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Ibn Rushd – the life journey of a polymath

Averrhoes, Andalusian polymath
Representation of Ibn Rushd (Averroes) carved in stone © Zatletic | Dreamstime.com

In the not so recent times of the Caliphates in the Abbasid period, there was quite a concentration of splendid academics and intellectuals in the reaches of the empire. Many of the caliphs supported knowledge seekers, thus providing an environment for culture and technology to flourish, pushing the Muslim empire forward. 

The expansion of knowledge and culture in the Abbasid empire came not only from brilliant inventors and thinkers of the time, but also from qualified translators of Greek and Latin texts. This is not to say that in that period, a large proportion of the intellectuals weren’t often both. In effect, translating and drawing from ancestral knowledge became increasingly important to the advancements in the fields of philosophy, mathematics, astrology and medicine.

Abū al-Walīd Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Rushd, also commonly referred to as Averroës (or Ibn Rushd), was no average thinker of his time. He was born in 1126CE into a renowned family of jurists in Cordoba, out of which, most notable was his grandfather – Imam to the Great Mosque of Cordoba and chief judge of the city.

Learning from his grandfather and his students, in the youth of his life, Ibn Rushd had quickly attained excellence in the studies of fiqh, medicine theology and eventually philosophy. He attended many regular meetings among poets, philosophers and physicians in Seville, a favourite visiting place for the future Caliph of Almohad, Abu Yaqub Yusuf.

Soon enough, around 1153 he had set foot in Marrakech in order to conduct several astronomical observations. After a few days in the city, Ibn Rushd had stumbled upon an old acquaintance of his, Ibn Tufayl, who also attended intellectuals’ meetings in Seville. Having exchanged greetings and philosophical positions, they soon became friends despite certain disaccord in their beliefs.

Ibn Tufayl occupied the honourable position of court physician at the time and in due place, had introduced Ibn Rushd to the reigning caliph – Abu Yaqub Yusuf. The caliph, to Ibn Rushd’s surprise, was a most educated man and held up a very well argued position in their philosophical discussion, referencing dominant Greek philosophers.

After the introduction, Abu Yaqub Yusuf grew a liking to Ibn Rushd and remained in his favour until the day of his death. In the Caliph’s final moments, puzzling aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy still lingered in his heart unanswered. In part incepted by the desire to carry on the Caliph’s will, Ibn Rushd’s began his meandering journey of commentaries and explanations of Aristotle’s work.

Ibn Rushd became so enthralled by Aristotle that he had eventually left a commentary on almost all of his works. Currently, all of Aristotle’s complete works in Latin come with the addition of Ibn Rushd’s commentaries and summaries. This significantly assisted to the advance of philosophy for the Christians and the Jews in the upcoming centuries, as well as moving Muslim philosophy along, as there was also a great deal of original thought in addition to the explanations.

Ibn Rush’s most important and relevant works, however, were only written towards 1180. He focused himself on establishing the underlying meaning of religious beliefs; devoting his philosophical research to uncovering the truths behind Islam. He claimed that only the one who has obtained a level in the study of metaphysics can legitimately interpret and unveil the truths written down in the Quran.

In his theological research, Ibn Rushd had made arguments to prove the existence of God, as well as theorising several of His actions and attributes. One of his main works in the field was the Fasl al-Maqal, describing how philosophy and Islam can walk hand in hand.

Throughout his career, Ibn Rushd had also forged many excellent works in the fields of jurisprudence, medicine, physics and psychology, aside from his main theses. Polymaths like these inspire us to seek the true meanings of what is written in the Quran, brining us closer to Allah (SWT) instead of reducing ourselves to a superficial understanding of the words of God.

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