Al-‘Amiri’s Book of Notification of the Virtues of Islam

A classic rookie teaching mistake is to put on one’s syllabus a reading which has not been translated into a language one’s students can understand.  This is what I did a year ago with the Kitab al-I’lam bi-manaqib al-Islam of al-‘Amiri (d. 992).  This text is, among other things, a fascinating treatise in comparative religion (arguing, as the title suggests, for the superiority of Islam), as well as a defense of philosophy from Muslim critics.  Not having a full translation from which to choose a pungent section, however, I hurriedly made my own translation of a single small section defending the study of logic, using logical means.  I thought I’d include it here for general interest:

And as for the science of logic, there is a division of the people of kalam who follow the influences of the Hashwiyya in contempt for it, and they allege two arguments for this:

Their first argument: that we, the bulk of the best people in the practice of kalam, have looked in the books of logic, and we did not obtain anything from them except incomprehensible words and strange names. So were it the case that the owners of these books benefit from what agrees with the truth, so that they should be eager for its explanation, if even one classification were found in it, that would justify to us looking into it, with a beginner introducing to us its meanings.

And this – may God support you – is an invalid argument, because the inability of the people of kalam to understand the statements of the books of logic does not prove that they are depraved. But the one who recognizes that he cannot understand all the statements that the science of logic includes has become a witness that his judgment on the question whether it agrees with the truth or opposes it is inevitably refuted, and that he should keep going back to what he finds fault with or praises, in order to try to understand its content. Then he will judge what is right or wrong about it.

And their second argument: that the masters of this practice have agreed that the greatest benefit from obtaining it is familiarity with the conditions for inference, to make apparent what is absent, and that its status among all the speculative disciplines corresponds to the status of the practice of meter among the types of poetry. But we do not doubt that one of us, when he masters by personal experience the recitation of poetry, he has also become knowledgeable of prosody in addition without needing it. So therefore it should be the case that the one who masters with his understanding the use of the criteria will obtain the benefit from the science of logic. And nothing from the intellect adorns itself with the science of the people of kalam except what it is guided to by its understanding, so rather therefore it is the case that logic becomes harmful to it.

And this is also a flimsy argument: because the intellect is from us and if the goal agrees with it in its criteria, then his opponent when he contests something’s validity, and he claims the validity of different criteria for its rules in this case, he cannot verify what is contested in it unless he has with him this exact balance which is reliable in its fairness [i.e., logic]. It is likewise the case when someone contests the soundness of a verse from poetry and he claims that it is breaks the meter. I mean that he cannot attain the investigation of what is right from his speech and the speech of his opponent except by the force of the science of prosody.

And if the weakness of the two arguments is clear to us, then of necessity we must mention the first benefit from this science [i.e. of logic], so we say:

It is an intellectual tool with which the rational soul may conclude the distinction between what is true and what is invalid in theoretical domains, and between what is good and what is evil in practical domains. And its function among souls employing it is very similar to the function of an average standard by which known quantities are measured, because it is the thing that allows the question, the answer, the opposition, the contradiction, and the sophistry. But with it one can resolve specious arguments, and uncover fakes, and other such good things beneficial for the investigation of claims. Then a person benefits from it also with the intellectual delight which becomes clear from using it, and from the tranquility in knowledge when by it the soul itself becomes one of those who seek to learn wisdom, not to bring with it praise from the brothers, but to rejoice in attaining the truth from it and a spirit of certainty.

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