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Khaled Abou el-Fadl THE CONFERENCE OF THE BOOKS – THE SEARCH FOR BEAUTY IN ISLAM Chapter 35: A Homily for Ibn Rushd page 141 – 147 The clocks surrounding this desk count the pages turned. The rustle of pages and the pattering of clocks are the only sounds to be heard. The sound of inhales and exhales seem like an unwarranted intrusion¢â‚¬”unwelcome and irreconcilable. An intrusion. The squeaking of the chair is another bodily contribution. It relentlessly intrudes and disturbs the symmetry of the intellect, its timelessness, and its perfect isolation. The aching muscles, the redundant breathing, the stale moisture of sweat, and the deterioration and friction of metal remind us of our agonizing limitations. The grasp of the intellect, the abstractions of thought, and the immateriality of words promise us a glimpse of the universal and eternal. The human intellect is ephemeral and derivative; it only grasps ideas but can it really invent or create them? But to the extent it associates itself with the absolute and non-derivative intellect, it may see the universal, eternal, and divine. I hear the time pass and threaten me with the eventuality of sleep. I smile at myself as I think that since we have figured out how to count time, we have learned to die before our time. The self-imposed exile and isolation allows me to defy time as I suffer to grasp the timeless. Confident in the failure of my quest, but in the success of the effort, I try to understand the beginning and the end. I re-read Ibn Rushd s wondrous book, The Beginning of the Juris-Consul (Bidayat al-Mujtahid). The disagreements of the schools are traced to their rational cause, to the first distinguishing premise, or to the lack of a rational premise. The inner coherence of the law is exposed, but the possibilities and implications gradually open and unfold. The law is rendered into an open text, accessible and empowering for open minds. If God is unlimited and powerful, and if God is the absolute and perfect intellect, how could God’s law be irrational or closed to the possibilities of the intellect? My waning and disintegrating body longs for the company of two of his books: The Essential in Jurisprudence (al-Daruri fi Usul al Fiqh), and The Conclusive Word in the Congruence Between Shari’a and Reason (Fast al-Maqal fi ma bayn al-Shari’a wa al-‘Aql min al-Ittisal). My invigorated intellect has long absorbed them into my soul, but I long for their touch, for the comfort of the material. Ibn Rushd believed in the harmony between the Shari’a and the intellect. He believed in a sober life in which God’s law must make sense. Intoxication induces irrationality, and today, many Muslims intoxicated with arrogance and drunken with perpetual ignorance deny the law of God its sobriety. If the constituent elements of existence are the intellect, soul, and body, how could God’s law deny existence to its elements? How could God’s law be irrational, soulless, immoral, or impractical? The irrational is ugly, the soulless is ugly, and the oppressive is ugly, as ugly as the odor of rot that emanates from intoxicants. And God’s law, like God, can only be sober and beautiful¢â‚¬”genuinely and uncompromisingly sober and beautiful. “Praise be to God, the most beautiful of creators.” Yet, no one can deny that even among the people of God there are those who are addicted to the putrid and foul in existence. I realize that as I approached the end of a chapter I can no longer hear my breathing. I stop to restore the balance, and stare at the clock in contemplation. Ibn Rushd died in isolation. This most beautiful mind that unfolds before me on these pages died persecuted and isolated. I wonder if in his last days, the rustle of papers, the intrusion of breathing, and the annoyance of time became his stubborn companions? I wonder if he thanked his persecutors for his isolation? In this world, my God, how do we react to persecution? What do we do when the created becomes obsessed with dominating the created instead of submitting to the Creator? Persecution, my Lord, is the fitna which you described as worse than murder; it is the distorted intellect seeking to spread its diseased aberration; it is the created conspiring to become the Creator. But I know that those who covet mindless oratory comprehend from words only their oratorical effect. Their world is a redundancy of orations producing impulsive effects. Their arrogance invites them to project their ignorance and deny that there is a place in religion for the intellect. It is little wonder that these closed minds seek a closed world, suffering a stagnant creation and a suffocated intellect. It is little wonder that these types persecuted Ibn Rushd and forced him into isolation. Ibn Rushd (known in the West as Averroes) was born in November 1126 (520 AH), one month before his famous grandfather died. Ibn Rushd’s grandfather was a famous Maliki judge in Cordova who, toward the end of his life, dedicated himself to a conference of the books, reading and writing extensive works. Ibn Rushd’s father, who was one of Ibn Rushd’s teachers, was also a jurist and, for a brief moment, a judge in Cordova. Ibn Rushd himself had many notable teachers, among them the conservative Maliki jurist al-Qadi ‘lyad (d. 544/1149), who at one point was Ibn Rushd’s grandfather’s student. One of Ibn Rushd’s fellow students, studying under al-Qadi ‘lyad and destined to play an unfortunate role in Ibn Rushd’s life, was Muhammad Ibn Zarqun (d. 586/1190). Ibn Rushd quickly rose in stature first as the judge of Seville and then as the chief judge of Cordova. In an age in which the threat of a Christian invasion of Spain was an ever-present reality, people reacted with a stagnant conservatism. But Ibn Rushd was interested in liberation, not preservation. He wrote several works upholding the role of the intellect, and defending the Shari’a against the dishonor of irrationalism. One wonders, among the vices of jealousy, intolerance, arrogance, and dishonesty, which vice can claim the highest rank in the folds of ugliness? As ever in the annals of human existence, all four conspired to sweep away Ibn Rushd in the dark torrents of an inquisition. It all culminated in the early 590’s/1190’s. Ibn Hajjaj, a preacher in Seville; Ibn Jubayr, a poet; and Ibn ‘Ayyash, a high-ranking bureaucrat¢â‚¬” all dedicated their oratory talents to demoralizing the man of intellect. Ibn Hajjaj and Ibn Jubayr went about howling about bottomless pits of heresy, and Ibn Rushd’s former fellow student, Ibn Zarqun, joined the onslaught. Not only did Ibn Zarqun accuse Ibn Rushd of heresy and ignorance, but also of plagiarism. Ibn Zarqun claimed that sometime before he had lent Ibn Rushd a book on the differences between the schools. Not only did Ibn Rushd not return the book, Ibn Zarqun claimed, but he added some minor items to it and re-issued it as Bidayat al-Mujtahid¢â‚¬”the Bidayat al-Mujtahid\ In truth, Ibn Zarqun’s surviving works are nothing more than mindless compilations from borrowed texts, nothing approximating the intellectual force of Ibn Rushd. Abu Amir Ibn Rabi’, another unremarkable jurist who did not leave behind any notable text, made a career out of obscenely insulting Ibn Rushd in public. Ibn Rabi’ remained a judge in Cordova until he fled when it was conquered by the Christians in 633/1236. Several of the mediocre jurists, unable to match wit with wit and proof with proof, got together and combed through Ibn Rushd’s numerous writings. From Ibn Rushd’s works, they collected various excerpts which they considered heretical, compiled them in a single volume, and went to meet the Caliph, Abu Yusuf Ya’qub al-Mansur (r. 580-595/1184-1199), toward the end of 591/1194. “There is the proof of his heresy!” they declared, hoping for Ibn Rushd’s end. But, in an open debate held in Cordova, Ibn Rushd held his own and, for the moment, the conspiracy failed. But the venom of jealousy and arrogance is unrelenting. The preacher, Ibn Hajjaj, aided by an entourage of envious jurists, maintained the pressure. One day in particular was an omen of days to come. Ibn Rushd, accompanied by his son Abdullah, went to the Cordova mosque to perform their ‘Asr prayers. Ibn Rushd and Abdullah had previously co-authored a book entitled, The Conjunction of the Separate Intellect with Man. Induced by the staleness of the dull afternoon, the rabble attacked Ibn Rushd and his son and threw them out of the mosque. Abdullah, a doctor of medicine, painfully recalled this incident until he died. In 593/1197, the Caliph finally caved in and banned the study of philosophy and ordered the burning of the works of the philosophers. Ibn Ayyash, the bureaucrat, authored the decree. In this decree, he did not mention Ibn Rushd by name but Ibn Ayyash referred to a people who plunged in the seas of delusion, and who claimed to use their intellect and claimed to express the truth, but who are destined to hellfire. Ibn Rushd was removed from his judicial position and exiled under house arrest to Lucena, a town near Cordova. There, Ibn Rushd would live in isolation, from one conference to another, resenting the annoyance of time and the intrusion of breathing. But the fitna of life was not through with Ibn Rushd yet. The true quality of a person only appears under the weight of tribulations. Abd al-Kabir al-Ghafiqi (d. 617/1220), Ibn Rushd’s trusted student and friend, distanced himself from Ibn Rushd and apparently joined the band of slanderers. Other disciples such as Abu Bakr Ibn Jahwar and Abu Muhammad Ibn Haut Allah (d. 612/1215) turned against their teacher. Ibn Haut Allah went as far as to deny that he was Ibn Rushd’s student and to omit Ibn Rushd from his chains of authority. Nothing in this world stabs deeper than the betrayal of a student. But, of course, the world is not made only of cowards, and some, such as the jurist Abu Abdullah al-Usuli, stood by Ibn Rushd. During the inquisition, he refused to denounce Ibn Rushd and, as a result, was exiled to Aghmat. Later on, he was pardoned and eventually became the chief judge of Bougie. But the mindless preacher Ibn Hajjaj kept after him until he had him arrested and tortured, and as a result, al-Usuli lost his eyesight. He died shortly thereafter in 612/1216. As for Ibn Rushd, he was returned from his exile in Lucena and was sent to live in Marrakesh. But that very same year, demoralized and still in isolation, he died in December 595/1198. Ibn Rushd’s intellect lived long after memory buried his persecutors. Ibn Rushd has been recalled in conference after conference and alighted many comatose intellects and stale nights. He survived despite the condemnation of the bishops of Paris, Oxford, and Canterbury in the seventh/thirteenth century and went on to help salvage the Western civilization. Life’s ironies are but lessons in morality. Even Ibn Zarqun’s grandson, Muhammad Ibn Muhammad (d. 621/1224), a loyal student of Ibn Rushd, was imprisoned by the same inquisition that his grandfather helped to start. When a great man dies, the grounds for jealousy often expire. The same parasites who lived by sucking his blood during his lifetime are the same parasites who now live in the trails of his glory in his death. After-the-fact supporters emerge from cracks and holes to claim that they knew the great man and always loved him. At Ibn Rushd’s funeral, among those who emerged to praise his piety and knowledge was none other than the infamous poet Ibn Jubayr, the man who for so long persecuted Ibn Rushd. Truly, from God we come and to God we will return.
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