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Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Bajjah

By Syed Aslam,  MMNS, science@muslimobserver.com

Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Bajjah  also known as Avempace, in Europe, was born in Saragossa,  Spain in 1095 CE. He received his education at Cordoba  specializing in medicine.  He served as Vizier to the Emir of Murcia, Spain. He was the teacher of famous Andalusian philosopher  Ibn Rushd (Averroes).  After the fall of Saragossa, he went to Seville, where he wrote several treatises on logic and finally to the Almoravid court at Fez, Morocco. He died very young and it is said that a rival physician of Fez poisoned him in the year 1138 CE.

Ibn Bajjah was an Andalusian physician,  philosopher and administrator who also contributed in the field of astronomy, physics, logic, music and poetry.

In  physics, Ibn Bajjah gave the law of motion, which was equivalent to the principle that uniform motion. This principle would later form the basis of modern mechanics and have a subsequent influence on European physicists.  Ibn Bajjah’s definition of velocity was very close to Galileo’s definition of velocity:Velocity = Motive Power – Material Resistance, here the motive power is measured by the specific gravity of the mobile body and the material resistance is the resisting medium whose resistive power is measured by its specific gravity. Ibn Bajjah was also the first to state that there is always a reaction force for every force exerted, a precursor to  Newton’s third law of motion.

Ibn Bajjah wrote a commentary on Aristotelian Metrology in which he was highly critical  of Aristotle idea about the milky way. He explained that  the Milky Way is the light of many stars which almost touch one another. Their light forms a continuous image  on the surface of the body which is like a tent under the fierily element and over the air which it covers. Ibn Bajjah explained the continuous image as the result of refraction, and supports its explanation with an observation of a conjunction of  planets, Jupiter and Mars which took place in 1106 CE. He watched the conjunction and saw them having an elongated figure, although each is circular. He also proposed his own planetary model.

Ibn Bajjah was the earliest Andalusian philosopher who played a prominent role introducing the ideas of Plato and Aristotle and the Islamic philosophers, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina to the West.

His main contribution to philosophy was his ideas on soul phenomenology, unfortunately not fully developed before his death. Ibn Bajjah’s thought, particularly the idea of perfection as a state in which the mind comes into contact with the Divine Intellect and becomes itself an intellect (Acquired Intellect). He influenced Thomas Aquinas and Ibn Rushd. Thomas Aquinas mention Ibn Bajjah and his teaching in his works many times.

Some of Ibn Bajjah’s writings were not completed because of his early death. His student, Ibn Imam, edited his works after his death, including treatises on mathematics and medicine, commentaries on Aristotle and al-Farabi, and Ibn Bajjah’s own original philosophical treatises. Important among these treatises are Tadbir al-mutawahhid (The Hermit’s Guide), Risalat al-wada (Essay on Bidding Farewell) and Risalat al-ittisal al-’aql al faal bil-insan (Essay on the Conjunction of the Intellect with Human Beings).  His other book on philosophy, titled “On the Soul,” is actually a treatise on logic, and it is considered by many to be an important piece of work.

Like earlier Muslim philosophers,  Ibn Bajjah considered philosophy and the use of reason as the means by which the human intellect could reach its ideal. He believed that the human soul developed through three stages corresponding to the lives of plants, animals, and the human mind. The plant stage represents embryonic life, when the soul receives nourishment and grows. The soul then moves on to the animal stage, the stage of sensation, movement and desire. Finally the soul acquires thought, and the capacity for rational thinking. Ibn Bajjah described the essence of human nature as  intellect, which is either potential or actual. Potential intellect has the capacity to acquire its proper object, intelligible forms and  actual intellect is completely identified with its object.

In his book ‘The Hermit Guide’ Ibn Bajjah tried to show a man could, by the development of his own powers of mind, attain a union with the Active Intellect. He distinguished two kinds of action: animal action, which is a product of the animal soul; and human action, which is a product of free will and reflection.

A man who throws a stone to hurt someone performs an animal action; a man who throw the stone  not to injure others, performs a human action.

The first step in the moral progress of the man is to learn to be ruled by will and reason, so that his actions may all be human. Having attained this, the man must strive for higher perfection, so that his actions may become divine.

Ibn Bajjah was a brilliant polymath who archived so much in such short span of his life. Even his critic  Ibn Tufayl described him as possessing the sharpest mind and the soundest reasoning. His student Ibn Imam and Ibn Rushd conceder  him as the marvel of his time in depth of philosophical knowledge and exact science. He is characterized as the second generation philosopher along with Ibn Rushd who produced original philosophical idea.   


One comment
  1. nur

    November 4, 2009 at 6:03 am

    Your article on Ibn bajjah is really great. Keep up the good work I am writng a book on Al Radzi and Ibn Haytham an indepth writing plus giving weekly on Muslim scienyists for kids in Amman Jordan. We should all keep working to enligthen our Muslims and non Muslims that the Muslim was the best of civilization that promote education and science and will still be inshallah in the future once we overcome our inferiority complex and the affluent contribute fundings for scientific research worldwide for our scientists.

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