One of the many overlooked figures of the pre-modern Islamic tradition is Abū al-Ma’ālī ‘Abd Allāh b. Abī Bakr (d. 525/1131), better known as ‘Ayn al-Quḍāt Ḥamadhānī. Born in Hamadhan in Seljuk Iran around 490/1098 to a family of prominent Shāfi’ī scholars, by the age of 20 he had mastered Arabic, Persian, jurisprudence, ḥadīth, Qur’ān, poetry, kalām (dialectical theology), philosophy and various strands of mystical thought. A student of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī (d. 520/1126), the brother of the great theologian Abū Hāmid Muḥammad al-Ghazālī), he became an eminent scholar and mystic in his own right, composing various works in both Persian and Arabic, the most important of which were Tamhīdāt and the Zubdat al-Haqāʾiq fī Kashf al-Khalāʾiq. Much of his mystical philosophy was focused on the concept of divine love.
The entrance to New York’s Rockefeller Center, with an Art Deco-style frieze depicting God from William Blake’s “Book of Urizen” and a quote from Isaiah 33:6: “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.”
George Santayana famously wrote that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But is the opposite also true? Will those who cherish their political, intellectual and cultural heritage ultimately be saved by it? For Arab intellectuals a century ago, the answer is a resounding yes. In our current era of the liberal arts as a favorite whipping boy among public officials, it’s hard to imagine that only a few years after Santayana relinquished his post at Harvard, a small group of impassioned Arab educators, thinkers and poets were staking the future of a war-torn Middle East on how well it could remember its past.
For these “Neoclassical” authors as they’re…
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