in category Falsafa (Philosophy)

Which classical Muslim scholars believed in the eternality of time?

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In a Nutshell:
Muslim Philosophers disagree on the notion of eternity of time. The first group adhered to the Greek Philosophers' view that time is eternal. The second group adhered the creation of time and place from ex nihilo. The third group took the middle of the route.


During the classical era of Islam, from the second century to the eigth century (710 to 1310) a number of issues including the nature of time was discussed by Muslim theologians and philosophers. Much of the discussion was affected by Greek philosophy and arguments on the nature of time. A number of ancient Greek philosophers had argued time was eternal which in turn caused significant controversy amongst Muslim scholarship.

Muslim Philosophers & Eternal Time

The notion of eternal time was developed and most discussed by Aristotle. This notion was first accepted by Yaqub al-Kindi (185-256 A.H.) who believed time is the numerical measure of eternal movement and so it is eternal. (Rasa'il al-Kindi al-Falsafyah, Vol 2, p. 14) He was followed by Farabi (257-339 A.H.). Whilst Farabi confirmed that the existence is caused by Allah, he followed Plato in the eternity of time. He believed that the existence is caused by Allah without time; but with the movement of existence, time began, but it is still eternal. (Farabi, al-Jam', 108)

Ibn Sina believed Allah is the First Cause, He is the Cause of all the existence and so it comes after. But he believed that Allah is al-Qadeem according to His Self and not according to time. It is like the movement of our hands to a key, whilst the hand moves first then the key follows, not vice versa, they move in the same time. The same thing goes to Allah and the time of existence. (Sina, al-Isharat wa at-Tanbihat, Vol. 1, p. 517)

All the above Muslim Philosophers believed that Allah is the First Cause and no one or thing existed before Him, but they did not find that contradicts with the eternity time. Because they attribute the eternity of time to the attributes of Allah; i.e. if Allah is an eternally Creator, and creation happened in time, so it follows that time existed from eternity.

Al-Ghazali rejected the notion of Farabi and Ibn Sina and condemned it severely in his book (Tahafut al-Falasifah). He believed the attribute of khaq is conditioned to the iradah of Allah. So he did not have to create things from eternity, but He did when He willed to create. There is no impossibility of having nothing for a period of time. Thus Allah 'kana' and there was nothing before or with Him, then He created the world afterwards. (Ghazali, Tahafut al-Falasifah, pp. 90-100)

Ibn Rushd (520-595 A.H.) came and adopted the idea of Ibn Sina with some little modifications. He believed that whilst the world exists in time, Allah does not. So it does not make sense to speak of both together. Allah is the Cause of the Universe, time is a result of movement, there can't be a movement before creation, so the time did not exist before Allah caused the Universe. He followed the middle route. (Ibn Rushd, Tahafut at-Tahafut, Vol. 1, pp. 130-140)


Broadly speaking Muslim scholarship responded with three conflicting perspectives: those arguing time was eternal, those arguing for the finitude of time, believing creation ex nihilo; and those seeking to reconcile between the two views above.

The first group was advocated by philosophers like al-Kindi, al-Farabi, and Ibn Sina. The second group included the theologian Abu Hamid Ghazali. The third group included the philosopher Ibn Rushd.

Contemporary discourse on time however has diverted from classical discussions.

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