No less important at the court of Baghdad was philosophy. Plato and Aristotle were very popular and the subject of much study, discussion and debate. However, Islamic philosophers ran into the same problem that both preceding Christians and those that would follow faced: how to reconcile philosophy with theology and sacred texts.
Saint Augustine who died in 430 AD had halted this debate in Europe in favour of theology: critical thinking had been banned ever since. Those who attempted to re-open this debate were quickly silenced or even excommunicated by the Church. Not so in the Arab World, at least not until the end of the 12th century.
Enter 'The Commentator'
The last and most famous Muslim philosopher was Ibn Rushd, better known under his Latin name Averroes. He was born in 1126 in Cordoba, the capital of Al Andalus, which had become, alongside Cairo, the intellectual centre of the Muslim world following the decline of Baghdad. In Europe, Averroes was called ′The Commentator′ as he had penned more comments on the work of Aristotle than anyone else. Moreover, it was through the translation of Averroes′ comments into Latin that Aristotle was introduced in Europe.
Averroes caused nothing short of an intellectual earthquake in Europe. His thesis was that there is only one truth, which was reachable in two different ways: through belief, but also through philosophy.
When both ways contradict, it means we have to read the sacred texts in an allegorical way. In other words, in the search for truth, philosophy (or science) is more important than belief.
Apart from that, Averroes argued against the immortality of the soul and against creation of the universe.
The theses of Averroes were adopted and taught at the first European universities: Paris, Bologna, Padua and Oxford. This caused panic within the Church. The force of his arguments and the philosophical concepts of Aristotle were too strong.
In 1277, the bishop of Paris condemned and banned the ideas of Averroes, though not in his own words. He had to copy the arguments of an Islamic opponent of philosophy: Al Ghazali.
However, it was Thomas Aquinas who defeated Averroes′ theses in his book ″Against Averroes″ and the ″Summa Theologica″, which did reassert the position of theology above philosophy.
Yet that didn′t halt the spread of Averroes′ ideas and his free-thinking attitude.
Although Catholic thinkers were still writing tirelessly in defence of the immortality of the soul until deep into the 17th century – even Descartes felt it necessary to denounce Averroes, although not very successfully – the ideas of Averroes re-entered European philosophy through the back door of Jewish thinking.