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 Fārābī, Ibn Sīnā (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 Fārābī exercised a great influence
on the philosophy of the Middle Ages; his book Ishā’ al-‘Ulūm 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.
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 Fārābī’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 Kindī, Fārābī, Ibn Sīnā and Ibn Rushd. In his book
on Spinoza, Dunnin Borkoswki has shown that Fārābī 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 Fārābī’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 Fārābī 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.
one century elapse after the first translations of Arabic works when the
European thinkers decided to choose the philosophy of Ibn Sīnā as representative
of Islamic Philosophy. Gundislivus translated ‘al-Shifā’ (The Book of Cure) into
Latin while Gerard of Cremona translated al-Qānūn 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 Sīnā 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 Sīnā’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 Sīnā
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 Sīnā, 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 Sīnā even where it diverged from Christian beliefs. Those were called by
Pere de Vaux ‘Latin Aviceninans’.
Christian thinkers to be influenced by Ibn Sīnā was Gundisalivus, the head of
the Translation Bureau in Spain. He wrote his book: The Soul in which he started
with Ibn Sīnā and ended with Augustinus. He adopted Ibn Sīnā’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 Sīnā 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 Sīnā’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’ (Fārābī, Ibn Sīnā and Ghazzālī). This theologian mentioned Ibn
Sīnā about forty times in his books sometimes opposing his ideas, other times
citing his definitions and examples. He adopts Ibn Sīnā’s definition of truth as
‘what corresponds in the mind to what is outside it’. He also adopts Ibn Sīnā’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-Shifā’ and ‘al-Ishārāt’ 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 Sīnā the greatest leader of Arabic thought and a philosopher next only to
Aristotle. Bacon admired Ibn Sīnā’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 Sīnā 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
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 Fārābī 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
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
Arabic Thought, etc., London 1939.
Introduction to the History of Science.
Brokovsky, Der Junge Spinoza, 1910.