History of Philosophy in Islam, by T.J. de Boer , at sacred-texts.com
1. The sovereignty over Western Islam remained with the Berbers, but the Almohads speedily took the place of the Almoravids. Mohammed ibn Tumart, the founder of the new dynasty, had, from the year 1121, come forward as Mahdi. Under his successors Abu Yaaqub Yusuf (1163-1184) and Abu Yusuf Yaaqub (1184-1198), their sovereignty, which was centred in Marocco, reached its culminating point.
The Almohads brought with them a startling novelty in theology: The system of Ashari and Gazali, which till then had been branded as heretical, was adopted in the West. That meant an infusion of intellectualism into the teaching of the Faith,--a proceeding which could not be altogether satisfactory either to the adherents of the old Faith or to freethinkers, but which may have incited many to farther philosophizing. Hitherto an attitude of repudiation had been maintained towards all reasoning in matters of faith; and, even later, many politicians and philosophers were of opinion that the faith of the multitude should not be violently disturbed, nor elevated to knowledge, but that the provinces of Religion and of Philosophy should be kept scrupulously separate.
The Almohads were interested in questions of theology, but yet Abu Yaaqub and his successors manifested, as far as political conditions permitted, such an appreciation of secular knowledge, that philosophy was enabled to enjoy
2. We find Abu Bekr Mohammed ibn Abdalmalik ibn Tofail al-Qaisi (Abubacer) in the position of Vizir and Body-Physician to Abu Yaaqub, after holding an appointment as Secretary in Granada. His place of birth was the small Andalusian town of Guadix, and he died in Marocco, the seat of Government, in the year 1185. The life that lies between appears to have been by no means eventful. He was fonder of books than of men, and in his sovereign's great library he gathered, by reading, much information which he required for his art, or which met his ardent thirst for knowledge. He was the dilettante of the philosophers of the West, and was more given to contemplative enjoyment than scientific work. Rarely did he set himself to write. We need not perhaps put absolute faith in his assertion that he could have fundamentally improved the Ptolemaic system. Many Arabs made a like assertion, without carrying it into effect.
Of Ibn Tofail's poetic ventures, one or two poems have been preserved to us. But his principal endeavour, like that of Ibn Sina, was to combine Greek Science and Oriental Wisdom into a modern view of the world. That was to him a personal concern, just as it was to Ibn Baddja. He too occupied his mind with the relation of the individual man to Society and its prejudices. But he went farther: Ibn Baddja, as a rule made out the individual thinker or a small association of independent thinkers, as constituting a State within the State,--a copy, as it were, of the great total, or a model for happier times: Ibn Tofail on the other hand, turned to consider the original.
3. He states the case clearly, in his work "Hai ibn Yaqzan". The scenery is contributed by two islands, on
once of which he sets human society with its conventions, and on the other an individual man, who is being developed naturally. This society as a whole is governed by lower impulses, subjected only to some measure of outward restraint by a grossly sensuous religion. But out of this society two men, called Salaman and Asal (Absal, cf. IV, 4 § 7), rise to rational knowledge and control of their desires. Accommodating himself to the popular religion, the first, who is of a practical turn of mind, contrives to rule the people; but the second, being of speculative disposition and mystic leanings, wanders off to the island which lay opposite, and which he imagines to be uninhabited,--there to devote himself to study and ascetic discipline.
On that island, however, our Hai ibn Yaqzan,--i.e. 'the Active one, the son of the Vigilant',--had been trained into a perfect philosopher. Cast upon the island when a child, or else brought into existence there by spontaneous generation, he had been suckled by a gazelle, and then had been in the course of time left, like a Robinson Crusoe, and that entirely, to his own resources. Yet he had secured a material existence, and farther, by observation and reflection, had acquired a knowledge of Nature, the heavens, God, and his own inner being, until after seven times seven years he had attained to that which is highest, viz., the Sufi vision of God, the state of ecstasy. In this situation he was found by Asal. After they had come to understand each other,--for at first Hai was still without-speech,--it was found that the philosophy of the one and the religion of the other were two forms of the same truth, except that in the first form it was somewhat less veiled. But when Hai came to know that on the opposite island an
entire people continued in darkness and error, he resolved to proceed thither and reveal the truth to them. Here, however, he was brought to learn by experience that the multitude were incapable of a pure apprehension of the truth, and that Mohammed had acted wisely in giving the people sensuous forms instead of full light. After this result therefore he repaired again with his friend Asal to the uninhabited island, to serve God in spirit and in truth till the hour of death.
4. Ibn Tofail has devoted by far the largest portion of his romance to the course of Hai's development; but he cannot certainly have thought that the individual man, left to himself, is able, with the resources of Nature alone and without the help of society, to advance so far as Hai did. And yet his conception is perhaps rather more historical, than certain views which have been entertained since his day, e.g. by some of the Rationalists of the 18th century. Many little touches in his work shew that Hai was intended to represent humanity as it stands outside of revelation. That which is accomplished in him, is the development of Indian, Persian and Greek wisdom. One or two hints pointing in that direction, but which cannot be farther followed out here, may help to lend probability to this view. Thus it is significant, to begin with, that Hai lives on the island of Ceylon, the climate of which was held to be such as to render spontaneous generation possible, where also, according to the legend, Adam, the first man, had been created, and where the Indian king came to the Wise Man. Then Hai's first religious sentiment of wonder, after he had struggled up out of the primary, animal stage, through shame and curiosity, is
elicited by fire, which has been discovered by him,--a circumstance which recalls to us the Persian religion. And his farther speculations are borrowed from Greco-Arabic Philosophy.
The affinity to Ibn Sina's Hai, which Ibn Tofail himself indicates, is clear: Only, the figure of Hai in this case presents a more human appearance. With Ibn Sina the character of Hai represents the Superhuman Spirit, but the hero of Ibn Tofail's romance seems to be the personification of the natural Spirit of Mankind illuminated from above; and that Spirit must be in accordance with the Prophet-Soul of Mohammed when rightly understood, whose utterances are to be interpreted allegorically.
Ibn Tofail has thus arrived at the same result as his Eastern predecessors. Religion must still be kept up for the ordinary man, because he cannot go beyond it. It is only a few who rise to an understanding of religious symbols; and very rarely indeed does any one attain to the unrestrained contemplation of the highest reality. This last truth he accentuates with the greatest emphasis. Even if we do find in Hai the representative of human nature, we cannot gainsay this truth; for the representation given sets forth the supreme perfection of Man as consisting in submerging his own self in the World-Spirit, in the most lonely quietude, and withdrawn from all that is sensuous.
It is true that this condition is attained only in mature age, in which, besides, a human friend has been met with; and attention to what is material, and to the arts and sciences, forms the natural preliminary stage of spiritual perfection. Thus Ibn Tofail is permitted to look back without regret or shame upon his life spent at court.
5. We have already met frequently with the philosophical views, which Hai developed in his seven life-periods. But even his practical behaviour is specially considered by Ibn Tofail. Sufi exercises, as they are still observed among the religious orders of the East, and as they had been recommended even by Plato and the Neo-Platonists, have taken the place of the observances of religious worship enjoined by the Muslim Law. And Hai forms for himself in the seventh period of his life a system of Ethics which has a Pythagorean appearance.
Hai has set before him as the aim of his action,--to seek for the One in all things and to unite himself to the absolute and the self-existing. He sees in fact all Nature striving to reach this Highest Being. He is far above the view that everything on the earth exists for the sake of Man. Animals and plants likewise live for themselves and for God; and thus he is not permitted to deal capriciously with them. He now restricts his bodily wants to what is absolutely necessary. Ripe fruits are preferred by him, the seeds of which he piously consigns to the soil, taking anxious precaution that no kind may die out through his avidity. And only in extreme need does he touch animal food, in which case he seeks in like manner to spare the species. 'Enough for life, not enough for sleep' is his motto.
That has reference to his bodily attitude towards the earthly; but the living principle binds him to the heavens, and, like the heavens, he strives to be useful to his surroundings, and to keep his own life pure. He therefore tends the plants and protects the animals about him, in order that his island may become a paradise. He pays scrupulous attention to the cleanliness of his person and
his clothing, and endeavours to give a harmonious turn to all his movements, in conformity with those of the heavenly bodies.
In this way he is gradually rendered capable of elevating his own self above earth and heaven to the pure Spirit, That is the condition of ecstasy, which no thought, no word, no image has ever been able to comprehend or express.