Unlike the changes which Muslim names frequently underwent in the Latin West, the last name of Abā Naṣr Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. Tarkhān b. Awzalugh (or Uzlugh) al-Fārābī was barely altered, and it is as “Alfarabi” that it has been common to refer to him. Al-Fārābī's name, however, may be the only constant on which to seize at the moment, as contemporary scholarship challenges previous assessments of his work. Al-Fārābī appears increasingly as a disarmingly subtle thinker, an individualist with a civic conscience, a man who attempted to reconcile Plato and Aristotle, philosophy and theology, Athens and Mecca.1 The syntheses attempted, however, are neither facile nor dogmatic, and proceed from a predominantly philosophical standpoint. The exact nature of al-Fārābī's philosophical credo, moreover, is still being questioned.
The question is complicated by the lack of a sure chronology for al-Fārābī's many compositions, and an equal ignorance of the particular circumstances which prompted each work in a given genre: the motivation, purpose and intended audience. With few sure criteria of a biographical or stylistic sort to assist them, scholars are forced to choose between differing statements and emphases in related texts, and even within the same text, to determine al-Fārābī's genuine convictions. Moreover, the work of Leo Strauss, Muhsin Mahdi and others has drawn attention to the likelihood that al-Fārābī deliberately shielded essential elements of his convictions from the eyes of the uncritical reader.