Al-Fārābī’s Isrāʼīl and Quwayra: On the Two Christian Mutakallims Who Transmitted Philosophy from Ḥarrān to Baghdad On the Two Christian Mutakallims Who Transmitted Philosophy from Ḥarrān to Baghdad.

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Najib George Awad


There was a time when scholars conducted lengthy investigations on the story of the transmission of Greek philosophy from Roman Alexandria to Abbasid Baghdad vis-à-vis Antioch and then the city of Ḥarrān. During the past three decades, scholars started to deconstruct the ‘from Alexandria to Baghdad’ narrative. Many scholars deem Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa’s reports on such transmission, related by the philosopher al-Fārābī in the former’s book, ʿUyūn al-Anbāʼ fī Ṭabaqāt al-Aṭibbāʼ (The Springs of Information about the Classes of Physicians), to be historically unreliable and untenable. It is because of this conviction, scholars rarely paused at al-Fārābī’s/Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa’s attestation that the transmission of philosophy to Baghdad occurred via two students, who learned philosophy from a Ḥarrānian teacher. These two students are called Isrāʼīl al-Usquf and Quwayra. This article tackles directly the question of the real identity of the two persons called Isrāʼīl and Quwayra. The article searches for these two persons by examining some historical and biographical attestations one finds in extant, early Muslim and Christian historiographies. Then, it proposes that the data available in our hands strongly suggests that these two persons can tenably be the Nestorian Isrāʼīl of Kashkar and the Melkite Theodore Abū Qurrah, the two intellectuals and mutakallims who were known within the circles of theological and philosophical reasoning in ninth-century Baghdad.


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