“The Flying Man,” Aristotle, and the Philosophers of the Golden Age of Islam: Their Relevance Today The great American author James Baldwin said, “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” This is true, even if we are ignorant of our own history, or how history has shaped our societies and communities. Dr. Akbar Ahmed seeks to remedy some of our collective ignorance in his new short book, “The Flying Man,” Aristotle, and the Philosophers of the Golden Age of Islam: Their Relevance Today, published by Amana Publications, known for publishing Yousuf Ali’s classic translation of the Quran. In a world rapidly approaching 8 billion people, beset by a global pandemic, overshadowed by the existential threat of climate change, and riven by cleavages along socio-economic, racial, religious, and political lines, Dr. Ahmed presents a tour-de-force of the major philosophers of the Golden Age of Islam, and reminds us of their enduring influence and relevance today. You don’t need to be a philosophy major to enjoy this book. Quite the contrary. Dr. Ahmed writes in an engaging and accessible manner, expertly crystalizing the major themes and contributions of the great philosophers. Dr. Ahmed focuses in particular on the ways in which their works built upon the others, and thus influenced the global development of philosophy, religious doctrine, and medicine, among other areas of inquiry. The reader can look forward to illuminating vignettes into the lives and works of Avicenna, Al Ghazali, Averroes, and Ibn Arabi, and how they were all central characters in the development of Islamic thought. But the real gift of this book — and one if its primary goals — is to educate the reader as to how these philosophers were essential in the development of Christian and Jewish theology, and Western philosophy writ large. In other words, by focusing on these philosophers and their influence, we can see clearly the reality of our own intertwined and inter-dependent existence, a lived reality that can be easily missed in the midst of divisive political invective that profits from exacerbating our perceived divisions. As Dr. Ahmed explains,“They also reminded us how interconnected different parts of humanity are to each other; and how the world is shaped by the quest to know each other and find ways to live in harmony while reaching for the divine each in our own way.” These Islamic philosophers fundamentally shaped the thinking and writings of Maimonides and St. Thomas Aquinas, who are both intellectual giants within their respective faith traditions. And yet, in exploring these relationships and influences, we are left with the glaring commonality of the pursuit of knowledge based on a rational understanding of the world within the parameters of a faith tradition. Dr. Husein ef. Kavazović, the Grand Mufti of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, draws a similar conclusion: “After reading this excellently written book it is obvious that we humans, regardless of our backgrounds and affiliations, are similar in our quest for Truth, understanding ourselves, and in our ‘love of wisdom.’” The other gift that I cherish from this book is the example that it sets. I’m not speaking of the example of the philosophers, but rather of the author himself. Dr. Ahmed writes that “the past masters remind us of the importance of having faith, of possessing the capacity to improve and change ourselves through knowledge and through compassion” and through belief “in our common humanity.” These are universal lessons worthy of internalizing and passing down to our children. We learn via the preface of this book that as the author sought to make sense of life in a pandemic and in the midst of political turmoil in America, he not only sought wisdom and knowledge from the great philosophers of the past, but he worked to convey their rich and universal legacy to us through this book. Dr. Ahmed’s entire professional life has been devoted to bringing people together, and this book captures this ethos entirely. As Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, President of Zaytuna College, succinctly put it: “Akbar Ahmed is a Muslim treasure himself. But in this book, he’s a treasure hunter excavating the golden age of thought and creativity during the Islamic civilization’s early period, a period too often ignored by Western scholars.” Luckily for us, he has shared these excavated treasures with his characteristic generosity and clarity. Reflecting on the challenges of our time, Dr. Ahmed reminds us of the calamities that these great philosophers also faced, and how their example (and his) can provide us with guidance. “It is in spite of these existentialist threats, living in the midst of political stramash and tumult, that Ibn-Arabi and Rumi were able to create and nurture their vision of love and compassion through their writings. Serenity at the heart of disintegration and destruction: it is a great lesson for our age.” — M. Arsalan Suleman, Counsel at Foley Hoag LLP, Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, and former Acting U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.