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The most illustrious scientists and philosophers of the Cordoba of al-Andalus

Some of the most important and influential scientists and thinkers of their time were born in or settled in the city of Cordoba during the al-Andalus period. Thanks to the popularity and the splendour it achieved under the Umayyad dynasty, Cordoba became one of the most important cities in Europe, a point of reference for the most advanced scholars of the time.

Here are four of the most influential thinkers of the Cordoba of al-Andalus, whose doctrines have crossed time and borders. This journey into the knowledge of al-Andalus will help you to understand the history and development of Moorish Cordoba.

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Ibn Massarra

Muhammad ibn Masarra, also known as Masara, was one of the first master thinkers and philosophers of the Islamic world in al-Andalus. Masara was born in Cordoba in the year 883, when it was still a dependent emirate, and lived to see the advent of the Caliphate of Cordoba.

As a young man, Ibn Massarra began his studies of Islamic theology and Greek philosophy. His philosophy rested on the theses of such philosophers as Plotinus, Empedocles and Aristotle, whom he studied in depth.

The work of ibn Massarra would become very controversial in al-Andalus and spread to all reaches of the Arab world. It is said that Masara defended human freedom and the causality of acts and that he even went so far as to deny the existence of Hell. Because of all this, he was accused of heresy by the most orthodox alfaquíes (Islamic scholars) and was sentenced to death by the Emir of Cordoba himself.

This situation led ibn Massarra to flee, and he stayed away from Cordoba for a time. During the previous revolts against the Caliphate establishment, Masara emigrated to Mecca alongside his most faithful disciples. Upon his return to Cordoba, he lived the rest of his life isolated the mountains of Cordoba, partly to escape all of these accusations.

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Maimonides

Maimonides, also known as Rambam, was one of the most illustrious figures born in the Cordoba of al-Andalus. Born in Cordoba in the year 1135 to a family of Jewish judges and religious leaders, he was educated in Biblical and Talmudic studies. However, he spent the bulk of his life in Egypt, where he earned a living as court physician to the sultan Saladin.

He was very well known in his day for being a renowned doctor, to whom some miraculous healings were even attributed. He wrote important medical treatises, such as the Treatise on Poisons and their Antidotes and the Guide to Good Health.

Nevertheless, his fame in Western European culture is mainly due to his philosophical work. The basis of his work is outlined in his Guide for the Perplexed, in which he establishes a balance between faith and reason and tries to demonstrate that there were no contradictions between Jewish teachings and Aristotelian philosophical doctrine.

The influence of his philosophy is vast and wide. Arising from his work was the Jewish intellectual movement that extended throughout Spain and France in the 13th and 14th centuries. He is also considered to be a precursor to the ideas of Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher of Sephardic origin and considered to be one of the great rationalists of 17th century philosophy.

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Averroes

Ibn Rushd, better known as Averroes, is one of the most renowned and transcendent figures of al-Andalus. He was born in the year 1126 in Cordoba to a family of legal scholars. His grandfather and father exercised the position of main qadi of Cordoba (a type of governor and judge), and he also eventually rose to this position in Seville. As such, he was trained in jurisprudence, medicine and theology.

His great philosophical contribution was the noetic, formulated in his work Great Commentary, in which Averroes departs from the Aristotelian distinction between two intellects to separate philosophical reflection from mystical and political speculations. In this way, Averroes focuses on explaining how the human being thinks and how it is possible to formulate universal and eternal truths being a mortal being.

At the end of the 12th century, with the Almohad conquest, Averroes was exiled and isolated, his works censored. Nevertheless, months before his death, he was redeemed and called to the service of the Court of Morocco.

His writings were also more influential outside the Islamic world, above all in Medieval and Renaissance Christian philosophy, despite the sentence formulated by the Bishop of Paris Étienne Tempier against 219 of his theses, many of which endured thanks to authors such as Giordano Bruno and Giovanni Picco della Mirandola. One of the craters of the moon is named ibn Rushd in his honour.

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Ibn Tufail

Ibn Tufail was born between the provinces of Granada and Almeria around the year 1105. He was one of the most influential thinkers of al-Andalus, eventually working for the Almohad sultan Abu Yaqub Yusuf. He was trained in Islamic law and medicine, and during his life he worked in medicine, philosophy, mathematics and poetry.

Though ibn Tufail spent much of his life residing in the cities of Granada and Seville, he was also linked to the city of Cordoba, belonging to the Almohad Empire. According to a historian of the time, he was mentor to the great Cordoban master Averroes.

The philosophy of ibn Tufail departs from Platonism, to which it adapts Islamic postulates. His most influential work was the philosophical novel The Self-Taught Philosopher, in which he narrates the adventures of Hayy ibn Yaqzan, a young man who is born and grows up completely alone on a desert island. Through the novel, the character evolves from empirical knowledge to scientific and then to the mystical, highlighting the importance of intellectual and philosophical life.

The Self-Taught Philosopher is the second most translated works of classic Arabic literature, only surpassed by One Thousand and One Nights. And it is said that, along with his empiricist philosophy, his influence can be seen in such works as Baltasar Gracián's El Criticón, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Voltaire's Zadig.