The search for rational foundations in Islam may be regarded to have begun with the Prophet himself. His constant prayer was: “God! grant me knowledge of the ultimate nature of things!” The work of later mystics and non-mystic rationalists forms an exceedingly instructive chapter in the history of our culture, inasmuch as it reveals a longing for a coherent system of ideas, a spirit of whole-hearted devotion to truth, as well as the limitations of the age, which rendered the various theological movements in Islam less fruitful than they might have been in a different age.
As we all know, Greek philosophy has been a great cultural force in the history of Islam. Yet a careful study of the Qur’an and the various schools of scholastic theology that arose under the inspiration of Greek thought disclose the remarkable fact that while Greek philosophy very much broadened the outlook of Muslim thinkers, it, on the whole, obscured their vision of the Qur’an. Socrates concentrated his attention on the human world alone. To him the proper study of man was man and not the world of plants, insects, and stars. How unlike the spirit of the Qur’an, which sees in the humble bee a recipient of Divine inspiration 6 and constantly calls upon the reader to observe the perpetual change of the winds, the alternation of day and night, the clouds,? the starry heavens,s and the planets swimming through infinite space!9 As a true disciple of Socrates, Plato despised sense-perception which, in his view, yielded mere opinion and no real knowledge. 10 How unlike the Qur’an, which regards ” hearing” and ” sight” as the most valuable Divine giftsll and declares them to be accountable to God for their activity in this world.
This is what the earlier Muslim students of the Qur’an completely missed under the spell of classical speculation. They read the Qur’an in the light of Greek thought. It took them over two hundred years to perceive- though not quite clearly-that the spirit of the Qur’an was essentially anticlassical, and the result of this perception was a kind of intellectual revolt, the full significance of which has not been realized even up to the present day.