Ibn Rushd: Defender of thought

A leading Islamic scholar who influenced the European Renaissance.

Ibn Rushd from painting

Ibn Rushd in a 14th-century painting by Florentine artist Andrea di Bonaiuto

Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Rushd left his mark on history as an Islamic jurist, a physician, and most controversially, a philosopher.

Called Averroes by the West, the Andalusian Arab is famous in European literature for his commentaries of Aristotle, and for arguing that there is no conflict between religion and philosophy.

He is also regarded as a key player in the establishment of secular thought which paved the way for the European Renaissance.

He was born in 1126 in Cordoba, Spain, where his father and grandfather had both been judges. A scion of Islamic scholarship, he studied jurisprudence under his father, theology, philosophy and mathematics under the Arab philosopher Ibn Tufayl and medicine under the great Arab physician Ibn Zuhr.

In his time, Ibn Rushd was regarded as the foremost authority of the Maliki school of law in Cordoba.

Abu Yaqub Yusuf, then the caliph (ruler) of Morocco and Muslim Spain, called Ibn Rushd to the capital, Marrakesh, to serve as his chief physician in place of Ibn Tufayl.

Yusuf’s son, Yaqub al-Mansur, retained Ibn Rushd before exiling him over possible heresy for his philosophical ideas or political pressure from other scholars. His writings were banned and his books burned, except for those on mathematics, medicine and engineering.

Only two years later, Ibn Rushd was returned to favour, but died later the same year, in 1198.

Reconciling Aristotle

The Arab philosopher’s best known and most controversial work is Tahafut al-Tahafut (Incoherence of the Incoherence), rebutting an earlier work by Islamic theologian al-Ghazali.

Al-Ghazali argued against Greek and Hellenistic philosophy, and denounced Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Sina and al-Farabi.

Ibn Rushd defended philosophy in his book, written as a dialogue with al-Ghazali, reconciling Aristotelian ideas with Islam. 

Not well-received by the wider Islamic audience, Tahafut al-Tahafut was more influential in Jewish and Christian thought, well into the European Renaissance.

In his works on Islamic law, Ibn Rushd wrote authoritatively on the views of multiple schools of thought, presenting critical analyses of famous Muslim jurists and their methodologies.

In the field of physics, he authored a treatise on the motion of the sphere, while on medicine, he wrote 20 books alone. His textbook Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb – on diagnosing, treating and curing disease – continued to be used by physicians centuries later.

He also wrote on grammar and music, and made contributions to the fields of logic and psychology.

Source: Al Jazeera

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