Dismantling the Essences of “The Most Wondrous of Existences”


This 40-page manuscript, Tahdim al-Arkan min Laysa fi-al-Imkan Abda’ mima Kan (Dismantling the essences of “The most wondrous of existences”), by Ibrāhīm ibn ʻOmar al-Biqāʻī (1406 or 1407−80) concerns a philosophical dispute in the Islamic world over the possibility of the Creator fashioning a more perfect world than the one that exists. This issue had been raised by the renowned philosopher-theologian al-Ghazzali (1058−1111), who answered in the affirmative. In this text, al-Biqāʻī refutes al-Ghazzali, stating that “it is impossible for God’s creation to be more perfect than it is.” The author makes his point by relying on the sacred texts, the Qur’an and the hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), while dismissing the arguments of other earlier philosophers. His strongly worded argument suggests that this debate between philosophers and textual traditionalists was still alive three centuries after al-Ghazzali’s writings were thought to have ended this intellectual struggle. Al-Biqa’i was one of the most controversial figures of his time. Called a polymath and polemicist, he was known as a combative scholar who was eager to pick fights with his colleagues. His writing and preaching roiled not only fellow jurists but also the Mamluk rulers of Egypt. He made many enemies and eventually was expelled from Cairo. He returned to his native Damascus, where he died. This work, from the collections of the National Library and Archives of Egypt, is bound together with two other manuscripts.

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Title in Original Language

تهديم الأركان من ليس في الإمكان أبدع مما كان

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  1. Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Literatur (Leiden: Brill, 1898–1902, and later editions).
  2. Eric L. Ormsby, Theodicy in Islamic Thought (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984).
  3. Walid A. Saleh and Kevin Casey: “An Islamic Diatessaron: Al-Biqa’i’s Harmony of the Four Gospels,” in Translating the Bible into Arabic, Sara Binay and Stefan Leder, editors (Beirut: Orient-Institute, 2012).

Last updated: August 24, 2016