(In continuation to The Dangerous Student as a Young Man)
It was 424 AH (or 1034 AD) and the scholars and students had gathered at the home of the Grand Shaykh in Isphahan. As they sipped mint tea, a student leaned forward and began to speak. ‘Master, there are certain things that are bothering me.’
‘What are they?’ asked Abu Ali al-Husain ibn Abdallah ibn Senna.
The student hesitated and looked around the room.
‘Don’t be afraid, Abu Youssef,’ said Ibn Senna. ‘Questions are always good. It is only when people stop asking questions that I get bothered.’
The gathered scholars and students smiled. Abu Yousef began to speak.
‘Master let me tell you that I am a great admirer of your books ‘The Canon of Medicine’ and ‘The Book of Healing’. Your studies on the sciences and mathematics leaves everyone astounded.’
Ibn Senna smiled. ‘Come to what is bothering you Abu Yousef.’
Abu Yousef nodded slowly and cleared his throat.
‘Master, it is your work on philosophy and metaphysics that bothers me.’
‘Because it seems you believe there can be independent truths beyond revelation. If that is the case, it could lead to anarchy.’
‘Why should it? It might lead to better understanding. If a man is sick, we all know it is the will of Allah. But if we find out that he is ill because of rotting teeth that have inflamed his gums that have given him a high fever we can treat the symptoms can we not? And what have we found out? Rotting teeth lead to inflamed gums which lead to great pain and high fever. We can go a little further. If we take care of our teeth it will prevent them from rotting. Will it not?’ The gathered people nodded. Ibn Senna continued. ‘Aren’t these independent truths?’
‘But Master, what has this to do with philosophy?’
‘It’s very simple Abu Yousef. My philosophy is to find out the reasons for the causes and the effects of all phenomena. We will then find a whole host of independent truths and we will then be able to celebrate much more fully all that Allah has created. Ask yourselves as to how does a tiny seed turn into a mighty tree? And then you will also know that if there is no seed there will be no tree. How and why do we have rainfall and thunder and lightning? How and why do the stars move across the skies? How and why does a bee suck honey from one flower and pollinate another? How does wheat become bread? The list is endless.’
A scholar spoke up. ‘Master, in all this theory of cause and effect and reason, where is the will of Allah?’
‘Allah is the divine essence of all existence. If there was no essence there would be no existence: Cause and effect. Allah has created everything but does Allah tell us why and how? It is for us to find out. Take the example of the seed that becomes the mighty tree. If it is the will of Allah the seed will receive water and sustenance and become a tree. But if you plant a seed and deny it water and sustenance will it still become a tree? It will not. This is an independent truth. Is it not?
Another scholar leaned forward. ‘What if it is the will of Allah that the seed, without water and sustenance, should grow into a tree?’ There was a murmur and Ibn Senna thought for a while. Then he spoke firmly.
‘Don’t make Allah into a magician. He has made laws that govern all creation and we must try to understand those laws through observation and reason. Always remember there are a design and a harmony in all that He has created. Everything on earth and on to the stars and the universe are in a fine balance and linked to one another. Learn to respect that’
Ibn Senna got up and strode out of the room.