Adonis Diaries

Maimonides (1138-1204) resurrects Ibn Rushd (Averroes) rational works

Posted on: November 7, 2010

Maimonides (1138-1204) resurrects Ibn Rushd (Averroes) rational works

Maimonides (Mussa ibn Maimun) was 12 years younger than Ibn Rush (Averroes); they both were born in the same cultured city of Cordoba (southern Spain).

Cordoba was for over a century the center of intellect and civilization around the Mediterranean Sea basin.  In 1149, the family of Maimonides were given the option of leaving the city or convert to Islam:  A new Islamic tribe from Morocco (Almohades or the Al Muwahhidun) imposed a conservative climate in that free-spirited city where Moslems, Christians, and Jews lived in harmony.

The fathers of Maimonides and Ibn Rush are friends:  Ibn Rushd’s father is a Moslem judge while Maimonides’ father is a Rabbi of the Jewish community. Maimonides’ father encouraged the Jews who could not afford to leave to convert to Islam:  Islam is one of the purest monolithic religion and the mosques have no idols, icons, or pictures, on the basis that in due time, converted Jews can leave in order to resume their traditional ceremonies and way of life.

The family of Maimonides opted to leave:  It stays in Toledo (a city under King Alphonse VII of Castile), then move on to southern France to join a large Jewish community.  In 1160, the family is in Fez  (Morocco) and stayed there for 5 years; the family transfer to Tanger where Ibn Rushd is judge there.

In 1165, the family immigrated to Palestine. The father dies in Akka.  Maimonides is head of the family and they move to Alexandria (Egypt) and then to Fostat, 5 miles away from the Capital Cairo.  Maimonides will remain there and become the Ayubid Sultan’s physician.

Maimonides relied on Ibn Rushd’s works to perpetuate the rational and scientific trend.  He wrote:

“We may dispense of Platon’s works:  Aristotle’s works suffice, since they are the foundations and roots of scientific rational methods.  Aristotle’s works are difficult and many propositions cannot be comprehended without the commentaries and interpretations of Ibn Rushd.”

When Ibn Rushd was banned from publishing books or communicating what he wrote  in the last six years of his life, the increased pressures on Ibn Rushd’s freedom of expression resulted in regular events of  public burning of the scholars’ manuscripts.  Luckily, copies reached Cairo, northern Spain, and southern France (Languedoc province) where they were read and translated in Hebrew, Latin, and local languages.

As Ibn Rushd, Maimonides believes that “It is proven that all actions done by man emanate from his own volition.  No external forces oblige him to tend to virtue or evil doing.  Every man can become just or guilty, good or bad; it is his own will that select the way of what he desires.  If we suffer, it is by what we inflict upon ourselves; we tend to attribute our pains as originating from God. Mankind is but another species and element in this cosmos and the universe does not revolve around man.  God is but an abstract concept, even if the Books refer to hands and fingers of God just to accommodating the limited abstraction power of common people.  God should not be described as good, benevolent, compassionate, jealous or any other character attributes since they will break the unity of God.”

In 1199, Judah bin Tibon, who had been translating Maimonides works from Arabic to Hebrew in southern France, expressed the desire to visit him in Cairo. Maimonides discouraged Tibon to undergo this perilous voyage since he won’t have time to meet with him because of his tight schedule.

Maimonides wrote:  “Early every day I have to ride 5 miles to check on the health of the Sultan, his extended family, and the officials in the castle.  I rarely returns home before late in the afternoon.  When I arrive I am met by many visitors, judges, notable people, and mostly patients waiting for health check up.  I barely have time to have my only meal of the day.  By the time the patients are gone it is late at night, frequently until 2am.

On the Sabbath, the Jewish community pay me visit after morning prayer and we study till noon and give them instructions for the week. Frequently, they return after the afternoon prayer and we study some more til evening prayer.  Thus, I never have time for any private meeting.”

Maimonides spread the advice of Ibn Rushd:  “Have no fear searching for truth in sciences.  Truth cannot contradict truth; sciences is in accord with God’s revelations. God has nothing to fear when you use your rational intelligence to discovering the universe and the causes of phenomenon.  Dialectical and rhetorical reasoning cannot compensate for demonstrative reasoning.

Generally, common people confuse inferences with conclusions that are drawn from several premises. For example:  common people say “this person is a thief because he was seen wandering at night” and do not evaluate all the other factors that determine a thieving behavior.  Common people conclude that they will see God as we see the sun when they are told that God is light.

Learned people comprehend that beatitude and grace increase knowledge.  Truth is not intuitive but the accumulation of knowledge; we cannot become astronomer without learning and assimilating geometry and mathematics. Forbidding people from applying scientific methods on the ground that they lead to errors, abuse, and blasphemy is like forbidding someone from drinking lest he dies of thirst on the excuse that some people die from drowning.

Scientific methods of reasoning is not meant to defining God or the operations that lead to the creation of the universe:  It attests to its existence.  We cannot apply to God the categories and human concepts””

In 1180, Maimonides wrote to a Jewish community in Yemen asking for a second opinion:  A Jew proclaimed to be the Messiah

“It is not rare that such type of persons appears in history.  The Messiah cannot keep the promises that this person is spreading of happy eternal life:  The Messiah is not to change the laws of nature; pain, suffering, and injustice will not disappear; deserts will not become green and mountains will not be leveled out. The Messiah is not supposed to be a supernatural entity but someone to put an end to violence.  Those proclaiming to be messiah are but charlatans and mentally sick.”

One of the most known manuscripts of Maimonides is “Guide to the perplexed” or those who cannot help it but constantly raise questions relevant to the meaning of life, the universe, the identity of God… He suggested that the perplexed person gets on with the effort of studying philosophy and apply reason and scientific methods to resolving their uneasy conditions.

In Central Europe of the 18th century, the Hasidic Jewish sect would proclaim Maimonides and all the followers who consider him as their spiritual leader as “heretics”.  Nevertheless, Maimonides works influence Spinoza, Kant, Fichte, Darwin, Freud, Lancan, and Leo Strauss.

Ibn Rushd dared reflect on every single question exposed by the civilization of the period concerning the coherence among religious dogmas and scientific verities; he dared to write his answers.  Maimonides reflected too on the corny questions but refrained from writing them down; you could know his positions by inference to his answers.

A brief background:  In Maimonides life, Europe is still battling among its various Christian schisms of monophysite, Niceans  (Catholics), Nestorians, Arianus followers (predominant among the Germanic and Slavic people).  The Calif of Baghdad is reduced to a figure-head while the Turkish princes are the main power (the Mogul hordes will soon sack and destroy (in 1250) this famous city of Baghdad that concentrated 3 million urban citizens back then).

The Western Roman Empire had vanished, and the Byzantium Empire was weakening (soon will be reduced to a vassal condition to the Ottoman expanding power in Turkey).  Papal Rome is being selected by the Germanic monarchs as well as the bishops, and in many occasions, two popes are elected and backed by various monarchs. The political and military confrontations among the many Christian religious schisms on the nature of Jesus have taken their toll on Europe.

The crusaders are loosing their grips in the eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea, and Saladin recaptured Jerusalem.  The Catholic monarchs of Castile and Aragon (Spain) had started the “reconquista” and Andalusia was wracked by wars among the multiple small kingdoms of Islamic monarchs; these internal wars were called “wars of Tawaif”.  In

In 1112, Ibn Tumar, a literate Berber from Algeria who spent ten years in Iran, returned to proclaim that he is the awaited “hidden” Mahdi (since 874) of the Islam sect the Shias and formed the Almohades (Al Muwayidun) or united Islam.

The Spanish Catholic monarch Alphonse 7th put siege to Cordoba in 1148.  The  Caliph of Cordona Abd Mu2min calls on the Almohades for rescue and outset the Almoravids dynasty (Al murabitun) or the ones in vigilance.  The Almoravids originated from Mauritania and were a powerful tribe of traders in the western Sahara that captured Morocco.

In 1497, Papal Rome encouraged the institution of a university in Padua (Italy) to teaching Aristotle’s works and be translated directly from ancient Greek.  It was a strategy of ignoring the influence of Islamic culture that was spreading in Catholic Europe.  The Renaissance scholars dared not communicate the sources of their knowledge and learning.

Since then, European scholars have continued this custom of deliberately ignoring seven centuries of Islamic civilizations when accounting for western Europe civilization.

Note 1:  I refrained to approach the theological questions and their corresponding responses because I am not interested in abstract concepts that lack demonstrative methods for confirming or denying veracity. Mind you that current borders among the Maghreb States were delimited by the mandated powers of France and Spain. Unless we know exactly the name of the towns and regions, it is difficult to confirm from which current State the persons were from…

Note 2: Ahmed sent me an interesting comment stating that Maimoune had racist attitudes, pretty normal during the Middle Age and and still going strong even today.

“I copied and pasted the translation you mention from the following website:

http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2011/01/judaism-or-racism-the-rambams-view-of-black-people-456/comments/page/2/

This website gives the source as the following: Maimonides, Guide To The Perplexed, Translation from the Hebrew Version.

The popular Jewish Israeli thinker Israel Shahak confirms that Maimonides did indeed express anti-black racist views, also confirming that Kushite means Black people in his book called, “Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years,” which was first published in 1994 by Pluto Press. It can be found online here:

http://www.iamthewitness.com/books/Israel.Shahak/Jewish.History.Jewish%20Religion-The.Weight.of.Three.Thousand.Years.pdf

Understandably translations vary from author to author and an example of this can be downloaded from the University of California internet archive:

http://archive.org/details/guideforperplexe00maim

Download the PDF book. On page 384 you will see the racist quote and the context.

The version of the book I have at home is translated by Michael Friedlaender. You can find it Online here:

http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1256&Itemid=27

Go to Part Iii, Chapter Li. The second paragraph is the following:

“I will begin the subject of this chapter with a simile.

A king is in his palace, and all his subjects are partly in the country, and partly abroad. Of the former, some have their backs turned towards the king’s palace, and their faces in another direction; and some are desirous and zealous to go to the palace, seeking “to inquire in his temple,” and to minister before him, but have not yet seen even the face of the wall of the house. Of those that desire to go to the palace, some reach it, and go round about in search of the entrance gate.

Others have passed through the gate, and walk about in the ante-chamber; and others have succeeded in entering into the inner part of the palace, and being in the same room with the king in the royal palace. But even the latter do not immediately on entering the palace see the king, or speak to him; for, after having entered the inner part of the palace, another effort is required before they can stand before the king—at a distance, or close by—hear his words, or speak to him.

I will now explain the simile which I have made. The people who are abroad are all those that have no religion, neither one based on speculation nor one received by tradition. Such are the extreme Turks that wander about in the north, the Kushites who live in the south, and those in our country who are like these. I consider these as irrational beings, and not as human beings; they are below mankind, but above monkeys, since they have the form and shape of man, and a mental faculty above that of the monkey.”

8 Responses to "Maimonides (1138-1204) resurrects Ibn Rushd (Averroes) rational works"

[…] Maimonides (1138-1204) resurrects Ibn Rushd (Averroes) rational works […]

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Correction! Ibn Tumart was from present day Morocco not Algeria. And the Almoravids did not originate in Mauritania but instead the southern provinces of Morocco.

…If Maimonides had stood in a crowd of his Almohad rulers, he would be invisible in terms of rational thinking. Both were terribly irrational. The only difference is that the latter had an opportunity to rule, meaning their brand of irrationality was enforced across their portfolio, distinguishing a whole space and period. If Maimonides had ruled the empire would there have been a rational utopia?

Read the following example of Maimonides’s thinking as written in his Guide to the Perplexed:

“Those who are incapable of attaining to supreme religious values include the black coloured people and those who resemble them in their climates. Their nature is like the mute animals. Their level among existing things is below that of a man and above that of a monkey.”

Do you want to insert his statement into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Let’s ask Black people in which part of the document we should do this.

It’s fair to say that despite Maiminides’s alleged exceptional rationality for his day, this abominable statement puts him behind History’s fanatic Muslims (like the Almohads) who necessarily adhere to the following Quranic verse (49:13):

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”

Had I been a Black African resident in the empire, I would imagine Almohad fanaticism more preferable to my Maimonidean ejection from the Human Race however rational some may find it. If you don’t consider a demonstrable human a human, imagine what horrors can follow from that. We know this pattern occurs throughout History and ends in mass graves.

great comment. I didn’t read anything from the original work of maimoun and your excerpt is very disturbing.
“Those who are incapable of attaining to supreme religious values include the black coloured people and those who resemble them in their climates. Their nature is like the mute animals. Their level among existing things is below that of a man and above that of a monkey.”
I was about to attach it in a note, but I’d rather wait for you to mail me a few page as in context of this saying.
The borders in the great maghreb are fictitiously drawn by the mandated French and Spanish mandated powers.
Unless we know the exact town or district people were born and raised, it is not obvious which current State to affiliate them to.

I copied and pasted the translation you mention from the following website:

http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2011/01/judaism-or-racism-the-rambams-view-of-black-people-456/comments/page/2/

This website gives the source as the following: Maimonides, Guide To The Perplexed, Translation from the Hebrew Version. I could not find this book, but I still trust the translation is genuine because I previously knew of Maimonides’s not considering Blacks people and nomadic Turks as humans–comparing them instead with monkeys.

The popular Jewish Israeli thinker Israel Shahak confirms that Maimonides did indeed express anti-black racist views, also confirming that Kushite means Black people in his book called, “Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years,” which was first published in 1994 by Pluto Press. It can be found online here:

Click to access Jewish.History.Jewish%20Religion-The.Weight.of.Three.Thousand.Years.pdf

Understandably translations vary from author to author and an example of this can be downloaded from the University of California internet archive:

http://archive.org/details/guideforperplexe00maim

Download the PDF book. On page 384 you will see the racist quote and the context.

The version of the book I have at home is translated by Michael Friedlaender. You can find it Online here:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/index.htm

Go to Part III, Chapter LI, Paragraph 2.

The term Kushites comes from the Hebrew Cushi (כושי‎) and means Black person.

Here is another Online Library that archives the Guide for the Perplexed translated by Michael Friedlaender:

http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1256&Itemid=27

Go to Part Iii, Chapter Li. The second paragraph is the following:

“I will begin the subject of this chapter with a simile. A king is in his palace, and all his subjects are partly in the country, and partly abroad. Of the former, some have their backs turned towards the king’s palace, and their faces in another direction; and some are desirous and zealous to go to the palace, seeking “to inquire in his temple,” and to minister before him, but have not yet seen even the face of the wall of the house. Of those that desire to go to the palace, some reach it, and go round about in search of the entrance gate; others have passed through the gate, and walk about in the ante-chamber; and others have succeeded in entering into the inner part of the palace, and being in the same room with the king in the royal palace. But even the latter do not immediately on entering the palace see the king, or speak to him; for, after having entered the inner part of the palace, another effort is required before they can stand before the king—at a distance, or close by—hear his words, or speak to him. I will now explain the simile which I have made. The people who are abroad are all those that have no religion, neither one based on speculation nor one received by tradition. Such are the extreme Turks that wander about in the north, the Kushites who live in the south, and those in our country who are like these. I consider these as irrational beings, and not as human beings; they are below mankind, but above monkeys, since they have the form and shape of man, and a mental faculty above that of the monkey.”

The “these” in “I consider these as irrational beings” applies to the two extreme categories up north and south of the Arabic Empire and also the ones within who have turned their back to the palace and don’t konw how to communicate with the power-to-be…
They are all irrational because they practically refuse to converse and communicate with people they have no contact with… Ignorance is an equalizer among mankind species, irrelevant of color, origine, or religious confession…Extreme positions are the trade mark of the ignorent people who are never ready to listen and compromise with “outsiders”…
Kushi meant the people in deep Sudan, and having darker skins than the ones living in Egypt or the Maghreb region.
Turks had no black skin, and yet he considered them as extremist in ignorance: They were the mamelouks…and the brutal hired soldiers…
Only the seeking of knowledge is what discriminate mankind from the other species…

“They are all irrational because they practically refuse to converse and communicate with people they have no contact with… Ignorance is an equalizer among mankind species, irrelevant of color, origine, or religious confession.”

Your above comment is an expression of your own opinion, one which you try to attribute as Maimonides message to the reader. However Maimonides was very clear in what he meant; he does not speak about “extreme positions,” which means choosing extreme choices as being the problem with the two groups; he speaks instead about extreme Turks and Kushites (Blacks) as being inferior by race! How do we know he was talking specifically about race? We know because he also makes clear that not only are these two groups inferior in their original geography, but also still inferior even if they exist in Al Andalus, Maghreb, Egypt, ash-Sham:

“…and those in our country who are like these.”

Therefore according to Maimonides it does not matter where Turks and Blacks exist, whether they exist in the so-called extreme zones or the so-called moderate zone, they posses inferior mental faculties, below the human standard.

A 20th century Israeli Jewish thinker called Israel Shahak in his book (Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years) which is available on page 24 here:

Click to access Jewish.History.Jewish%20Religion-The.Weight.of.Three.Thousand.Years.pdf

came to the same conclusion as I have (or I the same conclusion he arrived at) when he tackled Maimonides comment. Shahak said the following:

“The second example comes from the USA, again from an English translation of a book by Maimonides. Apart from his work on the codification of the Talmud, he was also a philosopher and his Guide to the Perplexed is justly considered to be the greatest work of Jewish religious philosophy and is widely read and used even today. Unfortunately, in addition to his attitude towards non-Jews generally and Christians in particular, Maimonides was also an anti Black racist. Towards the end of the Guide, in a crucial chapter (book III, chapter 51) he discusses how various sections of humanity can attain the supreme religious value, the true worship of God. Among those who are incapable of even approaching this are:

“Some of the Turks [i.e., the Mongol race] and the nomads in the North, and the Blacks and the nomads in the South, and those who resemble them in our climates. And their nature is like the nature of mute animals, and according to my opinion they are not on the level of human beings, and their level among existing things is below that of a man and above that of a monkey, because they have the image and the resemblance of a man more than a monkey does.”

Now, what does one do with such a passage in a most important and necessary work of Judaism? Face the truth and its consequences? God forbid! Admit (as so many Christian scholars, for example, have done in similar circumstances) that a very important Jewish authority held also rabid anti-Black views, and by this admission make an attempt at self-education in real humanity? Perish the thought. I can almost imagine Jewish scholars in the USA consulting among themselves, ‘What is to be done?’ – for the book had to be translated, due to the decline in the knowledge of Hebrew among American Jews. Whether by consultation or by individual inspiration, a happy solution’ was found: in the popular American translation of the Guide by one Friedlander, first published as far back as 1925 and since then reprinted in many editions, including several in paperback, the Hebrew word Kushim, which means Blacks, was simply transliterated and appears as ‘Kushites’, a word which means nothing to those who have no knowledge of Hebrew, or to whom an obliging rabbi will not give an oral explanation. (22) During all these years, not a word has been said to point out the initial deception or the social facts underlying its continuation – and this throughout the excitement of Martin Luther.”

Notice that Shahak alludes to translators possibly being steered into inserting the arcane word “Kushite” to appear before the reader instead of the more understandable–and controversial–term “Black people” as originally intended. The motive for making such a change is clear: from 1925 to 1994, in the western world, Black Americans had struggled for and achieved their Civil Rights which created a backlash against everything that opposed it; this was wonderful achievement but its ramifications–and there should be many– should not alter the accuracy and meaning historical works.

On the other hand, to argue against myself, since translators like Friedlander grew up till death in a period where Blacks were inferior according to western culture and its institutions, their world-view must have been shaped to view Blacks as inferior, influencing their interpretations of Maimonides writing, possibly giving us an inaccurate picture of the man.

On the other hand again, Maimonides lived in the 12th and 13th centuries…hardly of civil rights activists.

You are up to a good essay topic:’Racist attitude in the Middle Age: A case study of Jewish Andalusian scholar Maimonide…”
Since you are reading translated works of Maimoun, and you are interested in racist behavior, I suggest you write an article on that subject. I’ll be glad to read it and comment on it and re-post it. A great eye-opener for racism throughout the ages and cultures. And a question: Do you think scholars try to please the common people to acquire the status of “valid scholar” or it is the learned people who influence the attitudes of the common people?

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