Wednesday, September 13, 2006

GBIT: Hayy ibn Yaqzan (Alive, Son of Awake)

My next choice for this series is Hayy ibn Yaqzan by Ibn Tufail - a Spanish Muslim philosopher, physician and scientist from 12th century. Simon Ockley's translation can be found here in pdf. A better and modern translation is by Lenn Goodman but it is not available on the internet unfortunately.

Its a story of a boy, the nature of whose existence was shadowy to an extent that there are two completely rivaling accounts of his origins. One account ascribes his origin to spontaneous generation, deducing from intricate details of matter that eventually evolved into life. The other account is necessarily a legend, a human drama in which a royal infant grows up away from society and culture. The boy represents an ideal man with an innate desire to 'know'. Being totally isolated from 'intelligent' life he gradually becomes morally conscious. He discovers shame, jealousy, aspiration, desire, eagerness to possess and practical reasoning with time and as his doe foster mother gets old, he learns to love and realises death as she dies.

Its an extended (but not tediously protracted) philosophical narrative, encompassing all forms of knowledge and discovery. To know is necessarily an obligation for Hayy ibn Yaqzan. He desperately seeks to understand his being in time and locate his space in cosmos. His search guides him through various disciplines of knowledge; for instance anatomy, physiology, metaphysics and spirituality. Discovering the unity of cosmos and its boundedness through reasoning, he discovers God and through his self imposed [quasi]ascetic 'code of conduct' he finds a way of his salvation and felicitousness. At the age of 35, when he had not communicated with anyone except himself, he meets Absal; an anchorite refugee from a land of coventional 'true believers'. Absal is a perfect model of a religious man, a zealot who has learnt many langauges to gain mastery of scriptural exegesis. His first reaction is a deep sense of fear for his faith as he encounters an exotic being i.e. Hayy. But his fears are dropped soon as he comes to know that Hayy do not have a clue of any langauge. In good faith he tries to teach him to speak and communicate in order to make him aware of knowledge and religion. However he soon discovers that Hayy is already aware of the 'truth'; to envision which, his own (Absal's) intellect bears nothing except revealed symbols.

Hayy formally proselytizes judging Absal's good intentions and the veracity of his message and as the duo associate with one another, Absal introduces Hayy to his culture and people. As Hayy gets familiarised with this civilisation, two basic questions continue to puzzle him in great deal. Firstly, "Why people must need symbols to assimilate and express the knowledge of the Divine?" and continue understanding matters of Divine world literally. Secondly, being completely oblivious to ritualistic sense, he continues to wonder why there is an obligation to indulge one's self in rituals of prayer and purity. Though he never regrets submitting himself (in good faith) he kept on wondering why people of this 'religion' consume more than their body needs, possess and nurture property diligently, neglect truth by purposefully indulging in passtimes and fall an easy prey to their desires. He finally decides to accompany Absal to his land, thinking that it might be through him that people encompass the true vision and 'realize' truth rather than 'believing' it with their seemigly narrow kens.

What follows is a tale of a neophyte philosopher teaching people to get above their literalism and open another eye towards reality. His audience on the other hand, recoil in their apprehensions and being intellectual slaves to their prejudices close their ears. He consequently realises that these people are unable to go beyond their usual appetites and proclivities. He also grasps that masses of the world are only capable to recieve through symbols and regulatory laws rather than being receptive to unstained and plain truth. Both men return back to their isolated world but this time Hayy as the teacher and Absal as his disciple. They continue searching their ecstasies until they met their ends.

Besides being a surpassingly great philosophical romance, its a unique story told by a philosopher who characterised himself as an autodidact. It was a fictional thought experiment to bridge gaps between reason and revelation, struggling to make it known that rejecting any of theses would mean rejecting a part of truth and trying to laydown a perpetually self evolving construct where reason is necessarily the caliph of revelation. It is a must read for all the times and a tradition that should always be kept alive.

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Comments(2)

Blogger Aziz writes:

salaam Abu Muhammad,

Thank you for submitting this link ot the Carnival of Brass.

I would like to request that you also add the feed for the Carnival to your sidebar. The benefit is that the more muslim bloggers who add the feed, the more widely links such as yours can be shared in real-time. The javascript and RSS feed information are here. I am happy to assist you in adding the feed and formatting it, just let me know at apoonawa dash blog at yahoo dot com if you need further assistance.

Friday, 15 September, 2006  
Blogger Abu Muhammad writes:

Jazak Allah for reminding me that. It was on my mind to put the feed on my sidebar the day I read your post regarding Carnival of Brass. I kept on procrastinating until I forgot about that. Thanks for offering your assistance. I hope I can do it myself and would not hesitate bothering you in case I stuck up.

wassalam

Friday, 15 September, 2006  
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