This is the seventeenth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts. Follow the links for parts 1, 2,3,4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work?
I’m a Muslim trainee-philosopher born in Iran. I studied BSc in Business and Economics and MA in Islamic and Western philosophy at the University of Tehran and Shahid Beheshti University, Iran. I spent my doctoral journey in moral philosophy at the University of Reading and Oxford under the supervision of Prof. Stratton-Lake, Prof. Hooker and Dr. Rini. My thesis was on “Mind, Epistemology and Neuroethics: A Defence of Epistemological Intuitionism”. Currently, I’m doing research on “Ethics of Migration” and “Compassion in Islamic and Christian Theology” for the department of Theological Ethics and Christian Social Ethics at Universität Luzern. I’m also an associate researcher and adjunct lecture on “Metaphor and Cognition” and “Neuroethics” at Institute for Cognitive Science Studies.
The areas that I’m working on are mostly normative ethics, applied ethics, moral epistemology (esp. intuitionism), moral psychology, neuroethics, metaphor, philosophy of religion, Islamic mysticism and philosophy of Persian music. In 2015, I established “School of Rumi” as an online charity institute for teaching ethics, mysticism and religion. In 2014, my book, Metaphor and Science, has been published in Persian. I have also published a Persian translation of James Brown’s The Laboratory of the Mind. My recent publications in English are, among others, “Success of Public Knowledge Management in the Light of Rossian Ethics” (2013), “Medical Ethics in Qiṣāṣ Punishment” (2015), “Ontological Nominalism and Analytic Philosophy” (2015) and “Playing with the “Playing God”” (forthcoming).
Could you say something about your personal religious self-identification? What sort of religious group or denomination do you identify with?
The occurrence of the Islamic revolution of Iran in 1979, followed by a broad Shīʿite “Islamization” of society, led to some unique consequences with regards to intellectual and religious life in Iran. The end of the Iraq-Iran war in 1988, and the following decade of economic reconstruction and political pragmatism, facilitated a gradual disaffection with political Shīʿite Islam and indicated the birth of an individualistic religiosity centred on the individuality of religious experience. In its turn, the emerging pluralistic and individualistic Islam contributed to further secularization of the mass psyche and called upon the Iranian intelligentsia to formulate a new philosophy of religion that could legitimize the birth–and also the growth–of the de-politicized Islam. Among others, my father, Abdulkarim Soroush, was a key participant in the formation of this new liberalist and pluralistic understanding of Islam. I was born in such a Shīʿite family in the late years of the Iraq-Iran war. It is natural that I was very much affected by this strand of thought which in Iran is called “religious intellectualism” (in Persian: roshanfikrī-yi dīnī). Religious intellectuals have been the key proponents of this approach in Iran, and I have been closely following their works during the past decade along with my traditional education in Islamic and Western philosophy. My interest in analytic philosophy of religion, and particularly in Islamic philosophy and Islamic studies, emerged out of my life experience within the above mentioned Shīʿite intellectuals as well as socio-political context.
During my undergraduate and graduate studies, I tried to deepen my understanding of Islam. I particularly pursued my previous studies on Islamic theology, Islamic mysticism and Qur’anic exegesis from the modern hermeneutical perspective in order to acquire more novel visions of the words that have been the dominant source of inspiration in Islamic culture for centuries.
In my early years of undergraduate study, I learned, from Marx, the critique of religion, and from the critics of Marx, the equal danger of a revolutionary Islamic ideology. As a student of business and economics at University of Tehran, I delved into theories of economics, including Marxist theory. Now I was able to see the economic basis for the emergence, endurance and, hopefully, demise of political Islam that has been the main source of Islamic fundamentalism. Concurrently, the intense public debates on philosophy of religion ushered me a new path through which I was convinced that alteration in the Iranian Islam could be investigated, explained and partly enacted. It was at this stage of my intellectual development that I decided to improve my self-studied knowledge in Islamic and Western philosophy through systematic education and simultaneously partake in founding a student organization entitled “Democrat Islamic Student Association” at the University of Tehran. The Association held several student conferences and educational programs pertaining to “transition to democracy” debates and “human rights and religious law” discussions. I took the master’s degree entrance exam in Islamic and Western philosophy while I had no record of undergraduate education in the field. In my country, the philosophy department at Iran’s National University (Shahid Beheshti University) is an ideal place for study in analytic and continental traditions. Now, at the completion phase of my MA education, I felt confident in choosing Islamic and Western analytic philosophy as my future path of learning in the field. After completion of my MA dissertation on “Empirical Grounds of Metaphors in Science”, I went abroad to pursue my philosophical career in moral epistemology and moral psychology at University of Reading. During my PhD study, however, I kept my interest in philosophy of religion and Islamic philosophy by giving talks, e.g. “Sharīʿa and Ethics” and “Modern Sharīʿa or Sharīʿa-compliant modernity?”, at Oxford’s Islamic Law and Society Discussion Group and The Sharīʿa Project: A UK-Netherlands Islamic Legal Studies Network Convened jointly by the University of Exeter and the University of Leiden.
Could you say a bit more about the “individualistic religiosity centred on the individuality of religious experience” you mentioned in your response. Could you explain what this means, and could you say something about the religious practices (e.g., prayer and other ritual observances) that this has?
This notion of individualistic religiosity or individuality of religious experience has some connection with what I refer to as “secularism”. Let me describe my own experience to prepare your mind. In 2006, when I was student at the University of Tehran, due to establishing the Democrat Islamic Student Association and running the conferences about Islam, democracy and human rights, the Iranian authorities within the Intelligence Department of University of Tehran approached me to interrogate me. During the interrogation, they forced me not to do these activities again. They also dismantled the Democrat Islamic Student Association which my friends and I founded in the university. Their main reason was that these activities promote an understanding of religion that “thin down” the religion’s influence which would result into a “minimal religion” in the sense that religion does not have everything for us to live with; we need also philosophy, secular ethics, politics, science, etc. Iranian authorities believed that I have an agenda to secularize religion (Islam) that brings back religion into people’s homes instead of allowing religion to play the key role in politics and policy making. They were indeed right about my agenda. All I wanted to do, following the religious intellectuals, was to promoting secular version of Islam. However, this does not entail that religion is irrational and hence should be completely removed from the scene. Rather, I believe, it is still possible to square our devotion to religion, to mysticism and to the sovereign God of Islam with a secular mode of thought which follows the command of Reason alone. We can reconcile between, on the one hand, the authority of the Sovereign God, the law-giver and the Truth-holder, and on the other, the sovereignty of Reason alone. Here is why:
Following Abdulkarim Soroush and some other religious intellectuals, I believe, we can posit a distinction between two kinds of secularism: “philosophical” secularism and “political” secularism. While the former pledges a world without spirituality and negates religious beliefs in general, the latter involves a historically specific political position in the form of separation between religious institutions and the State. Moreover, secular version of Islam can vote for historicity of the Sharīʿa laws and make room for the science of hermeneutics to interpret Qur’anic verses in light of and compatiblewith rational moral principles. This secular interpretation of Islam which can make Islam compatible to the modern era and to the Human Rights convention is very contrary to the Islamic clergymen who are now ruling Iran as a Muslim country, whom believe that we can find everything in and extract everything from Islam. Therefore, they think, we don’t need empirical science, philosophy, sociology, political science, etc.
Let me now make some points about religious practices. Amongst different rituals that Muslims practice, the main important and to some extent controversial are: Ṣalāt (daily prayer), Ṣawm (fasting), Ghusl (full body washing ablution), Ḥijāb (veiling), Khitān (circumcision), Ḥajj (pilgrimage), Ḥalāl meat (Islamic kosher) and Zakāt (alms tax). Ṣalāt is one of the most well-known Muslim practices, both for Shīʿites and Sunnites, which should be performed five times a day: at dawn (al-fajr), midday (al-zuhr), afternoon (al-‘asr), sunset (al-maghrib) and evening (al-‘isha). There is also another prayer only in Friday (ṣalāt al-jum‘ah) which has been mentioned in the Qur’an and is performed instead of the midday prayer. The important thing here is that Sunnites perform this Friday prayer very seriously but Shīʿites believe that we can suspend this Qur’anic judgment, therefore they don’t perform it unanimously. Muslim intellectuals believe if it is possible to suspend some Qur’anic judgements for some interest of the public or good (maslaha), it should be possible to suspend some non-Qur’anic judiciary judgments such as apostasy (irtidād), stoning to death (rajm), beheading, etc.
Ṣawm (or siyam) is another important ritual among both Shīʿite and Sunnite Muslims. It is explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an that Muslims are required to refrain from eating all kinds of food and drinking and from sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year. Muslims think that fasting helps them to control themselves and gain a better understanding of God’s blessing.
Ghusl (or Ġusl) is another ritual for both Shīʿite and Sunnite Muslims which refers to the full body washing ablution. There are various occasions where adult Muslims are required to do ghusl. For example, like baptism in Christianity, someone who accepts Islam as his/her religion must do ghusl after the admission and adoption. Another important type of ghusl that, some scholars hold, is mentioned in the Qur’an is “Ghusl Janabat”: it is mandatory for adult Muslims to do ghuls after having sexual intercourse or orgasmic discharge.
Ḥijāb (veiling) is one of most controversial Islamic rituals among Muslims and non-Muslims. A ḥijāb is a veil that is supposed to cover the head and chest. Muslims believe that it is said in the Qur’an that the ḥijāb for women is a symbol of modesty. However, there is a new trend among Muslim intellectuals stating that the ḥijāb for head is not religiously obligatory and, more importantly, unveiling is not unethical. These intellectuals refer to some interpretations of the Qur’an to the effect that ḥijāb is essentially a means to modesty and a woman can be a modest person even if she is not wearing a ḥijāb.
Circumcision (khitān) is another controversial Islamic ritual among Muslims and non-Muslims. It is controversial mostly because it is not ordained in the Qur’an. Therefore, some ulema (religious scholars) believe that circumcision, especially female circumcision, is not required. Furthermore, Muslim intellectuals believe that female circumcision should be banned because we have strong scientific reason against it, hence it is unethical. For example, most clinical experts believe that women who are circumcised severely (severe form of female genital mutilation) cannot experience good and pleasurable sexual relations. According to these intellectuals, male circumcision CAN also be suspended until the boy makes the decision for himself when he reaches the age of puberty.
Ḥajj is a physical and spiritual journey to Makkah in Saudi Arabia that each financially and physically able Muslim is expected to undertake at least once in his/her entire adult life. Muslims are expected to purify themselves by worshiping God and asking Him for forgiveness. Some mystics and Muslim intellectuals believe that one CAN spend his/her money to build a library or school instead of going to ḥajj but no faqih (jurist) has ever issued a fatwa (legal opinion) to support this rather esoteric position.
Ḥalāl meat is another ritual that one can refer to it as the Islamic equivalence to Jewish kosher. Muslims believe that it is God who has given us the right to kill and eat animals. Muslims then are required to mention the name of God at the time of slaughtering animals. Muslims are also required to sacrifice animals at special occasions, e.g. at ḥajj. However, there are some ulema and Muslim intellectuals that believe we CAN mention the name of God when we eat the meat and not necessarily at the time of slaughtering. Therefore, these scholars think that Muslims can eat Christians’ and Jews’ slaughtered meat.
Finally, zakāt or almsgiving is a central activity in Islam as religious tax that is explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an. Muslims, who meet the necessary criteria of wealth, are required to give certain percentages (customarily 2.5%) of any type of wealth that they have accumulated as savings, not income. Although Islamic scholars differ on which items zakāt belongs to and how much zakāt is, Muslims believe that zakāt is a charity activity that can redistribute wealth among especially poor Muslims. Shīʿites, unlike most Sunnites, also believe in something called khums, a 20% tax that must be paid on items such as booty, objects obtained from the sea, treasure, mineral resources, gainful earning or business profits, etc. Again, there are different opinions in Shīʿites sect as to whether khums is obligatory at all, what the scope of khums is, and hence how far reaching khums should be.
About the customs you describe, could you tell me if you think they have philosophical significance, and if so, could you explain what it might be? You mention for instance that some of these practices are not mentioned in the Quran and others are, explicitly. Does this matter, and why does it matter, philosophically or theologically speaking?
It is not the case that all Islamic rituals and customs have philosophical significance. There are some customs that their merely Islamic identity matters. For example, the Qibla, i.e. the direction that all Muslims should face during ṣalāt, can hardly has any philosophical significance. It’s merely for uniting all Muslims to pray towards one place. Even, according to the Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad changed the Qibla from Bait al-lmuqaddis in Jerusalem to Makkah just because he wanted to create a separate place for Muslims’ praying. As another example, consider Friday as a very important and virtuous day for Muslims. It is very hard to think that “Fridayness” has a philosophical significance. It seems that Prophet Muhammad wanted to have another symbolic day for Muslims just like Saturday (in Judaism) and Sunday (in Christianity). The same explanation can also be given for the Arabic language in Islam. It is hardly acceptable to think of Arabic language as “sacred” language.
However, there are some rituals and customs that one can argue for their philosophical significance as well as their significance for Islamic identity. Although most of Muslims follow these rituals unanimously and customarily, it is not too difficult for at least Muslim philosophers or theologians to find some moral significance beneath these rituals. For example, as I said above, ṣalāt is a daily prayer which should be performed five times a day. It is recommended that Muslims do their daily prayers in congregation (jamaat) to promote their community. But in addition to identity significance, ṣalāt might have some theological and moral significance: ṣalāt draws Muslims’ attention to the worshiping and loving of the God of Islam and reminds them every day that they are not existentially alone in this world, that God is with them. It is also mentioned in the Qur’an that performing ṣalāt prevent Muslims from committing indecent and wrongful actions.
Ṣawm (fasting) is another ritual that one might find some moral significance in addition to Islamic identity significance. All Muslims are required to do fasting all together in a specific month. But morally speaking, fasting helps Muslims to purify their mind (soul) and body. It is recommended to them to do charity activities in this month, since this reminds Muslims to think about and help other people especially the poor. For instance, Muslims more often than not tend to pursue their duty to pay zakāt and khums in this month. They believe zakāt gives them a feeling that they do not belong to this mundane and ephemeral world. They are here to “give” everything for the sake of God. Nothing really belongs to them as He is the sole owner of everything. This feeling of non-belongingness, psychologically, brings a fundamental meaning to the life of Muslims.
There are some other rituals where it is not clear whether they matter merely because of their identity significance or if they have some philosophical significance on top of that. For example, ḥijāb is one of these rituals. Some scholars (esp. religious intellectuals) believe that ḥijāb is merely an Islamic identity matter and is like having a flag on you head! So, it is not true to say that having ḥijāb is a moral action or not having ḥijāb is against morality. However, there are other scholars (esp. ulema) who believe that ḥijāb has some moral significance along with its Islamic identity matter.
There are also some other rituals in the Sharīʿa law that, although one might draw some philosophical conclusions from them, they are primarily pragmatic ways for the benefits of living in this world. For example, Islamic laws of inheritance, non-riba (usury) based Islamic banking and judgments, e.g. “do not drink alcohol” or “do not kill innocent people” are all for regulating society and they provide Muslims with manners how to live in their society. Nonetheless, it might be possible that one sees some moral significance beneath these Sharīʿa laws. For instance, one might say that drinking alcohol is prohibited because it tends to deprive the drinker from his/her soberness that might lead to do harm against other people. Or killing someone is morally wrong because it deprives people of their most basic rights, i.e. right to live. Yet, it is not clear, at least for me, how someone could argue that drinking alcohol is morally wrong when it is kept to the minimum level and one is still sober! It might be because of such reasoning that some few early Ḥanafi scholars, according to Ibn Rushd, believed that drinking some sorts of alcoholic drinks, e.g. beer, are permissible.
It goes without saying that most of these Sharīʿa laws have been reactions to the environment that Prophet Muhammad lived in. This is because most of these laws were responses to the people’s questions and some incidents. One can reasonably imagine that if they had asked different questions, the laws would have been different in details at least. So, philosophically speaking, these laws are not necessary; they are contingent. For example, when someone reads in the Qur’an (58:11) that make room for one another in your sittings, it is hard to believe that this is a universal law for all times. Of course, this does not imply that all laws including moral principles must be considered as contingent. Self-evident moral principles are universal and necessary for all generations although their application is context sensitive and can be varied from time to time.
But what is the difference between rituals that are mentioned in the Qur’an and practices that are not mentioned? Is there any philosophical or theological significance here? It is true that some rituals, e.g. ṣalāt and ṣawm are explicitly although briefly and without details mentioned in the Qur’an and there are some other practices, e.g. circumcision and the punishment for apostasy that are not mentioned. One of the philosophical consequences of this difference has something to do with the recent discussion in social epistemology usually called “peer disagreement”. Let me first explain what I mean by peer disagreement: Suppose person A believes p while the person B believes not-p. Suppose further that they are referring to one thing (religious texts) as evidence and they have equal reasoning skills. For sure, since two propositions believed are contradictory, one of A or B must be wrong. However, we can argue that both A and B are rational on the basis of their prima facie justification and they should respect one another as reasoners. Yet, since they have the same evidence, they should proceed to revise their initial beliefs in light of other sources, e.g. ethics, philosophy, science etc. In other words, A’s and B’s initial views about proposition believed (p) have equal weight, hence they subsequently should become less confident in their opinions. However, one of A or B is rationally required to change his/her view in light of further moral, philosophical and scientific assessment. If there are still disagreements after further assessments, both parties then have “equal weight” views.
Most of Islamic scholars, i.e. religious intellectuals and ulema do not have disagreements about most of what have been said, recommended and ordered in the Qur’an. For example, there is almost no dispute among scholars as to whether eating ham is forbidden. But there are two important controversies about the Qur’an among scholars which are related to the issues that 1) whether some chapters (surahs) of the Qur’an were “sent down” in Makkah or Madinah and 2) what verses (Makki or Madani) are abrogated (if at all) by some other verses. These disagreements actually originated from the historical fact that in Makkah prophet Muhammad was a religious teacher tried to establish his religion while in Madinah he was a ruler tried to keep and strengthen his established religion.
Furthermore, scholars often have different views about which chapters (Makki or Madani) are significant for and consistent with the requirements of modern form of life. Madani chapters mostly contain the issues like punishment, Sharīʿa and jihad and Makki chapters contain moral and historical issues. Religious intellectuals believe that Makki chapters are more significant and have more functions for our lives in these days. Therefore, we, as believers, should focus on these chapters and promote their moral messages. Moreover, many Shīʿite scholars believe that some judgments such as jihad and Friday ṣalāt, that are mainly discussed in Madani chapters, can be suspended until the Imam Mahdi, the prophesied redeemer of Islam who is in occultation, arrives.
The peer disagreements also arise when we have rituals and practices that are not mentioned in the Qur’an. For example, since circumcision is not ordained in the Qur’an, some scholars believe that it is not obligatory but it is just recommended to practice that and some others believe that it is compulsory according to the Sharīʿa law. There are even some peer disagreements among scholars based on different hermeneutical approaches about rituals that are mentioned in the Qur’an. For instance, although ḥijāb is mentioned in the Qur’an, there are different views as to whether covering head is necessary.
Another important theological issue related to the peer disagreement is about Prophetic sayings (hadith). The question is whether Prophetic sayings have the same religious status of the Qur’anic verses. In other words, do the Prophetic sayings have the same epistemic weight of the Qur’anic verses in legal matters? The answer is, I believe, Yes. This, however, depends on how someone might analyse the nature of divine revelation. If someone believes that the Qur’anic revelation is actually Prophet Muhammad’s words that are uttered under an inspiration from God (Allah), one is not inconsistent in his/her belief that the Qur’an and Prophetic sayings are the same as far as their religious significance is concerned. The only thing that remains to be discussed is which of Prophetic sayings are historically reliable. There are many Prophetic sayings that scholars have disagreements about its aetiology and reliability. For example, Abū Ḥanīfah, the founder of Sunnite Ḥanafi school, believed that there are only 17 hadiths that we can historically trust. One of these hadiths which almost all Islamic scholars refers to and many Sharīʿa laws are based on that is the “principle of harm”: “Let there be no harm nor reciprocating harm” (lā darar wa lā dirār).
Finally, Shīʿite and Sunnite Muslims have different views about Imamah, i.e. the doctrine of religious, spiritual and political leadership. Shīʿite Muslims, unlike Sunnites, believe that in addition to the Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings, there are some divinely designated Imams as the rightful successors to the Prophet Muhammad that we should follow their sayings since they can provide the “true” commentary and interpretation of the Qur’an. However, the idea of Imamah has not been mentioned, at least explicitly (if not at all), in the Qur’an. This has led some Shīʿite scholars (but not all or even the majority of them) to believe that the Qur’an is significantly distorted over the time.
Before going to the final question, let me say something general about philosophical implications of religious practices with regards to the meaning of life. It is very common that religious people are judged to be “irrational” as they perform some religious practices that it is hard to find philosophical reasons for. For example, suppose a religious person believes that mentioning the name of God in the time of driving would protect him/her from different dangerous things. Although it is hard to find some cause-effect relation between mentioning the God’s name and protection from dangerous things, religious people might have strong beliefs in doing this practice. I think we can argue in favour of at least a minimal rationality of some religious practices, e.g. praying, fasting, doing charity, etc. that give religious people the meaning of life. If someone, even non-religious people, thinks that some practices give one the meaning of life, one might be at least prima facie justified to do that. For instance, suppose someone believes that pouring water into the toilet! in the morning, if it is not wasting water, would give him/her the meaning of life. I believe he/she is prima facie justified in doing that, although there is no obvious reason for doing that. However, he/she is justified in doing that on one important condition: one is at least minimally rational to do practices that give him/her the meaning of life if there is no strong reason, e.g. moral and scientific reason against those practices. Suppose someone believes that killing non-religious people give him/her the meaning of life? Is he/she justified in doing that? Of course not.
In the mainstream Western analytic philosophy of religion (as one can read in e.g., journals like Faith & Philosophy or in books published by Oxford University Press), there is a relative absence of Islamic philosophy, especially if compared with Christian philosophy, and also with Jewish and atheist views. What issues in philosophy of religion do you think can profit from an increased engagement with the Islamic philosophical theological traditions?
Yes, it is true that there might be a relative absence of Islamic philosophy and theology in the mainstream Western analytic philosophy of religion journals. I have the same observation as yours. The main reason I believe seems to be that most of discussions about Islamic philosophy and theology have appeared in the Islamic Law and Middle Eastern studies journals rather than in the Western analytic philosophy of religion journals. In fact, there is a growing body of journal papers and books on Islamic studies related issues, from philosophy and theology to ethics and politics, e.g. Kalām, Islam and the West, ethics and Sharīʿa, revelation, Islam and Democracy and Human Rights etc. Although these publications discuss Islamic philosophy issues, it is hard to find them in the Western analytic philosophy of religion journals. Moreover, although this might be related to identity issues, most of authors who write about Islamic philosophy topics prefer to publish their papers in philosophy of religion journals that are planned for Islamic philosophy topics. But there are few of them. Most of Western analytic philosophy of religion journals belong to Christian philosophers and are filled with Christian philosophy topics.
Furthermore, on the one hand, philosophy departments, especially in the UK are not encouraging scholars to work on Islamic philosophy in their departments. Instead, interestingly enough, Middle Eastern, Law and Oriental Studies departments are more working on Islamic philosophy. Therefore, students who want to study Islamic philosophy often tend to apply for the Middle Eastern and Oriental Studies departments, as it is difficult to find Islamic philosophy scholars in philosophy departments. However, this is not always true in the case of Christian philosophy of religion. Western philosophy departments have usually some courses on philosophy of religion and they very naturally teach Christian philosophy of religion – and in some cases Jewish philosophy of religion – in the way that one can easily find specialised scholars in these departments.
On the other hand, it seems that Western universities are more interested in Islamic legal discussions than Islamic philosophy and theology. As an example, look at what we did in this interview and consider what we have discussed so far. Most of what you asked me was about Islamic rituals, practices and Sharīʿa discussions in the Islamic Law rather than about topics in Islamic philosophy and theology, e.g. Muslim philosophers’ conception of God, revelation, ethics, etc. Islamic philosophy for sure has some interesting issues that we did not even touch here in this interview. Muslim philosophers such as Al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd, Ibn al-Khaldun, Mulla Sadra, Ibn Sina and Suhrawardi etc. discussed fascinating topics such as causation, mind-body problem, arguments for and against the existence of God, free will, Kalām science, etc. comparable to Christian philosophy.
Another reason for this relative absence would be related to the language. Although most of Islamic philosophical main texts have been translated from Arabic and Persian or other Muslim-related languages to English, Western scholars who know them and are consequently able to work in Islamic philosophy, theology and mysticism are few in comparison to scholars working in Christian philosophy and theology. However, I believe, American and German universities somewhat have more Western specialised scholars in Islamic philosophy, theology and mysticism than British universities.
We should also bear in mind that there are some modern Muslim reformist intellectuals that are getting widespread attention especially in recent years. For example, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Mohammed Arkoun, Mohammed Abed Al-Jabri and Abdulkarim Soroush are some of the figures that their works have given rise to a lot of interesting discussions about revelation, conceptions of God, religious experience, historicity of Islamic law, compassion and love. The point is that although these intellectuals discuss some public issues such as violence, Islam and Christianity dialogue, religion and nation-state, Sharīʿa laws, etc., their discussions have philosophical backgrounds rooted in Western and Islamic philosophy, theology and mysticism. For example, Abu Zayd’s works mostly hinge on the Qur’anic interpretation and hermeneutics and Soroush’s works are mostly focused on epistemology and Islamic mysticism. Even Muhammad Iqbal, who died in 1938, has had a lasting influence on these intellectuals and his works put a constant emphasis on, among others, Rumi’s mysticism and Nietzsche’s and Bergson’s philosophy.
Western analytic philosophy of religion, I believe, can benefit from more systematic engagement with Islamic philosophy, theology and mysticism. There are some topics and issues that can be very illuminating and inspiring for philosophical discussions, comparted or otherwise. One profit can be the comparative studies between Muslim and Christian philosophers. For example, both Christian and Muslim mystics refer to love and compassion in their discussion of religion and God. Christian theology, I think, can be further enriched by adding the Islamic mysticism’s discussion of love and philosophical mysticism expressed in the works of Ibn-Arabi, Jalal Al-Din Rumi and Ayn-al-Quzat Hamadani among others. Another issue that can be beneficial for Western analytic philosophy of religion would be the ethical discussions of “intrinsic good and bad” or “objectivity of ethical values discoverable by collective reason” in Muʿtazili theology versus “ethical values derivable from religion only” in Ashʿari theology. Ashʿaris, in one interpretation, were moral objectivists believed that the good and evil are derivable only from revelation and Sharīʿa. Muʿtazilis, however, were objectivists (and perhaps realists) believed that actions have intrinsic good and evil value that could be discovered by reason with no aid of revelation and Sharīʿa.
Muslim philosophers’ discussions of prophetic phenomenon, e.g. Al-Farabi, might also be useful for Western analytic philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. Al-Farabi argued that philosophers and prophets are to some extent on the same level with the important difference that prophets use metaphors and figurative languages rather than explicit inferential reasoning that is indeed philosophers’ task. Furthermore, Mulla Sadra’s discussion of “unity of existence” (waḥdat al-wujūd) and “substantial change” (al-harakat al-jawhariyyah), Ibn-Sina’s Kalām argument and his argument in rejection of physicalism could be interesting for Western analytic philosophy of religion.