Ibn Miskawayh
Born 932
Rey, (Ziyarid Iran)
Died 1030
Isfahan, (Kakuyid Iran)
Ethnicity Persian
Era Islamic Golden Age
Region Iran
Religion Islam
Main interest(s) History, Theology, medicine, ethics and philosophy
Notable work(s) Kitab al hayawan (The book of animal life)
تهذيب الأخلاق (Ethical Instruction)
Al-Fawz al-Asghar
Tajarib al-umam (Experiences of Nations)

Abu Miskawayh (Persian: مُشکویه, also erroneously "ibn Miskawayh", 932–1030),[1] was a Persian[2] chancery official of the Buyid era, and philosopher and historian from Rey, Iran. As a Neoplatonist, his influence on Islamic philosophy is primarily in the area of ethics. He was the author of the first major Islamic work on philosophical ethics entitled the Refinement of Morals (تهذيب الأخلاق), focusing on practical ethics, conduct, and refinement of character. He separated personal ethics from the public realm, and contrasted the liberating nature of reason with the deception and temptation of nature. Miskawayh was a prominent figure in the intellectual and cultural life of his time.[2]


Miskawayh was born in Rey, then under Ziyarid control. Miskawayh may have been a Zoroastrian convert to Islam, but it seems more likely that it was one of his ancestors who converted.[2][3] During his early career, he spent his life in Baghdad, where he served as the secretary of Muhallabi, the vizier of the Buyid emir Mu'izz al-Dawla. He was fluent enough in Middle Persian to have translated some pre-Islamic texts in that language into Arabic. After a long service to the Buyids of Iraq, Miskawayh moved to the court of Rukn al-Dawla, where he spent seven years working there with the Buyid vizier Abu 'l-Fadl ibn al-'Amid. In 966, a group of ghazi marched towards the Library of Rey but Miskawayh managed to save it.[2] After the death of Abu'l-Fadl ibn al-'Amid in 970, Miskawayh continued to serve the latter's son, Abu'l-Fath, and in 975 along with him left for Baghdad.

He later worked as a secretary and librarian for a sequence of viziers, including 'Adud al-Dawla. Some contemporary sources associated him with the Brethren of Purity, claiming that some of his writings were used in the compilation of the Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity.[4] Miskawayh died in 1030 at Isfahan, then under Kakuyid control.


Ibn Miskawayh was one of the first to clearly describe a version of the idea of evolution. Muhammad Hamidullah describes the evolutionary ideas found in Miskawayh's The Greatest Victory (الفوز الأكبر) as follows:

[These books] state that God first created matter and invested it with energy for development. Matter, therefore, adopted the form of vapour which assumed the shape of water in due time. The next stage of development was mineral life. Different kinds of stones developed in course of time. Their highest form being mirjan (coral). It is a stone which has in it branches like those of a tree. After mineral life evolves vegetation. The evolution of vegetation culminates with a tree which bears the qualities of an animal. This is the date-palm. It has male and female genders. It does not wither if all its branches are chopped but it dies when the head is cut off. The date-palm is therefore considered the highest among the trees and resembles the lowest among animals. Then is born the lowest of animals. It evolves into an ape. This is not the statement of Darwin. This is what Ibn Miskawayh states and this is precisely what is written in the Epistles of Ikhwan al-Safa. The Muslim thinkers state that ape then evolved into a lower kind of a barbarian man. He then became a superior human being. Man becomes a saint, a prophet. He evolves into a higher stage and becomes an angel. The one higher to angels is indeed none but God. Everything begins from Him and everything returns to Him.[5]

In his Experiences of Nations (كتاب تجارب الأمم), he was one of the first major Muslim historians to write a chronicle of contemporary events as an eyewitness. As a Buyid bureaucrat, he worked under the vizier al-Muhallabi and had access to the internal happenings of the court. The chronicle is a universal history from the beginning of Islam, but it cuts off near the end of the reign of 'Adud al-Dawla.

His major work in the field of philosophy is his Refinement of Morals and Cleansing of Ethics تهذيب الأخلاق و تطهير الأعراق). The book is meant to provide students of philosophy and ethics an exposition of the main elements of philosophy.

The Book of Eternal Wisdom (كتاب الحكمة الخالدة) is an Arabic translation of a Persian work, the Eternal Wisdom (Persian: جاویدان خرد),[2] one manuscript of which bears the title Book of Literatures of the Arabs and Persians (كتاب آداب العرب والفرس).[2]

See also


  1. Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W. P.; et al., eds. (1993). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. 7: Mif-Naz (2nd ed.). Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 143–144. ISBN 9004094199. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Miskawayh at Encyclopædia Iranica
  3. Arkoun, M. (1993). "Miskawayh". In H. A. R. Gibb (ed.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam. 7 (New ed.). Leiden—New York: E.J. Brill. pp. 143a–144b. ISBN 978-90-04-15610-4.
  4. Nasr, Hossein (1993). An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-1-4384-1419-5., page = 26
  5. Reffner, Ervin. The Esoteric Codex: The Alchemists. Lulu.com. ISBN 978-1-312-98931-3.
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