Eclectic and polyedric personality, Ibn Hazm was a witness, with his adventurous life, of the splendour and contradictions of his town. Cordoba, refined crossroads of the Arab-Andalusian civilization, suffered – around the year 1000 – violent intestine fights. The pernicious rancour of the three main parties (Arabs, Berbers and the Saqālibas)(1) with a strong ethnic background divided the town with the precise will of a reciprocal politic and social exclusion.(2) A long series of betrayals and bloody encounters is a clear sign of the difficulties of the time.
The history of his life is strongly characterized by the personal experiences of the escape and exile. It is impossible to understand his thought without a constant reference to this peculiar aspect.
Abu Muhammad Ali b. Ahmad b. Said Ibn Hazm was born in Cordoba in 994 in a rich and influential family of lawyers and clerks at the service of the Umayyad court. The fact that the origins of the family are obscure, it made develop some interpretations, among them, very original, that he is a probable descendent of Christians converted into Islam.(3) His father Ahmad reached such an eminent position in the administration that he became visir of the court chamberlain Al Mansur, regent of the Caliphate, and of his son Al- Muzaffar.
The father’s position gave him the possibility to live the first years of his life in the Harem of the Palace, surrounded by solicitous feminine care. This sentimental education had a deep effect on his psychology and character.
A detailed biographical portrait of those years, rich of suggestions and fantasies, is in the Tawq al-Hamama (Dove’s collar), masterpiece of love literature and a precious historical document to discover the mentality and the modus vivendi of the Umayyad Cordoba.
The strong influence of Islamic Platonism, and especially of the Mohammad Ibn Dawud’s Kitab al-Zohra, is clear and explicit in the direct and indirect quotations of the Symposium. At the beginning of this work we can read: "Some followers of the philosophy think that God created each spirit giving him a spherical form; then he divided him in two parts, putting each of the two halves in a body".(4) This platonic reference is the doctrinal basis of his theory of encounter between the souls and the secret of love, which consists of the subsequent reunification of these two parts divided in their initial common belongings.(5)
The teaching of the Phaedrus is still more evident when he deals with the modalities in which love finds its proper origins. In fact, according to the Andalusian philosopher, the cause of love "is an exteriorly beautiful form, because the soul is beautiful and desires passionately everything that is beautiful, and it is inclined to perfect images. If it sees such an image, it stares at it; and if later it discovers something of its nature, it is irresistibly attracted to it, resulting in true love. But if it does not see something of his own nature beyond the image, its effect doesn’t go beyond the form".
In this contest, anyway, the apparent form (zahir) assumes a mystical character in which the external beauty is the first expression of the καλοκάγαθια (6) and the reflective image of divinity and "of the celestial world of the spheres".(7) Virtue, beauty and enchantment join together in a temporal union showing, as in all Arab Neo-Platonist poetry(8), a theophanic connotation in which "the appearance becomes apparition"(9) in a continuous movement through the Highest. This does not mean that it is licit to divinize love, it would be a tragic mistake. But it is an obliged passage: "the only bridge that crosses the stream of Tawhid".(10)
The Ibn Hazm’s lyric is a sublime metaphysical manifestation of the sentiments in "a existentialistic dialectics".(11) The English orientalist A.R. Nykl underlined the strict analogy between the Ibn Hazm’s theory of love and some interpretations present in the poetry of William IX of Aquitaine and in many other western medieval authors to be considered the father of the chivalrous poetry of the troubadours.(12)
The youth of Ibn Hazm, unfortunately, broke off when the political fights in his beloved town became more bloody and violent. At the age of fourteen he saw the fall of the caliph Hisham II, who was substituted by Muhammad Al-Mahdi. The father of Ibn Hazm lost his power and was forced to abandon Cordoba. Even though Hisham took again the regency after the murder of Al-Mahdi, the situation of the family continued to degenerate until the Slav general Wadih imprisoned his father and confiscated all their properties and goods. In this period of uncertainty and trepidation Ibn Hazm matures his legitimist opinions in favour of the Umayyad dynasty and the Andalusian Arabs.
The blind fidelity to that party was often the main cause of his sorrows and pains so that in several occasions he had no other chance than the exile. Many commentators and scholars have seen in this political choice a sharp contradiction opposite his moral rigidity because the Andalusian Umayyad dynasty, according to many Muslim historians, was accused to be far from the original spirit of Islam.
At the death of his father (1012) and after the destruction of his house (1013) he found refuge in Almeria. His presence was well accepted until the local governor made an agreement with the Berbers and Ibn Hazm, suspected of pro-Umayyad propaganda, was imprisoned for some months and, then, expelled from the town.
After a brief refuge in Hisn al-Kasr (Murcia) with his faithful companion Muhammad b. Ishak, he joined the legitimist troops in Valencia called by Abd Al-Rahman IV al-Murtada, who was ready to declare war against the Berbers in Cordoba. He became visir of Al-Murtada and during the war operations was captured and, subsequently, released. In 1023 al-Kasim b. Hammud was dismissed and the Berbers were expelled from Cordoba. Abd Al-Rahman V al-Mustazhir gave him again the possibility to be visir. Unfortunately, the political season of the new caliph took no more than six months being killed in mysterious circumstances.
This is an important reference-point in the life of Ibn Hazm: again imprisoned he matured a profound resignation towards the political activity and a sentiment of misanthropy that appears clearly in his moral treatises. Even though some sources speak of an engagement at the court of Hisham al-Hisham in Jativa (1027), the majority of historians and biographers affirms that after this tragic experience he chose a voluntary retire in silence. In Manta Lisham he found consolation in his studies writing about 400 works until the end of his days (1064).
He resumed in his works all the knowledge of his time (13) both for pedagogical purposes and to investigate and correct the opponents. His Risala fi maratib al-ulum is a magnificent educational program in which the natural connections among all the sciences are demonstrated and he sustains the renunciation of pleasures to reach a knowledge that is, first of all, a step towards the well-being and the beauty of the future life. The education, therefore, is an integrant part of a wider ethical and metaphysical way. His style is characterized by a constant relation to rectitude and probity as well as a stubborn reaction against the vices which he considered the cause of the immorality and decadence of his times. This condemn is an evident example of his proverbial misanthropy in a utopian and constant research of a faithful friendship as the only "source of truth, frankness, mutual comprehension and sincerity."(14)
In the light of this unceasing search of moral certainties, it is understandable his sympathy for the zahirism in which the Revelation is the foundation of a really lived life, purified by all that can degenerate or alter it in its course. According to R. Arnaldez, "the zahirism was for him the expression of his sincerity and the way to submit himself to the implacable proof of the wise men".(15) In the zahirism, in fact, it is valid only the literal sense (zahir) of the Quran and the Tradition rejecting the ra’y (personal opinion) and the kiyas (analogy).(16) The zahirism, therefore, "accepts only the facts clearly revealed by sensible, rational and linguistic intuitions, controlled and corroborated by Quranic Revelation."(17) According to I. Goldziher, a distinguished Hungarian orientalist, the authority of Ibn Hazm is the starting point for the study of the zahirism and of its development.(18) In it the Cordoban philosopher found a right way between the malekism, triumphant in Maghreb and Andalucia, and the shafiism.
It is necessary to specify the methodological approach of Ibn Hazm just to avoid an impartial, reductive and improper impression of his philosophy: notwithstanding the reason is not capable to define tout court the good and the evil and to understand entirely the reality, it is the preliminary point for the understanding of the revelation.(19) Thanks to the intuition of the senses and the experience, an idea of God, that is magnificently expressed in the Quran is reachable, to which the reason is directed to understand the holy text and apply it in the right way.
The reason, in fact, is not contrary to the religion but a route leading directly to the faith: "The philosophy, considered in its essentiality, is no more than the correction or the improvement of the human soul, achieved by the practice of moral virtues and good behaviour in this life with the aim of reaching in the other one the salvation."(20) In this perspective his call for prudence and vigilance in the reading and comprehension of the holy texts is understandable, far from any addition and interpretation of those jurists and theologians that were modifying the message of the Prophet and its real meaning.
Apparently insensible to historical changes, he wanted to bring back jurisprudence to the original teaching of the Prophet and his Companions.(21) The Law, therefore, is in primis "a religious reality that gives the opportunity to obey to God and submit to Him."(22) During the centuries Ibn Hazm has been criticized for his exasperated strictness and rigour that seemed to separate the law from the historical vicissitudes. Undoubtedly this concern for the originality of his message reflects the torment and the personal suffering of a man lived in "the most tragic moments of the Muslim Spain" and of "the decisive crisis of Islam in Andalucia".(23)
In his theological, moral and philosophical works as well as in the Down’s Collar appear, in fact, together with a developed capacity to investigate the human psychology, a strong pessimism and a sense of bitterness. Ibn Hazm, as many other Muslim mystics, "has no confidence in man and is reluctant to search in the profundities of the human consciousness a state of genuine sincerity in which the presence of the divine action is revealed".(24) The consciousness has an artificial nature that forms a sort of barrier.
This concept is well developed in his theories of language. The language, in fact, is not considered as a reality established by God but a simple way to discover and express the truth. In the language, anyway, there are divine roots (asl al-lugha): they should not be covered by the futility and falsity of the enunciation that would deprive the language itself of sense and efficacy (ibtal al-lugha). The principal aim of the language is the mutual comprehension (tafahum) that means clearness, sincerity, integrity of the thought and honesty far from any form of enigmatic or mysterious expressions. The language’s perfection is given from its external form or zahir in which the real meaning is expressed without the risk of confusion and misunderstanding. Ibn Hazm is decidedly contrary to any form of "hidden meaning" or batin, which alters the real understanding and it is at the mercy of personal judgements and passions. His conception, properly defined by H. Corbin as esoteric, wants to escape from any psychological interpretation (essoteric) to avoid a multitude of meanings that interfere in the discourse modifying elements and values.
The word, at the same time, has in itself a "significant meaning" or dalil and a "nominal meaning" or ishara: using the terms, everyone has to put attention to the proper meaning without replacing it with a subjective or personal one. In the elaboration of the theory of the universals, his position is still clearer because "the names are only significant and distinct expressions of the denominated objects, used to understand each other."(25)
A relation exists between the name and the nominated thing: this relation can be privative : in that case the universals do not correspond to the thing itself, or to the reality.
Quranic Arabic (mubin, clear), which has in itself the seal of the Revelation, is a starting point for any study on the language. For this reason the literal sense of the revealed words cannot be obscured risking to manipulate the true message and the pure intentions of God. The reason, therefore, as we have already said partly, does not have a superior role to the word but it is a vivid consequence: it is oriented to understand the signs of God but it can not, in any way, replace them.
Between God and his creatures there is an ontological abyss so that reason is impotent: "In the question of the divine names and attributes, the truth consists of affirming that the only positive existing realities are the Creator and his creatures, and that all the divine attributes and names that God does not give us textually in His revelation as his proper, it is not licit to us to attribute to Him; all that He gives us literally, on the contrary, is truth that we have to respect and obey."(26)
The importance of the language, evident in the quoted text, is undoubtedly witnessed by his limpid, frank and, at the same time, vigorous style in which his subtle qualities of synthesis show up.
Some chronicles mention his famous invectives against those self-styled theologians who entangle the truth with sentences rich of thousands of words but lacking in sense. The coherence of the language is a limpid image of life’s coherence: the research for an appropriate terminology is an effort to which we are constantly called to avoid that abstraction substitute reality.
In the Kitab al-Fisal wal-nihal, commonly considered an encyclopedical treatise on the religions and sects, Ibn Hazm investigates the Christian and Jewish traditions. It is historically certain a dispute with Ibn Naghrila, an eminent Grenadian Jewish scholar, on strictly theological arguments.(27)
In this detailed study on the conception of the truth in the different theological and philosophical components, he criticized their mistakes and showed the contradictions: from the doctrinal absurdity of sophists and sceptics, he arrives to reject the astral religions – foreboding superstitions and vacuity -, the Manichean dualism and the theory of metempsychosis.
Ibn Hazm also shows to be a historian with excellent qualities of analysis. His method suffers, however, an excessive partiality: his formal vice is an investigation of religions not with the aim to understand them but only in a perspective of relationship or contraposition to Islam and his laws. Firstly he analyses, with wealth of details, the so-called "limited conception of the prophecy" in the Judaism to which the idea of abrogation is completely obscure: "God sent Him (the Prophet) to all the Djinns and to all men, and his mission goes from the period in which he was sent to the end of the world and to the hour of Judgement; he abrogates, for the religion that he brings the other religions, and no other abrogant exists but him."(28) Subsequently, he hurls himself against the Gospels considered spurious and manipulated not to deserve any credibility. According to his lexicographic investigation, especially directed to the prologue of the Gospel of Luke, there are visible contradictions that confirm its unreliability.
Even harsher is the condemnation of the Christian Trinitarian doctrine seen as an innovation and corruption of the concept of God. It is important to say, at this point, that Ibn Hazm had direct contact with some exponents of several Christian heresies; this did not facilitate a complete comprehension of the Christian religion.
In the Fisal and other works he did not avoid criticising his contemporary coreligionists that deviated, in his opinion, from the Way of Revelation.(29) Against the mu’tazilit school, he affirms a coincidence of essence or quidditas (ma’iyya) and existence (30): "It is self-evident that the essence of God is not other than Him; […] through His names no other than Him is expressed (la yu’abbaru biha illa ‘anhu)."(31)
During his life Ibn Hazm had a strong opposition to his theological ideas that were criticised and struggled with the accuse of a dangerous heterodoxy.(32)
At the end of this introduction to Ibn Hazm it is worth saying that the complexity of his thought and the enormous production make him one of the most important figure in the Islamic medieval philosophy.
The Encyclopaedia of Islam, E.J. Brill, Leiden 1991
Articles : Ibn Hazm ( by R. Arnaldez)
Al-Zahiriyya (by Abdel-Magid Turki)
Unesco (edited by), Hégire, an 1400 , Cultures vol. VII n.4, Unesco-Baconnière, Paris 1980
C. D’Ancona (edited by), Storia della filosofia nell’Islam medievale, vol. II, Einaudi, Torino 2005
R. Arnaldez, Grammaire et Théologie chez Ibn Hazm de Cordoue, Essai sur la structure et le conditions de la pensée musulmane, Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, Paris 1956
A. Badawi, Histoire de la philosophie en Islam, Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, Paris 1972
R. Caspar, Traite de Théologie musulmane, P.I.S.A.I., Roma 1996
H. Corbin, Storia della filosofia islamica, Adelphi, Milano 1991
M. Cruz Hernandez, Historia del pensamiento en el mundo islamico- vol. II Desde el Islam andalusì hasta el socialismo àrabe, Alianza Universidad, Madrid 1981
A.Ljamai, Ibn Hazm et la polemique islamo-chrétienne dans l’Histoire de l’Islam, Brill, Leiden 2003
S. Noja, Storia dei popoli dell’Islam-L’Islam dell’espansione (632-1258) vol. II, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milano 1993
G. Quadri, La philosophie arabe dans l’Europe médiévale, Payot, Paris 1947
P.C. Scales, The fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba,Berbers and Andalusis in conflict, Brill, Leiden 1994
J. Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1982
A-M. Turki, Théologiens et juristes de l’Espagne musulmane : aspects polémiques, G.P. Maisonneuve, Paris 1982
P. Vilar, Storia della Spagna, Garzanti, Milano 1977
D. Wasserstein, Samuel Ibn Naghrila Ha-Nagid and islamic Historiography in al-Andalus,in Al Quantara, Revista de estudios árabes, CSIC- Escuela de Estudios Arabes, Madrid, año 1993, vol. XIV, N.1, pg. 109-126
Annotation(1) The Saqālibas were the Andalusian Slavs.
(2) P.C. Scales, The fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba,Berbers and Andalusi in conflict, Brill, Leiden 1994
(3) R. Arnaldez, Ibn Hazm, in E.I., pg. 790
(4) Quotation from the “Dove’s collar” in H. Corbin, Storia della Filosofia Islamica, Adelphi, Milano 1991, pg. 235
(5) H. Corbin, Storia della Filosofia Islamica, Adelphi, Milano 1991, pg. 235
(6) In the platonic philosophy it is the union of beautiful and good -"kalós kai agathós"- in a moral, spiritual and bodily whole.
(7) Quotation from the “Dove’s collar” in H. Corbin, Storia della Filosofia Islamica, Adelphi, Milano 1991, pg. 235
(8) A compared study of the works of Ruzbehan of Shiraz, Ibn Arabi and Ibn Hazm would be very interesting. Notwithstanding the different schools, they find in this point substantial concordances.
(9) H. Corbin, Storia della Filosofia Islamica, Adelphi, Milano 1991, pg. 235
(10) Quotation of the “Dove’s collar” in H. Corbin, Storia della Filosofia Islamica, Adelphi, Milano 1991, pg. 236
(11) R. Arnaldez, Ibn Hazm, in E.I., pg. 793
(12) A.R. Nykl, Hispano-arabic Poetry and its relations with the old Provençal Troubadours, Baltimore 1946
(13) R. Dozy defined him in one of his essays “Vir immensae doctrinae”.(14) R. Arnaldez, Ibn Hazm, in E.I., pg. 792
(15) R. Arnaldez, Grammaire et théologie chez Ibn Hazm de Cordone, Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, Paris 1956, pg. 24
(16) Abdel-Magid Turki, al-Zahiriyya, in E.I., pg. 394
(17) R. Arnaldez, Grammaire et théologie chez Ibn Hazm de Cordone, Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, Paris 1956, pg. 199
(18) I. Goldziher, Die Zahiriten, ihr Lehrsystem und ihre Geschichte, Leipzig 1884
(19) R. Caspar, Traité de Théologie Musulmane, Tome I, P.I.S.A.I., Rome 1996, pg. 217
(20) Quotation from Fisal according to the translation of M. Asin Palacios in M. Cruz Hernandez, Historia del Pensamiento en el mundo islamico, vol. II, Alianza Editorial, Madrid 1981, pg. 41.
(21) R. Arnaldez, Ibn Hazm, in E.I., pg. 795
(23) Ibid., pg. 790
(24) Ibid, pg. 793
(25) M. Cruz Hernandez, Historia del Pensamiento en el mundo islamico, vol. II, Alianza Editorial, Madrid 1981, pg. 40
(26) Quotation from Fisal according to the translation of M. Asin Palacios in M. Cruz Hernandez, Historia del Pensamiento en el mundo islamico, vol. II, Alianza Editorial, Madrid 1981, pg. 42-43.
(27) D. Wasserstein, Samuel Ibn Naghrila Ha-Nagid and islamic Historiography in al-Andalus,in Al Quantara, Revista de estudios árabes, año 1993, vol. XIV, N.1, pg. 109,126.
(28) Quotation from Maratib al-Ijma in R. Arnaldez, Grammaire et théologie chez Ibn Hazm de Cordone, Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, Paris 1956, pg. 12
(29) G. Quadri, La philosophie arabe dans l’Europe Médiéval, Payot, Paris 1947, pg. 24 e ss.
(30) C. D’Ancona (edited by), Storia della Filosofia nell’Islam Medievale, vol. II, Einaudi, Torino 2005, pg. 680.
(31) Quotation from Fisal in R. Arnaldez, Grammaire et théologie chez Ibn Hazm de Cordone, Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, Paris 1956, pg. 289.
(32) S. Noja, Storia dei Popoli dell’Islam- L’Islam dell’espansione (632-1258), vol. II, Arnoldo Mondatori Editore, Milano 1993, pg. 209.