Talking about my favorites. This is one of my favorite stories. I remember when I was young that we had a big collection of Illustrated Classical Novels روايات عالمية مصورة (I think that was its name). It included main classics. What I liked most was Hay Ibn Yakzan. I loved the idea of discovering life all by yourself. Later on I heard that this story was the one that inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe. Wehn I read the real story (not the illustrated one), I discovered that it was a HEAVY read as I am not used to reading philosophical essays, I also discovered that Ibn Tofayl didn’t intend to show how Hay discovered life, but how he discovered divnity. What I also understood very clearly was the differentiation between the superficial symbols of religion that are used to reach the masses and the real concepts that connect all religions.
Here is a summary of the story from muslimphilosophy.com:
The story of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan takes place on an equatorial island uninhabited by human beings. There Hayy is found alone as an infant. Philosophers were of the opinion that he was born spontaneously when the mixture of elements reached an equilibrium state, making it possible for this mixture to receive a human soul from the divine world. Traditionalists believed that he was the son of a woman who chose to keep her marriage to her relative, Yaqzan, secret from her brother who ruled a neighbouring island and did not find any man qualified to marry his sister. After breastfeeding Hayy well, she put him in a box and threw it into the waters, which took him to the uninhabited island.
A deer who had just lost her son and was still experiencing the feelings of motherhood heard Hayy’s cries. She suckled him, protected him from harmful things and took care of him until she died when he was seven years of age. By then he had learned to imitate other animals in speech, and he covered parts of his body with leaves after noticing that those animal parts are covered with hair or feathers. The deer’s death transformed Hayy’s life from one of dependency to one of exploration and discovery.
In an effort to find out the reason for the deer’s death, a reason which he could not locate by observing her appearance, he dissected her with sharp stones and dry reeds. Noticing that every bodily organ has a proper function and that the left cavity of her heart was empty, he concluded that the source of life must have been in this cavity, and must have abandoned it. He reflected on the nature of this vital thing, its link to the body, its source, the place to which it has departed, the manner of its departure and so on. He realized that it was not the body but this vital entity that was the deer and the source of its actions. With this realization he lost interest in the deer’s body, which he then viewed as a mere instrument. While he could not decipher the nature of this vital thing, he observed that the shape of all deer was similar to that of his mother. From this he concluded that all deer were managed by something similar to the vital thing that managed his mother’s life.
On a neighbouring island a group of people, including the king, Salaman, practised a religion which was sound yet provided the masses with symbols, not direct truths. Absal, a friend of Salaman, observed the rituals of this religion but, contrary to others who adhered to its literal meaning, he delved into its inner truths. Being naturally inclined to solitude, which was in agreement with certain passages of the Scripture, Absal moved to the island on which Hayy lived. When he encountered Hayy he was frightened, until Hayy made it clear that he intended no harm. Absal then taught Hayy human language by pointing to objects while uttering the corresponding words.
With the acquisition of language, Hayy was able to explain to Absal his development in knowledge. At hearing this, Absal realised that what Hayy had witnessed were the realities described in his own religion: God, the angels, the holy books, prophets, afterlife and so on. When Absal discussed the truths as detailed in his religion, Hayy too found these truths in agreement with what he had come to know. However, Hayy could not understand why Absal’s religion resorted to symbols and permitted indulgence in material things.
Hayy expressed interest in visiting the neighbouring island to explain to its people the pure truth. Absal, who knew their nature, reluctantly accompanied him. Addressing the most intelligent group on this island, Hayy was shown respect until he tried to go beyond the literal meaning of their Scripture. The people then shunned him, distracting themselves from the truth by commercial activity. Hayy understood then that such people are incapable of grasping the direct truth and that religion is necessary for their social stability and protection. Social stability and protection, however, in no way secure happiness in the afterlife. Only preoccupation with the divine, which is rare among people of this kind, can provide such security. In contrast, the preoccupation with this world in which the majority of people indulge results in darkness or hell.
(a more detialed version can be found here)