BYU efforts help people understand Islamic thinker

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    By MARLIESE FILLMORE

    The writings of great Islamic thinkers are now being introduced to the intellectual world thanks to groundbreaking efforts at BYU.

    For the first time, philosophies comparable to those of Plato and Aristotle, which previously could only be read by those who spoke Arabic, will be widely accessible to anyone.

    “You don’t have to be a specialist to pick up a copy of Sophocles, but in the Arabic world this hasn’t been true. You either have to become a specialist or stay out of the field of Islamic study all together,” said Daniel Peterson, associate professor of Arabic at BYU.

    Peterson, of the Asian and Near Eastern Languages Department, is the managing editor of the “Islamic Translation Series: Philosophy, Theology and Mysticism.”

    He said he hopes the new philosophy series will make it possible for people to make intelligent and informed comments about the Islamic world.

    The unique nature of this project is that the results will let people learn what ancient Muslim philosophers have to say firsthand.

    “We’re not lecturing on Islamic ideas, or talking for them. We’re letting them speak for themselves,” Peterson said.

    Most of the translations were done by experts around the nation, but the formatting and printing of the text takes place at BYU.

    Peterson said there were obstacles to overcome because Arabic text is so different from English, and because Arabic software is still new and imperfect.

    The books have been well received at conferences in Washington, D.C. and Beverly Hills.

    “It is a commendable thing when a university associated with one religious tradition branches out into a translation effort involving another religious tradition,” said William Graham, chair of Harvard’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

    Peterson said he hopes these efforts will demonstrate BYU’s commitment to seeking after all truth.

    “This is a gesture of friendship from the university– and the church — to the Islamic community. We’re saying ‘we respect your culture; there is a lot we can learn, and have learned, from you,'” Peterson said.

    Muslim scholars agree that this is an incredible contribution by BYU to bring out Muslim heritage, according to a news release.

    “Dr. Peterson’s work is something that benefits us all. This is our contribution to the larger body of knowledge out there,” said Shabbir Mansuri, director of the Council on Islamic Education, in a news release.

    “Incoherence of the Philosophers” is the first published work of the series, and was written by an 11th-century philosopher, Muhammad Al-Ghazali.

    He presents an insightful model of how to deal with people you do not agree with, Peterson said.

    “Al-Ghazali suggests you learn the other’s position better than they know it so you can see the problems they haven’t seen. He says you have to understand other’s views before you make claims about them,” he said.

    Peterson said one thing he is proud of is the reasonable cost of the book. He wants students and professors to be able to buy the books and assign them in class.

    “Similar books are priced at 50 cents per page, but we want people to be able to actually put this knowledge to use,” Peterson said.

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