In the beginning, an un-identified nar­rator runs into a won­derful wise man. He is tall, and his body is strong and straight. He has long, white hair and beard. His face, illus­trated by a wel­coming smile, shows rides and wrinkles, that is the beauty of the one who is aging. The nar­rator wants to engage in a con­ver­sation with him, as they share the same lan­guage. The wise man declares that his name and his lineage are “Alive” and “The Son of the Awaken”, that is, Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān.

Thus begins Ibn Sīnā´s tale, or letter titled Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, and that we do not know to what extent it was known in al-Andalus in the 12th century.

But if you have ever won­dered what Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān was before becoming the wise, old, beau­tiful man enlightened by a deep knowledge of the science of the soul, and meta­physics pre­sented by Ibn Sīnā, your answer may be another letter written to another friend by the Andalusi thinker Ibn Ṭufayl, and with the same title, Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān.

We would like to know every­thing about how Ibn Ṭufayl, wherever he was in al-Andalus, came to know the work and ideas of his philosopher of pref­erence —as he himself states at the beginning of his Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān—, Ibn Sīnā. He may have known some of his works or have even heard in depth about Ibn Sīnā’s Ḥayy and Absāl and Salāmān. As Murad Idris reminds us, there is little evi­dence that Ibn Ṭufayl may have had access to the books them­selves, but we very well know that culture, including philo­sophical and the­o­logical cul­tures, find its way to its unlikely inter­locutors in unpre­dictable ways. The problem, of course, is that no matter what we can imagine, we cannot create an argument based on silence. Silence is silence.

That does not mean that we need to be quiet. Scholars in Ibn Ṭufayl abound, and they have a very clear list of his work trans­la­tions and uses across history. They know what Ibn Ṭufayl read or did not read. They know that the first trans­lation was that of Pococke, that was fol­lowed by an English trans­lation by Simon Ockley, and that thus begun the presence of Ibn Ṭufayl in the Ori­en­talist Western tra­dition. Iberi­anists, however, may present some doubts to this. The first one is that maybe even Ibn Ṭufayl’s nar­rative is in itself an Ori­en­talist nar­rative —it presents itself as a letter unveiling the secrets of the East, and it was written from the West of Islam. The second doubt would concern trans­la­tions: maybe there is one strange trans­lation in Spanish, due to Alfonso de la Torre, in his Visión deleytable de todas las ciencias (A Delec­table Vision of All Sci­ences), and com­posed around 1440 for Carlos of Navarra, Prince of Viana —at the behest of the latter‘s tutor, Juan de Beaumont. Also, maybe, but we do not really know, Alfonso de la Torre came to know the work not in Arabic, but through some Hebrew version, which is not unlikely, given that Andalusi Arabic Aris­totelianism, and Aver­roism were cul­ti­vated among Mai­monidean Jewish philoso­phers and thinkers. Again, here, we hit silence once again.

The question that remains, however is —what do we do with Ibn Ṭufayl hinc et nunc, if, in fact there is any­thing we can do with the the­o­retical inves­ti­ga­tions (epis­te­mo­logical or oth­erwise) the author engages with through this Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān before Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān. In the words of Bernard Har­court, what work this text, or these texts, can do for us?

This set of ques­tions is just as important as iden­ti­fying the spe­cific cir­cum­stances and the philo­logical con­di­tions in which these texts we examine were first pro­duced, received, read, com­mented on. We could perhaps comment them with the same freedom and cre­ativity with which some of these authors com­mented one another.

Both Souleymane Bachir Diagne and Murad Idris have pro­posed us ways to work with this book. A book that is a letter to a sincere friend (reminding us, maybe, of the Ikhwān al-safā’, or Sincere / Pure / Good Friends and their academy of letters in Aris­totelianism), and that within it con­tains a nar­rative that makes us read with the utmost delight. Only a few weeks ago, my under­graduate stu­dents were reading it and getting goose­bumps while coming up with ideas on knowledge and hos­pi­tality (the subject of our course). They made me under­stand how important it is that we read this letter as if it were addressed to us.

Souleymane Bachir Diagne puts it at the center of what Alain de Libera had con­cep­tu­alized as the crisis of faith and reason, not to intervene in this crisis, but rather to com­plicate it with some of the con­tem­porary issues that seem to be ham­pered as well by the political presence of certain the­o­logical theses —namely, for instance, the current plan­etary eco­logical crisis. Before that becomes a crisis, Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān is already imag­ining ways to protect the small planet in which he lives, by cre­ating a dietary system that is sustainable.

Murad Idris puts us in a dif­ferent per­spective —the question of what is “political” about Islamic political phi­losophy. Idris’s six theses break the spell of Ori­en­talism, and open up new forms of research into pol­itics, com­munity, forms of gov­er­nance, the right to speak, and, even, the accep­tance or rejection of life in community.

I am certain this session will open up many ques­tions about Ibn Ṭufayl and his work, but, above all, I also expect that our guests will give us the chance to think with them about a philo­sophical and con­ceptual world that has been long covered by the veils of colo­nialism and orientalism.