Muslim Contribution: A forgotten Contribution to Human Civilization, Al-Kindy 805–870
By Youssef El Kaidi
Morocco World News
Fez, January 15, 2012
“We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign people. For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself.”
Literally, the word philosophy means the love of wisdom. Since the inception of human life on earth, man tried to find clear answers to the various natural phenomena surrounding him. The first inquiries were baffling and far beyond the understanding of the primitive mind. Thus, answers came in form of mythological or religious frameworks. Philosophy appeared the moment the human mind started to rationalize and search reasonably for truth; this is perhaps why philosophy is regarded as the mother of all sciences. Undoubtedly, no ancient place in the world is comparable to Greece, and particularly Athens, when it comes to philosophy. Modern historians regard the ancient city of Athens as the hub and the birthplace of philosophy.
The legacy of Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had a far-reaching impact on the subsequent civilizations and philosophers up to the present time. One of the greatest Arab philosophers who adopted, adapted and promoted Greek philosophy is Abu Yussuf Yaakoub Ibn Ishaq as-Sabbah Al-Kindi whose Latinized name is Alkindus. Al-Kindi is widely hailed as the father of Islamic or Arabic philosophy and ‘the philosopher of the Arabs.’
Who is Al-Kindi?
The last name of this philosopher is named after his tribe ‘Kindah’ in the Arabian Peninsula and exactly in Yemen. This tribe had exerted considerable cultural influence in the region before Islam because it was home for a number of influential names in the history of Arabs; the well-know poet Imru` al-Qais bin Hujr al-Kindi is an example. After the coming of Islam, the tribe of Kindah played a considerable role in unifying Arabia by convincing other tribes to embrace the new faith. Moreover, one of the Prophet Mohammed’s best companions and friends was from Kindah; his name is AL-Ashath Ibn Qais from whom Al-Kindi is a direct descendent, as many biographers agree.
Al-Kindi was born around the year 805, probably in Kufa. He spent most of his life in Baghdad which was at that time the cultural, artistic and scientific hub and the centre of Islamic civilization, especially with the great power that Al-Abbasid Caliphate reached. His career as a philosopher peaked under the Caliphate of Al-Muatsim after gaining a great knowledge at the House of Wisdom (Baitul Hikmah) where he was appointed by Caliph al-Mamoun as a translator. In the House of Wisdom he met the towering figures of the age such as the mathematician Al-Khwarizmi.
Al-Kindi is reported to have written more than 250 treatises on a variety of scientific and philosophical disciplines. The work for which Al-Kindi is best known is On First Philosophy. In this treatise he broaches his philosophical theories and revisits Greek philosophy to reconcile it with the Islamic culture, or, in other words, to ‘Islamize’ the Greek philosophy. He, for example, refuted Aristotle’s idea of the eternity of the universe because it contradicts the tenets of Islam. He also discusses the principle of causality to prove the existence of a “true One” (he means God) who is the source of unity of all creations and “the first truth and the cause of all truth.”
On the Quantity of Aristotle’s Books is a survey of the works of Aristotle. Among Al-Kindi’s works on other disciplines such as psychology, cosmology, and meteorology I mention the treatises On the Intellect – Discourse on the Soul – On Sleep and Dream – On Dispelling Sorrow – On the Proximate Agent Cause of Generation and Corruption – On the Prostration of the Outermost Sphere – On Perspectives.
In a nutshell, Al-Kindi was a versatile genius excelling in a myriad of disciplines ranging from philosophy, Logic, Geometry, Mathematics, Music, Art, Optics, Geography, and Astronomy to Chemistry, Pharmacy, Logogriphs, and Armaments. He confidently faced the philosophical heritage of other civilizations and transformed it in the image of his own belief. The Italian Renaissance scholar Geralomo Cardano (1501–1575) considered him one of the twelve greatest minds of the Middle Ages. He died in Baghdad in 870 A.D. after reaching a wide fame.
 Quoted in: John Rose, The Myths of Zionism (London: Pluto Press, 2004), p.79.
 It was a library, translation institute and research center established in Abbasid-era Baghdad, Iraq. It was a key institution in the Translation Movement and is considered to have been a major intellectual hub during the Islamic Golden Age.
 Mashhad Al-?All?f, The Essence of Islamic Philosophy (USA: M. Al-Allaf, 2003), p. 22.
 Danial Zainal Abidin, Islam the misunderstood Religion (Kula lumpur: PTS Millennia Sdn, 2007), p P.61.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed