Ibn Rushed (Averroes): On philosophy and religion

Ahmed Mahmoud , Monday 30 May 2016

In the first of a series on Arab thinkers that inspired the world, we start with a man who put philosophy and religion in one proper sentence: Averroes

Ibn Rushd (Averroes)

In the first of a series on Arab Minds that inspired the world, we start with Averroes, a man who put philosophy and religion in one proper sentence and whose ideas are still shining through the darkness in which our world toils.

"God would never give us reason, then give us divine laws that contradict such reason," Ibn Rushd.
الله لايمكن أن يعطينا عقولا ويعطينا شرائع مخالفة لها.

Abu El-Walied Mohamed Ibn Ahmed Ibn Mohamed Ibn Ahmed Ibn Ahmed Ben Rushd was born on 14 April in 520 hejra (1126 AD). Known to the Western tradition as Averroes, he was a renowned philosopher, physician, judge, astronomer, and scientist.

Born and raised in Andalusia, he studied Ibn Malaek's fiqh school of thought, and as for Aqida, he studied the Ashaari school of thought. Ibn Rushd defended philosophy against the conservative criticism of scientists and philosophers of the time, such as Ibn Sina, El-Farabi and El-Ghazali, in their understanding of the theories of Plato and Aristotle.

Ibn Rushd was first introduced by philosopher Ibn Tofil to Abu Yaqoub, the khalifa (ruler), who assigned him as a physician then a judge in Cordoba. Afterwards he was appointed judge in Ishbilia, from which time he began studying the impact of Artistotle, upon the request of Khalifa El-Mowahadi Ibn Yaqoub. Among his most important books are Tahafot Al-Tahafot, in answer to El-Ghazali's book Tahafot Al-Falasefa, Gawamee Seyasat Aflaton (a compilation of Plato's politics) Aristotle, an explanation of Ibn Sina's Aragouza, Bedayet el mogtahed w nehayet el moqtased (The starting point for beginners and a brief for the frugal), a book that included the basic ideologies of the main fiqh schools of Islam.  
According to Moroccan thinker Mohamed Abed Al-Gabry, in his book Ibn Rushd: Biography and Thought, "Ibn Rushd spent 75 years of his life studying, teaching, researching and writing; despite being a judge in Cordoba, and moving a lot with the Khalifa El-Motanawer Abi Yaaqoub Youssef Ibn Moemen, between Andalusia and Morocco, he was very dedicated to his scientific project."

Al-Gabry adds: "Ibn Rushd never let science grow out of fashion in his office; on the contrary, he was very keen on renewing its essence as he advanced in research and knowledge. He integrated rather than divided between the subjects of his studies and moved forward as a scientist of many fields who reflects on medicine in fiqh, on fiqh in medicine, Quran and hadith with philosophy and the science in all such fields of study."

Ibn Rushd believed that philosophy is the way to God, and prioritised the mind perceived truth (knowledge) over the truth that is passed on (inherited) as a given, and defended the philosophers. He also believed that women can play the same roles as men, including in politics, and saw society as unjust to women, and with such injustice society is deprived of women's thought.

Ibn Rushd believed there is no contradiction between religion and philosophy; that the universe is eternal, the soul is divided into two sections, one personal, the second divine, and since the soul is mortal, so are people, who have two levels of consciousness, and consequently two levels of truth: one based on religious knowledge, the other philosophy.

"Whoever works in anatomy would increase his belief in God," is a statement that sums up his relationship with science. Such passion developed into numerous scientific references and books.

In medicine, Ibn Rushd was focused on anatomy, and in particular blood circulation in humans, along with diagnoses of certain diseases and proposals of remedies. In his books he explained that chicken pox is a disease that can attack each person only once in a lifetime — a fact that modern science subsequently proved. He also excelled in eye anatomy. Among his famous science books is Al-Koliat Fel Teb (The General Book of Medicine).

However, in his late years, Ibn Rushd was accused of heresy and his trial ended in his exile and the burning of his books. Al-Gabry believed it was for political reasons. He explained that Ibn Rushd, in his Gawamee Syaset Aflatoun (A Compilation of Plato's Politics), was against tyranny and saw in Platonic thought the possibility of replacing it.

But Mohi El-Dine Abi Mohamed Abdel Wahed El-Marakeshi believed his exile was because of two reasons: one explicit and the other one hidden. In his book Al-Mogab fi-Talkhis Akhbar El-Maghreb (An Admired Summary of Morocco's News), he states: "The wise one Ibn Rushd in his explanation of Aristotle's book The Animal delved into the details of the animal's descriptions, especially the giraffe and how it is born and where it lives, and how he saw one at the Berber's kings, a fact that made the courtiers and khalifa a bit envious and upset." 

The book adds that some of his enemies took one of his manuscripts out of context and handed it to the khalifa. The manuscript, in which he was translating quotes from ancient philosophers, started with: “and al Zahra one of the gods appeared.." He was then exiled in Alsiana village near Cordoba, which was the residence of the Jews in earlier times and this is where Mossa ibn Maymoun, one of Ibn Rushd's students used to live.

However, when Khalifa Abu Youssef al Mansour returned to Morocco to study philosophy, he summoned Ibn Rushd from Andalusia to teach him, and pardoned him. And so Ibn Rushd lived in Morocco until he died at the age of 80, in 594 hejra.


Short link: