Cultural relations between the Muslims and Christian
Europe were established in two ways: first via Spain and second by way of
Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples. The translation of Arabic works into Latin
was closely associated with the name of the theologian Raymond who was the
Archbishop of Toledo from 1130 to 1150 AD. In Toledo, the Muslims lived side
by side with the Christians. They lived in the capital and the seat of the
Archbishop spurred their neighbours into taking an interest in the
intellectual life of the Muslims. In Toledo, Raymond established a translation
bureau the purpose of which was to render Arabic masterpieces into Latin.
Among works translated were Arabic versions of Aristotle’s works as well as
original works by Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). These
translations were made under the supervision of Gundiaslivus (d. 1151)
followed by Gerard of Cremona (d. 1187).
The result of translating
Arabic works into Latin was a new intellectual effort on the part of both
supporters and opponents. Thus the point of view of Western thinkers was
broadened and Islamic thought acquired a new importance with them.
It is an accepted fact now
among Western thinkers that Farabi exercised a great influence on the
philosophy of the Middle Ages; his book Isha’ al-‘Ulum was translated into
Latin and was established in Christian schools, just as it had been in Islamic
schools, as an indispensable reference. Many thinkers made use of this work,
such as Roger Bacon (1214-1280 AD), Jerome of Moravia (the first half of the
13th century), Raymond Lull (1235-1315 AD) and many others.
In an interesting research
work on the influence of the Arabs on music, Farmer showed that this book was
of great value to research workers on the theory of music from among
Europeans. He explained that the value of this book lies in the fact that it
has drawn the attention of Western thinkers to Arabic science. Farmer came to
the conclusion that Farabi’s book led research workers, who flocked from all
parts of the world, to Islamic Spain to quaff from the spring of Arabic works
on music, by men like Kindi, Farabi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd. In his book on
Spinoza, Dunnin Borkoswki has shown that Farabi exercised great influence in
the Middle Ages on Hebrew thinkers who translated his works into Hebrew. It
seems that this influence travelled through some Jewish theologians such as
Maimonides and Ben Gerson and came down to modern times until it reached
Spinoza. In fact anyone who reads Spinoza’s De Emendatione Intellectus would
be struck by the great similarity between this book and Farabi’s book What
Should Precede the Study of Philosophy. The succession of ideas in the two
books is the same and the motive behind philosophizing in both is the same.
Even the final aim of the two books is the same, namely, the knowledge of God
“in order to follow His example as much as lies in the human capacity”, as Farabi puts it.
It is not surprising that
Spinoza should find in the doctrines of Islamic philosophers, mentioned by his
masters, what he missed in thinkers of the Jewish creed such as Ben Gerson,
Crescas and Ben Ezra.
Scarcely did one century
elapse after the first translations of Arabic works when the European thinkers
decided to choose the philosophy of Ibn Sina as representative of Islamic
Philosophy. Gundislivus translated “al-Shifa” (The Book of Cure) into Latin
while Gerard of Cremona translated al-Qanun which became a text-book for
Medicine in all European Colleges from the 13th to the 17th century. It was
due to this book that Ibn Sina achieved fame in the West, so much so that
Dante put him on a level between Hyppocrates and Galenus, while Scalinger went
as far as to placing him in the same category as Galenus in medicine, but on
an even higher level in philosophy.
In a series of valuable
research works, Professor Gilson has explained the extent of Ibn Sina’s
influence on European thought in the Christian Middle Ages. He has also shown
the close relation between this Muslim philosopher and the theologians of the
school of Augustinus, asserting that western philosophy in the 13th century
was no more than diverse attitudes towards Aristotle on the one hand and Ibn
Sina and Ibn Rushd on the other. The followers of Augustinus took from these
new ideas a certain set to complete their doctrine (with a few
interpretations), at the same time discarding other sets. They took from Ibn
Sina, for instance, the illumination of the “active intellect”, yet they apply
to God the same meanings as he gives to the intellect of the moon’s sphere.
Gilson proposed that this trend of thought in Europe should be given the name
of ‘L’Augustinisme Avicennisant’ (Avicennian Augustinism). After Gilson, other
Western scholars extended their study of this important subject and dealt with
scholastic thinkers who were not Augustinians. In 1934 Pere de Vaux published
his research on ‘L’Avincennisme Latin’ in the 12th and 13th centuries. In that
research, he showed that Christian theologians with a tendency to Avicennism
quaffed at the springs of Islamic philosophy, using it as a source of their
inspiration. Besides these, however, there were other thinkers who followed
the doctrines of Ibn Sina even where it diverged from Christian beliefs. Those
were called by Pere de Vaux “Latin Aviceninans”.
The first Christian thinkers
to be influenced by Ibn Sina was Gundisalivus, the head of the Translation
Bureau in Spain. He wrote his book: The Soul in which he started with Ibn Sina
and ended with Augustinus. He adopted Ibn Sina’s proofs of the existence of
the soul, indicating that it was a substance and not an accident, immortal and
spiritual. He also adopted from Ibn Sina his famous symbol known as “the man
suspended in space” with no relation with the outside world, and yet his mind
revealing to him that he is a thinking being which exists. That symbol was
mentioned by many authors of the Christian Middle Ages, and so it is possible
that Descartes (17th century) received it from them and expressed it in his
Meditations in the formula cagito ergo sum.
An evidence of Ibn Sina’s
influence on Christian Middle Ages can perhaps be revealed in the strong
attack launched by Guillaume d’Auvergne (died 1249) against Aristotle and his
“disciples” (Farabi, Ibn Sina and Ghazali). This theologian mentioned Ibn Sina
about forty times in his books sometimes opposing his ideas, other times
citing his definitions and examples. He adopts Ibn Sina’s definition of truth
as “what corresponds in the mind to what is outside it.” He also adopts Ibn
Sina’s distinction between “essence” and “existence”, as well as his inference
that the soul can be conscious of itself without resorting to the body. This
is the proof mentioned in al-Shifa and al-Isharat and has just been mentioned
as the “symbol of the suspended man”.
Roger Bacon was a true
representative of what Gilson called the Avicennian Augustinism. He saw in Ibn
Sina the greatest leader of Arabic thought and a philosopher next only to
Aristotle. Bacon admired Ibn Sina’s forceful proof of the immortality of the
soul, and of happiness in the other world, of reincarnation, of creation and
of the existence of angels.
There is not doubt, then, that
Ibn Sina enriched philosophy and science to an extent which made him one of
the glories of human thought.
When we move on to Ibn Rushd,
we find that his commentary on Aristotle’s philosophy won for him great
admiration in Europe, to the extent that Dante called him “The Great
Commentator”. It is a well-known fact that the people at the school of Padova
in Italy were followers of the doctrine of Ibn Rushd, and that Siger de Braban
was the leader of the school of Ibn Rushd in France during the 13th century.
The doctrine ascribed to Ibn Rushd continued to be studied in Europe, both in
books and universities from the middle of the 13th century to the early part
of the 17th century.
Scholars of Spinoza’s
philosophy will find that the attitude of this Jewish philosopher towards
matters of philosophy, religion, divine inspiration and prophecy similar to
that of Farabi and Ibn Rushd before him. Perhaps Spinoza learnt something of
Muslim theories through Maimonides and especially those of Ibn Rushd through
the Jewish physician Joseph del Medigo, one of the followers of the school of
Ibn Rushd in the 17th century.
Lastly we must refer to the
debt which Jewish philosophy owes to Arabic philosophy. Suffice it to say that
Aristotle’s works were not translated into Hebrew, but Jewish philosophers
were content with what the Muslims wrote as summaries and commentaries. It was
discovered by western scholars that Jewish theologians followed in the steps
of Muslim philosophers, and that thinkers before Maimonides owed their methods
and ideas in religion to them. They also discovered that The Guide for the
Bewildered by Maimonides, although full of criticism of the opinions of Muslim
philosophers, shows beyond any doubt the importance of Muslim philosophy, and
its influence on Jewish thought.
We do not, however, want
anyone to think that we are trying to boast unjustifiably of the achievements
of the Muslims; in actual fact what we have briefly given here is derived from
what western scholars themselves have written, both in the Middle Ages and in
our own time. According to their testimony, western culture has greatly
profited by the material contributed by the thinkers of Islam.
When the time comes for the
doctrines of Islamic philosophers to be studied as they should, and when their
unpublished heritage comes to light, we shall then be able to truly show the
right place of Muslim philosophy in the intellectual heritage of humanity.
The philosophers of Islam we
have mentioned above are close to us; indeed they still live in us. We shall
not get rid of our history however much we may recant it, just as man cannot
get rid of his past life, however much he may try to forget it.