Generally in a Muslim society and particularly in Pakistan, there are poets, writers and religious scholars, but no philosophers, thinkers and scientists whose approach to knowledge is analytical, empirical and rational. The main task of philosophy is the pursuit of truth as it constantly probes and searches truth which evolves with time.
Societies which believe that they have found the truth do not bother to look at the changing times to realise that a new concept of truth has emerged as a result of human progress in knowledge.
This is evident from the study of the history of Greece and India where philosophers were keen to know about the nature of this world and human beings and consequently produced philosophical thoughts to understand this phenomenon.
When Greek philosophy was translated into Arabic, some Muslim philosophers were influenced by it and produced commentaries on Greek philosophers. They made attempts to lay down the foundation of philosophical thoughts in the Muslim society. However, they failed to have any impact as their efforts were countered by religious scholars like Ghazali, (1111 C.E) who condemned philosophy as a danger to revealed truth. The Muslim society therefore failed to produce philosophers and put an end to the creation of new ideas.
Those who tried to carry on Greek philosophical traditions were condemned and excluded from the Muslim intellectual traditions. Razi, Farabi, Ibn Sina and Ibi Rushd were not given due recognition by the society. Abul Fazl, a brilliant historian and thinker was completely ignored. Ghazali was accepted as the champion of faith who saved it from blasphemous ideas of the philosophers.
On the other hand, the western society inherited the philosophical legacy from Greece and added to it new ideas and thoughts which enriched the western civilisation. In the 17th and 18th centuries, there was a scientific revolution which presented the universe from quite a different angle. The enlightened movement was based on reason, knowledge and progress which gradually transformed the society. The age of enlightenment produced great philosophers and thinkers whose ideas guided the society to abandon outdated traditions and values and create new values for the new age. It unfolded a new truth which superceded old and obsolete ideas.
The process of western thinking and its search of truth did not end with the enlightened period. It continued to search for the truth. Later the Romantic Movement challenged the enlightened ideas and tried to understand nature and man differently with passion rather than reason. Positivism, nationalism, socialism and feminism movements followed, with the result that there were innovations and changes in art, literature, architecture and social, and cultural values of the western society. The new philosophical thoughts created a dynamism which discovered new versions of truth.
The problem of Muslim society has been that it is afraid of new ideas and new truth. It is particularly fearful of philosophy as it creates doubts and questions the existing truth.
Iqbal, who is also called a philosopher, exhorted his community not to study philosophy as it challenged the prevailing values. He believed in the truth inherited from our ancestors and accepted it as it is. When the religious seminary of Deoband was founded in 1868, the subject of philosophy was not included in its curriculum.
In the absence of new philosophical ideas and believing in the unchanging truth, the society has become stagnant and intellectually barren. It fails to understand not only its own environment but also the global process. It relies on poetical and theological emotionalism and encourages our intellectuals to borrow western ideology without changing and understanding it. Although ideas develop as societies evolve, our intellectuals implant advanced ideas in a backward society which are not accepted by the majority of people.
As our society believes in absolute truth, it is not ready to accept any new ideas which contradict or challenge it. This leaves no space for thinkers and philosophers to create new thoughts. The only use of philosophy is to support religious belief. This is what the philosophy was used for during the Medieval period in Europe when through scholasticism it subordinated religion. In the Muslim society it is known as ‘ilm al Kalam. Philosophy plays a vital role in a society only when it is liberated from faith and can bring about radical change. Whether this is possible in the Muslim society or not, is a question we must analyse and respond to.