The discussion of how radical ibn Rushd is as a thinker involves not only an understanding of his views, but also a view of what one takes to be radical. He is often taken to be something of an Enlightenment thinker a long time before the Enlightenment. He is often taken to be linked with the Arabic renaissance, the Nahdah. His arguments and ideas are certainly very different from the Nahdah, so we are being very creative if we link him with it, or even with what came to be known in Christian Europe as radical Averroism. On the other hand, we should not be too literal here. Interesting thinkers tend to have ideas that continue to develop and grow after their time, and it is difficult to deny that those ideas are connected with where they in fact originated.

Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad bin ʾAḥmad bin Rušd (1126–1198), commonly known as ibn Rushd and as Averroes in the West, is a defining figure in mashsha’i philosophy, the peripatetic trend that dominated Islamic philosophy for a brief but very rich period between the ninth and twelfth centuries. Ibn al-’Arabi describes two meetings with him, one when ibn Rushd was dead and he transported his bones back to Spain – the corpse balanced with his books. And an earlier meeting when the younger man impressed ibn Rushd with his brilliance (Islamic philosophers are not famous for their modesty). These encounters are supposed to symbolise the victory of Sufism over the older form of philosophy, the sort of thinking represented by ibn Rushd himself. They were no doubt fictional but represent something that really happened, the eclipse for a long time of the sort of thought that ibn Rushd championed, in the Islamic world at least.

Ibn Rushd had a turbulent political career, and sometimes had to leave Cordoba, but this may well have had nothing to do with his philosophical ideas. He was a significant political and legal figure and it could well have been something in those areas of his career that led to his problems. On the other hand, his philosophical views are challenging and expressed quite frankly, and we do get the impression of a combative thinker. Ibn Rushd was a passionate defender of philosophy, not as just one among many paths to knowledge available to the Muslim thinker, but as the main technique, the way of doing things that represents the ultimate arbiter for theoretical problems. Philosophy has the leading role in the battle between the different factions in the Islamic intellectual world, the lawyers, theologians, grammarians, muhadithun, and so on, and in the demarcation disputes that had been running for centuries as to who had the leading role in the battle of ideas, ibn Rushd came down decisively on the side of philosophy.

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