The Story of Islamic Philosophy: Ibn Tufayl, Ibn al-‘Arabi, and Others on the Limit between Naturalism and Traditionalism

THE STORY OF ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY
  • Book Title:
 The Story Of Islamic Philosophy
  • Book Author:
Ibn al-'ArabiIbn TufaylSalam H Bashier
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302
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THE STORY OF ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY BOOK – Book Sample

Introduction – THE STORY OF ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY BOOK

The story of Islamic philosophy is the story of the development of the human intellect from the rationalistic phase, represented in this study by Fārābī (d.950) [01]Abū Naṣr Muḥammad al-Fārābī was born in 870 in Fārāb, Turkistan, and studied in Baghdad where he remained for more than forty years. He was … Continue reading, to an illuminative phase represented by Ibn Ṭufayl (d.1185) and Ibn al-Arabī (d.1240) [02]Muḥammad Ibn al-Arabī was born in 1165 in Murcia, Spain. At the age of 35 he left Andalusia for good and lived in several places in the East … Continue reading. Illuminative philosophy is based on a model of mystical illumination that found its best expression in Plato’s Seventh Letter and that is illustrated in Mishkāt al-Anwār (Niche of Lights) by Ghazālī (d. 1111) and al-Ishārāt wa-al- Tanbīhāt (Allusions and Intimations) and the mystical recitals of Ibn Sīnā (d. 1037) [03]3. Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī was born in 1058 in Ṭūs. He received his education in Nishapur and Baghdad, where he also taught. In 1096 he left … Continue reading. The central tenet of this model is that following a rigorous and thorough exercise of the rational faculty, the human reason reaches a certain limit and is flooded with light.

The thinker whose reason is brought to this liminal situation becomes aware of the limitations of his rational faculty and the possibility of obtaining knowledge by means of mystical illumination rather than mere rational conceptualization. This epistemological awareness is then extended to a comprehensive, liminal depiction of the ontological status of the world. Things in the world acquire an intermediary nature, and the world as a whole itself becomes a liminal entity between Truth (ḥaqq) and its existential manifestations (khalq).

In this book, I use Ibn Ṭufayl’s work and the work of other Islamic thinkers to present the main principles of illuminative or liminal philosophy, while emphasizing its special capacity at articulating a synthetic vision of the naturalistic (or philosophical) and the traditionalistic (or religious) accounts of the epistemological and the ontological orders of reality.

Ibn Ṭufayl was known for his encyclopedic scholarship and his generous sponsorship of intellectual research, which is confirmed by the detailed account that Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) [04]Abū al-Walīd Muḥammad ibn Rushd was born in 1126 in Cordoba to a family of legal judges. He was a philosopher, physician, and jurist. Among his … Continue reading provides for the meeting that Ibn Ṭufayl arranged between him and the Muwaḥḥid Sultan, under whose patronage Ibn Rushd wrote commentaries on Aristotle’s corpus. Very little is known about his personal life, and except for some fragments of poetry, fjayy Ibn Yaqẓān (Alive Son of the Awake) is Ibn Ṭufayl’s only extant work.

The work has been translated into several languages, including English translations by Simon Ockley (1708) and Lenn Goodman (1972). Goodman’s translation is preceded by a significant introduction to the text in which he presents Ibn Ṭufayl’s thought as a unique educational philosophy and emphasizes the differences between it and educational philosophies of important Western intellectuals. Sāmī Ḥāwī, whose Islamic Naturalism and Mysticism is one of the most significant studies of Ibn Ṭufayl’s work in modern scholarship, follows a seemingly different strategy:

He attempts to show the strong resemblances between Ibn Ṭufayl’s thought and modern Western intellectuality. This is despite the fact that he has interesting things to say, not only in relation to the shortcomings of the Orientalists’ treatment of Islamic philosophy but also concerning the limitations of modern philosophical thought in general [05]5. Sāmī Ḥāwī, Islamic Naturalism and Mysticism: A Philosophical Study of Ibn Tufayl’s t{ayy bin Yaqẓān (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1974), … Continue reading.

In his treatment of Ḥayy, he seems to be struggling between his desire to apply to his study a strict rationalistic approach and the fact that he is dealing with a philosopher-mystic who makes an explicit declaration of the limitation of rationalistic thought [06]I think his failure to take this declaration seriously stands behind his rather apologetic statement that “our author’s views may not emerge … Continue reading.

In arguing for the originality of fjayy, Ḥāwī insists that Ibn Ṭufayl did not borrow his ideas from Ghazālī or Ibn Sīnā, and that the utmost that one can infer is that they had an influence on his thought [07]INM, 11..

But Ḥāwī infers from fjayy that Ibn Ṭufayl intended not to follow Ibn Sīnā because in his description of the mystical states (aḥwāl) in Ishārāt, Ibn Sīnā was an imitator. Such inferences, needless to say, go against Ibn Ṭufayl’s own statements, and Ḥāwī seems to be one step closer to claiming, as Dimitri Gutas and other scholars did, that in attributing illuminative wisdom to Ibn Sīnā, Ibn Ṭufayl was an inventor of a fiction.

Instead, Ḥāwī depicts the difference between Ibn Sīnā and Ibn Ṭufayl in terms of a distinction between a possessor of theoretical knowledge (naẓar) and a possessor of immediate knowledge (dhawq), which he develops into a distinction between conceptual apprehensions and dynamic existential involvement.

He finds the parallel to Ibn Ṭufayl’s existential involvement in Kierkegaard’s dynamic existential breach, which is contrary to the mediating process of reason. Like Kierkegaard, Ibn Ṭufayl teaches us that immediate experience must not be replaced with an abstraction, that reason has limits, and that propositional knowledge of the truth is impossible: “Rationality is not man’s only basic differentia . . .

Like most existentialists, he strongly contended that man makes himself, fulfills himself, and becomes himself in the dynamic act of knowing the Truth—Necessary Being. Ḥayy’s very nature was a process, a project to surpass the now and reach the everlasting eternal.” Thus, Ḥayy, the existentialist, realizes that man’s nature is more than his reason and, like the existentialists, he attempts a “hypothetical destruction of, and universal doubt in, the surrounding world of tradition and education.”

One might wonder how Ḥāwī’s existentialist interpretation can be consistent with his statement that “Ibn Ṭufayl’s philosophy becomes almost hollow and indigent if one strips it of its metaphysical locus.”

Ḥāwī’s depiction of Ibn Ṭufayl’s existentialistic literary style, which he contrasts with rigorous logic in his description of Ḥāyy’s attainment of mystical experience, seems to be in stark opposition to his own rationalistic depiction of his treatise.13 Ḥāwī’s study as a whole seems to be divided into two unrelated parts in which rationalism and mysticism are presented independently of each other. His failure to present a coherent interpretation of Ibn Ṭufayl’s thought stems from his insistence on dissociating him from any possible influence by Ibn

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References / Footnotes

01Abū Naṣr Muḥammad al-Fārābī was born in 870 in Fārāb, Turkistan, and studied in Baghdad where he remained for more than forty years. He was a scientist, philosopher, and musician. Among his important works are al-Madīna al-Fāḍila (The Virtuous City) and Risāla fi al-ʿAql (Epistle on the Intellect). He died in 950 in Damascus. In the Islamic intellectual tradition al-Fārābī received the title “The Second Teacher”, which indicates his serious influence on this tradition.
02Muḥammad Ibn al-Arabī was born in 1165 in Murcia, Spain. At the age of 35 he left Andalusia for good and lived in several places in the East including Egypt, Arabia, and Asia Minor. In 1223 he settled in Damascus where he died in 1240. Hundreds of works are attributed to him about 150 of which are extant. His most important works are al-Futūhāt al-Makkiyya (Meccan Revelations) and Fuṣūṣ al-tfikam (Bezels of Wisdom). Since the end of the Twelfth Century Ibn al-Arabī became the most influential thinker in the Islamic intellectual tradition, inspiring a whole history of original interpreters of his mystical philosophy from Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qunawī (d. 1274) to Dawūd al-Qayṣarī (d. 1350) all the way to Abd al-Ghanī al-Nābulsī (d. 1731) and ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jazā’irī (d. 1883).
033. Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī was born in 1058 in Ṭūs. He received his education in Nishapur and Baghdad, where he also taught. In 1096 he left his teaching duties to become a wandering ascetic. He died in 1111 in Ṭūs. His most important books are Iḥyā’ ʿUlūm al-Oīn (Revival of the Sciences of Religion) and Mishkāt al-Anwār (Niche of Lights). Some scholars express the view that with his Tahāfut al- Falāsifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers) Ghazālī brought about the end of Islamic philosophy that Ibn Rushd desperately attempted to rescue with his Tahāfut al-Tahāfut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence). This view is severely limited as it is based on a narrow rationalistic conception of philosophy and the false belief that Islamic philosophy ended with Ibn Rushd.

There can be no doubt, however, that Ghazālī was a major factor in establishing a mystical synthesis in the Islamic intellectual tradition between philosophy and theology. Abū ʿAlī Ibn Sīnā was born in 980 in a village near Bukhāra. He received his religious and scientific education at a young age but was seriously troubled by Aristotle’s Metaphysics, which he could not understand till he read a short commentary on it by Fārābī. He worked in the service of several rulers and was incarcerated by one of them in a fortress. It is believed that during this period he wrote his mystical recitals. Ibn Sīnā was also a physician and wrote the famous Canon of Medicine. His most important philosophical work is Shifā’ (Healing). Ibn Sīnā died in 1037 and was buried in Hamadān. Ibn Sīnā is considered one of Islamic greatest thinkers of all times and had a considerable influence on the development of later Iranian philosophers.

04Abū al-Walīd Muḥammad ibn Rushd was born in 1126 in Cordoba to a family of legal judges. He was a philosopher, physician, and jurist. Among his works are his famous commentaries on Aristotle’s philosophy and Plato’s Republic, and his Tahāfut al-Tahāfut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence). He died in 1198 in Morocco
055. Sāmī Ḥāwī, Islamic Naturalism and Mysticism: A Philosophical Study of Ibn Tufayl’s t{ayy bin Yaqẓān (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1974), 3-4 (Hereafter cited as INM).
06I think his failure to take this declaration seriously stands behind his rather apologetic statement that “our author’s views may not emerge from this enquiry as completely original, but the attitude and spirit which spur them are of lasting significance to both Islamic culture and philosophy in general.” Ibid., 4.
07INM, 11.