The Qur’an is full of stories of prophets, and Muhammad is the last prophet, so the notion of prophecy is not surprisingly much discussed in Islamic philosophy. The criteria of prophecy are more an issue for theology, but the nature of prophecy is philosophical and deals particularly with the connections between philosophy and prophecy. They are regarded as being particularly close. Within the Peripatetic tradition the traditional religious account of the prophet as someone chosen by God needs to be refined to include the detail that the prophet has to be an appropriate sort of person to be chosen. The prophet is in contact with the active intellect, the repository of abstract and creative thought, because he has the right sort of mind and upbringing to connect with it. On the Neoplatonic model so popular within the tradition, and adopted in one form or another by al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd, there is a continuing flow coming from the higher levels of reality downwards, and those whose minds are attuned to it can receive the emanations and use them to change what they think and do. The philosophers use it to develop their thinking, and in addition to this the prophets use it to develop their talking. They can as a result embody their theoretical insights into imaginative political language. That means that they can then broadcast abstract truths to the widest possible audience, something essential if most people are to grasp those truths. Naturally they will use the appropriate language and imagery for their audience, and talk to them in ways that will resonate with them, thus moving them in the right direction insofar as their behavior and thinking goes.
   Prophetic knowledge starts with abstract ideas and then illustrates those ideas in the appropriate imaginative and sensory language of the community addressed for them to be generally understood. That is why the Qur’an and other religious books are full of different kinds of language, designed to fit different kinds of audience. The idea is that the same truth is going to be identified in different ways for those who require such a mode of address in order to understand what they are told. Prophets have a fully developed intellect, since they can grasp how to present information in suitable ways by thinking abstractly, while for most of us the process goes the other way—we start with sensory experience and if all goes well eventually make our ideas more abstract. Ibn Sina describes a form of thought where a thinker has a good grasp of the universal principles by which the world works, and then can take a particular piece of information from his experience and predict the future. The principles are like the major premises in a syllogism, and the piece of information the minor premise, and the conclusion follows logically as in any valid syllogism. This explains how a prophet can predict what is going to happen. He does not have access to secret information but rather to the principles that direct the world, and can use that knowledge to discover precisely what the future will be. Philosophers and prophets know similar things, although they have different abilities to communicate their message. Prophets are designed to do this since they can express abstract truths in symbolic language. Philosophers can understand the abstract truths that lie behind symbolic language, but are not necessarily good at the process of using that language to move an audience. In either case the abstract truth is the same for both groups, of course, the only thing that differs being the type of delivery. It is worth noting how well this model of prophecy fits in with the Qur’anic account, and yet how far it is from its literal sense.
   See active intellect; al-Farabi; Ibn Rushd; Ibn Sina; Islam; psychology; Qur’an
   Further reading: Leaman 2006a; Rahman 1958

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.


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