Abu ‘l-Barakat al-Baghdadi: Outline of a Non-Aristotelian Natural Philosophy
This article is the result of a close collaboration between our colleague Lutfallah Gari (Yanbu, Kingdom of Saudia Arabia) and the editorial board of www.MuslimHeritage.com (the Chief Editor).
Table of Contents
- 1. His Life and Works
- 2. Projectile Motion
- 3. The Acceleration
- 4. Other Innovative Ideas on Motion
- 5. Meteorology
- 6. Time and Space
- 7. References and Further Reading
Figure 1: Front cover of the first volume of Abū ‘l-Barakāt's Kitāb al-Mu'tabar (edited in Haydarabd, 1357/1938).
Abū ‘l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī was a scholar of the Arabic-Islamic tradition. Being of Jewish origin, he flourished in the 11th-12th centuries in Baghdad. An original philosopher and respected medical authority, he is well known by his Al-Kitāb al-Mu‘tabar, a philosophical essay in which he submitted some of the fundamental concepts of natural philosophy to a penetrating analysis. He suggested in it many interesting alternatives that found an echo in modern developments in physics, such as his ideas about the physics of motion and the concept of time.
The attention to his work was drawn in modern scholarship by Shlomo Pines, a scholar who devoted as early as 1938 a great attention to Abū ‘l-Barakāt's innovative ideas in natural philosophy, especially to his Al-Kitāb al-Mu‘tabar. Pines proposed to translate this titles as "The book of what has been established by personal reflection" .
The following article is a concise presentation of Abū ‘l-Barakāt's views in natural philosophy. A complete list of his extant works was generated from a number of partial lists mentioned in the modern scholarship. At the end, the article reflects ongoing debates on the issues and concepts of natural philosophy in the Arabic tradition.
1. His Life and Works 
Famed as Awhad al-Zamān (unique of his time), Hibat-Allāh ibn ‘Alī ibn Malkā Abū ‘l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī (ca.1077-1152) is an 11th-12th century physician and philosopher of Jewish origin. He was born in Balad, a town on the Tigris above Mosul. Precise biographical information is unavailable. We know that he was born into a Jewish family and later in life he converted to Islam. Early in his life, he had for master Abū ‘l-Hasan Sa‘īd b. Hibat Allāh and became a famous physician, serving in this quality the caliphs of Baghdad —where he resided— and the Seljuk sultans. The appellation Awhad al-Zamān, ‘the singular [personage] of his time', probably reflects his medical rather than philosophical achievements. His formal teaching seems to have been limited to medicine, in which he had a number of students.
The anecdotes related by the biographers reveal his often difficult relations with his various patrons and their courts. Having become blind at the end of his life, he died in Baghdad probably after 560 H/1164-65 CE. Rival of the Christian physician Ibn al-Tilmīdh, he had as his disciple and friend Ishāq b. Abraham b. Ezra, who composed on him a panegyric in Hebrew. Ibn Khallīkān's biographical dictionary describes him as ‘very presumptuous', his hauteur being revealed in his many disputes with contemporary scholars. His involvement in philosophy seems to have been informal (even by the standards of the time) and tentative, although this led him to genial insights into natural philosophy, as it will be shown below.
A biographical compendium and complete list of the works attributed to Hibat Allāh Abū ‘l-Barakāt is given by Ibn Abī Usaybi‘a in ‘Uyūn al-‘anb ā' fī tabaqāt al-atibbā', where the author relates some anecdotes and sayings and lists several of al-Baghdādī's medical works.
Despite his conversion to Islam, al-Baghdādī's works continued to be studied at the yeshivah of Baghdad, then the centre of Jewish theology, into the 13th century. Al-Baghdādī's commentary to the Book of Ecclesiastes continued to be copied at the same yeshivah, with full acknowledgement of its authorship. Shmu'el ben Eli, head of the yeshivah and archrival of Moses Maimonides, cites the Mu‘tabar in support of his contention that even ‘the philosophers' are forced to admit the possibility of bodily resurrection. Ben Eli does not reveal his source; it appears to have been Maimonides' disciple Yosef ben Yehudah who tracked down the reference .
Abū ‘l-Barakāt's extant works include:
1. A pharmacological treatise titled Sifat Barsha‘thā (i.e. prescription of Barsha‘thā); it is about an Indian compound drug. Three copies are preserved in Turkish libraries .
2. Another pharmacological treatise titled Tiryāq amīr al-arwāh (Prince of Souls' antidote); a manuscript copy of this text is held in Kitapsaray Library in Manisa, Turkey (MS 1781, folios 157b-159a) .
3. Maqāla fi'l-‘aql is a treatise on the intellect, preserved in Tehran  and Leipzig .
4. A treatise on the cause of the visibility of the stars at night and their invisibility at daytime, Risāla fī sabab zuhūr al-kawākib laylan wa khafā'ihā nahāran, written in answer to a question of Sultan Muhammad Tapar. In some manuscripts it is wrongly ascribed to Ibn Sīnā . It is preserved in Berlin , Hyderabad and Mashhad .
5. A treatise on using the universal (astronomical) plate (Risāla fī ‘l-‘amal bi-‘l-safīha al-‘āfāqiyyah), preserved in Niǧde, Turkey
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