112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

When Teleological Worlds Collide: Ibn Jubayr’s Travels through Tethered Destinies

Rebecca Hill, University of California, Los Angeles

In the context of 12th century Spain, I examine the theological, philosophical, and teleological debates between major figures in Islamic thought, including Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Averreos (Ibn Rushd), Al-Ghazali and Ibn Tufail to provide a framework through which to scrutinize Ibn Jubayr’s 1183-1185 journey to Mecca from his residence in Granada, Spain. 


In Book II, Part 8 of Physics, Aristotle posits that it “is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present because we do not observe the agent deliberating…It is plain then that nature is a cause, a cause that operates for a purpose.”  On many boats threatened by tempests or in cities rocked by earthquakes, Ibn Jubayr puzzles over the design of nature that spared Muslim and infidel Christian men alike.

 In the twelfth century, the waves of philosophy and teleology in Muslim Spain were nearly as choppy as those in Christian Europe in the wake of scholasticism. At the behest of Almohad court physician Ibn Tufail, Ibn Rushd, known to the west as Averroes, began his commentaries on the work of Aristotle as well as a rebuttal to Al-Ghazali’s The Incoherence of Philosophers (Tahāfut al-Falasifa), aptly titled The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahāfut al-Tahāfut). Al-Ghazali, oriented toward Sufi ideology and associated with the Asharite School, rejected the tenets of the Greek philosophers and denounced their Muslim translators, such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), as diametrically opposed to Islam. However, Ibn Rushd, perhaps influenced by Ibn Tufail’s mystic novel Hiiy Ibn Yaqzan, saw a greater possibility of synthesizing the epistemological Islamic mandate to know (and to know firsthand, as the novel’s protagonist Hiiy does) with the reasoning and constructivism of Greek thought, or any line of thought, independent of and even supposedly divergent from Islam.

This fusion, not without its wrenching moments of conflict, works through the traveling writing subject Ibn Jubayr on his 1183-1185 journey to Mecca from his home in Granada. In his lifetime, Ibn Jubayr had reason to doubt a divine favoring of even the Muslim-friendly Mediterranean. Christian Europeans were pushing further south into the Iberian Peninsula, and shortly after his travels, by 1192, thrice-crusading Europeans were successful in overturning much of Saladin’s holdings in the Holy Lands. While Ibn Jubayr’s frequent curses against Christian Mediterranean communities enunciate a healthy belief in a kind of occasionalism championed by Al-Ghazali, this travel narrative seems to be a contemplation of his personal fate as well as the fate of the ummat al-Islamiyah in a broader multi-confessional context. While contact with Christians could not be wholly avoided, I argue that Ibn Jubayr’s prolonged attention to Christian roadside attractions en route to and from Mecca betray a deep-seated interest in comparative teleology, such that is permitted or even encouraged by Averroism. His recognition and consideration of competing historical timelines of religious hegemony surface throughout the text, from his wavering between Muslim moon and Christian holy day calendars to the impeccable Christian rule in Sicily. By examining his experiences in multi-confessional cities and international waters, this paper proposes that as Ibn Jubayr nears the end of his journey, repeated firsthand exposure to the Other spiritually sobers rather than invigorates him, allowing for contending teleological discourses but, at least for Jubayr, ones that must be separate from faith.