“The Reformation of Morals”

The first volume in the Eastern Christian Texts series (a sister project, within BYU’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative [METI], to the Islamic Translation Series), was a parallel Arabic-English edition of Yahya b.‘Adi’s The Reformation of Morals, translated and introduced by Father Sidney H. Griffith, a leading scholar of Arabic Christianity (and a friend) at the Catholic University of America. 

Yahya ibn ‘Adi (893-974 A.D.) was one of the most important Christian authors to have written in Arabic. Although he was a Syrian Orthodox Christian, he studied under the eminent Muslim philosopher al-Farabi and counted Muslims and Christians of many sects among his own disciples.

He was a leading figure in the tenth-century translation movement in Baghdad and the author of numerous works of philosophy and theology. In his very approachable tract The Reformation of Morals, Yahya discusses social virtues and vices, giving advice about the cultivation of the former and the elimination of the latter.

His work encourages the pursuit of moral perfection, especially among kings and other members of the social elite.

This work stands now as an important Christian contribution, in Arabic, to a strand of moral philosophy that is an integral component of the intellectual tradition of the world of Islam.

It also serves to “remind the post-modern reader that shared moral values nurtured by a humane philosophy of human development can foster the growth of a measure of tolerance between the upholders of religious convictions that are inherently critical of one another.”

Some years ago, in Washington DC, a colleague and I presented a complete set of the METI volumes at the time to the then ambassador of Oman to the United States.  He asked which of the books he should read first, and I suggested that he might really enjoy The Reformation of Morals.  “But I’m a Muslim!” he laughed.  I responded that Yahya’s book wasn’t really overtly Christian, and that it would be a very enjoyable and readable text for anybody concerned about becoming a better person.  It is, in its way, something of an early “self help” book.

The Reformation of Morals is available via amazon.com, the BYU Bookstore, and, of course, the University of Chicago Press, which distributes all METI titles.

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