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Ibn Tufail

Muslim scholar
Name: Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Tufail al-Qaisi al-Andalusi
Title: Ibn Tufail
Abubacer Aben Tofail
Abu Jaafar Ebn Tophail
Birth: 1105
Death: 1185
Ethnicity: Arab
Region: Al-Andalus
Maddhab: Maliki
School tradition: Avicennism
Main interests: Early Islamic philosophy, Arabic literature, Kalam, Islamic medicine
Notable ideas: 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
Works: Hayy ibn Yaqdhan
(Philosophus Autodidactus)
Influences: Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Avicennism, Al-Ghazali, Ash'ari, Sufism, Ibn Tumart, Ibn Bajjah, Abu Yaqub Yusuf, Muhammad
Influenced: Averroes, Alpetragius, Ibn al-Nafis, Pococke, Boyle, Hobbes, Locke, Molyneux, Hume, Berkeley, Spinoza, Leibniz, Sorbonne, Ockley, Defoe, Thévenot, Wallis, Huygens, Keith, Barclay, Quakers, Hartlib, Newton, Kant, Rousseau, Voltaire, Marx, Kipling, Burroughs

Ibn Tufail (c. 1105, Guadix, Spain – 1185) (full Arabic name: أبو بكر محمد بن عبد الملك بن محمد بن طفيل القيسي الأندلسي Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Tufail al-Qaisi al-Andalusi; Latinized form: Abubacer Aben Tofail; Anglicized form: Abubekar or Abu Jaafar Ebn Tophail) was an Andalusian-Arab Muslim polymath:[1] an Arabic writer, novelist, Islamic philosopher, Islamic theologian, physician, vizier, and court official.

As a philosopher and novelist, he is most famous for writing the first philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, also known as Philosophus Autodidactus in the Western world. 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). He served as a secretary for the ruler of Granada, and later as vizier and physician for Abu Yaqub Yusuf, the Almohad ruler of Al-Andalus, to whom he recommended Ibn Rushd (Averroës) as his own future successor in 1169. Ibn Rushd later reports this event and describes how Ibn Tufail 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.”[3]

Ibn Rushd became Ibn Tufayl's successor after he retired in 1182. He died several years later in Morocco in 1185. The astronomer Nur Ed-Din Al Betrugi was also a disciple of Ibn Tufail.

Hayy ibn Yaqzan

Ibn Tufail was the author of Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān (حي بن يقظان Alive, son of Awake), also known as Philosophus Autodidactus in the West, 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. 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 distractions.

Ibn Tufail drew the name of the tale and most of its characters from an earlier work by Ibn Sina (Avicenna). Ibn Tufail's book was neither a commentary on nor a mere retelling of Ibn Sina's work, however, but a new and innovative work in its own right. It reflects one of the main concerns of Muslim philosophers (later also of Christian thinkers), that of reconciling philosophy with revelation. At the same time, the narrative anticipates in some ways both Robinson Crusoe and Rousseau's Émile. It tells of a child who is nurtured by a gazelle and grows up in total isolation from humans. In seven phases of seven years each, solely by the exercise of his faculties, Hayy goes through all the gradations of knowledge. The story of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is similar to the later story of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book in that a baby is abandoned on a deserted tropical island where he is take care of and fed by a mother wolf.

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,[4] and it went on to become an influential best-seller throughout Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.[5] The work also had a "profound influence" on both classical Islamic philosophy and modern Western philosophy.[6] 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."[7]

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 inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, which also featured a desert island narrative and was the first novel in English.[8][9][10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13][14] Other European writers influenced by Philosophus Autodidactus included Gottfried Leibniz,[4] Melchisédech Thévenot, John Wallis, Christiaan Huygens,[15] George Keith, Robert Barclay, the Quakers,[16] Samuel Hartlib,[17] and Voltaire.[18]


  • Arabic text of Hayy bin Yaqzan from Wikisource
  • Full pdf of French translation of Hayy bin Yaqzan from Google Books
  • English translations of Hayy bin Yaqzan (in chronological order)
    • The improvement of human reason, exhibited in the life of Hai ebn Yokdhan, written in Arabick above 500 years ago, by Abu Jaafar ebn Tophail, newly translated from the original Arabick, by Simon Ockley. With an appendix, in which the possibility of man's attaining the true knowledg of God, and things necessary to salvation, without instruction, is briefly consider'd. London: Printed and sold by E. Powell, 1708.
    • Abu Bakr Ibn Tufail, The history of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, translated from the Arabic by Simon Ockley, revised, with an introdroduction by A.S. Fulton. London: Chapman and Hall, 1929. available online (omits the introductory section)
    • Ibn Tufayl's Hayy ibn Yaqzān: a philosophical tale, translated with introduction and notes by Lenn Evan Goodman. New York: Twayne, 1972.
    • The journey of the soul: the story of Hai bin Yaqzan, as told by Abu Bakr Muhammad bin Tufail, a new translation by Riad Kocache. London: Octagon, 1982.
    • Two Andalusian philosophers, translated from the Arabic with an introduction and notes by Jim Colville. London: Kegan Paul, 1999.
    • Medieval Islamic Philosophical Writings, ed. Muhammad Ali Khalidi. Cambridge University Press, 2005. (omits the introductory section; omits the conclusion beginning with the protagonist's acquaintance with Asal; includes §§1-98 of 121 as numbered in the Ockley-Fulton version)


  • List of Arab scientists and scholars
  • Early Islamic philosophy
  • Arabic literature


  1. ^ Avempace, Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007.
  2. ^ Jon Mcginnis, Classical Arabic Philosophy: An Anthology of Sources, p. 284, Hackett Publishing Company, ISBN 0872208710.
  3. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman (1996), History of Islamic Philosophy, p. 314, Routledge, ISBN 0415131596.
  4. ^ a b Martin Wainwright, Desert island scripts, The Guardian, 22 March 2003.
  5. ^ G. A. Russell (1994), The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 228, Brill Publishers, ISBN 9004094598.
  6. ^ G. J. Toomer (1996), Eastern Wisedome and Learning: The Study of Arabic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 218, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0198202911.
  7. ^ Samar Attar, The Vital Roots of European Enlightenment: Ibn Tufayl's Influence on Modern Western Thought, Lexington Books, ISBN 0739119893.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Cyril Glasse (2001), New Encyclopedia of Islam, p. 202, Rowman Altamira, ISBN 0759101906.
  10. ^ 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].
  11. ^ G. A. Russell (1994), The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England, pp. 224-239, Brill Publishers, ISBN 9004094598.
  12. ^ 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 9004093001.
  13. ^ Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik Ibn Tufayl and Léon Gauthier (1981), Risalat Hayy ibn Yaqzan, p. 5, Editions de la Méditerranée:[1]

    "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."

  14. ^ 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 0812239539.
  15. ^ G. A. Russell (1994), The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 227, Brill Publishers, ISBN 9004094598.
  16. ^ G. A. Russell (1994), The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 247, Brill Publishers, ISBN 9004094598.
  17. ^ G. J. Toomer (1996), Eastern Wisedome and Learning: The Study of Arabic in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 222, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0198202911.
  18. ^ Tor Eigeland, The Ripening Years, Saudi Aramco World, September-October 1976.


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