On the occasion of the 800th Anniversary of the Muslim Scientist "Averroes":
Averroes As A Physician
Walid Muhammed Ibn Ahmed Ibn Rushd)
Edited and prepared by Prof. Hamed A. Ead
(During the DAAD fellowship hosted by Heidelberg University, July-October, 1998)
Page of the Colliget Mss.
Page of the Colliget Mss.
The medical school of the western
Caliphate was both medically and philosophically antagonistic to Ibn Sina
(1037) Avicenna, who is usually regarded as the chief representative of
Islamic Medicine. The Arabic physician that emanated from the Cordova center
of Islam showed a modification, owing to its intimate contact with the
Christian West, and the medical and philosophical literature issued by
the Christians and Jews of Moslem Spain is based more on the practical
realities and attach less importance to dialectic vanities.
The eminent Arabic writers of the western
Caliphate are small in number as compared to those of the Eastern, but
their influence on the Latin West was far-reaching. The most of the Western
Moslem physicians who reached any degree of eminence date long after Razes
and Avicenna: the four most eminent of these were Albucasis, Avenzear,
Averoes and Maimonides, all of whom exercised a great influence over the
Scholastics of the Latin West.
Muslim Spain has produced some of the brightest
intellectual luminaries of the Middle Ages. One of them was
Ibn Rushd known in the West as Averroes, who is universally
aknoweldge as the great philosopher of Islam and one of the greatest of
all times. George Sarton in his introduction of history of science said
that " Averroes was great because of the tremendous stir he made in the
minds of men for centuries. A history of Averroism would include up to
the end of the sixteenth-century, a period of four centuries which would
perhaps deserve as much as any other to called the Middle Ages, for it
was the real transition between ancient and modern methods."
Abul Waleed Muhammed Ibn Ahmed Ibn Muhammed
He was born in Cordova, the metropolis of Moslem
Spain in 520 A.H. (1126 C.E.). Both his father and grand father were prominent
judges. His family was well known for scholarship and it gave him fitting
environment to excel in learning. He studied religious law, medicine, mathematics,
and philosophy and (according to Leo Africanus) he was a friend of Avenzoar,
the great Moslem clinician. He studied medicine, philosophy and law from
Abu J'afar Harun and from Ibn Baja (1138) and he learned 'Fiqh' (Islamic
jurisprudence) from Hafiz Abu Muhammed Ibn Rizq.
Ibn Rushd under Islamic protection centered on
the masterworks of Plato and Aristotle as preserved by an evolving series
of lengthy and often innovative commentators, ideas that by now had been
banned for centuries and virtually forgotten in the adjoining Holy Roman
Like his father and his grandfather, he too became
a judge, first in Seville and then Cordova, though his main love was philosophy.
Supposedly, one night over dinner, he entered into a discussion with Almohad
prince Abu Ya'qub Yusuf over the origin of the world and the nature of
Averroes' ruminations on Aristotle's account of
existence and the nature of the soul so impressed the ruler that he commissioned
Averroes to write an entire set of commentaries. A few years later the
prince appointed Averroes as his personal physician; under his auspices,
Averroes spent the rest of his life writing commentaries on virtually all
of Aristotle's works, producing detailed and original reconstructive commentaries
on Aristotle's Metaphysics, Physics, Posterior Analytics, De Caelo, and
De Anima, as well as Plato's Republic.
Ibn Rushd was a genius of encyclopedic scope.
He spent a great part of his fruitful life as a judge and as a physician.
Yet he was known in the West for being the grand commentator on the philosophy
of Aristotle, whose influence penetrated the minds of even the most conservative
of Christian Ecclesiastes in the Middle Ages, including men like St. Thomas
Aquinas. People went to him for consultation in medicine just as they did
for consultation in legal matters and jurisprudence.
At the age of twenty-seven, Ibn Rushd was invited
to the Movahid Court at Marrakesh (in Morocco) to help in establishing
Islamic educational institutions. Upon the ascendancy of Yousuf, he was
introduced to him by another great Muslim philosopher Ibn Tufail to help
in translating, abridging and commenting on some works of
Aristotle (in 1169 C.E.).
Ibn Rushd was appointed a judge (Qaadi) in Seville
at the age of forty-four. That year he translated and abridged Aristotle's
book "de Anima" (Animals). This book was translated into Latin by Mitchell
the Scott. Two years later he was transferred to Cordova, his birthplace
where he spent ten years as judge in that town. During those ten years
Ibn Rushd wrote commentaries on the works of Aristotle including the Metaphysics.
He was later called back to Marrakesh to work as a physician for the Caliph
there, before his return to Cordova as Chief Judge.
Ibn Rushd was well versed in the matters of the
faith and law, which qualified him for the post of Qaadi (judge), but he
was also keenly interested in philosophy and logic. So he tried to reconcile
philosophy and religion in many of his works. Besides this area of study,
he was deeply interested in medicine as well, as was his predecessor Ibn
Sina (Avicenna). According to the French philosopher Renan Paris 1866),
Ibn Rushd wrote seventy-eight books on various subjects.
A careful examination of his works reveals that
Averroes was a deeply religious man. As an example, we find in his writing,
"Anyone who studies anatomy will increase his faith in the omnipotence
and oneness of God the Almighty."
In his medical and philosophical works we see
the depth of his faith and knowledge of the Qur'an and Prophetic traditions,
which he often quotes in support of his views in different matters.
Ibn Rushd said that true happiness for man can
surely be achieved through mental and psychological health, and people
cannot enjoy psychological health unless they follow ways that lead to
happiness in the hereafter, and unless they believe in God and His oneness.
Ibn Rushd commented that Islam aims at true knowledge,
which is knowledge of God and of His creation. This true knowledge also
includes knowing the various means that lead to worldly satisfaction and
avoidance of misery in the Hereafter. This type of practical knowledge
covers two branches: (1) Jurisprudence which deals with the material or
tangible aspect of human life and (2) the spiritual sciences which deal
with matters like patience, gratitude to God, and morals. He compared spiritual
laws to medicine in their effect on human beings physically on one hand,
and morally and spiritually on the other. He pointed out that spiritual
health is termed 'Taqwa' (righteousness and God-fearing) in the Qur'an.
Ibn Rushd made remarkable contributions in philosophy,
logic, medicine, music and jurisprudence. Ibn Rushd's writings spread more
than 20,000 pages, the most famous of which deal with philosophy, medicine
and jurisprudence. He wrote 20 books on medicine.
His most important
work Tuhafut al-Tuhafut was written in response to al-Ghazali's
work. Ibn Rushd was criticized by many Muslim scholars for this book, which,
nevertheless, had a profound influence on European thought, at least until
the beginning of modern philosophy and experimental science. His views
on fate were that man is in neither full control of his destiny nor it
is fully predetermined for him.
He wrote three commentaries
on the works of Aristotle, as these were known then through Arabic translations.
The shortest Jami may be considered as a summary of the subject. The intermediate
was Talkhis and the longest was the Tafsir. These three commentaries
would seem to correspond to different stages in the education of pupils;
the short one was meant for the beginners, then thintermediate for the
students familiar with the subject, and finally the longest one for advanced
studies. The longest commentary was, in fact, an original contribution
as it was largely based on his analysis including interpretation of Qur'anic
Ibn Rushd wrote many
books on the question of theology, where he tried to use his knowledge
of philosophy and logic. It is not surprising then that his works greatly
influenced European religious scholarship, though Averroes is innocent
of many views of Western so-called Averroism.
in his booklet "Muslim Contribution
to Civilization" quotes Renan: St. Thomas Aquinas was "the first disciple
of the Grand Commentator (i.e., Averroes). Albert Alagnus owes everything
to Avicenna, St. Thomas owes practically everything to Averroes." Professor
Bammate continues: "The Reverend Father Asin Palacios, who has carried
out intensive studies of the theological Averroism of St. Thomas and, in
no way classifies Averroes with Latin Averroists, takes several texts of
the Cordovan philosopher and compares
them with the Angelic Doctor of (St. Thomas). The similarity in their thought
is confirmed by the use of expressions similar to that of Ibn Rushd. It
leaves no room for any doubt about the decisive influence that the Muslim
Philosopher (Averroes) had on the greatest of all Catholic theologians.
The philosophical, religious, and
legal works of Ibn Rushd have been studied more thoroughly than his medical
books, since he was primarily a theologian-philosopher and scholar of the
Among his teachers in medicine were Ali
Abu Ja'lfar ibn Harun al-Tarrajjani (from Tarragona) and Abu Marwan
ibn Jurrayul (or Hazbul, according to al-Safadi).
Ibn Rushd's major work in medicine, al-Kulliyyat
("Generalities"), was written between 1153 and 1169.
Its subject matter leans heavily on Galen,
and occasionally Hippocrates' name is mentioned. It is subdivided into
seven books: Tashrih al-a'lda' ("Anatomy of Qrgans"), al-Sihha
("Health"), al-Marad ("Sickness"), al-'Alamat ("Symptoms"),
al-Adwiya wa 'l-aghdhiya ("Drugs and Foods"), Hifz al-sihha
("Hygiene"), and Shifa al-amrad ("Therapy")
Ibn Rushd requested his close friend Ibn
Zuhr to write a book on al-Umur al-juz'iyya (particularities, i.e., the
treatment of head-to-toe diseases), which he did, and called his book al-Taisir
fi 'l-muddawat wa 'l-tadbir ("An Aid to Therapy and Regimen").
Ibn Rushd's al-Kulliyyat and Ibn
Zuhr's al-Taisir were meant to constitute a comprehensive medical
textbook (hence certain printed Latin editions present these two books
together), possibly to serve instead of Ibn Sina's al-Qanun, which was
not well received in Andalusia by Abu '1-,Ala' Zuhr ibn Abd al-Malik ibn
Marwan ibn Zuhr (Ibn Zuhr's grandfather).
Two Hebrew vesions of al-Kulliyyat are
known, one by an unidentified translator, another by Solomon ben Abraham
The Latin translation, Colliget, was made
in Padua in 125 5 by a Jew, Bonacosa, and the first edition was printed
in Venice in 1482, followed by many other editions.
Ibn Rushd wrote a talkhis (abstract) of
Galen's works, parts of which are preserved in Arabic manuscripts.
He showed interest in Ibn Sina's Urjuza
fi 'I-tibb ("Poem on Medicine," Canticum de medicina . . . ), on which
he wrote a commentary, Sharh Urjuzat Ibn Sina.
It was translated into Hebrew prose by
Moses ben Tibbon in 1260; a translation into Hebrew verse was completed
at Beziers (France) in 1261 by Solomon ben Ayyub ben Joseph of Granada.
Further, a Latin translation of the same
work was made by Armengaud, son of Blaise, in 1280 or 1284, and a printed
edition was published at Venice in 1484.
Another revised Latin translation was made
by Andrea Alpago, who translated Ibn Rushd's Maqala fi '1-Tiryaq
("Treatise on Theriac," Tractatus de theiaca).
Ibn Rushd's unsuccessful attempts to defend
philosophers against theologians paved the way for a decline in Arabic
The great image of the Hakim (physician-philosopher),
which culminated in the persons of al-Razi and Ibn Sina, has been superseded
by that of faqih musharik fi ''l- ulum (a jurist who participates in sciences),
among whom were physician-jurists and theologian-physicians.
Because Ibn Rushd'frame as a physician
was eclipsed by his frame as a philosopher, his book Kitab
al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb stands no comparison to 'Continents'
of Rhazes and 'Canon' of Avicenna.
Averroes wrote a commentary on Avicenna's
poem Canticum de Medicina (translated into Latin
by Armengaud). and also mentioned the Philosophia Orientalis of
His commentary of the Canticum was
published at Vinice in 1484 under the title Incipit translatio Canticor.
Avi. cum commento Averrhoys facta ab Arabico in Latinum a mag. Armegando
blassi de Montepesulaano.
The German physician Max Meyerhof remarked
that: "In Spain, the philosophical bias predominated among medical men.
The prototypes of this combination are the two Muslims, Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar)
and Ibn Rushd (Averroes).
He wrote a treatise on the motion of the sphere,
Kitab fi-Harakat al-Falak.
According to Draper, Ibn Rushd is credited with
the discovery of sunspots. He also summarized Almagest and divided it into
two parts: description of the spheres, and movement of the spheres. This
summary of the Almagest was translated from Arabic into Hebrew by Jacob
Anatoli in 1231.
His book on jurisprudence 'Bidayat al-Mujtahid
wa-Nihayat-al-Muqtasid' has been held by Ibn Jafar Zahabi as possibly the
best book on the Maliki School of Fiqh.
Ibn Rushd's writings were translated into various
languages, including Latin, English, German and Hebrew.
Most of his commentaries on philosophy are preserved
in the Hebrew translations, or in Latin translations from the Hebrew, and
a few in the original Arabic.
His commentary on zoology is entirely lost. Ibn
Rushd also wrote commentaries on Plato's Republic, Galen's treatise on
fevers, al-Farabi's logic, and many others. Eighty-seven of his books are
Ibn Rushd has been held as one of the greatest
thinkers and scientists of the twelfth century.
According to the Western writers, Ibn Rushd influenced
Western thought from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries.
His commentaries were used as standard texts in
preference to the treatises of Aristotle in the fourteenth and fifteenth
His books were included in the syllabi of Paris
and other Western universities till the advent of modern experimental sciences.
Ibn Rusd was studied in the University of Mexico until 1831.
The intellectual movement initiated by Ibn Rushd continued to be a living
factor in European thought until the beginning of modern expermintal science.