Definition & Branches of Philosophy (Hikmah) & Islamic Shariah, By Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

Translated By: Professor Muhammad Hasan Askari & Karrar Husain
Compiled By: Mufti Umar Anwar Badakhshani


What the Greek and Muslim philosophers call ‘Hikmah’ (wisdom), or philosophy, is a general term that does not exclude any science or branch of knowledge, and the Shariah is also included init. This being so, we have to discuss here as to what Hikmah or philosophy is? and how it is classified?.

Philosophy is the knowledge of real entities as they are, the object of such knowledge being that the self acquires thereby some kind of excellence. Thus, every science deals with the characteristics of a certain form of reality.

Practical Philosophy and Theoretical Philosophy

Now, according to a primary classification, philosophy is of two kinds, for all the entities it deals with are either such actions and deeds whose existence lies within the scope of our will and power or such entities whose existence does not lie within the scope of our will. The knowledge which pertains to the entities of the first kind is called “Practical Philosophy” (Al-Hikmat al-Amaliyyah), and that which pertains to the entities of the second kind is called”Theoretical Philosophy” (Al-Hikmat al-Nazariyyah).

Branches of Practical Philosophy

Then, each of these two branches of philosophy is further sub-divided into three kinds:

  • For, “practical philosophy” can either deal with the good of the individual in which case it is called “ethics” (Tahdhib al-Akhlaq).
  • Or with the good of a group of individuals who live in the same house, in which case it is called “Domestic Economy” (Tadbir al-Manzil).
  • Or with the good of a group which lives in the same town or country, in which case it is called “Politics” (Siyasat al-Mudun). These are, then, the three branches of “Practical philosophy.”

Branches of Theoretical Philosophy

  • As for “theoretical philosophy”, it deals either with the characteristics of such entities as do not intrinsically need any substance for their physical or ideal existence, in which case it is called “Metaphysics” ilahiyat;
  • Or it deals with the characteristics of such entities as need a substance for their physical existence but not for their ideal existence, in which case it is called ”Mathematics” (Riadi);
  • Or it deals with the characteristics of such entities as need a substance both for their physical and ideal existence, in which case it is called “Physics” ‘ilm al-Tabi’ah. These are, then, the three branches of “Theoretical Philosophy”.

Branches of Wisdom or Philosophy (Hikmah)

Thus, we obtain these six branches of “Wisdom” or philosophy-namely:

  1. Ethics (Tahdhib al-Akhlaq).
  2. Domestic Economy (Tadbir al-Manzil).
  3. Politics (al siyasah al madaniyah).
  4. Metaphysics (ilahiyat).
  5. Mathematics (Riadi).
  6. Physics (‘ilm al-Tabi’ah).

Although there are many more subdivisions, yet the principal classification of philosophy is confined only to these.

The prime objective of Islamic shariah and branches of philosophy (Hikmah)

Now, we must understand that the real object of the Shariah is to discipline human beings in such a way that they may make the fulfillment of their obligations to the Creator as well as of their obligations to the creatures the means of gaining the pleasure of Allah. In fact, the injunctions of the Shariah with regard to these two duties yield the good of worldly life as well, and when they seem to go against worldly good, it always turns out that public good has been given precedence over individual good, or that the situation entailed a spiritual harm greater than worldly good which has been eliminated. All the same, the real object of the Shariah is the quest for the pleasure of Allah.

Why is Sharia not interested in mathematics and physics?

On the other hand, mathematics and physics have nothing to do with the duty of fulfilling one’s obligations to God or to the creatures. So, the Shariah has not dealt with these subjects as its proper object. If some topic of physics etc. has now and then been touched upon by the Shariah, it is only by way of an auxiliary instrument and as a proof of some argument in metaphysics, which, as we shall soon show, is one of the object of the Shariah. It is borne out by the fact that the physical phenomena have been referred to in the Holy Qur’an as:

لآيات لأولي الألباب                                     

“Signs (of God) for those who possess understanding” (3: 119).

Thus, we are left with only one branch of theoretical philosophy, that is to say, metaphysics—and with all the three branches of practical philosophy. Since all of them are involved in the attainment of the aim mentioned above—that is, the fulfillment of the two kinds of obligations—, the Shariah has dealt with them fully. As for the perfect way in which the problems of practical philosophy have been expounded, even the followers of the Greek philosophers have had to admit that:

ان الشريعة المصطفوية قد قضت الوطر علي اكمل وجه و أتم تفصيل

“the Islamic Shariah has fulfilled this need in the most perfect manner and with all possible details.”

And, in the case of the problems of metaphysics too, a comparative study of the arguments on the two sides—Greek philosophy and Islamic Shariah — obliges the philosophers to make the same admission.

The division of practical philosophy by Islam

Thus, the first subject of discussion which properly comes within the scope of the Shariah is metaphysics (‘ilm al-ilahiyat), one sub-division of which is the “Science of Doctrines and Beliefs” (‘ I’lm al-‘Aqaid), dealing with topics like Revelation (Wahy), Prophethood (Nubuwwah) and Life after Death and the Day of Judgment (Ma’ad). The second subject of discussion is a practical philosophy which has been sub-divided by the Shariah into:

  • (a) the injunctions with regard to the relation between man and God—‘lbadat.
  • (b) the injunctions with regard to the relations between man and society–Mu’asharah.
  • (c) the injunctions with regard to the relations between one man and another–Mu’amalat.
  • (d) the injunctions with regard to the relation between a man and himself–Akhlaq.

In short, the sciences which properly belong to the Shariah are five—the four which we have just mentioned, and the Science of Doctrines and Beliefs. We do not propose to deal with all these five elements, but with only those things about which people with a Western education have sometimes come to feel doubt. Since these doubts are related to belief, the purpose of all our discussions would, in this sense, be to deal with only one element—namely, doctrines and beliefs. Although the proper order would have been to take up for discussion all the problems pertaining only to one of these divisions before turning to the problems of another kind, yet for the sake of making the discussion more attractive and delightful to the readers, it was found more suitable to treat all kinds of problems in a composite way. So, all that we have to say will, with the help of Allah, be presented in this form in the subsequent pages.

For this book, we have chosen the title ”Intimations” (lntibahat). These very intimations, in fact, form the main object of this book. Before dealing with the chief topics, we shall explain certain fundamental rules, which stand as first principles in relation to the topics of discussion. While discussing the main topics, we shall have occasion to refer to these rules from time to time, so that one can easily understand and accept what is being said. May the Almighty Allah help us!

Thana Bhawan
Muzaffar Nagar District

SOURCE: Answer to modernism, By Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

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