ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī (Arabic: عبداللطيف البغدادي, 1162 Baghdad–1231 Baghdad), short for Muwaffaq al-Dīn Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Laṭīf ibn Yūsuf al-Baghdādī (Arabic: موفق الدين محمد عبد اللطيف بن يوسف البغدادي), was a physician, philosopher, historian, Arabic grammarian and traveller, and one of the most voluminous writers of his time.
Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi
Muhammad ibn Yusuf
Baghdad, Abbasid Caliphate
|Died||9 November 1231 (aged 69)|
|Other names||Muwaffaq al-Din Muhammad Abd al-Latif ibn Yusuf al-Baghdadi|
|Era||Islamic golden age |
(Later Abbasid era)
Many details of ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī's life are known from his autobiography as presented in Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah's literary history of medicine. As a young man, he studied grammar, law, tradition, medicine, alchemy and philosophy. He focused his studies on ancient authors, in particular Aristotle, after first adopting Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā) as his philosophical mentor at the suggestion of a wandering scholar from the Maghreb. He travelled extensively and resided in Mosul (in 1189) where he studied the works of al-Suhrawardi before travelling on to Damascus (1190) and the camp of Saladin outside Acre (1191). It was at this last location that he met Baha al-Din ibn Shaddad and Imad al-Din al-Isfahani and acquired the Qadi al-Fadil's patronage. He went on to Cairo, where he met Abu'l-Qasim al-Shari'i, who introduced him to the works of al-Farabi, Alexander of Aphrodisias, and Themistius and (according to al-Latif) turned him away from Avicenna and alchemy.
In 1192 he met Saladin in Jerusalem and enjoyed his patronage, then went to Damascus again before returning to Cairo. He journeyed to Jerusalem and to Damascus in 1207-8, and eventually made his way via Aleppo to Erzindjan, where he remained at the court of the Mengujekid Ala’-al-Din Da’ud (Dāwūd Shāh) until the city was conquered by the Rūm Seljuk ruler Kayqubād II (Kayqubād Ibn Kaykhusraw). ‘Abd al-Latif returned to Baghdad in 1229, travelling back via Erzerum, Kamakh, Divriği and Malatya. He died in Baghdad two years later.
Account of EgyptEdit
ʿAbd al-Laṭīf was a man of great knowledge and of an inquisitive and penetrating mind. Of the numerous works (mostly on medicine) which Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah ascribes to him, one only, his graphic and detailed Account of Egypt (in two parts), appeared to be known in Europe.
ʿAbd-al-Laṭīf was well aware of the value of ancient monuments. He praised Muslim rulers for preserving and protecting pre-Islamic artefacts and monuments, but he also criticized them for failing to do this. He noted that the preservation of antiquities presented a number of benefits for Muslims:
- "monuments are useful historical evidence for chronologies";
- "they furnish evidence for Holy Scriptures, since the Qur'an mentions them and their people";
- "they are reminders of human endurance and fate";
- "they show, to a degree, the politics and history of ancestors, the richness of their sciences, and the genius of their thought".
While discussing the profession of treasure hunting, he notes that poorer treasure hunters were often sponsored by rich businessmen to go on archeological expeditions. In some cases, an expedition could turn out to be fraudulent, with the treasure hunter disappearing with large amounts of money extracted from sponsors.
His manuscript was one of the earliest works on Egyptology. It contains a vivid description of a famine caused by the Nile failing to overflow its banks (which occurred during the author's residence in Egypt). He also wrote detailed descriptions on ancient Egyptian monuments.
Al-Baghdādī wrote that during the famine in Egypt in 597 AH (1200 AD), he had the opportunity to observe and examine a large number of skeletons, through which he came to the view that Galen was incorrect regarding the formation of the bones of the lower jaw [mandible], coccyx and sacrum.
Al-Baghdādī's Arabic manuscript was discovered in 1665 by the English orientalist Edward Pococke and is preserved in the Bodleian Library. Pococke published the Arabic manuscript in the 1680s. His son, Edward Pococke the Younger, translated the work into Latin, although he was only able to publish less than half of his work. Thomas Hunt attempted to publish Pococke's complete translation in 1746, although his attempt was unsuccessful. Pococke's complete Latin translation was eventually published by Joseph White of Oxford in 1800. The work was then translated into French, with valuable notes, by Silvestre de Sacy in 1810.
As far as philosophy is concerned, one may adduce that ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī regarded philosophers as paragons of real virtue and therefore he refused to accept as a true philosopher one lacking not only true insight, but also a truly moral personality as true philosophy was in the service of religion, verifying both belief and action. Apart from this he regarded the philosophers’ ambitions as vain (Endress, in Martini Bonadeo, Philosophical journey, xi). ʿAbd al-Laṭīf composed several philosophical works, among which is an important and original commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics (Kitāb fī ʿilm mā baʿd al-ṭabīʿa). This is a critical work in the process of the Arabic assimilation of Greek thought, demonstrating its author's acquaintance with the most important Greek metaphysical doctrines, as set out in the writings of al-Kindī (d. circa 185-252/801-66) and al-Fārābī (d. 339/950). The philosophical section of his Book of the Two Pieces of Advice (Kitāb al-Naṣīḥatayn) contains an interesting and challenging defence of philosophy and illustrates the vibrancy of philosophical debate in the Islamic colleges. It moreover emphasises the idea that Islamic philosophy did not decline after the twelfth century CE (Martini Bonadeo, Philosophical journey; Gutas). ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī may therefore well be an exponent of what Gutas calls the “golden age of Arabic philosophy” (Gutas, 20).
ʿAbd al-Laṭīf also penned two passionate and somewhat grotesque pamphlets against the art of alchemy in all its facets. Although he engaged in alchemy for a short while, he later abandoned the art completely by rejecting not only its practice, but also its theory. In ʿAbd al-Laṭīf's view alchemy could not be placed in the system of the sciences, and its false presumptions and pretensions must be distinguished from true scientific knowledge, which can be given a rational basis (Joosse, Rebellious intellectual, 29–62; Joosse, Unmasking the craft, 301–17; Martini Bonadeo, Philosophical journey, 5-6 and 203–5; Stern, 66–7; Allemann).
During the years following the First World War, ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī's name reappeared within the spiritualistic movement in the United Kingdom. He was introduced to the public by the Irish medium Eileen J. Garrett, the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the spiritualist R.H. Saunders and became known by the name Abduhl Latif, the great Arab physician. He is said to have acted as a control of mediums until the mid 1960s (Joosse, Geest, 221–9). The Bodleian Library (MS Pococke 230) and the interpretation of the Videans (Zand-Videan, 8–9) may also have prompted the whimsical short-story ‘Ghost Writer’, as told to Tim Mackintosh-Smith, in which ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī speaks in the first person.
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