On 20th of November,2022, The secretariat for the world congress on Farabi and Islamic Culture and Civilization hosted a ceremony to commemorate and honor the scientific position of a distinguished and towering scholar of Farabi research, prof. Muhsin Mahdi. The ceremony was held at Farabi hall of the Institute for Social and Cultural Studies, Tehran/Iran.
The session was initiated by Dr. Reza Mahoozi who read the Persian translation of Charles E. Butterworth’s article entitled “Muhsin Mahdi and the Emergence of Islamic Philosophy”. The article says: Mahdi’s writings give very few hints on how he developed an interest in studying Arabic language and Islamic philosophy, or the path he followed to discover new editions of the seminal texts in a bid to revive the primary sources. These hints are very important to find out, not just due to the fact that they can shed light on Mahdi and his intellectual journey, but also due to the fact that they can enlighten us on how research in Arabic language and Islamic philosophy has been inherited by us thanks to Mahdi’s attempts. The article goes on to say: It was in Karbala where Muhsin Mahdi as a child developed an interest in Islamic philosophy through reading the works of Abdel Rahman Badawi.His interest grew stronger when he was a high school student in Baghdad. It grew even stronger when he met Charles Habib Malik at American University of Beirut as a first-year student. Indeed, Mahdi was so interested in philosophy that he studied philosophy together with his major degree in administrative studies. Upon graduation from American University of Beirut, he returned back to Baghdad, where he worked for a year as a civil servant and then moved to the University of Chicago upon winning a scholarship for a Ph.D. in business economics. Muhsin’s acquaintance with such bright stars at University of Chicago as prof. Nabih Abud, prof. Levi Strauss, prof. John Nef in 1949 encouraged him to follow philosophy and quit business economics.
According to Butterworth, it was through Abdu’s studies on Ibn Khaldun that Mahdi discovered the importance of historical research. His attention to historical details in an attempt to revive the Islamic philosophy distinguished him from the others. It can be simply stated that he paid a remarkable attention to the details. Meanwhile, he valued the historical background of the sources he re-read or re-interpreted.in this respect, Mahdi was different not only from the middle eastern scholars who had inherited an oral, heart-to-heart and an unverified tradition, but also from the western scholars who had achieved unverified conclusions and categorizations on critical subjects.
Butterworth went on to say: Mahdi’s attention to the details and his distinction between the common unverified views, and the true views of the author on a specific topic as expressed in the text and interpretation of them is clearly visible in his criticism towards Francesco Gabrieli’s edition of The Laws of Plato. Thanks to his acquaintance with Ibn Khaldun’s views on the development of Arabic language and Islamic thought and due to his academic background in philosophical tradition, Mahdi asked challenging questions about the path philosophy had taken, and proposed novel views about this field of study. In doing so, he relied on his comprehensive knowledge and linguistic background to make a sense of the various aspects of Arabic thought. Indeed, Mahdi very timely realized the necessity for rethinking the developments of Arabic language over the time. As he initially learnt from Nabih Abud, and then from Ibn Khaldun about the necessity for precise historiography, he also learnt from Levi Strauss and Farabi about an author’s self-conception and self-definition.
Mahdi’s interpretation of Ibn Khaldun presents a practical model of how one can encounter with a powerful work. His various articles focusing on Farabi’s writings present different solutions that should be followed by scholars who study Farabi (known as the Second Teacher). It is noteworthy to be mentioned that Mahdi never claimed that he had fully grasped Farabi’s teachings. Thus, his book entitled “Farabi and the Foundation of Islamic Political Philosophy” is a collection of his articles on Farabi’s various works, a comprehensive collection with a focus on the process through which the Islamic Political Philosophy was founded by Farabi. He however does not claim to have presented a full introduction to Farabi’s teachings.
Stating that Mahdi’s other works are focused on explaining the various dimensions of Arabic language and Islamic philosophy –the goals pursued by Farabi-, Butterworth goes on to say: This category of works by Mahdi are not about Farabi, but they have led us to a proper understanding of this field of study. Mahdi’s scholarly edition of the One Thousand and One Nights can be subsumed under this category. Here also, Mahdi shows how scholarly precision can contribute to a new understanding of the common tradition.
Stressing that Mahdi’s fruitful efforts to revive Arabic sources and Islamic philosophy are also visible in several manuscripts he had discovered during his various visits to the libraries across the Middle East, Butterworth reiterated: His shorts trips to Turkey and Iraq in the late 1950s and 1960s were very fruitful, as his prolonged stays in Egypt and Iran and Iraq in 1964 and 1965 gave him a chance to discover other manuscripts. These discoveries continued by the late 1960s and the early 1970s.Mahdi was very generous in sharing these newly discovered manuscripts with other scholars. In his edition of Farabi’s Al-Millah, Al-Sīyāsah al-Madanīyah, Fuzi Najjar got lots of advantages from these gifts by Mahdi. Not to mention that Mahdi’s new edition of Farabi’s Kitab al-Huruf is about to be published soon. This edition is based on two newly found manuscripts in Qom and Baku.
Butterworth ends his article by stating that these are just few instances mentioned here about Muhsin Mahdi’s contribution to the revival or even the discovery of Islamic philosophy and Arabic language. We should be thankful for all the efforts Muhsin Mahdi has made to introduce the best of Arabic and Islamic teachings. There are few Scholars like him and the golden generation of his mentors who influenced him.
Muhsin Mahdi’s Reading of Farabi’s Islamic Philosophy and the Political Orientation of Religion
The second presenter was Dr. Terence J. Kleven who discussed Mahdi’s reading of Farabi’s Islamic philosophy and the political orientation of religion. Dr. Kleven argued that Farabi’s political works have shaped a new genre of Islamic political literature. With a quick glance, one can find out that Farabi has avoided direct quotations, the details or even references to the Quran and the Islamic subjects in particular. Yet, the first impression Farabi’s works leave on the readers is indisputable: He is going to empower the followers of all religions to perceive the wide-spread order existing between the divine law and the pragmatic intention of the classic political philosophy. Now, these readers are able to see pragmatic functions in the beliefs of the most distinguished scholars of the ancient times. They can also study these philosophers not just for the limited purpose of defending their views and actions, or for the purpose of ensuring that a rational understanding is nothing before the power of revelation and divine law, but for the purpose of practicing servitude in regard to God and penetrating to the secret intentions of revelation and divine law and also for the purpose of enlightening themselves through understanding the most respected tradition of human wisdom about the wisdom of their religion.
He continued: In his works, Farabi gives his readers a possibility of access to an orientation in studying the works of Plato and Aristotle. He encourages them to stop imagining that these philosophers as founders of an external tradition may have diminished their beliefs and social virtues. He regards it as a tradition that they should study with the purpose of debating and refuting it. He shows to them that this tradition belongs to them, and not merely to the nation of Greece and that they should appropriate it, because this tradition is related to the issues that are close to their minds and hearts. In this way, they can pin their hopes on a deeper understanding of their highest religious and political concerns. It distinguishes them from their common ancestors in terms of their lifestyle and the essence of their religion.
He reiterated: On the day when we honor and commemorate Farabi (November 21st), we should be grateful to Muhsin Mahdi who is Farabi’s greatest disciple in the twenty first century. Mahdi deserves such a title, for, he has made Farabi accessible to us more than any other scholar in the modern world, whether via editing or evaluating him. The present quotation has been adopted from a chapter of his book entitled “the History of Political Philosophy” published first in 1963.The same chapter has been republished in his last book (2001) entitled “Farabi and the Foundation of Islamic Political Philosophy”. This quotation is replete with references to golden times in the history of philosophy and the position of Farabi in it.Although it was published both in the middle and the last years of Mahdi’s life, he did change or revise his considerations. In this quotation, we can find Mahdi’s understanding of the fact that interpretation of Farabi’s philosophy is impossible without using such words as “political”, “pragmatic” or “political philosophy”. Since 1960s when Mahdi began his studies on Farabi, he gave us a clear picture of political subjects in Farabi’s works and their importance for understanding Farabi. What does Mahdi mean when he argues that “through Farabi, we can have a new orientation in the study of Plato and Aristotle’s works and that the Greek philosophical tradition belongs to the Muslims as much as it belongs to the people of Greece.
Kleven stated that the best works about Farabi have been authored by scholars who have benefited from Mahdi’s works. He continued: Some of his colleagues and disciples are: Fuzi Najjar who has edited Farabi’s Al-Millah, Al-Sīyāsah al-Madanīyah, Charles E. Butterworth who has translated Farabi’s major works into English; Dominique Mallet whose unpublished dissertation is about Farabi’s Book of Dialectic (Kitab al-Jadal); Miriam Galston, the author of Politics and Excellence: The Political Philosophy of Alfarabi.Yet, criticism always situates itself within the framework of a tradition. In order to explore Farabi’s writings, we need to discuss them within Greek- Syriac and then Arabic tradition.
This tradition does not refer to hunting “the sources”, but to interpreting, evaluating and reformulating them by our philosopher who has improved it through his predecessors. Farabi’s successors dubbed him as “the second teacher” after Aristotle and this title has been recurring in the manuscripts for 800 years. And we need to make an effort to make it meaningful. Many of Farabi’s treaties are brief and their interpretations are beyond a repetition of the Greek- Syriac versions. Since Farabi had a deep understanding of his predecessors, we can well penetrate to his art, creativity and “innovative genre of writing” as Mahdi puts it. The phrase used by Mahdi may be risky here, but I would like to correct what Mahdi has done to restrict the genre to “Islamic political philosophy”. Farabi’s interdisciplinary studies were so deep and comprehensive that he almost influenced all of the humanities including literature, law, philosophy and Arabic literature. He even influenced those authors who thought differently from him.
This professor continued: The reason why I selected this quotation as an instance of Mahdi’s thought is that in his view, Farabi did not regard politics full of fear or cynicism, rather, he viewed it as a sphere of lofty concerns and wishes. Plato and Aristotle confirm it and they give us hints on how we can achieve such ends. Moreover, religion basically functions in accordance with the goals pursued by the political order and it is political science that precisely explains the teachings of religion. In Mahdi’s perspective, Farabi does not regard religion as necessarily backward or as a source of humiliation. Plato and Aristotle’s rationalism reiterates the existence of a god who is rational and who is the origin of knowledge and wisdom. Influenced by Farabi, Mahdi too believes that it is the classic political philosophy that cherishes insights into the real intention of the almighty god and makes a distinction between the real philosophical science and real religion from the one hand and sophist principles of those who are not able to understand and admit the religion on the other hand. According to Mahdi, Farabi is a harmony between the radical claims imposed on our lives by both the philosophical science and the real religion.
Being critical of Mahdi, Dr. Kleven stated: Islamic philosophy will not be possible without understanding Mahdi’s scientific endeavors in reviving Farabi’s achievements and Islamic philosophy. Even in this article, he has well illustrated the term “political” in Islamic sciences to show that this term is necessary for a true understanding of both Islam and philosophy. Mahdi’s central thought is his discovery and stress on the “pragmatic” or “political” side of Islam and Islamic philosophy. Mahdi’s account of the major scholars of the Islamic philosophical tradition is true, even when efforts are made to push back this tradition by such thinkers as Al-Ghazali.Without Mahdi’s views, we can understand neither Islamic philosophy, nor Islam. As critics, we have the duty of creating knowledge and giving insights into this development in Mahdi’s works. He continued: I confine myself to level two criticisms with an effort not to reduce this achievement. First, Mahdi’s view is the outcome of many serious demands that are based on theoretical studies. Thus, Mahdi has admitted that no one is capable of conducting such a research.
One way to understand these difficulties-between theory and practice- is to consider this common view –inability to prophesize God- as a necessity in the education of religious people, i.e., those who are not able to follow these issues and yet are in need for boosting their achieving the divine law. The philosophers tended to the view that the divine law has both a deep and a superficial meaning. The former applies to few specific people, but the latter fits all the people in general. This way, they can try to improve the general jurisprudential view on the divine law, without refuting its validity or usefulness.
This professor continued: This formulation strongly separates philosophy and society from each other, especially among the freedom-seeking educated readers of the new generation who are defending public equality and even confuse the distinction between equality of chance and equality of achievement. Yet, everybody can gain knowledge into rhetorical richness of sacred texts and the symbolic structure of religion, even if they have different degrees of knowledge. Mahdi could have taken advantage from what the philosophers share with the society, especially with the idea of “political philosophy”, that is, a dimension of philosophy that does not include political issues as a part of philosophy. Thus, it is regarded as an excessive and optional subject in philosophy, but essential in all methodologies. Moreover, If Mahdi had stressed that religion and politics are inseparable, then religion could not have been regarded as something excessive and optional. Philosophers agree with the uniqueness of God the almighty and His justice, compassion, wisdom and causality, or with happiness in this world and the hereafter and the Day of Judgement.If Muslim philosophers had an orientation towards the idea of inability to prophesize God and the priority of his power over his wisdom and yet towards an individualistic apolitical Islam, their account of the structure of political philosophy would provide a reason for gaining knowledge into the unity of the believers, not for their separation. The interpretation of Quran that should have been given much more importance by Mahdi can contribute to understanding the difference and similarity between the superficial meaning and the deeper essence of revelation. Despite that, societies will need a knowledgeable leader and in this respect, the literature of Islamic classic philosophy stressed by Mahdi is necessary for this task.
Dr. Kleven continued: In his article, Mahdi explains that the Muslim jurists have avoided the idea of the divine right to rule and the idea that the rulers are mediators between the God almighty, or the prophet and the subordinate Muslims. Mahdi has discussed this “secular” judgement of monarchy in the history of Islam in the last chapter of his book: According to Islam and Islamic philosophy, the view of the jurists on monarchy is a secular view. Such a view did not exist during the middle ages in Christian Europe. Stating that the Latin followers of Ibn Rushd were faced with big problems in their relation with Islamic scholastic theologists, he argued: In Islam and Judaism, one can easily reject the scholastic theology that is capable of limiting or forbidding the study of philosophy or philosophical studies by resorting to the power of divine law and the power of the king. In Latin Christianity, one can obtain such a freedom merely by rejecting the power of scholastic theology and the power of the pope. According to Mahdi, this latin Ibn Rushdism has been discussed in Marsilius of Padua’s Defensor pacis in detail, where Marsilius discusses against the suppressive power of church in politics that led to the separation of church from state. In this regard, Mahdi points very briefly to Machiavelli. We can however add that Machiavelli’s rejection of monarchy, system of popehood and Luther’s defense of German aristocracy against popehood system in Protestantism led to the radical separation of religion and the secular power. Moreover, Two Treatises of Government penned by John Locke (1689) was republished, where he discusses Machiavelli’s criticism of pope’s power, meanwhile, he questions the church’s defense of the divine right so he can discuss a “secular” state.
Arguing that Mahdi’s accounts of Islam and Christianity are incomplete, he reiterated: Mahdi does not confirm that Elizabeth’s succession was not the rise of a secular state by a secular queen. At least, some Christian nations imagined that a Christian monarch could have endorsed Christianity better than a universally influential pope, an idea that was very close to the promulgation of a universal and homogenous government. This may not be true for Islam in some historical eras, i.e. The rule of a Muslim king over the religious minorities without hostility. Unlike Mahdi, I don’t have a positive attitude towards a secular monarch, or the myth that a secular government is ethically neutral. We need to ask if Ibn Rushism in specific and Islamic philosophy in general that includes Farabi- Ibn Rush’s mentor- defends the importance of a “secular” power in the political order? Does the first ruler have a neutral view to religion in Frabi’s perspective? Irrespective of the results of this study, we should give credit and a paramount importance to Mahdi in studies on the Islamic philosophy’s account of the political order. Moreover, we should admit that he gave us the hint that a reorientation to Aristotle and Plato may lead us to a deeper understanding of the true religion through alternative accounts of philosophy and science.
Muhsin Mahdi and the Revival of Farabi’s Political Philosophy
Hujjat al-Islam Dr. Muhsin Rezvani was another presenter at this meeting who talked about the contribution of Muhsin Mahdi to the revival of Farabi’s political philosophy. Stating that the most important approach to studying Muhsin Mahdi’s academic endeavors is interpretive approach, he continued: Muhsin Mahdi situates itself within this approach. Muhsin Mahdi’s function and position in the proper understanding of Islamic political philosophy in general and Farabi’s political philosophy in particular is very remarkable. He added: In historical approach, we had some characters like Rosenthal who paid attention to Farabi’s thoughts, but they did not grasp Frabi’s internal logic. This is due to the absence of Muhsin Mahdi, who was a linguist proper. His mother tongue is Arabic and his presence can contribute to a proper understanding of the Islamic political philosophy. Pointing to Mahdi’s influence by Strauss, he said: Strauss was Mahdi’s professor and it was Strauss who recommended Mahdi to study Farabi.As you know, Mahdi’s PhD dissertation was about Ibn Khaldun, but after returning back to Iraq and then to Chicago, he was suggested to work on Farabi’s political philosophy. Moreover, since 1960s, Strauss works on Farabi and Farabi was focal in his discussions for four decades.
Dr. Rzvani stated: I have written two books about Muhsin Mahdi in an attempt to show his influence in the Islamic political philosophy. In my latest studies, I tried to consult the latest sources in order to account for Mahdi’s thoughts on Farabi’s political philosophy very systematically. This faculty member argued that Mahdi’s endeavor to revive Frabi’s political philosophy has four steps: First, Mahdi’s studies are focused on Farabi’s rare works. He has tried to discover the various manuscripts of Farabi’s works in a bid to revive them. As for Farabi’s works edited by Muhsin Mahdi, he stated: He has edited and revived ten treaties by Farabi.During 1960s, 8 works in Arabic have been published in Beirut.
Among these works, Al-Millah assumes a central position. Muhsin Mahdi believes that without studying Farabi’s Al-Millah, it is impossible to understand his Al-Sīyāsah al-Madanīyah, kitāb iḥṣāʾ al-ʿulūm (“On The Introduction of Knowledge”) and al-madīna al-fāżela (“The Virtuous City”). The second step according to this university professor was translating Rasa’il Al-Farabi into English. Some of these Rasa’ils habe been translated by Mahdi himself and some others have been translated into English under his supervision. These translated works have been very influential in understanding Farabi.As for the third step, he said: At this step, Farabi’s thoughts and intellectual achievements were interpreted. Mahdi tried to interprete Farabi’s most important discussions. This step is very important, but it has been neglected. Dozens of innovative subjects can be extracted from i.e. hope these subjects are worked on. Many of the endeavors are unique. Mahdi’s latest work entitled as Farabi and the Foundation of Islamic Political Philosophy has been translated into Persian in 2020.This book includes Mahdi’s seminal articles about Farabi.According to Rezvani, Mahdi believes that Farabi is universally important and is not belonging to a specific religion of school of thought. For this reason, he tried to educate many disciples. Farabi is the first person who has founded the field of political philosophy. Farabi is the first person who revived Plato’s political philosophy, because this view criticizes the western historical approaches. Some scholars like Balzer imitate Farabi’s political philosophy, but Mahdi criticizes it. After Plato, the only person who paid an attention to him was Cicero.But, Farabi points out to his political philosophy. When Farabi encounters with the Helenian philosophy, the Muslims did not have a positive and optimistic view to the non-Muslim countries, but Farabi was the only one who did not have a negative view. He would stress that this philosophy should be read and synthesized with religious topics. In a time when the religious figures were opposing the Hellenic topics, Farabi took a different path. He was very open and would argue that although this question is from the west, we should study and apply it. This openness is a prominent feature in Farabi.
Dr. Rezvani stated: Mahdi believes that it is possible to separate Farabi’s theological, ontological, anthropological issues. So, one can juxtapose Farabi’s al-madīna al-fāżela and Al-Sīyāsah al-Madanīyah.In my view, Farabi’s al-madīna al-fāżela is a compendium. Later on, I realized that Mahdi also held a similar view. He argues: Farabi’s political philosophy should be regarded as political philosophy from the beginning to the end. Study of Farabi’s works has given Mahdi a deep understanding and knowledge into Farabi’s internal logic. Farabi’s main concern was political. Mahdi reiterates this argument here and there. The fourth step according to Dr. Rzvani was the revival of political philosophy and educating students and instructors who are the distinguished scholars of Farabi Studies.For 12 years in Chicago university, he endeavored, conducted research, translated and interpreted Farabi’s works. It should be noted that Mahdi is indebted to Strauss and therefore, he dedicates his book Farabi and the Foundation of Political Philosophy to his professor Strauss, thus showing his deep interest in Strauss even after four decades.
Finally, this university lecturer concluded: Mahdi’s mother was from the Iranian city of Gilan.His father was from Karbala where many Iranians were living. In his birth time, Mahdi’s mother was in the holy shrine of Imam Hussein. She gave a birth to her son while leaning against the walls of the shrine. I am proud to remind you of the fact that his parents were lovers of Imam Hussein. This figure is of a paramount importance in Shiite circles, although he has not appreciated as he deserves.
Muhsin Mahdi and Kitab al-Huruf: The Primary Philosophy and its Fate in the Muslim World
Dr. Keyvan Khosravi was the last speaker at this session who talked about Muhsin Mahdi and Kitab al-Huruf , saying: a “criticism” of the Islamic philosophy and the Islamic political philosophy may be the loftiest way to honor the great scholar Muhsin Mahdi. When a session is held in honor of a scholar, the session is usually reduced to “who he/she was and what he/she did”. But, it will be worthier to get deeper into his intellectual endeavors and criticize them. He continued: My focus is on “fate”. Fate, as I understand it, is not something externally imposed, rather, it is an object’s internal movement from potentiality to actuality, what has been termed as “the nature of things” by Aristotle. In Aristotle’s account, the beginning is the same as the end and the end is the same as the beginning. The end of anything can be found in its beginning and the end can be theorized as the actualization of all potentialities. Theorization is the ultimate goal of philosophy and the true or radical realization of freedom. The ultimate goal of Aristotle’s philosophy was freedom. Freedom results from “knowledge”, its occurrence is not a result of isolation from community. “community” and “language” are the primary entities that should exist in order for knowledge to become possible. What “is” or better to say what “was” in “community” can provide us with the “knowable”. Stepping into the realm of philosophy can occur only when we pass by the knowable and reach the status of knowable by nature. Claiming that things are “knowable for us” has become a part of our everyday life. For this reason, they seem extremely familiar and thus, extremely unfamiliar for us. Freedom is of such an essence, i.e., making a sense of the universe and making it as “our house”. So, philosophy is good “for its own sake”. A philosopher leads a free life; his/her ultimate goal is just knowledge.
Dr. Khosravi stated that in Islamic philosophy, there were basic barriers to the realization of such a freedom. It should be noted that I don’t mean to oppose the tradition and achieve a language totally dissociated from it. He continued: I believe that the very criticism of the tradition can revive it. What we have now is just a corpus of its dead body. There are two major barriers and obstacles in our philosophy: one is the concept of “god” and the other is turning away from “this worldly life” and denying any truth in it. Accordingly, our metaphysics not only dissociated itself from this world, but it became an anti-world philosophy. Farabi made lots of efforts to take steps in Aristotle’s path, but the fate of Islamic philosophy was not decided by him. Here, I’ll try to travel the path as following: I begin with the concept of “existence” from which I achieve the concept of “god” and then, I touch upon the concept of “essence” in a bid to show this dissociation from “the life” and “the world” in the primary philosophy.
Khosravi explained the word “being” and stated: the most important word in philosophy is the word “being”, the equivalent of “το ειναι” in Greek. You know, metaphysics discusses the being as it is. I’ll argue that the efforts made by Farabi and Ibn Rushd to define this word were of no use. So, philosophy was misled by this word.
Arguing that Arabic language has created major problems for our philosophers, he said: the absence of a linking verb as discussed by Soheil Muhsin Afnan is the first major limitation in Arabic language that makes it possible to prepare a dictionary of Arabic philosophical terms. Like other Semitic languages and unlike the Indo-European languages, Arabic language lacks the kinking verb “to be”. This lack and shortcoming became a big barrier in the science of logic. Knowing that the verb “وَجَدَ” (to find) is not the equivalent of the verb “to be”,Farabi like other Muslim philosophers selected other equivalents such as “کان، صار، اصبح، امسی، ظل” that have the same meaning as “ وَجَدُ”.In chapter 15 of Kitab al-Huruf,Farabi has discussed this problematic.Farabi argues that “الموجود” – a being- in Arabic is a past participle of “وَجَدَ” that is used in two forms, absolute and conditional. In either of the cases, the verb “وَجَدَ” means “to find”. So, “الموجود” literally means “the found thing”. In Arabic however, this word signifies both the linking verb and the existing thing. Since morphologically, it is a derivative word, the Arabic speakers should be careful not to make a derivative sense of it.They should remind themselves that it is semantically non-derivative, but morphologically derivative.
According to this scholar of Farabi research, these problematics have been discussed by Farabi and then by Ibn Rushd, but their discussions were of no use, for, our philosophers misunderstood the word “الموجود” and assumed it to mean “a being/an entity” rather than a liking verb “to be”. The origin of this big mistake was Avicenna who perceived the divine epithets as entities. In order to prove God, he had to regard “existing” as a superfluous epithet for an entity. Avicenna basically did not desire to apply a proper word. He was not sensitive enough in this regard. The entities are possible to exist and it is the uncaused cause of the being that gives existence to them. This is totally exotic to the Hellenic philosophy.
He moreover talked about the concept of God in political philosophy, saying: this exoticism can be explained by drawing on the concept of god in Aristotle’s view, the god that is not a creator. Aristotle accounts for the concept of god (θεός) as a static entity that is eternally underlying any motion (θεός). It should be essentially eternal(αΐδιον), because it is impossible for a motion to develop or disintegrate, because, it has always existed as time has always existed. The essence or existence of this origin should be actuality, because, the existence or non-existence of a potentiality is possible. Potentiality may not exist. In Aristotle’s philosophy, the potential has not priority over the actual. What is potential may not actualize, but what is existing is essentially actual. Aristotle puts it this way: “It is assumed that any actuality implies a potentiality” or as Sharafoddin Khorasani has well rendered it, “It is assumed that any actant is potent”, but not every potential is actual. Otherwise, nothing could have actualized. Maybe, there is a potentiality for something, yet it is not existent, or something is potent to be, but its being has not occurred yet. This underlying moves everything as the beloved moves the lover. The lover characteristically undergoes a change in his attempt to reach the beloved, but the object of his love does not change. This independence (αιτία) implies that the aforementioned underlying is the primary cause of movement in everything. Being a cause of movement does not mean that it itself activates something, but, it means that it is the ultimate goal of anything. By “ultimate”, I mean having an orientation towards something.
Dr. Khosravi continued to say: When talking about the “الموجود”(being/entity), it was argued that Farabi’s attempt to keep it from misinterpretations led nowhere, because all his attempts were unsuccessful thanks to Avicenna’s practice of leading philosophy to the banality of mysticism. Our philosophers including Avicenna intentionally interpreted the word “δύναμίς” as an equivalent of the word “possible” and on this wrong basis, they categorized the entities into two categories: “possible existent” and “necessary existent”. Thus, they distanced themselves from Peripatetic school of philosophy, so that they may be cherished by God, or the “necessary existent” with the hope that He will give them wisdom, in their dreams, the divine wisdom. Although following Farabi, Avicenna argues that metaphysics is about “entities as they are”, but his philosophy leads to the proof of the necessary existent. He also used to argue that God is not the object of metaphysics, but the path he takes is nothing but planning the relation between the created as a possible existent and the creator as the necessary existent.
This university lecturer touched upon the difference between Aristotle and Farabi, saying: We can see major differences between Aristotle and Farabi in their understanding of some metaphysical concepts. This difference can be demonstrated in the concept of “ ossia” that how this Aristotelian concept is closely related to the everyday and natural Greek language, it becomes meaningful in this relation, but “essence” is the Islamic philosophy is devoid of such a relation. It did not have any relation to the everyday language of its times. Nor did it make a deep sense of Aristotle’s intention.
According to Khosravi, like his mentor Aristotle, Farabi explains concepts first from the perspective of the natural and everyday language of the common people and then explains how that concept is used differently in philosophy. The first meaning presented by Farabi as for the word “essence” in the everyday language of the people is “precious gems”. The value of gems does not originate from their innate perfection, rather they are valued conventionally. Another common meaning of this word is being of good ancestors. For example, when they say “someone is of a good essence”, they mean “he is of good ancestors”. So, the nature and character of a person depended on the character of his ancestors. On the other hand, his breeding was regarded as a result of his family’s good breeding. He added: Its other sense is one’s nature that facilitates performing good and evil deeds. Someone of good essence can easily do good deeds. One performs good or evil deeds according to his/her essence. Another common sense of the word essence is closely related to its philosophical meaning. In this sense, essence refers to form. Form and substance together constitute one’s nature. So, essence refers to man’s nature that actualizes him/her. But, substance refers to ancestors. On the other hand, form and substance are interdependent. As an example, when they say that a certain dress is of a good essence, they mean that its warps and wefts have been woven for example out of silk. So, the essence and nature of an object lies in its substance. Based on Farabi’s ideas, the common sense of essence is subsumed under two categories: one is a precious gem and the other is an object’s nature that constitutes its form and substance. Essence in their view is either an absolute essence, or the essence of an object.
“the essence “accounted for by Farabi within a philosophical framework is totally different from its common usage in the everyday language of the people. It seems as if philosophy in the view of our philosophers refers to the other world and that it is different from the everyday life. The term “other world” has been introduced by Farabi in contrast with the religious concept of “hereafter”. He not only forgets the religious “hereafter”, but makes an attempt to subvert it. He however dubbed philosophy as the other world, where one can achieve salvation through theoretical philosophy. In Farabi’s view, the relation of this theoretical philosophy to politics is strategic. Therefore, Farabi was ready to replace religion and “Islamic scholastic theology” in particular with Neoplatonism. Let’s continue our discussion on Farabi’s interpretation of “essence” for more clarity.
Reiterating that Farabi introduced “philosophical essence” in contrast with the general meanings of the word “essence” in the everyday language of the people, Dr. Khosravi stated: According to Farabi, essence is a referent that is not present in the subject. Moreover, essence refers to any predicate that describes the qualities of the referent. Not to mention, essence can generally refer to any predicate that describes the qualities of any entity. Furthermore, essence refers to a set of properties that constitute entities and give them an identity. After accounting for the concept of essence, Farabi makes an exotic argument that is relevant to our discussion.
Unlike the myths that have been fabricated for Farabi, it seems that he didn’t know Greek. On the other hand, the Muslim philosophers could not read Aristotle’s philosophy within its Hellenic context. Aristotle seemed to be dissociated from the Hellenic context and overwhelmed with the pleasure of philosophy in the “other world”, the world of happiness. But, his philosophy is confined to Greece. Indeed, Greece had the potentiality to create philosophy and this potentiality was actualized by Aristotle at the time when he was about to inscribe an epitaph on philosophy’s tombstone. Philosophy in Greece reached its climax at a time when this unfortunate woman was about to be buried following Aristotle’s death. Just like truth (ἀλήθεια), Philosophy in Greek is feminine. In German language also the word truth (Die Wahrheit) is grammatically feminine, as the opening paragraph of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil says:
“ Supposing truth is a woman — what then? is there not ground for suspecting that all philosophers have failed to understand women — that the terrible seriousness and clumsy importunity with which they have usually paid their addresses to Truth, have been unskilled and unseemly methods for winning a woman?’