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Ibn Hazm

Ibn Hazm

Abū Muḥammad ʿAlī ibn Aḥmad ibn Saʿīd ibn Ḥazm also sometimes known as al-Andalusī aẓ-Ẓāhirī; November 7, 994 – August 15, 1064 (456 AH) was an Andlusian polymath born in Cordoba, present-day Spain. He was a leading proponent and codifier of the Zahiri school of Islamic thought, and produced a reported 400 works of which only 40 still survive, covering a range of topics such as Islamic jurisprudence, history, ethics, comparative religion and theology, as well as The Ring of the Dove, on the art of love. The Encyclopaedia of Islam refers to him as having been one of the leading thinkers of the Muslim world and he is widely acknowledged as the father of comparative religious studies.


Ibn Hazm was born into a notable family. His grandfather Sa’id who moved to Cordoba and his father Ahmad both held high advisory positions in the court of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham II. The family claimed to be of Arabian descent.


Having been raised in a politically and economically important family, Ibn Hazm mingled with people of power and influence all his life. He had access to levels of government by his adolescence that most people at the time would never know throughout their whole lives. These experiences with government and politicians caused Ibn Hazm to develop a reluctant and even sad skepticism about human nature and the capacity of human beings to deceive and oppress. His reaction was to believe that there was no refuge or truth except with an infallible God, and that with men resided only corruption. Ibn Hazm was thus known for his cynicism regarding humanity and a strong respect for the principles of language and sincerity in communication.


Ibn Hazm lived among the circle of the ruling hierarchy of the Umayyad government. His experiences produced an eager and observant attitude, and he gained an excellent education at Cordoba. His talent gained him fame and allowed him to enter service under the Caliphs of Caliphs of Cordoba and Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir, Grand Vizir to the last of the Umayyad caliphs, Hisham III. He was also a colleague of Abd al-Rahman Sanchuelo.

After the death of the grand vizier al-Muzaffar in 1008, the Umayyad Caliphate of Iberia became embroiled in a civil war that lasted until 1031 resulting in its collapse of the central authority of Cordoba and the emergence of many smaller incompetent states called Taifas.

Ibn Hazm’s father died in 1012 and as Ibn Hazm continued to speak in favor of a centralized political structure, he was accused of supporting the Umayyads, for which he was frequently imprisoned. By 1031, Ibn Hazm retreated to his family estate at Manta Lisham and had begun to express his activist convictions in the literary form. According to one of his sons, Ibn Hazm produced some 80,000 pages of writing, consisting of 400 works, only 40 of those works are still existent. A varied character of Ibn Hazm’s literary activity covers an impressive range of anthropology, genealogy, jurisprudence, logic, history, ethics, comparative religion, Islamic studies, Muslim prophetic tradition and theology. He is also known to have been fond of adventure and travels, and wrote about his visit to the island of Majorca and its capitol Palma. His notes grant interesting insight into the invention and construction of caravels.

According to a saying of the period, “the tongue of Ibn Hazm was a twin brother to the sword of al-hajjaj” (an infamous 7th century general and governor of Iraq) and he became so frequently quoted that the phrase “Ibn Hazm said” became proverbial.

As an Athari, he opposed the allegorical interpretation of religious texts, preferring instead a grammatical and syntactical interpretation of the Quran. He granted cognitive legitimacy only to revelation and sensation and considered deductive reasoning insufficient in legal and religious matters. He rejected practices common among more heterodox schools such as jurist discretion. While initially a follower of the Malikite school of law within Sunni Islma, he switched to the Shafi’te rite later and, around the age of thirty, finally settled with the Zahirite school. He is perhaps the most well-known adherent to the school, and the main source of extant works on Zahirite law. He studied the school’s precepts and methods under Abu al-Khiyar al-Dawudi al-Zahiri of Santarem Municipalty, and was eventually promoted to the level of a teacher of the school himself. In 1029, the two of them were expelled from the main mosque of Cordoba for their activities.


Ibn Hazm has been described as the second most prolific author in Muslim history, only surpassed by Muhammad Ibn Jarir al-Tabari in terms of works authored. While much of Ibn Hazm’s work was burned in Seville by an alliance of his sectarian and political opponents, a number of his books have survived. His writing style has been described as repetitive, which was Ibn Hazm’s way of emphasizing a point he felt was important to a given discussion. His method of dialogue was harsh, and he appeared to have little fear or respect for those who disagreed with him, be they fellow academics or government officials.

In addition to works on law and theology, Ibn Hazm also wrote more than ten books on medicine. He also addressed the issue of integrating the sciences into a standard curriculum for education; his work Organization of the sciences divides education of the various fields diachronically into stages of progressive acquisition. The entire curriculum he suggests spans five years, starting with language and exegesis of the Quran, includes the life and physical sciences and culminates with a sort of rational theology.

Detailed Critical Examination

In his Fisal (Detailed Critical Examination), a treatise on Islamic science and theology, Ibn Hazm stressed the importance of sense perception as he realized that human reason can be flawed. While he recognized the importance of reason, since the Quran itself invites reflection, he argued that this reflection refers mainly to revelation and sense  data, since the principles of reason are themselves derived entirely from sense experience. He concludes that reason is not a faculty for independent research or discovery, but that sense perception should be used in its place, an idea that forms the basis of empiricism.


Ibn Hazm wrote the Scope of Logic, in which he stressed on the importance of sense perception as a source of knowledge. He wrote that the “first sources of all human knowledge are the soundly used senses and the intuitions of reason, combined with a correct understanding of a language.” Ibn Hazm also criticized some of the more traditionalist theologians who were opposed to the use of logic and argued that the first generations of Muslims did not rely on logic. His response was that the early Muslims had witnessed the revelation directly, whereas the Muslims of his time have been exposed to contrasting beliefs, hence the use of logic is necessary in order to preserve the true teachings of Islam.


In his book, In Pursuit of Virtue, Ibn Hazm had urged his readers with the following:

Do not use your energy except for a cause more noble than yourself. Such a cause cannot be found except in Almighty God Himself: to preach the truth, to defend womanhood, to repel humiliation which your creator has not imposed upon you, to help the oppressed. Anyone who uses his energy for the sake of the vanities of the world is like someone who exchanges gemstones for gravel.

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