Apr 032016


Today is the birthday (1783) of Washington Irving, U.S. author, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820), both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. His historical works include biographies of George Washington, Oliver Goldsmith and Muhammad, and several histories of 15th-century Spain dealing with subjects including Christopher Columbus, the Moors and Alhambra

Irving made his literary debut in 1802 with a series of observational letters to the Morning Chronicle, written under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. After moving to England for the family business in 1815, he achieved international fame with the publication of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1819–20. He continued to publish regularly — and almost always successfully — throughout his life, and just eight months before his death (at age 76, in Tarrytown, New York), completed a five-volume biography of George Washington.

Irving, along with James Fenimore Cooper, was among the first American writers to earn acclaim in Europe, and he encouraged U.S. authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe. Irving was also admired by European writers, including Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Thomas Campbell, Francis Jeffrey, and Charles Dickens. At a time when authors were either independently wealthy or had other professions, Irving advocated for writing as a legitimate profession in its own right, and argued for stronger laws to protect U.S. writers from copyright infringement in Europe.


“Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” are well known, so I would like to focus on Tales of the Alhambra which put the palace on the map in the 19th century. Shortly after completing a biography of Christopher Columbus in 1828, Irving traveled from Madrid, where he had been staying, to Granada. At first sight, he described it as “a most picturesque and beautiful city, situated in one of the loveliest landscapes that I have ever seen.” Irving was preparing a book called A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada, a history of the years 1478–1492, and was continuing his research on the topic. He immediately asked the then-governor of the historic Alhambra Palace as well as the archbishop of Granada for access to the palace, which was granted because of Irving’s celebrity status. Aided by a 35-year-old guide, Mateo Ximenes, Irving was inspired by his experience to write Tales of the Alhambra. The book combines description, legend, and narrations of historical events, up through the destruction of some of the palace’s towers by the French under Count Sebastiani in 1812, and the further damage caused by an earthquake in 1821. Throughout his trip, Irving filled his notebooks and journals with descriptions and observations though he did not believe his writing would ever do it justice. He wrote, “How unworthy is my scribbling of the place.”


Let’s begin with the name. Irving (and others) call the palace “THE Alhambra,” which is jarring to my ears because of the inherent redundancy. “Al” in Arabic means “the” – “Alhambra” means “the red (feminine).” So calling it “the Alhambra” translates as “the the red.” Ugh. I’ll use “Alhambra” without the direct article.


Alhambra was completed towards the end of Muslim rule of Spain by Yusuf I (1333–1353) and Muhammed V, Sultan of Granada (1353–1391). The complex is a reflection of the culture of the last centuries of the Moorish rule of Al Andalus, reduced to the Nasrid Emirate of Granada. It is a place where artists and intellectuals had taken refuge as the Reconquista by Spanish Christians won victories over Al Andalus. Alhambra integrates natural site qualities with constructed structures and gardens, and is a testament to Moorish culture in Spain and the skills of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian artisans, craftsmen, and builders of their era. The literal translation of Alhambra, “the red (female),” probably reflects the color of the red clay of the surroundings of which the fort is made. The buildings of Alhambra were originally whitewashed; however, the buildings as seen today are reddish.


The first reference to the Qal‘at al-Ḥamra was during the battles between the Arabs and the Muladies (people of mixed Arab and European descent) during the rule of ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad (r. 888–912). In one particularly fierce and bloody skirmish, the Muladies soundly defeated the Arabs, who were then forced to take shelter in a primitive red castle located in the province of Elvira, presently located in Granada. According to surviving documents from the era, the red castle was quite small, and its walls were not capable of deterring an army intent on conquering. The castle was then largely ignored until the 11th century, when its ruins were renovated and rebuilt by Samuel ibn Naghrela, vizier to the emir Badis ben Habus of the Zirid Dynasty of Al Andalus, in an attempt to preserve the small Jewish settlement also located on the natural plateau, Sabikah Hill.


Ibn Nasr, the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, was forced to flee to Jaén to avoid persecution by King Ferdinand III of Castile and the Reconquista supporters working to end Spain’s Moorish rule. After retreating to Granada, Ibn-Nasr took up residence at the Palace of Badis ben Habus in  Alhambra. A few months later, he embarked on the construction of a new Alhambra fit for the residence of a sultan. According to an Arab manuscript since published as the Anónimo de Granada y Copenhague:

This year, 1238 Abdallah ibn al-Ahmar climbed to the place called “Alhambra” inspected it, laid out the foundations of a castle and left someone in charge of its construction…

The design included plans for six palaces, five of which were grouped in the northeast quadrant forming a royal quarter, two circuit towers, and numerous bathhouses. During the reign of the Nasrid Dynasty, Alhambra was transformed into a palatine city, complete with an irrigation system composed of acequias for the gardens of the Generalife located outside the fortress. Previously, the old Alhambra structure had been dependent upon rainwater collected from a cistern and from what could be brought up from the Albaicín. The creation of the Sultan’s Canal solidified the identity of the Alhambra as a palace-city rather than a defensive and ascetic structure.


The Muslim ruler Muhammad XII of Granada surrendered the Emirate of Granada in 1492 without Alhambra itself being attacked when the forces of the Reyes Católicos, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, took the surrounding territory with a force of overwhelming numbers.

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The architecture of Alhambra is inspiring, but it is the tile work that draws me. The Alhambra tiles are remarkable in that they contain nearly all, if not all, of the seventeen mathematically possible wallpaper groups (a special kind of tessellation). This is a unique accomplishment in world architecture. M. C. Escher’s visit in 1922 and study of the Moorish use of symmetries in Alhambra tiles inspired his subsequent  artistic work on tessellation. https://www.bookofdaystales.com/m-c-escher/  They have also inspired mathematicians specializing in the geometry of tilings, such as Roger Penrose, https://www.bookofdaystales.com/roger-penrose/ .


Here’s a very simple dish for stuffed eggs from an anonymous Medieval Arabic MS from al-Andalus http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/articles/veggie.html . The main problem is replicating murri which was a very common fermented condiment used in the Byzantine and Arab world. I use Thai fish sauce as a substitute.

Take as many eggs as thou wilt, and boil them whole in hot water; put them in cold water and divide them in half with a thread. Take the yolks quickly and crush cilantro, put in onion juice, pepper and coriander and beat all this together with murri, oil and salt and mash the yolks with this until it forms a paste. Then stuff the whites with this, insert a small stick into each egg, and sprinkle them with pepper, God willing.

Without precise measures you’ll have to experiment. I used about equal portions (1tsp per egg) of cilantro, chopped onion, black pepper, powdered coriander, oil, and fish sauce. Hard boil eggs, peel them, cut them in half lengthways, and remove the yolks.

Use a blender or food processor to blend together the yolks and condiments. Then refill the yolk section of the boiled whites and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

Sep 012015


Today is the birthday (1145) of Ibn Jubayr (ابنجبير‎ ), geographer, traveler, and poet from al-Andalus. His travel chronicle describes the pilgrimage he made to Mecca from 1183 to 1185, in the years preceding the Third Crusade. His chronicle describes Saladin’s domains in Egypt and the Levant which he passed through on his way to Mecca. Further, on his return journey he passed through Christian Sicily, which had been recaptured from the Muslims only a century before, and he makes several observations on the hybrid polyglot culture which flourished there.

Ibn Jubayr was born in Valencia in Islamic Spain. He was a descendant of ‘Abdal-Salam ibn Jabayr who in 740 had accompanied an army sent by the Caliph of Damascus to put down a Berber uprising in his Spanish provinces. Ibn Jubayr studied in the town of Játiva where his father worked as a civil servant. He later became secretary to the Almohad governor of Granada.


In the introduction to his Rihla Ibn Jubayr he explains the reason for his travels. As secretary for the ruler of Granada in 1182, he was forced, under threat, to drink seven cups of wine. Seized by remorse, the ruler then filled seven cups of gold dinars which he gave him. To expiate his godless act, although forced upon him, Ibn Jubayr decided to perform the duty of Hajj to Mecca. He left Granada on 3 February 1183 accompanied by a physician from the city.


Ibn Jubayr left Granada and crossed over the Strait of Gibraltar to Ceuta, then under Muslim rule. He boarded a Genoese ship on February 24, 1183 and set sail for Alexandria. His sea journey took him past the Balearic Islands and then across to the west coast of Sardinia. Whilst offshore he heard of the fate of 80 Muslim men, women and children who had been abducted from North Africa and were being sold into slavery. Between Sardinia and Sicily the ship ran into a severe storm. He said of the Italians and Muslims on board who had experience of the sea that “all agreed that they had never in their lives seen such a tempest”. After the storm the ship went on past Sicily and Crete and then turned south and crossed over to the North African coast. He arrived in Alexandria on March 26.


Everywhere that Ibn Jubayr travelled in Egypt he was full of praise for the new Sunni ruler, Saladin. For example he says of him that: “There is no congregational or ordinary mosque, no mausoleum built over a grave, nor hospital, nor theological college, where the bounty of the Sultan does not extend to all who seek shelter or live in them. He points out that when the Nile does not flood enough, Saladin remits the land tax from the farmers. He also says that “such is his (Salahuddin’s) justice, and the safety he has brought to his high-roads that men in his lands can go about their affairs by night and from its darkness apprehend no awe that should deter them.” Ibn Jubayr is, on the other hand, very disparaging of the previous Shi’a dynasty of the Fatimids.

Of Cairo, Ibn Jubayr notes, there are colleges and hostels erected for students and pious men of other lands by the Sultan Saladin. In those colleges students find lodging and tutors to teach them the sciences they desire, and also allowances to cover their needs. The care of the sultan also grants them baths, hospitals, and the appointment of doctors who can even come to visit them at their place of stay, and who would be answerable for their cure. One of the Sultan Saladin’s other generous acts was that every day two thousand loaves of bread were distributed to the poor. Ibn Jubayr was also impressed by the number of mosques, estimated at between 8 and 12 thousand; often four or five of them in the same street.

Upon arrival at Alexandria Ibn Jubayr was angered by the customs officials who insisted on taking zakat (religious tax) from the pilgrims, regardless of whether they were obliged to pay it or not. In the city he visited the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which at that time was still standing, and he was amazed by its size and splendor.

One of the greatest wonders that we saw in this city was the lighthouse which Great and Glorious God had erected by the hands of those who were forced to such labor as ‘a sign to those who take warning from examining the fate of others’ [Quran XV,75] and as a guide to voyagers, for without it they could not find the true course to Alexandria. It can be seen for more than seventy miles, and is of great antiquity. It is most strongly built in all directions and competes with the skies in height. Description of it falls short, the eyes fail to comprehend it, and words are inadequate, so vast is the spectacle.


He was also impressed by the free colleges, hostels for foreign students, baths and hospitals in the city. These were paid for by awqaf and taxes on the city’s Jews and Christians. He noted that there were between 8,000 and 12,000 mosques in Alexandria. After a stay of eight days he set off for Cairo.

He reached Cairo three days later. In the city he visited the cemetery at al-Qarafah, which contained the graves of many important figures in the history of Islam. He noted while in the Cairo of Saladin, the walls of the citadel were being extended by the Mamluks with the object of reinforcing the entire city from any future Crusader siege. Another building work that he saw was the construction of a bridge over the Nile, which would be high enough not to be submerged in the annual flooding of the river. He saw a spacious free hospital which was divided into three sections: one each for men, women and the insane. He saw the pyramids, although he was unaware of who they had been built for, and the Sphinx. He also saw a device that was used for measuring the height of the Nile flood.

In Sicily, at the very late stages of his travels (Dec 1184-Jan 1185), Ibn Jubayr recounts other experiences. He comments on the activity of the volcanoes:

At the close of night a red flame appeared, throwing up tongues into the air. It was the celebrated volcano (Stromboli). We were told that a fiery blast of great violence bursts out from air-holes in the two mountains and makes the fire. Often a great stone is cast up and thrown into the air by the force of the blast and prevented thereby from falling and settling at the bottom. This is one of the most remarkable of stories, and it is true.

As for the great mountain in the island, known as the Jabal al-Nar [Mountain of Fire], it also presents a singular feature in that some years a fire pours from it in the manner of the `bursting of the dam’. It passes nothing it does not burn until, coming to the sea, it rides out on its surface and then subsides beneath it. Let us praise the Author of all things for His marvelous creations. There is no God but He.

Ibn Jubayr was struck by the city of Palermo. He describes it as follows:

It is the metropolis of these islands, combining the benefits of wealth and splendour, and having all that you could wish of beauty, real or apparent, and all the needs of subsistence, mature and fresh. It is an ancient and elegant city, magnificent and gracious, and seductive to look upon. Proudly set between its open spaces and plains filled with gardens, with broad roads and avenues, it dazzles the eyes with its perfection. It is a wonderful place, built in the Cordova style, entirely from cut stone known as kadhan [a soft limestone]. A river splits the town, and four springs gush in its suburbs… The King roams through the gardens and courts for amusement and pleasure… The Christian women of this city follow the fashion of Muslim women, are fluent of speech, wrap their cloaks about them, and are veiled.


Ibn Jubayr also travelled to Medina, Mecca Damascus, Mosul, Acre and Baghdad. At Basra he saw how Indian timber was carefully used to make Lateen sail ships, returning in 1185 by way of Sicily. His path was not without troubles, including a shipwreck. Frequently quoted is Jubayr’s famous description of the Muslims living well under the Christian crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem:

We moved from Tibnin – may God destroy it – at daybreak on Monday. Our way lay through continuous farms and ordered settlements, whose inhabitants were all Muslims, living comfortably within the Franks… They surrender half their crops to the Franks at harvest time, and pay as well a poll-tax of one dinar and five qirat for each person. Other than that they are not interfered with, save for a light tax on the fruit of their trees. The houses and all their effects are left to their full possession. All the coastal cities occupied by the Franks are managed in this fashion, their rural districts, the villages and farms, belong to the Muslims. But their hearts have been seduced, for they observe how unlike them in ease and comfort are their brethren in the Muslim regions under their (Muslim) governors. This is one of the misfortunes afflicting the Muslims. The Muslim community bewails the injustice of the landlord of its own faith, and applauds the conduct of its opponent and enemy, the Frankish landlord, and is accustomed to justice from him.


Ibn Jubayr travelled to the East on two further occasions (1189–1191 and 1217), without leaving any account. He died on the 29 November 1217 in Alexandria during the second of these trips.

Ibn Jubayr provides a highly detailed and graphic description of the places he visited during his travels. His book differs from other contemporary accounts in not being a mere collection of place names and descriptions of monuments, but contains observation of geographical details as well as cultural, religious and political matters. Particularly interesting are his notes about the declining faith of his fellow Muslims in Palermo after the recent Norman conquest, and about what he perceived as the Muslim-influenced customs of king William II of Sicily.


His writing is a foundation of the genre of work called Rihla, or the creative travelogue. This is a mix of personal narrative, description of the areas traveled and personal anecdotes. Ibn Jubayr’s travel chronicle served as a model for later authors, some of whom copied from it without attribution. Ibn Juzayy, who wrote the account of Ibn Battuta’s travels in around 1355, copied passages that had been written 170 years earlier by Ibn Jubayr describing Damascus, Mecca, Medina and other places in the Middle East. Passages copied from Ibn Jubayr are also found in the writings of al-Sharishi, al-Abdari and Al-Maqrizi.


The cooking of medieval al-Andalus is known from a cookbook of the 13th century whose author is unknown. Several of the recipes are translated here — http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/articles/veggie.html This recipe is easy enough to follow. It’s rather like a very cheesy Spanish (or Argentine) tortilla.

Take soft cheese, not fresh that day but that has passed three or four days, and mash it by hand. To two pounds of this add two ounces of select flour, put it in fresh milk and break in ten eggs and sprinkle with pepper, saffron, canel (cinnamon), lavender, and coriander. Beat all this together in the frying pan and when it is thick, pour fresh milk over it and cover it all with plenty of oil. Place into it fried small birds or pigeons, egg yolks, and minced almonds. Place it in the oven on a moderate fire and leave it until it is dry and thickened and browned on top, take it out so it can cool, and serve it. This dish is also made with mint juice and water of coriander and of cilantro, without saffron, and another dish will result. And he who wishes to make this dish with cheese alone, without fowl or meat, shall do so and in each of these ways it is good.

Apr 152014


Today is the birthday (1126) of ʾAbū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rushd‎ (أبو الوليد محمد ابن احمد ابن رشد‎), commonly known as Ibn Rushd  (ابن رشد‎‎) or by his Latinized name Averroës, an Al-Andalus Muslim polymath, a master of Aristotelian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology, Maliki law and jurisprudence, logic, psychology, politics, Andalusian classical music theory, and the sciences of medicine, astronomy, geography, mathematics, physics, and celestial mechanics. Averroës was born in Córdoba, Al Andalus, present-day Spain, and died in Marrakesh, present-day Morocco. He was interred in his family tomb at Córdoba.

Averroës was a defender of Aristotelian philosophy against Ash’ari theologians led by Al-Ghazali. Averroës’ philosophy was considered controversial in Muslim circles because Aristotle’s rationalism conflicted with faith-based Islam. Averroës had a greater impact on Western European circles and he has been described as the “founding father of secular thought in Western Europe.” The detailed commentaries on Aristotle earned Averroës the title “The Commentator” in Europe. Latin translations of Averroës’ work led the way to the popularization of Aristotle and were responsible for the development of scholasticism in medieval Europe.

Averroës was born in Córdoba to a family with a long and well-respected tradition of legal and public service. His grandfather Abu Al-Walid Muhammad (d. 1126) was chief judge of Córdoba under the Almoravids. His father, Abu Al-Qasim Ahmad, held the same position until the Almoravids were replaced by the Almohads in 1146.

Averroës’ education followed a traditional path, beginning with studies in Hadith (traditional Islamic literature), linguistics, jurisprudence ,and scholastic theology. Throughout his life he wrote extensively on philosophy and religion, attributes of God, the origin of the universe, metaphysics and psychology. It is generally believed that he was once tutored by Ibn Bajjah, also a noted Andalusian polymath, and his medical education was directed under Abu Jafar ibn Harun of Trujillo in Seville.  Averroës began his career with the help of Ibn Tufail, the author of Hayy ibn Yaqdhan and philosophic vizier of Almohad king Abu Yaqub Yusuf who was an amateur of philosophy and science. It was Ibn Tufail who introduced him to the court and to Ibn Zuhr, the great Muslim physician, who became Averroës’ teacher and friend. Averroës’ aptitude for medicine was noted by his contemporaries and can be seen in his major enduring work Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb (Generalities) which was influenced by the Kitab al-Taisir fi al-Mudawat wa al-Tadbir (Particularities) of Ibn Zuhr. Averroës later reported how it was also Ibn Tufail that inspired him to write his famous commentaries on Aristotle:

Abu Bakr ibn Tufayl summoned me one day and told me that he had heard the Commander of the Faithful complaining about the disjointedness of Aristotle’s mode of expression — or that of the translators — and the resultant obscurity of his intentions. He said that if someone took on these books who could summarize them and clarify their aims after first thoroughly understanding them himself, people would have an easier time comprehending them. “If you have the energy,” Ibn Tufayl told me, “you do it. I’m confident you can, because I know what a good mind and devoted character you have, and how dedicated you are to the art. You understand that only my great age, the cares of my office — and my commitment to another task that I think even more vital — keep me from doing it myself. “

However, while the thought of his mentors Ibn Tufail and Ibn Bajjah were mystic to a degree, the thought of Averroës was purely rationalist. Together, the three are considered the greatest Andalusian philosophers.  Averroës devoted the next 30 years to his philosophical writings.

In 1160, Averroës was made Qadi (judge) of Seville and he served in many court appointments in Seville, Cordoba, and Morocco during his career. Some time during the reign of Yaqub al-Mansur, Averroës’ political career was abruptly ended and he faced severe criticism from the Fuqaha (Islamic jurists) of the time.

A contemporary of Averroës, Abdelwahid al-Marrakushi writing in 1224, reported that there were secret and public reasons for his falling out of favor with Yaqub al-Mansur:

And in his days [Yaqub al-Mansur], Abu al-Walid Ibn Rushd faced his severe ordeal and there were two causes for this; one is known and the other is secret. The secret cause, which was the major reason, is that Abu al-Walid [Averroës] —may God have mercy on his soul— when summarizing, commenting and expending upon Aristotle’s book “History of Animals” wrote: “And I saw the Giraffe at the garden of the king of the Berbers.”

And that is the same way he would mention another king of some other people or land, as it is frequently done by writers, but he omitted that those working for the service of the king should glorify him and observe the usual protocol. This was why they held a grudge against him [Averroës] but initially, they did not show it and in reality, Abu al-Walid wrote that inadvertently.Then a number of his enemies in Cordoba, who were jealous of him and were competing with him both in knowledge and nobility, went to Yaqub al-Mansur with excerpts of Abu Walid’s work on some old philosophers which were in his own handwriting. They took one phrase out of context that said: “and it was shown that Venus is one of the Gods” and presented it to the king who then summoned the chiefs and noblemen of Córdoba and said to Abu al-Walid in front of them “Is this your handwriting?” Abu al-Walid then denied and the king said “May God curse the one who wrote this” and ordered that Abu al-Walid be exiled and all the philosophy books to be gathered and burned. And I saw, when I was in Fes, these books being carried on horses in great quantities and burned.

Averroës was not reinstated until shortly before his death in 1198.


Averroës’s works total 20,000 pages covering a variety of different subjects, including early Islamic philosophy, logic in Islamic philosophy, Islamic medicine, mathematics, astronomy, Arabic grammar, Islamic theology, Sharia (Islamic law), and Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). His most important works deal with Islamic and Aristotelian philosophy, medicine, and Fiqh. He wrote at least 80 original works, which included 28 works on philosophy, 20 on medicine, 8 on law, 5 on theology, and 4 on grammar, in addition to his commentaries on most of Aristotle’s works and his commentary on Plato’s The Republic.

Averroës commentaries on Aristotle were the foundation for the revival of interest in Aristotle in the 12th and 13th centuries in Europe. He wrote short commentaries on Aristotle’s work in logic, physics, and psychology, and longer commentaries provided an in-depth, line by line analysis of Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, De Anima, Physics, De Caelo, and the Metaphysics. His most important original philosophical work was The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-tahafut), in which he defended Aristotelian philosophy against al-Ghazali’s claims in The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falasifa).

Averroës is also a highly regarded legal scholar of the Maliki school. Perhaps his best-known work in this field is Bidāyat al-Mujtahid wa Nihāyat al-Muqtaṣid ( بداية المجتهد و نهاية المقتصد), a textbook of Maliki doctrine in a comparative framework. Jacob Anatoli translated several of the works of Averroës from Arabic into Hebrew in the 13th century. Many of them were later translated from Hebrew into Latin by Jacob Mantino and Abraham de Balmes. Other works were translated directly from Arabic into Latin by Michael Scot. Many of his works in logic and metaphysics have been permanently lost, while others, including some of the longer Aristotelian commentaries, have only survived in Latin or Hebrew translation, not in the original Arabic. The fullest version of his works is in Latin, and forms part of the multi-volume Juntine edition of Aristotle published in Venice 1562-1574.

Averroës wrote a medical encyclopedia called Kulliyat (“Generalities”, that is, general medicine), known in its Latin translation as Colliget. He also made a compilation of the works of Galen, and wrote a commentary on the Canon of Medicine (Qanun fi ‘t-tibb) of Avicenna (Ibn Sina) (980-1037).

Averroës wrote three books on physics namely: Short Commentary on the Physics, Middle Commentary on the Physics and Long Commentary on the Physics. He defined and measured force as “the rate at which work is done in changing the kinetic condition of a material body” and correctly argued “that the effect and measure of force is change in the kinetic condition of a materially resistant mass.” He took a particular and keen interest in the understanding of “motor force.” Averroës also developed the notion that bodies have a (non-gravitational) inherent resistance to motion into physics. This idea in particular was adopted by Thomas Aquinas and subsequently by Johannes Kepler, who referred to this resistance by the Latin term “inertia” (inaction).  In Optics Averroës followed Alhazen’s incorrect explanation that a rainbow is due to reflection, not refraction. In astronomy, Averroës argued for a strictly concentric model of the universe, and provided explanations for sunspots and the occasional opaque colors of the moon.

Following Plato, Averroës accepted the principle of women’s equality. They should be educated and allowed to serve in the military; the best among them should be philosophers or rulers. However, he also accepted Plato’s harsher social policies such as the censorship of literature. He uses examples from Arab history to illustrate Plato’s notion of just and degenerate political orders.

His most important original philosophical work was The Incoherence of The Incoherence (Tahafut al-tahafut), in which he defended Aristotelian philosophy against al-Ghazali’s claims in The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falasifa). Al-Ghazali argued that Aristotelianism, especially as presented in the writings of Avicenna, was self-contradictory and an affront to the teachings of Islam. Averroës’ rebuttal was two-pronged: he contended both that al-Ghazali’s arguments were mistaken and that, in any case, the system of Avicenna was a distortion of genuine Aristotelianism so that al-Ghazali was aiming at the wrong target.

His other major works are the Fasl al-Maqal, which argued for the legality of philosophical investigation under Islamic law, and the Kitab al-Kashf, which argued against the proofs of Islam advanced by the Ash’arite school and discussed what proofs, on the popular level, should be used instead.

Averroës tried to reconcile Aristotle’s rationalist system of thought with Islam. He argued that there is no conflict between religion and philosophy, rather, they are different ways of reaching the same truth. He believed in the eternity of the universe. He also held that the soul is divided into two parts, one individual and one divine; while the individual soul is not eternal, all humans at the basic level share one and the same divine soul. Averroës asserted there were two kinds of knowledge of truth. The first is the knowledge of truth derived from religion. Being based in faith, knowledge via religion could not be tested, nor did it require training to understand. The second knowledge of truth is philosophy, which was reserved for an elite few who had the intellectual capacity to undertake its study.

Many people in the contemporary world are aware that the contribution of Islamic scholars to astronomy and mathematics was profound in the Middle Ages, and some are aware that many works of Greek and Latin philosophy would not have survived were they not preserved in that period in the Islamic world. Many fewer are aware of the major contribution that Averroës made in re-introducing Western Europe to its own philosophical traditions, slowly making incursions into what had hitherto been a strictly faith based philosophy.

Few Westerners today understand the difference between the Islamic and Christian worlds in the Middle Ages. For example, in the 10th century, when only about 40,000 people lived in Paris largely in their own filth, the Andalusian city of Córdoba, where Averroës was born, had a population of half a million, and had lighted streets, libraries with hundreds of thousands of volumes, 700 mosques and 900 public baths. The homes of the wealthy had fountains, plumbing, and running water.  Their cooking was magnificent, and traces of it are still to be found in contemporary Andalusian cuisine. This included lamb meatballs, a spicy sausage called mirgas, fried fish (still common), and a kind of cheese cake today called almojabana. Another survivor in the Spanish world today is the churro, a cylindrical fried pastry which is now sprinkled with powdered sugar rather than, as in the old days, when they were dipped in boiling honey. In Argentina they are filled with dulce de leche. Yum.


The grand cuisine of Medieval Al-Andalus is little known these days.  Want to try this royal recipe taken from a 13th century cookbook?

One takes a fat young sheep, skinned and cleaned. It is opened between the two muscles and till that is in its stomach is carefully removed, In its interior one puts a stuffed goose and in the goose’s belly a stuffed hen, and in the hen’s belly a stuffed young pigeon, and in the pigeon’s belly a stuffed thrush and in the thrush s belly another stuffed or fried bird, all of this stuffed and sprinkled with the sauce described for stuffed dishes. The opening is sewn together, the sheep is put in the hot clay oven, or tannur, and it is left until done and crisp on the outside. It is sprinkled with more sauce, and then put in the cavity of a calf which has already been prepared and cleaned. The calf is then stitched together and put in the hot tannur, and left till it is done and crisp on the outside. Then it is taken out and presented.

Here is a 13th century recipe for buraniya from al-Andalus:

The preparation of buraniya, attributed to Buran, wife of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun, of whom it is said that she was the first to invent this dish.

One takes a fat young sheep and puts it in the pot with salt, pepper, dried coriander, a little bit of cumin, saffron and oil. The pot is set on a moderately hot fire; a tablespoonful of soaked almori and two of vinegar are added. It is cooked till half done, then taken off and grilled eggplant is added. One adds a layer of meat, and another of grilled eggplant. Then prepared meatballs are added, and chopped almonds; all is done with a lot of saffron. Then it is thickened with whipped eggs, with lavender or cinnamon or saffron, and crowned with egg yolks. Then it is put in the oven and left till the sauce has dried and it is blended and the fat is left. It is then taken out and put on embers and left a while. Then it is served.

Almori was a very common ingredient. It consisted of salt, honey, raisins, pine nuts, almonds, hazel nuts, and possibly some flour, all pounded into a paste which was then allowed to harden in the sun. As needed, pieces were broken off, soaked, and added to the ingredients of a dish.


Here is a modern version of Buraniya, still popular in the Middle East.



3 onions, chopped
vegetable oil
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 ¼ lbs of lamb shoulder, cut into cubes
5 tomatoes, skinned and quartered
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lemon
1 ½ tsps cinnamon
¾ tsp allspice
4-5 medium eggplants
4-5 red bell peppers
5 tbsps chopped flat-leaf parsley


Sauté the onions in about 2 tablespoons of oil until soft and golden. Add the garlic and the meat and brown it well.

Add the tomatoes and salt, pepper, lemon juice, cinnamon, and allspice. Cover with water, stir well, and bring to a boil.

Simmer gently, covered, for about 1 ½ hours, until the meat is very tender, adding water to keep the meat covered.

Cut the eggplants and red bell peppers into ½ inch thick slices and brush generously with oil. Cook under the broiler or (best) over charcoal, turning several times until lightly colored. Add to the stew.

Simmer, covered, for ½ hour, adding parsley towards the end.

Serve with rice and flatbread.  To be fully traditional you should serve everything on common platters and eat with the fingers of the right hand.