The Aristotleanism of Ibn Rushd (Averroës), combined with his thorough training in various aspects of Islamic scientific and philosophical traditions, contributed to the evolution of his discourse on the relationship between science and religion. He lived at a moment in time particularly suited to synthesizing a broad understanding of philosophy and the philosophical sciences in which religion had a central position. Ibn Rushd's dialectical treatment of the role of religion and philosophy in human affairs and his theory of knowledge remain relevant to the contemporary science and religion discourse.
Life and writings
Averroës, whose real name was Abu'l Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Rushd, was an Arab philosopher known as "The Commentator" to the medieval West because of his commentaries on Aristotle. Ibn Rushd was born in Córdoba, Spain, in 1126 C.E. to an eminent family of jurists. His grandfather had been a Qadi (judge) and Imam (Muslim leader of the congregational prayers) of the mosque of Córdoba. Ibn Rushd's early education was in the traditional pattern of Islamic education. He studied Arabic, the Qur'an, traditions of the Prophet and, later, natural sciences.
In 1153, Ibn Rushd traveled to Marrakash in Morocco where he helped the Almohad ruler 'Abd al-Mu'min to establish colleges. In 1169 or slightly earlier, Ibn Rushd was introduced to the learned prince Abu Yaqub Yusuf by the philosopher Ibn Tufayl. When Abu Yaqub succeeded 'Abd al-Mu'min, Ibn Rushd found great favor with him throughout his rule (1163184). Ibn Rushd was made the Qadi of Seville in 1169. Two years later, he returned to his favorite Córdoba as Qadi. He traveled to various parts of the country, including longer sojourns in Seville, from where he dates several of his works between 1169 and 1179. In 1182, while in Marakash, Ibn Rushd succeeded Ibn Tufayl as the chief physician to Abu Yaqub Yusuf. Ibn Rushd remained in favor during the reign of Abu Yaqub's successor, Yaqub al-Mansur, except for a short period when his rivals were able to convince the ruler that his philosophical works were against the teachings of Islam. But al-Mansur called him back to his court as soon as he moved to Marrakash, where Ibn Rushd died in1198. He was buried in Marrakash outside the gate of Taghzut but later his body was taken to Córdoba where the young mystic Ibn ' was present at his funeral.
Ibn Rushd's commentaries on Aristotle can be divided into short (jawami'), middle (talkhis) and great (tafsir); the first two types were written between 1169 and 1178. His greatest medical work, the Colliget (al-Kulliyyat, Book of generalities), also belongs to this period. He wrote most of his original works between 1174 to 1180. These include Kitab al-'aql (Treatises on the intellect), De substantia orbis (Nature of heavens), Fasl al-maqal (The Decisive chapter), Kashf al-manahij al-adillah (Discovery of the methods of proof), and Tahfut al-Tahafut (Incoherence of the incoherence).
Ibn Rushd's philosophy was strongly influenced by his training in the principles of jurisprudence (Usul) on the one hand and by Aristotle and certain Muslim philosophers ( falasifa), especially al-Farabi, Ibn Bajja and Ibn Tufayl, on the other hand. He criticized Ibn Sina's (Avicenna) philosophy but respected his medical works (indeed, he wrote a commentary on Ibn Sina's medical poem, al-Urjuza fihl tibb [Recompense for medicine]). Ibn Rushd's relationship with Ibn Tufayl was one of deep respect for the elder philosopher who was also his mentor. But while Ibn Tufayl was mystically inclined, Ibn Rushd was not. The two philosophers recognized the convergence of philosophy and revelation but whereas Ibn Tufayl leads Absal, the second main character of his celebrated narrative Hayy ibn Yaqzan (The Living son of the awake), to a mystic vision of knowledge, Ibn Rushd remains strictly within the philosophical realm.
In his Fasl al-makal wa-takrib ma bayn alsharia' wa'l hikma min al-ittisal (Authoritative treatise and exposition of the convergence of religious law and philosophy), written before 1179, Ibn Rushd formulated a conception of philosophy that was in accordance with the Qur'anic teachings. For him, philosophy was a rational view of creation that leads to the knowledge of the creator. Thus formulated, philosophy becomes a valid path for discovery of truth, which is also to be found in revealed texts. Because different individuals have different levels of comprehension, God speaks to humans through three kinds of discourses: dialectical (al-aqawil al-jadaliyya); rhetorical (al-aqawil al-khitabiyya) and demonstrative syllogism (alaqawil al-burhanniyah). This validation of philosophy led Ibn Rushd to formulate his theory of knowledge, in which the findings of rational research are collaborated with the revealed text through a reinterpretation of the text in accordance with the established rules of the Arabic language. This interpretation (Ta'wil), Ibn Rushd points out, is in accordance with the Qur'an because the Qur'an itself distinguishes between those verses that have fixed and clear meanings (ayat almuhkamat) and those that are open to several interpretations (ayat al-mutashabihat).
Ibn Rushd cherished the honor given to scholars by the Qur'an and used this to demonstrate that scholars have the right to interpret those verses that lend themselves to rational speculation, but such interpretation, he held, should remain in the scholarly circles; it should not be passed on to the common folk who do not have the capacity to understand it. He criticized Muslim philosopher al-Ghazali for not following this rule. This criticism is present in many works of Ibn Rushd, in various forms and degrees, but it is in his master piece, Tahafut al-Tahafut (The Incoherence of the incoherence), that he forcefully attacks not only al-Ghazali but also all those neo-Platonic philosophers who had distorted Aristotle's teachings, including Ibn Sina and his followers.
Tahafut al-Tahafut deals with some of the basic problems of philosophy and it reconstructs Ibn Rushd's conclusive ideas about time, eternity, creation, divine action, causality, and other fundamental issues. Using al-Ghazali's Tahafut al-Falasifa (Incoherence of the Philosophers) as the lynchpin for his attack, Ibn Rushd attempts to prove the eternity of the world. Ibn Rushd rejects the emanationist doctrine that the "One" can give birth only to one. He also criticizes Ibn Sina's notion of "Necessary Being" on the grounds that it is not possible to separate essence and existence; the distinction is made only in thought. Ibn Rushd's God is conceived as the One who is part of the universe. Unlike Ibn Sina for whom God is transcendent and is situated beyond the moving intelligences, divinity is the cause of the physical order for Ibn Rushd. Thus Ibn Rushd conceives God in purely Qur'anic terms, but through Aristotelian method. He refuses to separate divinity from its attributes. It is only human thinking that distinguishes between the two according to what people consider to be one or another of the infinite divine perfections.
Ibn Rushd's influence on the Western scholars is well known. In canto four of the Inferno, Dante called him "che'l gran comento" (the great commentator) and gave him the place of honor along with Euclid, Ptolemy, Hippocrates, Avicenna, and Galen. In Europe, the University of Padua became the main center of Averroism, though the Universities of Paris and Bologna were not far behind. But it is his masterly and clear exposition of Aristotelian thought that earned Ibn Rushd the title of "The Commentator," not his original ideas. His originality was, in fact, belittled by nineteenth-century French philosopher Ernest Renan and those who followed him. However, a more correct appreciation of Ibn Rushd is slowly emerging.
See also ARISTOTLE; AVICENNA; ISLAM; ISLAM, CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION; ISLAM, HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION
Brockelmann, Carl. Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur, Vol.1. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1943.
Bello, Iysa, A. The Medieval Islamic Controversy Between Philosophy and Orthodoxy: Ijma' and Ta'wil in the Conflict Between Al-Ghazali and Ibn Rushd. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1989.
El-Ehwany, Ahmed Fouad. "Ibn Rushd." In History of Muslim Philosophy (1963), ed. M. M. Sharif. Karachi, Pakistan: Royal Book, 1983.
Hourani, George. The Life and Thought of Ibn Rushd. Cairo, Egypt: American University Press, 1947.
Ibn Rushd. Tahafut al-Tahafut, trans. Simon van den Bergh. London: Luza, 1954.
Ibn Rushd. Metaphysics, trans. Charles Genequand. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1986.
Wahba, Mourad, and Abousenna, Mona, eds. Averroës and the Enlightenment. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1996.
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