The Arabic philosophical fable Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is a classic of medieval Islamic philosophy. Ibn Tufayl (d. ), the Andalusian philosopher, tells of a child. : Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (): Ibn Tufayl, Ibn Tufail, Lenn Evan Goodman: Books. Although Ibn Tufayl’s philosophical tale Hayy ibn Yaqzan is one of the most famous medieval Arabic stories to reach the West, precious little is known about the.

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F rom its earliest centuries, Islamic philosophy engaged ancient Greek thought in the form of Plato and Aristotle. Like the later medieval Christian theologians, Islamic and Arabic thinkers sought to reconcile reason and the revelation of their scripture.

In eleventh-century southern Spain, Arabic philosophers achieved a thriving intellectual center in the cultural milieu of al-Andalus Andalusia.

Nothing New Under the Sun

This vigorous school of thought had mastered the Greeks but also criticized logic and mathematics, affirming the human soul’s innate capacity to discover not only natural law but to reach the most abstruse mystical doctrine.

Ibn Tufayl presented this view in an intriguing essay that posited human solitude as an essential method for acquiring the highest knowledge. But Ibn Tufayl offered a novel presentation for his recapitulation of philosophical ideas.

The purpose of his narrative is to point to esoteric doctrines, beyond philosophy and reason, in order to attract the discerning, as Ibn Tufayl puts it. But he affirms that is it presented in a veiled way in order to discourage the foolish. This is a standard disclaimer safely affirming religious conformity.

The protagonist Hayy ibn Yaqzan grows up from infancy to adulthood on a uninhabited island.

Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan: A Philosophical Tale, Tufayl, Goodman

Hxyy he is a feral or wild child. The infant Hayy is discovered and nurtured by a doe, fed on doe’s milk. By presenting this prototype yaqaan being as a solitary, a social tabula rasaIbn Tufayl can show his reader how reason guides the human intellect naturally and that learning follows the same logical path identified by the methods of the philosophers.

Moreover, the solitude of the uninhabited island is a model of the natural development of the mind in the absence of the diversions and distractions of society.

Hayy’s youngest years are socialized by the doe’s kindness, gentleness, and nurturing.

Hayy ibn Yaqzan |

Upon her death, the young Hayy suffers the taunts and attacks of other animals until he moves into a cave and discovers fire. Hayy sees fire as a symbol of the inner fire or warmth that animates living things, the inner life-source.

Hayy confirms this insight, propelled by curiosity: All animals, despite their diversity into species, are “one in reality,” the maturing Hayy concludes. In effect, Hayy had reached the consideration of Aristotelian prime mover or non-corporeal cause, which he calls the Necessarily Existent. Hayy had learned that his ultimate happiness and triumph over misery would be won only if he could make his awareness of the Necessarily Existent, so continuous that nothing could distract him from it for an instant In this experience the self vanishes; it is extinguished, obliterated — and so are all other subjectivities.

Thus Ibn Tufayl insists that mystical experience is the highest form of knowledge and can be attained through reason and disposition. In his allegory, Hayy reaches this conclusion or the author, accepting it already, uses the story to demonstrate it. But Ibn Tufayl shows the second most important factor in the successful quest for understanding: To cultivate and maintain self-discipline, the naturalness of the state of solitude is requisite.

There is the direct influence here not only of Arabic thinkers already cited but of the Sufi tradition that saw reason both in its limits and its compelling logic together with nature leading to the culmination of individual purpose: As the narrative continues, Hayy’s self-discipline unfolds self-discovery.

Hayy is presented discovering what weakens and distracts spirit, what worsens vices. He limits himself to actions that gain him food and physical safety. He eats only what is sufficient to stave off hunger, attempting to control appetite. He deduces that he should spend a minimum of time on the appearance of his dwelling. He finds positive the experience of “never allowing himself to see any plant or animal hurt, sick, encumbered, or in need without helping if he could.

Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan

And he decides to imitate the Necessary Existent by at least approximating the behavior of the celestial beings or bodies rotating in the night sky in solitude and silence. Tirelessly he battled against the drives of his body — and they fought back. But when for a moment he had the upper hand and rid his mind of tarnish, he would see with a flash what it was like to reach this third type of likeness to the stars. The third type of likeness contrasts to the two other types, to the inanimate and animate beings on earth.


Hayy then sought to cut off sensory experience in order to pursue hxyy ecstasy. This he discovered in a crude way by making wide circular motions like celestial beings with his body until he had ibbn the senses and imagination — a clear tufxyl reference to the secretive whirling practice of Sufi dervishes. But ultimately Hayy learns to cut off the senses and imagination in the stillness and silence of his dwelling place: The cave is the model of a new kind of learning, as Ibn Tufayl’s translator notes.

The cave in our [Western] tradition, which owes more to Athens on this point than to the East, is a symbol of darkness and dogmatic slumber, not of personal enlightenment but of ignorance and unconcern. hayyy

The great awakening is the moment when a solitary individual stumbles out of the hidden darkness of the cave and away from the cave-thoughts into the sunlight. Ibn Tufayl stands at a crossroads between Muhammadan and Platonic conceptions. For him the cave is not the social womb but the sacred solitude of a man and his creator. Yet the mission imparted is not public recognition but private enlightenment.

The means remain those of Muhammad, but the end has become the end of Islamized philosophy: The two models of the cave are explicit in their differences. In Plato’s Republic, the cave is darkness and ignorance contrasts with coming out of the cave into sunlight and enlightenment. But here Ibn Tufayl proposes that the cave is not darkness but inner tufyl and reflection, and coming out of this yqazan symbol is not to embrace public and social life but for one’s self-knowledge and understanding.

The cave retains this image of inner exploration and enlightenment in the Far East, linked, perhaps, to geography. Caves are prominent in the traditions of India and Tibet.

But the cell, the anchorhold, the hut and cottage, are all related to the same configuring of places of nurturing solitude. Such places of solitude have the same function in the entire range of solitary perception, be it enlightenment or harmony with nature.

At this point, Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan reaches yazqan end of the first of two sections, though the author does not so delineate his narrative. Comparative settings The story of living on an uninhabited island or in social isolation conjures comparison with a number of later well-known instances of literature and speculation, ranging from those concerning human origins and human nature on the one hand and narratives of shipwreck, abandonment, survival, and social isolation on the other.

The abstract philosophical tale of Iby Tufayl is the historically first of a series of such reflections on the nature of human behavior and learning.

For though by modern psychological criteria, the intellectual development of Hayy as feral child is quite impossible, Ibn Tufayl’s purpose is to offer the trajectory of right thinking given the absence of contrived culture and society. Ibn Tufayl attempts to show that natural reason alone can engender ethics and a knowledge of the universe that is in harmony with revelation, in this case the revealed scriptures of Islam.

But a feral child, will, of course, not develop in the trajectory of the protagonist Hayy. However, Rousseau does not see socialization, given its present form, as yielding much better results than being left in nature. Prejudice, authority, necessity, example, all the social conditions into which we are plunged, would stifle nature in him and put nothing in her place.

She would be like a sapling by chance sown in the midst of the highway, bent hither and thither and soon crushed by the passers-by. Rousseau is more emphatic in his celebrated opening phrases of Emile. God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil.

Man forces one soil to yield the products of another, one tree to bear another’s fruit. He confuses and confounds time, hayt, and natural conditions. He mutilates his dog, his horse, and his slave. He destroys and defaces all things; he loves all that is deformed and monstrous; he will have nothing as nature made it, not even man himself, who must learn his paces like a saddle-horse, and be shaped to his master’s taste like the trees in his garden.


For Rousseau the perversion of human nature by society is only offset by tufqyl close nurturing of a kind and attentive mother, who alone can engender the psychological values that will make the child perceptive, thoughtful, and ultimately independent and free.

Jbn Tufayl’s version of a mother for his purposes is represented by the mother doe, meeting the infant’s own biological and psychological needs in conformity given the different context to the criteria of Rousseau. Ibn Tufayl took the Arabic tradition of child-rearing for example, two years minimum of breastfeeding and applied its practices to the beneficent surrogate mother of his character Hayy. Hayy’s development from feral to thinking, acting human being has parallels in literary lore, such as Kipling and Burroughs, the British writers.

Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli in The Jungle Book, is a feral child raised by benign jungle tufayk in the recesses of India, the one country where reports of feral children were most numerous. Edgar Rice Burroughs presents a feral Caucasian boy in the African jungle who would be called Tarzan. In neither case are these fictional characters more than literary entertainments, of course.

There is no interest on the part of these authors to explore deeper issues of social isolation and human development. But they attest to the enduring interest in the topic. However, one survival tale does attempt to address some deeper issues, but in doing so must sacrifice the device of feralness.

Daniel Defoe’s Adventures of Robinson Crusoe depict a mature young man thrust into the solitude of a desert island after shipwreck. Defoe was reportedly influenced by the report of a marooned Alexander Selkirk, who in published an account of his experiences.

Because Defoe was such a voracious reader, it is not unlikely that he had read Ibn Tufayl as well. Of Selkirk’s model tale, Defoe scholar John Richetti notes: Selkirk’s story celebrates the virtues in isolation: Selkirk himself related that, as Richetti notes, he “frequently bewailed ubn return to the world” which could not “with all its enjoyments, restore him to the tranquility of his solitude.

Similarly, Rousseau’s tutor of Emile allows young Emile to read only one book, namely Defoe’s Robinson Crusoefor to Rousseau Crusoe’s island is a “virtuous retreat from social corruption.

But to Defoe’s character the island is an odious prison and a providential test of worthiness. Crusoe is a reluctant candidate for solitude. Defoe’s tale is often presented as a lesson in acquiring survival skills, of ingenuity and physical adaptability, but there is no intellectual component to Crusoe’s progress.

Crusoe has already brought his cultural and social values with him, and they are merely suspended on the island, while Crusoe awaited rescue and return to society. Crusoe having survived and progressed in skills and self-confidence, applying technology and entrepreneurship, the island becomes a productive colony and material resource to Crusoe.

The reader might well be disappointed at the end of the novel to learn that Crusoe’s solitude has only been a device for his turn of fortune and real goal of making money. Upon rescue, Crusoe profits from selling the loyal Xury into slavery and is pleased to learn that his Brazilian plantation, with its slave labor, is doing nicely.

Crusoe’s transformation from terrified and confused survivor to colonial master and avenging overlord of his island marks Robinson Crusoe as one of the key modern myths of Uayy and even of European culture.

The baggage of social and cultural values carried into solitude or fictional settings of isolation are further explored by modern writers such as William Golding in his Lord of the Flies. In this novel, adolescent boys shipwrecked on an island revert to the worst instincts, lacking social authority to enforce order. This cautionary tale proposes not so much a vision of solitude but a vision of society in its barest form. The predatory behavior on the uninhabited island is to be taken as human’s natural tendency and the violent potential of aggression and power when stripped of the contrivances of class, caste, and civilization civilization as yazan ” civitas ,” meaning city or city life.

In Golding’s scenario there is no opportunity tuffayl explore refinements of reason and yaazan attainment of enlightenment, for his characters are already formed, immaturely incapable of profound thought.