Hayy ibn Yaqdhan

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Hayy ibn Yaqdhan
Frontispiece of the Simon Ockley translation from 1708 (re-published in 1929)
AuthorIbn Tufail
Original titleحي بن يقظان
Publication date
around 1160 CE (555 AH)

Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān (Arabic: حي بن يقظان, lit.'Alive son of Awake'; also known as Hai Eb'n Yockdan[1]) is an Arabic philosophical novel and an allegorical tale written by Ibn Tufail (c. 1105 – 1185) in the early 12th century in Al-Andalus.[2] Names by which the book is also known include the Latin: Philosophus Autodidactus ('The Self-Taught Philosopher'); and English: The Improvement of Human Reason: Exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdhan. Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān was named after an earlier Arabic philosophical romance of the same name, written by Avicenna during his imprisonment in the early 11th century,[3] even though both tales had different stories.[4] The novel greatly inspired Islamic philosophy as well as major Enlightenment thinkers.[5] It is the third most translated text from Arabic, after the Quran and the One Thousand and One Nights.[6]


Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, along with three poems, is all that remains of the writings of Ibn Tufail (c. 1105 – 1185), who lived under the Almohads and served Sultan Abu Yaqub Yusuf.[6] The book was influential among medieval Jewish scholars at the Toledo School of Translators run by Raymond de Sauvetât, and its impact can be seen in The Guide for the Perplexed of Maimonides.[6] It was "discovered" in the West after Edward Pococke of Oxford, while visiting a market in Damascus, found a manuscript of Hayy ibn Yaqdhan made in Alexandria in 1303 containing commentary in Hebrew.[6] His son, Edward Pococke Jr. published a Latin translation in 1671, subtitled "The Self-Taught Philosopher."[6][7] George Keith the Quaker translated it into English in 1674, Baruch Spinoza called for a Dutch translation, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz championed the book in German circles, and a copy of the book went to the Sorbonne.[6][7] Daniel Defoe (c. 1660 – 1731), author of Robinson Crusoe, was heavily influenced by the work as well as by the memoir of the Scottish castaway Alexander Selkirk.[6]

In the Muslim world, the book is an honored Sufi text.[6]


The story revolves around Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, a little boy who grew up on an island in the Indies under the equator, isolated from the people, in the bosom of an antelope that raised him, feeding him with her milk. Ḥayy has just learned to walk and imitates the sounds of antelopes, birds, and other animals in his surroundings. He learns their languages, and he learns to follow the actions of animals by imitating their instinct.

He makes his own shoes and clothes from the skins of animals, and studies the stars. He reaches a higher level of knowledge, of the finest of astrologists. His continuous explorations and observation of creatures and the environment lead him to gain great knowledge in natural science, philosophy, and religion. He concludes that, at the basis of the creation of the universe, a great creator must exist. Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān lived a humble modest life as Sufi and forbade himself from eating meat.

Once 30 years old, he meets his first human, who has landed on his isolated Island. By the age of 49, he is ready to teach other people about the knowledge he gained throughout his life.


Hayy ibn Yaqdhan is an allegorical novel in which Ibn Tufail expresses philosophical and mystical teachings in a symbolic language in order to provide better understanding of such concepts. This novel is thus the most important work of Ibn Tufail, containing the main ideas that form his system.

Ibn Tufail was familiar with the differences in the ideas of Al-Ghazali and those of the "Neoplatonizing Aristotelianists" Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina.[8] In Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, Ibn Tufail sought to present "a conciliating synthesis of the Islamic speculative tradition with al-Ghazālī's Sufi-influenced recasting of Islamic mysticism and pietism."[8] Ibn Tufail borrows from Ibn Sina, using the title of one of his allegories and drawing inspiration from his Floating Man thought experiment, but transforming the subject's sensory deprivation to social isolation.[8]

With this novel, Tufail focuses on finding solutions to the three main problems discussed during his period:[9]

  1. Humans, on their own, are able to reach the level of al-Insān al-Kāmil by merely observing and thinking of the nature, without any education.
  2. The information that is obtained through observation, experiment, and reasoning, does not contradict with revelation. In other words, religion and philosophy (or science) are compatible, rather than contradictory.
  3. Reaching the absolute information is individual and simply any human being is able to achieve that.


Beyond leaving an enormous impact on Andalusi literature, Arabic literature, and classical Islamic philosophy, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan influenced later European literature during the Age of Enlightenment, turning into a best-seller during the 17th-18th centuries.[10][5] The novel particularly influenced the philosophies and scientific thought of vanguards of modern Western philosophy and the Scientific Revolution such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Christiaan Huygens, Isaac Newton, and Immanuel Kant.[11] Beyond foreshadowing Molyneux's Problem,[12] the novel specifically inspired John Locke's concept of tabula rasa as propounded in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690),[13] subsequently inspiring the philosophies of later modern empiricists, such as David Hume and George Berkeley. The novel's notion of materialism also has similarities to Karl Marx's historical materialism.[14] The first English translation by orientalist Simon Ockley inspired the desert island narrative of Daniel Defoe's classic Robinson Crusoe.[15][16][17][18]


English translations[edit]

In chronological order, with translators names:

  • George Keith. 1674.[7]
  • Ockley, Simon. 1708. The Improvement of Human Reason: Exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdhan. London: E. Powell.
    • Directly translated from the original Arabic, with an appendix in which the possibility of man's attaining the true knowledge of God, and things necessary to salvation, without instruction, is briefly considered.
    • The History of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (1929 – revised ed.), with an introduction by A. S. Fulton. London: Chapman & Hall.
  • Goodman, Lenn Evan. 1972. Ibn Tufayl's Hayy ibn Yaqzān: A Philosophical Tale, translated with introduction and notes by L. E. Goodman. New York: Twayne.
  • Kocache, Riad. 1982. The journey of the soul: the story of Hai bin Yaqzan. London: Octagon.
  • Colville, Jim. 1999. Two Andalusian Philosophers, with an introduction and notes by J. Colville. London: Kegan Paul.
  • Khalidi, Muhammad Ali, ed. 2005. Medieval Islamic Philosophical Writings. Cambridge University Press.
    • Omits the introductory section; omits the conclusion beginning with the protagonist's acquaintance with Asal; and includes §§1-98 of 121 as numbered in the Ockley version.

Other translations[edit]

  • Dutch: Reelant, Adriaan. 1701. De natuurlijke wijsgeer. Netherlands: Willem Lamsveld.
  • German: Schaerer, Patric O. 2004. Der Philosoph als Autodidakt. Hamburg: Meiner. ISBN 978-3-7873-1797-4
  • German: Abdeljelil, Jameleddine Ben, and Viktoria Frysak, eds. 2007. Hayy Ibn Yaqdhan. Ein muslimischer Inselroman. Vienna: Edition Viktoria. ISBN 978-3-902591-01-2.
  • Modern Greek: Kalligas, Pavlos. 2018. Ο δρόμος του λόγου: Χάυυ Ιμπν Γιακζάν ή Τα μυστικά της φιλοσοφίας της Ανατολής. Athens: Ekkremes Publishing House. 264. ISBN 978-618-5076-22-1.
  • Portuguese: Loureiro, Isabel. 2005. O filósofo autodidata. São Paulo: UNESP. ISBN 85-7139-599-3.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ibn Ṭufayl, Muḥammad ibn ʻAbd al-Malik; Bacon, Ed; Ashwell, George; Pococke, Edward (1686). The history of Hai eb'n Yockdan, an Indian prince: or, The self-taught philosopher. London: Printed for R. Chiswell etc.
  2. ^ Kukkonen, Taneli (November 2016). "Ibn Ṭufayl's (d. 1185) Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓan". In El-Rouayheb, Khaled; Schmidtke, Sabine (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  3. ^ Nasr, Seyyed; Leaman, Oliver (1996). History of Islamic philosophy. Routledge. p. 315. ISBN 0415131596.
  4. ^ Davidson, Herbert Alan (1992). Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, on Intellect Their Cosmologies, Theories of the Active Intellect and Theories of Human Intellect. Oxford University Press. p. 146. ISBN 9780195074239.
  5. ^ a b G. A. Russell (1994), The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 228, Brill Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-09888-6.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Desert island scripts". The Guardian. 22 March 2003. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  7. ^ a b c Akyol, Mustafa (5 April 2021). "Opinion | The Muslims Who Inspired Spinoza, Locke and Defoe". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  8. ^ a b c Goodman, Lenn (31 August 2000), "Ibn Ṭufayl", The Literature of Al-Andalus, Cambridge University Press, pp. 318–330, ISBN 978-0-521-47159-6
  9. ^ Özalp, N. Ahmet. Hay bin Yakzan. Yapı Kredi Yayınları. ISBN 975-363-475-7.
  10. ^ Avner Ben-Zaken, Reading Hayy Ibn-Yaqzan: A Cross-Cultural History of Autodidacticism (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). ISBN 978-0801897399.
  11. ^ Samar Attar, The Vital Roots of European Enlightenment: Ibn Tufayl's Influence on Modern Western Thought, Lexington Books, ISBN 0-7391-1989-3.
  12. ^ Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik Ibn Tufayl and Léon Gauthier (1981), Risalat Hayy ibn Yaqzan, p. 5, Editions de la Méditerranée:

    "If you want a comparison that will make you clearly grasp the difference between the perception, such as it is understood by that sect [the Sufis] and the perception as others understand it, imagine a person born blind, endowed however with a happy natural temperament, with a lively and firm intelligence, a sure memory, a straight sprite, who grew up from the time he was an infant in a city where he never stopped learning, by means of the senses he did dispose of, to know the inhabitants individually, the numerous species of beings, living as well as non-living, there, the streets and sidestreets, the houses, the steps, in such a manner as to be able to cross the city without a guide, and to recognize immediately those he met; the colors alone would not be known to him except by the names they bore, and by certain definitions that designated them. Suppose that he had arrived at this point and suddenly, his eyes were opened, he recovered his view, and he crosses the entire city, making a tour of it. He would find no object different from the idea he had made of it; he would encounter nothing he didn’t recognize, he would find the colors conformable to the descriptions of them that had been given to him; and in this there would only be two new important things for him, one the consequence of the other: a clarity, a greater brightness, and a great voluptuousness."

  13. ^ G. A. Russell (1994), The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England, pp. 224–239, Brill Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-09888-6.
  14. ^ Dominique Urvoy, "The Rationality of Everyday Life: The Andalusian Tradition? (Aropos of Hayy's First Experiences)", in Lawrence I. Conrad (1996), The World of Ibn Tufayl: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān, pp. 38–46, Brill Publishers, ISBN 90-04-09300-1.
  15. ^ Drabble, Margaret, ed. (1996). "Defoe". The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 265.
  16. ^ Nawal Muhammad Hassan (1980), Hayy bin Yaqzan and Robinson Crusoe: A study of an early Arabic impact on English literature, Al-Rashid House for Publication.
  17. ^ Cyril Glasse (2001), New Encyclopedia of Islam, p. 202, Rowman Altamira, ISBN 0-7591-0190-6.
  18. ^ Amber Haque (2004), "Psychology from Islamic Perspective: Contributions of Early Muslim Scholars and Challenges to Contemporary Muslim Psychologists", Journal of Religion and Health 43 (4): 357–377 [369].

External links[edit]