Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

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Abu ̕L-ʿAbbās Lawkarī

  • Mohammad Javad EsmaeiliEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1151-5_576-1

Life – Abū l-ʿAbbās al-Faḍl b. Muḥammad al-Lawkarī was a second-generation student of Avicenna (d. 428/1037) through his most talented and devoted disciple Abū l-Ḥasan Bahmanyār b. Marzbān (d. 458/1066). Lawkarī belonged to one of the most influential families in the district of Merv and traced his origin to the town of Lawgar, situated on the road leading from Merv to Herat. It is not known when Lawkarī was born. But given that he was a student of Bahmanyār and if it is true that Bahmanyār died in 458/1066, then he may have been somewhere in his 30s when Bahmanyār passed away. The fact that he was alive in 503/1110 – the year in which he compiled the table of contents of Avicenna’s Taʿlīqāt – is certainly consistent with such a hypothesis. It must then have been some time after 503/1110 that his eyes and general condition got so bad that he – as reported by al-Bayhaqī who explicitly refers to Lawkarī’s advanced age (shaykhūkhatuhu) – started to long for the end. While we know that Lawkarī passed away quite suddenly after a heavy midday meal, we do not know when this happened. In recent times it has been suggested that he passed away in 517/1123. There is, however, no evidence for this. The date in question was introduced by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī (Avicenna, Taʿlīqāt, Introd. p. 8) and was based on his understanding of the entry on Lawkarī in Carl Brockelmann’s Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (GAL vol. 1, 602, 10a). While there were always doubts on this date, the matter remained unresolved, until recently, that is, when GAL’s entry on Lawkarī was published in English translation (Brockelmann, History of the Arabic Written Tradition, vol. 1, 526, 10a). Since then, there can be no more doubt that the dying date that is mentioned there is not Lawkarī’s, but that of his contemporary ʿUmar al-Khayyām (for whom we possess at least three death dates: 515/1121, 517/1123, and 526/1132): “Abū l-ʿAbbās al-Faḍl b. Muḥammad al-Lawkarī was a contemporary of ʿUmar al-Khayyām, d. 517/1123 (p. 620), who, like him, was also active as a poet.” So, all we know is that at the time of his death, Lawkarī was an elderly man who considered his life complete and looked forward to the end and that he died after a sudden illness, at some unspecified date after 503/1110.

Works – According to al-Bayhaqī, Lawkarī wrote many works, among them:
  1. 1.

    Bayān al-ḥaqq bi-ḍamān al-ṣidq (An Account of the Truth, with the Pledge to State the Facts)

  2. 2.

    A qaṣīda in Persian with a commentary (which must be his Sharḥ Qaṣīdat asrār al-ḥikma [A Commentary on the Poem Called The Secrets of Wisdom])

  3. 3.

    Essays (rasāʾil)

  4. 4.

    Learned annotations/comments (taʿlīqāt) and abridgements (mukhtaṣarāt)

  5. 5.

    A collection of poems (dīwān shiʿr)


From the above works, nos. 1 and 2 have survived. In connection with no. 5, it should be noted that, while we do not possess a dīwān by Lawkarī as such, still, Muʿīn al-Dīn al-Nīshāpūrī (d. 599/1203), in his Itmām Tatimmat Ṣīwān al-ḥikma (in several MSS in Istanbul), lists no less than 46 lines of poetry ascribed to him. As for no. 4, even if there is no trace of any taʿlīqāt or mukhtaṣarāt in Lawkarī’s name, it is also true that the style of his philosophical works that do survive (viz., nos. 1 and 2 and the ʿAwīṣ al-masāʾil fī ʿulūm al-awāʾil which will be discussed presently) is all consistent with his declared intention to explain philosophy in a concise but intelligible manner (see Style of Writing below). And if someone should call these therefore explanatory abridgements, this is certainly not far beside the truth.

The Bayān al-ḥaqq bi-ḍamān al-ṣidq is an explanatory summary of Avicenna’s philosophical encyclopedia the Kitāb al-Shifāʾ (The Book of Healing). The word “truth” in the title must be understood as “the true sense of Avicenna’s philosophy as set out in the Healing,” which Lawkarī then promises to describe in a straightforward and unadulterated manner. In this work Lawkarī is mostly inspired by Avicenna, whom he quotes (almost) literally at times, turning this work into an important tool for future editions of the works of Avicenna, but also by Aristotle, Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī (d. ca. 339/950), and Bahmanyār.

The philosophical Sharḥ Qaṣīdat asrār al-ḥikma is also encyclopedic in character, but much shorter than the Bayān al-ḥaqq. Insofar as this work is philosophical, involves a qaṣīda, and is written in Persian, there are clear parallels with Avicenna’s Persian Dānishnāma-yi ʿAlāʾī (Philosophy for ʿAlāʾ al-Dawla) and his didactical poems like al-Urjūza fī l-manṭiq (The rajaz-Poem on Logic).

Another work, not mentioned by al-Bayhaqī, is the ʿAwīṣ al-masāʾil fī ʿulūm al-awāʾil (Difficult Questions about the Sciences of the Ancients). The shortest of his three surviving works on philosophy, it addresses 30 questions in logic, natural science, mathematics, and metaphysics, listing the questions first and then, one by one, his answers. This treatise is not listed in any of the ancient biobibliographical sources, but in the one remaining copy, it is expressly ascribed to him. A close comparison of various sections of the ʿAwīṣ al-masāʾil with corresponding sections in the Bayān al-ḥaqq and the Sharḥ qaṣīdat asrār al-ḥikma confirms this ascription: there can be no doubt that Lawkarī is the author of this work.

Finally, another text by Lawkarī not mentioned in the Tatimmat Ṣīwān al-ḥikma is his very detailed table of contents of Avicenna’s Taʿlīqāt, which is preserved in the oldest copy of Avicenna’s Taʿlīqāt which was copied in 521/1127. Interestingly, Lawkarī’s use of abjad numbers in the tables of contents of each of the sections of the Tabīʿiyyāt (the part on natural philosophy) of his Bayān al-ḥaqq is also found in this table of contents for Avicenna’s Taʿlīqāt.

Style of Writing – According to al-Bayhaqī, who calls Lawkarī both an adīb (a man of letters) and a faylasūf, it was Lawkarī who was responsible for the spreading of the philosophical sciences (ʿulūm al-ḥikma) in Khurāsān. At a time when especially Avicenna’s philosophy was facing severe criticism from al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111), the importance of this fact can hardly be overestimated. According to Lawkarī’s own statement, his philosophical writings were inspired by the desire to present philosophy in a new kind of format. Until then, he says, the only books that he had come across were either much too detailed or way too concise. This new format, which one could call the “explanatory summary” (i.e., a sharḥ and talkhīṣ in one, comparable to the paraphrases of Aristotle by Themistius [d. ca. 390 CE]), is sufficiently detailed to be meaningful philosophically while leaving out most of the historical and accessory material. In the process, Lawkarī filtered most of the Greek context out of the philosophy of Avicenna, which may certainly have facilitated its reception in Khurāsān, through his immediate students (e.g., Sharaf al-Dīn al-Īlāqī, Ibn Abī Ṭāhir al-Marwazī, ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Ṣīghnākhī) and then, by his writings, in Khurāsān and elsewhere in the Persianate world, through thinkers like Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī (d. 587/1191), Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 672/1274), and, finally, Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī (d. 1045/1645).

In Hellenistic times, the Greek commentators of Aristotle would often explain Aristotle with Aristotle, drawing on other parts of his works in order to explain some difficulty in the text. In the Bayān al-ḥaqq, Lawkarī does the same thing, explaining Avicenna with Avicenna. Interestingly, he uses Avicenna’s Kitāb al-ishārāt wal-tanbīhāt to explain some difficulties in the Shifāʾ. This means that he saw a unity of doctrine in both works where today, the common view is that the Ishārāt – Avicenna’s last major philosophical work – is in various ways different from, and meant to replace, the philosophy of the Shifāʾ.

Significance – Al-Bayhaqī considered Lawkarī more as a transmitter than as a thinker in his own right. And if one looks at his surviving works and at the style in which they were written, this judgment is certainly not misplaced. Still, Lawkari was very much in charge of the ideas that he was transmitting, this in the sense that he would make his own choices in his selection of topics and the way or order to present them. In the case of the physics of the Bayān al-ḥaqq, for instance, he cut Avicenna’s number of chapters in half, which is exactly what one would expect from a teacher who focuses on the essential. On the other hand, in the case of the soul’s fate after its separation from the body, he even decided to introduce a special discussion on its capacity to know in this separate state, a subject which he believed had been mostly ignored as a result of an undue emphasis on man’s reward and punishment in the Hereafter. So, yes a transmitter and a teacher, but also an author with a keen and independent mind.

Modern Scholarship – While modern scholarship in Iran has thus far mostly been limited to the edition of the Bayān al-ḥaqq (partial) (Dībājī, Khaḍrī), the Sharḥ Qaṣīdat asrār al-ḥikma (Dībājī, Rūḥī), and global descriptions of the contents of these (Qarīb, Dībājī), in the West the focus was mainly on content: Jules Janssens with his studies on the doctrinal and textual similarities between the Bayān al-ḥaqq and the works of al-Fārābī, Avicenna, and Bahmanyār; Roxanne Marcotte with her biobibliographical, lexicological, and partly doctrinal studies; and Frank Griffel with his studies on the spirit of the age of Lawkarī and the way in which it is reflected in the life and/or works of, among others, Lawkarī. However, in view of Lawkarī’s pivotal importance in the history of Islamic philosophy in Khurāsān and other parts of the medieval Persianate world, it would seem that thus far much too little has been done. We still need reliable editions of (most of) the Bayān al-ḥaqq and the Sharḥ Qaṣīdat asrār al-ḥikma and of the whole of the ʿAwīṣ al-masāʾil and, besides, in-depth textual and doctrinal studies designed to lay bare the extent of Lawkarī’s dependence on and, where applicable, modification of, the philosophy of Avicenna especially, though not exclusively. At the time of writing of this entry (April 2018), an edition of the entire natural philosophy – part of the Bayān al-ḥaqq (ca. 500 pages in print) – is in preparation, to be published in 2019 (M.J. Esmaeili, Tehran).


Primary Sources

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Modern Publications

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Iranian Institute of PhilosophyTehranIran