The Relationship Between Knowledge And Leadership In Ibn Sina’s Thought

Document Type : Original Article


Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran



Leadership in Islamic society is a concept that has a high status in Ibn Sina’s view, because the leader of the Islamic society must be able to lead Muslims in the affairs of this world and the next world. To this end, he must be eligible for the knowledge proportionate to this serious task. Ibn Sina’s desired knowledge is not only the conventional knowledge that is accessible to everyone, but also there must be a decent inward mechanism so that man can achieve the highest level of knowledge and habitual intelligence, aka intellectus adeptus. Therefore, it is the stage where human intellect relates to active intellect which can be sought in the other world, providing us with a proper understanding of the happiness in the hereafter; and in these circumstances that the leadership of the Islamic society qualified to be at the top of Muslim affairs. What Ibn Sina proposes lies within the framework of the political philosophy of the classical Islamic era, or the establishment of a sublime system in Islamic philosophy where the inward mechanism for acquiring it and its achievement lay the groundwork for the realization of leadership in society: the model is a leadership criterion in Islamic philosophy. The article maintains that Ibn Sina’s theory has inward inconsistencies in this regard. Besides, the study demonstrates that Ibn Sina attempted to present a picture of the ideal type of leadership in the Islamic world, thereby providing the comparison of leadership in Islamic societies with non-Islamic societies.



The topic of leadership in Islamic society is an important topic, the reason for which can be sought in the role of leadership in the organization of Islamic society. In Islamic society, the task of leadership is not only to manage the social, political and economic issues of society, but it must usher Muslims into happiness and salvation in the hereafter. That is, leadership in Islamic society not only serve the same conventional functions in all societies in order to have legitimacy and acceptance, but its chief task takes on more importance. The two crucial objectives of leadership in Islamic society are complementary, because it would be difficult for us to take step toward salvation without success in the organization of life in this world; and without salvation in the hereafter, the life of this world would be simply physical and gloomy, causing it to be deprived of its original purpose; and the life without happiness would end up with aberration.

In this sense, leadership has more functions than the leaders of others societies, because not only must it deals with the earthly affairs of people, but it must also guide them into prosperity and salvation. Who should this person be and what characteristics should he have?

The first characteristic that has been proposed among Islamic thinkers, especially Muslim philosophers, is the recognition of worldly and otherworldly happiness, because if the person himself fails to attain it, how can he guide others? Thus, the great deal of effort and scientific jihad of Islamic thinkers has been concerned with the idea of how such a leader with the characteristics can simultaneously attain worldly and otherworldly recognition. It is where knowledge takes on importance in keeping a leader in this position. That is to say, he must achieve a correct recognition or certainty in the first place so that he can reach the position of leadership. But how can he attain this kind of knowledge? It is the knowledge that aims to organize wordly affairs prevailing in philosophical texts, guaranteed, legitimate, true belief (Klein, 1998). Now, if he achieves this kind of recognition, he can only perform one of his functions to fulfil his main duty, i.e., happiness, and needs another knowledge of certainty that has three chief routes in Ibn Sina’s view: logic or means of recognition, human’s inward mechanism for understanding and accepting knowledge. And finally, we need divine support and assistance and grace to attain happiness in the hereafter, while it would be impossible to do so without them.

According to what was said, the concept of knowledge or logic is investigated in Ibn Sina’s view in order to explore the relationship between certainty knowledge (independent variable) and leadership (dependent variable) in the variable. Next, human’s inward mechanism for acquiring knowledge and levels of human reason is discussed. Afterward, the topic of active intellect and how it is achieved by the human intellect is discussed according to Ibn Sina. In the end, the link between knowledge and leadership is approached in Ibn Sina’s view.

Definition of knowledge

The process of acquiring this definition of knowledge, which is basically the knowledge of the unseen, consists of three stages namely mental and psychological conditions for receiving knowledge, gaining knowledge, and eventually spiritual peace (peace of mind) that comes from the acquisition of knowledge (Nuseibeh, 1996). At this stage, man needs to know himself in order to gain knowledge about God, as self-knowledge is a necessary condition for reaching God and knowledge about existence. In this ontological state of human consciousness, objective-subjective duality would perish, as “self” becomes one with the absolute existence. That is to say, God merges with self, so does self with God (Haeri Yazdi, 1992).

In this perspective, the difference that distinguishes the Illuminationists from the mystics and the Sufis, is that knowledge is illumination in Illuminationism (Leaman, 1999), and it is the essence of God that matters, but knowledge is the intuitive consciousness about the absolute existence. Thus, demise or demise in demise in mysticism means become united with the absolute existence, as it begins with passing through self (Haeri Yazdi, 1992).

The problem that arises here is that cognition is something subjective and personal. It is possible for a person to go astray in this illuminist path. This has been restated over and over in the mystic and Sufi literature. The solution proposed in the procedure is to pass the journey under the supervision of a mentor and leader, someone who had already passed this path. But how the first mentor can be assured of this form of knowledge? Besides, there are cases that are not utterly dependent on mentor and leader; for instance, Ibn Sina’s vigilant being imagines a person who looks at the absolute existence with a God-given intellect and with regard to the indications that exist in the nature. This person will go astray even if he enters society, and he will return to his solitude (Haeri Yazdi, 1992). As a whole, justifying the knowledge and passing its procedures are fraught with intricate problems; and it seems that everyone cannot do it, and in some cases, due to the beliefs that appear in a hermit like Hallach, certain problems emerges for him. As for this axiom, mystics and Sufists attempted to hide their findings from the living things.

The first and second approaches views Islam as knowledge. In the third approach, knowledge is light, but it is thought in the philosophical approach (Rosenthal, 1970). The emphasis of the philosophical approach on the acquisition of knowledge is human intellect. However, intellect is not irrelevant to senses and experience, but the acquisition of knowledge is more like a hierarchy among Islamic philosophers (Nuseibeh, 1996). In an inductive process from bottom to top, the highest levels are attributed to knowledge and intellect. The centrality of philosophical knowledge is logic which is an essential components according to Ibn Sina, as there is no room for substituting it. Logic allows for justification and assurance of our findings, allowing us to establish strong foundations for knowledge. When logic is supposed to fit into this firm foundation, it chiefly aims to make sense of the natures of things. If we assign genus, definition, differentia, property, and accident for everything; logical cognition lays emphasis on the first three species; that is to say, the three attributes should exist in each decent definition. To arrive at a definition, logic is divided into two categories—conception and assent. For Islamic philosophers, conception is the same as the Aristotelian perception, in that it is in direct connection with the external world. Logic forges a linguistic connection between mind and something external. Conception is divided into known and unknown. Known conceptions such as “existence”, “being”, “necessity”, but acquisitive conceptions are the subjects that are interpreted to be unknown conceptions by means of known concepts just like a triangle. As for concepts, there is no room for judgment, as a conceptual connection is forged between the mind and external thing, which is mainly related to sensory and experimental discussions. The topic of judgment falls in the realm of assent, which is divided into two categories explicit assent such as ‘the whole is greater than the part”, and acquired assent as with “the world is compound”. The link between the conceptions that emerge through senses and experience is feasible by means of intellect and judgment. The highest form of explication of primary axioms in the discovery of unknown intellectual matters can be accomplished through demonstration.

The important question that Muslim philosophers face is to what extent the basics or examples consisting of the essences of things exist in human’s mind more than that in the application of demonstration and explication. This can prompt philosophers to investigate the structure of human soul and designate a hierarchy for it. The hierarchy is accomplished through the active intellect which is the last intellect of the metaphysical intellects and is situated in the constellation of moon, and is known as Gabriel, the angel, or even the bridge or purgatory between the two worlds; this active intellect (Wahb al-Asur) considers everything as something that entails substance and form just like the Aristotelian interpretation. The four components are the substances formed and come to existence through their upper shapes. They then turn into solids, plants and animals and eventually talking animals. Each stage after the four elements is considered to be shape for the stage preceding it and substance for the one following it. The most critical stage of knowledge acquisition is attributed to the talking animal, in that intellect reaches the level of inactive intellect, human intelligence and active intelligence which is the highest and closest stage to active intellect through which human can attain the knowledge to which there is no superior and with which one can be aware of all discussions of this world.

Given the above, Ibn Sina lays emphasis on the definition of wisdom when it comes to knowledge. Wisdom is the perfection of human soul in the conception and assent of theoretical and practical truths as much as human power (Ibn Sina, n.d. a). For a man to reach his soul perfection, he should make the transition from his early understandings to unknowing. Thus, “everything that we don’t know and we want to know should be taught in the first place; and whatever has remained unlearned should be learnt by learning, but not every knowing should be called unknowing, as every unknowing entails knowing in itself, from which knowing would become feasible and there would be a path through which knowing is achieved by knowing unknowing” (Ibn Sina, 1974). But before the transition from unknowing to knowing, it is necessary for us to learn about single elements and primary concepts. For instance, if man is said to be a talking animal, he must know both “animal” and talking” (Ibn Sina, 1974). Knowing is invariably achieved either through the senses, e.g. the sun is bright, or from elders and sages of the Sharia as well as Imams, or through the consensus of the people in this regard, e.g. “lying is abhorrent and cruelty should be avoided” (Ibn Sina, 1974). Each of these findings and singular elements should be investigated either by primary wisdom instilled in the configuration of human or by thought (Ibn Sina, 1974), so that one can make sure if it is right. Thus, accordingly knowing is of two types; one is like the conception of people and angle; if it is imagined, it can be perceived, and the second is assent or inclination toward something by consciousness (Ibn Sina, 1974).

But what should we do if we are supposed to know what we knew and want to use as a basis for learning and recognizing unknowing is true or not? That is to say, what should we do to reach the assured and certified truth? To this end, we have to draw on the science of logic. Logic shows us whether our knowing is right or wrong so that we can lay the foundations for other sciences according to it. Logic is the science of scale, as other sciences are the sciences of profit and loss (Ibn Sina, 1974; Ibn Sina, 1996). In other words, we have to go beyond the middle term of logic. And, the salvation of people lies in the purity of the soul, and purity of the soul is the cessation of existences in him and eschewal of natural pollution, and both ways lead to knowledge, and every knowledge not being built on scale is deprived of certainty, so it is not knowledge for sure; in which case, we have no way but to learn logic (Ibn Sina, 1974).

There are three ways to distinguish knowing from unknowing—example, induction, and syllogism—from bottom to top respectively. The example is something they call when they see resemblance to it” (Ibn Sina, 1974), or it is called example as if it is a judgment within a section, they two match in general sense” (Ibn Sina, 1996). This kind of judgment mainly used in jurisprudence (Ibn Sina, 1974) can earn us little certainty about the resemblance between several trivial things, so any judgment like this may be true in some cases while untrue in others. Basically, making a judgment based on trivial things cannot be generalized.

Induction is a judgment about a general subject, before the judgment recognizes the details of the subject (Ibn Sina, 1974; Ibn Sina, 1996). As opposed to example, this type of judgment applies to a general case based on details. It is important to notice when all details can be known and then a general judgment is made. But according to Ibn Sina, this cannot earn us an absolute certainty. The example he given is about a crocodile: “every animal moves its lower jaw when chewing something (Ibn Sina, 1974; Ibn Sina, 1976); this inductive judgement can be annulled and violated inasmuch as crocodile may move its upper jaw when eating.

Syllogism is a remark about which certain remarks are given, as it is accepted there need to be other remarks any time (Ibn Sina, 1974; Ibn Sina, 1996). In other words, syllogism is accomplished with two premises and one conclusion. For instance, every object is an illustration, and every illustration is a narration. When the two premises are accepted, then another postulation and result would be that every object is a narration.

The most important syllogism is demonstrative syllogism which is the closest one to truth and certainty. Following demonstrative syllogism, dialectical syllogism is the closest and most useful syllogism. As a gain of dialectic, it can be used for people who purport to be knowledgeable or have wrong religion as their fallacy cannot be demonstrated as long as they have no faith in demonstrations. In addition, if one is supped to be shown the path to truth, providing reasoning and demonstrations will pose an obstacle and problem for them, though dialectic can prove to be effective. Third, in relation to the education of minor sciences such as geometry, medicine and physics, one needs to know principles derived from metaphysics. Teaching these principles on the basis of demonstrations may cause learner to be concerned chiefly about the learning about the sciences, so the principles can be presented to him in a dialectic manner, and he can make sure what is demonstrable or what is not in light of dialectic. That is to say, it lays the foundation for learning demonstrations (Ibn Sina, 1974).

Demonstrative syllogism is divided into two categories; one is the real demonstration, aka demonstration through the cause; and the second is demonstration not through the cause. All demonstrations are some kind of demonstration through the cause, but the major demonstration is the one that we know the cause of that phenomenon. For instance, if it is said that there is a fire, then it is asked “how do you know?”, then the answer would be that “because of the smoke that is coming from there. So far, the existence and cause of fire become apparent, because smoke is coming from fire. However, the cause of fire is unknown. If its cause is discovered, it will the demonstration through the cause, and the question would be why the fire happened (Ibn Sina, 1974; Ibn Sina, 1996). Different sciences deal with four principles namely “what”, “how”, “when”, and “where” (Ibn Sina, 1974).

Some branches of science encompasses particular topics as others deal with general facts. All branches of science are interrelated. Particular sciences fall in the realm of general science, and this hierarchy of science ranges from principles of science and general science to general and absolute existing knowledge which is in the realm of metaphysics. While a science is more general than another science as the general science is particular relative to another, in that the natural status of an entity is discusses; the science is called metaphysics (Ibn Sina, 1974). Throughout this process, the role of demonstration is fundamental, as general principles cannot be obtained without it.

Sciences are divided into two general categories; one is that its existence depends on our action, as the other is that its existence depends not on our action (Ibn Sina, 1974). The first category is called practical science, the function of which is to arrange affairs in the world, and the other is irrelevant to this world, as its function is for the happiness of the next world, which is called theoretical science. Either of the sciences is divided into three classes (Ibn Sina, 1974); practical science to science of public management, science of home management, and science of self, as well as theoretical (speculative) science, metaphysics, superior science, science of mathematics, and quasi-superior science.

Human’s perceptual mechanism

Avicenna’s knowledge is to a large extent the knowledge of imperative soul; there is a close relationship between knowledge acquisition and human’s perceptual mechanism. Thus, it seems necessary to investigate human’s perceptual mechanism, while it contributes to the discussion of leadership.

Since human’s faculty is similar to animal’s soul faculty in some respects, we deal with human’s soul faculty in the first place. Animal’s soul faculty can be presented as follows in the grand scheme of things; (Ibn Sina, n.d. b; Ibn Sina, 1974; Ibn Sina, 1996).

From animal’s apperceptive faculty, five external senses are audition, vision, smell, taste, and touch. Avicenna considers five senses for inner or internal faculty; common sense, retentive imagination, compositive imagination, estimative power, and memory. Common sense (bentasia) is as if “all senses are born from this sense and reach for it” (Ibn Sina, 1974). Sharaf al-Din Khurasani was critical of Aviccena’s view about the sameness of bentasia and fantasia. The Greek term is according to Aristotle the power of imagination, but the term “common sense” is the Arabic equivalence of the Greek term Koine Aisthesis which was used by Aristotle for “psyche”, particularly in his short essay “On sleep and sleeplessness”; however, it has yet to be known why Avicenna chose the term ‘fantasia’ for “common sense”. On the contrary, in his famous medicine book “the law”, he considers common sense as an equivalence for imagination (fantasia), holding that physicians consider ‘common sense’ and ‘imagination’ the same, while scholars draw a distinction between them” (Khorasani, 1991).

Motion faculty



Apperceptive faculty


  • Yearning faculty (lust and anger faculty)
  • Faculty of rationality


  • Five external senses
  • Five internal senses















Fig. 1. Animal’s soul according to Avicenna (Nasr, 1976)

Retentive imagination is everything reaches the common sense, it can retain, then a conceivable separation as if it reached a sense which undoubtedly cannot be seen in animals (Ibn SIna, 1974).

Power of wahm (estimation) is such that inconceivable things can be seen as if a sheep is perceived as a wolf, or the shape of an enemy can be seen beyond his inner sense, and this inner sense is called wahm, as it is like reasoning that is superior to animals (Ibn SIna, 1974).

The power of compositive imagination (al-mutakhayyilah) is that images are fused together or separated so that the person make an example of it to the extent that two persons can be seen as half in their imagination, and this power works all the time in combination with things similar or dissimilar, as you see things, different imagination comes about; this is his nature (Ibn SIna, 1974). But as long as this power is compared with animal’s soul, it is called al-mutakhayyilah, and when it refers to human’s soul, it is cognitive faculty (al-mufakkirah) (Ibn Sina, n.d. a). The compositive imagination has a chief function such as disease, enhancement of sensory moments in sleep and sleeplessness and upward tendency, as the latter will be addressed in the discussion of prophecy.

The faculty of memory and estimation (wahm) are symmetrical, as are imagination and sense. Thus, the one is dominating sense and its storehouse is imagination, and the other is dominating estimation, and its storehouse is memory (Ibn Sina, 1974).

The difference between man and animal can perhaps lie in his rational and general perception. Rational soul which is peculiar to human being is composed of practical and rational faculty, which is generally called intellect. Practical faculty is the driving force of human body’s movement and used in body’s trivial functions. Practical faculty has three functions-animal-like yearning faculty, animal-like compositive imagination, and the credit of soul-analogy. But the credit of self-analogy can be attributed to the set of actions that compose practical and theoretical intellect which is associated with practice and generates a faculty per se and accepts it apparently, as in lying dismissed as repugnant and cruelty as abominable; accepting this state of mind cannot be through demonstration but proof (Ibn Sina, n.d. a)

The powers of human soul must entirely follow theoretical intellect, as they fall in the realm of practical intellect whenever soul inclines to passive affairs and bodily matters, and when soul is predisposed to active affairs and meta-body matters, the rational faculty of rational soul come about, falling in the realm of theoretical faculty (Ibn Sina, n.d. a). Theoretical faculty is responsible for abstracting general forms from matter. If the forms are abstracts in essence, it is easier to understand them, but as they are fused with matter, it is important to abstract them from matter (Ibn Sina, n.d. a). However, intellect can abstract the nature fused with personal effects, and demonstrate it in such a way that it is tangibly formed to be shaped rationally (Ibn Sina, 1996).

Levels of intellect

The process of abstraction from substance is such that form can be actualized by a faculty. In doing so, the first stage of abstraction is material intelligence in which rationality is accepted without any rational form; this intellect is called faculty intellect. If true premises are accomplished or some evidence come to light, intellect will reach the habitual intellect (Aql bi al-Malaka), and it can be actual intellect if it is achieved by true premises and proofs of acquired intellects, and if the intellects come to light in soul and continue to exist in it and become accessible when necessary, man will reach intellectus adeptus (Ibn Sina, n.d. a; Ibn Sina, 1974). However, what can this individual who reached this level of human intellect is called in Ibn Sina’s discussion is not clear quite enough. The only one who can reach intellectus adeptus is fully capable and sensible of the middle term (Ibn Sina, n.d. a).

In “Natures, Esharaat and Tanbihaat” (Pointers and Reminders), Avicenna considers speculation to be superior to thought, as it may or may not come to a result about the understanding of middle terms in things, but there is no impairment in speculation. Thought is a movement of some sort for the soul in meanings, which draws on imagination and through which four terms or alternatives to four terms that help knowledge to get access to unknowing if they are missed are demanded; in this vein, learned things previously stored as in the internal faculty are investigated. Thus, it either reaches the desired level or becomes pointless. Nonetheless, speculation is something through which middle term comes to mind right away following the yearning with or without movement and established in mind with the middle term of what is the result or judgment about (Ibn Sina, 1996).

In other words, it seems that the position of speculation is of two forms here; one, speculation is a prelude to demonstrative syllogism in order to reach the four terms, which is synonymous with other presuppositions namely beliefs and references. Once again, belief goes beyond other premises, as results and judgments are shaped in man’s mind. Maybe, this duality can be resolved with the levels of speculations, whether it be the highest speculations, i.e. the closeness to the level of prophethood, but Avicenna’s dual approach to the equality of speculation and thought is not tenable as a prelude to demonstrative syllogism or superiority of speculation over thought.

Another point is made by Davidson about the relation between thought and speculation. On the one hand, Avicenna considers the rational and cognitive process of achieving four terms and results of syllogism to be influenced by active intellect, and, on the other hand, he contends that, regarding the analogy of thought and speculation, the latter may or may not yield a result. In other words, he once considers thought to be the result of active intellect, while he believes it is the result of the physical faculty of soul, which is not stemming from active intellect but an imaginative faculty; that is why mistakes may happen (Davidson, 1992). Thus, the two assumptions do not accord with each other in Avicenna’s writings.

But when speculation reaches its highest point, the entirety of the middle term would (literally) fit into man’s mind, so he is no longer in desperate need of active intellect. Avicenna here comes up with three interpretations; one is the soul or holy soul “which is not unlikely that some attributes are assigned to this holy soul by means of its superiority and faculty over compositive imagination. The latter is recognized by more conceivable and audible examples (Ibn Sina, n.d. b). second, it refers to a sacred intellect by which person can reach the middle term of everything in the phase of material intellect; this phase is the highest point in talents. This level of material intellect should be called the sacred intellect, and is a form of the habitual intellect, except that it is a level higher than it, and it is not such that everybody share in it (Ibn Sina, n.d. b).

The two interpretations are seen in this quotation from Alaei encyclopedia; “But the holy soul was the rational soul of prophets who can be aware of rationality with speculation and the bond between the world of uneducated angles and are able to travel through imagination when they are awake and gain in unknown knowledge and revelation as the latter was a bond between angles and people’s spirits to communicate with their soul and influence the material world, so that they can bring miracles and take away its material feature and bring another form back, and this is the last level that people can enjoy because it is continuous and reaches the level of angelness; thus, such a person can function as God’s caliphate on the ground, and his existence is tenable and indispensable for the survival of mankind” (Ibn Sina, 1974).

The third interpretation is sacred power. This faculty is a combination of the first two dimensions; it has the holy soul and intellect together. “It is likely that mankind’s soul is attested owing to the degree of his bond with rational principles as he continually draws on speculations and embrace active intellect on a regular basis, so a form of active intellect come to light in this person most of the time or almost all the time. Nonetheless, it would not be an imitating embodiment but the one in accordance with middle term, because imitations do not entail certainty and rationality regarding the matters the need to be recognized by their own means; this is an epitome of prophecy, and yet it is the strongest faculty of prophecy, so it is crucial that this faculty be called sacred power; and this is the highest and best levels of mankind’s soul faculties” (Ibn Sina, n.d. b). The emphasis on the notion that middle term would reach speculation without any emulation is an indication of using rational principles; that is, it is a blend of speculation and intellect. The one who climbs to this level, he has reached the level of prophethood which will be addressed in another section, knowledge and leadership, but before that, we need to approach active intellect as the last part of knowledge.

Active intellect

The human soul is wise to a great extent, and in need of a cause in order to be actualized. This transition from power to action requires another cause outside the purview of the soul just like any other transition. Among rational causes which are close to the lower world, we can refer to active intellect. Like any celestial being, active intellect is actual. It has to be actualized if it is supposed to bestow form on a faculty. The correspondence between active intellect and our soul is the same as the one between the sun and visible things in this world (Ibn Sina, n.d. b; Ibn Sina; 1974).

The mechanism for active intellect’s bestowing is such that conceivable things should emerge in the common sense of the soul and then they are stored in the storehouse of compositive imagination power. Since the rational soul is sensible of its prior faculty, it is cognizant of the details of the compositive imagination. That is to say, the imagination or cognition power- which is henceforth called cognitive faculty (al-mufakkirah) when it is hired by the rational soul-provide the rational soul with the sufficient readiness for accepting the bestowment of active intellect, and the active intellect incorporate the form of the existing details of the cognitive power into the intellect by shining in the rational soul. This form itself is passed on to the intellect from imagination (Ibn Sina, n.d. b). This readiness for embracing the bestowal from active intellect is the same as the one for accepting the result of achieving the middle term in logic. However, the two dimensions are of the same type in one respect and of different types in another aspect; when light shines on things, the eyes see them; this seeing is not the same as the shining of light, and yet the form of things do not represent them per se. When light falls on the glowing things, an effect from them can be seen in the eyes; this effect from any side is not the same as the lighting itself (Ibn Sina, n.d. b). Beside, Imaginations which are potential intellects become actual intellects, these imaginations are not actual intellects but rather what is derived from them is actual intellect, as the effect come as a result of lighting from the tangible form is not the same form, but it is something else that is shaped proportionate to the glooming thing facing it (Ibn Sina, n.d. b). Hence this version of form which is perceived by human intellect is something other than matter, and there is no need for sensory matters to think of them. At this point, intellect is able to discern intrinsic and transcendental things and works out the differences and similarities and associate one with several things and vice versa. This can be in two ways; one, different meanings in imagination, which are not in the purview of difference term, make sense of this term; second, its compositive term is perceived through their type and difference (Ibn Sina, n.d. b). This is the main feature of human intellect, as human intellect’s perfection lies in the acquisition of the middle term of everything.

The final point of the knowledge section concerns practical intellect. Practical intellect deal with minor matters, this world, as well as the matter of arranging the body and practical science. To this end, obvious, famous and experimental arrangements are made in accordance with the general considerations of theoretical intellect (Ibn Sina, 1996; Ibn Sina, n.d. a). Two problems arises here, which are essential to discuss the relation between knowledge and leadership; 1) Practical intellect do not receive bestowal directly from active intellect, 2) it is achieved through theoretical intellect which is in contact with active intellect. However, regarding the definition of the link between practical intellect and theoretical intellect to achieve prosperity and perfection, we are concerned with the third advantage of human’s practical faculty, which was discussed above. In other words, Regarding self-analogy, composition of practical intellect and theoretical intellect, the attribute that can accrue to an action is generated in that power (practical faculty) is accepted as Estefaze and famous proposition, as in lying dismissed as repugnant and cruelty as abominable (Ibn Sina, n.d. a). Practical intellect should wait for theoretical intellect through active intellect one way or another, so that it can be utilized in minor and worldly matters. But, should the person who has not yet passed the stages of theoretical intellect or engaged in this process by any means decline the use of practical intellect? That is to say, in Avicenna’s works, it is not clear what the ultimate result of the discussions namely home management, politics, and ethics would be; does practical intellect have to follow theoretical intellect? If so, it has to wait for the perfection of theoretical intellect. But, in Avicenna’s works, there is no such an emphasis, theoretical intellect refers to the practical intellect only with general considerations. And, if the procedures of theoretical intellect are failed, he pays no attention to Farabi’s non-virtuous policies. It seems that practical intellect and practical science did not intrigue Ibn Sina as much as they should. His political activities may account for his lack of interest.

The relation between knowledge and leadership

The first point we should make here is why Ibn Sina is so mindless of political discussions despite the breadth of his writings and practical political participation. This is such that he also takes no care of the different sections of his theory on prophethood, though this apathy is quite obvious; however, there are couple of questions that make his indifference to political debates more apparent. In this regard, some hypotheses are put forward; the one concerns his influence from Farabi. Farabi’s political system was built on the extent that it was not simple to go past it, so Avicenna’s political gap should have been filled with Farabi’s (Qaderi, 1999). Avicenna’s practical and political engagement was not so determining, in that another hypotheses was formulated about his lack of attention to political matters. He was unable to deal with vast political ideas when he was involved in politics and ministry; for if these thoughts were ideal and desirable, they had been at odds with the existing systems. And, if there was explanation and expansion of existing thoughts in society, there would have been no need to solely process them by considering his other concerns as a philosopher. However, the hypothesis was also presented that Avicenna’s Shiite tendencies, along with his intense activity in Sunni communities, prompted him to be cautious; nevertheless, the upshot of the hypotheses ended up with the idea that Avicenna should not be viewed as a political philosopher in the same way as Farabi, though his political system as well as Farabi’s shared key points (Qaderi, 1999).

The topic of politics among Greek-based Islamic thinkers falls within the realm of practical wisdom; it is only prophethood that the role of theoretical wisdom comes to the fore. Perhaps In Avicenna’s writings, attention to the discussion of politics and specifically leadership can be raised in two ways: dealing with these two interpretations seems to be the same.

Ibn Sina argues that the difference between animal and human being lies in the fact that the latter cannot live alone and meet his essential needs. That is to say, he is in need of collaboration and cooperation with others. This urgent need lays the foundation for establishing city and society, in the sense that city or society are not simply mechanisms for meeting necessary needs after being established, but it is a place where human being is able to reach “perfection” (Ibn Sina, 1991). However, there are people who fail to adapt themselves to others, as their presence in society is simply due to their ability to fulfil basic and survival in society. Although they are not in pursuit of “perfection”, they have to adapt themselves to collective life (Ibn Sina, 1991).

Thus, participation and collaboration are indispensable for human existence and survival, a there would be a need for trade in this vein. He needs law in order to make trade go on properly and cause no discrepancy that may violate the matter of need fulfilment. This law and administration of justice on the one hand align maladjusted people of society, and, on the other hand, lay the groundwork for the realization of human perfection.

He is in need of a legislator and executor of justice in order to thwart any persecution that people, craftsmen and manufacturers face in their transactions. Therefore, Man needs legislator and executor of justice to realize his existence and survival of his kind more than the growing of hair on the side of his eyelids and eyebrows and sunken palms and any other useful things that are essential for his survival, but eventually it can be said that he needs what is convenient of some sort (Ibn Sina, 1991). Hence the absolute being cannot be heedless of the very basic necessity which is the basis of all benefits and perfections, and the existence of a righteous and legislative human being, and the origin of existence that regards everything and have never been ignorant of this; hence, how can a legislator and executor of justice be missed?, while all constituents and components of him exist (Ibn Sina, 1991). Therefore, there has to be a prophet with characteristics other than those of others. The characteristics include hearing the words of God, seeing the angles of God in their visible shapes (Ibn Sina, 1991). The characteristics make him special and make it easier for people to accept him; e.g. miracle. The Holy Spirit, Gabriel, sends revelation to prophet so that it can function as a comprehensive law for the lives of the people. Prophet lays down rules in accordance with the recognition of the one and only Creator and over and covert cognizant of people (Ibn Sina, 1991). At the same time, he should not let people have knowledge that may bewilder them, because people cannot attain it without trials and tribulations, and only few of them have the power to do so (Ibn Sina, 1991). However, the divine message should not be implicit and ironic; this also goes beyond the comprehension of ordinary people as it leaves them in doubt. Thus, People need to be guided about tangible phenomena and greatness and glory of God with the help of allegories and similes, letting them be taught to the extent that they know God is unique and matchless. Nevertheless, the words of prophet can encompass pointers and secrets that people who are naturally talented in thought, discussion and research can only deal with (Ibn Sina, 1991).

In Ibn Sina’s thought, the discussion of prophet and his role in the legislation and administration of society is somehow a step beyond practical wisdom as well as the bond between practical and theoretical wisdom. In other words, the best version of government is the one that follows theoretical wisdom. The highest kind of theoretical wisdom relies on speculation and sacred intellect according to what was discussed above. Accordingly, two stages are concerned about the link between knowledge and prophetic leadership, which can be according to Davidson (1992) an indication of two prophetic leaderships; one is prophethood based on imagination, i.e. active intellect bestows revelation with prophet’s imagination power mentioned above (Davidson, 1992), and the other is intellectual prophethood that active intellect bestow on material intellect. This phase of intellect, which even goes beyond habitual intellect, is called sacred intellect, which is the highest phase of prophethood. In this stage, as against the prophethood based on imagination which is revealed only by the faculty of imagination, no emulation is observed, but instead rational principles are also utilized (Ibn Sina, n.d. a).

Two more points should be made here; one, Ibn Sina does not make a clear reference to the relationship between theoretical wisdom and practical wisdom. Since active intellect ceases to bestow anything on practical intellect, how is theoretical wisdom related to practical wisdom? Theoretical wisdom concerns the world above, as practical wisdom is about the lower world. How does he holder of theoretical wisdom or prophet can apply practical wisdom? What is discussed by Ibn Sina shows no clear relation between rational and practical matter. Second, should be the prophet on the top of society one he reached his final stage? That is to say, should be the prophet lead the society when he get to his final stage? Doesn’t he need to learn practical wisdom? Practical wisdom is not definitely achieved through active intellect, so there has to be a process by which he can be on the top of society. If Avicenna delineated the relation between theoretical wisdom and practical wisdom, the answer to this question would be possible.

Avicenna has a second account of leadership in society, which is entirely platonic. In Chapter IV of the tenth article al-Shafa, he considers every society to be of three classes; moderators (managers), creators (craftsmen), and guards (keepers) (Ibn Sina, 1981). We need creators in order to meet the basic needs of society, and a prophet to establish Sunnah and Sharia in order for traders to enjoy order and arrangement and avoid any conflict and help to maintain the entirety of society; we also need keepers to enforce and safeguard law in order to properly establish this Sharia in society. The leader of this society should have three characteristics; be virtuous, wise, and brave, the sum of which is justice (Ibn Sina, 1981). The main difference here between Ibn Sina and Plato is that Plato comes up with three classes according to the three features (Plato, 1995). However, Ibn Sina considers them indispensable for the leadership of society. The leadership of this society should steer people into God’s way and good traditions so that a good city emerges and society will not be corrupted. All of these matters fall in the realm of practical wisdom and the general account of political matters, leadership or personal management.

As for the two narrations of leadership and politics in Ibn Sina’s view, three points should be reviewed; first, it is evident that the main narration is the first one among the two narrations; whether it be the first narration, theoretical and practical wisdom are considered concomitantly. Besides, prophet is fit into the lower world according to the rest of Avicenna’s cosmology, and “if theoretical wisdom is added to it (practical wisdom), happiness will happen, and be granted to him as a feature of prophethood; whenever this applies to anyone, he should be prayed after prophet, and he will be the king of the world on earth and God’s successor (Ibn Sina, 1981). But if this is the case, why did Avicenna talk about the second type of leadership? In other words, if the necessity of prophethood and its position are such that the ultimate goal cannot take account of, then there has to be a prophetic leader in this world for sure, or it must be a prophet in the beginning, and his teachings are kept up in society after that. The subsequent leaders who rule by practical wisdom can follow the law.

The second point deals with the position of the level of intellects in Ibn Sina’s theory. If prophet can receive bestowal from active intellect in accordance with speculation or sacred intellect (i.e. the stage of material intellect), and in the second narration, practical wisdom takes on a major role; in which case, where are the levels of intellects from material intellects to acquired intellect and the place of cognition in the leadership of society? This important issue drew little attention in Ibn Sina’s discussion.

Successor of prophet

The third point is related to the topic of the succession of prophet. Ibn Sina has two narrations about succession with respect to the two leadership narrations; the first narration concerns the successor of prophet. Since prophet is the one, Ibn Sina lays emphasis on the survival of his Sharia after prophet. To this end, some measures must be taken to keep the memory of God and the Resurrection in the hearts and minds of people. Praying, fasting, going on Hajj, jihad, moral purification and purging, etc., can all contribute to the survival of this Sharia. Anyone who can implement these measures can be the successor of prophet.

In the second narration, Ibn Sina comes up with the matter of caliphate in accordance with either the consensus of individuals on the indications of people’s righteousness in respect of noble morality, courage, chastity, good judgment, and sufficient knowledge, and being superior to others in terms of Sharia, or through the text that Ibn Sina contends that this type of succession is closer to good deeds; it can thwart segmentation, conflict and differences (Ibn Sina, 1981).

Table 1. Stages of the relation between knowledge and leadership in Ibn Sina’s view

  1. Ibn Sina’s discussions do not necessarily fall in the sub-discussion of practical wisdom in the same way as those or Greek thinkers such as Aristotle, and there was a link between them; for this reason, they were the point of distinction and even innovations.
  2. Living in community is essential for reaching human perfection.
  3. For perfection-based social life, law and administration of justice are necessary.
  4. Administering justice and enforcing law require a just legislator.
  5. According to Ibn Sina, prophet himself is the main embodiment of a just legislator.
  6. The type of knowledge, its features, how it is attained for a prophet are of two types; speculation and sacred intellect, which are the indication of a special type of logic, i.e. fast achievement of the middle term and a God-given, appropriate mechanism in prophet, which include divine grace, so that he can reach this level.
  7. Prophet’s succession is in two ways just like a prophet; following Sharia brought by the Prophet in case of the end of his prophethood, and prophethood based on text.


It seems that the topic of consensus and text about succession after prophet can also be applicable. If so, how would it be the matter of action? Does it mean that the prophet himself announce his successor or does it have to happen through prophet’s Sharia? As for the latter case, the discussion of consensus arises on text. That is to say, the difference between text and consensus and the text of Sharia is not so obvious to appoint a successor, as Ibn Sina refused to shed light on this. Perhaps, Davidson was right, saying that categories and sub-categories of prophethood are equivocal. It is likely that Avicenna simply disregards this, but he might have deliberately intended to hide his interest from problematic readers. Maybe he preferred not to let them know which category of prophethood is his concern, so all his explanation could be limited to God (Davidson, 1992).


The purpose of this article was to explore the relationship between knowledge and leadership in Islamic society from the perspective of Ibn Sina. The pivotal question of this paper was that leadership is the only aspect of leadership in Islamic society in proportion to the functions defined for it in different societies, and it is used only for arranging worldly affairs; but one needs to enjoy the knowledge of superior certainty brought by active intellect to human intellect in order to help people attain happiness in the hereafter, so that he deserves to sit in the position of leadership in Islamic society. Accordingly, according to Ibn Sina, the leadership of the Islamic society must not only have the appropriate knowledge such logic, he must also have an internal talent to gain knowledge and reach the high level of intellects. If these levels are not fulfilled, the possibility for taking advantage of divine grace will not remain. Thus, the leadership of the Islamic society is not simply a personal responsibly for gaining people’s trust and arranging affairs in this world, but instead it is some kind of responsibility before God; this position is very great among the Muslims. Ibn Sina agreeably managed to forge a link between knowledge and leadership and provided us with a good understanding of the position of leadership in Islamic society; and this leadership model in Islamic Philosophy, which was previously proposed by Farabi, is an “ideal version” of leadership in Islam, without which the understanding of leadership in Islamic society and its comparison with other societies, particularly what is the prevailing religion in the west and material world, will not be feasible. Therefore, this perception of Ibn Sina of knowledge and leadership, can be a guiding lesson for Islamic societies to develop a model and exemplary society in today’s world, despite the criticisms leveled at him and discussion held by current thinkers in the Islamic world and the foundation for an intellectual debate with his predecessors

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