Al-Farabi Founder of Islamic Neoplatonism – Book Sample
The Arab biographers are unanimous in lavishing on al-Fa¯ra¯bi the highest praise. – Al-Farabi Founder of Islamic Neoplatonism
His full name is given in the Arabic sources as Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn U¯ zala¯gh Ibn Tarkha¯n and he is said to have been a native of Fa¯ra¯b in Transoxiana and of Turkish or Turkoman origin. The earliest biographer, S ˙ a¯‘id Ibn S ˙ a¯‘id al-Andalusi (d. 1070), speaks eloquently of al- Fa¯ra¯bi’s contribution to logic.
Having studied logic with Yuh ˙ anna Ibn H˙ ayla¯n, we are told, he soon ‘outstripped all the Muslims in that field . . . He explained the obscure parts (of that science) and revealed its secrets . . . in books which were sound in expression and intimation, drawing attention to what al-Kindi and others had overlooked in the field of analysis and the methods of instruction.’Tabaqa¯t al-Umam, p. 53. Cf. al-Qifti, Ta¯rikh al-Hukama¯’, p. 277.
Al-Farabi Founder of Islamic Neoplatonism
He is then commended for writing an ‘unparalleled treatise’ on The Enumeration of the Sciences (Ihs a¯’ al- ‘Ulu¯m) and an equally masterly treatise on the Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, on metaphysics and politics, the Civil Polity (al-Siya¯sah al- Madaniyah) and the Virtuous Regime (al-Sı¯rah al-Fa¯d ˙ ilah), as this biographer calls al-Fa¯ra¯bi’s best-known treatise, The Virtuous City (al-Madı¯nah al- Fa¯d ˙ ilah).
These treatises, according to Sa¯‘id, embody the fundamental principles of Aristotle’s philosophy, bearing on the ‘six spiritual principles and the way in which corporeal substances derive from them’,2 a clear reference to the emanationist scheme of Plotinus (d. 270), confused with Aristotle in the Arabic sources, as we saw in the Introduction.
This information is supplemented in later sources by references to al- Fa¯ra¯bi coming to Damascus, where he worked as a garden-keeper; then he moved to Baghdad, where he devoted himself to the study of the Arabic language, which he did not know, although, we are told, he was conversant with Turkish as well as many other languages Ibn Abı¯ Usaybi‘ah, ‘Uyu¯n al-Anba¯’, p. 606; Ibn Khillika¯n, Wafaya¯t al-A‘ya¯n, IV, p. 239..
In Baghdad, he soon came into contact with the leading logician of his day, Abu¯ Bishr Matta (d. 911) and a less-known logician, Yuhanna Ibn Hayla¯n, with whom he studied logic, as we are told in his lost tract, On the Rise of Philosophy. Apart from his travels to Egypt and Ascalon, the most memorable event in his life was his association with Sayf al-Dawlah (d. 967), the Hamda¯ni ruler of Aleppo, a great patron of the arts and letters.
Al-Farabi Founder of Islamic Neoplatonism
Sayf al-Dawlah appears to have had the highest regard for this philosopher of frugal habits and ascetic demeanor, who distinguished himself in a variety of ways, not least of which was music. Apart from the large Musical Treatise (Kita¯b al-Musiqa al-Kabı¯r), coupled with treatises on Melody (Fi‘l I¯qa¯’ ) and Transition to Melody (al-Nuqlah ila¯’l-I¯qa¯’ ) and a small musical tract, al-Fa¯ra¯bi is reported to have been a skillful musician.
Once, we are told, he played so skillfully in the presence of Sayf al-Dawlah that his audience was moved to tears; but when he changed his tune, they laughed and finally they fell asleep, whereupon, we are told, he got up and walked away unnoticed Ibn Khillika¯n, Wafaya¯t al-A‘ya¯n, IV, p. 242.. Following his visit to Egypt in 949, he returned to Damascus, where he died in 950 Ibn Abı¯ Usaybi‘ah, ‘Uyu¯n al-Anba¯’, p. 603..
His lost tract, the Rise of Philosophy, contains additional autobiographical information. After reviewing the stages through which Greek philosophy passed from the Classical to the Alexandrian periods, he describes how instruction in logic moved from Alexandria to Baghdad, where Ibrahim al-Marwazi, Abu¯ Bishr Matta and Yu¯h ˙ anna Ibn H ˙ ayla¯n were the most distinguished teachers. Instruction in logic had been confined hitherto, we are told, to the ‘end of the existential moods’ on account of the threat the more advanced study of logic presented to the
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