Ibn al-Sid was the first author to explicitly seek to harmonize religion with the ‘‘sciences of the Ancients.’’ He is best known for his many philological and grammatical works. His main works are a commentary on a classical source of Arabic literary art, Adab al-Kuttab (The Secretaries’ Guide) of Ibn Qutayba, entitled al-Iqtidab (Improvisation), and a treatise on the dogmatic differences in Islam, al-Insafft al-asbab al-mujiba li-khtilaf al-umma (The Equitable Judgment on the Causes Originating Discrepancies in the Community).
In addition, he wrote two books of philosophical content. The first of these was the Kitab al-Masa’il
( The Book of Questions), which is a compilation of questions written in a sometimes lively and personal style. Several questions relate to philosophy. In the most important of these, he narrates that he had a visit from a friend who told him he regretted having heard the reciting of two verses of Abu l-Walid al-WaqqashI, a learned Mu'tazilite, then deceased, who was suspected of heresy. These verses were ambiguous and seemed to emphasize the futility of religion. Ibn al-Sid then begins to explain to his friend that these words may also be understood differently. Referring to al-FarabI, he shows that philosophy and religion come together as for their ultimate goal. The two channels differ only by the means used to reach this goal, namely the cognition of truth. one is concerned with demonstration and the other with persuasion and imagination. The reason for the existence of these two complementary, though distinct, modalities of science (‘ilm) is the inequality of human nature. Some humans are not equipped with a power of understanding sufficient to reach the truth through demonstration: thus, religion establishes the same truths by means of persuasion. This is a theme that would subsequently be taken up by Averroes.
Religion need not be demonstrated by apodictic reasoning, since it is, according to the teaching of al-FarabI, based on different modes of rhetorical persuasion. Its foundations, its ‘‘demonstration,’’ as explained in the continuation of this text, is exterior to the discourse, and consists in the miracles accomplished by the Prophet. one can thus conceive of the coexistence of two models of truth that do not interfere with one another, namely that of the Law, ‘‘followed by persuasion and imitation,’’ and that of philosophy. The latter remains dependent on the maintaining of religion, because the acquisition of philosophy necessarily requires a habit of virtue that cannot be instilled by anything but religion.
Another ‘‘Question’’ reflects a controversy with Ibn Bajja, which was likely to have taken place in Zaragoza during Ibn al-Sid’s stay in the city. Ibn al-Sid accused Ibn Bajja of unreasonably reducing the grammatical notions of ‘‘theme’’ and ‘‘rheme’’ of the utterance (mubtada' and khabar) to the logical notions of‘‘subject’’ and ‘‘predicate.’’ The latter imply an ontological relationship of inherence of the predicate in the subject, while the utterance on the linguistic level tells nothing about such a relation: instead, it is an act inscribed in the proper order of language, independent of categorical logic. Ibn al-Sid testifies to a rejection of the introduction of logical concepts in grammar, stating that ‘‘their aim is not the same.’’ This debate introduced into Hispanic-Muslim territory the theme of the famous controversy held in Baghdad, between the logician Abti Bishr Matta and the grammarian al-Sirafi (see the entries on Translations from Greek into Arabic and AbU Bishr Matta in this volume).
The second philosophical book is the Kitab al-Hadai’q (The Book of Circles). This book, divided into seven chapters, is the first relatively systematic presentation known in Andalusia of a Graeco-Arabic emanationist metaphysics inspired by Neoplatonism, which Ibn al-Sld notably refers to ‘‘Socrates, Plato, Aristotle.’’ The symbolism of the three degrees of emanation, that is, the Intellect, Soul, and the body, as interlocked circles where the Agent Intellect, the universal Soul, and the human being, respectively, occupy the tenth place, the concept of man as a microcosm, the numerological determinism controlling the procession of beings, with the prominent place given to the Decade, all this refers to a source inspired by Neo-Pythagoreanism, namely the encyclopedia of the ‘‘Brethren of Purity’’ (Ikhwan al-Saflt’), a major source of the early western Muslim falsafa. The general framework of the metaphysical ‘‘system’’ presented by Ibn al-Sld is clearly dependent on al-Farabl. The procession of beings from the One (explained in chapter 1) occurs through a process of successive mediations (tawassut). The ‘‘secondary causes,’’ that is, the intellects moving the spheres, are distinguished, as in al-Farabl, from the Agent Intellect that informs and enlightens the human intellect. The perfection of the human being, treated in chapter 3, consists in the return toward its principle. This requires an ascension through the degrees of the theoretical sciences, that is, mathematics, physics, metaphysics, and theology. This intellectual training produces the union of the human with the Agent Intellect, and allows the human to join a ‘‘boundary’’ between the inferior world and the world of separated beings. Overall, the work shows a high degree of eclecticism. The tradition of the ‘‘Sages’’, whose doctrines Ibn al-Sld wants to expound - as stated in the prologue - generates a kind of timeless continuum where Greeks are not distinguished from Muslims, included the theologians (mutakallimUn). This is illustrated by the fifth chapter, dealing with certain issues of negative theology (i. e., whether we can positively predicate the attributes of creatures of God, or we should limit ourselves to deny their opposites) with references directly issued from the treatises of kalam. The theme of the final chapter, i. e., proofs of the immortality of the soul, reflects the author’s concern to harmonize his doctrine with religious teaching.
The Book ofCircles had a significant posterity in medieval Jewish thought, from Bahiya ibn Paquda to Isaac Abravanel. It was translated twice into Hebrew, and in particular by the famous Samuel ibn Tibbon (c. 1271). It was likely known, in the Almohad period, by Ibn Tufayl.
In the thirteenth century, the fourth Sicilian Question by Ibn Sab‘ln, On the Soul, follows verbatim the arguments of the last chapter of The Book of Circles on soul’s immortality.