From the ancient Egyptian 'Tale of a Shipwrecked Sailor' through to Sinbad and Robinson Crusoe, the stranded castaway living and philosophising alone on a strange, desert island is a theme which has captured the imaginations of writers spanning cultures and millennia. Most familiar to Western literary historians is Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, which inspired generations of writers from Jonathan Wyss and William Golding to Michel Tournier and J.M. Coetzee. However, little attention has been paid to Defoe's antecedents, such as the remarkable Hayy Bin Yaqzan by twelfth-century Arab physician and philosopher, Muhammad Ibn Tufayl. Mahmoud Baroud here conducts a detailed comparative textual analysis of Hayy Bin Yaqzan and Robinson Crusoe, and concludes that Daniel Defoe was likely to have been deeply influenced by Ibn Tufayl's Arabic text. His findings are compelling, pointing to clear similarities in themes, ideas, events and structure, such as long-term isolation on an island, the absence of female characters and an encounter with a stranger who becomes a spiritual disciple.
Baroud argues both can be cast within the genre of intellectual utopian literature, using allegorical stories as a device to present their philosophical ideas. A spiritual awakening and the struggle for physical survival through experimental use of science and the power of human reason define the journeys of our protagonists. Furthermore, by situating Robinson Crusoe within its historical and literary context, Baroud examines the fascination of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England with the 'East', and the availability of Hayy Bin Yaqzan to the reading public through three English translations. As a philosophical work it tackles issues such as human reason and rationality that struck a chord with religious and intellectual movements of the time in Europe. The fact that it was not identifiable with any particular religion enhanced its popularity and relevance. This book will be of interest to students and scholars of comparative literature, along with medieval Arabic literature, culture and philosophy.