In the mindsets of Arabs and Muslims, philosophy is a long-standing and long-term cultural journey. As it passes many milestones, it sparks just as many lively debates.
One famous clash occurred between 10thcentury Persian philosopher Al-Ghazali and 11thcentury Andalusian philosopher Ibn Rushd on 'The Incoherence of the Philosophers' and then deepened into ‘The Incoherence of ‘the Incoherence of the Philosophers’.
Such clashes are likely to continue for several centuries, alongside other such discussions and may one day amount to a central foundation for opinion on the feasibility of philosophy, in general, and its relationship to Islam, in particular.
That can reveal the conservative historical view in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries towards philosophy and the anxiety which it provokes among the ranks of some social groups in such countries.
Philosophy came to the attention of scholars in Saudi Arabia in the 1960s and 1970s, although the subject was not necessarily identified with its name for students sent abroad on government-funded programmes.
Nonetheless, they encountered philosophy's characteristics, learning about methods of inference, such as induction, deduction and syllogism, which became a visible aspect of studying mathematics and social sciences in the Kingdom.
Awareness of philosophical techniques increased via applications in traditional areas such as Arabic grammar and the principles of Islamic jurisprudence.
Philosophy soon proved essential to the development of new major theories in a range of intellectual practices — from the social sciences to formal scientific research. It has become clear that separating philosophy from science is practically impossible, making it important to distinguish between what is acceptable from the discipline and what is not.
The National Festival for Heritage and Culture, popularly known as Al-Janadriyah, which launched a cultural programme in the mid-1980s, provided one of the main milestones for philosophical discourse and a platform for it.
Another was the transformation of the Riyadh Book Fair into an international festival in the mid-2000s. It helped put philosophical titles into libraries and readers' hands, after a period when philosophy books were banned.
In 2008, within two years of the transformation of the International Book Fair, the Philosophical Circle — or Harf — was launched through the Riyadh Literary Club to form the first local gathering focused on philosophy. At the same time, the Hail Literary Club showed greater interest in philosophical writings and lectures and organised seminars about it.
Similar activities appeared in other regions, taking the conversation in and around philosophical matters outside universities and into the social realm — at least in elite circles.
Most notable among them was the launch of the Garland of Philosophy forum (or diwan al falsafah) from the Jeddah Literary Club, the Knowledge Circle in the Eastern Province, and the Philosophical Peace Forum within the Najran Literary Club.
There were also qualitative contributions of the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture — or Ithra — in Dhahran, which offered specialised programmes and lectures.
Then, at the end of 2018, came a turning point.
The Saudi Ministry of Education announced the introduction of philosophy and law into secondary schools. From here, philosophy's principles and the practice of critical thinking entered general education — aiming to move schooling from an instruction-based approach to one which encourages thought, questioning and the ability to make deductions.