A paper presented at the Symposium “The Sacredness of the text in the Islamic World”, Leuven et Louvain-la-Neuve, 2002.


Keywords: Philosophy of religion, philosophy, Qur’an, symbols, Qur’an exegesis, hermeneutics, themes of the Qur’an.

Philosophy of religion is conspicuous in the modern Islamic world largely by its absence. Ibn Rushd was the last of the great philosophers in the classical Islamic world to consider the religious tradition of that world from a vantage-point external to that world - that is to say, from the point of view of the logical and metaphysical tradition of the Greek philosophers and their Hellenistic successors. I must admit at once that this judgement has been disputed. Henri Corbin was its most vigorous opponent. For him, this misguided (and misguiding) view, which sees in Ibn Rushd the close of a tradition, stemmed from an identification of philosophy with the Aristotelian tradition. Against this view, Corbin extolled the tradition of esoteric wisdom (hikma) contained in the substantial corpus of writing beginning with that of Yahya Suhrawardi (1154-1191) and his younger Andalusian contemporary, Muhyi l-Din Ibn al-‘Arabi (1165-1240), and continuing (principally in Iran) down to Mulla Sadra al-Shirazi (1571/2-1640) and beyond. Corbin’s thesis must be taken seriously, for it rests on an important insight. But, I would argue, it is an insight which he develops in a direction, and from which he draws conclusions, which not only bode ill for a rational science or philosophy of religion, but are also potentially at odds with the very insight that lies buried in his writings1.