Averroës statue in Cordoba, Spain
Averroës statue in Cordoba, Spain

Abu Al-Walid Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Rushd, Ibn Rushd for short, or Averroës, as he is known to the West, was born in Córdoba (Qurtuba), Spain, in 1126 to a family of distinguished Andalusian scholar-jurists. Ibn Rushd was to become a famous philosopher, theologian, physician, and royal consultant. He was a scholar of the natural sciences, namely biology, astronomy, medicine, physics, and the Qur’anic sciences.

His grandfather, after whom he was named, was a renowned chief justice (qadi) in Córdoba and an authority on Malikite jurisprudence, having written two famous books on the subject. At the same time, he was the imam of the Great Mosque of Córdoba. Ibn Rushd’s father was also a judge. Having grown up in a family of scholars, Ibn Rushd received an excellent education in Córdoba in linguistics, Islamic jurisprudence, and theology.

He became very knowledgeable in these subjects, evident through his many writings. He was especially competent in the subject of khilaf, which dealt with controversies in legal sciences. Ibn Rushd had profound knowledge of Aristotelian philosophy, possibly introduced to the subject by one of his teachers or one of the leading scholars in Córdoba.

He was educated in medicine and accomplished a major work known as the Al-Kulliyat fi‘l tibb translated as General Medicine in 1169. Ibn Rushd’s writings were so widely celebrated at one time that it was claimed that medieval Islamic philosophy was an earlier version of the European Enlightenment.

In 1153 Ibn Rushd moved to Marrakech, where he met the Almohad ruler Abu Ya’qub Yusuf, who was very impressed with the young Ibn Rushd’s intellect and deep knowledge of philosophy. It is interesting to note that Ibn Rushd was initially reluctant to reveal the extent of his knowledge to the prince because at the time strict Muslim leaders frowned on philosophy, which was considered anti-Islamic.

Ibn Rushd had to fight against this prevalent belief by asserting that philosophy could be compatible with religion, if both were properly understood. He had nothing to fear with regards to the Almohad prince, who admired his wide knowledge.

In fact, the ruler consulted Ibn Rushd on philosophical matters from then on and became his patron. It was also because of Abu Ya’qub’s prompting that Ibn Rushd summarized the works of Aristotle in a clear manner. During this time he also provided detailed commentaries of his Aristotelian philosophy, such that he is popularly known as the Commentator of Aristotle.

In Marrakech, Ibn Rushd remained active in other areas beside writing and philosophy. He also made astronomical observations. In 1182 he was appointed chief physician in Marrakech. He then became the chief justice in Córdoba. In 1195 Ibn Rushd fell out of favor with the new Almohad prince during the latter years of his reign. His works were considered contrary to religion, and the Caliph passed edicts forbidding their study. He was banished to Lucena near Córdoba but later returned to Marrakech. He died soon after in December 1198.