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Abdurrahmān Bistāmī (d. 1454) was a polymath of the fifteenth century, who emerged as a towering figure in the Ottoman lands. His scientific production covers many areas in Islamic disciplines, mainly Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology (kalām), Islamic mysticism (ṭasawwuf), and secret sciences. While the scientific activities of many Ottoman scholars were within the borders of the classical madrasa curricula, Bistāmī was unique for his profound knowledge of the occult sciences. In fact, Bistāmī is particularly well-versed in the science of letters (‘ilm al-ḥurūf), a discipline which seeks to establish secret alphabetical and numerical relations between ontological and epistemological entities. In fact, he sees the science of the letters as the crown of the sciences, maintaining that the core teaching of this secret science was carried through a lineage of the prophets till it came down to the Prophet Muḥammad and then to Muslim scholars afterwards. Bistāmī’s magnum opus is al-Fawāyiḥ al-Miskiyya fī l-Fawātiḥ al-Makkiyya (literally “Musky Fragrances in Meccan Revelations”), an encyclopedia and anthology of sciences. This is a work which exhibits a mosaic of all Islamic sciences and disciplines that have come to the time of the author, along with many quotations from the classical Islamic literature. In al-Fawāyiḥ, Bistāmī preliminarily presents a classification of the sciences, closely following the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwān al-Ṣafā’), a comprehensive and syncretic philosophical work which was produced in tenth century Iraq.
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