Ibn Rushd in his darkest hour

Ibn Rushd in his darkest hour
Despite his philosophical brilliance Ibn Rushd was banished and his writings burnt.
5 min read
09 April, 2015
Ibn Rushd was one of the most capable philosophers of Arab civilisation [Getty]
In the age of civilisational decline the political mixes with the religious, the social with the individual and the economic with the geographic.

There is often a return to superstitions in societies, the shunning of science, the supremacy of intellectual terrorism, the spread of tribal and sectarian divisions and wars, and the persecution of every free thinker to the point of exile or murder.

In all the struggles endured by free thinkers in which they were either killed or exiled, we find the same elements of decline no matter the time or place. This includes the time and place of the struggle of Abul Walid Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Rushd (1126 -1198), or Averroes in the Latinised form of his name.

Ibn Rushd is the most capable rationalist philosopher in the history of Arab civilisation, and the best versed on the achievements of his age and the ages before him.

His various commentaries on Aristotle revived Aristotelian thought in Europe. Al-Kulliyat, a medical encyclopedia he wrote was the first of its kind and explains the role of the retina and other human organs.

He also wrote The Decisive Treatise, Determining the Nature of the Connection between Religion and Philosophy.

This book makes him the originator of the idea that Greek rational heritage does not contradict Islam and that scriptural sciences have an arena as do rational deductive sciences.
     Ibn Rushd is the most capable rationalist philosopher in the history of Arab civilization.

The reasons for the persecution of Ibn Rushd vary according to those who studied his struggle and their intellectual levels.

Some mention that his persecution was the result of influential court scholars who used religion as a business turning the ruler Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur (1184-1199) against him. They did this by making false allegations, including that Ibn Rushd has described Mansur as "king of the Berbers".

Other reasons given for Ibn Rushd's persecution were his personal friendship with Abu Yahya, Mansur's ambitious brother who wanted to ascend the thrown. Abu Yahya was later beheaded by Mansur accused of "befriending philosophers and harbouring heretical and deviant thoughts".

A final reason offered was Ibn Rushd's book The Incoherence of the Incoherence, in which he responded to the fallacies of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s The Incoherence of Philosophers. He did this despite knowing Ghazali was the master of the Almohad dynasty who were in power, and believed the earth was located between the horns of a bull.

Ibn Rushd was summoned to the Mansur's court, publically insulted and cursed and accused of heresy. The king ordered him to be exiled along with anyone who spoke about philosophy.

Mansur also ordered that all parts of the kingdom should warn against philosophy, and philosophical books be burnt except for those dealing with medicine, mathematics and astronomy. These books were important because they help people know the time and the direction of Mecca for when they pray.

However, when talking about the trials of a philosopher like Ibn Rushd in the 12th century it is important to remember attacks on rational science, especially logic, began in Abbasid Baghdad under caliphs who were parrots in cages in the 10th century.

Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi, the great 10th century thinker, argues in Enjoyment and Conviviality, that Abu Bishr Matta Ibn Yunus who translated Greek books was insulted in Abbasid vizier Ibn al-Furat's court.

His attacker was the grammarian Abu Said al-Sayrafi, who argued Arabs do not need logic. What is most notable about this early attack is that the vizier considered it to be a "defence of religion and the religious".

Andalusian society once again witnessed a rise and decline and suffered from the use of religion to justify injustice. Arab civilisation was regaining its prosperity after al-Hakam II (who ruled from 961-976), the Andalusian Umayyad caliph, took an interest in sciences and scholars and collected books from far and wide during his father's reign and later during his own reign.

Philosophy was also flourishing and was encouraged by some rulers.

However, all of this changed when Hakam II died and his underage son Hisham II took the thrown. However, it was Hisham's gatekeeper Almanzor who the real ruler, and he ordered the destruction of the books al-Hakam II and others, except for those focusing on mathematics and medicine of course.

During that period, Ibn Rushd and Arab civilisation suffered two tragedies. The first happened when Ibn Rushed was exiled from Cordova to Marrakech, and his followers were persecuted to the point where they hid their knowledge for fear of being killed.
     Philosophy threatens to expose political authorities and social oppression.

The second was the embargo imposed on Ibn Rushd's enlightened philosophy that lasted for centuries.

We know the average person does not read philosophy books, let alone understand books on logic, so where did all the incitement against any enlightened thought come from?

It comes from the authorities that know through their "experts" the dangers of people basing their lives, politics and thought on reason and evidence instead of superstition.

Therefore, philosophy threatens to expose political authorities and social oppression. In addition to the authorities, incitement comes from those who are unable to reach the intellectual heights of true scholars, and who only use knowledge to further their own interests.

This group always accuses scholars of rational, deductive sciences of heresy.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.