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  • Prophetic Niche in the Virtuous City: The Concept of Ḥikma in Early Islamic Thought by Hikmet Yaman
  • Nuha al-Shaar
Prophetic Niche in the Virtuous City: The Concept of Ḥikma in Early Islamic Thought. By Hikmet Yaman. Islamic Philosophy, Theology, and Science: Texts and Studies, vol. 81. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2011. Pp. xi + 316. Hardcover $166.00, ISBN.

In his book Visions of Politics, Quentin Skinner argued that a scholar's primary concern is to situate texts and terms within their intellectual contexts in order to make sense of their authors' meaning. Skinner also stressed the history of the uses to which moral terms have been put, and their meanings for the agent performing them. While admitting the difficulties of such method with early Muslim writings, Hikmet Yaman is to be congratulated on his thorough analysis of ḥikma, commonly translated as 'wisdom,' one of the most important yet under-researched Islamic concepts. In his Prophetic Niche in the Virtuous City: The Concept of Ḥikma in Early Islamic Thought, Yaman follows Skinner's call and treats the concept of ḥikma in its cross-disciplinary intellectual context in the formative period of Islam and examines ḥikma in relation to other terms, taking into consideration the interrelationships that these terms might have with each other. He underlines the shortcomings of previous scholarship and especially the neglect of the contextual and interdisciplinary features of ḥikma. Rather than following too narrow an etymological approach, which has led to inaccurate conclusions in previous studies, Yaman focuses on the ways in which ḥikma is perceived by thinkers in various fields, as seen in the book's divisions, which consist of an introduction and four parts. Part 1 covers ḥikma in early Arabic Lexicography, part 2 discusses ḥikma in Early Muslim Exegetical Literature, part 3 discusses ḥikma in Sufī Literature, and part 4 discusses ḥikma in Early Philosophical Literature. This approach details the meaning of the concept of ḥikma across a network of Muslim scholarly traditions until Ghazzali in the twelfth century. Such an approach particularly enables the reader to perceive conceptual shifts introduced to the term.

In part 1, Yaman investigates the origin of the term ḥikma, and its wide-ranging definitions in primary lexicological materials from the pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods. He traces the development of ḥikma's meaning in major lexicological works, such as Kitāb al-'Ayn, Tahdhīb al-lughah, and al-Muḥīṭ fī al-luhgah, as well as in specialized dictionaries concerned with Qur'anic vocabulary, such as the works of al-Rāghib al-Iḥfahānī. The author shows in his analysis of the primary sources that the root ḥ-k-m, from which ḥikma derives, has semantic permutations that often underline the moral implications of the term. The primary meaning of ḥ-k-m is mana'a, 'to restrain,' and Arabic lexicographers provide additional definitions of this term, including 'to prevent from injustice (ẓulm) or ignorance (jahl).' Also ḥikma is associated with the meaning of atqana, 'to perfect' and 'to judge.' This leads Yaman to [End Page 436] identify ḥikma with justice ('adl) and knowledge ('ilm) and everything that prevents a person from acting in a corrupt manner or from committing a blameworthy deed, and to stress the word's legal and juridical-administrative dimensions. Yaman then rightly argues that all the lexicographers focus on a shared meaning of ḥikma that includes all forms of knowledge with a practical function to influence human behavior. It is noteworthy that Yaman shows that modern Western scholarly discussion concerns mainly the basic meaning of the term ḥikma; and its link to the idea of wisdom. Based on the absence of sufficient pre-Islamic material, he also does not rule out the possibility suggested by previous scholars that any derivative from the root ḥ-k-m that seems to imply wisdom might have entered pre-Islamic Arabic from other Semitic languages and in time become indigenous to Arabic.

Part 2 examines the use of ḥikma in early Muslim exegetical literature and the diverse ways in which commentators interpreted ḥikma. This section offers a very useful analysis of the context of ḥikma in all its appearances in Qur'anic verses and commentaries...