Ibn Tufail
Ibn Ṭufail, Sayr mulhimah min al-Sharq wa-al-Gharb.png
Imaginary sketch representing Ibn Tufail (1961)
TitleIbn Tufayl
Abubacer Aben Tofail
Abu Jaafar Ebn Tophail
Died1185 (aged 79–80)
EraIslamic Golden Age
Main interest(s)Early Islamic philosophy, literature, kalam, Islamic medicine
Notable idea(s)Wrote the first philosophical novel, which was also the first novel to depict desert island, feral child and coming of age plots, and introduced the concepts of autodidacticism and tabula rasa
Notable work(s)Hayy ibn Yaqdhan
(Philosophus Autodidactus)
OccupationMuslim scholar
Muslim leader

Ibn Ṭufail (full Arabic name: أبو بكر محمد بن عبد الملك بن محمد بن طفيل القيسي الأندلسي ʾAbū Bakr Muḥammad bin ʿAbd al-Malik bin Muḥammad bin Ṭufayl al-Qaysiyy al-ʾAndalusiyy; Latinized form: Abubacer Aben Tofail; Anglicized form: Abubekar or Abu Jaafar Ebn Tophail; c. 1105 – 1185) was an Arab Andalusian Muslim polymath:[1] a writer, Islamic philosopher, Islamic theologian, physician, astronomer, and vizier.

As a philosopher and novelist, he is most famous for writing the first philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan. As a physician, he was an early supporter of dissection and autopsy, which was expressed in his novel.[2]


Born in Guadix, near Granada, he was educated by Ibn Bajjah (Avempace).[3] His family were from the Arab Qays tribe.[4] He was a secretary for several leaders, including the rulers of Ceuta and Tangier, in 1154.[5] He also served as a secretary for the ruler of Granada, and later as vizier and physician for Abu Yaqub Yusuf, the Almohad caliph,[3] to whom he recommended Ibn Rushd (Averroës) as his own future successor in 1169.[6] Ibn Rushd later reports this event and describes how Ibn Tufayl then inspired him to write his famous Aristotelian commentaries:

Abu Bakr ibn Tufayl summoned me one day and told me that he had heard the Commander of the Faithful complaining about the disjointedness of Aristotle's mode of expression — or that of the translators — and the resultant obscurity of his intentions. He said that if someone took on these books who could summarize them and clarify their aims after first thoroughly understanding them himself, people would have an easier time comprehending them. “If you have the energy,” Ibn Tufayl told me, “you do it. I'm confident you can because I know what a good mind and devoted character you have, and how dedicated you are to the art. You understand that only my great age, the cares of my office — and my commitment to another task that I think even more vital — keep me from doing it myself.”[7]

Ibn Rushd became Ibn Tufayl's successor after he retired in 1182; Ibn Tufayl died several years later in Morocco in 1185. The astronomer Nur Ed-Din Al-Bitruji was also a disciple of Ibn Tufayl. Al-Bitruji was influenced by him to follow the Aristotelian system of astronomy, as he had originally followed the Ptolemaic system of astronomy.[8]

His work in astronomy was historically significant as he played a major role in overturning the Ptolemaic ideas on astronomy.[9] This event in history is called the ''Andalusian Revolt”, where he influenced many, including Al-Bitruji, to desert the Ptolemaic ideas.[9]

Many Islamic philosophers, writers, physicians, and astronomers have been influenced by Ibn Tufail and his work. These people include Nur al-Din al-Bitruji, Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad b. al-Abbar, Abd al-Wahid al-Marrakushi, Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari, and Ibn al-Khatib.[10]

Hayy ibn Yaqzan

Main article: Hayy ibn Yaqdhan

Ibn Tufail was the author of Ḥayy bin Yaqẓān (Arabic: حي بن يقظان, lit.'Alive, son of Awake'), also known as Philosophus Autodidactus in Latin, a philosophical romance and allegorical novel inspired by Avicennism and Sufism, and which tells the story of an autodidactic feral child, raised by a gazelle and living alone on a desert island, who, without contact with other human beings, discovers ultimate truth through a systematic process of reasoned inquiry. Hayy ultimately comes into contact with civilization and religion when he meets a castaway named Absal (Asāl in some translations). He determines that certain trappings of religion, namely imagery and dependence on material goods, are necessary for the multitude in order that they might have decent lives. However, imagery and material goods are distractions from the truth and ought to be abandoned by those whose reason recognizes that they are. The names of the characters in the novel, Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, Salamān, and Absāl were borrowed from Ibn Sina's tales.[11] The title of the novel is also the same as Ibn Sina's novel. Ibn Tufail did this on purpose to use the characters and the title as a small reference to Ibn Sina, as he wanted to touch upon his philosophy.[11]

Ibn Tufail's Philosophus Autodidactus was written as a response to al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers. In the 13th century, Ibn al-Nafis later wrote the Al-Risalah al-Kamiliyyah fil Siera al-Nabawiyyah (known as Theologus Autodidactus in the West) as a response to Ibn Tufail's Philosophus Autodidactus.

Hayy ibn Yaqdhan had a significant influence on both Arabic literature and European literature,[12] and it went on to become an influential best-seller throughout Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.[13][14] The work also had a "profound influence" on both classical Islamic philosophy and modern Western philosophy.[15] It became "one of the most important books that heralded the Scientific Revolution" and European Enlightenment, and the thoughts expressed in the novel can be found "in different variations and to different degrees in the books of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Immanuel Kant."[16]

A Latin translation of the work, entitled Philosophus Autodidactus, first appeared in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke the Younger. The first English translation (by Simon Ockley) was published in 1708. These translations later may have inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, which also featured a desert island narrative.[17][18][19] The novel also inspired the concept of "tabula rasa" developed in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) by John Locke, who was a student of Pococke.[20] His Essay went on to become one of the principal sources of empiricism in modern Western philosophy, and influenced many enlightenment philosophers, such as David Hume and George Berkeley. Hayy's ideas on materialism in the novel also have some similarities to Karl Marx's historical materialism.[21] It also foreshadowed Molyneux's Problem, proposed by William Molyneux to Locke, who included it in the second book of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.[22][23] Other European writers influenced by Philosophus Autodidactus included Gottfried Leibniz,[12] Melchisédech Thévenot, John Wallis, Christiaan Huygens,[24] George Keith, Robert Barclay, the Quakers,[25] Samuel Hartlib,[26] and Voltaire.[27]


See also


  1. ^ Avempace, Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007.
  2. ^ Jon Mcginnis, Classical Arabic Philosophy: An Anthology of Sources, p. 284, Hackett Publishing Company, ISBN 0-87220-871-0.
  3. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ibn Ṭufail" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 14 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 223.
  4. ^ Carra de Vaux, B., “Ibn Ṭufayl”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 16 April 2020 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_3394>
  5. ^ "Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Tufayl". Encyclopedia of World Biography. 8: 96. 2004 – via Gale eBooks.
  6. ^ Avner Ben-Zaken, "Taming the Mystic", in Reading Hayy Ibn-Yaqzan: A Cross-Cultural History of Autodidacticism (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). ISBN 978-0801897399.
  7. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman (1996), History of Islamic Philosophy, p. 314, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-13159-6.
  8. ^ a b c "Ibn Tufayl, Abü Bakr Muhammad". Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 13: 488–489. 2008 – via Encyclopedia.com.
  9. ^ a b Božović, Mihajlo (2017). "The Process of Civilization in Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan". Kom (Beograd). 2: 77–90 – via ResearchGate.
  10. ^ Matar, Nabil (2013). "Ibn Tufayl (ca. 1105–85)". The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought: 241–242 – via Gale eBooks.
  11. ^ a b Corbin, Henry (2006). "Ibn Ṭufayl (d. 580 AH/1185 CE)". Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 4: 550–551 – via Gale eBooks.
  12. ^ a b Martin Wainwright, Desert island scripts, The Guardian, 22 March 2003.
  13. ^ Avner Ben-Zaken, Reading Hayy Ibn-Yaqzan: A Cross-Cultural History of Autodidacticism (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). ISBN 978-0801897399.
  14. ^ G. A. Russell (1994), The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 228, Brill Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-09888-6.
  15. ^ G. J. Toomer (1996), Eastern Wisedome and Learning: The Study of Arabic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 218, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-820291-1.
  16. ^ Samar Attar, The Vital Roots of European Enlightenment: Ibn Tufayl's Influence on Modern Western Thought, Lexington Books, ISBN 0-7391-1989-3.
  17. ^ Nawal Muhammad Hassan (1980), Hayy bin Yaqzan and Robinson Crusoe: A study of an early Arabic impact on English literature, Al-Rashid House for Publication.
  18. ^ Cyril Glasse (2001), New Encyclopedia of Islam, p. 202, Rowman Altamira, ISBN 0-7591-0190-6.
  19. ^ Amber Haque (2004), "Psychology from Islamic Perspective: Contributions of Early Muslim Scholars and Challenges to Contemporary Muslim Psychologists", Journal of Religion and Health 43 (4): 357–377 [369].
  20. ^ G. A. Russell (1994), The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England, pp. 224–239, Brill Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-09888-6.
  21. ^ Dominique Urvoy, "The Rationality of Everyday Life: The Andalusian Tradition? (Aropos of Hayy's First Experiences)", in Lawrence I. Conrad (1996), The World of Ibn Tufayl: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān, pp. 38–46, Brill Publishers, ISBN 90-04-09300-1.
  22. ^ "Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik Ibn Tufayl and Léon Gauthier (1981), Risalat Hayy ibn Yaqzan, p. 5, Editions de la Méditerranée".

    "If you want a comparison that will make you clearly grasp the difference between the perception, such as it is understood by that sect [the Sufis] and the perception as others understand it, imagine a person born blind, endowed however with a happy natural temperament, with a lively and firm intelligence, a sure memory, a straight sprite, who grew up from the time he was an infant in a city where he never stopped learning, by means of the senses he did dispose of, to know the inhabitants individually, the numerous species of beings, living as well as non-living, there, the streets and sidestreets, the houses, the steps, in such a manner as to be able to cross the city without a guide, and to recognize immediately those he met; the colors alone would not be known to him except by the names they bore, and by certain definitions that designated them. Suppose that he had arrived at this point and suddenly, his eyes were opened, he recovered his view, and he crosses the entire city, making a tour of it. He would find no object different from the idea he had made of it; he would encounter nothing he didn’t recognize, he would find the colors conformable to the descriptions of them that had been given to him; and in this there would only be two new important things for him, one the consequence of the other: a clarity, a greater brightness, and a great voluptuousness."

  23. ^ Diana Lobel (2006), A Sufi-Jewish Dialogue: Philosophy and Mysticism in Baḥya Ibn Paqūda's Duties of the Heart, p. 24, University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0-8122-3953-9.
  24. ^ G. A. Russell (1994), The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 227, Brill Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-09888-6.
  25. ^ G. A. Russell (1994), The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 247, Brill Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-09888-6.
  26. ^ G. J. Toomer (1996), Eastern Wisedome and Learning: The Study of Arabic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 222, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-820291-1.
  27. ^ Tor Eigeland, The Ripening Years Archived 2008-03-01 at the Wayback Machine, Saudi Aramco World, September–October 1976.
  28. ^ "عندما كُـتب الطب شعرا.. أرجوزة ابن طفيل في وصف الأمراض وعلاجها". www.aljazeera.net (in Arabic). Retrieved 2021-08-21.