Ibn Tufayl

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Ibn Tufayl or Ibn Tufail (c.1105 – 1185), full name: Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Tufail al-Qaisi al-Andalusi أبو بكر محمد بن عبد الملك بن محمد بن طفيل القيسي الأندلسي (Latinised form: Abubacer), was an Andalusian Arab Muslim philosopher, physician, and court official. He served as personal physician and vizier to Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf, the Almohad ruler of Al-Andalus, until 1182 (578 a.h.), when he resigned and recommended Averroes as his own successor.

Ibn Tufail is best known for Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (The Living Son of the Vigilant, literally "Alive son of Awake"), a philosophical romance about the relationship between philosophy and religion. It is the story of Hayy, a man who grows up alone on an uninhabited island, and through the exercise of his reason, eventually reaches knowledge of the divine. He then encounters Absal, a man who deeply understands religious truths through symbols and rituals. The two come to realize that they are speaking of the same truths. Hayy goes to a neighboring island to try to speak to the people about the truth, but finds that they are unable to understand direct truth and that they need their religion in order to maintain social stability. He concludes that such people can never achieve eternal happiness because they are too preoccupied with the physical world, and returns to the deserted island to practice mysticism with Absal.


Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Malik Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Tufayl al-Qaysi (known to the medieval West as Abubacer) was born in Wadi Ash, Guadix, sixty kilometers northeast of Granada, Spain. Based on the fact that he was sixty years old when he met Ibn Rushd (Averroes) in 1169 (564 a.h.), it is estimated that he was born in the first decade of the twelfth century (sixth century a.h.). Educated by Ibn Bajjah (Avempace), he served as a secretary for the ruler of Granada, and in 1154 (549 a.h.) became secretary to the governor of Ceuta and Tangier. He attracted the attention of Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf, the Almohad ruler of Al-Andalus, who made him his vizier and personal physician, until 1182 (578 a.h.), when he resigned and recommended Averroës as his own successor. He remained in the caliph’s favor, but when the caliph died in 1185 some scholars say he was accused of poisoning him; however when Ibn Tufayl died a year later, the caliph’s son was present at his funeral. Ibn Tufayl died in Marrakech, Morocco in 1186.

Thought and Works

Except for some fragments of poetry, Tufayl’s only extant work is Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (The Living Son of the Vigilant, literally "Alive son of Awake") (حي بن يقظان), a philosophical romance about the relationship between philosophy and religion. It included a framework for a natural classification of the sciences, a discussion of spontaneous generation, and miscellaneous scientific information. Among his contemporaries Tufayl had a reputation as a physician. He wrote two medical treatises, advised Ibn Rushd on his commentaries and his Kulliyat a tib, and suggested to al-Bitruji a modification of his theory of homocentric spheres. Tufayl’s Al-Urjuza, a Rajaz (didactic) poem on diagnosis, therapeutics and material medication, was greater than Avicenna’s medical treatise, containing 7707 verses divided into 250 chapters.

Hayy Ibn Yaqzan

Ibn Tufail took the name of his book, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, and most of its characters from earlier works by Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Hayy Ibn Yaqzan and Salaman and Absal; and it was based on an ancient eastern tale, The Story of the Idol and of the King and His Daughter. The book addressed one of the main concerns of Muslim philosophers, the reconciliation of philosophy with revelation. In Spain and the Maghrib, philosophy was regarded with suspicion by the religious majority, as a threat which challenged the truths of religion and endangered religious faith. Though the scholarly elite was interested in philosophy, they pursued it in secrecy. Ibn Tufail addressed his readers directly in the introduction and the conclusion of his work, but in the story itself he used a “thin veil” of symbolism to express his philosophical views.

The book tells the story of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, a child who grows up in total isolation from humans. The story gives two accounts of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan’s birth; in one account he is born spontaneously when the mixture of elements in mud reaches a state where it is possible to receive a human soul from the divine world. In another, he is the son of a beautiful woman, the sister of the ruler of an island. Desiring to keep her marriage to her relative, Yaqzan, secret from her brother, she puts the baby carefully into a box and throws it into the sea, which carries him to an uninhabited island. On the island, the baby is discovered by a gazelle, who nurtures him until her death seven years later.

Gazing on the dead gazelle, Hayy begins to question the nature and origin of life. He examines all the animals and forms of nature around him, and through seven phases, by the exercise of his faculties of reasoning, he eventually comes to knowledge of the divine. Though he can not determine whether the universe was eternal or created at a given point in time, he realizes that it depends on a first cause. He also realizes that the aspect of himself which recognizes this first cause is non-physical, and that the more he detaches himself from his physical senses, the more clearly he sees a vision of the First Cause. Eventually Hayy achieves pure vision of the First Cause, a state beyond the world of nature and sense experience.

At this point, a man named Absal, who deeply understands religious truths through symbols and rituals, comes to the island in search of solitude. He teaches Hayy to speak, and after hearing his story, realizes that the realities of which Hayy is speaking are the same realities described in his own religion as God, the angels, the holy books, prophets, and the afterlife. Hayy also finds the religious truths described by Absal in agreement with what he has come to know, but can not understand why Absal's religion resorts to symbols and permits indulgence in material things.

Hayy convinces Absal to accompany him to explain the truth to the people of the neighboring island. Hayy is respected by the elders until he tries to go beyond the literal meaning of their Scripture. He is then shunned, as the people go about their materialistic daily lives. Hayy realizes that such people are unable to grasp direct truth, and that they need their religion to preserve social stability. These people will never secure happiness in the afterlife, because they are preoccupied with the physical world. Hayy concludes that though reason and religion recognize the same truths, the majority of people adhere to religion in order to achieve worldly success. He returns with Absal to the deserted island to practice mysticism in isolation.

Hayy Ibn Yaqzan was translated into Hebrew, and a commentary was written on it in 1349 by Moses ibn Joshua of Narbonne. A Latin translation of the work, entitled Philosophus autodidactus, first appeared in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke the Younger. The first English translation (by Simon Ockley) was published in 1708.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • ’Abīd ibn al-Abraṣ, Charles James Lyall, and ‘Āmir ibn al-Ṭufail. 1913. The Dı'wāns of ‘Abı'd ibn al-Abraṣ, of Asad, and ‘Āmir ibn aṭ-Ṭufail, of ‘Amir ibn Ṣa’ṣa’ah. "E.J.W. Gibb memorial" series, v. 21. Leyden: Brill.
  • Abū Bakr ibn al-Tufail, Abū Jafar, and A.S. Fulton. 1986. The history of Hayy ibn Yaqzan. London: Darf. ISBN 1850770875
  • Abū Bakr ibn Al-Ṭufail, Abu Ja'far. 1708. The improvement of human reason exhibited in the life of Hai ebn Yokdhan: written in Arabick above 500 years ago, by Abu Jaafar ebn Tophail. London: Edm. Powell, and J. Morphew.
  • Colville, Jim, Muḥammad ibn 'Abd al-Malik Ibn Ṭufayl, and Averroës. 1999. Two Andalusian philosophers. The Kegan Paul Arabia library, v. 6. London: Kegan Paul International. ISBN 0710306431
  • Ibn Tufail, Abu Bakr, Simon Ockley, and A.S. Fulton. 1929. The history of Hayy ibn Yaqzan. London: Chapman & Hall.
  • Khalidi, Muhammad Ali. 2004. Medieval Islamic philosophical writings. Cambridge texts in the history of philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521822432
  • Saleem, Sara, and Sabir Abduh Ibrahim. 1985. Abu Bakr the truthful: the first Caliph. London: Ta Ha. ISBN 090746145X
  • Ṭufayl ibn ‘Awf al-Ghanawī, Ṭirimmāḥ ibn Ḥakīm al-Ṭā’ī, and Fritz Kremkow. 1927. The poems of Tufail ibn 'Auf al-Ghanawī and al-Tirimmāh ibn Hakīm al-Tāy'ī. E. J. Gibb memorial series, v. 25. London: Luzac.

External links

All links retrieved January 25, 2018.

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