November 8, 2011

Al-Mutannabbi's Diwan with Al-Ukbari's Commentary

Abu Al-Tayyib Ahmed ibn Al-Hussein (915–65 AD, 303–54 AH), better known as Al-Mutanabbi (Self-proclaimed prophet), is arguably the greatest Arab poet of all time. He lived a short, turbulent life of about 50 years. He was born in Iraq but traveled extensively, crisscrossing Syria and Egypt, then returning to Iraq and Persia in search of political and monetary rewards. Proud to the extent of arrogance and critical of his enemies, he was assassinated in his birthplace of Iraq, on his way home from Persia. His poetry endured because of his extraordinary ability to describe human emotions and his profound insights on life. Lines from many of his poems on human nature and the fluctuations of fortune have become proverbs and much-quoted wisdom. His work continues to influence Arab poets to the present. The commentary on al-Mutanabbi’s poetry collection by Al-Ukbari (died 1219 AD, 616 AH) is considered by many to be the most authoritative of its kind. It not only explains Al-Mutanabbi’s poetry, but also its connections with other literary gems from past generations.

The One of a Kind

Abdulmalik ibn Muhammad al-Thaalibi (961–1038 AD, 350–429 AH) was a leading linguist, literary figure, and poet. He was born in the trading and cultural center of Nishapur in Persia (present-day Iran). Yateemet al-dahr (The one of a kind) is the most famous of his more than 80 works. The book is a compilation of biographies of the poets of the time, divided into four main sections, each of which covers a region: the poets of al-Sham (Levant) and its environs; the Buwayhid poets (Western Persia and Iraq); the poets of the mountainous lands of Gorgan and Tabaristan (Persia); and the poets of the Central Asian kingdoms of Khorasan and Transoxiana. Each section is further divided into ten chapters. Typically, Al-Thaalibi traveled to talk to the poets themselves. If this was not possible, he talked to those who knew them or, as a last resort, consulted books about them. He finished the book circa 994 AD, and rewrote it nine years later after it had become widely known. Some 20 years later, he added an appendix updating the biographies and adding new poets, such as Abu Al-Alaa Al-Maari, who had risen to pan-Arab prominence in the years since the first publication. At least five authors later wrote similar versions of the book or added new materials covering new regions, such as Andalusia.

The History of Muslim Philosophers in the East and the West

Muhammad Lutfi Jumaa (1886–1953) was an Egyptian-born lawyer, political activist, linguist, translator, and novelist. The History of Muslim Philosophers in the East and the West is a compilation of biographies of some of the most famous Muslim scholars. It analyzes the life history, upbringing, doctrinal leanings, and views of many leading Muslim thinkers, philosophers, and scholars. Figures covered in the work include Al-Farabi, Al-Kindi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Bajah, Ibn Tufail, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Khaldoun, Ibn Al-Haytham, Ibn Arabi, and others.

The Breath of Perfume

Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Maqqari (circa 1578–1632) was an Arab historian who wrote one of the oldest histories of Muslim Spain. He was born in Tlemcen, in present-day Algeria, and at times lived and worked in Morocco and in Egypt. His most important work, Nafḥ aṭ-ṭīb (The breath of perfume), consists of two parts. The first is a compilation from many authors on Andalusia and its history, including descriptions of the main Andalusian cities and the lifestyles of their peoples. The second part is a biography of the famous writer, historian, and politician from Arab Spain, Ibn al-Khatib (1313–74). A grand minister and a poet whose lyrics are sung by Arab singers to the present day, al-Khatib wrote more than 60 books.

The Incoherence of Philosophers

Abu-Hamid Al-Ghazali (also known by the Latinized version of his name, Algazel, 1058–1111 AD, 450–505 AH) was born into a modest family in Tus, Khorasan, in present-day Iran. He went on to become one of the most prominent Sunni religious scholars of all time. His main fields were jurisprudence, philosophy, theology, and mysticism. Tahafut al-falasifa (The incoherence of the philosophers) is one of his major works. In this book, he opines that philosophers, both Greek and Muslim, should not try to prove metaphysical knowledge through logic, as the two areas of scholarship have different epistemological bases. He denounces the views of Greek and some earlier Muslim philosophers, particularly those of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Al-Farabi (Alpharabius). Al-Ghazali focuses his criticism on the area of metaphysics, leaving unchallenged the pure sciences of physics, logic, astronomy, and mathematics. The book is organized in 20 chapters, in each of which Al-Ghazali endeavors to refute an Avicennian doctrine. The book found great success and helped to propel to further prominence the Asharite school of thought within Sunni Islam, to which Al-Ghazali belonged. The work itself was the subject of a rebuttal written a century later by Andalusian Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and sarcastically entitled Tahfut al-Tahafut (The incoherence of the incoherence). But Al-Ghazali’s work had by then already established the importance of religion in Islamic philosophy.

The Revival of Religious Sciences, Volumes 1 and 2

Abu-Hamid Al-Ghazali (also known by the Latinized version of his name, Algazel, 1058–1111 AD, 450–505 AH) was born to a modest family in Tus, Khorasan, in present-day Iran. He went on to become one of the most prominent Sunni religious scholars of all time. His main fields of scholarship were jurisprudence, philosophy, theology, and mysticism. Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn (The revival of religious sciences) is arguably Al-Ghazali’s major work. It is divided into four quarters, each of which is further divided into ten books. The first quarter covers the knowledge and duties of Islamic worship, focusing on the five pillars of Islam. The second quarter tackles a wide range of social morality issues such as marriage, the ethics of work, table etiquette, and the like. The third quarter deals with curbing the debilitating sins of human nature, such as desire, anger, and tightfistedness. The final quarter addresses the virtues that must be striven for to achieve salvation, including patience, repentance, and fear of God.