Prophet Muhammad 571 CE – 632 CE
Prophet Muhammad laid the foundation of one of the most widespread religions in the world – Islam. Some ancient branches of Islam claim that Muhammad was the last messenger sent by god, but some deny this fact. He is also credited with uniting the entire Arabia into one single Muslim Polity and all his teachings were collected in the holy Koran/ Quran. Orphaned at a very early age, his uncle took care of him, but Muhammad got tired of the material world and desired enlightenment. His regular meditation sessions in the ‘Hira’ cave, where he was supposedly visited by Gabriel, allowed him to gain a new perspective of life.
He claimed that the revelations came to him inside the cave and he started preaching what he learned in there, ending up uniting the tribes into one ‘constitution of Medina’. He kept preaching his teachings and gained followers in hordes, eventually becoming the subject of Mecca’s elite’s hatred. Several years of conflict later, Muhammad finally barged into the City of Mecca with several thousand newly converted Muslims and took over the city, with a very little bloodshed. He continued receiving revelations from the god till his very last breathe and died in Medina at the age of 62. Other than Quran, his teachings also found a way in Hadith and Sira literature, highly regarded by the Muslims.
Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi 854 CE – 925 CE
Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi was a Persian polymath, physician, alchemist, philosopher, and important figure in the history of medicine. He also wrote on logic, astronomy and grammar.
A comprehensive thinker, Razi made fundamental and enduring contributions to various fields, which he recorded in over 200 manuscripts, and is particularly remembered for numerous advances in medicine through his observations and discoveries.
According to experts, he was among the first to use humoral theory to distinguish one contagious disease from another, and wrote a pioneering book about smallpox and measles providing clinical characterization of the diseases. He also discovered numerous compounds and chemicals including alcohol and kerosene, among others.
Saadia Gaon 882 CE – 942 CE
Rabbi Saadia Gaon was one of the most influential personalities to exist in the history of Jewish culture. He added profound insight and skill to every field of knowledge which he came in contact with, these being mainly: halachic treatise, commentaries on scripture, language, religious thought, and poetry. He was able to simultaneously pour his insightful, new wisdom into a subject while maintaining age-old Jewish religion and knowledge as well. He maintained the wisdom of the Mishnaic and Talmudic scholars before him while finding a suitable balance with the times that he lived in. He did this by translating scriptures into the accepted Judeo-Arabic language of his day, and aligning his translations with the accepted religious and scientific knowledge of his time period.
The Tafsir, as this book is known in its original Arabic, is the most famous of his works and is a biblical exegesis written for the Jews of his time, most of who lived in Arabic speaking countries.
Yahya ibn Adi 893 CE – 974 CE
Ash-Shaykh Abu Zakariyya’ Yahya ibn ‘Adi was a Jacobite Christian who lived in Iraq. Born in Takrit, he moved as a youth to Baghdad, one of the most important centres of learning in the tenth century. Of Syriac origin, he was Arabized like many other Syriacs at that time. He learned logic and philosophy with the well-known logicians, Abu Bishr Matta ibn Yunis and al-Farabi, and after their deaths he became the leading logician of his time. He translated Greek philosophical works from Syriac into Arabic, wrote a number of logical, philosophical and theological treatises – the most important of which are Tahdhib al-akhlaq (Refinement of Character) and Maqala fi at-tawhid (Essay on Unity) – and established the Aristotelian school at Baghdad.
Following in the footsteps of the Greek philosophers, Ibn ‘Adi concerned himself with the ultimate human end, happiness, which he found in knowledge. However, he was primarily occupied with defending the compatibility between the concept of God’s unity and that of the trinity. He reasoned that a thing can be one in one respect and many in another. Therefore, there is no inconsistency in holding that God is both one and three. Ibn ‘Adi can best be described as the Christian philosopher of unity, as he devoted most of his career and used all his logical skills to defend the concept of God’s unity and its consistency with the concept of trinity.
Avicenna 980 CE – 1037 CE
Abu ‘Ali al-Husayn ibn Sina is better known in Europe by the Latinized name “Avicenna.” He is probably the most significant philosopher in the Islamic tradition and arguably the most influential philosopher of the pre-modern era. Born in Afshana near Bukhara in Central Asia in about 980, he is best known as a polymath, as a physician whose major work the Canon (al-Qanun fi’l-Tibb) continued to be taught as a medical textbook in Europe and in the Islamic world until the early modern period, and as a philosopher whose major summa the Cure (al-Shifa’) had a decisive impact upon European scholasticism and especially upon Thomas Aquinas.
Primarily a metaphysical philosopher of being who was concerned with understanding the self’s existence in this world in relation to its contingency, Ibn Sina’s philosophy is an attempt to construct a coherent and comprehensive system that accords with the religious exigencies of Muslim culture. As such, he may be considered to be the first major Islamic philosopher. The philosophical space that he articulates for God as the Necessary Existence lays the foundation for his theories of the soul, intellect and cosmos. Furthermore, he articulated a development in the philosophical enterprise in classical Islam away from the apologetic concerns for establishing the relationship between religion and philosophy towards an attempt to make philosophical sense of key religious doctrines and even analyse and interpret the Qur’an.
Suhrawardi 1154 CE – 1191 CE
Trained in Avicennan Peripateticism, Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191) became the founder of an Illuminationist (ishraqi) philosophical tradition in the Islamic East. Since none of his works were translated into Latin, he remained unknown in the West; but from the 13th century onwards, his works were studied in a number of philosophical circles in the Islamic East. In the mid-20thcentury, Henry Corbin worked relentlessly to edit and study his writings, which led to renewed interest in Suhrawardi’s works and thought, especially in the later part of the 20th century.
Suhrawardi provided an original Platonic criticism of the dominant Avicennan Peripateticism of the time in the fields of logic, epistemology, psychology, and metaphysics, while simultaneously elaborating his own epistemological (logic and psychology) and metaphysical (ontology and cosmology) Illuminationist theories. His new epistemological perspective led him to critique the Avicennan Peripatetic theory of definition, introduce a theory of ‘presential’ knowledge, elaborate a complex ontology of lights, and add a fourth ‘imaginal’ world.
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi 1149 CE – 1209 CE
Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi was one of the outstanding figures in Islamic theology. Living in the second half of the sixth century ah (twelfth century ad), he also wrote on history, grammar, rhetoric, literature, law, the natural sciences and philosophy, and composed one of the major works of Qur’anic exegesis, the only remarkable gap in his output being politics. He travelled widely in the eastern lands of Islam, often engaging in heated polemical confrontations.
His disputatious character, intolerant of intellectual weakness, frequently surfaces in his writings, but these are also marked by a spirit of synthesis and a profound desire to uncover the truth, whatever its source. A number of his metaphysical positions became well known in subsequent philosophical literature, being cited more often than not for the purposes of refutation. His prolixity and pedantic argumentation were often criticized, but he was widely considered the reviver of Islam in his century.
Muhammad Abduh 1849 CE – 1905 CE
Muḥammad Abduh, (born 1849, Nile Delta area, Egypt—died July 11, 1905, near Alexandria), religious scholar, jurist, and liberal reformer, who led the late 19th-century movement in Egypt and other Muslim countries to revitalize Islamic teachings and institutions in the modern world.
As mufti (Islamic legal counsellor) for Egypt (from 1899), he effected reforms in Islamic law, administration, and higher education and, although resisted by conservatives, broke the rigidity of Muslim ritual, dogma, and family ties. His writings include the “Treatise on the Oneness of God” and a commentary on the Qurʾān.
Fatema Mernissi 1940 CE – 2015 CE
Fatema Mernissi is a Moroccan sociologist who is well known for her first work ‘Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dyanmics in a Modern Muslim Society’ which was published in 1975. Mernissi points to the central role of women in early Islam as evidence of how anti-woman attitudes are not rooted in Islam.
In her book ‘The Forgotten Queens of Islam’ Mernissi tells the stories of the reign of fifteen Islamic female leaders from the days of early Islam to the present day. She uses their legacy as evidence against the common misconception that Muslim women have had little influence in politics.