“Hayy ibn Yaqzan” by Ibn Tufail

This article is also available in: Italiano

“Hayy ibn Yaqzan” is without a shadow of a doubt among the most interesting and profound works of all Arab-Hispanic culture, showing us the search for the Divine from the point of view of a young man who grew up alone on a desert island

Hayy ibn Yaqzan

One of the greatest expressions of Arab-Hispanic culture in its happiest moment (the author was, among other things, a friend of Averroes), this famous philosophical novel – the story of a child who grows up alone on a desert island and comes raising by its own strength to the contemplation of the highest metaphysical principles – appears for the first time in the Italian version. However, it is not new for the Christian West: already dear, not surprisingly, to Pico della Mirandola who edited the first Latin translation, it was translated again in the seventeenth century with the title Philosophus autodidactus, probably in time to influence the idea of Robinson Crusoe and to become a point of reference for the Enlightenment culture up to perhaps Rousseau’s Emile.

Achieve illumination starting from 0

The novel tells the story of a young man who grew up alone on a desert island and his discovery of creation and divine laws, who in an incessant alternation of science and philosophy, will be able to bring him to a real “enlightenment” without that he is not even able to speak. Ibn Tufail’s extraordinary work analyzes behavior and the human psyche, showing us step by step a path that will lead the reader to reflect on every stage of creation and its being, necessarily leading him to ask himself what “God” actually is and bringing him so to rethink its role in the universe and the Oneness that governs everything.

“It became clear to him that this necessary Being was devoid of the properties of bodies, in every respect; it was therefore possible to grasp Him only through a thing that was not a body, nor a faculty in a body, nor was it connected in some way to bodies, it was neither internal, nor external, nor conjoined with them, nor separate. He had already understood that he perceived Him with his essence and that His knowledge was imprinted in him, and it was manifest to him that his essence with which he perceived Him was not bodily, and possessed none of the properties of bodies, and that all that he perceived corporeal in the exteriority of his essence, was not his real essence; but his real essence was only that thing with which he could perceive the absolute Being and necessary. When he realized that his essence was not these bodily things that he perceived with his senses and that his skin surrounded, his body seemed completely insignificant and he began to meditate on that noble essence with which he perceived that noble and necessary Being. “

The turning point in Hayy’s mind will in fact be that of transcending science, already widely questioned, and devoting himself to mere thought, the only one capable of making him truly reach the One behind everything and thus allowing him to fully enjoy something. of truly sublime and indescribable. I do not want to venture into writing in a path as beautiful as it is undermined (which I will face instead in video); However, it is enough for you to understand that the degree of faith we are talking about here is extremely similar to that of Sufis such as Ibn ‘Arabi, Rumi and Hallaj, a degree of union so strong with the Divine that many compare it to a moth that burns to fully enjoy the light of the candle.

The ascetic and the people

When Hayy begins to reach that state with some frequency, a new character will arrive on the island: Asal. He was a religious from another island who, in order to retire in the contemplation of creation, decided to come to this island, hitherto considered deserted. Here he will meet Hayy and, recognizing his very high spiritual value, he taught him to speak and spoke to him about his religion, things that greatly pleased the great ascetic, who will push Asal to go back and thus show him what is called ” civilization”.

Hayy ibn Yaqzan

Of course, Hayy will quickly find herself extremely uncomfortable in this new context, quickly realizing that community life is ill-suited to those who want to reach certain spiritual heights, thus returning home with Asal. Back on her island, the protagonist will spend the rest of his time in contemplation, managing to instruct his disciple so that he could come as close as possible to her goals.

Before and unlike Robinson Crusoe

“Hayy ibn Yaqzan” is considered among the greatest works of all time in Arab-Andalusian literature and it is no coincidence that it is among those that, over the centuries, has generated the most emulators ever. In ” Nietzsche in paradise” by Francesca Bocca-Aldaqre (guest on 03.26.21 on the Youtube channel of “Medio Oriente e Dintorni“), in particular, we can observe how figures such as Pico della Mirandola, Spinoza and Leibniz were fascinated by it, contributing to its continuous diffusion among the great European thinkers, reaching up to to Daniel Defoe, the father of Robinson Crusoe.

Hayy ibn Yaqzan
Robinson Crusoe and Friday

According to the author of “Nietzsche in paradiso”, the famous English writer was inspired by this work, but joining his spirit and his contemporaneity to the novel, creating something that, in the final meaning, is very different. Unlike Hayy, in fact, Robinson will set himself the goal of exercising his dominion over things and nature, arriving, precisely for this reason, at perpetual personal dissatisfaction. The difference between the real between the two works, in fact, lies precisely where man is positioned in the world: for Ibn Tufial, in fact, God is the center of everything, not man, and, consequently, Hayy aims to understand universe around him, not to dominate him.


“Hayy ibn Yaqzan” is without a shadow of a doubt one of the masterpieces of Islamic and Andalusian thought, making reasoning of the finest quality, crowned by a masterly translation by Paola Carusi that makes it potentially accessible to anyone. Obviously the more one is expert in the world of philosophy, Islam and the Sufi world, the simpler everything will be; but it must be said that, since the protagonist does not know any of this, in no logical step such knowledge is even necessary.

Hayy ibn Yaqzan

In general, however, I can guarantee that the effort will be rewarded by a real treasure destined to become one of the highest moments experienced by your thinking.

Follow us on our facebook page, Spotify, YouTube,Twitter and Instagram, or on our Telegram channel. Any like, sharing or support is welcome and helps us to dedicate ourselves more and more to our passion: telling the Middle East ..

Leave a Reply