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Khan is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Adrian College in Michigan. He
is on the board of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, Center for Balanced
Development and the Association of Muslim Social Scientists.
He earned his Ph.D. in International Relations, Political Philosophy, and Islamic
Political Thought, from Georgetown University in May 2000.
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IBN RUSHD: The
Dr. M. A. Muqtedar Khan
(First Published in Islamic Horizons Sept/Oct 1998, pp. 48-49.)
This brief article is dedicated to
the memory of Ibn Rushd (1128-1198). On the 800 hundredth anniversary of his death, I
would like to remember the contributions of this great Muslim. Abul-Waleed Muhammad Ibn
Rushd was born in Cardova, Spain in 520 A.H. (1128 C.E.).
During his life time Ibn Rushd worked as a Qadi (judge) in Morocco and Spain and was for
over ten years the Chief Qadi of Cardova. He was also a physician and adviser at the
courts of the Moroccan Caliph and the Spanish Caliph.
Ibn Rushd wrote over 87 books on philosophy and over twenty on medicine. He wrote
commentaries on Aristotle's Anima and Politics, on Plato's Republic and on Farabi's Logic.
While his commentaries made him the most famous philosopher in the West from the 12th to
the 17th century, his most original works in philosophy were Fas al-Maqal (The Decisive
Treatise), al-Kashf `an Manahij al-Adillah (The Exposition ofthe Methods of Proof) and
Tahafut al-Tahafut (The Incoherence of Incoherence). In the first two books he challenges
Asharite theology in order to emphasize the harmony of philosophy and religion, or reason
and faith. In the third he takes on Al-Ghazali's attack on philosophy head on and in the
process makes his own position on the relation between philosophy and religion clear. He
uses this opportunity to also provide an Islamic understanding of Aristotle.
Ibn Rushd, like Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina before him, saw no discordance between
religion and philosophy. He maintained that both philosophy and religion were capable of
leading humanity to truth. Interestingly, unlike other philosophers Ibn Rushd recognized
the validity and significance of prophecy. He also believed that shariah derived from
prophecy was definitely superior to the nomos (laws)derived from reason. However, Ibn
Rushd was also convinced that the philosophers approach to both nature and revealed text
was superior to that of the fuqaha (jurists) and the mutkallimoon (theologians).
Ibn Rushd identified three methods to knowledge. The burhan (method of logical
demonstration) was the most superior method and in his opinion only the philosopher was
capable of employing this approach. The second was jadal (dialectical). Jadal according to
Ibn Rushd was the method used by theologians. And finally the art of Khatabah (rhetoric,
sophistry and persuasion). This method Ibn Rushd argued was to be used while dealing with
the masses. Indeed the theologians were masters of this art, which often prompted Islamic
philosophers to use the Greek analogy of sophists for Muslim theologians.
Ibn Rushd represents a unique
convergence of philosophy, religion, science and law. For over four decades he was a
prominent judge in al-Andalus and was not only a major practitioner of Maliki law but he
was also an important scholar of Maliki jurisprudence. As a court physician and the author
of the famous text Kulliyat, known and widely used in Western medical schools as Colliget,
Ibn Rushd was the preeminent medical practitioner of his time. His impact on the study of
medicine was felt for over 500 years. He is well known for his commentaries on Aristotle
and for his critique of Neoplatonism of al-Farabi and Ibn Sina. But he is best known for
his reconciliation of religion and philosophy, aql (reason) and naql (tradition).
Ibn Rushd used Quranic injunctions to reflect upon and to observe Allah's signs as an
injunction to philosophize. He genuinely believed that the methodology of the theologians
was not adequate to elucidate the divine Shariah and in an extremely clever fashion
underscored the religious necessity of philosophy. Ibn Rushd's contribution to reconciling
philosophy and religion actually was a deconstruction of the differences between Asharite
theologians and ancient Greek philosophers. He was able to show that the elements of
Aristotelian and Platonic philosophy that the Asharites deemed unIslamic was indeed within
the domain of the freedom of thought allowed by Islamic shariah.
Philosophy, since Ibn Rushd has evolved very much and so has theology. Indeed we are
living in an era which is witnessing the emergence of a philosophical tradition explicitly
opposed to "reason" (postmodernism). Moreover modern philosophy and its
secularized world view make us wonder whether even Ibn Rushd can bridge the gap between
religion and modernity today?. One of the unfortunate consequences of the decline of
philosophy in the Muslim world has been the stagnation of Islamic sciences.
Deprived of the intellectual challenge from philosophy, Islamic theology has become
stunted and indeed in dire need of reexamination. Islamic philosophy had played a major
role in the development of Islamic theology and Fiqh. Remember, initially the sources of
Islamic Law were, The Quran and the Sunnah alone. But the development of the Usul al-fiqh
and the use of ijtihad (independent reasoning) has led tothe recognition that public
interest and reason can also contribute tolegislation, particularly in areas on which the
original sources (Quranand Sunnah) are silent. This development transpired when Islamic
theologians and jurists were forced to respond to challenges posed by rational theologians
like the muttazalites and philosophers.
Thus the dialectics between reason and revelation was played out as debates between
philosophers and theologians, between Sufis (mystics) and Fuqaha (jurists). The debates
between Al-Ghazali and Ibn Rushd, and IbnRushd and Ibn Taymiyyah, are great milestones in
the general development of Islamic thought. As inheritors of this great intellectual
tradition we are indeed blessed. It is time that we remember the contributions of Ibn
Rushd to Islamic thought.
The great Muslim philosopher enriched Islamic discourses through his writings on Law and
his debates with the theologians. He also enriched and indeed transformed Christian
theology through Aquinas and Jewish theology through Maimonides. We need to revive the
spirit of Ibn Rushd to once again inject vitality into Islamic thought. Even though we
lament the fact that Ibn Rushd did not have a great impact on Islamic thought and are
jealous of the West which has benefited from him so much, we can remember with pride his
role in the most fascinating debate between philosophers and theologians that spanned four
centuries. This debate remains an integral part of the development of Islamic thought and
Ibn Rushd played a central role in it. We conclude by reminding our readers that great
scholars like Ibn Rushd are jewels not only in the heritage of Islam but also in the
legacy of World civilization. Ibn Rushd may not have been a Philosopher-King but he was
indeed a King amongst philosophers.