Arabic Thought and its Place in History, by De Lacy O'Leary, , at sacred-texts.com
Muslim rule in North Africa west of the Nile valley was commenced under conditions very different from those prevailing in Egypt and Syria. The Arabs found this land occupied by the Berbers or Libyans, the same race which from the time of the earliest Pharaohs had been a perpetual menace to Egypt, and which, on the Mediterranean seaboard, had offered a serious problem to Phoenician, Greek, Roman and Gothic colonists. For some thousands of years these Berbers had remained very much the same as when they had emerged from the neolithic stage, and were hardy desert men like the Arabs in pre-Islamic times. Their language was not Semitic, but shows very marked Semitic affinities, and, although language transmission is often quite distinct from racial descent, it seems probable that in this case there was a parallel, and this is best explained by supposing that both were derived from the neolithic race which at one time spread along the whole of the south coast of the Mediterranean and across into Arabia, but that some cause, perhaps the early development of civilization in the Nile valley, had cut off the eastern wing from the rest, and this segregated portion
developed the peculiar characteristics which we describe as Semitic. The series of Greek, Punic, Roman, and Gothic settlements had left no permanent mark on the Berber population, on their language, or on their culture. At the time of the Arab invasion the country was theoretically under the Byzantine Empire, and the invading Arabs had to meet the resistance of a Greek army; but this was not a very serious obstacle, and the invaders were soon left face to face with the Berber tribes.
The Muslim invasion of North Africa followed immediately after the invasion of Egypt, but the internal disputes of the Muslim community prevented a regular conquest. It was not until a second invasion took place in A.H. 45 (= A.D. 665) that we can regard the Arabs as commencing the regular conquest and settlement of the country. For centuries afterwards the Arab control was precarious in the extreme, revolts were constantly taking place, and many Berber states were founded, some of which had an existence of considerable duration. As a rule there was a pronounced racial feeling between Berbers and Arabs, but there were also tribal feuds, and Arab policy generally aimed at playing off one powerful tribe against another. Gradually the Arabs spread all along North Africa and down to the desert edge, their tribes as a rule occupying the lower ground, whilst the older population had its chief centres in the mountainous districts. During the invasion of 45 the city of Kairawan was founded
some distance south of Tunis. The site was badly chosen, and is now marked only by ruins and a scanty village, but for some centuries it served as the capital city of Ifrikiya, which was the name given to the province lying next to Egypt, embracing the modern states of Tripoli, Tunis, and the eastern part of Algeria up to the meridian of Bougie. West of this lay Maghrab, or the "western land," which was divided into two districts, Central Maghrab extending from the borders of Ifrikiya across the greater part of Algeria and the eastern third of Morocco, and Further Maghrab, which spread beyond to the Atlantic coast. In these provinces Arabs and Berbers lived side by side, but in distinct tribes, the intercourse between the two varying in different localities and at different times. For the most part each race preserved its own language, the several Arabic dialects being distinguished by archaic forms and a phonology somewhat modified by Berber influences; but there are instances of Berber tribes which have adopted Arabic, and some of the Arab and mixed groups have preferred the Berber language.
The religion of Islam spread rapidly amongst the Berbers, but it took a particular development, which shows a survival of many pre-Islamic religious ideas. The worship of saints and the devotion paid at their tombs is a corruption which appears elsewhere, on lines quite distinct from the Asiatic beliefs as to incarnation or transmigration, and in the west this saint worship takes an extreme form, although
here and there are tribes which reject it altogether, as is the case with the B. Messara, the Ida of South Morocco, etc. Pilgrimages (ziara) are made to saints tombs, commemorative banquets are held there (wada or taan), and acts of worship, often taking a revolting form, are paid to living saints, who are known as murabits or marabouts, a word which literally means "those who serve in frontier forts (ribat)," where the soldiers were accustomed to devote themselves to practices of piety. These saints are also known as sidi (lords), or mulaye (teachers), and in the Berber language of the Twaregs as aneslem, or "Islamic." Very often they are insane persons, and are allowed to indulge every passion and to disregard the ordinary laws of morality. Even those living at the present day are credited with miraculous powers, not only with gifts of healing, but with exemption from the limitations of space and from the laws of gravity (cf. Trumelet: Les saints de lislam, Paris, 1881); in many cases the same saint has two or more tombs, and is believed to be buried in each, for it is argued that, as he was able to be in two or more places at once during life, so his body can be in several tombs after death. All this, of course, is no normal development of Islam, to which it is plainly repugnant. How thin a veneer of Muslim usages covers over a mass of primitive animism may be seen from Dr. Westermarck's essay on "Belief in spirits in Morocco," the firstfruits of the newly established Academy at Abo in Finland (Humaniora. I. i.
[paragraph continues] Abo, Finland, 1920), and from Dr. Montet's Le culte des saints musulmans dans lAfrique du nord (Geneva, 1905).
Amongst the Berber tribes in perpetual conflict with the Arab garrisons there was always a refuge and a welcome for the lost causes of Islam, and so almost every heretical sect and every defeated dynasty made its last stand there, so that even now those parts show the strangest survivals of otherwise forgotten movements. No doubt this was mainly due to a perennial tone of disaffection towards the Arab rulers, and anyone in revolt against the Khalif was welcomed for that very fact.
The conquest of Spain towards the end of the 1st cent. A.H. (early 8th cent. A.D.) was jointly an Arab and Berber undertaking, the Berbers being in the great majority in the invading army, and most of the leaders being Berber. Thus in Andalusia the old rivalries between Arab and Berber figure largely in the next few centuries. At first Andalusia was regarded merely as a district attached to the province of North Africa, and was ruled from Ifrikiya.
In A.H. 138, after the fall of the Umayyads in Asia, a fugitive member of the fallen dynasty, Abdu r-Rahman, failing in an attempt to restore his family in Africa, crossed over to Spain, and there established a new and independent power, with its seat of government at Cordova, and in A.H. 317 one of his descendants formally assumed the title of "Commander of the Faithful." The Umayyads of
[paragraph continues] Spain very closely reproduced the general characteristics of their rule in Syria. They were tolerant, and made free use of Christian and Jewish officials; they encouraged the older literary arts, and especially poetry, and employed Greek artists and architects; but though doing much for the more material elements of culture, there is no evidence under their rule of any interest in Greek learning or philosophy. Yet, though in a sense old-fashioned, the country was by no means isolated, and we find frequent intercourse between Spain and the east. The religious duty of the pilgrimage has always been an important factor in promoting the common life of Islam, and there is abundant evidence that the Spanish Muslims looked steadily eastwards for religious guidance, accepting the hadith, the canon law, and the development of a scientific jurisprudence as it took shape in the east. Both Muslims and Jews travelled to Mesopotamia in order to complete their education, and thus kept in contact with the more cultured life of Asia. But Spanish Islam had no feeling of sympathy with the philosophical speculation popular in the east, and certainly disapproved the latitudinarian developments which were taking place under the Abbasids of the third century: its tendency was to a rigid orthodoxy and strict conservatism, its interests were confined to the canon law, Quranic exegesis, and the study of tradition.
The reactionary character of Spanish Islam is well illustrated by Ibn Hazm (d. 456 A.H.), the first
important theologian which it produced. Rejecting the four recognised and orthodox schools of canon law, and discarding even the rigid system of Ibn Hanbal as not strict enough, he became an adherent of the school founded by Daud az-Zahiri (d. 270), which has never been admitted as on the same footing as the other four, and now is totally extinct. In the teaching of that school Quran and tradition were taken in their strictest and most literal sense; any sort of deduction by analogy was forbidden; "it is evident that here we have to do with an impossible man and school, and so the Muslim world found. Most said roundly that it was illegal to appoint a Zahirite to act as judge, on much the same grounds that objection to circumstantial evidence will throw out a man now as juror. If they had been using modern language, they would have said that it was because he was a hopeless crank." (Macdonald: Muslim Theology, p. 110). This was the system which Ibn Hazm now introduced into Spain, and it was one calculated to appeal to the stern puritan strain which undoubtedly exists in the Iberian character. The novel point was that Ibn Hazm applied the principles and methods of jurisprudence to theology proper. Like Daud he entirely rejected the principles of analogy and taqlid, that is, the following of authority in the sense of accepting the dictum of a known teacher. As this undermined all existing systems, and required every man to study Quran and tradition for himself, it did not receive the approval
of the canonists, who, in Spain as elsewhere, were the followers of recognised schools, such as that of Abu Hanifa and the other orthodox systems, and it was not until a full century afterwards that he gained any number of adherents. In theology he admitted the Asharite doctrine of mukhalafa, the difference of God from all created beings, so that human attributes could not be applied to him in the same sense as they were used of men; but he carried this a stage further, and opposed the Asharites, who, though admitting the difference, had then argued about the attributes of God as though they described God's nature, when the very fact of difference deprives them of any meaning intelligible to us. As in the Quran ninety-nine descriptive titles are applied to God we may lawfully employ them, but we neither know what they imply nor can we argue anything from them. The same method is applied to the treatment of the anthropomorphical expressions which are applied to God in the Quran; we may use those expressions, but we have not the slightest idea of what they may indicate, save that we know they do not mean what they would mean as used of men. In ethics the only distinction between good and evil is based on God's will, and our only knowledge of that distinction is obtained from revelation. If God forbids theft it is wrong only because God forbids it; there is no standard other than the arbitrary approval or disapproval of God.
Although it took a century for these views to
obtain any number of adherents, Ibn Hazm was no obscure figure during his lifetime. He became prominent as a violent and abusive controversialist, an opponent of the Asharite party and of the Mutazilites, curiously enough treating the latter more gently as having limited God's qualities.
Ibn Hazm lived at a time when the Umayyads of Cordova were already in their decay, and in 422 the dynasty fell. Very soon the whole of Andalusia was split into a number of independent principalities, and this was followed by a period of anarchy, during which the country was exposed more and more to Christian attacks, until at length Mutamid, King of Seville, fearing that the Muslim states would disappear altogether under the tide of Christian conquest, advised his co-religionists to appeal for help to the Murabit power in Morocco, which, with much misgiving, they did.
The Murabits, the name is that commonly applied to saints in Morocco, were the product of a religious revival led by Yahya b. Ibrahim of the clan of the Jidala, a branch of the great Berber tribe of Latuna, one of those light-complexioned Berber races such as can still be seen in Algeria, and are apparently nearest akin to the Lebu as they are represented in ancient Egyptian paintings. In 428 (= 1036 A.D.) Yahya performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, and was astonished and delighted at the evidences of culture and prosperity which he saw in the lands through which he travelled, so far exceeding anything which had
previously entered his experience. On his return journey he stopped at Kairawan and became a hearer at the lectures given there by Abu Amran. The lecturer was greatly struck by the diligence and attention of his pupil, and greatly surprised when he discovered that he was a product of one of the wild and barbarous tribes of the far west. But when Yahya asked that one of the alumni of Kairawan might be sent home with him to teach his fellow-tribesmen no one was found willing to venture amongst a people who were generally regarded as fierce and savage, until at last the task was undertaken by Abdullah ibn Jahsim. Helped by his companion Yahya commenced a religious revival amongst the Berbers of the West, and seems to have modelled his work on the example of the Prophet, by force of arms urging his reforms upon the neighbouring tribes and laying the foundation of a united kingdom, a work which was continued by his successor, Yusuf b. Tashfin, and so at length a powerful kingdom was established, which extended from the Mediterranean to the Senegal. Many such Berber states were established at various times, but, as a rule, they fell into decay after a couple of generations.
Yusuf b. Tashfin was the champion now invited by the Muslims of Spain, not without misgivings in many quarters, but the choice seemed to lie only between Christian or Berber, and the Berbers were at least of their own religion and of the same race as the majority of the Spanish Muslims. Yusuf came
as a helper, but a second time invited he stayed on and established his authority over the country, and thus Spain became a province under the rule of the Murabit princes of Morocco. Yusuf was succeeded by Ali, who was successful in restraining the Christians, and at one time even formed plans to drive them out of Spain altogether.
Murabit rule, which lasted 35 years, brought many changes and itself experienced many changes. The rulers were rough men of uncouth manners and fanatical outlook. Not many years before, it will be remembered, the Arabs of Kairawan were reluctant to venture into their land, such was their ill repute. They were partially humanised by a religious movement, and thus naturally show a religious character which bordered on fanaticism. Ali himself was entirely in the hands of the faqirs or mendicant devotees and qadis, and the government was liable to interference from these irresponsible fanatics at every turn. It was a state of affairs which awakened the impatience of the cultured Muslims of Spain, who expressed their feelings in many caustic epigrams and satirical poems. But very soon a change began to work. The Murabits and their followers did not become less attached to the devotees, who swarmed unchecked on every side and received idolatrous attentions from the multitude, but they learned the luxuries and refinements of the cultured life then prevailing in Spain and showed themselves apt pupils. Indeed, their downfall may be explained either as due to effete luxury or to
faqir-ridden superstition, as we shall see later on.
The intellectual life of Muslim Spain up to the Murabit period was conservative rather than backward. Its literary men were nearer the old traditional Arab type than was the case in the eastern Khalifate, where Persian influences had pushed the Arab so much into the background; its scholars were still occupied exclusively with the traditional sciences, exegesis, canon law, and traditions. The Murabit invasion offered a stimulus to satirical verse, but otherwise did nothing to promote either literature or science. Yet it is under Murabit rule that we find the first beginnings of western philosophy, and the line of transmission is from the Mutazilites of Baghdad through the Jews and thence to the Muslims of Spain. The Jews act as intermediaries who bring the Muslim philosophy of Asia into contact with the Muslims of Spain.
For a long time the Jews had taken no part in the development of Hellenistic philosophy, although in the later Syriac period they had participated in medical studies and in natural science, of which we have seen evidence in the important work of Jewish physicians and scientists at Baghdad under al-Mamun and the early Abbasids. Outside medicine and natural science Jewish interest seems to have been mainly confined to Biblical exegesis, tradition, and canon law.
One of the few exceptions to this restriction of interests was Said al-Fayyumi or Saadya ben Joseph
[paragraph continues] (d. 331 A.H. = 942 A.D.), a native of Upper Egypt, who became one of the Geonim of the academy at Sora on the Euphrates, and is best known as the translator of the Old Testament into Arabic, which had now replaced Aramaic as the speech of the Jews both in Asia and in Spain. As an author his most important work was the Kitab al-Amanat wa-l-Iiqadat, or "Book of the articles of faith and dogmatics," which was finished in 321-2 (= A.D. 933), and was afterwards translated into Hebrew as Sefer Emunot we-Deot by Judah b. Tibbon. He was the author also of a commentary on the Pentateuch, of which only a portion (on Exod. 30, 11-16) survives, as well as other works; but it is in the first-named and in the commentary that his views appear most clearly. For the first time a Jewish writer shows familiarity with the problems raised by the Mutazilites, and gives these a serious attention from the Jewish stand-point. It does not seem, however, that we should class Said as a Mutazilite; he more properly represents the movement which produced his Muslim contemporaries, al-Ashari and al-Mataridi, that is to say, he is one of those who use orthodox kalam and adapt philosophy to apologetic purposes. His position is shown most clearly in the "Book of the articles of faith and dogmatics" in dealing with the three problems of (a) creation, (b) the Divine Unity, and (c) free will. In the first of these he defends the doctrine of a creation ex nihilo, but in giving proofs of the necessity of a creator he shows in three out of
the four arguments employed distinct traces of Aristotelian influences. In treating the doctrine of the Divine Unity he is chiefly concerned with opposing the Christian teaching of the Trinity, but incidentally is compelled to deal with the idea of God and the Divine attributes, and in doing so maintains that none of the Aristotelian categories can be applied to God. As to the human will he defends its freedom, and his task is mainly an effort to reconcile this with the omnipotence and omniscience of God. In the fragment on Exodus he refers to the commands of revelation and the commands of reason, these latter, he asserts, being based on philosophical speculation.
Evidently the Mutakallamin movement, professedly an orthodox reaction from the Mutazilites, represents a great widening of philosophical influences. Philosophy was no longer a subject confined to one group of scholars who were interested in Greek writings, but had spread out until it reached the mosques, and could no longer be thrust aside as an heretical aberration, and in its outspread it had penetrated the Jewish schools as well. But Said produced no immediate disciples, and those who followed him in the Jewish academies of Mesopotamia showed no interest in his methods. Yet his work, apparently barren, was destined to have results of the widest importance after a century's interval. In spite of distance and the difficulties of travel there was a very close and frequent intercourse maintained between all the Jews of the Sefardi group, those,
namely, who had adopted Arabic as their ordinary speech and who were living under Muslim rule. The Ashkenazi Jews in the north and centre of Europe who lived in Christian lands and did not use Arabic were definitely separated from these others by the barrier of language, and thus in different surroundings the two groups developed marked differences in their use of Hebrew, in their liturgical formularies, and in their popular beliefs and folk-lore. Thus we must bear in mind that a synagogue in Spain would naturally be in close touch with synagogues in Mesopotamia, but it was not likely to have any contact with one in the Rhine valley.
Although the earlier Jewish settlers in Spain and Provence had enjoyed considerable freedom, restrictions had been imposed by the council of Elvira (A.D. 303-4), and they had to suffer considerable severity under the later West Goths. The coming of the Muslims had greatly eased their position, chiefly because the Jews had taken a leading part in assisting and probably in inviting the invaders; they often furnished garrisons to occupy towns which the Muslims had conquered, and were the means of supplying them with information as to the enemy's movements. It seems probable that they had been in correspondence with the Muslims beforehand, so that they shared with Witiza's partisans the responsibility of inviting the invasion. Under Umayyad rule their prosperity continued and increased. Very often we find Jews occupying high
positions at court and in the civil service, and these favourable conditions seem to have prevailed until the time of the Muwahhids, for it does not appear that the Murabits, for all their fanaticism, took any measures against Christians or Jews.
Important amongst the Jews of the Umayyad period was Hasdai ben Shabrut (d. 360 or 380 A.H.), a physician under Abdu r-Rahman, who sent presents to Sora and Pumbaditha, and carried on a correspondence with Dosa, son of the Gaon Said al-Fayyumi. Hitherto it had been the custom for the western Jews to refer all difficult problems of the canon law to the learned of the academies in Mesopotamia, just as their Muslim neighbours referred to the East for guidance in jurisprudence and theology. But Hasdai took advantage of the accidental presence of Moses Ben Enoch in Cordova to found a native Spanish academy for rabbinical studies there, and appointed Moses its president, a step which received the warm approval of the Umayyad prince. This turned out to be more important than its founder had anticipated; it was not merely a provincial school reproducing the work of the eastern academies, but resulted in the transference of Jewish scholarship to Spain. At that time Asiatic Islam was beginning to feel the restricting power of the orthodox reaction, whilst Spain, on the other hand, saw the opening of a golden age. Shortly before this date the Umayyad Hakim II. had been working to encourage Muslim scholarship in the west, and had sent his agents to purchase books
in Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and Alexandria. In the reactionary age of Mahmud of Ghazna (388-421) Muslim b. Muhammad al-Andalusi had been instrumental in introducing the teachings of the "Brethren of Purity" to the Muslims of Spain. We cannot say that the Jews anticipated the Muslims of Spain in their study of philosophy, but it is clear that the Jews were associated with the first dawn of the new learning in Spain, and thus as the sun was setting in the East a new day was beginning to break in the West.
The first leader of Spanish philosophy was the Jew Abu Ayyub Sulayman b. Yahya b. Jabirul (d. 450 A.H. 1058 A.D.), commonly known as Ibn Gabirol (Jabirul), and hence "Avencebrol" in the Latin scholastic writers. He is chiefly known as the author of Maqor Chayim, "The Fountain of Life," a title based on the words of Psalm 36, 10, which was one of the works translated into Latin at the college of Toledo and so well known to the scholastic writers as the Fons Vitae (ed. Baumer: Avencebrolis Fons Vitae, Munster, 1895). It was this work which really introduced neo-Platonism to the West. Ibn Jabirul teaches that God alone is pure reality, and He is the only actual substance; He has no attributes, but in Him are will and wisdom, not as possessed attributes but as aspects of His nature. The world is produced by the impress of form upon pre-existing universal matter. "Separate substances" in the sense of ideas abstracted from the things in which they exist (cf. Aristot. de anima. iii. 7, 8, "and so the mind when
it thinks of mathematical forms thinks of them as separated, though they are not separated") do not exist apart in reality; the abstracting is only a mental process, so the general idea exists only as a concept, not as a reality. But between the purely spiritual being of God and the crudely material observed in the bodies existing in this world are intermediate forms of existence, such as angels, souls, etc., wherein the form is not impressed upon matter.
Besides this "Fountain of Life" Ibn Gabirol was the author of two ethical treatises, the Tikkun Midwoth han-Nefesh, "the correction of the manners of the soul," in which man is treated as a microcosm after the kabbalistic fashion; and Mibchar hap-Peninim, a collection of ethical maxims collected from the Greek and Arabic philosophers. The former has been published at Luneville in 1804, the latter at Hamburg in 1844.
At the beginning of the sixth century A.H., a younger contemporary of al-Ghazali, we have Abu Bakr ibn Bajja (d. 533 A.H. = 1138 A.D.), the first of the Muslim philosophers of Spain. By this time, some three-quarters of a century after the death of Ibn Sina, Arabic philosophy was almost extinct in Asia and was treated as a dangerous heresy. In Egypt, it is true, there was a greater degree of toleration, though less than in the golden age of the Fatimids, but Egypt was regarded with suspicion as the home of heresy and of forms of superstition which were uncongenial to the philosopher. Spain thus becomes the place
of refuge for Muslim philosophy as it had already become the nursery of Jewish speculation. Ibn Bajja, known to the Latin schoolmen as "Avempace," found in Murabit Spain the freedom and toleration which Asia no longer afforded. He continues the work of al-Farabi, not, it will be noted, of Ibn Sina, and develops the neo-Platonic interpretation of Aristotle on sober and conservative lines. He wrote commentaries on Aristotle's Physics, de generatione et corruptione, and the Meteora; he produced original works on mathematics, on "the soul," and a treatise which he called "The Hermit's Guide," which was used by Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and by the Jewish writer Moses of Narbonne in the 14th cent. A.D. In this last work he makes a distinction between "animal activity," in which action is due to the prompting of the emotions, passions, etc., and "human activity," which is suggested and directed by abstract reason, and from this distinction draws a rule of life and conduct. He is chiefly cited by the Latin schoolmen with reference to the doctrine of "separate substances." "Avempace held that, by the study of the speculative sciences, we are able by means of the images which we know from these ideas to attain to the knowledge of separate substances" (St. Thomas Aq. c. Gentiles, 3, 41). This question as to the possibility of knowing substances separated, i.e. abstracted, from the concrete bodies in which they exist in combinationand the "separate substances" were regarded as spiritual thingswas prominent in
mediæval scholasticism, which inherited it from the Arabic philosophers, and from it came the further question whether the contemplation of such abstract ideas gives us a better knowledge of realities than observation of the concrete bodies. Both Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas associate Avempace especially with this question and with the doctrine of the "acquired intellect," to which we have already referred in our notes on Ibn Sina, and which completes the theory of "separate substances" by supposing that intelligible forms stream into our souls from an outside Agent Intellect by way of emanation as substantial forms descend on corporeal matter. St. Thomas Aquinas shows direct knowledge of Avempace's treatment of these subjects, but this is not so evident in Albertus. Avempace, like all other Arabic philosophers, describes ittisal or union of the human intellect with the Agent Intellect, of which it is an emanation, as the supreme beatitude and final end of human life. By the operation of the Agent Intellect on the latent intellect in man this is awakened to life, but eternal life consists in the complete union of the intellect with the Agent Intellect. In Avempace the Sufi strain is much weaker than in al-Farabi; the means of attaining this union is not by ecstasy, but by a steady disentangling of the soul of those material things which hinder its pure intellectual life and consequent union. This leads us to the teaching of asceticism as the discipline of the soul for its spiritual progress, and the ascetic and solitary life
is the ideal proposed by Avempace. This ascetic and contemplative hermit life is not, however, in any sense a religious life, for in this respect Avempace has advanced far beyond al-Farabi; he is fully conscious that pure philosophy cannot be reconciled with the teachings of revelation, a conviction which now marks the definite separation of the "philosophers" from the orthodox scholastics of Islam, such as al-Ghazali and his school; he regards the teachings of revelation as an imperfect presentation of the truths which are more completely and correctly learned from Aristotle, and only admits the Quran and its religion as a discipline for the multitude whose intelligence neither desires nor is capable of philosophical reasoning. Strangely enough he lived in security, protected from the attacks of hostile theologians, under the protection of the Murabit princes.
Within a few years after the death of Avempace the Murabit dynasty came to an end. The succeeding dynasty, the Muwahhids, were of Berber origin like the Murabits, and, like them, had their origin in a religious revival.
The foundation of the Muwahhids is associated with Ibn Tumart (d. 524 A.H. = 1129 A.D.). He was a native of Morocco, and a strange combination of fanatic and scholastic. He claimed to be a descendant of Ali, and posed as the "Mahdi" possessing the supernatural grace of isma or "security from error," and thus introduced Shiite ideas into Morocco;
and at the same time it was he who introduced to the West the orthodox scholasticism of al-Ghazali, although at the same time he professed to be a follower of Ibn Hazm. He travelled in Asia, where, no doubt, he learned of al-Ghazali and his doctrines. Roughly treated at Mecca he removed to Egypt, where he rendered himself prominent and objectionable by his puritanical criticisms on the manners of the people. Setting out from Alexandria in a ship travelling westwards he occupied himself with a reformation of the morals of the crew, compelling them to observe the correct hours of prayer and the other duties of religion. In 505 he appeared at Mahdiya, where he took up his abode in a wayside mosque. There he used to sit at the window watching the passers-by, and, whenever he saw any of them carrying a jar of wine or a musical instrument, he used to sally out and seize the offensive article and break it. The common people reverenced him as a saint, but many of the wealthier citizens resented his activities, and at length brought a complaint against him before the Emir Yahya. The Emir heard their complaints and observed Ibn Tumart and took note of the impression he had made upon the populace. With characteristic craft the Emir treated the reformer with all possible respect, but advised, nay rather urged, him to bestow the favour of his presence upon some other town as soon as convenient to him, and so he removed to Bijaiya (Bougie in Algeria). Here his ways were extremely unpopular, and he was driven away. He
next settled at Mellala, where he met a boy named Abdu l-Mumin al-Kumi (d. 558), a potter's son, whom he made his disciple and declared to be his successor. At this time the Murabit dynasty had fallen from its original puritanism and was distinguished for the wealth and luxury which had been made possible by the conquest of Spain, and the splendour and ostentation of the royal family at Morocco laid it open to criticism. One Friday a faqir entered the public square where a throne was made ready for the Emir, and, pushing his way through the guards who stood round, boldly took his seat upon the throne and refused to leave. It was the Mahdi Ibn Tumart, and, so great was the superstitious reverence accorded to all faqirs, and to him above all, that none of the guards standing round ventured to remove him by force. At length the Emir himself appeared and, finding who had occupied his official seat, declined to interfere with the redoubtable faqir's will, but it was privately made plain to Ibn Tumart that it would be wise for him to leave the city for a while. The Mahdi therefore retired to Fez, but soon afterwards returned to Morocco. One day he met in the streets the Emir's sister, who had adopted the shameless foreign custom of riding in public without a veil. The Mahdi stopped her and poured out a stream of abuse at her for this neglect of established custom, then, overcome by his indignation, he pulled her off the beast she was riding. He seems, however, to have felt some alarm at his own temerity
and fled forthwith to Tinamel, where he openly raised the standard of revolt against a corrupt and unfaithful dynasty. At first this rebellion did not meet with much success, but, after the Mahdi's death, the leadership fell to his pupil, Abdu l-Mumin, who took Oran, Tlemsen, Fez, Sale, Ceuta, and in 542 became master of Morocco, and in due course seized all the empire of the Murabits. The new dynasty established by Abdu l-Mumin is known by the name of the Muwahhids or "Unitarians," a title which the Spanish historians render by "Almohades," and their rule endured until 667 A.H. (= 1268 A.D.).
Ibn Tumart professed to be a follower of al-Ghazali, and introduced his system of orthodox scholasticism to the West. In canon law he followed the reactionary school of Daud az-Zahiri and Ibn Hazm, like the Murabits who preceded him. To the multitude he was the champion of Berber nationality; he translated the Quran into the Berber language, and caused the call to prayer to be made in Berber instead of Arabic.
Muwahhid rule introduced a period of bigotry and of religious persecution. It was under the rule of this dynasty that we find the Jews leaving the country in large numbers and migrating to Africa or to Provence, and many Christians also fled to join the Castilian forces in the north. Modern historians tend to condemn the later severities of Christian rulers towards their Muslim subjects, and often seem to speak of those subjects as the peaceable and cultured
population which had lived under the Umayyads and the Murabits. But Spain's last experience of the Muslims was of the fierce, bigoted, and persecuting Muwahhids, whose tone was very different. Strangely, however, it was under these intolerant rulers that Spanish Islam passed through its golden age of philosophical speculation, and not only so, but the philosophers were protected and favoured by the Muwahhid court. Quite early in this period the position seems to have been tacitly arranged that the philosophers were absolutely free in their work and teaching, provided that teaching was not spread abroad amongst the populace: it was to be regarded as a species of esoteric truth reserved for the enlightened. It seems almost certain that this attitude was deliberately arranged by the philosophers themselves; it had already been sketched out by some of the Asiatic writers, and definitely laid down by al-Ashari and al-Ghazali, and the Muwahhids, it must be remembered, professed to be Ghazalians. But whilst the philosophers enjoyed this exceptional freedom of speculation, so different from the repressive orthodoxy of the Turkish dynasties in Asia, and defended the system in their writings, the rulers officially were enforcing amongst the multitude of their subjects the severest orthodoxy and the most reactionary system of jurisprudence, so reactionary that it was never admitted by the Asiatic sultans.
The first great leader of philosophical thought in Muwahhid Spain was Ibn Tufayl (d. 581 = 1185),
who was wazir and court physician under the Muwahhid Abu Yaqub (A.H. 558-580). His teaching was in general conformity with that of Ibn Bajja (Avempace), but the mystic element is much more strongly marked. He admits ecstasy as a means of attaining the highest knowledge and of approaching God. But in Ibn Tufayl's teaching this knowledge differs very much from that aimed at by the Sufis: it is mystic philosophy rather than mystic theology. The beatific vision reveals the Agent Intellect and the chain of causation reaching down to man and then back again to itself.
In his views as to the need of removing the doctrines of philosophy from the multitude he shows the same principles as Ibn Bajja, which are those which came to be recognised as the proper official attitude under the Muwahhids, and defends them in a romance called Hayy b. Yaqzan, "the Living One son of the Wakeful," the work by which his name is best remembered. In this story we have the picture of two islands, one inhabited by a solitary recluse who spends his time in contemplation and thereby raises his intellect until he finds that he is able to apprehend the eternal verities which are in the One Active Intellect. The other island is inhabited by ordinary people who are occupied in the commonplace incidents of life and follow the practices of religion in the form known to them. In this way they are content and happy, but fall far short of the complete and perfect happiness of the recluse on the other
island. In course of time the recluse, who is perfectly well aware of the neighbouring island and its inhabitants, begins to feel great pity for them in that they are excluded from the more perfect felicity which he enjoys, and in an honest desire for their welfare, goes over to them and preaches the truth as he has found it. For the most part he is quite unintelligible to them, and the only result is that he produces confusion, doubt, and controversial strife amongst those whom he desired to benefit, but who are incapable of the intellectual life which he has led. In the end he returns to his island convinced that it is a mistake to interfere with the conventional religion of the multitude.
Ibn Rushd (A.H. 520 = 595), known to the West as Averroes, was the greatest of the Arabic philosophers, and was practically their last. He was a native of Cordova and the friend and protégé of Ibn Tufayl, by whom he was introduced to Abu Yaqub in 548. He was, however, more outspoken than Ibn Tufayl, and wrote several controversial works against al-Ghazali and his followers. The family to which he belonged was one whose members usually became jurists, and Ibn Rushd acted as Qadi in various Spanish towns; like most of the Arabic philosophers he studied medicine, and in 578 was appointed court physician to Abu Yaqub. By this time he had finished his career as an author. Under the Muwahhid Abu Yusuf al-Mansur he was censured as a heretic and banished from Cordova. It must be remembered
that the Muwahhids, like the Murabits, were really Moroccan rulers, to whom Spain was a foreign province. It was whilst the Emir was in Spain and at Cordova, making ready for an attack upon the Christians, that Ibn Rushd was disgraced, and it seems probable that this was mainly a matter of policy, as the Emir, on the eve of a religious war, was desirous of proving his own strict orthodoxy by the public disapproval of one who had been rather too outspoken in his speculative theories. As soon as the Emir returned to Morocco the order of exile was revoked, and later on Ibn Rushd appears at the court of Morocco, where he died in 595.
Amongst the Muslims Ibn Rushd has not exercised great influence; it was the Jews who supplied the bulk of his admirers, and they, scattered in Provence and Sicily by Muwahhid persecution, seem to have been chiefly instrumental in introducing him to Latin Christendom.
His chief medical work was known as the Kulliyat, "the universal," which, under the Latinized name of "colliget," became popular as a manual in the mediæval universities where the Arabic system of medicine was in use. He wrote also on jurisprudence a text-book of the law of inheritance, which is still extant in MS., and also produced works on astronomy and grammar. He maintained that the task of philosophy was one approved and commended by religion, for the Quran shows that God commands men to search for the truth. It is only the prejudice of the
unenlightened which fears freedom of thought, because for those whose knowledge is imperfect the truths of philosophy seem to be contrary to religion. On this topic he composed two theological treatises"On the Agreement of Religion with Philosophy" and "On the Demonstration of Religious Dogmas," both of which have been edited by M. J. Mueller. The popular beliefs he does not accept, but he regards them as wisely designed to teach morality and to develop piety amongst the people at large; the true philosopher allows no word to be uttered against established religion, which is a thing necessary for the welfare of the people. Aristotle he regards as the supreme revelation of God to man: with it religion is in total agreement, but as religion is known to the multitude it only partially discloses Divine truth and adapts it to the practical needs of the many; in religion there is a literal meaning, which is all the uneducated are able to attain, and there is an "interpretation," which is the disclosing of deeper truths beneath the surface which it is not expedient to communicate to the multitude. He opposes the position of Ibn Bajja, who inclined to solitary meditation and avoided the discussion of philosophical problems; he admits and desires such discussion provided it is confined to the educated who are able to understand its bearing, and not brought before the multitude who are thereby in danger of having their simple faith undermined. He agrees with Ibn Bajja, however, as against Ibn Tufayl in disapproval of
ecstasy; such a thing may be, but it is too rare to need serious consideration.
There are different classes of men who fall roughly into three groups. The highest of these are those whose religious belief is based on demonstration (burhan), the result of reasoning from syllogisms which are à priori certain; these are the men to whom the philosopher makes his appeal. The lowest stratum contains those whose faith is based on the authority of a teacher or on presumptions which cannot be argued out and are not due to the exercise of pure reason; it is mischievous to put "demonstration" or reason or controversy before people of this type, for it can only cause them doubt and difficulty. Intermediate between these two strata are those who have not attained the use of pure reasonwhich, with Ibn Rushd, seems to be simply intuitionbut are capable of argument and controversy by means of which their faith can be defended and proved; "demonstration" proper is not to be laid before these, but it is right to enter into argument with them and to assist them to rise above the level of those whose belief is based only upon authority.
Most of all, Ibn Rushd opposed the teaching of the mutakallimin or orthodox scholastic theologians, whom he regarded as subverting the pure principles of the Aristotelian philosophy, and of these he considered the worst to be al-Ghazali, "that renegade of philosophy" His leading controversial work is the Destruction of the Destruction (Tahafat at-Tahafat),
which he designed as a refutation of al-Ghazali's Destruction of the Philosophers.
But it was as a commentator on the text of Aristotle that he became best known to subsequent generations amongst the Jews and the later Latin scholastics; he was the great and final commentator. Strangely, however, Ibn Rushd never perceived the importance of reading Aristotle in the original; he had no knowledge of Greek, and gives no sign of supposing that a study of the Greek text would at all assist a student of the philosopher. The method of his commentaries is the time-honoured form derived from the Syriac commentators: a sentence of the text is given and the explanatory comments follow.
In main substance Ibn Rushd reproduces the psychology of Aristotle as interpreted by al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, but with some important modifications. In man is a passive and an active intellect: the active intellect is roused to action by the operation of the Agent Intellect, and thus becomes an acquired intellect; the individual intellects are many, but the Agent Intellect is but one, though present in each, just as the sun is one, but there are in action as many suns as there are bodies which it illuminates. This is the form of the Aristotelian doctrine as it had been transmitted through Ibn Sina; the Agent Intellect is one, but it is as by emanation present in each, so that the quickening power in each one is part of the universal Agent Intellect. But Ibn Rushd differs from his predecessors in his treatment of the passive
intellect, the aql hayyulani, which is the seat of latent and potential faculties upon which the Agent operates. In all the earlier systems this passive intellect was regarded as purely individual and as operated on by the emanation of the universal Agent, but Ibn Rushd regarded the passive intellect also as but a portion of a universal soul and as individual only in so far as temporarily occupying an individual body. Even the passive powers are part of a universal force animating the whole of nature. This is the doctrine of pampsychism, which exercised so strong an attraction for many of the mediæval scholastics, and has its adherents at the present day; thus James (Principles of Psychology, p. 346) says: "I confess that the moment I become metaphysical and try to define the more, I find the notion of some sort of an anima mundi thinking in all of us to be a more promising hypothesis, in spite of all its difficulties, than that of a lot of absolutely individual souls." Ibn Rushd regards Alexander of Aphrodisias as mistaken in supposing that the passive intellect is a mere disposition; it is in us, but belongs to something outside; it is not engendered, it is incorruptible, and so in a sense resembles the Agent Intellect. This doctrine is the very opposite to what is commonly described as materialism, which represents the mind as merely a form of energy produced by the activity of the neural functions. The activity of brain and nerves, according to Ibn Rushd, are due to the presence of an external force; not only, as Aristotle teaches,
at least according to Alexander Aph.'s interpretation, is the highest faculty of the reason due to the operation of the external one Agent Intellect, but the passive intellect on which this agent acts is itself part of a great universal soul, which is the one source of all life and the reservoir to which the soul returns when the transitory experience of what we call life is finished.
Ibn Rushd's views do not receive much attention or criticism from Muslim scholars, but the Christian scholastics brought two main arguments against this theory, one psychological, the other theological. The psychological objection is that it is entirely subversive of individuality: if the conscious life of each is only part of the conscious life of a universal soul there can be no real ego in any one of us; but there is no fact to which consciousness bears clearer witness than the reality and individuality of the ego. This did not touch the possibility that the individual soul might be drawn from a universal soul as its source, nor did it disprove that the individual soul might be reabsorbed again in the universal soul, but in so far as Ibn Rushd's view represented the soul as throughout a part of the universal soul it was argued that this is contrary to experience, which makes it clear that in this present life the ego is very distinctly individual. The theological argument was that Ibn Rushd's view denied the immortality of the soul, and so was contrary to the Christian faith. This objection deals more specifically with the reabsorption of the
soul of the individual in the universal soul; such cessation of separate and individual existence, it was argued, meant that the soul as such no longer existed.
As we have already noted, Aristotle gives a rather narrow range to the highest faculty of reason, confining its activity to the perception of abstract ideas; "as to the things spoken of as abstract (the mind) thinks of them as it would of the being snub-nosed, if by an effort of thought it thinks of it qua snub-nosed, not separately, but qua hollow, without the flesh in which the hollowness is adherent: so when it thinks of mathematical forms, it thinks of them as separated, though they are not separated" (Aristot. de anima. iii. 7, 7-8). Those who followed Alexander Aph. and the neo-Platonists took this "abstract" in a very narrow sense, and in the Arabic commentators these abstractions even become non-substantial beings, as it were disembodied, or rather bodiless, spirits: "in quibusdam libris de Arabico translatis substantiae separatae, quae nos angelos dicimus, intelligentiae vocantur" (S. Thos. Aquin. Quaest. Disp. de anima. 16). Can man know these substantiae separatae by his natural faculties? Ibn Rushd says he can: if otherwise nature has acted in vain, for there would be an intelligibile without an intelligens to understand it; but Aristotle has shewn (Polit. 1, 8, 12) that nature does nothing in vain, so that if there be an intelligibile there must be an intelligens capable of perceiving it. "The commentator (i.e. Ibn Rushd) says in 2 Met. comm. i. (in fine) that if abstract substances
cannot be understood by us then nature has acted in vain, because it made that which is by nature understandable in itself to be not understood by anyone. But nothing is superfluous or in vain in nature. Therefore immaterial substances can be understood by us," (S. Thos. Aquin. Summa. 1, 88.)
As the Agent Intellect enters into communication with relative being it has to suffer the conditions of relativity, and so is not equally efficient in all; it acts on sensible images as form acts on matter, yet the Agent Intellect never becomes corruptible as that on which it acts.
These are in outline the points in the teaching of Ibn Rushd, which show the most marked differences from that of his predecessors, and which afterwards provoked most controversy amongst the Latin scholastics.
Ibn Rushd really ends the illustrious line of Arabic Aristotelians. A few Aristotelian scholars followed in Spain, but with the decay of the Muwahhid power these came to an end. Of those later scholars we may mention Muhyi ad-Din b. Arabi (d. 638) and Abdu l-Haqq b. Sabim (d. 667). The former of these was primarily a Sufi, and shows a strong inclination towards pantheism. Abdu l-Haqq, the last of the Muwahhid circle, was also a Sufi, but at the same time an accurate student of Aristotle. In modern Islam there is no Aristotelian scholarship, save only in logic, where Aristotle has always held his own.