History of Philosophy in Islam, by T.J. de Boer , at sacred-texts.com
1. Western North-Africa, Spain and Sicily are reckoned as forming the Muslim West. North-Africa, to begin with, is of subordinate importance: Sicily is regulated by Spain, and is soon overthrown by the Normans of Lower Italy. For our purpose Muslim Spain or Andalusia first falls to be considered.
The drama of culture in the East passes here through a second representation. Just as Arabs there intermarried with Persians, so in the West they intermarry with Spaniards. And instead of Turks and Mongols we have here the Berbers of North-Africa, whose rude force is flung into the play of more refined civilization with a blighting influence ever on the increase.
After the fall of the Omayyads in Syria (750), a member of that House, Abderrakhman ibn Moawiya, betook himself to Spain, where he contrived to work his way up to the dignity of Emir of Cordova and all Andalusia. This Omayyad overlordship lasted for more than 250 years, and after a passing system of petty States, it attained its greatest brilliancy under Abderrakhman III (912-961), the first who assumed the title of Caliph, and his son
al-Hakam II (961-976). The tenth century was for Spain, what the ninth was for the East,--the time of highest material and intellectual civilization. If possible, it was more fresh and native here than in the East, and, if it be true that all theorizing betokens either a lack or a stagnation of the power of production, it was more productive also: The sciences, and Philosophy in particular, had far fewer representatives in Spain. Speaking generally, we may say that the relations of intellectual life took a simpler form. There was a smaller number of strata in the new culture than in the old. No doubt there were, besides Muslims, Jews and Christians in Spain, who in the time of Abderrakhman III played their part in this cultivated life, of the Arabic stamp, in common with the rest. But of adherents of Zoroaster, atheists and such like, there were none. Even the sects of Eastern Islam were almost unknown. Only one school of Law, that of Malik, was admitted. No Mutazilite dialectic troubled the peace of the Faith. True enough the Andalusian poets glorified the trinity of Wine, Woman and Song; but flippant freethinking on the one hand, and gloomy theosophy and renunciation of the world on the other, rarely found expression.
On the whole, intellectual culture was dependent upon the East. From the tenth century onwards many journeys in search of knowledge were undertaken thither from Spain, by way of Egypt and as far as Eastern Persia, for the purpose of attending the prelections of scholars of renown. And farther, educational requirements in Andalusia attracted to it many a learned Eastern who found no occupation in his own home. Besides, al-Hakam II caused books to be
copied, all over the East, for his library, which is said to have contained 400,000 volumes.
The West was mainly interested in Mathematics, Natural Science, Astrology and Medicine, precisely as was the case at first in the East. Poetry, History and Geography were cultivated with ardour. But the mind was not yet "sicklied o‘er with the pale cast of thought", for when Abdallah ibn Masarra of Cordova, under Abderrakhman III, brought home with him from the East a system of Natural Philosophy, he had to submit to see his writings consigned to the flames.
2. In the year 1013 Cordova, "the Gem of the World", was laid waste by the Berbers, and the kingdom of the Omayyads was split up into a number of minor States. Its second bloom fills up the eleventh century,--the Medicean age of Spain, in which Art and Poetry still flourish in luxuriant growth at the courts of the various cities, upon the ruins of ancient splendour. Art grows refined; poetry becomes sage, and scientific thought subtle. Intellectual nutriment continues to be fetched from the East; and Natural Philosophy, the writings of the Faithful Brethren, and Logic from the school of Abu Sulaiman al-Sidjistani find admission one after the other. Towards the close of the century it is possible to trace the influence even of the writings of Farabi, and the "Medicine" of Ibn Sina becomes known.
The beginnings of philosophical reflection are found chiefly with the numerous men of culture among the Jews. Eastern Natural Philosophy produces a powerful and quite singular impression upon the mind of Ibn Gebirol, the Avencebrol of Christian authors; and Bakhya ibn Pakuda
is influenced by the Faithful Brethren. Even the religious poetry of the Jews is affected by the philosophical movement; and what speaks therein is not the Jewish Congregation seeking after God, but the Soul rising towards the Supreme Spirit.
Among the Muslims, however, the number of those who addressed themselves to a thorough study of Philosophy was very limited. No master gathered about him a numerous band of disciples; and meetings of the learned, for the discussion of philosophical subjects, were scarcely ever held. The individual thinker must have felt very lonely in these circumstances. In the West, just as in the East, Philosophy was developed subjectively; but here it was more the concern of a few isolated individuals; and, besides, it stood more apart from the faith of the mass of the people. In the East there were countless intermediary agencies between faith and knowledge,--between the philosophers and the believing community. The problem of the individual thinker, confronted by political society and the faith of narrow-minded fanatical multitudes, was accordingly realized more acutely in the West.