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Muhammad Ali Khalidi (ed.): Medieval Islamic Philosophical Writings.

Muhammad Ali Khalidi (ed.): Medieval Islamic Philosophical Writings Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 186 pp, PB ISBN 0 521 52963 8

The aim of this anthology is to provide "a representative sample of the Arabic-Islamic philosophical tradition in a manner that is accessible to beginning students of philosophy, as well as to more seasoned philosophers with little or no exposure to this tradition" (xii). As such, the main challenge of the editor was of selection procedures; Khalidi chose to include "extracts from longer philosophical works rather than entire texts or a large number of brief passages from a variety of text" (xii). The result is an admirable volume containing five selections from five most influential authors: al-Farabi (ca. 878-950), Ibn Sina (980-1037), al-Ghazali (1058-1111), Ibn Tufayl (ca. 1109-1186), and Ibn Rushd (1126-1198).

The selection immediately raises a question, preemptively answered by the editor: why end with Ibn Rushd to perpetuate the false notion that Islamic philosophy died with him? Khalidi's answer is problematic, as it complicates the idea: "Despite the survival of philosophical activity of some kind in the Islamic world, I would argue that a 'style of reasoning' did indeed decline after Ibn Rushd, one that is seamlessly connected with natural science, a logic-based, Greek-influenced, and rationalist enterprise" (xii); one has only to go to Qum and sit in one of the lessons of an Ayatullah Jawadi or any other master of philosophy to arrive at a different conclusion. This, however, does not seriously detract from the merits of the book, which attempts to achieve a certain degree of thematic unity by focusing broadly on metaphysics and epistemology rather than on ethics and political philosophy.

In his introduction Khalidi provides brief biographical information about the five authors as well as the selected works. As general information about the authors is readily available elsewhere, his introductory remarks are kept to a bare minimum, saving space for introducing the selected texts. All but one of the five texts have been previously translated, though Khalidi has translated them afresh from published Arabic editions.

Al-Farabi's Kitab al-Huruf (The Book of Letters) had never before been translated into English; Khalidi has chosen to include its middle section. This section represents a fundamental break from the first and last sections, in that here al-Farabi gives a sequential account of the origin of language and the emergence of various disciplines (in the first and last sections of his book he is concerned instead with the meaning of philosophical terms).

In choosing a part from On the Soul, from Ibn Sina's Kitab al-Najat (The Book of Salvation), which is a condensed version of his magnum opus Kitab al-Shifa (The Book of Healing), Khalidi omitted the first three chapters. These concern, respectively, the vegetative soul, the animal soul, and the internal senses of the soul, and he thus begins his selection with the chapter on the human rational soul. The choice is most appropriate for the book, for here Ibn Sina (as well as numerous other Muslims influenced by Aristotle) are at their best in their efforts to reconcile Aristotle's account with Islamic teachings. Ibn Sina's concept of soul rests on his dualist account in which souls can achieve different grades depending on the degree to which its potential has been actualized.

Perhaps no editor of an anthology of this kind can resist selecting a portion from al-Ghazali's autobiographical masterpiece, al-Mungidh min al-Dalal wal-Musil ila dhil-'Izzah wal Jalal. Khalidi includes an intriguing portion of this book--the section where al-Ghazali demonstrates in three distinct ways that prophecy is a genuine phenomenon which surpasses reason. He first offers a rational demonstration that nonrational apprehension is possible; secondly, he shows how prophecy can be affirmed through direct, albeit restricted, awareness of the mystical state; and, finally, al-Ghazali shows how prophecy can be established through trust in testimony and second-hand corroboration, which he interestingly terms Iman (faith).

Like al-Ghazali's al-Mungidh, Ibn Tufayl's Hayy bin Yaqzan (Alive, Son of Awake) is a compelling choice. Relying on Albert Nasri Nadir's 1993 edition, Khalidi has retranslated over three quarters of the book, omitting the extensive introductory section and the concluding epilogue.

The fifth and the last selection is from Ibn Rushd's famous response to al-Ghazali's Incoherence of the Philosophers, Tahafut al-Tahafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence). Ibn Rushd's response can be read as a debate between the two philosophers, though Ibn Rushd always has the last word. This aspect of the work, however, is not as overwhelming as it might be, since al-Ghazali had the foresight of including future objections to his arguments in his own work. The excerpted section regards the seventeenth issue of twenty and deals with the nature of causation. This is perhaps the most important section of the book, since it deals with the respective positions of the two writers on causation and miracles and leads to the last four sections, which discuss the natural sciences.

Overall, the book is an excellent introduction to the intricate and involved world of medieval Islamic learning--an enriching experience for both general readers and advanced students.

Muzaffar Igbal

Center for Islam and Science,

Sherwood Park, AB

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Author:Igbal, Muzaffar
Publication:Islam & Science
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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