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  • Doubts on Avicenna: A Study and Edition of Sharaf al-Dīn al-Mas'ūdī's Commentary on the Ishārāt. by Ayman Shihadeh
  • Jon McGinnis (bio)
Doubts on Avicenna: A Study and Edition of Sharaf al-Dīn al-Mas'ūdī's Commentary on the Ishārāt. By Ayman Shihadeh. Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science, Texts and Studies, vol. 95. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016. Pp. viii 290. Hardcover €97, $126.00, isbn 978-90-04-30252-5.

While the little-known thinker Sharaf al-Dīn al-Mas'ūdī (d. late twelfth century) may have had doubts concerning the Ishārāt (Pointers) of the great Persian philosopher Avicenna (980–1037), no one should have doubts concerning Ayman Shihadeh's [End Page 599] brilliant Doubts on Avicenna: A Study and Edition of Sharaf al-Dīn al-Mas'ūdī's Commentary on the Ishārāt. Professor Shihadeh's volume is a rich study of Mas'ūdī's alMabāḥith wa-l-shukūk 'alā Kitāb al-Ishārāt (Investigations and doubts on the Book of Pointers), which additionally offers the first critical edition of that work. Doubts on Avicenna affords the reader a snapshot of the middle period of medieval Arabic philosophy and Islamic theology (ca. eleventh to fourteenth centuries), a general overview of Mas'ūdī's Shukūk followed by four careful studies of various philosophical and theological issues raised therein, and finally the critical edition itself. The volume is must reading for anyone in the least interested in philosophical and theological developments in the post-Avicennan Islamic East or the thought of Avicenna himself. It will also be of interest to students of intellectual history and Islam more generally. Certainly no serious research library with a collection in Islamic or Near East Studies should be without it. In short, I highly recommend Shihadeh's Doubts on Avicenna for individuals and institutions alike.

A brief word about the historical context and significance of al-Mas'ūdī's Shukūk is warranted. As the full title of that work denotes, it is part of the commentary tradition on Avicenna's al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt (Pointers and reminders). Currently we know of at least thirty commentaries on the Ishārāt written during the post-Avicennan period, and this reckoning keeps increasing.1 Indeed the Ishārāt is among the most commented works on Islamic natural philosophy and metaphysics during this period. The significance of al-Mas'ūdī's Shukūk is that it appears to mark the genesis of this commentary tradition even though it is itself not a full-fledged commentary (sharḥ). Instead the work stands in the tradition of other shukūk works like Abū Bakr al-Rāzī's Doubts on Galen and Ibn al-Haytham's Doubts on Ptolemy. As such the work need not be read as a refutation of Avicenna's thought, although that may be the intent, but instead as a statement of known problem areas in Avicenna's text. Shihadeh in fact identifies the Muslim theologian al-Ghazālī (1058–1111) and the independent Jewish philosopher Abū l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī (1080–1165) as primary sources of al-Mas'ūdī's doubts, although al-Mas'ūdī develops and offers his own as well. Additionally, while al-Mas'ūdī and his work may be little known now, al-Mas'ūdī was one of a handful of philosophers mentioned by name in the full exegetical commentaries of both Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (1149–1209) and Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (1201–1274). This fact certainly suggests that al-Mas'ūdī's Shukūk was an important work in its own time and demanding of consideration, and for this reason alone the work is worthy of Shihadeh's careful study.

As for this study itself, Doubts on Avicenna consists of a short introduction, a chapter on the life and career of al-Mas'ūdī as well as the intellectual climate of his time, followed by a chapter synopsizing the arguments of al-Mas'ūdī's Shukūk, which also functions like an overall...


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