Saudi Aramco World: May/June 2014 - page 8

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Saudi Aramco World
cave and emerges into the light, so too Hayy ascends through var-
ious stages of understanding, through experimentation and con-
templation, to arrive at an understanding of God,” said Enrique.
How Ibn Tufayl came to know and write about such lofty
concepts had to do not only with Guadix, but also with his fam-
ily background, education, the times into which he was born,
and a bit of historical luck. A descendant of the prominent Qais
tribe that harked back to the Arabian Peninsula, Ibn Tufayl was
born around 1116. While details of his education are scant,
much of what is known about him comes from the pen of the
13th-century Moroccan historian Abdelwahid al-Marrakushi,
who wrote that Ibn Tufayl “studied under a number of those
most accomplished” and was among al-Andalus’s “most
versatile scholars.” He also had interest “in reconciling [the
fields of] philosophical
knowledge and [reli-
gious] law.”
Ibn Tufayl’s first
big break came in
1147—he would have
recently turned 30—when he traveled to Marrakesh with Ibn
Milhan, former ruler of Guadix. Both an able administrator
and a skilled engineer, Ibn Milhan had been summoned by the
Almohad caliph ‘Abd al-Mu’min to supervise construction of
the irrigation system for the royal gardens. Why Ibn Tufayl
tagged along is unclear, but while at court, he impressed the
caliph, who appointed him personal secretary to his son Abu
Sa’id. After al-Mu’min’s death in 1163, Ibn Tufayl returned
to the court as a personal physician for the succeeding caliph,
Abu Ya’qub Yusuf, a post he held until the caliph’s death in
1184. During this time he gained a reputation in science, math-
ematics and medicine.
In the last years of his life, wrote al-Marrakushi, his “preoc-
cupation … was with spiritual knowledge at the expense of all
else, and he was anxious to reconcile philosophy and religion.”
He began writing
Hayy
, and it was at the right time and in the
right place, but only just.
Under the Almohads, philosophy was, in general, frowned
upon. Fortunately for Ibn Tufayl, Abu
Ya’qub Yusuf was altogether unlike his two
predecessors. “He continually gathered
books from all corners of Spain and North
Africa and sought out knowledgeable men,
especially thinkers, until he gathered more
than any previous king in the west,” wrote
al-Marrakushi. So taken was the caliph
with Ibn Tufayl “that he stayed with him
in the palace, night and day, not coming
out for days at a time.”
Abu Ya’qub Yusuf relocated his Anda-
lusian capital from Córdoba to Seville and
there, today, Rafael Valencia is a professor
of Arab and Islamic Studies at the Univer-
sity of Seville, where the broad and time-
less themes of
Hayy ibn Yaqzan
make it
required reading.
“What you find in
Hayy ibn Yaqzan
is not only Muslim knowledge or Arab
knowledge, but universal, human knowl-
edge,” Valencia said.
Beyond the allegorical text of
Hayy ibn Yaqzan
, another
major symbol of Hayy’s journey—and thus of Ibn Tufayl’s
philosophy—can be understood by looking up inside one of
Spain’s most treasured bits of historic real estate, located east,
in Granada: the Alhambra.
Walking in the company of art historian José Miguel Puerta
Vilchez, a founding member and vice president of the Almeria-
based Fundación Ibn Tufayl de Estudios Árabes (Ibn Tufayl
Foundation for Arabic Studies), I had my eyes opened to the
symbolism crafted into the building’s textured walls and ceil-
ings. As we entered the Hall of the Comares (known also as
The Throne Room), Vilchez drew my attention to the ceiling.
“There is an astral dimension to this ceiling, which evokes
the order of the cos-
mos,” said Vilchez,
pointing to the lace-
like, geometric pattern
of 8,017 polygonal
pieces of red, green
and white painted wood panels that are arranged in seven con-
centric corbels, culminating in an octagon with a center of the
purest white, outshining the rest.
“Ibn Tufayl relates the story of Hayy in a series of seven seven-
year periods, so the number seven is very present and important
in his work,” said Vilchez. “Here in the Comares ceiling, we can
find not only the seven heavens, but also the Neo-Platonic theory
of emanation that was so central to
Hayy ibn Yaqzan
.”
Though constructed two centuries after the publication of
Hayy ibn Yaqzan
, the deeply symbolic architectural poetry of
the Alhambra, said Vilchez, nonetheless represents an earthly
expression of the book’s predominant idea: that human wisdom,
through a process of determined self-awareness and self-exami-
nation, may come to know the divine source of that wisdom.
In 1492, the Alhambra and Granada fell to the armies of
Ferdinand
II
of Aragon and Isabella
I
of Castile. Muslim Spain,
al-Andalus, was no more. Yet even as these Christian armies
marched south, the ideas behind Ibn Tufayl’s little novel were
Ibn Tufayl’s predominant idea was that human wisdom
can come to apprehend its own divine source.
“D
ix
it
A
bu
bach
er
(“Abubace
r
[Ibn Tufay
l]
said”
) beg
i
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p
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thi
s
copy, now in
th
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t th
e U
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y
of G
en
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,
of
t
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fi
rst Latin
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Ibn Yaqzan,
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od
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9
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Ale
manno.
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