Averroes 800th anniversary celebrated, Arabs awaken Europe from Dark Ages

Arabic News.com, 6 August 1998

On Saturday the French Sorbonne university held celebrations marking the eight hundredth anniversary of the death of renowned Arab philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd), who was born in Cordoba in 1126 AD and died in Morocco in 1199 AD.

Famous Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Shahin's film Fate, will be shown during the ceremony. The film sheds light on the eventful biography of Averroes and his achievements in different areas of knowledge. He is ranked by many modern philosophers as the greatest Muslim philosopher and scientist of his day.

Born in Cordoba in Moorish Spain in 1126, Ibn Rushd as a young man rapidly became a favorite of the Caliph Abu Yaqub and his successor, Yaqoub al-Mansour, who ruled Spain. At the height of his powers Ibn Rushd found himself briefly out of favor with Caliph Yaqoub al-Mansour and close to being exiled in Marrakesh instead.

People believe that Ibn Rushd was bracketed along with traditionalist philosophers by the caliph who believed that the traditionalists were opposed to his own philosophical viewpoint and were not being sufficiently dynamic in mobilizing Islam against the mounting Christian offensive in Spain. Ibn Rushd chose Marrakesh because the more liberal and open atmosphere was more conducive to the line of thought he was developing, but after a brief three years in exile he was recalled to Spain by Caliph Yaqoub al-Mansour. He expounded the ideas and works of Aristotle and Plato and made new studies on logic and rational behavior.

There are one or two names who made substantial contributions along many lines to fields of knowledge. Chief of these is Ibn Rushd, best known as Averroes, the great physician and writer on medicine who understood the function of the retina in the eye and who guessed correctly the reason why smallpox does not affect the same patient twice. He was known primarily, though, as a commentator on Aristotle and was studied in Latin translation at the university of Paris. Thence, the stream of knowledge found its way into central Europe and into England.

As the Muslim armies swept westward across North Africa and into Spain, they brought with them their language, thought patterns and attitudes towards life. Indeed it is chiefly through Spain that the learning which had been translated and transmitted by means of Arabic, poured into Europe, and left its traces everywhere. The rich Arabic narrative style is manifested in Don Quixote, whose author was once a prisoner in Algiers where he is reputed to have learned Arabic. An Arab poet, Wallada, daughter of one of the Umayyad's caliphs in Spain, attained a unique reputation for eloquence and wit. It was the Arab ballad which helped to foster the romantic spirit and furnished the setting for the subsequent rise of chivalry.

Universities were established in chief cities such as Toledo, Seville, and Granada with thousands of students enrolled in them, These universities were supplemented by libraries, both public and private. The introduction of paper from China via the Arabs into Europe made feasible the use of printing press and all that subsequently developed from the combination.

Among historians of the period in Spain must be mentioned Ibn Khaldoun whose Prolegomena to his famous history marks an epoch in the writing of history, for he synthesized the effects of climate, geography, environment and moral and spiritual influences on the actions of men, anticipating the study of sociology and being, indeed, one of the very first to organize its legitimacy.

The best-known geographer of the time to us today is Ibn Battouta, the globe—trotter. It was the Arab geographers who kept alive the notion of a spherical earth. Columbus, further, on his part, supplemented the idea with that of a corresponding summit on the other side.

In surgery the Arabs produced al-Zuheiri, who knew the technique of cauterization, and could crush stone in the bladder. He also designed numerous surgical instruments which were widely copied.

Thus, slowly but irresistibly, the shadow of the Dark Ages was dispelled. As the European mind awoke it not alone assimilated but vastly added to that store of knowledge, a process of which the West is the heir and to which they are the acknowledged debtors.