Who Is Ibn Tufail?

Ibn Tufail (c. 1105 – 1185) (أبو بكر محمد بن عبد الملك بن محمد بن طفيل القيسي الأندلسي, Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Tufail al-Qaisi al-Andalusi; Abubacer Aben Tofail; Abubekar or Abu Jaafar Ebn Tophail) was an Arab Andalusian Muslim polymath: a writer, novelist, Islamic philosopher, Islamic theologian, physician, astronomer, vizier, and court official.

As a philosopher and novelist, he is most famous for writing the first philosophical novel, HIbn Tufaylayy ibn Yaqdhan. As a physician, he was an early supporter of dissection and autopsy, which was expressed in his novel.

Album folio fragment with scholar in a garden. Attributed to Muhammad Ali 1610-15. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Born in Guadix, near Granada, he was educated by Ibn Bajjah (Avempace). He served as a secretary for the ruler of Granada, and later as vizier and physician for Abu Yaqub Yusuf, the Almohad caliph, to whom he recommended Ibn Rushd (Averroës) as his own future successor in 1169. Ibn Rushd later reports this event and describes how Ibn Tufayl then inspired him to write his famous Aristotelian commentaries:

Abu Bakr ibn Tufayl summoned me one day and told me that he had heard the Commander of the Faithful complaining about the disjointedness of Aristotle’s mode of expression — or that of the translators — and the resultant obscurity of his intentions. He said that if someone took on these books who could summarize them and clarify their aims after first thoroughly understanding them himself, people would have an easier time comprehending them. “If you have the energy,” Ibn Tufayl told me, “you do it. I’m confident you can because I know what a good mind and devoted character you have, and how dedicated you are to the art. You understand that only my great age, the cares of my office — and my commitment to another task that I think even more vital — keep me from doing it myself.”

Ibn Rushd became Ibn Tufayl’s successor after he retired in 1182; Ibn Tufayl died several years later in Morocco in 1185. The astronomer Nur Ed-Din Al-Bitruji was also a disciple of Ibn Tufayl.

Hayy ibn Yaqzan

Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan: A Philosophical Tale

Ibn Tufail was the author of Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān (حي بن يقظان Alive, son of Awake), also known as Philosophus Autodidactus in Latin, a philosophical romance and allegorical novel inspired by Avicennism and Sufism, and which tells the story of an autodidactic feral child, raised by a gazelle and living alone on a desert island, who, without contact with other human beings, discovers ultimate truth through a systematic process of reasoned inquiry. Hayy ultimately comes into contact with civilization and religion when he meets a castaway named Absal. He determines that certain trappings of religion, namely imagery and dependence on material goods, are necessary for the multitude in order that they might have decent lives. However, imagery and material goods are distractions from the truth and ought to be abandoned by those whose reason recognizes that they are.

Ibn Tufail’s Philosophus Autodidactus was written as a response to al-Ghazali’s The Incoherence of the Philosophers. In the 13th century, Ibn al-Nafis later wrote the Al-Risalah al-Kamiliyyah fil Siera al-Nabawiyyah (known as Theologus Autodidactus in the West) as a response to Ibn Tufail’s Philosophus Autodidactus.

Hayy ibn Yaqdhan had a significant influence on both Arabic literature and European literature, and it went on to become an influential best-seller throughout Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries The work also had a “profound influence” on both classical Islamic philosophy and modern Western philosophy. It became “one of the most important books that heralded the Scientific Revolution” and European Enlightenment, and the thoughts expressed in the novel can be found “in different variations and to different degrees in the books of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Immanuel Kant.”

A Latin translation of the work, entitled Philosophus Autodidactus, first appeared in 1671, prepared by Edward Pococke the Younger. The first English translation (by Simon Ockley) was published in 1708. These translations later may have inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, which also featured a desert island narrative and was the first novel in English. The novel also inspired the concept of “tabula rasa” developed in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) by John Locke, who was a student of Pococke. His Essay went on to become one of the principal sources of empiricism in modern Western philosophy, and influenced many enlightenment philosophers, such as David Hume and George Berkeley. Hayy’s ideas on materialism in the novel also have some similarities to Karl Marx’s historical materialism. It also foreshadowed Molyneux’s Problem, proposed by William Molyneux to Locke, who included it in the second book of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Other European writers influenced by Philosophus Autodidactus included Gottfried Leibniz, Melchisédech Thévenot, John Wallis, Christiaan Huygens, George Keith, Robert Barclay, the Quakers, Samuel Hartlib, and Voltaire.


  • Arabic text of Hayy bin Yaqzan from Wikisource
  • Full pdf of French translation of Hayy bin Yaqzan from Google Books
  • English translations of Hayy bin Yaqzan (in chronological order)
    • The improvement of human reason, exhibited in the life of Hai ebn Yokdhan, written in Arabic above 500 years ago, by Abu Jaafar ebn Tophail, newly translated from the original Arabic, by Simon Ockley. With an appendix, in which the possibility of man’s attaining of the true knowledge of God, and things necessary to salvation, without instruction, is briefly considered. London: Printed and sold by E. Powell, 1708.
    • Abu Bakr Ibn TufailThe history of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, translated from the Arabic by Simon Ockley, revised, with an introduction by A.S. Fulton. London: Chapman and Hall, 1929. available online (omits the introductory section)
    • Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqzān: a philosophical tale, translated with introduction and notes by Lenn Evan Goodman. New York: Twayne, 1972.
    • The journey of the soul: the story of Hai bin Yaqzan, as told by Abu Bakr Muhammad bin Tufail, a new translation by Riad Kocache. London: Octagon, 1982.
    • Two Andalusian philosophers, translated from the Arabic with an introduction and notes by Jim Colville. London: Kegan Paul, 1999.
    • Medieval Islamic Philosophical Writings, ed. Muhammad Ali Khalidi. Cambridge University Press, 2005. (omits the introductory section; omits the conclusion beginning with the protagonist’s acquaintance with Absal; includes §§1-98 of 121 as numbered in the Ockley-Fulton version)
    • Ben-Zaken, Avner, “Taming the Mystic”, in Reading Hayy Ibn-Yaqzan: A Cross-Cultural History of Autodidacticism (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). ISBN 978-0801897399.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia