Abu NasrAl-Farabi (864- 933d ce) remains one of the first philosophers to candidly venture into the tension that existed between classical Greek theory and that of Islam and other religions. His writings have always been found to have deep meaning, a sign of deep thoughts by A-Farabi. His works have inevitably contributed to the development of Jewish and Islamic philosophies. Some of his works include The Attainment of Happiness, The Book of Religion, The Enumeration of Sciences, and The Selected Aphorisms. Out of these books, the most interesting is The Book of Religion. This book contains some of the critical thoughts that affect other religions. He tries to define what religion is and where it originates from. The purpose and the effect it has on the followers is also looked into to a great extent. However, his writing on religion slowly develops into a discussion that leads to the thoughts on political science and philosophy.
Al-Farabi believes that religion comes from God to the people. It encompasses the thoughts and opinions that are given out by the first ruler of a community. The eventual happiness of the community will be achieved depending on the virtues possessed by the ruler. Al-Farabi believes that a community is an establishment of God and is actually established by a man who is chosen by God Himself to be a political leader (Al-Farabi, 2000). This ruler is endowed with special wisdom that enables him to effectively lead his followers. His opinions make the foundation upon which the community is based on. This faculty is described as to only accrue to the leader who has been ascribed the top leadership qualities. It can also be as a result of some revelation.
The ignorant ruler ship is described by Al-Farabi as only concerned with selfish acquisition of ignorant goods that he mentions as essential services and goods such as health, glory, conquest, honor, and pleasure. He says that the ruler may sometimes selflessly pursue these things for the sake of the people he leads. Everything ought to lead to the happiness of the people and the ruler. But he quickly points out that a presumption of happiness leads to the errant leadership while good rulership comes by when the happiness is the actual goal. It is, therefore, open in his philosophical thought that the first ruler of community is charged with the responsibility of giving the direction on how the community is directed depending on the opinions and advice that he gives (Al-Farabi, 1963). Therefore, according to him, religion and political science and philosophy are things that go hand in hand.
Al-Farabi’s thoughts have extensively touched on different aspects of religion and the political science. Teaching these thoughts in a way that does not affect other religious sensibilities may be difficult. His thoughts are mostly in exposition of Islam religion; how it came by and why it was established. It is good to mention that every religion has its foundation and doctrines. Therefore, the philosophy put forward by Al-Farabi only explains one religion’s aspect of being. Teaching his philosophy, therefore, invokes more discussions on the same issues by other religions.
The thoughts by Al-Farabi are outright and assertive by themselves. Especially, the book of religion is all about his knowledge of religions and other universals. This means that they touch on some of the important issues that are key to the existence and beliefs of mankind. Teaching such things never goes without eliciting reactions from different affected quotas. In his other work known as the Selected Aphorisms, Al-Farabi takes a keen look at the ancient philosophical works by Plato and Aristotle. The eventual discussion of these works leads to the Islamic sciences, dialectical heology, later relating them with important political and philosophical sciences. It is, therefore, difficult to avoid religious reactions from different quotas when these thoughts are tough.
The difficulties that will be faced while teaching these thoughts would be enormous. There are many discussions that come as a result of Al-Farabi’s thoughts and philosophy. First, he presents religion as directed by the opinions and actions rather than the truth. This brings the notion that religion, according to him, is not actually the truth itself (Powers, 1987). This is contrary to a number of religions that exist. All of these religions try to present themselves as the perfect truth to be followed. The ideologies of most of these existing religions are not based on the opinions and actions of the followers or leaders, but rather the religious ideologies define them. This is, therefore, an aspect that presents a difficulty in Al-Farabi’s philosophical thoughts.
The aspect of revelation brought about by his thoughts is only relevant when it is perceived by the highest authority entrusted with reasoning for the community. Revelation by the members of the community and other followers of religion is inconsequential and not valid. God only communicates to the absolute ruler who is also doubled up as the political leader. This is unlike other religions that allow the followers to actively get involved in receiving revelations that can improve their lives (Powers, 1987). Other religions allow for the individual meditations that lead to more revelations from the supreme authorities.
His work supports the notion that religion should define the politics of a community. He merges religion and political science. In this, he goes ahead to write on the synonymity of creed and religion which he equates with the tradition and law. He believes that religion, law, and creed all work to define opinions and actions of the people. In this the aspect, truth and religion come into the picture. He believes that the truth or the likeness of truth is important in shaping opinions. Al-Farabi goes ahead to define the truth as anything that a person is able to ascertain by himself through either the primary or any form of demonstration. In this, he claims that the only true way of representing the truth is religion. He thus concludes this issue by asserting that religion is equal and subordinate to philosophy as they are both theoretical and practical in nature.
According to Al-Farabi, those things that are certain is religion to the people. He believes that such things are responsible for the attainment of happiness (Powers, 1987). He also asserts that the religious society he presents is not an open one due to the religious opinions that are on a general level. This society continues to be authoritarian in nature as time moves on. This is unlike other religious teachings that call for tolerance and submission to God as the supreme authority. Tolerance is mostly advocated for in these religions that is what Al-Farabi tries to present.
He also presents a community that is ready to go to war in order to ensure dominance. According to him, religion provides good fortune that ought to be discerned. This fortune is the permission given by religion to use any falsehood or deceit to conquer an enemy who comes by (Powers, 1987). Different religions have their own beliefs and laws on wars. The majority of them would not support what Al-Farabi presents here. He believes that religion gives way for unjust attacks of the enemies. His contradictions are also clear when at a given point, he says that rulers should not make unjust wars to the people being ruled, especially if he wants to be honored by them. Eventually, he seems to bring into picture some form of slavery or servitude.
In chapter 27 of The Book of Religion, he gives the difference between the governance of the world and that of the city. He believes that the governance of the world in by nature. Those who are in this position of leadership are a result of God’s natural order and blessings. The city governance, on the other side, is a more complex thing (Al-Farabi, 2000). It involves deliberate political programmes put in place to ensure that the community is divided into workable units. This may bring differences in the belief that is held within different religions of the world. Some of them believe that all authority is given to God, while others also have different perspectives. The separation of state and religion is a matter of discussion in many parts of the world. In this light, some religions do not quite believe in the spiritual leaders not getting involved in politics of the day. Moreover, some adopt the hereditary hierarchy while others are appointed. Particular teaching of Al-Farabi’s philosophy can possibly lead to many differences and discussions.
Another interesting thing is that Al-Farabi’s philosophy brings out the idea that souls have no ability to acquire virtue or may be able to only acquire a small amount of it (Al-Farabi, 1963). He brings the fact that the supreme leader has the responsibility to set the virtues in people whose souls are willing and not in those whose souls are not. This is the only way in which virtuous living in the city becomes better. This is also a source of religious controversy.
For long, the general philosophy had been against the principles of Islam. He stands the chance of giving a perfect analysis of philosophy and in relation to Islamic principles. In his writings, he does well in the analysis only to water down his efforts by again giving a conclusion that agrees with those philosophers who are anti-Islamists. This makes his work dangerous especially when it is taught. There is no clear direction of the thoughts that are presented in his work. This is evident in the way that he contradicts some of the philosophical ideas that he gives. This eventually puts him at loggerheads with many religions of the (Al-Farabi, 1963).
The ambiguity of God is accepted by this philosopher, but the only negative thing is that he refuses to acknowledge the fact that the world is made up of physical material objects requiring relationships to survive well. This is an issue that may make an impediment to the knowledge of what the world is and its components. Another thing that makes teaching Al-Farabi’s thoughts questionable is the fact that he is silent on the afterlife. He does not speak on the resurrection of the physical body. Another important omission is the inability of the living beings to get the rewards or punishments that are equal to their behaviors. This is the point that he agrees with the Aristotle’s philosophy that separation of the soul from the body is a difficult thing due to the fact that they are both part of each other. The absence of the body means that the soul also ceases to exist; the person vanishes in totality. This is on the contrary to the religious teachings which say that there is the afterlife. This normally acts as the point of directing the followers to ensure that they live virtuously due to the rewards that are expected in afterlife (Powers, 1987).
When Al-Farabi would stand at a university at present, he would not allow a bigger audience due to the many reasons that have been indicated above. His thoughts do not exclusively explain and answer the questions on religion. Inconsistencies within his philosophies do not favour any religion. In the end, every religion would be having problems with him.