International Journal for Philosophy of Religion
THE PROBLEM OF REVELATION IN THE ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY:
COMPARATIVELY ANALYSIS BETWEEN AVICENNA AND FARABI
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THE PROBLEM OF REVELATION IN THE ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY:
COMPARATIVELY ANALYSIS BETWEEN AVICENNA AND FARABI
The Conception of Prophecy, Revelation, Oriental philosophy, Avicenna. Farabi.
Rahil Najaf, Ph.D.
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Rahil Najaf, Ph.D.
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Rahil Najaf, Ph.D.
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In the peripatetic philosophy of Avicenna, the statement and essence of the revelation
problem are closely related to the theory of "prophecy" which was founded by Farabi
and significantly developed by Avicenna. According to the philosopher, as reception of
revelation directly constitutes the essence of the notion 'prophecy', revelation is not
foreign to the nature of prophet - human being. The source of this divine knowledge is
Allah, and the prophet receives it not from Allah Himself, but from the intellect, which is
considered active intellect. The person who receives revelation is in contact with active
intellect, and this is the state, which can be considered as an excellent grade for the
personality of prophet. However, this is not the end. Reception of revelation constitutes
a stage in this step-like rise. Man continues to rise through this way.
In his works, Avicenna claims that the basis of the prophetic mission is propaganda.
That is, through revelation he carries on propaganda among people about all that is
useful for the realization of the sensible world through politics and, and the intelligible
world through science. The philosopher characterizes the role of the faculty of
imagination in receiving revelations as a fact which plays the main part in obtaining the
manifestations with no relations to the reality, and which can provide the reception of
the manifestations associated with the reality, in a dream or when awake.
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Author contact info
Rahil Najaf, Nadir
Ph.D, Research Associate, The Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, The Institute of Philosophy and
Law, Assistant Editor of the journal “Problems of Oriental Philosophy”, email@example.com, The Republic of
Azerbaijan, Baku, +994506753977. H.Javid Avan.1
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THE PROBLEM OF REVELATION IN THE ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY:
COMPARATIVELY ANALYSIS BETWEEN AVICENNA AND FARABI
Key words: The Conception of Prophecy, Revelation, Oriental philosophy, Avicenna. Farabi.
In the peripatetic philosophy of Avicenna, the statement and essence of the revelation problem are closely
related to the theory of “prophecy” which was founded by Farabi and significantly developed by Avicenna. According
to the philosopher, as reception of revelation directly constitutes the essence of the notion ‘prophecy’, revelation is
not foreign to the nature of prophet – human being. The source of this divine knowledge is Allah, and the prophet
receives it not from Allah Himself, but from the intellect, which is considered active intellect. The person who receives
revelation is in contact with active intellect, and this is the state, which can be considered as an excellent grade for
the personality of prophet. However, this is not the end. Reception of revelation constitutes a stage in this step-like
rise. Man continues to rise through this way.
In his works, Avicenna claims that the basis of the prophetic mission is propaganda. That is, through revelation
he carries on propaganda among people about all that is useful for the realization of the sensible world through
politics and, and the intelligible world through science. The philosopher characterizes the role of the faculty of
imagination in receiving revelations as a fact which plays the main part in obtaining the manifestations with no
relations to the reality, and which can provide the reception of the manifestations associated with the reality, in a
dream or when awake.
Avicenna is one of the philosophers who enjoyed the great profile in the Oriental world, including Oriental
philosophy. This great genius of the East was a successor of the great philosopher Farabi, whom he considered his
teacher, in almost all-important problems in philosophy as well as in psychology, logics and politics. He also continued
the way set by Farabi in the problem of conformation of religion and philosophy, and elucidated many new problems.
Avicenna investigated more profoundly the obscure problems not accomplished, insufficiently studied by Farabi, thus
pursuing the goal of bringing closer philosophy to Islamic revelation, and revelation to philosophy. Philosopher
generally considers humanity as the goal of creation. There are inviolable links that connect the human being with the
world as well as with the divine world. The human being is connected to the divine world through nafs-i natig (آلناطقة
ألنفسspeaking nafs), one of the three grades of nafs, and to the material world through floral and animal desires. The
perfect man must be a man constantly in touch with active intellect and through it connected with the world of angels.
This man is a prophet.
Avicenna suggested interesting ideas and claims about the role of a prophet and his contact with the divine world.
What the philosopher always contemplated over most was an accurate identification of revelation, its role and position
in human cognition. While explaining the theory of “prophecy” and reception of revelation, Avicenna first puts
forward the creatures’ emanation theory and feels it his duty to grade his own thoughts and draw conclusions on this
basis. The philosopher subdivided the first emanated creatures into abstract angels and divine angels. The heaven and
the celestial bodies constitute the group that appeared following them. Moreover, substance makes up the fourth
creature, and its existence cannot be eternal from the perspective of existence [Mohammad L.J., 1927: 103].
With the appearance of substance, the emanation process is completed. The philosopher, who carried out the
graduation in the world of substance, ascribed the highest among these grades to the human being. Moreover,
naturally, prophet is the most perfect and honorable man in humanity. In their emanation creatures are ranged from
the highest, the most perfect to the last, i.e. from intellect to substance.
However, in the creation of humanity God integrated the most perfect with the lowest – Spirit and body.
“Therefore, God distinguished the human being from among his creatures for the human being to be intellectual at the
beginning and wise at the end. Thus, creation started with intellect, the most honorable of the essences, and finished
with the wise, the most honorable of creatures. The goal of creation is the human being and nothing else [Kushpinar,
2001: 145]. Through ‘distinguishing intellects’ (al-ukul al mufarika) which are progressive superior intellects, he gets
into contact finally with “the primary intellect” which is the first work of God on the highest level or “the intellect of
the whole”, and rises to that level [Mohammad L.J,. 1927]. The reason for attribution of all these above-mentioned
peculiarities only to prophet is that, unlike prophet, ordinary people’s failure to acquire knowledge from essences
related to nafs is due to their hunting for corporality and their hunting for material wishes, dreams and lusts. “Prophets
establish contacts with all active intellects either directly or with the assistance of heavenly nafs. During the direct
contacts, he is in the position of a receiver, thus the reality is reflected on the intelligence. Only in the case of contact
with the heavenly nafs, the faculty of imagination plays some role” [Tohsihiko]. According to Avicenna, this second
case of contact is ascribed not only to prophets; it also concerns chiefs and wise men who take the traditional way of
Avicenna claimed three terms for becoming a prophet.
The purity and the sharpness of intellect,
The highest growth of faculty of imagination,
Knowledge of the nature of substance and the ability to command over it.
However, Avicenna also noted that prophecy could not be gained as a duty; and that they were chosen beyond
their wills [Swinburne R., 1992].
Besides that, Avicenna also studied the peculiarities of prophets and emphasized their characteristic features
distinguishing them from humans. We present these features as follows:
The prophet’s intellect is a sacred intellect, and unlike philosopher, he receives revelation from active
intellect, without feeling the need in anything. The obtained knowledge is intellectual and comprehensive.
Through the faculty of imagination he possesses, he most probably receives information about events
related to the future from the angels along with the knowledge about creatures. At the same time, with the help of this
faculty, he transforms them into comparisons and symbols while conveying the knowledge derived from revelation to
the people and society.
Prophets can work miracles.
Prophet receives knowledge in a shorter period and as a whole if compared with philosopher, whereas
philosopher, having accomplished the detailed, chaotic and lengthy preparation, can get knowledge and even can get!
... However, in an absolute sense, his acquisition is not certain [Avicenna, Kitab an-Najat , 1952].
Although Avicenna studied the prophet from the metaphysical aspect, he did not refrain from studying the
psychological side of prophet either. As we noted above, in accordance with the ability of thinking of people, the
prophets’ teachings mainly manifest themselves in two areas: the existence of God and the future life. Despite the fact
that the essence of God is explained differently from various aspects, the announcement of God about Himself through
revelations is known. As one of the kinds of knowledge, the metaphysical information also covers the theme of God’s
existence and proofs. The idea that all people will accept the metaphysical knowledge is absurd. It is also known that
the information about Allah is given not only by prophets, but also by philosophers, but the difference between the
two groups is only that the information transmitted by prophets is true, stable and regulated by Allah [Aydin 1969].
Therefore, society accepts and understands the sayings of prophet. Prophet promotes only what God orders him as
advisable to tell. Avicenna notes that the sayings of prophet are limited and are under control: “If they are told about
God more than allowed, the society will either express their distrust to them, or they will come into dispute
endangering performance of the role that fell to their lot” [Arslan M., 1987: 316]. Therefore, from time to time,
prophets allow for the use of symbols. And Avicenna particularly touches upon this feature in his definition of
revelation. “At the time of revelation the prophet’s mind is under the psychological pressure of a must and turns the
absolutely mental realities and terms into live visions and symbols (comparisons, etc.)” [Hokelekli, 1996].
Revelation, as a factor of faith, completes intellect. We can say that there are three types of communication
between intellect and faith:
a. Spheres of intellect and faith differ from each other.
b. Faith is the perfection of intellect, i.e. has the position that can encompass intellect.
c. Faith practically completes intellect. [Kushpinar, B., 2001 218]
Avicenna also makes comments in philosophic language that revelation instructs people to perform prayers.
When the people are given orders about the revelation mandate to perform prayers, it provides the realization of
practical aspects of the revelation. That revelation requires people to worship should be taken naturally. This has
happened in other monotheistic religions, and is quite understandable. By itself, revelation considers worship very
important. According to Avicenna, worship is to settle the teachings, brought by prophets to the people, in their
memory and minds, to strike roots there, not to be forgotten even after their death, it is for the people so that their
desires and fears associated with God and the future life would constantly remain alive. The philosopher explained
both prayers and fasting from the perspective of this factor. Prayers, fasting, Jihad and Hajj pilgrimage are intended
to reinforce sharia, they are necessary for the propagation of Islam to other countries and peoples, and prolong the life
of religion. Otherwise, “sometime later, after the prophet’s death, people will forget his teachings” [Aydin, 1969].
Prophet, sets the laws regulating the communication of individuals in a society, for polite treatment, divine traits
and high qualities significantly differs a lot from the representatives of the society and becomes an excellent example
for them to follow. Over time, people’s forgetting the prophet’s teachings, also the fading of the revelation, and its
failure to achieve its purpose mean the collapse of the efforts to lead the people towards an ideal society, in the
direction considered true by the revelation. There is a very close connection between the acquisition of intellectual
knowledge by a normal human and the reception of revelation by prophet. Moreover, our advice is that those who
study the roots of this connection should consult the list of intellects distinguished by Avicenna. Actually, ordinary
people also have active intellect, which is necessary for prophet to acquire the knowledge derived from revelation.
The difference between them is not due to the presence of an active intellect in one and the absence of it in the other,
the difference is in the fact that one is constantly in contact with active intellect, while the other gets knowledge in
fewer cases, hence less and scattered knowledge.
According to Avicenna, the knowledge and information about God and the future life were not only the subjects
of prophet’s revelations, but also governs the ideas of philosopher. “And doesn’t philosophy also ask questions about
the consent of God, His nature and characteristics, the divine origin of the universe, the meaning of human life, and
about the future life that awaits man, and want to possess the correct knowledge on their basis?” [Arslan, 1987: 320].
The goal of prophet is to lead the people and society to the prosperous and comfortable life and future, which is the
fact standing in the center of the aura of intellectual reflection of philosopher. While the desire of prophet is to meet
the people’s need in the knowledge about God, and to provide the people with the information about His existence,
the goal of philosopher is no different from that. Avicenna said, summarizing all the above mentioned: “Given that,
there is no important difference between philosophy and revelation as well as philosopher and prophet in terms of
either the means of knowledge acquisition or the topics of such knowledge, or its objectives. The only difference is in
the application of that knowledge and in the methods of its acquisition” [Arslan, 1987]. Avicenna also reveals the
cause of this difference. First, we should pay attention to the environment prepared by both men, philosopher and
prophet to the identity of their listeners. As it is also obvious from the revelations, prophet seems to have been sent
taking into consideration the needs of people. However, this is not the case with philosopher. Philosopher should not
philosophize on the needs of his people. On the basis of needs, revelation sets laws, guided by the ideas of building a
nation and society, an ideal nation (or state), whereas philosopher puzzles over the so-called “laws of nature”, and it
seems his chances are so limited that he is even incapable of changing the existing wrong laws of society [Herald,
One of the main objects of discussion for Avicenna is related to the position philosophers take before revelations
of prophet. While knowing the nature of these revelations, should philosopher follow sharia, orders and prohibitions
of prophet? As far as we know, Avicenna refrained from an open answer to this question. According to him,
philosopher can get knowledge from God through his own capacity, which means philosopher does not feel the “need”
in the Prophet’s sharia. On the other hand, prophet knows what the real essence is, how the future life will be built,
what fate awaits a man, whether he is happy in afterlife or be subjected to torture, and thus what they should do and
should not do. However, we must not forget that Avicenna did not ascribe to philosophers any peculiarity
distinguishing them from other people. Like others, philosophers are also members of society. To live out of society,
to be isolated from it is completely alien for philosophers too. Like prophets, philosophers must deal with the problems
of society, should rightly investigate them and wade into their solutions. Philosophers are presenters of wisdom and
deep-knowledge holders. With their thought and outlook, they differ from ordinary people. They are more able to
understand the true meaning of metaphors and symbols. “Hence, like prophets, the ancient philosophers such as
Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato made use of symbols and allegories in their books in order not to disseminate their
secret doctrines. Given that, both philosopher and prophet pursue the same course not only in knowledge acquisition,
but also in the presentation of knowledge to society” [Montgomery, 1968]. However, philosopher, unlike prophet,
does not act in society as a “legislator” or “manager”.
On the Essence of the Problem ‘Revelation’
One of the distinguishing features of revelation is its application in society in the form it is received. Revelation
is complete in all aspects and fully satisfies the society. It does not have any knowledge and information outside the
society or useless to it. However, philosophical knowledge, individual philosophers’ philosophical ideas cannot be
considered “complete”. The more revelation covers the whole and parts, the less and more scattered is the
philosophical knowledge and the further it is from embracing the parts. Taken separately, both revelation and
philosophical knowledge have different objectives. For, the main purpose of revelation is to streamline the mutual
relations, ensuring the happiness of society, whereas philosophical knowledge aims at studying and identifying the
According to the philosopher, to hope that it is always possible to make the right conclusions by investigating
the issues through questioning the people is the wrong way of thinking. Therefore, when addressing the people it is
necessary to express the divine metaphysical truths through symbols and comparisons, in the form their faculty of
thinking can perceive. This is how Avicenna explains God’s comparisons in the Hadith of the Prophet. He considers
these comparisons quite right. When speaking to the people about God, His power, it is understandable to liken Him
to a great man, a ruler, and use an understandable language portraying Him in the people’s imagination. In addition,
when speaking about the afterlife, resurrection and judgment day, it is urgent to make use of images and symbols, and
explain to the people the rewards and punishments as bodily pleasures and pains [Islam- Online page]. “Philosophers
have the smart demonstrable intellectual knowledge of the realities behind these symbols and comparisons and
expressed by them. They know about the essence of God, His truth, the true essence of their life in future” [Arslan,
1987]. Philosopher may not be able to bring his knowledge to the people, society, whereas prophet can easily make
the people accept his knowledge. However, this does not mean that the knowledge of prophet is above philosophical
thoughts of philosopher, or vice versa. Trying to prove it or to prefer one to another is nonsense, and does not make
sense, according to Avicenna. In addition, it is impossible to find an answer to this question. The philosopher does not
see any difference between the two kinds of knowledge in the terms of their accessibility. However, “Prophet has the
power to make some extraordinary things, i.e. work miracles in order to provide the people’s obedience through the
revelation he brought” [Arslan, 1987: 322]. This power cannot be ascribed to philosophers. Before Avicenna, Farabi
suggested the idea about philosophers governing the society. However, this idea was not confirmed by experience or
practices at all.
The Investigation of the Problem
Turkish historian of philosophy B. Kushpinar explains Avicenna’s attitude to divine and intellectual knowledge
as follows: “Avicenna integrates and disintegrates the intellectual knowledge of philosopher and the divine knowledge
of prophet at one point” [Kushpinar, 2001: 148]. The scholar notes that the point of integration is in the source of
knowledge, and the point of disintegration is in the means of their acquisition. While philosopher’s knowledge is
detailed and scattered, prophet’s revelation is comprehensive, orderly and brief. Here indicating the level of
intelligence, the philosopher happens to show even the difference between the intellectual ability among the people.
Logically, we can conclude that the thinking ability of some people is not developed, i.e.it is at the material level or,
for others it is more than that, i.e. in the state of force, and for quite others - at a higher level. The prophet, who reaches
the top of all these intellectual levels, must explain and clarify to all people with varying intellectual grades the
revelation he obtained through active intellect. In a word, he should be able to speak to every indivdual in their own
language, which they understand. Nevertheless, philosopher has no such opportunity. Passing through the intellectual
grades and reaching the peak is not attributed to prophet. Prophet’s acquision of revelation is not realized with the
prophet’s passage through these grades. His intellect being always on a par with active intellect, he is able at any time
to obtain knowledge - information. However, Avicenna does not explain the starting point of the philosopher that is
next to active intellect. That is, as he did not explain whether a man got his intellect by his birth through active intellect
or it happened sometime later, with the help of Allah, the question remains for us quite obscure. However, we believe
that the philosopher wanted to say that after the birth, the prophet personally went through all the grades of intellect
and rose through active intellect, and through the active intellect, Allah gave him revelation. We think it necessary
also to note that sometimes the philosopher contradicts himself. He explained quite differently the idea adopted by
him in his other work ealier. For example, though in his work “The Proof of the Prophet” (“)”في إثبات آلنبوة, the
statements related to the theme of prophecy depict an angel who brought revelation as “a power which was bestowed
upon the Prophet and which he was made to accept”, in “Al- Hudud” (" ) " ألحدودhe accepted him as a mediator between
Allah and people, the essence of the intellect and the master of life [Rahman, 1958].
However, we should not forget either that ordinary people do not have the knowledge, the ability to perceive the
evidence and arguments of philosophers. The nature of the people and the structural mechanism of society being not
homogeneous, all cannot be attributed to the same stratum. A society is composed of people of different levels of
development, different modes of thinking and mind. Among them, there are people who have high intelligence, as
well as people with a weak perception of reality or the ones lacking any thinking. Therefore, revelation should be of
universal essence [HAPh. 2008]. When speaking about philosophers’ thinking, Avicenna argued that people would
not benefit at all from their talk about God. People can neither understand nor accept philosophers’ comments on
revelations. If Bedouin Arabs or Jews had been told about philosophers’ views of Allah’s features, they would have
turned against it and resist declaring a nonsense the faith to which they were called to believe [Nasr S.H., 2000].
As for the comparison between the knowledge derived from revelation and the intellectual knowledge, Avicenna
claims prophet’s possession of the holy Sole (Ruh al-kudsi). “The faculty of sacred intellect being always ready to
come into contact with active intellect, and the knowledge that he has, is naturally more comprehensive and creative”
[Aydin, 1969]. The philosopher gave such an explanation to it that all forms of active intellect – of past, present and
future -would be inspired to the prophet’s nafs. The philosophy of Avicenna stated that prophet could provide
information about future events along with his reception of revelation through the faculty of sacred intellect. We
assume it to be connected with prophet’s faculty of imagination. Probably prophet does “not receive” this type of
message with revelation. If the source of revelation was active intellect, celestial nafs constituted the source of
messages related to future [Avicenna, Kitab al-Isharat, 1952]. He transmits these messages not in the form he receives,
but explains them in the form the society can accept and understand them. The Prophet was also well informed about
the parts through heavenly nafs, i.e. actual angels. In this way, Avicenna most probably tried to explain the Prophet’s
Hadith. The reason for obtaining intellectual knowledge from completely abstract intellects is that they, i.e.these
intellects, by their type, possess only intellectual and comprehensive knowledge [Pazarli, 198].
Speaking about revelation in Avicenna’s philosophy, one cannot but point out about the spirit and the state of
spirit during revelation. The philosopher tried to prove the existence of spirit with the example of “a flying man” [1,
385]. A human's feelings are of great importance for him, or otherwise, he would have been a being freely floating in
empty space. Yet, it is worth thinking about the existence of the human. He does not try his five senses and thinks
about the existence of his consciousness. “The human being’s understanding of his existence is his spiritual part or
his part related to nafs” [Fahri, M. 2000]. It means that the human being is not only a material being, but also rather a
spiritual being. As all these Mashai (peripatetic) philosophers, when speaking about the spirit, first, thought that it
primarily protects the vitality of the human being and due to which a person lives, Avicenna also took the identical
position in this matter.
Body and spirit are not the same and are independent essences. Due to the energy consumption during activities,
the human body gets tired, but unlike it, the spirit does not get tired. The body never ceases to think and feel its
existence, even when losing some of its parts; however, if the spirit leaves the body, it would jeopardize its existence.
So, one could draw such a conclusion that both these essences are different from each other for their very serious
features. As time passes, the human being’s material body grows older, but the spirit never gets older or frayed.
However, according to Avicenna, as the body needs spirit, so does the spirit need the body, and prior to the creation
of the body, it had no other form of habitation. With the creation of the body, the divine power has bestowed upon
him the spirit as well [Avicenna, Book of Salvation, 1952].
According to the philosopher, the human spirit manifests itself in two ways:
In practical action
In theoretical action.
They can also be called theoretical and practical intellects. Theoretical intellect constitutes the part of human
being that knows and perceives. Owing to this aspect of spirit, the human being creates terms, gives names, calls and
receives knowledge about things, conducts experiments and draws conclusions. With the help of theoretical intellect,
the spirit builds a connection between the events and through this intellect receives information about the existence of
Allah. Helping the human being to distinguish between good and bad, this intellect provides the work of the practical
intellect. In contrast to theoretical intellect, the practical intellect represents the strong-willed side of spirit. A man that
commands his practical intellect very well reflects over his actions and selects them. Avicenna recognized the human
being’s freedom of will and acknowledged his responsibility resulting from it. According to Avicenna, this is one of
the reasons why revelations are sent to humans. Because revelation, pointing to the human being’s freedom of will,
warns him in advance and stresses the human being’s sole responsibility for all the sins and good deeds he commits.
One of the important issues in Avicenna’s views of revelation is the determination of the role of nafs. According
to Avicenna, to receive revelation, nafs should also be ready and pass certain stages of development. The philosopher
notes that it is exactly after this, while nafs is at the highest stage of development, it is appropriate to accept revelation.
“At that point, the human nafs reaches such a state of brilliance or sensitivity for its contact with intellectual factors
that that man is filled with illumination to the brim. When the human being reaches this level, he visions momentarily
the images protected in active intellect, so without efforts or without deduction he readily accepts the matters which
the others may perceive with the help of a teacher only through deduction” [Arslan, 1987].
According to Avicenna, human nafs has such a feature that through this feature he can transfer from the visible
to the invisible [4, 238]. The manifestation of this feature and its ability to function in the human nafs occur by means
of the faculty of imagination. Its display appears as in our dreams while asleep and in our visions when we are awake
. According to Avicenna, the degrees of nafs are not the same in all people. There are such people that their faculty
of imagination is very high. Such persons can even predict events that may occur in the future, and make judgements
about them. These people deserve to lead the society and get the leadership positions. However, there are such people
that though they have sufficient observation skills, they have not enough faculty of imagination or their imagination
has not matured yet. They are also politically capable and can actively be engaged in politics. Another group of people
is superior owing to their theoretical knowledge, but cannot realize it into their practice. Avicenna includes these
people in an aristocratic class of the time. This may be related to the preference of theoretical knowledge over practice
according to the characteristics of the time.
Avicenna notes that actually, nafs is not something alien to human nature, it is not of the unknown type and
emphasizes that it can be studied. “Exploring the existence of nafs and its being not something tangible, we find out
that we do not lack information about it. Simply, we do not consider it. As we don’t mind it, while it is too close to
us, we ascribe it to the range of the unknown and start looking for it somewhere afar” [Avicenna, 1984]. Coming out,
this knowledge close to us actually warns us about its manifest. We do not pay any attention to it, leaving the target
near us, we seek it somewhere afar that actually means restricting the opportunities to learn the research object
Avicenna notes that not every mind is able to learn and understand nafs. For this purpose, a highly developed
intellectual nafs must get to know about itself, but this is impossible without the accustomed intellect’s further
development and result in the “sacred intellect” ( )ألعقل آلقدسيwhich makes the desirous realization of the intellectual
nafs necessary. It means, consequently, not every human being can have the real knowledge of nafs; in order to acquire
this knowledge, one should belong only to the class of “selected” who could reach the highest maturity of intellect”.
In his views about prophet and revelation, Avicenna did not go against his predecessors’ views, and even he
referred to their claims as much as possible. Like Kindi and Farabi, he also saw the differences between philosophy
and religion in the ways they followed to achieve the same goals and in forms and levels of affirmation of their claims.
Anyway, the philosopher tried not to oppose philosophy to religion, and religion to philosophy.
Avicenna and Farabi on the philosophical essence of Revelation
Earlier we pointed out Avicenna’s merits in studying Farabi’s heritage, commenting on and investigating his
works. Avicenna’s main merit before his teacher was that he remained true to his teacher’s method of conformance.
The main essence of this conformance is that prophecy and revelations are events or entities that address the people
and find in the nation the reasons for existence. Farabi first laid the foundation of this view. However, as in Farabi’s
philosophy this view was not fully explained, was in a restricted state, Avicenna added new contents to the “theory of
prophecy” of Farabi, redeveloped it from ideational aspect and elucidated many questions that had been obscure to
mutakallim scholars and philosophers [Farabi Abu Nasr, 1345]. Farabi’s idea of God was also very abstract. It was
characterized as the primary intellect from God, its projection to other intellects and the world, i.e. as a logical
conclusion it becomes obvious that after having created, God is unable to interfere in the creatures’ affairs, is aware
only of the great affairs and did not know about minor deeds or parts. However, revelation suggests that nothing is
hidden from God, or the Creator has absolute knowledge, is aware of the conditions of the uncertain substances under
the earth or in the heaven and even far away from us [Koran 6/69, 10/91; 27, 26]. In the philosophy of Avicenna, the
Creator sees His highest power and here He knows His work, all created by Him, knows all things that exist. In other
words, Farabi said that the Creator knows Himself; His knowledge about the others resulting from this knowledge,
i.e. about, the universe is born. According to Avicenna, the universe, without fail comes from God, from His
knowledge about Himself. God is not only aware of Himself, but knows everything about all things and even about
the smallest connections available among them.
In addition, in his views about the presence of symbolic expressions in the prophet’s teachings, Avicenna
benefited widely from Farabi’s statements. Unlike Avicenna, Farabi did not see prophet’s contacts with active intellect
as something extraordinary. According to Farabi, for prophet to be able to make contact with active intellect, first he
had to pass the stage of active and then acquired intellect. However, Avicenna did not see such need before prophet.
Farabi did not support the idea that revelation came to prophet suddenly. Unlike Avicenna, Farabi related revelation
with the mental development of prophet [Herald, 2001]. The occurrence of mental development in prophet is
inevitable. Avicenna, unlike his predecessor, did not support the view that revelation was the result of mental
development or prophet was ready to receive revelation through mental development. Nothing can prevent prophets
with sacred power among the people to come into direct contact with active intellect. “… Thus, among people there
may be a person whose nafs is extremely pure and very closely associated with intellectual ideas [Kushpinar, 2001].
Such person is clarified with divine ideas, i.e. is elucidated by taking inspiration coming from active intellect. For, the
forms of all the things existing in active intellect are manifested in prophet’s nafs either instantly or in a form close to
Both Farabi and Avicenna believed that prophet is essential for the people and considered him the architect of
the cultural life in this world and eternal peace in the afterlife. Avicenna insisted on the ideas suggested by Farabi.
According to Farabi, animals live in packs. This is because if the animal lives alone, it would call into question its
existence. The human being also lives almost as a “flock” in the form of society. The society, implying coexistence
and mutual aid is a guarantee of the continuation of the human family [Aisha Khan, 2000]. The people enter into a
mutual relationship within society. If these relations are built unconsciously, based on anarchy, the continuation of
social life, protection of the human race would be in danger. Hence, there must be managers and laws in society.
Unlike Farabi, Avicenna considered illusion the idea about the philosophers’ ability to govern the society. Farabi
subsequently concluded that the ideal society led by philosopher cannot exist in this world, but it can become a reality
only in the future world. Both the persons - prophet and philosopher are acting in the name of one goal, but just one
of them - prophet may be destined to govern the society. “Unlike philosopher, prophet can make people accept his
revelation and can build around it a socio-political system” [Mohammad, 1927].
According to Avicenna, the society needs the fair government and correct laws. “Because when anarchy rules
the people, it is clear that they take as “justice” everything good for them, and they take as “oppression” the things
against them” [Arslan, 1987: 312]. Like Farabi and some other philosophers, Avicenna also argues that in the hereafter
there will be no such thing as bodily pleasure and sadness [Farabi, 1345]. All these issues appear both in the
philosopher’s views about revelation as well as in the theory of prophets. Farabi, in the theory of prophecy, explained
the phenomenon of revelation as prophet’s acquisition of knowledge from active intellect getting into contact with it
through the faculty of imagination. However, the matter is that unlike Avicenna, Farabi thought that the faculty of
imagination is below pure intellect [Mohammad, 1927]. The philosopher with pure intellect may be even “superior”
to prophet. However, according to Avicenna, this is not the case. Thus, the philosopher assumed revelation as “sacred
intellect” which is the highest form of “acquired intellect”. In contrast to active intellect meant by Farabi, this is the
highest form of development of “acquired intellect”. “The human intellect, which has been able to rise to this level,
sees as a perfect mirror, which can make and reflect the “mental images” in this state and is aware of all the divine
truth. Here the features distinguishing prophets from the humans show themselves. They are a rare group of people
who managed to rise to this level” [Mohammad, 1927]. Versus Farabi’s claim that “Philosophers reach the truth
independently without the help of God through their mental capacities and that is why, they stand above prophets”,
Avicenna presented the claim that “Prophets accomplished intellect with the help of revelation, and the theory with
the help of action”. Thus, “Avicenna, tried to uncover the importance of the theme about the nature of the prophets’
teachings, assuming the view of the division of the “elite people” which was first proposed by Farabi and even almost
by Plato” [Arslan, 1987: 316].
In order to generalize the above-noted views of Avicenna, we would like to point out that the philosopher, first,
thought about Allah as the source of divine knowledge. Revelation, as an example of divine knowledge is a part of
Allah’s knowledge. Revelations comprising the divine knowledge are transmitted to the chosen ones among people –
prophets. Philosopher, like prophet, may have the power of acquiring knowledge from active intellect, but compared
with prophet, he is very weak and helpless. The advantage of prophet over philosopher is the former’s integrating the
theoretical wisdom with the practical one. Although philosophers have their own part in theoretical wisdom, they are
not able to bring this knowledge to the broad strata of the people and be useful to society. Prophets save society from
the difficulties, deliver their theoretical knowledge to the people using the symbolic language though, and provide a
positive change in the lifestyle of individuals. That is why, religion, revelation that constitutes its basis as well as laws
and judgments that it justifies are inevitable for society at all times.
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