Ibn Rushd: The Muslim Averroes

By: A. Sahin

Ibn Rushd - Averroes

Besides his public duties, Ibn Rushd had to organize his time very fully between working as a judge, teaching, and in academic discussion.

Ibn Rushd was one of the greatest intellectual geniuses in human history. He was acquainted with all the sciences of his time and an authority in several of them; philosophy, jurisprudence, astronomy, and medicine.

He became known in Europe under the name of Averroes, in particular for his brilliant commentaries on Aristotle which shaped European thinking throughout the later Medieval and early Renaissance periods.

His Birth

He was born in Cordova in 520 AH (1126) and named after his grandfather Abu Al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd, who died in the same year. His grandfather was the Chief Judge in Cordova and the foremost authority in Maliki jurisprudence. To distinguish him from his illustrious ancestor, Ibn Rushd was later known as Ibn Rushd Al-Hafid (the grandson).

Cordova, where Ibn Rushd grew up, was a thriving centre of all the diverse arts of civilization and culture attracting many great scholars from around the then known world to its wonderful libraries. Ibn Rushd studied and memorized the Qur’an and the Muwatta’ of Imam Malik. He was an excellent student of jurisprudence and quickly qualified to give legal opinions and sit as judge.

Following his work in the sciences of law, language and Hadith, he went on to study mathematics, astronomy and astrology and then medicine. He was a friend to the most prominent thinkers and writers of his age: Ibn Al-Tufayl (d. 1186/6@@@), author of the famous allegory Hayy ibn Yaqzan (said to have influenced Robinson Crusoe ); the philosopher, Ibn Bajja (Avempace in the West, d. 1139); the great jurist and judge Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 1148); the famous physician Abu Marwan ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar in the West, d. 1161) and his son Abu Bakr (d. 1198).

Ibn Rushd, the Judge

Ibn Rushd served as a judge in Ishbiliya (Seville) in 1171 and then in Cordova two years later. His reputation for wide knowledge, correctness and fairness in giving verdicts, led to his appointment as Chief Judge. His book Bidayat Al-Mujtahid wa Nihayat Al-Muqtasid (The reference for the searcher and the resort for the fair) remains an important reference for students of jurisprudence and is still taught in universities to this day.

Although he was a Maliki he used the ideas of other schools of thought. Because he had so many activities and interests besides his public duties, Ibn Rushd had to organize his time very fully: he spent his days working as a judge, teaching, and in academic discussion with other scholars; he reserved his nights for reading and writing.

His friend Ibn al-Tufayl wrote to invite him to visit Marrakech, the capital of the Muwahhidun (Almohades) who had established a powerful and stable state in North Africa after they took over from the Murabitun (Almoravides), and were famous for their patronage of scientists, physicians, theologians and philosophers. Ibn Rushd’s intelligence, learning and ideas so impressed the ruler, Abu Yusuf ‘Abd al-Mu’min, that he was appointed to reform the educational system. This he did successfully before returning to Cordova.

When Abu Ya`qub ibn `Abd Al-Mu’min came to power, he appointed Ibn Rushd as his personal physician after Ibn Tufayl. Ibn Rushd held this post for a year (1183) when he was appointed as Chief judge.

His success provoked court envy and he was falsely accused of heresy, in particular that he adhered too closely to the doctrines of Aristotle. He was indeed a supporter of Aristotle’s doctrines after these were properly reformed and adapted to Islam. Ibn Rushd fell out of favor at the court and was ill-treated.

His books on philosophy were burnt, though his works on medicine and theology were not censored. When Abu Ya`qub discovered he had been misinformed, he tried to invite Ibn Rushd back to apologize to him, but he was too late. Ibn Rushd died on 9th Safar 595 AH (December 1198).

His Writings

Ibn Rushd was broadly cultured indeed and wrote on many different subjects. Here we can mention only the most famous of his great works. In jurisprudence, as noted above, he wrote Bidayat al-mujtahid wa nihayat al-muqtasid (The reference for the searcher and the resort for the fair). In philosophy, he wrote Tahafut al-tahafut (refutation of the refutation), his response to Imam al-Ghazali’s famous Tahafut al-falsafa (refutation of philosophy).

Ibn Rushd combined both philosophy and religion in mainly two books: Fasl al-maqal wa taqrib ma bayna l-shari`aH wa l-hikma min al-ittisal (an authoritative treatise on the convergence between the religious law and philosophy), and Kitab al-kashf ‘an manahij al-adilla fi ‘aqa’id al-milla wa ta‘rif ma waqa‘a fiha bi hasb al-ta‘wil min al-subah al-muzayyifah wa 1-bida‘ al-mudillah (an exposition of the methodology of demonstrating the creeds and description of the confusions and innovations in interpretation which confound truth and lead to error).

In medicine, Ibn Rushd wrote the Kitab al-kulliyyat fi al-tibb (a general reference on medicine) which was translated into Latin and Hebrew and European vernaculars. It was a major reference in medicine though it never reached the standard of Al-Qanun fi Al-Tibb of Ibn Sina (Avicenna, d. 1037) which was used everywhere as simply The Canon of Medicine.

Ibn Rushd had prepared this book especially for practising physicians and students of medicine. He apologized for the work’s brevity, a limitation he attributed to his preoccupation with commitments to judging, political affairs and philosophy. He advised those who sought greater detail to consult Al-Taysir (The simplification) of Abu Marwan `Abd Al-Malik ibn Zuhr. Al-Kulliyyat is organized under seven broad headings or chapters:

1- Anatomy

2- The function of the organs

3- Diseases (pathology)

4- Syndromes: a brief clinical review

5- Health care, especially sports, massage and sleep

6- Medication and diet

7- Healing (particularly of different types of fevers).

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Source: Fountain Magazine

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