Continuity in Islamic Political Philosophy: The Role of Myth

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There is an essential continuity between Islamic political philosophy in the Middle Ages and today. Political philosophers in the Middle Ages explained and justified the use of mythical stories by rulers to motivate the whole of the community to behave in appropriate ways. They argued, basing themselves to a degree on their understanding of Plato, that not everyone is capable of really comprehending the reasons for certain aspects of political necessity, and so they should be led to obedience of civil law by being told stories which represent in more vivid and imaginative form the rewards and penalties which exist with respect to the law. It has often been argued that these philosophers, ranging from al-Farabl to Ibn Rushd, were dissimulating their genuine heterodox views on the relationship between Islam and the state by arguing for the use of stories and allegories to persuade the masses that they ought to act in particular ways, while the intellectual elite can be provided with rational explanations for political action. It will be argued that contemporary and recent political writers in the Islamic world of the Middle East speak and write in a manner very similar to that of their medieval predecessors, especially when it is a matter of distinguishing between an elite and the common people, and some resemblances between political and social conditions today and in the medieval world of Islam will be drawn to try to account for this similarity and continuity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-155
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Society for Middle Eastern Studies. Bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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