ibn Sina's Treatise on Love is about money

Ibn Sina was one of the greatest scholars the world has ever known.  He was a Muslim from Central Asia who lived from about 980 to 1037.  Ibn Abi Usaybiah’s comprehensive history of physicians written in mid-thirteenth-century Damascus referred repeatedly to ibn Sina as “Grand Master Ibn Sina.”  Its section on ibn Sina begins:

He is so well known that there is no need to introduce him, and his merits are so renowned that they need not be recorded. [1]

Ibn Sina wrote about 450 volumes on a wide variety of topics.  In the fourteenth century, Dante included ibn Sina (known in western Europe as Avicenna) in limbo along with other leading scholarly and literary non-Christians such as Plato, Socrates, and the twelfth-century Andalusian Muslim polymath Averroes (ibn Rushd).  Ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine (Qanun) was probably the most widely distributed medical book ever written.  Ibn Sina finished his Canon of Medicine in 1025 in Iran; within a century a beautiful copy of the work was in southern Spain.[2]  In the history of medicine in western Eurasia, ibn Sina ranks along with Hippocrates and Galen as the leading figures.

Despite his brilliance, ibn Sina struggled to achieve personal safety and financial support.  He moved frequently in search of patronage.  Occasionally he had to flee from powerful persons who sought to harm him.  Ibn Sina’s Treatise on Love (Risalah fi’l-‘ishq) hints at his personal challenges.  This treatise begins with a dedication:

O Abdullah ‘l-Ma’sumi, the lawyer, you have asked me to compose for you a clear and brief treatise on love.  In reply let me say that with the following treatise I have done my utmost to win your approval and satisfy your desire. [3]

As a scholar would be expected to do in polite society, ibn Sina advocated rational and spiritual love, and upheld Islamic law regarding sexual relations:

Rational love can, therefore, not be pure except when the animal faculty is altogether subdued.  With respect to the desire for conjugal union, it is fitting that a lover who entices the object of his love with this purpose in mind should be suspected, except if his need has a rational purpose, i.e. if his purpose is the propagation of the species.  … It is permissible and may find approval only in the case of a man with either his wife or female slave. [4]

One of ibn Sina’s friends, who wrote a sympathetic biography of him, noted that ibn Sina “did not take care of himself, being over-indulgent with regard to sexual intercourse.”  The friend observed:

The Shaikh {ibn Sina} was vigorous in every respect.  Of his physical powers, sexual potency was the strongest and the best developed.  He exercised it most freely, and not without effect upon his state of health. [5]

Ibn Sina’s sexual behavior was not rational.  He did not take seriously the contents of his Treatise on Love.  Ibn Sina’s rambling, vague discussion in his Treatise on Love suggests that he wrote that treatise quickly and relatively thoughtlessly for a monetary commission.

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Notes:

[1] HP p. 565.

[2] HP p. 655.  Ibn Abi Usaybiah’s history of physicians includes 40 references to ibn Sina’s Qanun, mainly in descriptions of other scholars’ study of it and commentaries on it.

[3] Ibn Sina, Risalah fi’l-‘ishq (Treatise on Love), trans. Fackenheim (1945) p. 211.

[4] Id. p. 222.

[5] HP p. 578.

References:

Fackenheim, Emil L. 1945.  “A Treatise on Love by Ibn Sina.” Mediaeval Studies. 7 (1): 208-228

HP: Ibn Abi Usaybi’ah, Ahmad ibn al-Qasim. English translation of History of Physicians (4 v.) Translated by Lothar Kopf. 1971. Located in: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS C 294Online transcription.

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Comments

  1. pfsadri on
    commented:

    May I suggest the following book:

    How Early Muslim Scholars Assimilated Aristotle and Made Iran the Intellectual Center of the Islamic World: A Study of Falsafah

    Author: Farshad Sadri
    Foreword: Carl R. Hasler
    Publisher: Edwin Mellen Pr (June 30, 2010)
    ISBN-10: 0773437169
    ISBN-13: 978-0773437166

    This work demonstrates how falsafah (which linguistically refers to a group of commentaries by Muslim scholars associated with their readings of “The Corpus Aristotelicum”) in Iran has been always closely linked with religion. It demonstrates that the blending of the new natural theology with Iranian culture created an intellectual climate that made Iran the center of falsafah in the Medieval world. The author begins this book by exploring the analytical arguments and methodologies presented as the subject of the first-philosophy (metaphysics) in the works of Aristotle (in particular “The Nicomachean Ethics” and “Rhetoric”). Then, he tells the tale of the Muslims’ progression as they came to own and expand upon Aristotle’s arguments and methodologies as a measure of their own sense of spirituality. Last, Sadri surveys the implications of that sense of spirituality as it is amalgamated within the Iranian culture and today’s Islamic Republic of Iran. The author’s aim is to present a different perspective of falsafah (as it is received by Muslims and assimilated within Iranian culture), while maintaining a sense that captures the texture of everyday life-experiences in today’s Islamic Republic of Iran. This work is thus about (contemporary) Iranian falsafah and how it remains faithful to its tradition (as falsafah has actually been integrated and practiced by Iranian scholars for the last eleven centuries). It is a tradition that has taken on the task of understanding and projecting a sense of order upon the multiplicity of forms, ideas, examples, and images that have passed through Iran from East and West; it is a story that has gathered, sheltered, and introduced a style and order of Islamic (Shi’at) falsafah.

    Reviews

    “While Sadri’s monograph is written in an engaging, quasi-autobiographical style, still it is rich in philosophical exposition and insight coupled with a clearly developed explication of Islamic religious/philosophical thought in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In turn this is used to explain Iranian culture as it can be understood in contemporary analysis.” – Prof. Carl R. Hasler, Collin College

    “The interdisciplinary approach allows [the author] to introduce a chronicle of his people that encompasses the dynamic growth of the intellectual and religious thought in the Middle East. A thoughtful study for scholars of comparative religion, Sadri juxtaposes Medieval Islam with Medieval Christianity, showing the philosophical foundations that distinguish these two contemporary religions.” – Prof. Linda Deaver, Kaplan University

    “Taking as his point of departure the fate of Aristotle’s corpus in medieval Christianity and in medieval Islam, Sadri offers a masterful account of how the current status of Western and Iranian identity can be read through the palimpsest of a philosophical/religious recovery of Aristotle’s practical philosophy.” – Prof. Charles Bambach, University of Texas, Dallas

    Table of Contents

    Foreword
    Acknowledgments
    Introduction
    1. Commentaries on Aristotle
    2. Commentaries on Aristotle and Islam
    3. Commentaries on Islam
    4. Commentaries on Islam and Iran
    5. Commentaries on Iran
    Endnotes
    Bibliography
    Index

    Subject Areas: Cultural Studies, Islamic Studies, Philosophy

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