Muhammad ‘Abduh as Avicennian philosopher

By Robert J. Wisnovsky
Submitted to Session P4780 (Making Falsafa: Towards a Modern History of Arabic Philosophy, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Compared to Muhammad ‘Abduh’s Risalat al-Tawhid, which has received massive scholarly attention, and been translated into several European languages, two more technically complex philosophical works by ‘Abduh remain in the shadows. This paper will place in intellectual-historical context the composition and subsequent publication of these two understudied philosophical works. The first – his Hashiyah on Jalal al-Din al-Dawani’s Sharh on the ‘Aqa’id ‘Adudiyyah of ‘Adud al-Din al-Iji – is a continuous and extended supercommentary that demonstrates ‘Abduh’s command over the long tradition of post-Avicennian philosophical theology. The Hashiyah was composed in 1876, when ‘Abduh was still a student, and served as a kind of doctoral dissertation, completed under the supervision of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. However, the book was not published until 1905, just before ‘Abduh’s death (or just after – there is some uncertainty), by al-Matba‘ah al-Khayriyyah in Cairo. The second philosophical work – his Ta‘liqat (alt. Ta‘aliq) on the Basa’ir Nasiriyyah fi ‘Ilm al-Mantiq of Ibn Sahlan al-Sawi – is a set of discontinuous and relatively brief glosses that reflect ‘Abduh’s attempt to return to the earliest phase of the tradition of post-Avicennian logic. Unlike Iji’s ‘Aqa’id ‘Adudiyyah, which served as the matn for dozens of subsequent commentaries and glosses, Sawi’s Basa’ir was an isolated text that received little attention from later commentators. ‘Abduh came across the Basa’ir in Beirut in 1886/1887, during his period of exile from Egypt, and he brought it back to Cairo, where he composed glosses on it with the intention of introducing the text into the Azhar curriculum. The Basa’ir was eventually published in 1898, by al-Matba‘ah al-Kubra al-Amiriyyah. What exactly were ‘Abduh’s motivations in composing these two works of commentary? To what extent do they show ‘Abduh engaging in the traditions of post-Avicenian philosophical theology and logic, and to what extent do they show him stepping away from those traditions? What were the precise reasons behind their publication by these particular presses at these particular times? Who exactly was involved in their edition and publication, and who was their intended readership? This paper will address these and related issues (including the recent challenges to ‘Abduh’s authorship of the Hashiyah) with the hope of shedding light on late-19th-century Arab modernist conceptions of the Islamic philosophical heritage.