What Calvin and the Taliban have in Common

It was, however, Alfarabi (d. 950) and Avicenna (Ibn Sina) who more than anyone else, shaped the general character of Islamic philosophy.  It is difficult to exaggerate the influence of Alfarabi on the course of Islamic philosophy…Alfarabi first of all, identified Aristotle’s God with the One of Plotinus, maintaining that his is the same as the God of revelation.

R. M. Savory, ed., Introduction to Islamic Civilization (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press), 1976, 50-51

Plotinus was, for example the most important philosophical influence on St. Augustine, and through him on much of Western Christianity.

Max L. Stackhouse, ed., On Moral Business: Classical and Contemporary Resources for Ethics in Economic Life (Grand Rapids Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing), 1995, 137

edited by Max L. Stackhouse

In the tenth century, Aristotle was translated into Arabic.  Islam had lacked a real metaphysical foundation concerning the nature of God but this translation filled the vacuum.  One of the greatest if not the greatest of Islamic philosophers,  al-Farabi combined the teachings of Islam with Aristotelian and Neoplatonic elements.  His influence to the major Islamic philosophers such as  Ibn Sina ,Yahya ibn ‘Adi, al-Sijistani, al-‘Amiri and al-Tawhidi.  What is not celebrated by Western Christians is influence on Western Christianity especially including Thomas Aquinas.

Thomas Aquinas is without dissent an Aristotelian philosopher. Thomas often referred to Aristotle as the Philosopher, assuming the reader would understand him as referring to Aristotle.  He would adopt Aristotle’s Plato’s and Plotinus’ concepts about the attributes of God.

In Islam, Aristotle is known as the First Teacher, in reference to the influence of Aristotle on his philosophy al-Farabi is called the Second Teacher.  One of the books available to Al-Farabi was the  Theology of Aristotle.  This book is considered the longest, and most famous version of an Arabic translation of the Enneads of Plotinus.  It is doubtful if the book would have been as well received if the authorship would have been accredited with Plotinus.

There is a list of books by Aristotle in the Fihrist, a work of the tenth-century bibliographer Ibn al-Nadim. Not only the Theology of Aristotle but his other works on logic, physics and metaphysics was numbered.   Islamic philosophy and theological metaphysics is founded on the ideas of Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus.

Of course Calvin would later adopt the philosophy of the attributes of God which Augustine and Aquinas had proposed, as the Catholic Church had done earlier.  In reference to the attributes of God, the classical theologies of both Christianity and Islam have much in common.  In the same manner, Augustine and Calvin have little in common with Scripture.  The Taliban have a lot in common with Calvin.

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