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On the evening of the 4thJune 2014 we descended into the Artworkers Guild in Bloomsbury, London for the second annual Ibn Rushd memorial lecture held by the Muslim Institute – of which we were very proud sponsors!
For those of you that are not aware, Ibn Rushd (also known by his Latin name Averroës) was an Al-Andalus Muslim philosopher. Particular areas of expertise include Aristotelian philosophy, Islamic philosophy and Islamic theology. Born in the 12thcentury, he is today used a symbol of progressive thought in Islam.
Muslim Institute’s second annual lecture commemorating this great thinker was lead by Professor Oliver Leaman, Professor of philosophy at the University of Kentucky, USA. Beginning his talk, Professor Leaman introduced Ibn Rushd as a figure that elevated philosophy to an equal or greater plane than theology in his commentaries on Islam. His work was taken on by Jewish and Christian scholars and through this he helped to found secular thought in Europe.
Following his death, Ibn Rushd’s work disappeared from the Arab world and philosophy itself began to decrease; however, Professor Leaman was adamant to clear up the fact that we, in the modern era, do not know why Ibn Rushd fell out of favour – in Leaman’s words “important political figures fall out of favour all the time”, it is therefore both unfair and incorrect to assume that Ibn Rushd’s popularity in Islamic Spain waned due to his philosophical beliefs.
Unlike the majority of Islamic philosophers of his time, Ibn Rushd was not concerned with Islamic mysticism (Sufism) but more so with rationalism. Ibn Rushd was heavily influenced by and interested with the great Greek philosopher Aristotle’s work whereby he saw a complete commitment to a certain form of rationalism – a thought process completely outlawing any form mystical thought. Though Ibn Rushd was completely against any mystical thinking, he too was against thinking rationally in a looseway; for him it was all or nothing.
Though very well read in theology this does not mean that Ibn Rushd believed in its practices; he was of the opinion that if one listens to theologians, one will end up doubting the truth of Islam. Like medicine is there to cure our body, Ibn Rushd believed that the Qur’an is there to cure our souls; for this to work however, full confidence in its words are needed and theology supposedly clouds the complete clarity within the holy book.
Professor Leaman continued on by saying that any text, be it oral or written, needs to be interpreted and so immediately if we’re interested, one must ask questions – one must question what the text means and other meanings that can be drawn out from it. There is a relationship between faith and reason according to Leaman and one needs to use what philosophers regard as strict methods of argument. Unsurprisingly, Professor Leaman did touch on the way in which Philosophy can be dangerous when directly applied to religious issues due to the sensitivity of the topic – something that a lot of members of the audience were waiting for!
Despite such sensitivities, Professor Leaman believes that philosophy, in whichever form it is pursued, is an important form of any intellectual life in a community and questions how if Islam as a religion, society and way of life is affected (if at all) by its followers lack of interest in using philosophy as a root for understanding.