Ibn Hazm of Andalusia, who died 2 years before that major event in British history, the conquest of Britain by William of Normandy in 1066, was one of the great thinkers of our Islamic past.
His great-grandfather Hazm was a convert to Islam, one of the many Spaniards of that time who were drawn to the teachings of the Quran.
Ibn Hazm became a prolific author, writing some 400 works, of which only 40 still exist.
He was an enthusiastic literalist, rejecting Islamic interpretations based upon analogy, and frequently engaged in public debates with Jews and Christians who of course enjoyed their rights as People of the Book in Islamic Spain.
In his famous work In Pursuit of Virtue he wrote in paragraph 79 “Put your trust in a pious man, even if the religion that he practices is a different one from your own. Do not put your trust in anyone who scorns sacred things, even if he claims to belong to your own religion. As for the man who defies the commandments of the Almighty, do not ever trust him with anything you care greatly about.”
This attitude of acceptance and toleration of ‘the other’ was not outstanding at the time in an Islamic community, but when we consider what happened in Spain after the Catholic “Reconquest” as it was called, it is stunning.
The Ottoman Sultan Beyazit had to send ships to Spain to rescue Jews who risked being burnt alive under the Catholic monarchs and hundreds of thousands of Muslims were forced to flee, under the threat of death, to North Africa, leaving their property behind.
Ibn Hazm’s depth of understanding of the human condition seems modern to us.
He wrote: “I have tried to find one goal which everyone would agree to be excellent and worthy of being striven after. I have found only one: to be free from anxiety. …Dispelling anxiety is a goal upon which all nations agree – from the time when the Almighty created the world until the day when this world will pass away and be followed by the Day of Judgement.”
In answer to the question as to how this dispelling of anxiety might be achieved, he concluded: “You should therefore understand that there is only one objective to strive for, it is to dispel anxiety; and only one path leads to this, and that is the service of the most high God. Everything else is misguided and absurd.”
This service to God was described in the following terms: “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.”
Preaching truth, defending womanhood and helping the oppressed have long been the marks of piety in Islamic consciousness.
Although tribalism and worldly ambition eventually brought about the demise of Islamic civilization in Al Andalus, such understanding has never disappeared.
Ibn Hazm found that such service to God could result in incarceration, and today it is even more likely to do so in the various dictatorships ruling much of the Muslim world.