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MADINAH AL-FADILAH, AL-. The term almadinah al fadilah (“virtuous city”) reminds one first, and most properly, of the famous book written by the illustrious Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Tarkhan al-Farabi  (AH 257-339/870-950. CE). Designated as “the second teacher”-second, that is, after Aristotle-al-Farabi may also be called the founder of Islamic political philosophy. He wrote commentaries on Aristotle, some of which are extant, and several other works on various aspects of philosophy, but none of these seems to have as much fame as the work entitled Mabadi’ ara’ ahl al-madinah al fddilah (Principles of the Opinions of the People of the Virtuous City).


Formally, the work is divided into six sections comprising nineteen chapters. It seems possible to group these sections and chapters in three major parts, the first having to do with the world around us (sections I-III and chapters 1-9), the second with human beings and human nature (section IV and chapters 10-14), and the third with political association as well as good and bad (sections V-VI and chapters 15-19). Most scholars hold it to be the writing in which al-Farabi sets forth his idea of the best regime (as with Richard Walzer and his descriptive title of the work, Al-Farabi on the Perfect State), but they thereby neglect al-Farabi’s explicit and precise title with its emphasis on opinions.

Indeed, in the first sixteen chapters, al-Farabi sketches out what the correct opinions about the universe, human beings, and the city should be and shows what is wrong with other kinds of cities as well as with some of the opinions held by those in wrongly guided cities. Then, in chapter 17, that is, the last chapter of section V, he shows how important it is to link these opinions about natural science, the soul, and politics with religion. In section VI, chapters 18-19, he presents opinions that inhabitants of yet other misguided cities might have, along with what makes them fallacious, and he indicates above all the undesirable political actions to which they lead. We see, then, that to have a truly desirable political rule, one that is good and leads to what al-Farabi deems real happiness, one must have opinions like those set forth earlier. In this work he does not, however, explain the ordering of such a desirable political regime nor how it can be brought into being.

The term al-madinah al fddilah also brings to mind the actual city of Madinah (Medina), originally called Yathrib, which the prophet Muhammad reached on 12 Rabi` al-Awwal (I or 24 September) 622, following his flight or emigration from Mecca, and in which he died a decade later (13 Rabi al-Awwal, II or 8 June, 632). Yathrib is mentioned once in the Qur’an (surah 33.13), but al-Madinah is mentioned four times (9.101 and 120, 33.60, 63.8)-albeit each time in a negative context (see, in contrast, surah 90 with its praise of Mecca, though not mentioned by name). Still, it was in Medina that the Prophet established the first community of Muslims. Moreover, it came to be known among Muslims as the city of the Prophet (madinat al-nabi). Though there is no Qur’anic allusion to Medina as “virtuous” or to Yathrib as a “virtuous city” (madinah fddilah), historians, political scientists, and Muslim activists and reformers look to the Prophet’s governance of the city and especially to what has come to be known as the Constitution of Medina for guidance and inspiration.

They do so, however, only obliquely. Either because al-Farabi’s stimulating treatise had little or no circulation until very recent times, or because the rhetorical appeal of the phrase “virtuous city” has no resonance for them, one finds no explicit references to it among writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Even when someone as gifted as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani calls for greater attention to the wisdom of the medieval Islamic philosophers, and especially to the understanding of the relationship between religion and science put forth by someone like al-Farabi, he does so without hearkening back to al-Farabi’s Mabddi’ dra’ ahl almadina al fadilah or to anything that evokes the idea of a virtuous city. Indeed, for al-Afghani, his student and associate `Abduh, and all those who followed them (alBanna’, Mawdudi, Qutb, Shari’ati, and Khomeini), political goals were expressed more in terms covering many nations than in terms of a single city, however virtuous.

[See also Islamic State; Medina.]


Ali, A. Yusuf, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation, and Commentary. Brentwood, Md., 1983.

Farabi, Abu Nasr Muhammad al-. Mabddi’ dra’ ahl al-madinah alfadilah. See Walzer, below.

Walzer, Richard. Al-Farabi on the Perfect State: Abu Nasr al-Farabi’s Mabddi’ Ara’ AN al Madina al-Fadila, a Revised Text with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary. Oxford, 1985.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/madinah-al-fadilah-al/

  • writerPosted On: July 28, 2014
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