• The transformation of Islam into one of the great civilisations of the world has been the subject of many studies in recent decades. As Islam spread beyond the Arabian peninsula into the neighbouring regions of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and beyond to North Africa and Central Asia, it became enriched by the intellectual contributions of a multitude of individuals, communities and cultures in regions that eventually comprised the Muslim world. Indeed, within three centuries, the Islamic world had already become one of the dominant civilisations of the world, characterised by a diversity of literary and intellectual traditions in various fields of learning, while Islam as a religion became elaborated in a plurality of expressions and interpretations.


    To generate discussion on the nature and significance of these developments, The Institute of Ismaili Studies organised a seminar entitled ‘Intellectual Traditions in Islam’ held at the Mellor Centre, Churchill College, University of Cambridge, in August 1994. The one–week seminar was attended by a number of leading scholars and specialists in Islamic studies from around the world, as well as the Institute's academic faculty and invited guests. The key papers presented at the seminar have now become accessible through this publication to a wider audience of scholars, students and the general public.

    The volume opens with an Introduction by Aziz Esmail who explores the meanings of the key concepts of ‘intellect’, ‘tradition’ and ‘Islam’ reflected in the title of the seminar. The ten essays which follow can be divided broadly into three groups, of which the first set is concerned primarily with analysing the variety of internal and external forces which gave rise to the intellectual sciences of early Islam. In his discussion of this complex process, Hugh Kennedy (Intellectual Life in the First Four Centuries of Islam) highlights the crucial role of political discussions about the nature of leadership and membership of the Islamic community. Oliver Leaman (Scientific and Philosophical Enquiry: Achievements and Reactions in Muslim History) places emphasis on the openness of Muslim thinkers to other religious traditions such as Judaism and Christianity, as well as the philosophical and scientific heritage of the Greeks. Muhsin Mahdiinfo-icon (The Rational Tradition in Islam) discusses different notions of rationalism that prevailed in early Islam and draws attention to the concern of a majority of Muslim intellectuals to mitigate the conflicts between reason and revelation and to harmonise the claims of religion and philosophy.

    A second group of essays in the volume is devoted to the examination of intellectual traditions in different Muslim communities. Norman Calder (The Limits of Islamic Orthodoxy) develops a typology of epistemological categories of Islamic thought, on the basis of which he argues that the intellectual tradition of Sunni Islam can be defined in terms of a corpus of literary texts dealing primarily with notions of scripture and community. Farhad Daftary (Intellectual Life Among the Ismailis: An Overview) examines the distinctive features of Ismaili theological and philosophical thought centred on the Shi'i doctrine of Imamateinfo-icon and an esoteric conception of knowledge. His survey is complemented by Alice C. Hunsberger’s focused study on one of the leading Ismaili thinkers of the Fatimid period (Nasir Khusraw: Ismaili Intellectual). This is followed by Annemarie Schimmel's contribution (Reason and Mystical Experience in Sufisminfo-icon) on Sufi perspectives to the intellectual faculty in relation to love as a means of seeking the knowledge of God.

    The common theme underlying the third group of essays is the relationship in Islamic culture between political and religious authority on the one hand and social and intellectual life on the other hand. One perspective is provided by John Cooper (Some Observations on the Religious Intellectual Milieu of Safawid Iran) who explores the political dynamics of this interaction in the context of the transformation of Iran into a Shi'i state in the sixteenth century. Abdulaziz Sachedina (Woman, Half–the–man? The Crisis of Male Epistemology in Islamic Jurisprudence) investigates the ways in which the social status and treatment of women in Iran has come to be determined by the male–dominated Islamic legal tradition. Finally, a more global perspective is presented by Mohammed Arkoun (Present–Day Islam Between its Tradition and Globalization) in his analysis of the historical, ideological and political factors which account for the failure of contemporary Islamic discourse, grounded in the intellectual traditions of the past, to respond creatively to the challenges posed by the forces of modernity and globalisation.

    All the contributors to Intellectual Traditions in Islam highlight, in their different and individual ways, the pivotal role of the intellect in the formation of Islamic culture and civilisation, and its continuing relevance for the Muslim world today. By demonstrating the extent to which some of the seminal achievements of Islamic civilisation, especially in the areas of legal, theological, philosophical, scientific and mystical thought, were underpinned by a vigorous culture of intellectual inquiry and debate, this publication seeks not only to promote a better understanding of Islam but also to encourage further debate on the dilemmas facing contemporary Muslim societies as they enter a new era of unprecedented political, economic, technological and cultural change in world history.

  • Preface

    Notes on the Contributors

    1. Introduction
      Aziz Esmail
    2. Intellectual Life in the First Four Centuries of Islam
      Hugh Kennedy
    3. Scientific and Philosophical Enquiry: Achievements and Reactions in Muslim History
      Oliver Leaman
    4. The Rational Tradition in Islam
      Muhsin Mahdiinfo-icon
    5. The Limits of Islamic Orthodoxy
      Norman Calder
    6. Intellectual Life among the Ismailis: An Overview
      Farhad Daftary
    7. Nasir Khusraw: Fatimid Intellectual
      Alice C. Hunsberger
    8. Reason and Mystical Experience in Sufisminfo-icon
      Annemarie Schimmel
    9. Some Observations on the Religious Intellectual Milieu of Safawid Iran
      John Cooper
    10. Woman, Half–the–Man? The Crisis of Male Epistemology in Islamic Jurisprudence
      Abdulaziz Sachedina
    11. Present–Day Islam Between its Tradition and Globalization
      Mohammed Arkoun


    Select Bibliography


  • The bibliography includes some basic works of reference and a selection of sources and studies cited in the individual chapters.

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  • Dr. Farhad Daftary

    Farhad Daftary completed his early and secondary education in Tehran, Rome, and London, before going to Washington, D.C., in 1958. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the American University there, and then continued his graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, leading to a Ph.D. degree in 1971. Subsequently, Dr. Daftary held different teaching posts, and, since 1988, he has been affiliated with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, where he is currently Co-Director and Head (since 1992) of the Department of Academic Research and Publications. An authority in Shi...Read more