Tuesday, February 14, 2012

God's Angry Madmen

Navid Kermani is a wonderfully creative literary critic and historian specialising in Arabic and Persian literature of the classical period. His earlier work on the aesthetics of the Qurʾan was an excellent contribution to the field of Qurʾanic studies (Gott ist schön: Das äesthetische Erleben des Koran, Munich: Beck, 1999). The present book under review is a challenging and timely intervention in contemporary thought, analysing the important, most neglected and much reviled tradition within monotheisms of the literary revolt against God, the complaints and litanies of ‘speaking truth’ to the ultimate power, that is the divine, exemplified in the biblical story of Job and in the medieval example of the Muṣībatnāma of the famous Persian poet Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār (d. c 1221). It was originally published in German in 2005 (Der Schrecken Gottes, Munich: Beck) resulting from Kermani’s tenure of a fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin, and the translation is fluent and very readable.

The fundamental problem of evil, the existence of both natural disasters such as earthquakes (natural evils) and of moral failures such as genocide (moral evils) have since, at least, the Enlightenment provided the primary argument against the existence of God, or a singular deity. Arguably, polytheisms, whether henotheisms or at the minimum non-monotheisms, have less of a problem here – failings of a human, supra-human and natural kind can be explained by the existence of different and even squabbling gods – even the Qurʾan recognises this aspect of a non-monotheistic order even if it regards it as a fault. Monotheisms tend to see themselves, or that is what the main narrative seems to suggest, as singular discourses of the power of a God-King whose tyrannical diktat cannot be violated. This idea of the divine could be construed from the divine names themselves that are depicted in the calligraphies at the beginning of each chapter: al-qahhār, the subduer; al-ḍārr, the afflicter; al-khāfiḍ, the humiliater; al-makkār, the cunning; al-jabbār, the compeller; and al-muqtadir, the dominator. But he is also the merciful and the lover – this contrast between the just and wrathful God and the merciful and loving lord is a central tension within monotheism.

However, monotheisms also produce the faithful believer who rails against God, a Job, a Kierkegaard, and even a Christ on the cross – a figure who in the midst of trial and tribulation cannot stay silent because he believes. In Islam, we tend to prefer the faithful submitter – and yet forget, at our spiritual and intellectual peril, the one who will not remain silent. We prefer the pious to be good and to keep their silence, and not to be loud and contrary because of the virtues of thankfulness and patience, in the words of the Qurʾan in sūrat al-Baqara, verse 155: ‘But give glad tidings to the patient, who surely when they are visited by an affliction say, ‘surely we belong to God and to him we return’, upon them rest blessings and mercy from their Lord, and they are verily the truly guided’. Kermani’s real contribution is to relate this tradition of revolt which is fairly well known and discussed within western Judaeo-Christian theologies and literatures to a similar stream within Islamic and especially Persian thought taking as his example the twelfth century liminal poet ʿAṭṭār of Nishapur. He could also have selected other figures such as the poets of the classical period such as al-Maʿarrī (d. 1058), or Sufis contemporary to ʿAṭṭār such as ʿAyn al-Qużāt Hamadānī (d. 1131) or Ibn ʿArabī (d. 1240), or even more recently poets such as Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938). Atheism is just a brief step away, a careless neglect and silence and inability to rail against one whom one denies – and a generation or two ago the late ʿAbd al-Rahman Badawi (d. 2002) wrote a preliminary history of atheism in Islam which remains unsurpassed. Ultimately, one only reproaches the object of one’s love. The book comprises five tightly argued chapters. The first begins with the problem of Job, of the suffering brought upon by the inexplicable wrong of children dying, a personal account of the author’s own experience and moving towards an introduction to ʿAṭṭār himself. It introduces the central conception of God as good, omnipotent and knowable – and with these three key attributes lies the problem of evil and how it can be reconciled with such a God. The second chapter shifts to a discussion of the text at the centre of the book, the Muṣībatnāma. The third chapter deals with the theology of suffering and fear, examining both the notion that God in unfathomable and hence suffering a mystery, as well as the idea that God himself suffers that arises in more modern Catholic (von Balthasar and Kasper) and Protestant (Barth and Moltmann) theologies. Leibniz (d. 1716) struggles to articulate a theodicy (literally, how God can be just in the presence of evil), thinkers attempt to make sense of the pivotal Lisbon earthquake of 1755, both of which put together Voltaire mercilessly satirises in Candide. The Augustinian tradition finds comfort in original sin and the fault of the human while extolling the salvific power of grace, most Muslim theologians take the course of agnosticism, but ʿAṭtār prefers an honest cry against the divine, acknowledging the terror of God and his ‘cunning’ (makr). God’s cunning, and seemingly arbitrariness, is clear even in the very premiss of the Job narrative, namely Satan’s bet with God. A secondary motif of the chapter is to argue for the need to acknowledge that there is a plurality of interpretations within Islam even, and especially, with respect to views on the nature of evil. The fourth chapter on the rebellion against God weaves together the Job story and motif with ʿAṭṭār. Contentment and trust are contrasted with vexation and quarrelling – anger at God is a sign of love reciprocating torment, which is, in itself, a sign of divine attention. As such, Kermani provides an argument against those searching for free thinking in Islam, like Sarah Stroumsa, who cannot countenance the slightest revolt or criticism – and indeed many a modern Muslim theologian would similarly be baffled by the pious indignation and frustration of ʿAṭṭār’s ranters. The final chapter then tries to articulate this theme into a counter-theology, recovering a lost tradition that is of benefit for us in the modern age to find our believing selves and allow for the possibility of venting our frustrations, impieties, and frailties against the ultimate alterity of God. The argument is brought full circle – it begins with the story of the author’s uncle and ends with him and with the ultimate response to human frailty that we come from God and return to him, the pious and yet even impious istirjāʿ. In the presence of hope, there is always faith; hence no need for a conclusion as such.

Well-conceived and argued, one cannot quibble with the odd fault here and there in the book’s production. It would be interesting to see whether we can find the continuation of this counter-theology or rather counter-narrative on evil in the modern period, and one suspects we should start a modern history of it with Iqbal and poets and thinkers of the early twentieth century and take it up to the present. Can our modern sensibilities allow for an intelligent, deeply impious piety that rails against God because it affirms his existence and the return of the cosmos to him without falling into fatuous arguments about blasphemy and punishment for thought and speech crime? The embrace of confusion and eschewing the certainty beloved of theology is a courageous position that is rather difficult to sustain. Highly recommended (to use the cliché), The Terror of God is an excellent exposition of the problem of suffering and how monotheists not least Muslims have attempted to make sense of it without denying their own humanity and without letting God off the hook.  The success, and hope of salvation, of being lifted from the confusion of the world with its evils that we wish to flee is evoked with the brilliant final verse of the text of ʿAṭṭār in which the confused and lost bedouin addresses God: take me by the hand, if you can, and deliver me from the confusion, as if nothing had happened (mītavānī gar ze chandīn pīch pīch, dast-e man gīrī va angārī kē hīch).  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir al-Ṣadr - Lectures on logic

Audio files - missing the first - but broadly interesting - follow the links for various others

3rd lecture

But to be honest is it definitely him? I don't recognise the voice

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Avicenna's Metaphysics - What was that all about?

Generations of scholars, attempting to grapple with Aristotelian metaphysics and his notion of first philosophy as the study of being qua being, had to deal with the seeming confusion in the Metaphysics concerning its subject matter and purpose. Was the Metaphysics a work about the abstract notion of being, was it a primary science that determined the subject matter of all the other branches of knowledge, was it another name for theology (or perhaps more specifically what the post-Heideggerian tradition calls onto-theology), or was it somewhat a study of ultimate causes? At the heart of the problem was the very notion of metaphysics and indeed of being itself. This question and problematic animated the young Ibn Sīnā and as he famously noted in his autobiography, he read and read the text and failed to grasp its purpose until serendipity intervened and he chanced upon a copy of al-Fārābī’s short work explaining the Metaphysics. It is this Avicennan turn, and the wider question of metaphysics as first philosophy, as a transcendental science whose subject matter itself ought to be transcendental that accounts for the research focus of Koutzarova’s published dissertation that deservedly won one of the Iranian Book Agency’s Book of the Year award in 2011. Central to the thesis is the insight that making sense of the metaphysics is a focal step in the critical systematisation of Aristotelian science and the very possibility of science. Metaphysics as science is only possible if it is transcendental and has a transcendental subject.

The text is divided into four parts and three sets of conclusions. The first part lays out the problematic and considers the scope of metaphysics taking its inspiration from that famous passage in the autobiography of Ibn Sīnā just mentioned and then considers what it means to define the subject of metaphysics as the Being of beings (al-mawjūd al-muṭlaq). For someone like myself more in tune with later discussions the use of mawjūd as opposed to wujūd is interesting: the texts I tend to study prefer the latter and the constant conflation of the two in favour of the latter by the likes of Mullā Ṣadrā may account for his creative misreadings of Ibn Sīnā, a point on which Koutzarova takes me to task. The second part focuses on this concept of mawjūd as the primary referential subject of metaphysics and engages in four chapters of careful textual analysis of Ibn Sīnā’s Metaphysics linking the ontological structure of being with the epistemological architecture of science. The third part examines the term mawjūd, starting with a chapter on al-Fārābī and continuing with chapters that locate the notion in category theory and concern the predication of the term. Central to this section is a discussion of what one understands by the tertium quid of tashkīk that locates being as a term that is neither univocal nor equivocal. The fourth part furthers the epistemological issue of conceptualisation (taṣawwur) by engaging with mawjūd and ‘its sisters’ namely the status of being a thing (shayʾ) or being necessary (ḍarūrī). In Ibn Sīnā’s work this is partly a critique of kalām ontology that displaces mawjūd as the ultimate ‘genus’ (or at least quasi-genus) is favour of the term ‘thing’ which in its first diaresis divides into ‘existent’ (mawjūd) and ‘non-existent’ (maʿdūm). For Ibn Sīnā, the fact that something exists is equivalent to stating it is a thing (in whichever mode of existence one takes that since Ibn Sīnā is one of the first Muslim thinkers to conceive of a mental mode of existence that the later traditions terms al-wujūd al-dhihnī), and to its being necessary – as the axiom of Islamic philosophy states (in genuflection to the related radical contingency of his proof for the existence of God as the necessary being): ‘that which is not necessary cannot exist (lam yajib lam yūjad)’.  The conclusions that follow consider metaphysics as a transcendental science, the significance of the notion of the transcendental in Ibn Sīnā and the problematic legacy of the Avicennan notion of the existent in consequent philosophical discussions. This clarifies further also why Ibn Sīnā consider his philosophical approach to be superior to theology as a means for understanding the true nature of reality and of God as the ultimate existent. Throughout the work one notices the careful attention to textual analysis with copious citations and considerations from the Avicennan corpus that one expects from the best traditions of German Arabism and specialists of medieval philosophy. In particular her inter-textual approach is an important facet of Avicennan studies today – the need to understand how to locate meaning assigned to terms across his works from the Metaphysics to the Organon and through the Physics. No serious study of Avicennan ontology can neglect his category theory addressed in the logic and she certainly does not fail to do so.

A final note about language. In our times, it is rare indeed to find even scholars bothering to keep up with literature written in other languages not least other European languages (the failure to read secondary literature in Arabic and Persian is even more shameful). This work under review makes yet another case for why anyone interested in the study of Islamic philosophy and theology needs to have a familiarity with German. It is a pity that the work was not written in English – it certainly would reach a wider audience and perhaps would have had a larger impact. But the case for a scholarly engagement in German is clear and necessary here. 

Philosophy in Shīrāz I: Shams al-Dīn al-Khafrī

While the art of editing an Arabic text as part of one’s doctoral training seems to have disappeared from British academia, it is salutary to note that the situation in Germany remains healthier. Firouzeh Saatchian makes a major contribution to our study of Islamic intellectual history and particularly the development of philosophical traditions in the early Safavid period precisely because it provides us with a careful bio-bibliography and critical edition of two key texts. Thus far, Shams al-Dīn al-Khafrī (d. 1535) is best known in the secondary sources as a creative theoretical astronomer, mainly through the efforts of George Saliba, who has studied his al-Takmila fī sharḥ al-tadhkira carefully in part as an assessment of the later reception of the scientific thought of Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 1274) expressed in his al-Tadhkira fī ʿilm al-hayʾa. That al-Khafrī also wrote on matters of philosophy and philosophical theology demonstrates the abiding connection between theoretical approaches to science and philosophy well into the early modern period, an approach continued in the next generation with Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī (d. 1621). However, it was also the work of Henry Corbin and Seyyed Hossein Nasr who alerted us to the philosophical significance of al-Khafrī as part of the ‘school of Shiraz’ that predated and influenced the more dramatic ‘school of Isfahan’. It was the short treatise of al-Khafrī entitled On the Four Journeys that directly influenced the schema of the magnum opus of Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzi (d. 1645) and there is also plenty of evidence of the metaphysics of al-Khafrī similarly influencing the later thinker. In terms of the textual production presented here, Saatchian’s editions should be read alongside her earlier edition of al-Khafrī’s marginalia on the metaphysics section of the Sharḥ al-jadīd li-l-Tajrīd which was published back in 2003, as well as Reza Pourjavady’s edition of his short Risāla fī marātib al-wujūd published in 2005, and two short theological works on the exegesis of the Throne Verse of the Qurʾān and a collection of Prophetic dicta. Taken together these works represent the major contribution of al-Khafrī in philosophical theology and demonstrates his primary concerns with the proof for the existence of God and God’s knowledge of and agency in the cosmos – as the title puts it, a concern with the nature of God and of his agency. Pourjavady’s recent published dissertation on Maḥmūd Nayrīzī (Philosophy in Early Safavid Persia, Leiden: Brill, 2011) as well as the work done by Ghassem Kakaie (Professor at the University of Shiraz) and Ahadfaramarz Qaramalaki (Professor at Tehran University) on logic and the scholastic tradition have also furthered our understanding of philosophical traditions immediately prior to Mullā Ṣadrā and the developments in the ‘Safavid renaissance’ under Shah ʿAbbās I.

The book is divided into five chapters and contains editions of two texts. The first chapter is a very brief introduction to the research question relating to al-Khafrī’s treatment of the nature of God and his activity. The second is a detailed biography and bibliography of al-Khafrī. He studied primarily with Sayyid Ṣadr al-Dīn Dashtakī (d. 1497), and while some suggest that he also studied with Dashtakī’s rival, Jalāl al-Dīn Davānī (d. 1502), al-Khafrī’s positions are more in line with the former. His most famous student and a significant ‘export’ of the philosophical schools of Shiraz was Shāh Ṭāhir Anjudānī (d. 1546), who left for the Deccan as an emissary of the Safavids and was secretly an Imam of a line of Nizārī Ismailis. Al-Khafrī’s own adherence to Twelve Shiʿism seems clear in his theological works as well as his association with the major jurist at court Shaykh ʿAlī al-Karakī (d. 1534) as well as the time he spent in Kashan, a town well-known for its Shiʿi adherents. With respect to the disagreement on his death date, Saatchian opts for 942/1535, which seems a fair assessment of the evidence. Apart from a few works of exegesis, Prophetic tradition and short treatises on mystical notions of being (most of which have been published), his main corpus lies in two areas: philosophical theology with a particular concern for the nature of God and his knowledge as reflected in the works that Saatchian has edited, and mathematics and astronomy. She carefully examines the contents of the text and provides a meticulous description of the major manuscripts of the texts. One shortcoming here is that her primary concern is with manuscripts in Iranian libraries; however, there are numerous manuscripts of al-Khafrī’s work in both of these major areas of philosophical theology and astronomy in Indian libraries as well as those in Europe such as the British library. The third chapter is a careful examination of the twelve manuscripts that she consulted (establishing the manuscript history and chain of transmission) and used for the critical editions of the two texts included in the book. Once again, one suspects that there are other copies especially in the British Library and Indian collections such as the Raza Library in Rampur, known for its holdings in philosophical theology.

The fourth chapter is an historical analysis of the nature of God and his knowledge in later Islamic thought – particularly useful is her list of texts affirming the existence of God (ithbāt al-wājib) from Avicenna to the end of the 18th century (pp. 100-4). She argues quite successfully that the genre of such treatises was established by Avicenna and developed in his legacy – even the medieval tripartite typology of the approaches of the philosophers, the physicists and the theologians is based not only on late antique Greek methods but also on the text of Avicenna’s al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt and a famous gloss by Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsi (d. 1274). Her discussion of al-Khafrī’s texts was prefigured in her article from 2003 on the five risālas that he wrote on the topic. She suggests that Mullā Ṣadrā’s famous version of the ontological proof for the existence of God that he called burhān al-ṣiddīqīn, and a key feature of his metaphysics of contingency, the notion that the existence of a contingent is ontologically prior to its essence (the doctrine of aṣālat al-wujūd), are both indebted to al-Khafrī.

The final chapter is a paraphrase of the two texts edited with some considerations relating to their contextualisation and attempts to trace influences on them. This chapter of seventy pages is where her analysis of the philosophical content of the texts finally emerges. She traces the thinkers who influenced him from the Greeks through to Dashtakī and also mentions some lines of influence on later thinkers, in particular Mullā Ṣadrā, of whom it is often said that his work is a veritable journey into the history of philosophy – in practice the style of argumentation of al-Khafrī and other philosophers of Shiraz is similar and of great benefit to the intellectual historian as sources are often explicitly cited. The structure of his Risāla fī ithbāt wājib al-wujūd follows the concerns of thinkers in the period: it is divided into four sections – one proving the existence of God as a Necessary Being, which at its core derives from Avicenna’s famous proof of radical contingency, next establishing that the Necessary must be one (i.e. establishing tawḥīd), the third section moves to the nature of God’s knowledge a controversial issue at least since the charge of al-Ghazālī (d. 1111) in his Tahāfut al-falāsifa that the philosophers are unbelievers because they deny God’s knowledge of particulars, and a final, long and profitable section on the doctrines of the philosophers on the topic. In that last section, his citation of Qurʾanic verses and the views of mystics demonstrate al-Khafrī’s holistic approach to knowledge. One can see how his treatise might profitably be studied in class as a primer on philosophical theology on the nature of God in pre-modern Islam. The second text, Risāla fī-l-ilāhīyāt is merely a short summary comprising the same fourfold division. These chapters are then completed with a bibliography and a useful index of terms. The texts themselves then follow in Arabic and are well set out and prefaced with a quick statement on the method of the production of the critical editions.

A fuller and much desired intellectual history of philosophical traditions in Islam can only be written once we have various micro-studies such as the present book under review which cumulatively can build up a picture of how ideas developed. Saatchian is to be congratulated for producing such a useful work, which does an excellent job of contextualising the thought of al-Khafrī and even providing some wider comparative comments of use to specialists in medieval philosophy. One obvious complaint, and perhaps not entirely a fair one, is that the book is in German and hence the readership will be limited – at the very least one hopes she publishes a Persian version shortly – and one also hopes that an English version will be forthcoming. However, given the technical nature of much of the book apart from parts of chapter five, one does not actually need that much German to profit from the book – and the major contribution of the book lies in the two Arabic texts edited. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Legacy of Avicenna - Post-classical Islamic Thought

Scholars and students of Islamic thought in the medieval period will be grateful for this latest collection of studies that enhances our understanding of the intellectual history, the science, the theology and indeed the philosophy of the post-Avicennan period. The papers originated in a conference hosted at Bar-Ilan University and funded by the German Israel Foundation for Scientific Cooperation back in 2005 (and given the time it often takes for volumes to emerge from conferences this is indeed timely). After a short foreword by the editor summarising the papers and their arguments, there are seventeen chapters on a range of issues from the intellectual legacy of Avicenna through his students to the reception of Avicennan ontology in the thought of the Safavid thinker Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzī (d. 1635). The papers have been carefully and masterfully edited and mistakes are few and far between (two obvious ones being the continuous reference in the foreword to the name of one contributor Afifi al-Akiti as al-Atiki, and Ali was the Prophet’s cousin and not his nephew).

The first chapter is Ahmed al-Rahim’s useful study of the immediate disciples of Avicenna providing us with a fuller historical contextualisation and bio-bibligraphies. An appendix to it then considers Abū-l-ʿAbbās al-Lawkarī and Shams al-Dīn (or Sharaf al-Dīn as the author cites him) al-Īlāqī (the former the subject of a couple of serious and welcome articles by Roxanne Marcotte in recent years). Al-Rahim shows how a school doctrine developed in this first generation and given the significance of Bahmanyār for the later tradition as the representation of the Avicennan school (as understood by Mullā Ṣadrā, for example, and Heidrun Eichner in her recent habilitation provides some evidence for why this is the case), the question remains to what extent these figures perpetuated a doctrine or substantially revised and presented it for posterity. There are a number of issues in metaphysics and psychology where Bahmanyār’s concerns somewhat differ or make explicit points in Avicenna such as the nature of the soul-body relationship, the exact significance of the ‘flying man’ argument and the idea that existence is a scalar adjective and a gradational reality (tashkīk al-wujūd). Al-Rahim demonstrates the importance of these individuals in perpetuating both the philosophical and medical legacies of Avicenna, although it would have been useful to consider what sort of misunderstandings and creative mistakes were involved in the development of the Avicennan school. But perhaps that would be the subject of another article or indeed major monograph.

The next four chapters concern perhaps the most significant medieval Muslim thinker Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 1111). Frank Griffel’s study of his cosmology in Mishkāt al-anwār contributes to the debate over the real Ghazālī raised by Gairdner in his study of the same text. Griffel shows successfully, and provides further evidence to Richard Frank’s earlier arguments, that al-Ghazālī’s cosmology is broadly Avicennan and accepts the notion of second causality through the creation of a mechanism that is the first principle of the philosophers, the mutāʿ of al-Ghazālī. Interesting, the use of the term suggests the almost demiurgic creator of the Ismaili philosophers of the same period. Afifi al-Akiti’s study that emerges from his much awaited D.Phil dissertation on the Maḍnūn corpus of al-Ghazālī provides further evidence for the faylasūf. He argues that al-Ghazālī presents philosophy in three different ways in Maqāṣid, Tahāfut and the Maḍnūn – the former is plainly ‘ugly’, the middle text shows philosophy to be incorrect or bad, while the latter reserves a good opinion. Of particular relevance is Akiti’s suggestion that the Maḍnūn was critical to the adoption of Avicennan ideas by the Ashʿarī theologians of the medieval period. Binyamin Abrahamov’s article is about the reception of al-Ghazālī in the thought of perhaps the most influential Sufi metaphysician Ibn ʿArabī. He is concerned with the Sufi, and how arational arguments have an important place in understanding and encountering God and reality for both figures. Anna Akasoy’s paper is more wide-ranging and considers the critical reception of al-Ghazālī in the West, especially Andalus with the circle of Abū Bakr al-Ṭarṭūshī (d. 1126) and its influence on thinkers in the East after his emigration to Alexandria. Akasoy’s paper is a good example of how intellectual history ought to consider the migration of ideas and their market in the medieval Islamic world. It also shows the importance of the influence of ideas from Andalus on some eminent theologians in the East especially Ibn Taymiyya and the common point of attack on al-Ghazālī for mixing Sufism and philosophy and their concomitant doctrines of monism and the eternity of the cosmos.

The next two chapters shift to the significant thinker Ibn Kammūna (d. 1284), who is often described as a disciple of the doctrine of Suhrawardī (d. 1191). Heidrun Eichner studies the chapter on existence in al-Jadid fī-l-ḥikma of Ibn Kammūna to provide further evidence for the argument that the medieval Islamic approach to metaphysics was marked by a Rāzīan synthesis, and that al-Mulakhkhaṣ of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī was a pivotal text that drew upon al-Taḥṣīl of Bahmanyār and defined metaphysics and the study of ontology for generations to come well into the Safavid period. She also shows that in effect that existence centred metaphysics that one encounters in Mullā Ṣadrā already has important precedents in Ibn Kammūna. Lukas Muehlethaler considers the reception of Avicennan’s flying man argument in Ibn Kammūna and drawing upon versions found in the works of Suhrawardī concludes that the argument is not only a thought experiment but constitutes for Ibn Kammūna a valid form of syllogistic reasoning. This is another careful textual study of the Uṣūl, a commentary on al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt of Avicenna, and al-Tanqīḥāt, a commentary on al-Talwīḥāt of Suhrawardī.

The next two chapters continue the theme of the reception of Avicenna. Syamsuddin Arif’s study of Sayf al-Dīn al-Āmidī (d. 1233), better known as a jurist and theoretician of the Law, focuses on his philosophical oeuvre, especially al-Nūr al-bāhir which is much neglected. Arif therefore introduces us to another Avicennan who one needs to take into consideration when composing a fuller intellectual history of the Avicennan school. Nahyan Fancy’s contribution examines how the physician Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288) encountered and modified the famous philosophical parable Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān written by both Avicenna and Ibn Ṭufayl. Taking as the case study the nature of the soul, Fancy provides further evidence for what Michot has termed the ‘pandémie avicennienne’ of the medieval Islamic thought. David Burrell’s brief paper on Mullā Ṣadrā’s reception of Avicenna and Suhrawardī is based on his work in progress on the first section of al-Asfār al-arbaʿa. It engages with Mullā Ṣadrā’s critique of the position that Avicenna articulated considering existence as an accident of essence, and argues for a simple solution through a comparison with Aquinas (although it is worth pointing out that Fazlur Rahman provided two useful solutions to the problem in articles published in 1958 and 1981).

Robert Wisnovsky’s chapter on perfect and imperfect syllogisms and Sari Nusseibeh’s return to the question of God’s knowledge brings us back to Avicenna himself. The next set of chapters turns to science. Leigh Chipman considers the nature of medicine as a discipline by examining Quṭb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī’s reception of Avicenna’s Canon in his al-Tuḥfa al-Saʿdiyya. Jamil Ragep considers the Avicennan legacy in astronomy through a study of his disciple al-Juzjānī’s short work. Robert Morrison turns to a significant theme of the relationship between philosophy and science and shows that abiding relevance of philosophy for astronomers. 

The final two chapters concern the Jewish reception of Avicenna. Stephen Harvey’s chapter is a cursory survey of the influence of Avicenna’s terminology and the Maimonidean tradition. The final chapter by Paul Fenton looks more carefully at the influence on Maimonidean works by taking the example of the nature of the soul and the problem of metempsychosis. He shows how these Jewish writings bear the influence of Avicenna’s own critique of the idea that a single soul can inhabit more than one body.

Overall, Avicenna and His Legacy is a welcome contribution to our understanding of Islamic intellectual history and the course of philosophy and science in the period from the eleventh to the seventeenth century, the ‘golden age’ as Dimitri Gutas put it (and in fact his article and postulation of this age looms behind the whole volume). But one wonders where the anti-Avicennans and those whose view of metaphysics and science was radically different fit. That would be the subject of an entirely different volume but worth considering. Thinkers did not fail to exhibit the influence of Avicenna even where they disagreed vehemently with him (one thinks especially of Mullā Ṣadrā), but a fuller intellectual history of what happened in the period between 1100 and 1700 would have to examine those thinkers – and realise that one does not restrict the anti-Avicennan camp to Suhrawardī and his followers.