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Averroës (Ibn Roshd) (1126 - 10 December 1198)

During the French Revolution, Maréchal cited Averroës (also Averroès or Averrhoës) as being a “possible atheist.” The Spanish-Arabian philosopher was influential in the West because use of his commentaries on Aristotle. He believed that philosophic truth derives not from faith but from reason, which positions him opposite St. Thomas Aquinas.

An Andalusian-Arab philosopher and physician, Averroës was born in Cordoba, Spain. His grandfather, Abu Al-Walid Muhammad (d. 1126) was chief judge of Cordoba under the Almoravids. His father, Abu Al-Qasim Ahmad, held the same position until the coming of the Almohad dynasty in 1146. It was Ibn Tufail ("Abubacer" to the West), the philosophic vizier of Almohad Caliph Yusef al-Mansur, who introduced Averroës to the court and to Avenzoar (Ibn Zuhr), the great Muslim physician; both men became friends.

J. M. Robertson points out that he was the least mystical and the most rational of the thinkers of his circle:

  • At nearly all vital points he oppugns [challenges] the religious view of things, denying bodily resurrection, which he treats (here following all his predecessors in heretical Arab philosophy) as a vulgar fable; and making some approach to a scientific treatment of the problem of "Freewill" as against, on the one hand, the ethic-destroying doctrine of the Motecallemin, who made God’s will the sole standard of right, and affirmed predestination (Jabarism); and against, on the other hand, the anti-determinism of the Kadarites.

Of all the tyrannies, Averroës boldly declared, the worst is that of priests. Still, he remained a nominal Muslim. Joseph McCabe explains why, saying the Arabs had the quaint custom of choosing the most learned men for high political positions, and Averroës was Governor of Seville for twenty years. When the Moorish fanatics got him imprisoned, Averroës possibly disguised his atheism by referring to a belief in a vague pantheistic “World Soul,” instead of Aristotle’s (impersonal) God, thereby throwing them off the track.

Averroës and the Enlightenment, The First Humanist/Muslim Dialogue (1996) was edited by Mourad Wahba and Mona Abousenna. It contained comments by thirty-four scholars from eighteen countries on five continents who had met in Cairo in 1994 and Buffalo in 1995 to discuss the ideals of the Enlightenment and secularism while celebrating the approaching 800th anniversary of the noted Islamic philosopher.

(See entry for Avicenna. Averries Today, a semi-annual publication in English and Arabic, is at PO Box 5101, Heliopolis West, Cairo, 11771, Egypt.

{BDF; CE; ER; EU, Aram Vartarian; JM; PUT; JMRH; RE}