal family, and later Sultan, implying purely coercive power. They reject any pretense of spiritual authrity. The Omani sultans yet consider Ibadism as the state religion and protect Ibadi scholars and institutions, but keep them at distance from formal political power.



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