Friday, April 21, 2017

R.I.P. John Freely (1926–2017)

"The beginning of Arabic philosophy in al-Andalus comes with the work of Ibn Hazm (994–1064), who was born and spent most of his life in Cordoba, where his father and grandfather had been functionaries in the Umayyad court. His best-known philosophical work is his Book on the Classification of the Sciences. Aside from his many philosophical works, he also wrote poetry and treatises on history, jurisprudence, ethics and theology. His most famous poetical work is entitled Tawq al-hamama, or The Dove’s Neck-Ring, a treatise on the art of love, which he says is ‘a serious illness’.

Love, may God honor you, is a serious illness, one whose treatment must be in proportion to the affliction. It’s a delicious disease, a welcome malady. Those who are free of it want not to be immune, and Those who are stricken by it want not to be cured.

Ibn Hazm was particularly qualified to write a book on the art of love, he writes, having been brought up to the age of fourteen in the harem, or women’s quarters, of his family home: ‘I have observed women at first hand and I am acquainted with their secrets to an extent that no one else could claim, for I was raised in their chambers and I grew up among them and knew no one but them.’ He goes on to say that ‘women taught me the Qu’ran, they recited to me much poetry, they trained me in calligraphy’.

The Islamic schools of the time in Cordoba employed several women copyists, as did the city’s book market, whereas more highly educated women worked as teachers and librarians, while a few even practised medicine and law.

Ibn Hazm believed in revelation, but he felt that ‘the first sources of all human knowledge are the soundly used senses and the intuition of reason, combined with the correct understanding of a language’. He said that the first Muslims had experienced divine revelation directly, whereas those of his own time were exposed to contrary beliefs and needed logic to preserve the pure teachings of Islam, so that they can know ‘the reality of things and…discern falsehood without a shred of doubt’.

Ibn Hazm also wrote a work on ethics entitled The Characters and Conduct Concerning the Medicine of Souls. There he describes the Socratic ideal of moderation in all things that governed his own way of life: ‘In this book I have gathered together many ideas which the Author of the light of reason inspired in me as the days of my life passed and the vicissitudes of my existence succeeded one another. God granted me the favour of being a man who has always been concerned with the vagaries of fortune.’"

John Freely, Light from the East: How the Science of Medieval Islam Helped to Shape the Western World (London: I. B. Tauris, 2015), pp. 128-9.

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