Monday, May 17, 2010

Abul-Waleed Muhammad Ibn Rushd

Ibn Rushd (1128 - 1198 C.E.) was a genius of encyclopedic scope. He spent a great part of his fruitful life as a judge and as a physician. Yet he was known in the West for being the grand commentator on the philosophy of Aristotle, whose influence penetrated the minds of even the most conservative of Christian Ecclesiastes in the Middle Ages, including men like St. Thomas Aquinas. People went to him for consultation in medicine just as they did for consultation in legal matters and jurisprudence.

Abul-Waleed Muhammad Ibn Rushd (known in the West as Averroes) was born in Cordova, Spain in 520 A.H. (1128 C.E.). Both his father and grand father were prominent judges. His family was well known for scholarship and it gave him fitting environment to excel in learning. He studied religious law, medicine, mathematics, and philosophy. He studied philosophy and law from Abu J'afar Haroon and from Ibn Baja. At the age of twenty-seven, Ibn Rushd was invited to the Movahid Court at Marrakesh (in Morocco) to help in establishing Islamic educational institutions.

Upon the ascendancy of Yousuf, he was introduced to him by another great Muslim philosopher Ibn Tufail to help in translating, abridging and commenting on some works of Aristotle (in 1169 C.E.).

Ibn Rushd was appointed a judge (Qaadi) in Seville at the age of forty-four. That year he translated and abridged Aristotle's book "de Anima". This book was translated into Latin by Mitchell the Scott. Two years later he was transferred to Cordova, his birthplace where he spent ten years as a judge in that town. During those ten years Ibn Rushd wrote commentaries on the works of Aristotle including the Metaphysics. He was later called back to Marrakesh to work as a physician for the Caliph there, before his return to Cordova as Chief Judge.

Ibn Rushd was well versed in the matters of the faith and law, which qualified him for the post of Qaadi (judge), but he was also keenly interested in philosophy and logic. So he tried to reconcile philosophy and religion in many of his works. Besides this area of study, he was deeply interested in medicine as well, as was his predecessor Ibn Sina (Avicenna).

According to the French philosopher Renan, Ibn Rushd wrote seventy-eight books on various subjects. A careful examination of his works reveals that Averroes was a deeply religious man. As an example, we find in his writing:

" Anyone who studies anatomy will increase his faith
in the omnipotence and oneness of God The Almighty "

In his medical and philosophical works we see the depth of his faith and knowledge of the Qur'an and Prophetic traditions, which he often quotes in support of his views in different matters.

Ibn Rushd said that true happiness for man can surely be achieved through mental and psychological health, and people cannot enjoy psychological health unless they follow ways that lead to happiness in the hereafter, and unless they believe in God and His oneness.

Ibn Rushd commented that Islam aims at true knowledge, which is knowledge of God and of His creation. This true knowledge also includes knowing the various means that lead to worldly satisfaction and avoidance of misery in the Hereafter. This type of practical knowledge covers two branches: (1) Jurisprudence which deals with the material or tangible aspect of human life and (2) the spiritual sciences which deal with matters like patience, gratitude to God, and morals.

He compared spiritual laws to medicine in their effect on human beings physically on one hand, and morally and spiritually on the other. He pointed out that spiritual health is termed 'Taqwa' (righteousness and God-fearing) in the Qur'an.

Ibn Rushd's writings spread more than 20,000 pages, the most famous of which deal with philosophy, medicine and jurisprudence. He wrote 20 books on medicine.

In Philosophy, his most important work Tuhafut al-Tuhafut was written in response to al-Ghazali's work. Ibn Rushd was criticized by many Muslim scholars for this book, which, nevertheless, had a profound influence on European thought, at least until the beginning of modern philosophy and experimental science.

His views on fate were that man is in neither full control of his destiny nor it is fully predetermined for him. He wrote three commentaries on the works of Aristotle, as these were known then through Arabic translations.

The shortest 'Jami' may be considered as a summary of the subject. The intermediate was 'Talkhis' and the longest was the 'Tafsir'. These three commentaries would seem to correspond to different stages in the education of pupils; the short one was meant for the beginners, then the intermediate for the students familiar with the subject, and finally the longest one for advanced studies. The longest commentary was, in fact, an original contribution as it was largely based on his analysis including interpretation of Qur'anic concepts.

Ibn Rushd wrote many books on the question of theology, where he tried to use his knowledge of philosophy and logic. It is not surprising then that his works greatly influenced European religious scholarship, though Averroes is innocent of many views of Western so-called Averroism. Professor Bammate in his booklet "Muslim Contribution to Civilization" quotes Renan: St. Thomas Aquinas was "the first disciple of the Grand Commentator (i.e., Averroes). Albert Alagnus owes everything to Avicenna, St. Thomas owes practically everything to Averroess."

Professor Bammate continues: The Reverend Father Asin Palacios, who has carried out intensive studies of the theological Averroism of St. Thomas and, in no way classifies Averroes with Latin Averroists, takes several texts of the Cordovan philosopher and compares them with the Angelic Doctor of (St. Thomas). The similarity in their thought is confirmed by the use of expressions similar to that of Ibn Rushd. It leaves no room for any doubt about the decisive influence that the Muslim Philosopher (Averroes) had on the greatest of all Catholic theologians.

In Medicine, his well-known book Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb was written before 1162 C.E. Its Latin translation was known as 'Colliget.' In it, Ibn Rushd has expounded on various aspects of medicine, including the diagnoses, cures and prevention of diseases. This book focuses on specific areas in comparison of Ibn Sina's al-Qanun, but contains several original observations of Ibn Rushd.

In Astronomy, he wrote a treatise on the motion of the sphere, Kitab fi-Harakat al-Falak. According to Draper, Ibn Rushd is credited with the discovery of sunspots. He also summarized Almagest and divided it into two parts: description of the spheres, and movement of the spheres. This summary of the Almagest was translated from Arabic into Hebrew by Jacob Anatoli in 1231.

His book on jurisprudence 'Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa-Nihayat-al-Muqtasid' has been held by Ibn Jafar Zahabi as possibly the best book on the Maliki School of Fiqh. Ibn Rushd's writings were translated into various languages, including Latin, English, German and Hebrew.

Most of his commentaries on philosophy are preserved in the Hebrew translations, or in Latin translations from the Hebrew, and a few in the original Arabic. His commentary on zoology is entirely lost. Ibn Rushd also wrote commentaries on Plato's Republic, Galen's treatise on fevers, al-Farabi's logic, and many others. Eighty-seven of his books are still extant.

lbn Rushd has been held as one of the greatest thinkers and scientists of the twelfth century. According to Philip Hitti, Ibn Rushd influenced Western thought from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. His commentaries were used as standard texts in preference to the treatises of Aristotle in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. His books were included in the syllabi of Paris and other Western universities till the advent of modern experimental sciences. Ibn Rusd was studied in the University of Mexico until 1831.

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