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Die Blutezeit der arabischen Wissenschaft.

This small volume brings together five papers, four in German (nos. 1, 2, 4, 5), one in English (no. 3), on different Islamic sciences, including philosophy, the science of science. The selections are uneven, yet representative; we find, side-by-side, papers on philosophy, medicine, mathematics, musicology, as well as physics and chemistry; some are highly technical, others have been designed and revised to address a broader public.

The book opens with Gerhard Endress' informative and balanced survey on Aristotelianism in Islam. His main thesis is that Aristotle's logic provided the adepts of the Greek heritage in the early Islamic middle ages with a methodology and a consistent system of thought, whereas Aristotle's metaphysical and ethical writings were construed to serve as vehicles toward purifying and guiding the rational soul. Attention is given to the attributions, in Islamic times, of neo-Platonic writings to Aristotle, the "first teacher" of philosophy and pure science. With the further elaboration and systematization of philosophical arguments and models in Islam toward a universal truth, so Endress makes clear, the superior claims of Revelation for providing individual and collective orientation were challenged. In the end, despite its formal defeat, Aristotelianism remained germane to Islamic thinking, particularly to nascent scholasticism. In mystical Islam, notably in the theosophy of Suhrawardi and his Shii followers, Aristotelian falsafa could even be cited as having come to full fruition only in the union with the Creator.

The second contribution is Johann Christoph Burgel's concise survey of the genesis of an indigenous Islamic medicine between large-scale borrowings from Galenic medicine and al-tibb al-nabawi in later centuries. Attention is given to the intrinsic impediments to a full adoption of Greek medicine by the Arabs: it was tarnished by its pagan origin; it was practiced, for the most part at least, by non-Muslims; and most significant, it meant an infringement upon God's sole and unadulterated command over causality. After a long process (on which we, as Burgel repeatedly states, still know much too little) a crude synthesis between the two constituents was achieved; elements of the anti-rational tenets of the Prophetic medicine were even projected back into the writings of the Greek masters. When reading this lucid and well-structured treatise, one becomes more curious than ever to see in print Burgel's major study on medical ethics in medieval Islam; this is the field in which his contribution to scholarship is most impressive.

Yvonne Dold-Samplonius' brief sketch on quadratic equations in Arab mathematics also discusses the over-arching issue of the adoption and refinement, but also rejection, of the Greek scholarly tradition. A few observations are of particular interest. We are shown, in a photograph on p. 70, a quote from al-Karaji's (early 11th century) Kitab al-Fakhri on the diverse steps toward solving the equation |x.sup.2~ + 10x = 39, without any symbol or algebraic notation mentioned. And it is striking to learn, if only between the lines, that in algebraic equations no negative coefficients were permissible, i.e., that in the example just quoted only x = 3, not x = -13, is a proper solution. The article lacks the necessary synthetic effort and has not been carefully edited; change, e.g., on p. 71 Umar al-Khayyami into the correct Umar al-Khayyam and Rubayyat into Rubaiyyat; on p. 69 we read the correct Abu Kamil, on p. 74 however Abu Kamil.

Benedikt Reinert's craftsmanship in tracing, and interpreting, numerical relations in Islamic scholarly and literary genres--so impressively documented in his analysis of the poetry of Khaqani--is shown here again. He informs us, in the fourth article of the volume, about the mathematical foundations of Arab musical theory. It evolved in the tension between the indigenous tradition (Ishaq al-Mawsili and his student Ibn al-Munajjim, died 850 and 912 respectively, are the most renowned representatives) and the Greek patrimony which imposed itself powerfully upon the native school, until, from the tenth century onward, a unique blend emerged. Reinert's exposition covers four subjects in Islamic musical teachings: acoustics as well as the tonal system, the doctrine of rhythm, and eventually the effect music is said to have on the human soul. He places special emphasis on the arithmetical inconsistencies in the autochthonous musical tradition, explaining them by the absence of theoretical foundations and the givens and limits imposed by the material and structure of the instruments.

The last, and fifth, contribution is Friedemann Rex' essay on "basic contributions of Arab science toward physics and chemistry." Like Reinert, he chose only exemplary cases for his argument, out of a plethora of mostly unstudied material. His message is clear, and not totally free of ideology: we have to dissociate ourselves from the idea that the Islamic middle ages only preserved Greek knowledge, without enhancing its theoretical foundations. On the contrary, both physics and chemistry received decisive impulses in the Islamic ambiance. It was Arab physics which set out to connect Greek mathematics and Greek physics with each other, combining this integrated and comprehensive new science with experimental methods of its own. Ibn al-Haytham's studies on the moon's light and on the structure of the world are chosen to demonstrate how the old modes of thought give way to a new doctrine which is consistent, all metaphysical residues notwithstanding. And in the case of chemistry, the author reminds us that today's modern chemistry is a direct descendant of the rational alchemy of the Muslims, epitomized in the writings of Jabir b. Hayyan (cf. p. 119). For Jabir proportions (albeit not measurements, one may want to add) were the core of his all-encompassing system of material and spiritual phenomena.

The individual articles are accompanied by brief notes and short bibliographies. A list of Muslim (I certainly prefer this over "Arab") scholars of the middle ages as well as of modern researchers quoted in the book stand at the end of this useful and unassuming introduction into scientific thinking in the realm of medieval Islam.
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Author:Haarmann, Ulrich
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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