The title of the French original book (pub­lished in 2013) asked the question:” Comment philosopher en Islam?” meaning lit­erally “How to phi­los­o­phize in Islam?”. In our present times of both heated con­tro­versy about the Muslim religion and pro­found igno­rance of its nature and history, that French title played upon the idea that many would con­sider it a con­tra­diction in terms to asso­ciate Islam with philo­sophical skep­ticism and questioning.

Now the English title (for which I have to give also credit to someone who read my work with great attention: my pub­lisher), Open to Reason: Muslim Philoso­phers in Con­ver­sation with the Western Tra­dition, keeps insisting on ratio­nality and openness of course but puts at least equal emphasis here on the notion of “con­ver­sation” or “dia­logue” as con­sti­tutive of philosophy.

That phi­losophy is dia­logue is of course the eternal teaching of Socrates, Plato’s master. To learn through dia­logue, to learn to dia­logue, is to learn about oneself with the medi­ation of the other, from the per­spective of the other. That Islam is among other things such an intel­lectual and spir­itual tra­dition of self-understanding through con­ver­sation with the other is the main point developed by the dif­ferent chapters of this book. Almost all of them are pre­sen­ta­tions of dialogues.

A dream

There is first the con­ver­sation that only hap­pened in a dream, between the Abbasid caliph Al Ma‘mun and Aris­totle, in which the Greek philosopher reas­sured the Muslim leader that it was reli­giously per­mis­sible to be open to philo­sophical reason as a path towards the truth embodied in the symbols of Rev­e­lation. Of course the caliph needed to be reas­sured. How not to be wary of the “love of wisdom “ of foreign thinkers who did not benefit from the wisdom revealed by the one God of whom they also were totally ignorant? After he made the choice of openness the caliph encouraged and fos­tered that other form of con­ver­sation which is the trans­lation into Arabic of the works of Greek phi­losophy, the result of which has been the birth of the tra­dition of Islamic philosophy.

Philo­sophical language

How a lan­guage becomes philo­sophical, with what con­se­quences, lin­guistic of course but also the­o­logical and political, is a question posed through the exam­i­nation of a heated dia­logue between a philosopher admirer of Aristotle’s logic and a gram­marian who opposed the intro­duction of Greek phi­losophy into the Muslim world in general, and in par­ticular what that meant for the Arabic lan­guage, the “pure” lan­guage of Rev­e­lation, as it was forced to adopt neol­o­gisms and undergo the hybridization that is created by trans​lation​.So this is a book of dia­logues con­sti­tutive of the tra­dition of philo­sophical ques­tioning in Islam.

These dia­logues remind us that phi­losophy is not the natural pro­duction of any culture, of any religion. Which means that phi­losophy is not Greek and does not nat­u­rally speak Greek or an Indo-European lan­guage. But also that Islamic phi­losophy is not the phi­losophy ema­nating from Islam but a con­ver­sation in which are engaged people com­mitted to ques­tioning and thinking freely and who under­stand that such a com­mitment means the capacity to lib­erate oneself from the imme­diate, unex­amined meanings in which cul­tures and reli­gions enclose us.

The society of philoso­phers is con­tin­u­ously open and con­tin­u­ously recruiting beyond the bound­aries of cul­tures, lan­guages, or reli­gions. These dia­logues were sus­tained yes­terday with Plotinus, Plato, or Aris­totle, and they are con­ducted today with Niet­zsche, with Bergson, and others…

The phi­losophy of movement

The dia­logue between Indian poet, statesman, thinker, Muhammad Iqbal and French philosopher Henri Bergson in par­ticular gives here its full meaning to the word “con­ver­sation”. It is pre­sented in chapter 9 under the title “the phi­losophy of movement” and truly con­sti­tutes the heart of the book. The reason being that the con­ver­sation between Muhammad Iqbal and Henri Bergson (which did take place also phys­i­cally when the Indian poet visited the French philosopher in Paris) con­cerned the crucial topic of time, change, movement, which is at the heart of the question of phi­los­o­phizing in Islam today.

In his con­ver­sation with Henri Bergson’s work, Muhammad Iqbal expressed both in his poetry and his prose his pro­found agreement with the man he said was the very first modern philosopher who truly under­stood the nature of time. To grasp it in itself, in an intu­itive manner, not as the spa­tialized and serial notion that we usually express when we speak of time, but as a con­tinuous and indi­visible duration makes us under­stand the world as cre­ative evo­lution that we as humans have the respon­si­bility of accom­pa­nying and achieving. Such a cos­mology of emer­gence, Iqbal stated, is the cos­mology of the Quran with which the world Islam needs to re-identify itself with. To again reconnect with its own prin­ciple of movement and its spirit of plu­ralism and openness.