The Story of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan Analysis

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The Story of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan of Islamic philosopher and thinker Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Tufayl  was a compelling read, and it presents a theory on how a mind would naturally discover about his Creator, assuming he has an objective, scientific, rational and reasoning mind.  He presents a path that is assumed to certainly lead to the logical conclusions  Hayy Ibn Yaqzan had reached.

The implied argument for one God is compelling within the logic of his arguments:  if bodies change, that is, if the same matter receives different forms, this implies a giver of forms. He looks for a giver of forms among the bodies that surround him, but he realizes that they are all produced, which implies the existence of a producer.

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The argument that there must be a producer if there are beings that are produced is impeccable.  However, the shift in numbers from producers to one producer is again assumed.  So clearly there was no absolute basis for the conclusion that there was only One producer, as monotheists like Jews, Christians, and Muslims have assumed.

Not that I am arguing against monotheism.   I believe in one God because I know that if there were two equally powerful forces, than there could be two rules for anything in the universe with these two rules being equally valid in a sort of first-come first served arrangement.  Or that two of these Superior Intelligence Beings would have to agree on the rules so they would not clash.  But if there were two forces, the fact that one would be inhibited making Superior Decisions already limits His powers, which contradicts the assumed essence of the Creator as being All Powerful.

My point really is the gap in the argument in favor of monotheism, or of the belief in One God espoused not only by Islam, but also by Christianity and Judaism.  In fact Catholic Christianity and some Protestant Christian denominations have their concept of a Trinitarian God, one God with three “persons” or godheads—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. .  And again, not that I agree with this confusing, contrived Catholic  dogma.  My point is, the conclusion cannot be absolutely established that there is one God in the argument presented in the story of  Hayy Ibn Yaqzan.

In the history of civilizations, monotheism initially came from Judaism, which Christianity inherited,  and Islamic revelation also later upheld. Again  I do not intend to dispute either monotheism or polytheism because in a religious debate, no one really wins.  What is surely a winning thesis is that in the history of civilizations, two basic theories about the nature of God have been offered: monotheism, which argues on One Producer, as theorized by the  fictitious character  Hayys (speaking for the author Ibn Tufayl),  and polytheism, the belief in  several divinities, which  some other religions like Hinduism adhere to.

The Romans and the Greeks also believe in the plurality of their gods, even if among these gods, Jupiter was apparently the most powerful and the most feared.  The Muslims lump these polytheists as their extreme opposites in belief, and have even cursed them as infidels.  In fact polytheism goes against the very core belief of Islam, and if this core belief is to be pursued most logically, Islam cannot seem to co-exist peacefully with polytheistic Hindus, because Hinduism is a direct affront to the  Islamic logic of One God.

 The Quran teaches respect for other religions, and even considers Christians as closest to Muslims in the eyes of Allah (Quran, Surah V verses 85-88)– lucky for Christians who at least have some close similarity of perspective with Muslims–  but such theoretical logic as presented above on the assertion of One Producer can become  the basis and source  of future intolerance against polytheists.

All told, I am impressed by the thought for it is well ahead of its years.   For example,  I had not known that Islamic/Arabic wisdom  antedated many of the environmental concerns  of the present age.  Take these lines from the story:  And whenever such fruit with nourishing flesh– such as apples, plums, and the like– are not accessible, he should then eat of those fruits that had nothing edible in them but their seeds– such as walnuts and chestnuts or the vegetables that had not yet reached the limit of their perfect growth– but on condition in both cases that he should prefer the vegetables that are more abundant and endowed with greater force of reproduction. He was never to extract any of their roots or destroy their seeds. And if none of these (edible plants) was to be had, then he could take some animals or their eggs, on condition– inasmuch as the animals were concerned– that he take the more numerous and not exterminate any one species. (As translated by George Atiyeh, p. 5 my emphasis).

 In addition I found this wealth of wisdom that for the first time gave me an insight on applying charity not just to animals but also to plants :  (Emulation of the divine includes):   removing (the cause of the plight) of every animal or plant he sees to be in need, diseased, injured, or facing an impediment. … separate the harmful plant … without injuring the harmful one, and … take care to water it whenever that was possible (Atiyeh’s translation, p. 6).

The Hadith of the Angel Gabriel as A Foundation of Islam

The most fundamental revelation to the Prophet Muhammad was the announcement of the Angel Gabriel which commanded the illiterate Prophet to read. Read!  That was the command from the Angel, to which the Prophet replied, he could not read.  But the command was insistent, and Gabriel made commitment that  a miracle was to happen :  In the name of the Lord Who created, created man from a clot (of blood).

The hadith  tells us that one of the great miracles in Muhammad’s first encounter with Gabriel was that Muhammad, an illiterate man, by the miracle of God, was not only made capable of reading, but was entrusted with the Quran, the “locked” scripture that would be the final scripture for God’s Revelation to Man.

Scholars of the Quran wonder at the mystical beauty of the Book that was handed to Muhammad, the spiritual wealth of its content, the unsurpassed beauty of its language that had become the literary standard in the Arabic  language.  I do not know Arabic so I can only take those descriptions as givens, but a quick survey of an English translation of the Quran with notations from A. Yusuf Ali showed me the depths of its literature, and the logic of many Islamic doctrines.

Its apologists point to these literary attributes and assert passionately that such a scriptural masterpiece could not have been the intellectual product of an illiterate. The extent of its  expressive content cover not just those that were encompassed in the Old and New Testaments of the Jewish-Christian scripture, and it has a defined  referential citations or direct quotes from celestial characters like Jesus Christ.  The Quran  showed conviction when making direct references  to hitherto unknown celestial remarks from such Islam revered  prophets as Jesus Christ,  and the question to a non-believer is whether such reported quotations were authentically celestial, imagined, created as literature, or plain hoax.

Those inclined to question  the authenticity of the claim that it was the Angel Gabriel who implanted the inspired words into the mind of Muhammad  would have to contend with the tremendous scholarship involved in producing a  systematic consistent  body of “divinely and (in its language) unsurpassed  religious literature  as proof of what  adherents describe  Quran :  an eternal and  living miracle.

As pointed out in an Islamic website ( “Some Miracles of the Prophet Muhammad”) the Quran is the greatest miracle of Islam: “A number of miracles were bestowed upon and performed by Prophet Muhammad …. to establish the proof of his prophethood. The greatest miracle bestowed upon him was the revelation of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is miraculous in a number of aspects: Its linguistic perfection and inimitability, its validation by recent historical, archaeological, and scientific discoveries, its prophecies and so on. Unlike the miracles of other prophets before him, the miracle of Quran is eternal.’’

The hadith of the Angel Gabriel as the foundation of Islam, like all other hadiths, undergo a process of  scientific verification. In Islam, the recording of authentic events is known as the Science of Traditions (Arabic: Ahadith).  The same on-line reference explains that the hadith system is “ an exacting and comprehensive system developed by early Muslim scholars to verify the chain of transmission of these accounts, as well as investigating the trustworthiness and capability of every narrator at every level of the chain. This thorough authentication process ensures that these accounts are real, validated narrations…”

My readings from Islamic sources in the internet  asserted  that the Quran “corrected” many inaccuracies in previous scriptures that had misled Jews and Christians, which the Quran described as  “the People of the Book.”  Among these corrections include:  for example,  those passages in the Old Testament that made Solomon a fornicator or a practioner of magic (surah II verse102)  or those passages in the New Testament that made Jesus Christ (Issah) appear like an insolent son by calling his mother, “woman”.

Among many other more fundamental corrections:   There were attributions to Jesus Christ talking to Allah in which Jesus disowned the diversion from the path of correctness which made him “god” , as in this from Surah V verse 75:  “They do blaspheme who say: God is Christ the son of Mary:  But said Christ:  O children of Israel, Worship God, my Lord and your Lord….”   And in Surah  verse 78:  “ Christ the son of Mary Was no more than an Apostle… his mother was a woman of truth…” There were many other fundamental items of revelation that came from the Quran, “locked” as it were, to prevent any future misrepresentation of Revelation, and it was believed that everything started with the miracle of Gabriel’s Hadith to Muhammad.

All said, the great Islamic Revelation was in fact a continuation of the ancient religion handed down to the prophets which included the Jewish prophets, among them Jesus Christ. Starting off from the great announcement of the Angel Gabriel, who was also the same angel who announced the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ to his Mother Mary,  the illiterate  Prophet Muhammad miraculously received the Sealed Revelation that was embodied in the Quran.

On top of his ministry as a “Corrector”  of blasphemous departures from the original teachings of the prophets, the Prophet of Islam was a leader in the league of Moses, and was given the Apostleship of the Last and Final Revelation in the Quran: now the first   article of faith in Islam, summed up in this declaration of the Faith: “ There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet.”  When Muslims proclaim God’s oneness and Muhammad’s apostleship, they also confirm the apostleship of  the prophets and Jesus Christ and those who preceded Muhammad, the Last and the Seal of the Prophets.

In Interpreting the Muslim Sacred Book

As argued above, the Quran is a “locked” scripture.  Strictly speaking, Muslim scholars believe it cannot be or it should not be translated.  No other book past and present has remained the same, it was argued.  Muslims believe that their sacred book has retained every word  handed down by the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad, and to the present day, not a word of it had ever been corrupted.

Adherents believe that the Quran was handed down to Muhammad as a miracle of God’s mercy to mankind, who had  inherited corrupted scriptures that perverted the teachings of the prophets, according to the Islamic belief.

The Quran itself refers to the “People of the Book” referring to Jews and Christians, who were handed the same revelations, but whose religious leaders had corrupted the revelation as revealed to the prophets .  The “Book” in what the Quran termed “People of the Book”  refers to Divine Revelation, and in contradistinction, it should be differentiated from the written distorted scripture.  Revelation refers to the content of Allah’s message.  Muslim scholars contend that the teachings of the prophets are easy enough to deduce, and the Quran in no uncertain terms had identified  those corrections to distortions to the revelation, locked in its pages for posterity.

Of interest to Christians are  some of the Quranic corrections to the distortion of the revelation, among which are  included:  the divinity of Jesus Christ, who was “elevated” to the post of God in the written gospels.   In  the Quran, Jesus Christ spoke with absolute certainty  that he was a mere apostle of Allah.

As Non-Issues in this Course

The appreciation of an entire religious philosophy– and the civilization that gave birth to it– initially  demands understanding of its totality in its own terms,  and not in terms of foreign  perspectives or issues– inimical or prejudicial, or indifferent or totally alien and antagonistic or patronizing – towards  its validity or values.

 The dominance of Western thinking on many issues in the world today, brought about by its military and economic dominance,  does not give it the license to impose its perspectives and values, particularly on civilizations and cultures that have their own respective validities and appropriateness in their own spheres of influence.

 To say otherwise could justify  Hitler’s Germanic and racist theory as a correct alternative, had he won the War.  In the same manner, American military superiority did not make right his dishonest invasion of Iraq, which the American people had quietly and by default, allowed Mr. Bush to pursue, despite the now proven fact that he lied about the evidence of that country had near- nuclear capability.

Gender and women issues are  western issues that have no immediate prior  relevance in a civilization that have its own well-defined roles for men and women.  Gender and sex politics are uniquely American issues brought about by  the American experience, one that has been largely  characterized by massive inequalities and exploitative relationships. In Muslim societies for example, the issue of race is a dead issue as far back as the time of Muhammad, whose  concept of God — just and  compassionate —  did not countenance the subjugation of peoples on the basis of the color of their skin. Islam had long eradicated what America was just learning to understand when they proudly elected their first black president last November 2008.

In practically all cultures and civilizations, women played  defined and improving  social positions as these civilizations moved over time.  Progress in the status of men, races, women, sexual orientations, nations vis a vis nations, etc. marked the history of all  civilizations. Islamic cultures generally have assigned roles for women on the basis of Quranic standards,  with their own own social logic and  defined  moralities.  For example, women in Islamic societies  are the vanguards of family and custodians of children.

The fact that there is less juvenile delinquency in Islamic societies could be argued as a plus point for this assigned role.  In contrast, American women have social and political  careers to show for their broken families, high divorce rates, and irascible children who are trained to report their own parents to the police.   Which one is better is a matter of choice and cultural predilection.

Cited  Works and References

  1. Ali, A. Yusof.  (trans.) The Holy Qur’an.  Text, Translationk and Commentary. Maryland:  Amana Corp, 1983.
  2. Atiyeh, George N.(trans.) Hayy Ibn Yaqzan by Ibn Tufayl (d. 1185), New York: Cornell

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