After he had come back to the sensible world from the excursions he had undertaken, he became weary of the concerns of this life and he strongly yearned for the ultimate life. He sought to return to that station through the same means by which he had sought it at first, till he was able to attain it with less effort than before and also to stay there longer than he had stayed before. Then he returned to the sensible world, and attempted later to attain his station once more and attained it with less effort than in both the first and the second preceding attempts, and his stay there was longer too. And so it grew easier and easier for him to attain that noble station and to continue in it longer and longer until he could attain it whenever he pleased and stay in it for as long as he pleased. He used to keep himself in that station and not turn away from it except when the necessities of his body, which he had cut down to the bare minimum, demanded it. (1) In all this, he used to wish that it would please God, the Mighty and Majestic, to deliver him altogether from his body, which caused his separation from that station, so as to give himself up perpetually to his (supreme) pleasure and so as to be relieved from the pain he suffered every time he had to retire from his station to attend to the necessities of the body.
(2) He continued in this state of affairs until he was past the seventh septenary of his birth, that is, he was fifty years old. Then he happened to come together with Asal; the story of what took place between them will be narrated– God willing– in what follows.
It is told that on an island close to the one on which Hayy the son of Yaqzan was born– according to one of the two different accounts of the circumstances of his birth– there arrived one of the true religions received from one of the old prophets– upon whom be the blessings of God. It was a religion that imitated all the true beings through parables that present images of those things and establish their descriptions in the souls, as is customary in addressing the multitude. This religion continued to spread on the island and kept growing and gaining in power until the king adopted it himself and made the people embrace it.
(3)Now there had grown in that island two young men of virtue and good will, called respectively Asal and Salaman, who embraced that religion and accepted it eagerly. They took it upon themselves to observe all its Laws and to follow regularly its practices; this formed the basis of their friendship. Sometimes they used to study the wording of that religious Law concerning the attributes of God, the Mighty and Majestic, and His angels, and also the character of resurrection, rewards, and punishments.
(4) Of the two, Asal delved deeper into the esoteric meaning; he was more apt to find spiritual notions, and was a more ambitious interpreter. As for Salaman, he was more apt to keep to the apparent meaning, to avoid interpretation, and to abstain from examination and reflection. However, both assiduously performed the external practices (of the religious Law), disciplined themselves, and controlled their passions.
(5) Now there were in this religious Law certain arguments that favored seclusion and solitude, indicating that these led to salvation and (ultimate) success; and there were other arguments that favored sociability and adherence to the whole body of the community (Jama'ah).
(6)Asal devoted himself to the search for seclusion and favored the argument for it, because he was naturally inclined to continued meditation, to heeding the warnings (of the religious Law), and to penetrating deeply into the meanings (of the things mentioned in it); and it was through solitude that he most frequently accomplished these objectives.
(7) Salaman, on the other hand, devoted himself to adhering to the whole body of the community and favored the argument for this position, because he was naturally timid as regards thought and examination. Following the majority, he thought, would lead to the suppression of evil thoughts and the removal of the promptings of the devil. Their differences on this issue caused them to separate.
Asal had heard about the island on which it was said that Hayy the son of Yaqzan was formed. He knew also of its fertility, conveniences, and temperate climate, and that the one who seeks solitude can achieve it there. Resolved to move there and to retire from the company of men for the rest of his life, he gathered together what money he possessed; with a part of it he hired a ship to carry him to that island, and the rest he distributed among the poor. He bade farewell to his friend (Salaman) and went aboard.
The mariners transported him to the island, set him ashore, and withdrew. Asal remained there worshipping God, the Mighty and Majestic, magnifying Him, sanctifying Him, and meditating upon His most beautiful names and exalted attributes without any interruption in the presence of his mind or disturbance in his thoughts. Whenever he felt the need for food, he took from the fruits or game of the island enough to satisfy his hunger. He remained in this state a while, enjoying the most complete felicity and the greatest delight through an intimate intercourse with his Lord, experiencing every day His kindness, the excellence of His gifts, and the ease with which He enabled him to satisfy his necessary needs and nourishment– all of which confirmed his belief in Him and consoled Asal's heart.
In the meantime, Hayy the son of Yaqzan was wholly immersed in his sublime stations. He never left his cave but once a week to take whatever nourishment was at hand. This is the reason why Asal did not discover his presence at first; he used to walk around the island and go over all its parts without seeing a human being or observing the traces of any footsteps. This swelled his joy and gladdened his heart as he was firmly resolved to lead the most retired and solitary life that was possible, until Hayy the son of Yaqzan happened to go out one day to seek his provisions at a place where Asal happened to be.
They both spied one another. Asal did not entertain any doubt but that Hayy was a retired worshiper who must have come to that island in search of solitude as he himself had done, and feared that should he come up and make his acquaintance, this might disturb Hayy's state and disrupt the pursuit he was engaged in. Hayy the son of Yaqzan, on the other hand, did not know what Asal was; for of all the animals he had seen, he had never seen anything with such a form.
Now Asal had on a black coat made out of hair and wool, which Hayy the son of Yaqzan thought was a natural part of him and at which he stood wondering for quite a while. Asal turned and fled from fear that he might distract Hayy. But Hayy the son of Yaqzan ran after him out of his natural curiosity to look for the truth of things. When he saw that Asal began to run faster, he slowed down and hid himself from him, so that Asal thought he had left him and gone off far from the place where he was.
Asal then proceeded with his prayer, recitation, invocation, supplication, and lamentation, until this made him forget everything else. Then Hayy the son of Yaqzan started to draw closer and closer, with Asal unaware of his presence, until he came so close as to hear his recitation and praise (of God), observing in him a sense of humility and that he was weeping. Hayy heard a pleasant voice and harmonious sounds such as he had never heard before in any kind of animal.
Then he considered Asal's shape and lineaments and saw that he was of the same form as himself. He also found that the coat he had on was not a natural skin but an artificial attire like his own. Upon watching the sincere humility of Asal, his supplication and weeping, he did not doubt but that he was one of those essences who know the True One. He felt himself seized by an affection toward him and a desire to know what was the matter with him, and what caused his weeping. He drew closer to him till Asal felt his presence and took to flight.
Hayy the son of Yaqzan chased him energetically until he caught up with him– as the result of the vigor and the capacity, intellectual as well as physical, that God had bestowed upon him– seized him, held him fast, and would not let go of him. When Asal looked at him and saw that he was clothed with animal furs, his hair grown so long as to cover a great part of his body, and perceived his alertness and great strength, he trembled from fear and began to implore and entreat him with words that Hayy the son of Yaqzan could not understand and did not know what they were meant to convey. He could, however, see the signs of alarm on Asal's face; whereupon he endeavored to allay his fear with such voices as he had learned from some of his animals. He stroked his head and both sides of his neck, and caressed him, showing him a great joy and gladness, until Asal's agitation calmed and he understood that he meant him no harm.
Asal had formerly studied most languages as a result of his love for the science of interpretation and had become an expert in them. So he began to speak to Hayy the son of Yaqzan in every language he knew, asking him about himself and trying to make himself understood, but without success.
Hayy the son of Yaqzan wondered all the while at what he heard, not knowing what it was. Nevertheless, he showed gladness and good disposition; and they mutually wondered at each other. Asal had conserved some of the provisions he had brought along from the inhabited island. He offered it to Hayy the son of Yaqzan, who, having never seen such food before, did not know what it was. Asal ate a little of it and signaled Hayy to eat too.
Hayy the son of Yaqzan remembered the dietary obligation he had resolved to abide by. Not knowing the constitution of the food he had been offered, nor whether or not he should permit himself to partake of it, he declined to eat. Asal, nonetheless, kept asking him and urging him beseechingly. As Hayy the son of Yaqzan had become fond of Asal and was afraid lest he might be vexed if he should continue to refuse, he went ahead and ate some of the food.
As soon as he had tasted it and liked it, Hayy realized that he had done wrong by violating the covenant he made with himself as regards diet. He repented what he did and wanted to separate from Asal and go back to his former condition, seeking to return to his sublime station. But he could not attain the vision quickly.
Thereupon he decided to stay with Asal in the sensible world until he discovered what he really was and until he felt no more desire to be with him, after which he might apply himself to his station without any interruption. Thus he remained in the company of Asal. Now as Asal perceived Hayy's inability to speak, he felt secure since no harm could threaten his faith from his company. He hoped to instruct him in speaking, in science, and in the faith, so that he (Asal) might obtain a great reward and be favored by God.
Asal began to teach him how to speak, first, by pointing at particular beings and pronouncing their names, repeating them several times, and then making Hayy pronounce them. Hayy pronounced them at the same time as he in turn pointed to each being, until Asal taught him all the names. He helped him to improve gradually, until, in a very short time, Hayy could speak.
Then Asal began to ask him about his condition, and whence he came to that island. Hayy the son of Yaqzan told him he knew nothing of his origin, nor of a father or a mother beyond the gazelle that reared him. Then Hayy described his experiences from beginning to end, and how he ascended in knowledge until he attained a degree of union (with God). Asal heard him describe those truths and the essences separate from the sensible world, which know the essence of the Truth, the Mighty and Majestic. Then Hayy described the essence of the Truth, the Exalted and Majestic, with His beautiful qualities. And finally Hayy described, as far as he could, what he beheld when he attained union (with God), the joys of those who unite (with God), and the pains of those who are veiled from Him.
(8) After hearing all this, Asal had no doubt that all the things given in his own religious Law concerning God, the Mighty and Majestic, His angels, His books, His messengers, the last day, and His paradise and hell, are the similitudes of these things that Hayy the son of Yaqzan had beheld.
The eye of his heart was thereby opened, the fire of his mind kindled. (9) He found that reason and tradition agree, and he found a better access to the ways of interpretation.
There remained not one difficulty in the religious Law that he did not now see clearly, nor anything locked up that was not opened, nor anything obscure that did not become plain. Thereupon he passed into the ranks of the men of understanding (xii, .111). From that moment, (10) Asal looked upon Hayy the son of Yaqzan with veneration and respect, and he was convinced that Hayy was one of the saints of God who need have no fear; neither shall they suffer (ii, 38, 262, 274). He took it upon himself to wait upon him, to follow in his steps, and to accept his directions in regard to the fulfilment of the religious‑legal practices that his religion had taught him, but <that> had seemed to be contradictory.
Hayy the son of Yaqzan, in his turn, began to inquire from him about himself and his present condition. Whereupon Asal proceeded to describe the island from which he came, the people who inhabit it, and their way of life before and after religion reached them. He described to him all the content of the religious Law concerning the divine world, paradise, hell, the quickening of the dead, the resurrection, the assembly for a final judgment, the balance, and the bridge. (11) Hayy the son of Yaqzan understood all this, not finding in it anything that disagreed with what he had intuitively seen in his sublime station. He recognized that the one who described these things and brought them forth was truthful in his description, veridical in his words, and a messenger from his Lord. He believed in him, accepted his truthfulness, and bore witness to his mission.
(12) Then he began to find out from Asal what were the acts of worship that he (the messenger) ordained as duties. Asal described prayer, almsgiving, fasting, pilgrimage, and similar external practices. Hayy accepted them, and he took it upon himself to carry them out in compliance with the command of whose author's veracity he had become convinced.
(13) There only remained two points that kept him wondering and whose wisdom he could not understand.
One point was why this messenger, in the greater part of his description of the divine world, used parables? (14) Why he avoided the clear disclosure (of the truth) and thus led men to fall into the great error of attributing corporeality to Him and believe certain things about the essence of the Truth from which He is completely exempt? And why he did the same concerning rewards and punishments?
The other point was (15) why he confined himself to those duties and acts of worship and permitted acquisition of wealth and excessive consumption of food so that people gave themselves up to vain occupations and turned away from the Truth.
Hayy's own opinion was that nobody ought to eat anything more than necessary to keep body and soul together. As for riches, they meant nothing to him. He saw no point to the rules of the religious Law in regard to wealth, such as alms‑giving in its various forms, trading, and usury, and in regard to penalties and punishments. All this he found strange and considered it superfluous. He said that if people understood the truth of the matter they would avoid these vanities, turn toward the Truth, and dispense with all this. Nobody will then own private property for which alms would have to be paid, hands cut off for stealing it, or people die for robbing it.
(16) What misled Hayy was his belief that all men were endowed with excellent natures, clear‑sighted sagacity, and resolute souls. He was not aware how stupid, deficient, ill‑opinioned, and weak in resolution they were, as the cattle, nay, they are further astray from the way (xxv, 44).
Hayy ibn Yaqzan
Translated by George N. ATIYEH
(in Medieval Political Philosophy
eds. R. LERNER & M. MAHDI)