Shaul Magid, reviewing Joel L. Kraemer's book, MAIMONIDES: The Life and World of One of Civilization's Greatest Minds, writes:
…The fact that Maimonides cites some Islamic sources, especially the philosopher Abu Nasar al-Farabi (c. 870-950), is well known. More subtle is the way even his ostensibly Jewish positions, and the methods he uses to reach them, appear to be taken, sometimes verbatim, from the Muslim tradition. One of Maimonides' great theological innovations, for example, was his Thirteen Principles of Faith, a list of Judaism's central beliefs. As Judaism is a religion founded on law and not on belief per se, no such creed had been attempted before. But the notion of principles, or pillars, of faith had existed for some time in Islam, and Kraemer contends that several of Maimonides's specific articles of faith -- including the first (God's existence), second (divine unity) and particularly the third (God is not a corporeal being) -- reflect the influence of such Islamic thinkers as al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Tumart, founder of the Almohad movement.
Two ironies emerge from Kraemer's book. First, that the great architect of medieval and modern Judaism seems to have lived for a time, at least outwardly, as a Muslim; whether this was a feigned or true conversion, he was an insider in Muslim culture. And second, that what is often considered original in Maimonides is not very original at all. Throughout the book, Kraemer shows how many of Maimonides' contributions are derivative, not just of Aristotle and Plato, but also of Muslim thinkers. He notes that Maimonides's discussion of the five types of speech in Jewish law employs the same five categories contained in Islamic jurisprudence. He shows that Maimonides's prohibition of using sacred poems for mundane purposes (such as setting them to music at communal gatherings) is taken directly from a commentary on Plato's Republic by the Muslim philosopher Averroes.
Kraemer's subtitle, One of Civilization's Greatest Minds, is unfortunate, because the book undermines this claim throughout. Kraemer shows that for Jews and Judaism, Maimonides was certainly an innovator, and the depth of his knowledge and compassion was truly astounding. But as a contributor to the ideas of Western (including medieval Islamic) civilization, he did not have much new to offer. ·